Auschwitz Transports from Hungary

Germany occupied its ally Hungary on March 19, 1944 and the Auschwitz transports soon commenced on a rapid schedule. On July 6, 1944, Hungary’s regent Miklós Horthy issued a decree stopping the deportations of Hungary’s Jewish citizens. He did not do this out of concern for the fate of Jews, but due to the dramatically deteriorating military situation for Germany and Hungary after the Normandy landings (June 6, 1944) and stern warnings from President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The warnings came after George Mantello (György Mandl), Jewish First Secretary of the El Salvador mission in Switzerland from Transylvania, publicized the Auschwitz Report findings around June 19 1944, detailing the nature and magnitude of the atrocities in Auschwitz. Unfortunately he received the report with great delay at a critical time: about two months after the report reached Rudolf Kasztner and others in Budapest and elsewhere in April 1944. One needs to ask what would have been the fate of Hungarian Jewry had the original recipients in Budapest publicized it or sent the report swiftly to Mantello. News of the atrocities rapidly awoke the Swiss people’s conscience and led to large-scale protests, masses in Swiss churches about “Our Jewish brothers and sisters”, a best selling book “Am I my Brother’s Keeper” by a leading Swiss theologian, and over 400 glaring headlines decrying the barbarism.

Cattle car used for transporting Hungarian Jews.

During World War II a large number of Hungarian Jews in forced labor were treated by the Hungarian administration and army like slaves. They were often extremely cruelly treated in slave labor camps and on the Soviet front. Significant number of forced laborers died as a result.

Hungary’s rural Jewry was completely destroyed less than four months after the German occupation. With the exception of the Jews of Budapest and those in forced labor, the country became almost completely without Jews – was nearly Judenrein. Between May 14, 1944 and July 20, 1944, the Hungarian administration, the gendarmerie and the Hungarian National Railroads (MÁV) sent 423,271 people to Auschwitz with great cruelty.

Along with tens of thousands of extraordinary deportees such as to Kamienets-Podolskyi and Strasshof, victims of the Einzelaktionen, death marches and the Porrajmos (Roma Holocaust) – nearly half a million Hungarian men, women and children were deprived of their human dignity, civil and political rights, freedom, property and, ultimately, their lives.

Extraordinary deportations

Map of scheduled deportations, 1944

It must be asked: Would Hungary have done this to its Christian population? Would the population have been complacent if the MÁV wagons carried hundreds of thousand Christian Hungarians to death camps in Poland and so many others were dragged to the Danube in Budapest to be killed?

Horthy was arrested after the war in Germany by the American armed forces and was imprisoned. He testified against leading Nazis in Nuremberg. Despite his complicity in the mass murder of Hungary’s Jewish citizens and large number of gypsies, as well as Hungary attacking its neighboring countries in coordination with Germany and atrocities by the Hungarian army he was allowed to leave for exile in Portugal. He never paid for his crimes and after the end of Communist rule was reburied in Hungary with honors. He is considered by many in Hungary, including its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to have been an exemplary leader.

It is our duty to remember the Holocaust, to understand the role and responsibilities of individuals, organizations and governments, not only because of the past but also for the future.

Eszter Garai-Édler (Budapest) and Larry Pfeffer (Jerusalem)

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