The Holocaust in Hungary

Figure 1.--These Polish Jewish children fled from Poland after the German-Soviet invasion in 1939. They were temporarily safe and are here attending a school for them in Vác sometime in 1942-43. Many foreign Jews were deported in 1941. We are not sure why these children were not deported or what their fate was. Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of Hungary

The story of the Hungarian Jews is one of the most tragic in the sad history of the Holocaust because they almost survived. The Hungarian Governent, allied with the NAZIs, introduced anti-semitic measures (April 1939). The Government cancelled the benefits awarded the veterans and widows and orphans of Jewish World War I veteransho had fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Prohibitions were enacted on Jewish employment. They were barred from the civil service, newspapers, movies and theater. Nor could Jewish laborers participate in working associations. Liberals in Parliament attempted to descredit Prime Minister Bela Imredy. When it was found that he had Jewish ancestors, he resigned. The new Prime Minister Count Paul Teleki oversaw the enactment of these laws, but did not go further. Hungarian Jews were not forced into ghettos. The pro-NAZI Arrow Cross demanded futher measures, but were in a minotity in Parliament. Hungarian Jews despite the ecoonomic privations, until 1944 they were relatively untouched by the NAZI violence and there had been no transports to the death camps. The Hungarian Jews were the last to be killed at Auschwitz before it was demolished and evacuated as the Red army approached. SS commander Adolf Eichman went to Hungary in 1944 to personally oversee the liquidation of the Hungarian Jews. Eichmann supervised the collection and transport, rushing to accomplish his mission before the Germans were expelled by the Red Army. Despite the pressing war time needs. Priority was given to the transports of the Hungarian Jews to Auchwitz.

Hungarian Jews

Hungary had a larger Jewish population than either Germany or Austria. At the time of World War II, Hungary is believed to have had a Jewish population of approximately 825,000. After Poland and the Soviet Union, the largest in Europe. Hungarian Jews like German Jews were sime of the most assimilated Jews in Europe. Jews within the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been emancipated in 1867. Jews within the Empire, unlike many ethnic groups, were laregly supportive of the imperial structure. Jews in the Hungarian area of the Empire became Hungarians in all respect, including language, customs, and clothing. This was especially the case of urban Jews. Most identified themselves as Hungarians more than Jews. Over 10,000 Jews were killed during military service in World War I. Many Hungarian Jews did not actively practice Judiasm. Nor was there much interest in Zionism after World War I in the realtively open society under Admiral Horthy. Theodor Herzl described the Hungarian Jews as a"dry bough" of Zionism.

World War I (1914-18)

Hungary during World War I was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus a member of Central Powers. As was the case of Germany and Austria, Hungarians were surprised at the outcome of the War. The defeat of Russia and signinging of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treary (1918) had convinced most Hungarians that their sacrifices in the War had brought victory. The collapse of the German Army on the Western Front came as a great shock. Hungarians after the War were demoralized. There were huge causialties, destruction, and economic dislocation. Few jobs were available for the surviving soldiers and hunger was widespread.

Political Chaos (1918-20)

The country with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell into chaos. Several weak Governments fell. Bela Kun, a Communist, following the example in Russia proclaimed a Soviet Hungarian Republic an instituted what became known as the "Red Terror". Bela Kun (real name Aaron Cohen) and most of his cronies who terrorized Hungary during the so-called Soviet Hungarian Republic, were Jews which fueled anti-semitism in Hungary. Vice-Admiral Miklos Horthy, the last Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, raised an army and managed to overthrow Kun and the Communist Republic. The experience generated considerable support for right-wing elements in Hungary. There was a short-lived attemp to install Emperor Karl who had been deposed in Austria.

Treaty of Trianon (1920)

The Hungarian Government in 1920 signed the Treaty of Trianon. (Each of the members of the Central Powers signed a separte peace treaty with the Allies. The best known is the Versailles Treaty that the Germans signed.) The treaty brought the cherished goal of indeopendence to which many Hungarians aspired. The new Hungarian governmrnt was the first independent Hungarian state since the Muddle Ages. Hungary under the Treaty, however, lost considerable territoiry to neoghboring countries that many Hungarians thought that they were entitled which further fuled right-wing political sentiment. Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia all obtained territory that many Hngarians believed was rightfully theirs. This treaty also limited the size of the Hungarian Army and prohibited tanks, artillery and an air force. Hungarian foreign policy during the 1920s and 30s was aimed at recovering territory and undoing these miklitary restrictions resulting from the Treaty of Trianon

Inter-War Era

The Government of Admiral Horthy sought to find alliances that would help Hungary regaining its territory. The Allies (England and France) and no interest in renegotaiting the Treaty of Trianon and redrawing the map of Eastern Europe. Hungary in 1927 signed a treaty with Italy. The Italians had fought with the Allies in World War I, but the democratic regime had been replaced by Europe's first Fascist dictatorshio under Benito Mussolini. This was the beginning of Hungary's relatiinship with Fascicm. After the rise of the NAZIs in Germany, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gombos signed a trade agreement with Germany. The agreement helped Hungary economically as it improved access to the huge German market which despite the War was still the most important ecinomy in Europe. Admiral Horthy ran a realtively open government in which a broad expanse of the political spectrum, both left and right, could organize and participate in political affairs. There was individual anti-semitism, but Jews enjoyed full political and civil rights. With the frowth of Fascism in Italy and Germany and with still simmering national humiliation over the loss of territory, right wing political parties grew in strength and began demanding that Hungary adopt policies being pursued in Germany. The Hungarian parliament seeing Hitler and the NAZIs seized Austria decided it would be wise to appease Hitler. They passed Hungary's first anti-Jewish law. Hungarian law makers thought this would forstall a take over by Hungarian fascists supported by the NAZIS. The law was prepared by the Horthy government. Parliament passed it despite the determined opposition of the Smallholders and Socialist parties and Bethlen's conservative followers. The first law was limited in scope. The employment of Jews in private businesses was limited to 20 per cent (May 24, 1938). A far more fare reeching law was passed after Munich firmly confirmed NAZI dominance of central Europe. Pariament passed a far-reaching anti-Jewish lawT. The law included numerous provisions restricting Jewish employment and redefined the legal status of Jews. It opened up a range of ways in which Jews could be stripped of their property. The law defining the legal status of Jews. It barred them from important positions in the media, prohibiting new trade licences or the renewal of existing ones. The law prohibitef new professions licenses until the Jewish share declined under 6 per cent. The law authorized the government to expropriate, with compensation, Jewish landed property. Jews could no longer be naturalized Hungarian citizenship or through marriage and adoption. Voting rights were restricted. Non-native Jews or those whose ancestors were not permanently resident in Hungary before 1868 (the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) had their voting rights revoked.

Regaining Lost Territory

German actions against first Czechoslovakia (1938-39) and then other Eastern Euroopean countries allowed Hungary to reclaim lost territory. As a result of the Munich Accord (1938), when NAZI Germany ceased the Sudentland, the Hungarians seized a small section of Czecheslovakia (in Slovakia). When the NAZIs seized the rest of Czecheslovakia in vilolation of the Munich Accord, Hungary occupied Czechoslovakian Ruthenia. These achievements further strengthened support for right-wing elements in Hungary. Hungary in 1939 joined the Anti-Comintern Pact along with Germany, Italy and Japan. The Hugarian Government, however, declared itself neutral when NAZI Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Hitler's policy in 1940 after the fall of France was to build a grand Fascist Alliance to support its planned invasion of the Soviet Union. The defeat of France had left NAZI Germany the unquestioned dominant military power in Europe. As such, Germany could largely dictate territorial questions in Eastern Europe. At a conference called in Vienna in 1940, Hitler announced several territorial decssions. Rumania was forced to ceed Northern Transylvania to Hungary. Hitler's purpse was to stabilize and settle the situation in Eastern Europe before the invasion of the Soviet Union and to reward Hungary, his closest ally in the the region. The result was to further strengthen right-wing groups.

The Axis

The Tripartite Pact was signed September 27, 1940. The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked. The alliance became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners German hegemony over most of Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so. Hungary which had fought with Germany (as Austro-Hungary) in World War I, joined the Axis (November 20, 1940). Japan had no Asian allies, except or the puppet state of Manchukuo.

Anti-Semetic Measures (1938-41)

The Hungarian Government respondng to the growing NAZI influence in central Europe began to adopt anti-Semetic measures. This reflected both German pressure and growing German influence. The Hungarian Partliament even before entering World war II enacted three basic anti-Semitic laws (1938-41). Thus within a short period of time, Jews were excluded from Hunharian national life. The First and Second Jewish Laws undermined their economic situation. The Third Jewish Law was modeled on the German Nuremberg racial laws and introducing 'race-protective' measures (1941). The Hungarian Government gradually moved closer to the Germans. Hungary formally joined the Axis (November 20, 1940), but even before this there was considrable cooperation with the NAZIs. Here the Hungarians had two primary goals. The first was to regain territory lost as a result of World War I and which they believed belonged to them and had Hungarian ethnic populations. A Hungary allied with the NAZIs would be in a position to benefit from the territorial changes that were clearly coming in Europe. The Government also wanted to appease right wing elements in the country. Certainly the NAZIs were promoting it. Notably Mussolini in Italy also adopted anti-semetic measures at the same time. (The Hungarian Fascists would be unlikely to strike aginst a Government supported by the NAZIs.) The NAZI Anschluss in Austria and the failure of the Allies to respond clearly showed the degree to which the ballance of power had shifted in Europe. Only a month later, the Hungarian Parliament passed its first anti-Semetic law (May 24, 1938). It was a bill submitted by the Horthy Government. There was considerable oposition, primarily from the small holders and Socialist parties as well as Bethlen's conservative supporters. The law primarily limited Jewish employment. Hungarian companies could have no more than 20 percent of Jews in their workforce. The Government cancelled the benefits awarded the veterans and widows and orphans of Jewish World War I veterans who had fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Parliament passed a much more severe anti-Semetic law the next year, aimed at both emplyment and naturalization (April 1939). The law prohinited Jews from important posts in the media (newspapers, movies and theater). The Government was ordered to stop issuing trade licenses to Jews and stop renewing existing licenses. The law also resticted Jews in the professions. There would be no more admissions until the percentage of Jewish lawyers, doctors and others fell below 6 percemt. The Governent was given the authority to expropriate Jewish land holdings, albeit with compensation. The Government could no longer grant citizenship to Jews through naturalization, marriage, or adoption. The Government had to cancel voting rights of foreign Jews or Hungariasn Jews whose ancestors were not permanent residents in Hungary before 1868 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire had emancipated Jews. Jews were barred from the civil service. Nor could Jewish laborers participate in working associations, we think meaning trade unions. Liberals in Parliament attempted to descredit Prime Minister Bela Imredy. When it was found that he had Jewish ancestors, he resigned. The new Prime Minister Count Paul Teleki oversaw the enactment of these laws, but did not go further. Hungarian Jews were not forced into ghettos as was done by the Grmans in Poland.

Labor Brigades

Hungary introduced forced labor service--Act II "on national defence" (March 1939). The Hungarian Government did not want to admit groups seen as potentialy disloyal (Communists, ethnic minorities, Roma, and particularly Jews) into the Army, but they did not want these groups to evade national service. The largest numbers were Jews. [Braham] This law accompanied the First and Second Anti-Jewish Laws. Some 100,000 Hungarian Jews were eventually conscripted for labor service. The Ministry of Defense formed nine labor service battalions (each consisting of four companies, thus a total of 7,500 recruits) (July 1939). As Hungary moved closer to the NAZIs and then joined the War, conscription for the the labor brigades increasingly focused on the Jews. And Jews in the Army were transferred to the labor brigades. Officers were stripped of their ranks. Call-ups in some cases were aimed at specific persons. Noted Jewish intellectuals and businessmen were conscrioted, often regardless of age. A substantial portion of these brigades were attached to the Hungarian Second Army deployed in Soviet Union as part of the German summer offensive (1942). About 35,000-40,000 men were involved. The Second Army was not caught in the Stalingrad pocket, but later destroyed on the Don. The Soviets treated the the labor brigade members like regular Hungarian soldiers. For Red Army soldiers any German ally was just a German ally had he been conscripted into the army willingly or unwillingly. The Red Army had its own troops of soldiers armed just with shovels - combat engineering troops, where often only sergeants and officers had firearms. So I suppose Red Army soldiers took those servicemen as a soldiers or maybe volunteers. Add here the fact that Red Army commanders often didn't know any language except Russian and maybe some German was a factor. Most were killed or captured and perished in the Gulag. About 7.000-8,000 are believed to have made it back to Hungary, both during and after the War. The labor brigades were also employed at the Bor copper mines in ocupied Yugoslavia. The Germans and Fascist groups killed Yugoslav Jews soon after the occupationm. They also considered Slavs as parisans. Thus the Germans asked Hungarian authorities to provide the labor needed to operate the mines. After some resistance, the Hungarians did so. Labor brigades began arriing (summer 1943). About 6,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews were eventuallydeployed to work the mines. This anounted to slave labor and eight slave labor camps were set up near Bor around the mine. The camps were Hungarian Army facilities under the command of Lieutenant Colonel András Balogh. The mines was supervised by armed members of the German Orgamization Todt. Conditions varied from camp to camp, but were reasonable, until Lieutenant Colonel Ede Marányi took overcommand of the camps (December 1943). A survivor reports, " under the command of whom our life turned unbearable. We were regularly tortured, beaten and trussed up ... Warrant Officer Pál stated several times: 'No Jews will return home from here'." As result of Red Army adcanceds, the Germans decided to ecacuate the Balans. The evauation began from the Bor Mines (September 1944). This was accomplished by Hungarian-speaking Swabian (ethnic Germans) and Bosnian SS troops. They proceeded to shoot many of the workers. Others were forced to march into the shtinking territory of the Reich where they were interned in various conentration camps where few survived. Along the way while still in Yugoslavia, some of the workers were resuced by partisans. [Munk]

Hungary Declares War (June 1941)

Both German and Italy in 1941 wanted to bring Hungary formally into their military alliance. Hitler offered Hungary even more of the territory that had been lost in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon World War I peace treaty. Hungary permitted German military forces in April 1941 to enter Hungarian territory for operations against Yugoslavia and Greece . Hungary mobilized military forces to participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia in the process seizing disputed territory (April 1941). The NAZIs launched their massive invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarosa on June 23, 1941. The Hungarian Government on June 22, 1941, after Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, took the final step in joining the Axis. Hungary formally declared war on the Soviet Union and became a full Axis partner. Hungary justified the declaration of war, claiming that the Soviets had bombed the city of Kassa. (There is still considerable uncertainty over what happened at Kassa.)

Foreign Jews (July-August 1941)

Large numbers of foreign Jews (German, Austrian , Czech, Slvakian, and Polis) had sought refuge from the NAZIs in Hungary. In addition, territorial gains had brought more foreign Jews into Hungary. As in many countries, some of the first actions aginst Jews were were taken against the foreign Jews. As a result of the anti-Semitic measures taken in 1939-41, the Hungarian Government was compiling detailed infomation on Hungarian Jews. The foreign Jews were, however, especially vulneable. Many were Austrians who fled the Anchsluss or Poles who fled the German invasion. There were also Slovakian Jews fleeing the repressions from the staunchly pro-NAZI puppet regime installed there. Hungarian authorities conducted the first deportments. They transported about 16,000 Jews (July-August 1941). These were foreign Jews or Jews whose citizenship for a variety of reasons was questioned. These Jews were deported to NAZI-occupied Poland (Galicia). Here the Germans murdered them near Kamenec-Podolskij, although few details are known about this attrocity. [Karsai] This was the first mass execution of large numbers of Jews from Hungary.

Figure 2.--These Jews were hanged in the southern region of Délvidék during 1942. This was a region of Yugoslavian transfwerred to Hungary. As in many cases in the occupied countries, it was common practice to execute civilians rather than the much more difficult proposition of tracking down the partisans. Generally but not always men were selected for these reprisals--and if available Jewish men were often selected. Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of Hungary

Actions in Yugoslavia (January 1942)

Hungarian gendarmeries carried out the next major massacre involving Hungarian Jews. As a reward for assisting the German invasion of Yugoslavia, Hitler had awarded Délvidék to Hungary. The Hungarian gendarmeries in January 1942 conducted an operation against Serb partisans active in the southern area of the reclaimed province. The Hungarian gendarmeries murdered about 3,500 people, few of which had any connection with the partisans. About 800 Jews were among those murdeded The gendarmeries shot theese unfortunate victims and threw their bodies into holes blown in the ice covered Danube. The gendarmeries also hanged people in the public squares in an effort to cow the local population. [Karsai]

The Arrow Cross

The Arrow Cross was a right-wing Hungarian political party--the NyilaskeresztesPart. The Party named derived from the Arrow cross has been used by Magyarian tribes when they arrived in the area of modern Hungary some time around 1000 A.D. The Party was led by led by Ferenc Szalasi who founded the Party of National Will in 1935. The Party attracted little support despite numerous reorganizations until reconstituting itself as the Arrow Cross Party in 1939. By that time it was clear that the NAZIs were on the way to becoming the dominant force in Europe. Szalasi unabashedly hitched the party to the German NAZis. They were pro-German and virulently anti-semetic. The Party flag was an imitation of the NAI flag, only crossed arrows rather than a sawastica. Hungary was not an occupied country, but an Axis ally. The NAZIs until the arrival of the Red Army, did not take over the Hungarian Government. Thus the Arrow Cross had to compete in parlimentary elections. The Party in Hungary was seen as an extremist party supported by malcontents and thugs on the fringe of Hungarian politics. The Arrow Cross in the 1939 election, however, amassed 25 percent of the vote, making it the most significant opposition party in the Hungarian Parliament. The Arrow Cross demanded that repressive measures afainst the Jews and increased those demands until Parliament in 1941 passed a law comparable the the German Nuremburg Laws. Unlike the NAZIs, however, until very late in the War, they did not control the Government. Like the NAZIs they had a private militia on the order of the NAZI Brownshirts (SA).

Identifying Jews

Authorities in Hungary began identifying Jews before the outbreak of the War (1939). Authorities registered Jews for conscription into compulsory segregated labor service companies. Inductees were issued Jewish identity cards, "dog tags" and paybooks marked "Zs" meaning "Zsido (Jew)." The Germans once the War began set about different ways identifying Jews to make it easier to strip of their propert and eventually arrest and concentrate them. One method was to force them to wear identifying badges, often but not always a yellow star. Regultions varied over time in different areas of NAZI-controlled Europe. As far as I know, Jews in Hungary were not required to wear idebtifying badges on their clothing until the German occupation (March 1944). The situation changed markedly with the German occupation. The Germans required all Hungarian Jews above the age of 6 years were required to wear a yellow Star of David sewn "firmly" on the left breast of any outer garment. We thought a street scene taken in June 1942 was from Hungary, but this may not be the case as the Jews are already wearing yellow stars and walking in the streetsrather than the sidewalk.

Economic Privations

Hungarian Jews despite the ecoonomic privations, until 1944 they were relatively untouched by the NAZI violence and there had been no transports of Hungarian Jews to the death camps. The primary attrocities through 1943 was the Újvidék (Novi Sad) massacre in occupied Yugoslavia where 3,000 Serbs and 1,000 Jews were killed. And the loss of about 42,000 Jewish forced laborers at the Soviet front (1942-43). The Hungarian Government up to this point had only turned foreign Jews over to the Germans. The Hungarian Prime Ministers, and especially Regent Horthy, steadfastly resisted German demands to deport Hungarian Jews to the death camps opetationg in German occupied Poland.

German Defeats in the East

The story of the Hungarian Jews is one of the most tragic in the sad history of the Holocaust because they almost survived. By the time the NAZIs began the deportations to the death camps, the tide of battle had turned decisively in the East. The German 6th Army surrendere at Stalingrad (January 1943) and the German defeat in the huge tank battle at Kursk (July 1943) signalled the end of the Wheremacht's ability to control the battlefield. The Red Army in 1944 was rapidly moving west toward Poland and Hungary. The Hungarian Jews were the last to be killed at Auschwitz before it was demolished and evacuated as the Red army approached.

Occupation (March 1944)

Admiral Horthy and Prime Minister Miklos Kallay after the German defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk realized that the Germans were losing the War and that the increasingly powerful Red Army was drivin west toward Hungary. It was obvious that the Germans no longer had the capaability to stop them. Kallay attempted to see if separate armistice could be negotiated with the western Allies, all to aware of the fate that awaited them if the Red Army entered Hungary. German intelligence learnd of these moves. To prevent Hungary's withdrawl from the Axis and a separte peace, Hitler ordered German forces to occupy Hungary (March 19, 1944). Hitler allowed Admiral Horthy to continue as Regent. Kallay was dismissed and General Dome Sztojay, who was fanatically pro-NAZI, was appointed prime minister. Sztojay not only pledged to contunue Hungary's role in the War, but agreed to deport Hungarian Jews. While Horthy and Kallay had joined in the German war effort, they had refused to deport Hungarian Jews. With Sztojay as primeminister the deportations could begin.

Figure 3.--These Jews have been forced out of their home. They are awaiting orders about how to proceed to an internment camp. Notice there are no young men. They were probably already killed or forced into work camps where they were being wirked to death. Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of Hungary

Military Situation

The military situation for the Germans was increasingly dire in early 1944. They were, however, not yet defeated and had sunstantial field armies in both the West and East. Hitler decided not to make a major stand in Romania, but he was determined to stand and fight in Poland and Hungary. The Germans had 3 years to concentrate the Polish Jews, confining them to ghettos and camps so they were easily available for transport to the death camps. This was not done in Hungary beause of the resistance of the Hungarian government. Thus the NAZIs had a freat deal of work to do and relstively little time as the Red Army was rapidly moving west and was nearing the Carpathian Mountains and eastern Hungary.

Adolf Eichmann (Spring 1944)

SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann after the Germany occupied Hungaryb (March 1944) went to Hungary to personally oversee the liquidation of the Hungarian Jews. Eichmann supervised the collection and transport, rushing to accomplish his mission before the Germans were expelled by the Red Army. Despite the pressing war time needs. Priority was given to the transports of the Hungarian Jews to Auchwitz. Eichmann's Sonderkommando was comppsed of 200 men. They were assisted by Hungarian clerks, policemen, solders, and gendarmeries in spring- and early- summer 1944. The first step was to concentrate the remaining Hungarian Jews.

Budapest (Spring 1944)

Concentration (April 1944)

More than 800,000 Jews were living Hungary, the lastmajor Jewish population that had survived in xis-controlled Europe (Spring 1944). Theywere not ll Hungarian Jews, but included Jews in areas annexed by Hungary (Slovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia). Eichmann and his deputies set to work in the provinces, where some 437,000 Jews, about half of the Hungarian Jewish population lived. As elesewhere in Europe. The first step was to concentrate the Jews. Eichmann instructed Hungarian authorities to order living in the provinces outside Budapest to concentrate in designated cities, for the most part regional administrative centers (April 1944). Hungarian gendarmes were dispatched into the countryside to round up Jews and bring them to the designated cities. In these cities the Jews were forced into areas called gettos, but they were nothing like the Polish gettoes. Time did not permit that and unlike Poland in 1939-41, the death camps were in existance and fully operational. The Hungarian gettos might be a Jewish neighborhood or in some cases just a large factory or building, depending on the number of Jews involved. In some cities there was no shelter at all and the Jews simply had to live outdoors, without any shelter or sanitary facilities. Hungarian gendarmes guarded the perimeters. Some tortured the Jews or extorted valuables from them. These were not permanent facilities as Eichmann planned the deportationd to begin immediately. Few Hungarian Jews even this late in the War had any inkling of the fate that was about to befall them. Photos of the concetration process show only a handful of guards marching the Jews to train stations and guarding them until they were packed into cattle cars destined for the death camps. [Karsai]

Kasztner Train Rescue (June-August 1944)

The Zionist Rescue Committee (ZRC) headed by Rezso Kasztner negotiated with SS Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichman and Kurt Becher for the safe passage of a group of about 1,700 Hungarian Jews. They were Jews drawn from all walks of life. A large ransom had been paid to these NAZIs. The negotiations were concluded (June-July 1944). The train consisted of 35 cattle trucks departed Budapest for Switzerland (July 1). At The Hungarian Austrian border the train was diverted to the Bergen-Belson Concentration Camp. Here the Jewish passengers were held in a special area. They were eventually allowed to proceed to Switzerland but in two smaller groups. The first group left for Switzerland (August). By this time other Hungarian Jews were bing killed in large numbers at Auchwitz-Birenau. Once safe in Switzerland they were taken by bus to their billets. One of the children was an 11 year old boy called Ladislaus Lob. He grew up to be a professor of literature and taught at the University of Sussex. After the war this became a very controversial issue and Rezso Kasztner was assassinated in Israel because of negotiating with the Nazis. His rescue operation is now looked at in a more favourable light. Issues like this are very difficult. They have to be considered that the Jews inb NAZI hands were in a hopless situation. Those who copperated withbth NAZIs for improved conditions suych as Gettonpolice can be criticized. But in this case, Kasztner did not put other Jews in danger, he simply paid a ransome to save a small group.

Figure 4.--Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz in 1944. These women with their young children are being sent directly to the gas chambers.Source: Jewish Museum and Archives of Hungary

Deportations (May-July 1944)

The Hungarian Jews were the last large national group destroyd by the Germans. SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann after overseeing the concentration of Hungarian Jews, personally organized and oversaw the deportations. He was ready to begin (May 1944). Until this point Horthy had resisted NAZI pressure to hand over Hungrian Jews. The deportations to Auschwitz began with th Jews concntrated in provincial cities. Hungarian authorities and the German Security Police began the deportations (mid-1944). The Hungarian police were responsible for roundingup the Jews and bringing them to the train stations where they were forced on to the transport trains. In less than 2 months, about 440,000 Jews were deported in 145 trains. Most of the transports went directy to the death camp at Auschwitz. In just 8 weeks, some 437,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is tetimony to how efficent the Germans had become with the killing process and what would have occured in executing Generalplan Ost had the Germans won the War. Families including children abd the eldely weresent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Healty individuals mostly males were sent west to the border with Austria to be employed as force labor in the construction of trenches which were to defend Vienna. In the entire history of the Holocaust the NAZIs never succeded in deporting so many people so quickly. This is especially remarkable as the Hungarian Jews in the provinces were widely dispersed. Horthy had stopped the deportations (July 6). His motivations are unknown, but presumably involve concern over war crime trials after the War. Presumably the Allied landings in Normandy or the advance of the Red Army motivated him as by this stage of the War, it was clear that the Germans had clearly lost. Eichmann was reportedly furious, but without Hungarian support he could not continue the deportations and a large number of Jews still existed in Budapest that had not been touched by the deportations in the provinces.

Safe Houses

Swedish and Swiss diplomats set us safe houses in Budapest. The effort here was led by Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz. Diplomats at these safe houses would take in Jews who had nationality documents issued by foreign countries, even spuprious documents. One inside the Jews were safe from deportment. A Salvadorian diplomat probably saved about 30,000 Jews by issuing certificates to Jews with no connection to his country. The Swiss safe house was known as the Glass House because it was set up in an old glass factory. Eichmann was furious about these efforts, but was constrained because the NAZI Government was desperate to maintain relations with Sweden and Switzerland.

Deportations Stopped (July 1944)

The British Foreign Office received a report from four Jewish Auschwitz escapees describing the gassing of Jews in large numbers at the Auschwuitz-Birkenau (July 4, 1944), It was compiled in Slovakia and snuggled to Switzerland where it was telegraphed to London, Washington, and Jerusalem. Chaim Weizemann and Moshe Shertok with the Jewish Agency went to see Foreign Sectretary, Anthony Eden, to discuss the fact that Hungarian Jews were being deported in large numbers. Eden immediately went to see Primeminister Churchill. Ultra decripts had revealed that the Germans had begun killing Jews in large numbers when they invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). This was the first detailed report describing what was happening at Auschwitz. Within days, Chirchill ordered RAF Bomber Command to bomb the rail links between Hungary and Auschwitz. Before the orders were given American bombers hit Budapest (July 2). The American raid was unrelated to the killing of Jews. The raid was associated with the American strategic bombing campaigning hitting fuel depots and rail marshalling yards. But as was common during the War, many of the bombs missed their mark and hit Government buildings and residential areas, including the homes of important Government officials. Some of the buildings and homes had been included on a list sent by a British diplomat in Switzerland, Elizabeth Wiskemann, who suggested bombing Budapest to force the Government to stop the deportations. She sent the telegram in the clear, intending that it be read by the Hungarian intelligence service. Included were the addressed of the police and railway ministeries and home addresses of Government officials. The Hungarians thus assumed that the American raid was meant to stop the deportations and that there would be more. Horthy ordered the deportations to be halted and so informed the German Ambassador, SS General Veesenmayer. Even though SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichman was in Budapest, the deportations stopped. Churchill learned of this through a decrypted Turkish diplomatic cable. BBC broadcasts described the deportatiions and the gassing being carried out at Auschwuitz-Birkenau. The BBC also indicated that the British Government would persue those involved as war criminals. [Gilbert, pp. 211-13.]

Budapest (October 1944-January 1945)

As the Red Army approached Budapest (October 1944), Admiral Horthy, appealed for a cease-fire. Hitler was determined, however, that Budapest be held and sent SS Panzer units to defend the city. (These deployment of these units in a futile effort to hold Budapest seriously undermined the defense of Berlin.) Ferenc Szálasi, the leader of the Arrow-Cross Party and the Hungarist Movement, supported by the NAZIs, seized power in Budapest (October 15). They arrested Admiral Horthy. The NAZI deportations during the summer had primarily been conducted in the provinces. There were thus still about 200,000 Jews in Budapest when the Arrow-Cross seized power. Most of Hungarian Jews by this time were either in Budapest or in forced labor camps. The Arrow-Cross began executing Jews. There were daily mass executions often conducted in Budapest streets in broad daylight in front of Budapest citizens. Some of the Jews were tortured first others were just shot. The bodies were thrown into the Danube. Caught up in this mindless violence was a young teenager Andy Grove, the future chairman of Intel. He managed to survive because his father and forseen the danger and carefully planned. [Grove] It was at this time that Raoul Wallenberg arrived from Sweden. He represented the Swedish government and the American Office of War Refugees. On his own initiative he began issuing protective passports. These documents purpoted to give the bearers special importance for the Swedish Red Cross and the Swedish government, giving the individual protection by the Swedish Monarchy. Similar documents were later issued by the other neutral embassies--the Swiss, Spanish and Portuguese. The Arrow Cross beginning about November 18, 1944, designated a separated living area or getto for unprotected Jews. Gábor Vajna, the Arrow Cross Minister of Domestic Affairs, officially ordered the establishment of a ghetto on November 29 and on December 2, all Jews without protective letters were forced to move into the Ghetto. About 70,000 Jews were crowed into the Pest Getto. Living conditions were atrotious and rations were reduced to starvation levels. The Arrow Cross coducted constant executions of Jews in the Pest Getto. The Arrow Cross also rounded of thousands of Budapest Jews and marched them to the Austrian border during November and December 1944. There were no accomodations along the way and the winter weather conditions killed many Many collapsed along the route and were left to freeze or shot.

The Red Army Arrives

The Red Army entered Budapest on January 17-18, 1945, but they did not succeed in crossing the Danube and securing the Buda section of the city until February 13. Tragically it was too late to save the 564,500 Jews who the NAZIs and Arrow Cross had murdered in actions in Hungary or at various death-camps. The Soviets found in Budapest a mass of NAZI documents documentig the conduct of the Holocaust in Hungary and their actions annihilating Hungarian Jews.


Out of the 825,000 Hungarian Jews before World War II, some 550,000 were killed by the NAZIs and Hungarian units, esopecially the Arrow Cross. Many of the Jews that managed to survived emmigrated from Hungary after tge War. This once flourishing Jewish community now has been reduced to only a small community. Accurate counts do not exist. One observer estimates the Jewish population of Hungary today at 5,000-70,000 people. [Karsai]

Individual Accounts

Elli Friedmann

Elli Friedmann was 13 years old when the NAZIs occupied Hungary. The Hungarian Government under proding by the NAZIs had already strip the Jews of Hungarian citzeb]nship and stole most of their possessions. Elli had to turn over her proudest possession, her birthday bicycle. She had to wear a yellow star of David sewn onto her jacket. All her spare clothing had to be turned in. Her mother tells her, "Elli, let's thank God for being alive. Let us thank God for being together, in our own house. What's a yellow star on a jacket? It does not kill or condemn. It does not harm. It only says you're a Jew. That's nothing to be ashamed of. We're not marked for being criminals. Only for being Jews. Aren't you proud of being a Jew?" Elli did not think her life could get any worse. Then came the deportations. [Bitton-Jackson]

Andy Grove (1936- )

Few corporations have had a greater impact on the world as Intel. And Intel's Chairman during the critical era of the personal computer was Andrew S. Grove, a Hungarian Jew. Andy was born in Hungary (1936). This was of course not an auspacious time to begin life as a Jew. He narrowly missed the NAZI roundups and shipment to the death camps (1944). He was a pre-teen at the time and looked on evading the NAZIs as a great adventure, not fully comprending what was at stake. His father had wisely prepared the family for what was to come. he and his mother managed to hide with the help of friends. His father was seized and sent to a firced labor camp, but managed to survive. After surviving the NAZIs, Grove had adverse, although less horific, experiences with the Communists that replaced them. He was a good student and earned excellent grades in secondary school during the 1940s. He was, however, denied access to university because the Communist authorities labeled him a 'class alien'. This was because his father had been a businessman. He writes, "It's hard to describe the feelings of an 18-year old as he grasps the nature of a social stigma directed at him." [Grove] Such actions like this, limiting the prospects of its talented youth is one of the many reasons that Communist regimes reported such poor economic results. Andy escaped from Communist-controlled Hungary at the age of 20 years seizing the opportunity presented from the Hugarian Revolution (1956). and moved to the United States Contrast this to what Grove managed to achieve with Intel in his adopted country, America.

Schwarcz family

We note the fate of two Jewish brothers in Hungary. The boys are the uncles of the writer, Paul (Varna) Schwarcz--brothers of his mother. We do not know their last names. After the Germann invasionn (1944), they were arrested and sent tyo a labor camp. Conditions in Jewish labor camps were terrible. The men were fiorced to work at hard labor withlittle, food, shelter and medical care. Both brothers perished there. .

Reader Comment

A Dutch Reader writes, "What a tragic and horrible account HBC presents in this report about the holocaust of the Hungarian Jews. The photograph make it even more awful and haunting. How many talents were lost to the world? Because it is a fact that especially among Hungarian Jews there were many brilliant people. They were very well-educated and usually multi-lingual. A good example was THEODOR HERZL, the father of Zionism. Famous scientists who were able to come to the United States after their studies in.......of all countries....Germany, were EDWARD TELLER, LEO SZILARD, THEODORE von KARMAN, Nobel laureate EUGENE WIGNER and atomic scientist JOHN von NEUMANN. We also should not forget famous conductors like GEORGE SZELL, FRITZ REINER and GEORG SOLTI. There are at least 4 other Hungarian Jews besides WIGNER who received the Nobel prize.: GEORGE OLAH, GEORGE de HEVESY, JOHN HARSANYI and DENNIS GABOR.


Bitton-Jackson, Livia. I Have Lived A Thousand Years (1999).

Braham, Rudolph L. The Hungarian Labor Service System, 1939-45.

Gilbert, Martin. Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (Holt: New York, 2007), 359p.

Grove, Andrew S. "Stigmatizing Business," The Washington Post, July 17, 2002, p.23.

Karsai, László. "Photographs Documenting the Holocaust in Hungary," Jewish Museum and Archives of Hungary

Munk, Tibor. Munk was one of the Jewish laborers. He posted hisd experiences on the internet, but I do not see a title.


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Created: May 1, 2003
Last updated: 10:23 PM 4/19/2014