The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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The Extermination of Hungarian Jewry

Finally, in 1944, Hungary was the only country within the
sphere of influence of the Reich left with a considerable
Jewish population. After the annexation of Southern
Slovakia, Northern Transylvania and Carpatho-Russia, there
were about eight hundred-thousand Jews living in Hungary.

Since 1942, when a representative of the German Ministry of
Foreign Affairs had demanded of the Hungarian Ambassador to
fulfil the Fuehrer's wish and take part in the "solution of
the Jewish problem," there had been constant Nazi pressure
on the Hungarian government to fall in line on the Jewish
question. As usual, the promise was made that Jewish
property would be turned over to Hungary. The objectives
outlined by the Foreign Ministry to its representative in
Budapest were to demand that the Hungarians remove the Jews
from all influence in cultural and economic life, introduce
the Jewish badge, uproot the Jews and deport them to the

The Magyars, however, contented themselves in the first
place with legislation denying the Jews a number of rights.
Prime Minister Kallay did not hide his anti-Semitic
feelings, but he did not agree to throw the Jews to the
wolves. Replying to a question from a member of the Arrow
Cross Party in the Hungarian parliament, Kallay stated on 7
December 1942, that the time was not appropriate for
imprisoning the Jews in labour camps and ghettoes.

Naturally, the Accused received a German Foreign Ministry
report on this development.

Eichmann was already looking forward to the extermination of
Hungarian Jewry. When the German Foreign Ministry proposed
action against Jews who had taken refuge in Hungary,
Eichmann stated that he objected to partial operations. On
25 September 1942, he wrote:

"In my view it would be necessary for this purpose to set in
motion the whole deportation machine...without thereby
bringing us closer to the solution of the Jewish question in
Hungary...It would be better to wait until Hungary is ready
to include her own Jews in the scope of this operation."

So he waited for his quarry and he knew that it would not
escape him.

In the meantime, German anger grew, and in April 1943,
Horthy, Regent of Hungary, was summoned to a meeting at the
Klessheim Palace with Hitler and his Foreign Minister
Ribbentrop. According to a minute of this conversation,
Ribbentrop declared that there were only two alternatives:
to imprison the Jews in concentration camps, or to
exterminate them. Hitler said that the Jews should "be
treated like tuberculosis bacilli" and showed his knowledge
of history in the following statement:

     "Peoples who have not been protected themselves against
     the Jews are doomed to extinction. One of the most
     famous examples is the decline of such a great and
     proud people as the Persians, who now lead a miserable
     existence as Armenians."

Horthy was not convinced.

At the end of 1943, Veesenmayer, who was later to be German
Ambassador in Budapest, sent a final report to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, proposing that Germany should no longer
rest content with the fact that independent Hungary was her
ally but should actually occupy the country. One of the
declared purposes of the occupation was to harness Hungary
to the programme of exterminating the Jews.

This was done. When Horthy was invited a second time to meet
Hitler on 7 March 1944, an ultimatum was presented to him,
and while he was still debating what to do, the German Army
crossed the border and took control of the whole country
without resistance. With the entry of the Germans, Eichmann
and his special units moved in. The fate of Hungarian Jewry
had been sealed.

Eichmann brought into Hungary his whole group of
accomplices, the entire gang of murderers, who together with
him had carried out the extermination programme in the
various concerned lands: Krumey, Wisliceny, Dannecker,
Abromeit, Hunsche, Novak, Burger, Alois Brunner and others,
all those who had already sent millions of Jews to the
slaughter, who had gained experience throughout Europe in
methods of persuading and inciting the local population. All
of these, who had already proved their efficiency and
talent, now swooped down upon Hungarian Jewry. Here they
could not wait. The Soviet Army had already reoccupied the
Ukraine and advanced into the Carpathian mountains. There
was serious ground for the fear that if the destroyers did
not carry out their evil work quickly, they would never be
able to do so. The top echelons of IVB4 were therefore
assembled here after being released from their duties in
other countries where the extermination programme had been
completed or was continuing without them. Here then was an
apparent sense of urgency in all their activities, a desire
to finish the job at all costs, a need to concentrate all
stages of the preparatory work, at times to skip some of
them, to shorten procedures with the sole purpose of
achieving results as quickly as possible.

The gang had at their disposal all the power of the German
Army as well as the Hungarian civil service, when Sztojay, a
puppet of the Germans, was appointed Prime Minister. It is
doubtful whether the Nazis any longer believed at that time
that they would win the War, but they wanted at least to
complete the destruction of the Jews. On this front, come
what may, they wanted to guarantee themselves a victory.

The arch exterminator himself took his place at the head of
this group, controlling the "dirty work" in the field. Here
he appears not only as the one who pulls the strings,
directs, plans, stimulates and is generally responsible for
implementation, but also as an independent executive
officer. Himmler had laid down that Eichmann was his
plenipotentiary, according to the evidence given by Vajna
Gabor, the Hungarian Minister of the Interior. His faithful
colleague was Endre, the Hungarian Secretary of State for
Jewish Affairs.

The lesson of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt had been well
learned. Eichmann was determined that this disgraceful
episode would never be repeated. Particular attention was
devoted to ensuring that it would never occur to the Jews to
revolt or attempt to escape and save their property. The
Nazi aim was to murder and to inherit at one and the same
time. The entire familiar programme of oppression was put
into action here at one fell swoop - accompanied, as usual,
by inducements and the raising of false hopes. Expectations
of rescues were raised while the property was being
plundered; consideration was shown in trivial matters; and
the illusion was spread that no harm would come to those
Jews who were ready to work.

But in the meantime all the necessary preparations were made
in the death camps, which had already actually ceased
operations. Rudolph Hoess was ordered to set Auschwitz in
motion again and to make preparations for intensified
extermination, and he arrived in Budapest to coordinate
arrangements with Eichmann. Eichmann insisted on an intake
of frequent transports, but Hoess contended that he would be
unable to handle such large numbers. Finally they
compromised; two trains one day and three the next. And
indeed Auschwitz had never witnessed a period of such
feverish activity as in the summer and autumn of 1944. The
gas chambers and furnaces worked day and night. Matters
reached such a pitch that bodies were burned in the open
field. There were times when, in one sweep, more than
ten_thousand Jews a day were destroyed.

The extermination process in Hungary began in earnest on the
morrow of the occupation. Already on 20 March 1944,
Wisliceny and Krumey, Eichmann's principle aides, convened
all the Jewish leaders, and announced the dissolution of the
various community institutions and organizations and the
establishment of the Central Jewish Council as the only body
recognized by the Germans. At the same meeting, in which a
sergeant stood by the German tyrants with a revolver
directed at the fifteen Jewish representatives, it was
furthermore stated that henceforth all Jewish affairs in
Hungary were to fall under the supervision of the Special
Unit of the SS. The Jews, however were not to worry - so
long as they behaved themselves.

Eichmann, chief and commander of the Special Unit, which was
called after his name "Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann," now
became the lord of life and death, the absolute master, of
Hungarian Jewry.

From that time on, the flood of the all too familiar laws
and decrees was let loose: the prohibition to leave one's
place of residence, the prohibition to use transport, the
disconnection of telephones, the freezing of bank accounts,
house curfew, the closure of shops, registration of all
property, and the like. When the community representatives
lodged complaints, the Accused retorted that all orders must
be carried out without delay.

At the beginning of April all Hungarian Jews from six years
of age and over were obliged to wear the yellow badge. An
air attack on Budapest provided the command with a pretext
to comandeer five hundred Jewish apartments, which were
turned over, complete with furnishings and equipment, to
Hungarians, and while the Jewish representatives were
seeking to mitigate the decree, the number of apartments
demanded was raised to two thousand.

Jews were hunted on trains and in the streets. Those taken
were assembled in camps, the most infamous of which was the
Kistarcsa Camp. A round up of Jews was started in the
provincial towns, according to prepared zones marked out in
advance. In a number of towns ghettoes were set up where
conditions were so wretched that they defy description.

To carry out the round up in Budapest in one sweep was no
easy task, as its quarter of a million Jews were scattered
throughout the city. It was thus found necessary to operate
in stages, the houses in which Jews were ordered to live
being marked with a large yellow sign.

Here too, Hungarians and Jews were informed that the Jews
were only wanted for work. The Hungarian Government agreed
to put fifty thousand Jews at the disposal of the Reich for
"work in Germany." But the official German correspondence,
all in the name of the Accused, clearly indicates the true
objective - Auschwitz.

The mass deportations began in the middle of May, 1944.
Reports exist on the different stages of the operation, the
details of which were worked out by Eichmann. While
negotiations marked by extortions and promises of rescue,
were in progress, a daily average of twelve thousand were
being deported. Wisliceny contacted Pinhas Freudiger, a
leader of the Orthodox community whose grandfather had been
the recipient of an Austrian title of nobility and who was
consequently addressed as Baron Freudiger. In return for two
million dollars Wisliceny offered to rescue Jews and even
received a substantial payment on account. Parallel
negotiations interspersed with threats of extermination and
promises of rescue were in progress between Eichmann,
Kasztner and Joel Brand. Kasztner was the representative of
the Jewish Rescue Committee and it was Brand who was chosen
as the emissary to bring Germany's fantastic offer - "Blood
for Goods" - to the Western World. Jews were to be saved in
return for trucks, coffee, tea and soap. The Jews were told
that the trucks would not be used on the Western Front.
Brand accompanied by Bandi Gross, on Eichmann's orders was
instructed to travel to neutral Turkey to submit the offer
to Jewish bodies.

Another motive on the part of the Germans was revealed in an
official report sent by Ambassador Veesenmayer to
Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop on
hearing of the suggested deal over the London radio,
requested his Ambassador to forward full details
immediately. The latter reported that because of the
shortage of certain commodities, Brand had been dispatched
with an offer that in return for these goods "a number of
Jews would be allowed to leave for Turkey." According to
Ribbentrop's testimony at the Nuremberg Trial, the Foreign
Minister promptly intervened to cancel the deal, since it
would be beneath German dignity to receive payment in return
for stopping the extermination. Kurt Becher, a high-ranking
SS officer, was delegated by Himmler to conduct these
negotiations and his aim was to extort as much as possible
from the Hungarian Jewish community. Himmler told Becher
that he could promise what he liked: "What we shall carry
out, however, is a different matter." In order to facilitate
the negotiations, however, Becher obtained Himmler's consent
to allow one train containing 1,684 people, to leave. The
train was directed to Bergen-Belsen and from there, on two
separate occasions, those released were permitted to travel
to Switzerland. The Nazis extorted one thousand dollars from
every person travelling on the train.

When explaining the release of the second batch from Bergen-
Belsen for Switzerland, Schellenberg, a high-ranking SS
officer explained that Himmler had something else entirely
in mind in allowing these people to be rescued. Himmler, he
said, wanted to earn himself a good name in the Western
press, to assume the role of a terminator of the murders,
the redeeming angel with whom it would be proper to
establish contact with a view to a cease-fire and armistice.
It is known that Himmler did have some such scheme in mind,
having already despaired of the possibility of victory on
the battlefield and believing that Hitler would be
unacceptable to the Western Powers as a party to the
negotiations. Consequently, Himmler wanted to groom himself
for such talks. A few months later, he repeated the attempt
and was on the verge of establishing contacts with the West.
The premature publication of the matter over the London
radio however, naturally thwarted the whole attempt, which
was, among other things, preconceived as a means to split
the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Becher was
interested in extortion, Himmler in a "good name."

But there was one man who disapproved of the whole deal, who
carried out Himmler's instructions to send Brand to Istanbul
with notable distaste, who strove with all his might to
sustain the extermination and murder operations. This man
was Adolf Eichmann. He started mass deportations immediately
after Joel Brand had departed. He announced that if an
immediate affirmative reply was not received from Brand, "I
shall let the Auschwitz mills work," and while making
pretence that the survivors would be saved if the deal
succeeded, he persisted in his satanic extermination

The looting of Jewish property continued as did the arrests.
Naturally the Jews tried to escape, particularly to
Palestine. Eichmann knew of this and insisted on energetic
steps to seal all outlets. "It should be explained to the
Hungarian authorities in an unequivocable and clear-cut
fashion," he wrote on 24 July 1944 that "migration to
Palestine within the scope of this operation will not be
approved." He complained about the Swedish and Swiss
Embassies issuing the Jews papers which enabled them to
emigrate from Hungary. The main target of his venom was a
young Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, an architect by
profession and a man of sterling qualities who had made the
rescue of Jews his life's vocation. Wallenberg gathered
around him a whole team of workers, issued passports
granting the holders right of residence in Sweden and, at
the risk of his diplomatic status and even his life,
instituted rescue operations. He rented and acquired
buildings, in which he housed Jews under the protection of
the Swedish flag, and assembled, at one period, as many as
forty-thousand Jews. When the "Death March," of which I
shall speak later, began, Wallenberg escorted the marchers
with trucks laden with food, medical supplies and clothing.
He also tried to remove from the March anyone to whom
Swedish papers of protection could feasibly be issued.

Wallenberg, to whose credit can be counted tens of thousands
of survivors, also enrolled the support of other diplomats
as well as the Red Cross.

All this was the work of one courageous man, who had the
strength to act according to his conception and belief. His
deeds like those of King Christian of Denmark, again give
rise to the sombre thought: how many could have been saved,
even in the countries of actual extermination, had there
only been many others like him among those who had the power
to act, whether openly or in secret.

It is not surprising that Eichmann released a flood of anger
against this liberator. The Swedish Embassy in Berlin lodged
a complaint that Eichmann had told the Red Cross in Budapest
he had it in mind to shoot "the Jewish dog" Wallenberg. The
Foreign Ministry apologized to the Ambassador, stating that
no doubt the words were not seriously meant. In the written
exchange it was explained that Eichmann's reaction had to be
understood against the background of Wallenberg's "illegal"
activities to rescue Hungarian Jewry, and were meant to
restrain him from persisting in his efforts.

The deportations were carried out in secret. Nothing was
mentioned about them in the newspapers and the Germans took
special measures to avoid publicity, lest the Jews of
Budapest should be alarmed. The deportees, on arrival at
Auschwitz were ordered to send soothing postcards to their
relatives. The text of the postcards was dictated by the
Auschwitz butchers, who instructed that an Austrian resort,
"Waldsee," be designated as the place of despatch. The
postcards stated that those transported for work were all
well; they usually arrived after their senders had been
consumed in the Auschwitz furnaces. In response to a Red
Cross request that a representative accompany the transport,
Eichmann did not object to one being present during the
despatch though only after the transport had been prepared
by Eichmann, but "the accompaniment of the transport by a
representative must on no account be allowed."

Meanwhile the German position at the front deteriorated; the
Soviet Army advance continued. Pressure was put on Horthy
from different quarters to put an end to the deportations
and at the beginning of July he mustered up courage and
ordered that they should cease. According to an official
report of their Foreign Ministry, the Germans had succeeded
up to the end of June in sending 437,402 Jews for
extermination. Horthy's instruction frustrated the plans
prepared for the middle of July 1944, to deport all the Jews
of Budapest on one day by mobilizing all available manpower,
including even municipal workers and postmen. The details of
the plan were drawn up together with Eichmann. The Germans
looked for a convenient excuse for this lightning operation,
and the Director of the Foreign Ministry Press Office
suggested that explosives "be discovered" in synagogues.
Veesenmayer rejected the suggestion on the grounds that the
synagogues for a long time had been under the strict
supervision of the police and therefore the excuse would not
hold water.

In spite of Horthy's order, Eichmann tried to continue the
deportations. At the beginning of July, he attempted to
despatch an extermination transport from the Kistarcsa Camp.
The matter became known to the Budapest Jewish leaders, who
intervened with Horthy, who ordered that the transport be
stopped at the border and sent back. When the Accused saw
what had happened, his lieutenants convened the whole of the
Community Council a second time, ostensibly for discussions,
and kept them occupied the whole day with inconsequential
matters simply in order to detain them, while his agents in
Kistarcsa loaded 1,200 Jews into a deportation train and
sent it on its way. The Jewish leaders, virtually the
prisoners of Eichmann's stewards, in Schwabenberg, forboded
evil. When evening came and they were released, they heard
about the train and hastened to Horthy to countermand the
decree again. On this occasion, however, it was too late.
The train had crossed the Hungarian border, and as has now
been ascertained, the community representatives were only
released after the receipt of a message from Eichmann's Unit
that the train was safely on its way to death.

When Wisliceny afterwards met Freudiger he told him: "Did
you really think that Eichmann would allow this old fool
Horthy to frustrate his wishes?" This operation too proves
Eichmann's satanic initiative. No one at that time demanded
that he act; Horthy did not agree to the continuation of the
deportations. No one could have pointed an accusing finger
at Eichmann had he refrained from action and awaited the
results of the diplomatic and military pressures applied by
the Germans to Hungary to renew the extermination. But when
the issue at stake was the extermination of the Jews,
Eichmann acted over and above any instructions. Two letters
and a postcard from Jakob Reich, who was in the two
Kistarsca transports have been preserved. He wrote a letter
from the Camp on toilet paper after having been miraculously
saved in the first transport. On being deported a second
time, he wrote a postcard, which it seems he threw from the
train and on which was scribbled: "Blessed be the hand that
sends this postcard." Such a hand was found, and the
postcard was delivered to his wife in Budapest. This is what
it said:
"It is Wednesday afternoon...They have packed us in and we
are travelling. God be with you, my dear family. God be with
you. I embrace you and many kisses. Father."

Reich was not privileged to see his family again. His widow
will submit to you his letter and postcard.
The German pressure to renew the deportations did not cease.
Hitler himself intervened and ordered his Foreign Minister
to warn Horthy that Germany would not suffer any delay in
measures against the Jews, and that Horthy's attitude would
bring a catastrophe on the Hungarian people. To frustrate
any possibility of the Jews leaving Hungary for neutral
countries, Eichmann took steps, reported by Veesenmayer in
the following terms to the Foreign Ministry on July 25,

     "...It has been agreed with Eichmann that when the
     renewal of the deportations of the Budapest
     Jews...become possible, these should be carried out
     quickly and with the utmost dispatch so that the Jews
     who come into question for migration be deported before
     they have time for any formalities."

Austria at that time was in urgent need of workers for
fortification work. The German war plan expected heavy
defensive battles to be fought in this region. At the
beginning of June, 1944, Blaschke, the Mayor of Vienna,
approached his friend, the head of the RSHA, Kaltenbrunner
with the request to consign a number of deportation
transports to carry out the fortification work.
Kaltenbrunner replied that instructions had been given to
move about 12,000 deportees to Vienna and that they were to
be kept in closed camps. The women, children and those
incapable of work would be taken for "special operations,"
i.e. extermination.

However, the representatives of Hungarian Jewry were
informed by Eichmann and his accomplices that Jews could be
saved "by consignment to Austria," in return for ransom
money. Anyone paying as demanded would be saved by
travelling to Austria. Eichmann said that he would be
prepared to "keep on ice" - his own expression - in Austria
thirty-thousand Jews capable of work; the families would
live in camps at the expense of the Budapest Jews. In
return, he demanded a ransom of five million Swiss Francs
the equivalent of two hundred dollars per head. Some fiteen
thousand Jews were apparently consigned to Austria in this

In the autumn of 1944, Horthy attempted to withdraw his
country from the War on the side of Germany. But the
Germans, who knew of his activities, took control of
Budapest by force in Operation "Iron Fist." They arrested
Horthy, and on 15 October 1944, put Szalasi, the leader of
the Arrow Cross, in power. Now once again the Jews were at
their mercy. Eichmann who had left Budapest when the
deportations had ceased on Horthy's instructions, returned
on 18 October, and the operations against the Jews were
renewed with full vigour.

And now, with the infamous operation known as "The Death
March," came the finale of Eichmann's campaign of murder.
There were no longer any trains available. Himmler had in
the meantime ordered all exterminations to be stopped but
Eichmann found a way to circumvent Himmler's instructions.
He organized, with the help of his Hungarian Fascist allies,
a march of Jews in the direction of Austria, ostensibly to
provide labour for fortifications, but actually to murder
them. Eichmann's calculation was simple: the weak would fall
by the way, the sturdy would arrive at their destination to
build the fortifications, and would afterwards be destroyed.
The march began in November in rain, snow and cold, along a
200-kilometer route. They lodged in the open or in pigsties.
Thus were the women, children and old folk deported. Anyone
who found the walking difficult was shot by the guards, who
beat and tormented the victims every step of the way. Those
who had no strength left, collapsed and died. Hundreds
committed suicide or died of the typhus raging among the
marchers. The food allocated once every few days consisted
of hot water and some bread. People died like flies; the
whole route was strewn with corpses. The number of those who
fell by the way is estimated at six to ten thousand. The
horrors attained such proportions that even the escorting
Hungarian officers and soldiers began to mutiny, and
requested that they be sent to the front. The intervention
of Szalasi, the Hungarian Prime Minister, to put an end to
the march, had no effect.

And then an astonishing thing occurred. Himmler himself
reprimanded Eichmann for organizing this operation, and only
then did the dreadful march end. The Soviet Army had by this
time surrounded Budapest, and the remnants of the Jewish
community in the capital were saved.

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