Aaron’s Journey was both physical and emotional. He traversed thousands of miles, from his home in Bilke, to the Russian battlefront in Voronezh, then all the way back on foot to Gerjen in Hungary. The journey required incredible physical stamina, as Aaron and his fellow Jewish slaves endured some of earth’s harshest winters.
With the help of Colonel David Glantz (ret), the locations that Aaron described to his son, Howard, have been verified and the battlefields, locations and important junctures recreated with as much accuracy as possible. As an expert in military history, particularly the conflict between Russia and Germany with its axis partners, Col. Glantz was able to contribute resources, information and maps illustrating the campaigns. Because he was conscripted by force as a slave laborer into the Hungarian army, writes Glantz in the Foreward to Aaron’s Journey, Aaron was dragged by the Hungarians eastward in the wake of Hitler's obsession, in a ceaseless and senseless Nazi crusade to conquer Russia.
By 1942, the Nazis controlled much of Europe. Their satellite state of Hungary bordered German occupied Russia. In November, Aaron and his fellow slaves boarded a train in Hungary and headed east into the Russian winter. The journey lasted almost two weeks.
With the Hungarian troops, Aaron marched to the Russian front, the site of several epic battles, from which Aaron miraculously walked away alive. As a Jewish slave of the Hungarians and Nazis, Aaron looked for ways to escape to the Russian side. That, too, proved perilous. Aaron’s facility with languages helped him to survive, enabling him to beg for food from villagers and overhear the murderous plotting of his captors, allowing him to defend himself against his would-be assassins.
Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939 was in the midst of crumbling. Betrayed by her allies at Munich in another failed bid to appease Hitler, Hungary and Poland began a piecemeal land-grab of vulnerable territories on Czechoslovakia’s borders.
In early 1939, the Hungarian army swept into Bilke, Aaron’s town. The wayward town, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would now be part of Hungary. The Hungarian government had thrown in its lot with Nazi Germany in hopes of reclaiming territory lost during World War I. Hitler then seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia.
As they approached the Russian front, Aaron and his fellow Jews experienced deadly airstrikes
During the Russian breakthrough
at Voronezh on January 13, 1943, Aaron and a few slaves hunkered down in a trench as bullets tore at the snow and bombs fell from the sky. It was the Russians, attacking with their most destructive firepower. During this brutal assault, the Axis commanders were silent. Aaron, in a moment of spontaneous ingenuity, lifted his head above his trench, turned to face the axis soldiers, and impersonated their commanding generals by bellowing the order: "Retreat!" both in German and Hungarian. A panicked route of the axis forces ensued along the entire Don River front. Within weeks, Germany would lose Stalingrad, turning point of the War.