Born in 1922 in a small town north of Budapest, Agnes says, “I grew up in a happy home. I had so much love, so much attention.” Her father, Arnold Löwinger, was born in New York to Hungarian parents, but his parents returned to Hungary when he was a child. Arnold came to own the largest department store in Miskolc. Her mother, Malvina, came from a distinguished Italian Jewish family. Agnes had an older sister, Magdalena, and an older brother, Sandor.
At the age of seventeen, Agnes married Andrew Weinberger, an assistant district attorney. Shortly thereafter, both her husband and father were drafted by the Hungarian Army. Upon their return, Andrew, who had contracted tuberculosis, was sent to a sanitarium. Agnes never saw him again.
The Germans occupied Hungary in 1943. Magdalena had been traveling by train to another city when the Jewish passengers were removed, taken to the Danube River, and shot. A decade later, Agnes learned that Magdalena had jumped into the river before being shot, had swum to the opposite bank and found refuge with the Swedish Embassy. Agnes and the rest of the family were sent to a ghetto created in Miskolc, and later to a brick factory outside of town. “In the middle of the night, the Nazis brought in the Chief Rabbi of the village. I heard the screaming. They beat him to death.”
The family became separated upon deportation. Arnold and Sandor were sent to Auschwitz first, never to be seen again. Agnes, her mother, aunt and Cousin Edith were sent days later on a grueling, two-day train trip to Auschwitz. During the selection, only her mother was sent to the left, which Agnes later learned meant she was killed in the gas chambers. Her aunt was sent to work in the forest where she was forced to dig her own grave and shot. Agnes and Edith were sent to Allendorf, a labor camp in Germany where they made munitions in an underground factory. The conditions were brutal; one guard tried to rape her. In March 1945, Agnes and Edith were liberated by American troops.
Agnes made her way to Munich where she married Berek Schwarzberg, also a survivor. They had a son, Henry, in 1947 and moved to America in 1949. Agnes later divorced and married another survivor, David Tennenbaum, who died in 1985. Agnes moved to Mobile in 2006 to live with her son and his family.
Agnes is very proud of her Jewish heritage. She vows to pass on the memory of those who did not survive through her poetry, writing, and public speaking.
Addendum: Agnes Tennenbaum passed away on May 30, 2016.