Lajos Erdélyi was born in 1929 in Neumarkt am Mieresch (Romanian: Torgu Mureo, Hungarian: Marosvésrhely) in Transylvania. His father Emil, a committed Zionist, ran a small drugstore on the main street. Like most Jews in the city, the family spoke Hungarian. The re-affiliation of the city to Hungary in 1940 was initially welcomed by most Jews, but soon discovered that Hungary’s anti-Jewish legislation had far-reaching consequences for them.
In March 1944, the German Wehrmacht occupied Hungary. Shortly afterwards, most Jews from northern Transylvania were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Lajos’ mother Helén and his sister Jalia were murdered there immediately after their arrival. Lajos and his father were sent to Lower Silesia for forced labor. They managed to stay together until the liberation in May 1945. They spent the longest time in Dörnhau, an outpost of the Groß-Rosen concentration camp, where they had to do the heaviest physical work in the mining industry.
After the liberation, father and son returned to their hometown, which belonged again to Romania. Here Lajos met his future wife Anni from Czernowitz in a Zionist youth organization. At first Lajos believed in the ideals of communism, but the reality of dictatorship soon forced him to rethink. He found his niche as a photographer and journalist in the editorial offices of cultural magazines of the Hungarian minority. In the 1970s, he began photographing abandoned Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe. He pioneered this field, his illustrated books achieved high circulations and made him internationally known.
As the communist dictatorship made life in Romania increasingly unbearable, Lajos and Anni moved to Budapest in 1988. He continued his work unabated. Over the years, Erdélyi became a highly sought-after contemporary witness, not least because of his immense knowledge and his immensely friendly manner. The Berlin audience was also able to convince themselves of this in June 2017, when his contemporary witness report »Heimkehr nach Transylvania. Memories of a photographer” who was presented in the Hungarian Embassy by the Memorial Foundation in German.
Lajos Erdélyi remained active until the very end. In December 2019, he received a high award for his commitment to Jewish culture in Hungary. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Foundation is in the thoughts of his wife Anni, his daughters Zsuzsa and Tamara and the numerous grandchildren.