The subject of this paper is the Holocaust and the events of 1944 in Hungary, but before I discuss these subjects,
let me say a few words about the rise of political anti-Semitism in
Hungary between the two world wars.1
The appearance of political anti-Semitism in Hungary can be dated to the 1870s and 1880s. Yet, at that time,
the liberal government was still very much in favor of the
assimilation of the Jews, who were playing a significant role in the
modernization of the country.
The counter-revolutionary regime, which followed
the revolutions of 1918-1919, created an anti-democratic,
conservative form of government that raised anti-Semitism to the
level of official policy. The two revolutions and the traumatic loss
of two thirds of the territory of Hungary at the end of World War I,
were closely connected in the consciousness of society. Exploiting
this, counter-revolutionary propaganda made the revolutions
responsible for the disastrous peace treaty signed at Trianon in
1920. From there, it was but a small step to connect liberalism, the
democratic civil movements, and the Communist Soviet Republic to the
Jews. According to this theory, the Jews "had made" the
revolutions and were therefore responsible for Trianon and for all
the social and economic troubles of the mutilated country. Despite
this anti-Semitic propaganda, many Jews were not to be persuaded,
until World War II, that whereas before 1918 it had been
"good" to be Jewish in the Monarchy, after 1918 it was
"bad" to be a Jew in Hungary, as Ezra Mendelsohn has said.
The impoverished country, squeezed within the
borders defined at Trianon, had nearly as many professionals and
civil servants looking for jobs as in the earlier, larger country. In
addition to those fleeing to the truncated territory from other parts
of Hungary with a university degree, a considerable proportion of the
children of middle-class families, fugitive from the lost
territories, entered the universities. One attempt at solving this
"overproduction" of professionals was Law XXV. of 1920, the
first anti-Semitic piece of legislation in Europe, which limited the
proportion of young people allowed to enter the universities
according to the proportion of various "races or
nationalities" within the nation as a whole. 2 For the first time, "The Israelites /were/ regarded as a
separate nationality." The nearly half a million Jews made up 6
% of the total population of Hungary, which was below 10 million.
Between 1920 and 1938 no more discriminatory acts
were passed in the Hungarian Parliament. This may be explained by the
selective anti-Semitism of Regent Miklós Horthy and the leading
politicians of the period, who distinguished between assimilated (Magyarized)
Jews and immigrants especially from "Galicia."
After the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, however,
in a speech made at Gyõr on March 5, 1938, Prime Minister Miklós
Darányi, besides proclaiming a program of rearmament, declared that
there was a Jewish question in Hungary, and that it was to be settled
in a lawful way. In Hungary, the first step toward a
"racial" discrimination among Hungarian citizens was the
so-called first Jewish Law of 1938.3 It stipulated that the proportion of Jews in the chamber of
the press, in the chamber of the theater and film, in the chambers of
lawyers, engineers and medical doctors as well as in the professional
jobs of certain companies should not go beyond twenty percent. In the
following year, two other laws, relevant to our subject, were passed
by the Hungarian legislation. The National Defense Law of Two 1939
gave the government special powers "in times of war or in times
of the danger of war threatening the country."4 After March 19, 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary, the
new pro-Nazi government of Döme Sztójay referred to various
articles of this latter law when issuing its decrees.
Béla Imrédy, who, after the resignation of Darányi,
had, as Prime Minister, pushed the first Jewish Law through
Parliament submitted, to the house of representatives on Christmas
Eve 1938, a bill on "limiting the social and economic expansion
of Jews."5 According to this
second Jewish Law, passed in 1939, "a person is to be regarded
as Jewish, if he or she, or at least one of the parents, or at least
two of the grandparents were members of the Israelite denomination
before the coming into force of the present Law." The relatively
high ratio granted to Jews in the professions, listed in the first
Jewish Law, was now lowered to six percent.
The primary aim of the government with these two
Jewish Laws was probably to mollify the anti-Semitic passions of the
"Christian nationalist" middle- and lower-middle classes in
Hungary. There was no pressure from Nazi Germany in that respect. Let
us add that the Hungarian Nazis, the so-called Arrow Cross, Ferenc Szálasi
and his followers, were demanding a "numerus nullus", that
is, a Hungary without Jews.
Finally, in 1941, the legislation passed the third
Jewish Law, which is known in Hungarian history as the racist
One could go on listing the laws (and decrees)
issued against citizens of Hungary described as Jews. Yet, for all
their discriminatory quality, these acts did not mean cramming people
into cattle-cars and deporting them. According to the documents so
far discovered, the German-type "settlement" of the Jewish
question in Hungary was raised between the Third Reich and Hungary
for the first time in 1942.7 It is
true, however, recent researches indicate that Nazi Germany put
considerable pressure on Hungary as early as during the summer and
fall of 1940, to adopt some race-protection laws, in return for
territorial expansion. The government of Miklós Kállay (1942-1944)
as well as Horthy himself flatly refused the German demands.
Until the spring of 1944 the position of hundreds
of thousands of Hungarian Jews can be described as relatively safe -
this despite the fact that the Jewish Laws made their lives
difficult. Jewish men were forced to serve as laborers in the armed
forces. Tens of thousands of these men died on the Russian front
along with Hungarian soldiers; and more than 18,000 Jews, qualified
as aliens were deported to Kamenets-Podolsky in the Ukraine, in the
summer of 1941, where they were massacred by the German SS, Hungarian
soldiers, and Ukrainian militia. During the War, approximately 15-20,000
Jews from abroad found refuge in Hungary. During 1942 and 1943, these
Jews - as we know from the depositions of a number of Polish and
Slovak refugees - were amazed by the nearly undisturbed life of the
Jews in Hungary. They were particularly impressed by the fact that
the traffic near the synagogues on Yom Kippur was directed by
white gloved policemen in dress uniform.
In March 1944, Hungary had the largest Jewish
community, around 800 thousand people including converts. This was
the largest grouping of Jews anywhere in German-controlled Europe.
Still, hardly ten days after the German occupation, Edmund
Veesenmayer, the plenipotentiary representative of the Reich, summed
up favorably the results of the harmonious cooperation between the
German and the Hungarian authorities. He reported home that,
"considering the conditions here, this development /i.e.
promulgation of the first anti-Jewish decrees/ can be said to be very
"March 19th. Very exciting day. ... our
German brothers are allegedly coming. ... There was something in the
air. People were sent home from the movies, but the soccer game was
held."9 These are the words
Lieutenant General Kálmán Shvoy wrote into his diary (in Szeged).
In many places, the population believed that the Germans were just
marching through the country and at one place, in Kaposvár, Jewish
housewives offered cake to the German soldiers.10
Directly after the German occupation, a number of
gendarmerie posts sent the higher authorities reports to the effect
that German soldiers were breaking into, and plundering, houses of
Israelite families.11 Although there
was no open investigation in these cases, the German military
headquarters were notified. They replied saying: "The case will
not go unpunished; strict orders have been issued to German soldiers
to refrain from taking any material objects, and anyone not returning
these objects to where they have been taken from, will be severely
punished." More than one persecuted person returning to Hungary
from deportation after the war recalled that the German military had
behaved decently toward the Jewish population, whereas the Gestapo
had been very cruel.
Simultaneously with the armed troops of the
Wehrmacht, two representatives of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt
- the SS Security Main Office), namely Hermann Alois Krumey and
Dieter von Wisliceny came to Budapest. A few days later the chief of
Department IV. B/4, Obersturmbannführer Adolf
Eichmann arrived also to have the Endlösung, the final
solution put into effect in Hungary. Indeed, during the first
days of the occupation, the chief of RSHA, Ernst Kaltenbrunner
visited Budapest in person, and talked with former ambassador to
Berlin and presumptive Prime Minister Döme Sztójay regarding the
details of the radical solution of the Jewish question.12
Eichmann's detachment of two or three hundred
persons needed all the help and support of the Hungarian
administrative, police and gendarmerie organizations, as well as
active participation, in order to be able to execute the operation of
"dejudeization." Eichmann was satisfied with Horthy's
appointing retired Gendarmerie Major, Arrow-Cross Member of
Parliament and confidential agent of the Germans, László Baky
Under-Secretary of the Interior.13 Baky
was put in charge of the police and the gendarmerie. It was with even
greater satisfaction that Eichmann received the appointment, as
Under-Secretary of the Interior, of László Endre, sub-prefect of
County Pest, who was a notorious anti-Semite. Endre was made
responsible for the departments of administration and the so-called
department of housing. In addition, on May 13th, the Minister of the
Interior put Endre in charge of "cases in connection with the
resettling of the Jews, not covered by the control of other
departments." Thus, the units (approximately 20.000 men) of the
ten gendarmerie districts and the officials of 44 counties as well as
the police force of the towns of Hungary were all placed at the
operation's disposal. The local administration executed the Jewish
decrees down to the last dot.
The administrative system in Hungary after March
19, 1944, was the same as the one restored in August 1919 on the
basis of the laws on administration adopted in 1887. Although there
were several attempts at reforming the administration, especially
following the revolutions in 1918-1919, no real reorganization took
place. Act Thirty of 1929 "On the organization of public
administration," although reflecting the effort of the
government to centralize and to professionalize the system, did not
basically reduce the jurisdiction of local autonomies.14 Counties and towns with full municipal rights (törvényhatósági
jogú városok) were formally headed by Lord Lieutenants (fõispán),
nominated by the Minister of the Interior and appointed by the
Regent, whose powers of supervision and control covered all local
administrative organs. The law reduced the proportion of the biggest
tax payers, the so-called virilists from 50% to 40% in the municipal
assemblies. The proportion of eligible members was also reduced to
forty percent. The rest, 20 percent, was now to be made up of
permanent members, representatives of special interests, religions,
professions (i.e. the chief of police, the director of finances, the
president of the university, etc.), as well as of civil servants.
According to the Act, the government had the right to dissolve the
municipal assembly in the case of behavior jeopardizing the interests
of the state, of permanent disablement, and of a critical
economic situation. However, real control in the everyday life of the
counties was in the hands of the sub-prefects (alispán) elected by
the municipal assemblies. In the subordinate districts (járás)
control was in the hands of chief constables (fõszolgab ró), who
were subordinate to the sub-prefect. In the county towns and the
cities with full municipal rights, control was in the hands of the
mayor. The latter was elected by the municipal assemblies. The
gradual restriction of local jurisdictions became complete with Law
Twenty-two of 1942, which gave the Minister of Interior the right to
appoint the office holders previously filled by elections.15 Indeed, Article 8 of the same law stated, that, although these
offices "are usually to be filled by national competition,"
"the advertisement of the vacancy can be waived if the authority
entitled to fill the office deems it unnecessary in the interest of
public service. Competition can also be omitted if the interest of
public service demands the speedy filling of the administrative
position." After March 19, 1944, massive dismissals and/or
transfers of public servants were legitimized with reference to that
law. The heads of local administrations relied on the police force in
towns, and on the gendarmerie in rural areas. The organization of the
gendarmerie did not follow the country boundaries, but followed the
lines of the military structure. In other words, it was modeled after
the military districts.
Unlike the police, which was controlled by the
Ministry of the Interior, the gendarmerie was under the dual control
of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense. The
gendarmerie functioned as an organized military body of law and
order. The men and their officers received very harsh military training,
which included emphasis on unconditional loyalty to the Regent. As an
organization of public safety, the gendarmerie was subordinated to
the Minister of the Interior. At the same time, its highest military
commander was the superintendent of the gendarmerie, responsible for
controlling training as well as military order and discipline.
After the German occupation on March 19, 1944, it
took German-plenipotentiary Edmund Veesenmayer, Regent Horthy, and
the leaders of the right-wing parties three days to agree on the
composition of the new government. The government of Döme Sztójay,
included, in addition to pro-German ministers, some members of the
Party of Hungarian Renewal (Magyar Megújulás Pártja). On March 22,
the Prime Minister, referring to his talks with Ernst Kaltenbrunner,
Chief of RSHA, informed the first session of the council of ministers
on the problems to be solved in connection with the Jewish question.
The second session of the council of ministers (March 29, 1944) was
already discussing the "Jewish decrees" by the dozen.16 Although the Minister of Justice observed that government
decrees needed the approval of Regent Horthy, Prime Minister Sztójay
put him at ease saying, "His Excellency the Regent had given the
government free hand with regard to all the Jewish decrees, and did
not wish to influence the (ministers) in that respect."
The decrees discussed by the council of ministers
deprived Hungarian citizens, described as Jews, of their possessions,
of their most elementary rights, and of the conditions of existence.
The decrees tried to establish a semblance of legitimacy by referring
to Law Two on National Defense of 1939. The decrees of the government
were accepted as lawful by most local organs of administration and
public safety. Indeed, specialists of the local authorities executed
without hitch even such decrees that were marked confidential; were
never published, and lacked reference to a law. These decrees
referred to such things as the census of Jews and the collection
camps for Jews in Kárpátalja (Northeast Hungary), Észak-Erdély
(Northern Transylvania) and the Délvidék (Southern Hungary).17
The semblance of legal continuity prevailed for
the local administrations because Regent Horthy had remained in his
place. Indeed, the dismissals and appointments of ministers and
under-secretaries carried his signature. Nor had the Parliament been
officially dissolved. Thus Horthy was playing an active role in
setting up the new government at a time when the 5 Gestapo
was arresting and deporting to German concentration camps, members of
the Hungarian parliament, including Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, the
long-time former Minister of the Interior. And yet, on April 14,
Veesenmayer emphatically demanded that Sztójay dismiss all the lord
lieutenants and the sub-prefects.18 Within
less than a month, all but two of the lord lieutenants were removed
by Horthy at the recommendation of Minister of the Interior Andor
Jaross.19 Most of these offices were
filled with members of Béla Imrédy's far-right Party of Hungarian
Renewal of which Minister of the Interior Andor Jaross was also a
leading member. Political reliability was the most important
criterion. The case of the Lord Lieutenant of Szeged is
characteristic. Sándor Tukats had, until his removal, executed all
decrees concerning Jews without the slightest hesitation. As early as
April 29, Saturday, that is on the day following the promulgation of
the ghetto-decree, Tukats called upon the Mayor of Szeged demanding
that he take the necessary steps.20 Still,
Tukats was considered unreliable because he was a member of the less
radically rightist Party of Hungarian Life (Magyar Élet Pártja).
His place was taken by Aladár Magyary-Kossa, who was not from Szeged,
but whom Minister of the Interior Jaross trusted Magyary-Kossa was
also member of the Party of Hungarian Renewal. (Incidentally, no
doubt as a result of some power play, Tukats became the Lord
Lieutenant of Szeged again in September.)
On May 10, Veesenmayer was able to report to
Foreign Minister Ribbentrop that "the cleansing of the Hungarian
administration in the countryside is proceeding in a satisfactory
manner."21 According to the
documents, "cleansing" included the chief constables at the
head of the districts as well as the lord lieutenants, but the
sub-prefects, who actually controlled the counties, and the mayors in
the towns were hardly touched until the end of June, following the
completion of the Jewish deportations. There were very few such
administrators as József Pálfy, mayor of Szeged, who voluntarily
resigned from his office, or more precisely, retired from public life
until his official retirement on May 31.22 His
place was taken by Deputy-Mayor Béla Tóth on March 22, after Pálfy
had tendered his resignation. Tóth strictly executed all the decrees
concerning the Jews. Indeed, sometimes he put into practice measures
that went beyond the governmental decrees. For example, on June 10,
on the day the two under-secretaries of the Ministry of the Interior
paid a visit to Szeged, and possibly because of that visit,
Deputy-Mayor Tóth gave instructions by telephone to the managers of
the Szeged Central Gas and Electric Co. ordering that they
immediately cut off electricity and gas.23 The
cuts included street lightings within the main Jewish ghetto.
The reason that sub-prefects and mayors were not
removed was probably that most of the local leaders, including the
more humanely inclined, proved during the first weeks that they recognized
as legitimate the new government and its decrees restricting the
rights of the Jewish citizens.
The chief constables, at the head of districts,
played at least as important a role in this affair as did the mayors
in the towns. Indeed, their relationship with the local population in
small villages of a few thousand inhabitants was probably more direct
and intimate than that of the mayors who administered towns with tens
of thousands of people. Jaross and his colleagues needed reliable
chief constables for the smooth and quick "dejudeization"
of the country. At the same time, according to laws concerning
administrative matters, these offices had to be held by persons with
adequate training and qualifications. The Minister if the Interior
satisfied both criteria, one must admit, in a rather shrewd manner.
When leafing through the pages of the spring and early summer 1944
numbers of the official Monitor (Hivatalos Közlöny), it becomes
clear that Interior Minister Jaross appointed the new chief
constables always "in the interest of public service", that
is, with refernce to Law Twenty-two of 1942. However, these
appointments were not promotions for district administrators (szolgab
ró) or deputy clerks (aljegyzõ), but simply transfers. The
principle behind it was probably that the specialists should come
from as far as possible, so that previously established local,
friendly connections should not survive, and that nothing should
cause the officials to try to delay the execution of the
discriminatory decrees. The administrators should be unable to help
their friends. This assumption is supported by the fact that the same
principle can be seen to have been operating on lower levels, in the
appointments of district administrators, deputy clerks, and
engineers. There are examples of individuals being transferred form
the northwestern parts of the country to southern Hungary and visa
versa. I repeat: these were transfers and not promotions. At the same
time, it is surprising to see that while in some counties nearly all
the chief constables were replaced, in other places there were no
transfers at all. To sum it up, the leaders of the local
administrations under the Ministry of the Interior came up to the
expectations of their superiors.
In July, 1944, one of the mayors (Bertalan Bécsy
from Makó) proudly declared in the editorial of the local paper that
"we who are now standing at the head of public life in this
county (i.e. Counties Csanád-Arad-Torontál) and this town, have
been faithful servants for decades of the nationalistically oriented
right-wing idea, of the originally pure counter-revolutionary Szeged
ideology."24 Thus it was not a
coincidence that "everyone here has remained at his post despite
the political changes."
None of the top leaders of the ten gendarmerie
districts was removed. Yet not all the commanders of the gendarmerie
districts executed the anti-Jewish orders with the same zeal. The
commander of Gendarmerie District Ten was, one could say, lucky
enough not being forced to execute "ghettoization."25 This was because Ukrainian refugees were wandering across his
territory at that time. Therefore, the commander of Gendarmerie
District Nine was put in charge of controlling the collection of Jews
from all over Northern Transylvania.26 Although
having been heard to criticize the Germans, and having shown
"sympathy for the fate of the persecuted Jews", - as was
said at a people's court trial after the war by a number of
witnesses, the commander of Gendarmerie District Five remained at his
post.27 On the other hand, the
commander of District Four personally proposed to the Minister of the
Interior that "the zone along the southern border be dejudaized
with special dispatch."28 The
same commander recommended the relief and/or transfer of three
gendarmerie officers "because they cannot be expected to execute
the measures against the Jews with the dedication and zealous
initiative now required of officers of the gendarmerie." Dozens
of survivors recalled after the war instances of the brutality of the
gendarmes. An extreme example of this was that, in the days before
the deportation, Jewish women were stripped and submitted to bodily
search (per inspectionem vaginae) in search of hidden valuables by
midwives and doctors, often in the presence of men who were not
medical personnel. 29 Indeed, in some
instances, the gendarmes themselves performed such a search. The
testimonies about gendarmes smuggling food into the ghettos, or about
gendarmerie officers undertaking anything against all the savagerie
are few and far between.30
The police headquarters regularly conducted
so-called "yellow-star"-raids. It was not at all
exceptional when a mother of four was arrested by the police and
fined 1,000 Pengõs, a huge sum at that time, for not wearing the
star in the required manner.31 She
was actually wearing a shawl on her head because of the rain, and the
end of the shawl covered the star.
The director of a hospital ruled that Jewish
doctors did not have to wear the star on their white gowns, but the
sub-prefect overruled him and ordered that the yellow stars be worn
even in the operating rooms.32
The so-called ghetto decree was issued on Friday,
April 28, 1944.33 In the regions
that I have researched all the local officials took the first steps
between April 29 and May 5 to designate the places for the Jews to
live. Although the decree used a moderating clause, saying that
"the first magistrate of the municipality may so order,"
nobody had the slightest doubt that the text was to be meant in the
imperative. The ghettos in smaller towns were installed without any
problems. Indeed, in some places the orders of the sub-prefect were
carried out five days before the official deadline. In towns with
full municipal rights it was more difficult to organize the
separation of Jews from non-Jews. In nearly every town a number of
officials were appointed by the mayors to run Jewish affairs. The mayor
of Kecskemét collected several ghetto orders in preparation for his
own proclamation on the subject.34 In
Szeged both the new and the old lord lieutenants called meetings to
discuss which part of the town would be the most suitable for setting
up a ghetto. In both towns it was decided that "considerations
of convenience" should be ignored. The ghetto order of Kecskemét
allowed approximately eighteen square feet (two square meters) per
person;35 the one in Szeged
originally decided it to be 55 square feet (six square meters) for a
person36 only to reduce it later to
twenty square feet (two point two square meters).37 Unlike in Szeged, where a single ghetto was built, Kecskemét
had four places assigned as living quarters for Jews.38 In that city most of the Jews were to be housed in the
barracks along the two sides of the cemetery in the outskirts of the
town. When this plan fell through, the municipal leaders found the
storerooms of the Copper-sulfate factory suitable. The president of
the Kecskemét Jewish Council wrote to the mayor in desperation39 that "the quartering of masses in the storehouses of the
Copper-sulfate factory is disastrous... one of the rooms is a big
empty hall with a small door and with windows that cannot be opened.
The dirt floor is covered with sand and is full of mouse and rat
holes. There is no possibility for washing."
On the other hand, in the town of Baja, Mayor
Bernhart assigned houses for the local Jews but did not set up a
closed ghetto.40 Nor were the
Christian inhabitants of the area forced to move out. In Hódmezõvásárhely,
Deputy-Mayor Beretzk called the first ghetto meeting only on May 31,
at which no decision was made regarding ghettoization.41 All along, the Hódmezõvásárhely officials claimed to be
waiting for advisers from the capital, and therefore did not do
anything in terms of setting up a ghetto. As Beretzk said at the
meeting on May 31, "we do not think of using force against
anyone." Within his own jurisdiction, Beretzk played for time.
On June 15, however, a detachment of fifty gendarmes was ordered to Hódmezõvásárhely
in order to round up the Jews, to bring them to the collection camp
(or in other words concentration center) in Szeged, and then to
deport them.42 Jews from the area
were deported at the end of June mostly to Auschwitz and a minority
to forced labor in Austria.
On May 2, a few days after the publication of the
ghetto decree, the Interior Minister's order excluding Jews from
public baths came into force.43 Sub-prefects
and mayors were receiving this and dozens of other orders concerning
the Jews, and most of them did their best to carry them out to the
letter and as soon as possible even if the demands were unrealistic.
By early May there was no Jew left to be banished from the public
On May 5 the sub-prefect of Csongrád County
issued his order, to the district chief constables and the mayors of
the county towns on the exclusion of Jews from the public baths.44 One of the chief constables replied to sub-prefect that
although there were no public baths within his jurisdiction, in the
summer the Jews be also forbidden to use the public beaches along the
Tisza River.45 The operators of the
sports swimming pool in Szentes (also in Csongrád County) requested,
on May 13, the complete exclusion of Jews.46 The leaseholder of the local hot baths and swimming pool was
willing to let Jews have "a hot shower." The mayor made his
final decision on June 14 and allowed the Jews to use the steam baths
on Wednesdays according to the above conditions. When he made this
decision he already knew that two days later the nearly four hundred
inmates of the Szentes ghetto would be taken to the collection camp
in Szeged, to be deported from there.
The management of the Szeged Turkish baths, in
anticipation of the decree of the Minister of the Interior, made it
known through the local press that Jews were not to be admitted in
the steam baths.47 After the decree
was published, the manager declared that the Jews were banned from
the baths.48 He also asked the
municipal authorities that, although "the decree made it
possible for the owner of the baths to appoint a suitable day and
time when the excluded Jews could use the facilities,... this should
not be allowed because the Jews might infest the premises with
parasites and thus could spread diseases."
While collection camps were being organized, and
then freight trains crowded with humans were being sent off to Auschwitz,
the humane Deputy Foreign Minister, Mihály Jungerth-Arnóthy more
than once addressed the meetings of the council of ministers,
informing the members of the government on the mistreatment of the
Jews.49 In addition to the fact that
"the deportation of the Hungarian Jews was often carried out
within forms that were cruel and objectionable with respect to
humanitarian considerations", Jungerth-Arnóthy argued, foreign
newspapers carried news about "Jews being gassed and burnt in
Poland." To Jungerth-Arnóthy's complaints Under-secretary of
the Interior László Endre replied, among other things, that
"the atmosphere and order of the ghettos was usually calm and
satisfactory. There were hardly any suicides, and those occurred
mostly in the pre-deportation camps."50 Interior Minister Jaross also held unambiguous views on the
Jewish question: "We are not really interested in where the Jews
are going. The welfare of the country demands that the Jews be
removed fast."51 And indeed, in
the spirit of this comment, orders, instructions and decrees kept
arriving to the heads of local and municipal administration.
Between May 14 and July 9, 1944, that is during
less than two months, 434,351 persons were deported from Hungary on
The reaction of the population was rather mixed.
Some were sympathetic, and tried to help the Jews. On the other hand,
the decree on the utilization of synagogues, as well as the great
number of private requests for apartments, business premises and
other movable property formerly belonging to Jews would seem to
suggest that very few expected the deportees to return.
Regent Horthy had the deportations stopped on July
6, 1944 only,53 as a result of
foreign pressure in particular by King Gustav of Sweden, President
Roosevelt, and Pope Pius
XII.54 His decision was also
motivated by the success of Operation Overlord in Normandy and the
successful summer offensive of the Red Army. Besides, he may have
been afraid that if the Jews were to be deported from Budapest as
well, the Allies would carpet-bomb Budapest. In spite of this, the
collection camps in the country were all emptied by the German and
Hungarian authorities by July 9, 1944.
It would seem that the documents unearthed so far
confirm the result of Raul Hilberg's analysis,55 namely that not unlike the administrative personnel in Germany
or the Netherlands, the majority of the officials in Hungary went
about solving the "Jewish question" with initiative,
flexibility, and often even with enthusiasm. Some officials waited
for orders from above, others acted on their own initiative. In
addition to decrees officially issued, oral instructions received
over the telephone or at meetings, wanting even the semblance of
legality, were immediately executed. As Deputy Mayor of Szeged, Béla
Tóth said on May 13, 1944: "In the case of the Jews, rather
than worrying about the letter of the decrees, we are considering
their spirit and their aim, and we adjust the method of execution to
this spirit and these aims."56
There were very few administrative heads like
Deputy Mayor Pál Beretzk of Hódmezõvásárhely, who dared to
alleviate the condition of the Jews within the possibilities offered
by the national decrees. His actions are proof that it was possible
to make compassionate gestures, and to slow
down, within very narrow limits, the speed of the Final Solution.
Sources: 1 For a detailed analyis of
the period with special regard to the Holocaust, see Randolph L.
Braham, The Politics of Genocide. The Holocaust in Hungary. I-II.
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), and The Holocaust in
Hungary Fifty Years Later. Eds. by R. L. Braham and A. Pók, (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
2 For the text of Law XXV/1920,
see Magyar Törvénytár, 1920 (Budapest: Franklin Társulat,
1921), pp.145- 146.
3 For the text of Law
XV/1938 (the first Jewish Law), see Magyar Törvénytár, 1938 (Budapest:
Franklin Társulat, 1939) pp. 132-144.
4 For the text of Law
II/1939, see Magyar Törvénytár, 1939 (Budapest: Franklin Társulat,
1940), pp. 6-128.
5 For the text of Law
IV/1939 (the second Jewish Law), see Magyar Törvénytár, 1939 (Budapest:
Franklin Társulat, 1940), pp. 129-148.
6 For the text of Law
XV/1941 (the third Jewish Law), see Magyar Törvénytár, 1941 (Budapest:
Franklin Társulat, 1942), pp. 56-66.
7 For Hungarian-German
diplomatic relations, see R. L. Braham, The Destruction of
Hungarian Jewry. A Documentary Account Vols. I-II (New York:
World Federation of Hungarian Jews, 1963), A Wilhelmstrasse és
Magyarország. Német diplomáciai iratok Magyarországról 1933-1944
[Wilhelmstrasse and Hungary. German diplomatic papers from
Hungary 1933-1944] (henceforth: Wilhelmstrasse). Edited by György Ránki,
Ervin Pamlényi, Loránt Tilkovszky, Gyula Juhász (Budapest: Kossuth
K., 1968), Hitler hatvannyolc tárgyalása, 1939-1944. Hitler
Adolf tárgyalásai kelet-európai államférfiakkal [Hitler's
sixty-eight talks, 1939-1944 Adolf Hitler's talks with East European
statesmen]. Edited by György Ránki, Vols. I-II (Budapest: Magvető
9 Shvoy Kálmán titkos
naplója és emlékirata, 1918-1945 [Kálmán
Shvoy's secret diary and memoires, 1918- 1945]. Edited by Mihály
Perneki (Budapest: Kossuth K., 1983), pp. 275-276.
10 Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és
Levéltár (MZSML) [Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives], Deportáltakat
Gondozó Országos Bizottság (DEGOB) [National Committee for Looking
after Deportees], protocol 3543. 11 Bács-Kiskun
Megyei Levéltár (BKML) [Bács-Kiskun County Archives], papers of
the Chief Constable of the District of Kalocsa, 2029/1944, 2140/1944.
12 For Kaltenbrunner's visit
in Hungary, see e. g. Az Endre-Baky-Jaross per (henceforth:EBJ)
[The Endre-Baky- Jaross Trial], edited and notes by László Karsai
and Judit Molnár. (Budapest: Cserépfalvi K., 1994), pp. 179-180,
13 For the appointments of László
Baky and László Endre, see Magyarország tiszti cm- és névtára,
1944. [Catalogue of the names and addresses of Hungarian
officers, 1944]. (Budapest: Magyar Királyi Állami Nyomda, 1944),
Supplement, p. 17.
14 For the text of Law XXX/1929,
see Magyar Törványtár, 1929. (Budapest: Franklin Társulat,
1930), pp. 333- 407.
15 For the text of Law XXII/1942,
see Magyar Törvénytár, 1942 (Budapest: Franklin Társulat,
1943), pp. 171- 177.
16 Magyar Országos Levéltár
(MOL) [Hungarian National Archives], minutes of the Council of
Ministers, March 29, 1944.
17 For the text decrees, see
EBJ, p. 608 and Vádirat a nacizmus ellen. Dokumentumok a
magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez, Vol. I
(henceforth: Vádirat I.) [Indictment of Nazism. Documents of the
history of the persecution of Jews in Hungary]. Edited by Ilona
Benoschofsky and Elek Karsai, (Budapest: MIOK, 1958), pp. 124-127.
pp. 837, 845.
20 Csongrád Megyei Levéltár
(CSML) [Csongrád County Archives], papers of the Lord Lieutenant of
Szeged, 386/1944. 21 Wilhelmstrasse,
22 CSML, papers of the Mayor
of Szeged, 22/1944 confidential
23 CSML, papers of the Mayor
of Szeged, 9090/1944.
24 Makói Újság,
July 2, 1944, pp. 1-2.
25 Történeti Hivatal (TH)
[Office of History], V-140.906/2, V-142.803/1.
26 TH, V-140.906/1.
27 Budapest Főváros Levéltára
[Archives of Budapest], Nb. 725/1946.
28 TH, V-146.147.
29 Esztergomi Pr mási Levéltár
[Archives of the Esztergom Primate] papers of Serédy Jusztinián, S
12/a file III., MZSML, DEGOB, protocol 3550.
30 MZSML, DEGOB, protocol
31 BKML, papers of the Chief
Constables of the District of Kalocsa, 2277/1944.
32 MZSML, DEGOB, protocol
33 For the text of the
decree, see Vádirat I, pp. 244-250.
34 BKML, Zsidók [Jews]
1944, papers kept separately.
36 CSML, papers of the Lord
Lieutenant of Szeged, 847/1944.
37 CSML, papers of the Mayor
of Szeged, 7776/1944.
38 BKML, Zsidók 1944,
papers kept separately.
40 BKML, papers of the Mayor
of Baja, 53/1944 cofidential.
papers of the Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely 8804/1944.
papers of the Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely 11.856/1944, 12.690/1944.
43 Vádirat I,
44 CSML-Szentes, papers of
the Chief Constables of the District of Mindszent, 1160/1944.
46 CSML-Szentes, papers of
the Mayor of Szentes, 1581/1944.
47 Szegedi Új Nemzedék,
April 28, 1944, p. 5.
48 CSML, papers of the Mayor
of Szeged, 9240/1944.
49 MOL, minutes of the
Council of Ministers, June 21, 1944.
50 For the complete text of
Endre's report, see EBJ, pp. 492-496.
51 MOL, minutes of the
Council of Ministers, June 24, 1944.
52 Report to the Ministry of
the Interior of Gendarme Lt. Colonel László Ferenczy, liaison
officer of the Gendarmerie with the German Security Police on July 9,
1944. For all the reports of Ferenczy, see EBJ, pp. 497-522.
54 Vádirat a nácizmus
ellen. Dokumentumok a magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez.
[Indictment of Nazism. Documents of the
history of the persecution of Jews in Hungary] vol. III. ed. by Elek
Karsai (Budapest, MIOK, 1967), pp. 58-60, 70-74, 92-97.
55 Raul Hilberg, "The
Bureaucracy of Annihilation" in: Unanswered Questions. Nazy
Germany and the Genocide of the Jews ed. by François Furet (New
York: Schocen Books, 1989), pp. 119-133.
56 (Vásárhelyi) Népújság, May 13, 1944. p. 5.