The Life Saving Stamp Collection
A question that is often asked is how survivors and rescuers met and whether they had a previous acquaintance. This question was also posed to Andrea Fellner, the survivor's daughter when she submitted the request to honor her mother and aunt's rescuer. 'He collected stamps', she said, 'and for years my grandmother used to give him stamps for his collection'. As it turned out, Grandma Vajda (as everyone called her) had three sisters who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920's. They wrote to her at least once a week, and she would give the stamps to Józsi, as József Vámos was called, the neighbor's son.
The Fellners lived in Budapest. Dr. Ferenc Fellner had graduated as a singer from the Liszt Academy in Budapest and was also a practicing physician. He was well-known for his singing, and performed in many European Opera houses. While appearing in Franz Lehar's operetta, The Land of Smiles, he met Panny Vajda, a young singer. They fell in love and married. The musical family had a secret family whistle – a part from a duet the couple had sung so often on the stage together.
In summer 1944 the Jewish community in Budapest were concentrated in houses marked with a star. Among them were Grandma Vajda, her daughter Panny Fellner, her grand-daughter Andrea and Dr. Fellner's sister Georgette Fellner.
Dr. Fellner had been deported earlier. In November 1944, groups of Jews were taken and marched under heavy guard westwards, in the direction of Austria. Among them were Panny and Georgette Fellner. On the same day Józsi presented himself before Grandma Vajda and asked if could help them in some way. Grandma Vajda gave him what seemed an impossible mission: "Bring Panny and Georgette back home". Józsi, then aged twenty-six and a deserter from the Hungarian Army, did not say a word, but mounted his bicycle and went off following the route of the marching Jews in search of his former neighbors. In late November the roads were covered with mud, ice and snow, but he kept going until he located the marchers near the village of Gönyű. Notwithstanding the armed guards, he rode his bike along the column letting out the family whistle. The whistling was heard by Panny and Georgette and during the night the two women disappeared from the procession and hid in a nearby wood. There Józsi found them and took them to the township of Komárom, near the railway-station. The railway-station and trains were teeming with German soldiers and with local members of the arrow-cross Fascist movement - all lying in wait to seize escaping Jews. Moreover, Józsi, as a deserter from the Army, took a double risk in helping Jewish women to escape. He accompanied the women, until the three of them arrived safely in Budapest.
On 4 May 2008 József Vámos was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.