Susan Bendor

graphite and pencil on paper


Susan Julia Bendor (1937-2016) was born Susan Blum in Budapest, Hungary on February 5, 1937. While she was still allowed at ballet school at the age of four, she was told that she would not be able to perform as Jews were no longer allowed to participate in public events. Her dance teacher decided that if one child could not dance, there would be no performance. As such, she was allowed to perform, but remembers restrictions on Jews gradually becoming more strict. Jews were forced to wear yellow stars beginning in 1944. Her father was forced to work in a Hungarian labor camp known as Munkacs during much of her childhood. During the early 1940s, Susan’s mother continually planned for Germany’s invasion of Hungary. She acquired Christian identification papers and sent Susan and her brother to catechism classes to learn about Christianity in case they were ever questioned.

When the Germans arrived, her family left for their home in the countryside. They remained for around a month before hearing the Germans were targeting Jews in the countryside and subsequently returned to their apartment in Budapest. Their apartment had been designated a Jewish house so they were not required to live in the ghetto. Her mother invited several other Jews to live with them. Shortly after the German invasion, her mother was forced to work as a seamstress for a German uniform factory. While there, she befriended the German officer in charge who agreed to take her family and several other people and hide them in the cellar of his apartment building. Wuchta, the German officer, hid them for nine months with the help of his aide who would periodically check in on them. They lived on sauerkraut and horsemeat. While in the cellar the apartment building was bombed, however they survived. Her family and others in the cellar were liberated on January 18, 1945 by the Russians, when Susan was nearly eight.

After returning to their old apartment building they found it had also been bombed, and their home destroyed. By the time she finished fourth grade, the communists had taken over and her parents felt they needed to leave to stay safe. They acquired a forged passport and made their way to Vienna, Austria. Her family spent two years in Vienna, subletting a variety of apartments. When the Korean War began, her father was concerned it was the beginning of World War 3 and arranged for escape to Canada in 1951. They settled in Montreal where Susan eventually met and married her husband, Edgar Bendor, in 1959. She and her husband moved to New York in 1960 where Susan became a social worker, always remembering the kindness she had received from strangers during her time in Budapest. She received her masters degree from Adelphi University, and PhD from Hunter City University.