Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on 9 July 1944.
As the Secretary of the Embassy, he had been commissioned to map and evaluate the circumstances in Hungary and to organize Swedish rescue efforts and "humanitarian" actions. Although the majority of Hungarian Jews, unlike the Jews in other countries occupied by Germany could claim that their lives were safe until the spring of 1944, the heavily discriminatory series of so-called Jewish Acts implemented from 1938, and the deportations cannot remain unmentioned. This latter includes the expulsion of 20,000 Jews in the summer of 1941, leading to the horrible massacre by Germans in the Ukrainian settlement of Kameniec-Podolski.
Wallenberg arrived almost four months after the German occupation of Hungary. The reality was chilling. By this time, (based on racial legislation) the separation of the 825,000 member strong Jewish community, the concentration of the 437,402 Jews outside of the capital in ghettos, subsequently crammed into boxcars and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, had already taken place. The time had come to round up the Jews of Budapest and to move them forcibly into designated neighborhoods. Governor Miklós Horthy received a telegram from Gustav V, king of Sweden on 5 July. "Being informed about the extraordinarily strict and harsh measures that Your Government implements regarding the Jewish population of Hungary, I turn to You, Your Excellency, in the name of humanity, to ask Your intervention on behalf of those who can be still rescued among those unfortunate beings."
The 32-year-old Secretary of the Embassy had to engage in widespread organizational efforts to implement new forms of protection. He opted for introducing so-called Schutz-Passes, or protecting passes. At the beginning, he was authorized to issue Swedish protecting documents to fifteen hundred Hungarians who had family relations in Sweden or had permanent and direct interaction with Swedish businesses. (Later, he increased this number to 4500.) Soon, the diplomat recognized the hesitation of the Hungarian political elite. He sensed that many feared to be exposed to the German occupiers, and at the same time worried increasingly about the approaching end of the war, and the looming defeat. The bilingual Swedish protecting pass, with the photo of the holder was, similarly to those issued by some other Embassies, unknown and invalid by international law. In the summer of 1944 however, it had an impact and carried a message. The Hungarian Jews vegetating among life-threatening perils perceived these documents as a chance to break out, as the embodiment of organized resistance, as hope for survival.
The protecting passes, with the photo of the bearer, were issued by the Humanitarian Department (officially named as Abteilung "B"), established by Wallenberg. At mid-September, it had a staff of almost one hundred, whereupon the Information Department of the Royal Swedish Embassy in Budapest was also established. The representation of the Kingdom of Sweden issued identification cards to its employees, and they also received a separate personal card from the Ministry of Interior. They were exempted from wearing the compulsory yellow Star of David and from other detrimental obligations.
On 29 September, Wallenberg reported that the "whole staff with family members is approximately 300 people" and that "2700 protecting passes have been issued up to this moment." Hungarian Jews contributed greatly to his efforts, among them an inner circle of his supporters, employees of the Embassy, couriers, volunteer drivers. For instance, engineer Vilmos Langfelder became a close associate based on his German proficiency and driving experience.
Governor Horthy and a number of Hungarian politicians had been negotiating secretly about ending rapidly the country's engagement in the war. Very soon, the Germans discovered the plans and with an armed intervention helped the Arrow Cross under the leadership of Ferenc Szálasi into power. The coup d'état of 15 October raised a new wave of terror striking Jews who had survived the persecutions and were hoping for an end to the war. The Ambassador of Sweden, Carl Ivan Danielsson reported to Stockholm on 18 October that the new Hungarian government had introduced strict anti-Jewish regulations. The lives of the entire Jewish staff of the Embassy became jeopardized. The building was under siege by Jews asking for protection and the Embassy was not able to accommodate them.
The sharp political turn greatly aggravated the conditions of the rescue operations. The ministers of the Szálasi government were haranguing about the "complete de-Judification" of Hungary. The new German demands included "lending" 50,000 Jews as workforce to help war efforts. Wallenberg continued his hard work to extend Swedish protection. This was very much needed. At the beginning of November, the Arrow Cross dispatched columns of thousands of rounded up Jews on foot westwards, to the Hungarian-German border.
In the meantime, Wallenberg, aided mostly by the Embassy's Second Secretary, Per Anger, rented apartments, houses and established a Swedish hospital in the center of Budapest. The bearers of the Swedish Schutz-Passes took refuge in one of the 25 so-called Swedish protected houses. Similarly, other embassies in Budapest had been engaged in establishing "extraterritorial" houses marked by protecting signs for the Jews under their safeguard. At the same time, the Arrow Cross armed an increasing number of their members. These groups swarmed out from party headquarters for "examinations and confrontations", actually to loot and murder. The Jews, crowded into houses marked with the Star of David at their main entrances were at their mercy. The Arrow Cross gathered a large number of women, older children and elderly people at one of the brick factories in Óbuda. From this location, early in the winter, they were escorted to Hegyeshalom, the German border at that time.
Wallenberg accelerated issuing the Schutz-Passes and protested in diplomatic notes against the daily atrocities and kidnappings. The number of his Hungarian-Jewish collaborators was gradually increased and he extended the protection to their family members as well. The volunteers working with him, in spite of serious risks, used various pretexts to rescue day and night the bearers of Swedish (and other) protecting documents. For rescuing on the terrain, his brave and energetic men, ret. captain Gábor Alapy, Aurél Balázs jnr., Tivadar Jobbágy, Kázmér Kállay, György Libik, captain of the gendarmerie Dr. István Parádi, Iván Székely, György Szél, Hugó Wohl and others were dispatched. Photographer Tamás Veres escorted the diplomat from time to time. Today, his photos taken secretly are valuable documents.
For most of his trips, Wallenberg used a car driven by Vilmos Langfelder. The DKW or the Studebaker appearing on the road to Vienna, at the railway station, at the houses marked with the Star of David, on the Danube quays filled the captured Jews with hope. He succeeded in rescuing thousands, but he could not save them all. The Arrow Cross carried on with the massacres. Often they denied that the disappeared persons, searched for by the rescuers were their captives.
In January 1945, Wallenberg himself had to go into hiding from the Arrow Cross. He was spending his nights in the apartment of László Ocskay, ret. captain. He then reported of his own will to the first Soviet troops, unaware that an arrest warrant had been issued against him. On 17 January, he was taken to Moscow, where he presumably died in unclear circumstances in 1947.
Assisting Refugees before the German Occupation
Throughout its thousand-year history, Hungary has been and has remained a recipient country of immigration.
Refugees arriving from territories that had fallen under Nazi rule, Germans and Austrians followed by Polish groups enjoyed a friendly welcome most of the time. The Polish group was particularly numerous; it consisted of tens of thousands of exiled. High-ranking officials of the Ministry of Interior, Colonel Zoltán Baló and József Antall snr., liaised with their leaders, among others with Henryk Slawik, operating legally or illegally in the country.
Since the spring of 1938, persecuted and terrified groups of Austrian Jews had showed up in the woods at the borders in western Hungary. Some tried to escape from Nazi groups on boats or ships. Those who had family or business ties on the Hungarian side had good chances to mingle in the countryside or in Budapest and disappear from the sight of the authorities. Officially, many of them were treated as temporary immigrants with their stay tolerated.
In Budapest Austrian Jews (although formally interned) had a treatment that was in complete contradiction with the inhuman and merciless behavior of the German authorities and security services. The word about this spread quickly, therefore further families, smaller or larger groups made the attempt to cross over into Hungary. As of 1941, a semi-legal chain of activists helping Jews to reach Palestine was established.
Polish refugees, fleeing the treacherous combined German-Russian attack, were accommodated in an organized, supportive manner. Many of them found room and board in the countryside. By the beginning of October 1939, no less than 88 camps for Polish civilians and 91 camps for the military had been established. Until 29 February 1940, the Hungarian Red Cross had taken care of 30,681 Polish military personnel and of approximately 11,000 civilians. The data from 1941 also testify to that the Hungarian authorities and private individuals took care of almost fifty thousand Poles. In Balatonboglár, rev. Béla Varga, Member of Parliament had established a Polish grammar school. Through great sacrifice and personal risk, he engaged himself in rescuing the French, German, Transylvanian, Bukovinian and Jewish refugees. He had to go into hiding during the German occupation of Hungary.
During the deportations in Slovakia, Jews who felt enough courage to do so tried to run away. Through acquaintances, relatives, former business contacts, organized actions, more and more of them infiltrated through the Hungarian border. In their rescue, Ján Spišiak, Ambassador of Slovakia to Budapest took significant risks.
The more dangerous activities were carried out by Jewish youth. The captives had been interned by the Hungarian gendarmerie in camps situated in Ricse, Garany and Csörgő, near the border. Those who managed to escape took hiding in Budapest. Often groups of young Zionist Jews supported them. Many of them were accommodated in children's homes, apprentice homes and orphanages, the older girls worked as tutors.
In the countryside, the Transdanubian Jewish communities in particular admitted and supported the fugitives from Slovakia. One of them was Walter Rosenberg (later known as Rudolf Vrba), who found refuge in Budakalász in the spring of 1942. Later, he was forced to return to Slovakia, and was deported to Auschwitz. On 7 April 1944, along with Alfred Wetzler (Jozef Lánik), he managed to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau. They had compiled the 32 pages of the so-called Auschwitz Protocol: data and facts gathered on the functioning of the concealed "factory of death". Their report shocked the world public opinion.
It is not possible to establish the exact number of refugees based on the available sources. According to some estimates, some six to eight thousand Jews fled to Hungary, escaping the deportations in Slovakia during 1942. In most cases the Hungarian authorities behaved leniently. During the persecution of the Jews in Slovakia, local priests aided many. The names of Reformed Church pastors István Puskás from Zólyom (Zvolen, Slovakia), László Sedivy from Nyitra (Nitra, Slovakia) and Sándor Brányik from Eperjes (Prešov, Slovakia) are worth mentioning. The three of them baptized more than a thousand Jews, helping them to avoid the gravest consequences. With the aid of his community, Ferenc Gaál, parish priest from Nyékvárkony hid labor service fugitives. Puskás and Sedivy were imprisoned by the authorities and suffered tormenting detention.
During the investigation of the rescuing of Jews of Slovakia, it has been established that many members of the Hungarian Party in Slovakia, and its leader, Count János Esterházy actively assisted the persecuted. Already in the autumn of 1939, Esterházy supported admitting Polish refugees into Hungary. On 15 May 1942, he was the only one out of the 63 members of the Slovak parliament to display exceptional courage and demonstratively reject to vote for the law on deporting the Jews from Slovakia.
Subsequently, he was stripped of his parliamentary mandate and sentenced to half a year in prison for defamation of the Slovak State. In 1944 he repeatedly helped persecuted Jews, Slovak and Czech citizens and families to cross the Hungarian border. In April 1945 the Soviet authorities arrested him in Bratislava and, along with several fellow Hungarians, hauled him to Moscow. On fabricated evidence, he was sentenced to ten years of forced labor. The Czechoslovak authorities sentenced Esterházy in his absence, without evidence, to death and complete confiscation of property. He died in the Mírov prison in 1957, aged 56.
Until the beginning of 1944 at least four thousand French prisoners (both civilian and military) had escaped to Hungary. The main camp for them operated in Balatonboglár. For most of them, the conditions were of internment, not of detention. In Paris, the community of the Hungarian Reformed Church, headed by Pastor Imre Kulifay and his wife, provided assistance by baptizing and offered documents.
The protection provided to the small number of English, Dutch, Belgian and Czech soldiers, prisoners of war who had successfully escaped from German detention also qualifies as rescuing. Some two thousand Italian soldiers and people from other countries also found refuge in Hungary. Many could testify that until the German occupation in the spring of 1944, Hungary was a hospitable country.
At the beginning of 1944 confidential reports informed that "large scale human trafficking had developed through Slovakia. Foreign internees and prisoners of war that managed to escape from camps in Poland, as well as incredibly hidden Polish Jews took the road to Hungary through Slovakia. (…) Veritable committees for reception welcome and send on the refugees."
Available sources estimate at fifteen thousand at least the number of Austrian, German, Slovak and Polish Jews that took refuge in Hungarian towns and villages until the German occupation. Unfortunately, their stories are still untold.
Following the German occupation of Hungary on19 March 1944
The entry of the Wehrmacht troops into Hungary created a new situation.
The German security forces first stormed the Poles. Soldiers and civilians alike were detained in groups. In some cases they were slaughtered on the spot. The German and the Austrian Jews fleeing from the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst, most of them laying low in Budapest, knew that there was no other refuge from the pursuers. Some of them committed suicide during the first weeks of the occupation.
The deportation squad (Sonderkommando) of SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann and the Hungarian collaborationist high officials exerted deadly pressure on the 825,000 strong Hungarian Jewish community. Still, most people hoped that they would not share the destiny of Jews in other countries. They were wrong. The Government of General Döme Sztójay plied completely to the German demands. The persecution of the Jews did not shock the Hungarian society. The majority, accustomed to the ”legal” exclusion of the Jews and brainwashed by propaganda, remained indifferent. Only in the city of Győr did some brave youth display yellow flowers in their buttonholes as a sign of compassion with Jewish citizens required to wear the yellow star.
On 16 April, following the instructions of their experienced SS "advisers", the Hungarian authorities began transferring hundreds of thousands of rural Jews into ghettos. (Since 2004, 16 April is the Day of Holocaust Remembrance in Hungary.) Jews and those who were considered Jewish had to leave all their property behind and move with their families into assigned buildings, brick factories, empty suburban factory buildings, warehouses. Formally, the ghettos had "self-management", but in practice the gendarmerie and the authorities were in command in these places. Many Jewish people were interrogated and beaten to death in an attempt to find their hidden values. Assigned midwives searched women and young girls in degrading, inhuman ways.
Those who felt sympathy for the suffering offered their own identity documents to Jewish friends and acquaintances. Abbey priest József Pór organized in his parish food assistance for the ghetto in Bonyhád. He provided temporary shelter and support to several persecuted people. This kind of action, assisting Jews, was not without danger. Home Defense Forces lieutenant Jenő Thassy attempted to help his acquaintances crowded in the synagogue in Barcs. The gendarmerie commander of the site detained him as well, as a "punishment". Later, he was released amid threats.
Others offered to hide their Jewish friends, but very few people used this opportunity. The number of Jews who went into hiding during the deportations was very low in rural areas. An extraordinary example of rescuing was performed by a refugee from Austria, Leo Tschöll, who initially forged documents for Hungarian Jews in Gödöllő. Later, taking a high risk, he used these papers to free people destined for deportation from the collection sites.
Rescuers had various motivations. In most cases the rescuers and helpers were in social contact with the rescued, but there were examples of assistance provided by unconnected persons, benevolent strangers. Some offered assistance on moral grounds, based on their upbringing, humanity and philanthropy. There were examples when a person who had provided assistance at the beginning got frightened of the danger of being denunciated, reported to the authorities and did not want to continue accepting the risks. With various excuses, they withdrew their assistance and let the protected persons find their own ways.
There were cases when greed was the motivating factor for assistance. Some of the rescuers asked for, or expected compensation. Some were motivated by the quick and "fabulous" gains. On one of the possible escape routes, at the Hungarian-Romanian border, it was possible to bribe the Romanian officials, railway workers (and occasionally the Wehrmacht soldiers as well). According to a report by the German Embassy in Budapest dated 10 June, Germans caught in assisting were court-martialed and executed on 29 May.
In the miserable conditions of the ghettos, the majority were resigned to their fate, yet still held some hope. It has to be noted that in several settlements, the administrative leaders became hesitant and occasionally this hesitation evolved into a willingness to help. The gendarmerie and the internal inspection suppressed quickly and powerfully these open or covert gestures and intentions.
A large number of interesting cases, plenty of dramatic developments can be linked to the history of ghettos in rural Hungary. There are data on individual, risky and successful rescue efforts from the ghettos in Técső/Tjachiv, Dés/Dej, Kassa/Košice, Szatmárnémeti/Satu Mare, Munkács/Mukachevo, Losonc/Lučenec and Csorna. Successful actions took place in Békéscsaba, Jászapáti, Győr, and in hunting lodges in Zselice. The supportive action in Miskolc resulted in people hiding for long months.
Citizens trusting the rule of law tried to help with appeals and petitions addressed to the authorities in case of many respected Jewish lawyers, medical doctors, traders and their family members. Consequently, they themselves got harassed and threatened. The inspectors of the gendarmerie acted immediately, and those who hoped to be rescued were further humiliated and stripped of their possessions.
In the brutal reality of life in the ghetto, special attention has to be devoted to the efforts of doctors and medical staff to save lives. They risked their own, relatively safe position by supporting and rescuing the persecuted. Some reported an outbreak of typhus or other dangerous epidemics in the ghetto, attempting to save people from deportation. Others set up separated wards, and hid the protected in remote sickrooms.
In Hungary, the Eichmann commando carried out quickly and without resistance the program of the Endlösung. By 9 July, the Jewry from the countryside, tormented and deprived of their possessions by the Hungarian authorities, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The complete annihilation of the Jews in Hungary was prevented by the action of Governor Horthy. Following the advance of the allied forces, the continuous deterioration of the German military situation, as well as the broad international protests, he ordered the withdrawal of gendarmerie forces concentrated in the capital. Without Hungarian armed support, the Germans could not carry on with the deportations. The 200,000 strong Jewish community of the capital, as well as the Jewish men serving in the unarmed auxiliary labor forces were saved for the time being.
In the period until the Arrow Cross takeover, there were brave scholars and teachers saving their students among the rescuers. One could witness a housewife saving a Jewish orphan in Szabadka (present day Subotica/Serbia), a servant rescuing the children of her former master in spite of a thousand obstacles, or employers undertaking everything possible to pull out their Jewish engineers. Many stood up expressing their moral convictions in defense of Jewish doctors, pharmacists, university professors.
The reason for putting a halt to deportations from Budapest was the intervention of foreign diplomacy.
By distributing the Auschwitz report exposing the SS activities, Miklós Krausz, the secretary of the Palestinian Authority (Palamt) in Budapest, and George Mandel-Mantello, Consul General of San Salvador in Geneva did an excellent job.
To Krausz, the support of Carl Lutz, Vice-Consul of Switzerland, one of the founders and outstanding personalities of the rescue operations in Budapest meant precious help.
Emigration as one way of escaping was constantly on the agenda, but options depended on the German aggressors. "In principle" they endorsed the travel of individuals and families to Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. In practice, the "preconditions" were set to prevent realization. In spite of this, on 24 July, the Swiss Embassy opened the Emigration Office of the Department Representing Foreign Interests in the so-called Glass House, under the leadership of Arthur Weisz. With the support of Lutz, lists of names were compiled and collective passports produced. At the same time, they interpreted the emigration licenses issued for 7,800 persons as covering whole families. Very soon, the Office was transformed into one of the centers of Jewish self-assistance by the activities of Zionist youth.
The Budapest office of the Swedish Red Cross, operated by Valdemar Langlet and Nina Langlet issued protecting letters (Schutzbrief) to the persecuted Jews since May. The office created sixteen units and protected several religious institutions. Its activity was suppressed later by Arrow Cross brutality. Friedrich Born, who arrived as a delegate of the International Red Cross in July, also took a significant part in the rescue operations. Born sent Swiss merchant Benedikt Eduard Brunnschweiler to Pannonhalma, where he successfully protected the refugees hiding in the Benedictine monastery, among them Jewish mothers and children.
The Spanish Embassy in Budapest prepared the transportation of 500 Jewish children with some 50 to 70 persons in escort by the International Red Cross to Tangier. The plan eventually failed. Spanish chargé d'affaires Ángel Sanz Briz did a lot for the persecuted. He provided 352 Jews with temporary Spanish passports in French language. Another 1898 received protecting letters as Sephardic Jews with alleged Spanish relations. Most of them managed to survive. The Portuguese envoy Garrido Carlos Sampaio and chargé d'affaires Carlos Branquinho protected the lives of several thousand Hungarian Jews. In order to save lives, protecting letters of San Salvador were issued in Budapest.
The rescue operations were extended using and quickly realizing the opportunities, and with ingenuity. In August and September, significantly more protecting documents were issued than approved by the Hungarian authorities. The need for these documents continued to increase.
The bearers of the letters of protection dared to move more freely. Therefore, they could renew existing, or establish new contacts that aided their hiding or escape. At the meeting of the council of ministers on 2 August, Minister of Interior Andor Jaross stated that "the number of Jews staying in Budapest can be estimated to 280,000. In the Jewish apartments there are 170,000 Jews registered. The missing 100,000 Jews are hiding in Christian flats or managed to find some other hiding. The number of baptized Jews can be estimated at 20,000."
By mid-August, the German occupying forces demanded with increased frequency and more openly the continuation of deportations. On 21 August, Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta, Swedish ambassador Carl Ivan Danielsson, chargés d'affaires of the Portuguese, Spanish and Swiss embassies Carlos Branquinho, Ángel Sanz Briz and Antoine I. Kilchmann handed over a protest note to the Hungarian government. In the name of Christian civilization, they strongly demanded not to renew the deportations. The Hungarian government was required to end this procedure "that should never have happened in the first place."
The deportation from Budapest, planned in detail by the SD, did not occur, most probably based on the assessment of SS leader Heinrich Himmler. (Opening of the western front, rapid changes in the war situation, the defection of Romania, the fall of Paris certainly played a role in this.) Based on new arrangements with the Germans, preparations began in the capital to transfer Jews unfit for labor service, elderly and children into camps in rural areas. This plan was sabotaged.
In the shadow of defeat, Horthy negotiated with many and planned quick withdrawal from the war. Regarding the issue of emigration, engineer Otto Komoly, Zionist leader, established contacts with Miklós Horthy jnr. (The office led by Komoly dealt with organizing military steps aimed at rescuing the Jewry of Budapest.) Links were established between the Hungarian Front and Jewish groups planning or considering resistance. The German occupying forces intervened successfully. General Szilárd Bakay and Horthy's son were kidnapped. The blackmailed Governor resigned. The fighting continued on Hungarian territory for German interests. Hitler gained months.
The envoys of neutral states that continued to stay in Budapest established contacts with the new leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The "Hungarist" government of Ferenc Szálasi needed international recognition badly. The complete "de-Judification" of the country was on the agenda, but the already issued protecting documents, lists of exemptions sank the plans of the Arrow Cross. Furthermore, striving for the coveted international recognition, they were compelled to make further concessions. At the same time, the foreign diplomats applied successful tactics. They demanded acceptance of international protection, approval of emigration, confirmation of exemptions.
On 23 and 24 November Raoul Wallenberg and Per Anger made a journey on the Budapest-Hegyeshalom road. They prepared an Aide Memoire on their journey for Baron Gábor Kemény, Minister of Foreign Affairs. This proves that they observed closely the disturbing sight of Jews deported on foot and provides an objective description of exhausted people "reduced almost to the level of animals." They concluded that the foreign documents of protection "were not respected 100 percent neither in Budapest, nor at the handover in Hegyeshalom." From the Swiss embassy, Dr. Harald Feller, Ernst von Rufs, Dr. Peter Zürcher also assisted, rescued lives.
An exceptional example of rescuing human lives took place within the Spanish Embassy in the winter of 1944. An Italian businessman, Giorgio Perlasca, with the assistance of several Hungarian Jews presented himself as the Spanish charge d'affaires. With this deceptive maneuver they saved hundreds of lives at the embassy and elsewhere. Zionist youth produced thousands of identification documents; a battle of documents enfolded in Budapest. Among the captured forgers of the documents, the gendarmerie inspectors beat Miklós Langer to death.
Churches saving lives
Established religious communities in Hungary also participated in the rescue operations, although in different ways and to a different extent.
The representative of the Holy See in Budapest, Nuncio Angelo Rotta used all his authority to take a firm stand against the persecutions. In the Transdanubian region Baron Vilmos Apor, Catholic bishop of Győr became one of the main opponents of exclusion and deportations, and later of the terror implemented by the Arrow Cross. He raised his voice in opposition to the atrocities committed against the Jews. He asked for a meeting with the prime minister to discuss these issues, but Sztójay declined to receive him. The bishop prepared memoranda and called repeatedly on Archbishop Jusztinián Serédi to issue a pastoral letter. In his letter sent to the minister of interior, he condemned locking up Jews in ghettos "which contradicts all humanity and the spirit of Christianity, punishing innocent people without fair and impartial judgment."
In a letter sent to Serédi on 15 June, he hinted at the responsibilities of the higher clergy that remained silent about the rural deportations. "How shall we stand in history, if we remain in apparent agreement and maintain polite relationship with a government which tortures thousands and thousands all over the country with utmost cruelty, depriving them of all their human rights and assisting their deportation to slave labor and death" – he asked. Bishop Apor also saved Roma, rounded up for deportation. His conduct proved to be an example: during the autumn marches to Hegyeshalom, priests and population of Catholic villages along the road to Vienna provided assistance in many cases, in spite of the fact that this was prohibited.
In Szombathely, Bishop Sándor Kovács protested first from the pulpit, later to government members against the inhuman measures. The pro-German government did not accept his interventions, but using his local connections, he was still able to save several Jewish lives. For the benefit of Jews in Pécs and its region, Bishop Ferenc Virág succeeded in alleviating the circumstances during their stay in ghettos, but the brutal end, deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau could not be avoided.
In northern Transylvania, Bishop Áron Márton condemned many times in staggering words the grave and fatal measures. On 18 May in Kolozsvár (Cluj, present-day Romania), he called for compassion and assistance to those in need. He stated that "in defense of justice and in service of love, being persecuted and imprisoned is not shameful but glorious." Because of his public condemnations of the Jewish policy of the Sztójay government, he had to leave Hungary and continued his life at the bishop's residence in Gyulafehérvár/Alba Julia, Romania.
The number of children separated from their families in the turmoil of the war increased steadily. In most cases, religious organizations and officials took care of them. Compassionate people escorted those without support to aid organizations, Red Cross shelters, and church institutions. During the siege of Budapest by the Soviets, they had to be sheltered from the bombardments and shelling.
The "Good Pastor" action by the Reformed Church played an outstanding role in rescuing mothers and children in groups. Within this program, with the support of Friedrich Born, delegate of the International Red Cross in Budapest, shelters were established for Jewish children and children of Jewish origin. Hundreds were taken care of and saved ingeniously from deportation. Gábor Sztehlo, commissioned by the Lutheran Church, organized 32 homes for children, providing refuge to 1600 children and 400 adults. Dr. Emil Koren Lutheran pastor and his wife were also part of his voluntary staff.
In the Lutheran church on Deák square in the capital, Pastor András Keken and his wife provided fearless assistance. Almost fifty Jewish lives were saved by issuing Christian birth certificates and by accommodating some of those in need. Pastor Albert Bereczky contributed to rescue operations by issuing fake certificates of baptism and providing hiding places. Father Pál Klinda placed Jewish women in a military sewing facility. With this imaginative move, he saved eighty to a hundred lives.
Benedictine Father Ferenc Köhler also demonstrated great courage. In November 1944, he assisted the Jews marching on the Vienna road to be "loaned" to Germany. Similarly to Tibor Báránszky, Köhler also used protecting letters of the Nuncio's office to rescue sick and elderly people from the crowd and transport them back to Budapest. In December, he also visited the central ghetto, providing medicine and food. The Chairman of the Adventist Church, László Michnay provided fake documentation to many people. He hid ten people, among them the poet Andor Peterdi in his own flat. In 1964, he was among the first Hungarians to receive the Righteous Among the Nations award in Jerusalem.
Gennaro Verolino and his Hungarian collaborators carried out self-sacrificing rescue operations from the Nuncio's office in Buda castle. On several occasions, Captain Géza Bakos helped them to protect church institutions. Aggregate data suggest that some fifteen thousand Jews were saved by protecting letters of the Vatican during the Arrow Cross rule.
They accommodated and managed to hide successfully the Jews that took refuge in church institutions in the capital. By doing this, they took great risk: if discovered, they could have easily shared the destiny of fellow rescuers, Mátyás Varsányi, Lutheran pastor of Buda and field chaplain Ferenc Kálló. During Easter of 1944, Kálló preached on the radio. Because of his openly antiwar statements, the transmission was interrupted, but he stuck to his views. He became the spiritual leader of rescue actions in Garrison Hospital 11. Many writers, artists, medical doctors found refuge here. Following the takeover by the far right, his life came under threat, nevertheless he continued his work. On 28 October, armed Arrow Cross members dragged him from his sickbed and executed him in the Budakeszi forest. The secretary general of the Hungarian Association of the Holy Cross, József Cavallier was gravely wounded in the official premises. The deportation of several catholic priests to Dachau also figures on the list of sins of the Arrow Cross. Gusen, one of the auxiliary camps of Mauthausen, saw the end of the life of Reformed Church Pastor Dr. Zsigmond Varga.
The Society of Social Brethren, under the leadership of Margit Schlachta accommodated a large number of Jews in their buildings in Budapest and throughout the country. In the home for working women in Bokréta street however, there was a traitor. Based on denunciation, the Arrow Cross dragged away and shot into the icy Danube Vilma Bernovits faith instructor and Sára Salkaházi social sister.
Salkaházi, Righteous Among the Nations, was beatified in the presence of tens of thousands in Budapest on 17 November 2006.
Rescues by the military
There were people at different levels of command in the Hungarian army who found the Jewish Acts as contrary to the national interest and condemned the persecution of Jewish fellow citizens.
The majority of officers, who had gone through the hell of the First World War, did not accept the increasing humiliation of their Jewish comrades based on political criteria and the introduction of obligatory rosters indicating racial origin. Many of them realized that the so-called auxiliary labor service, increasingly unbearable for the Jewish people was contrary to the real interests of the army, was pointless and wasteful. MP Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky intervened several times in favor of those in the labor service.
General Vilmos Nagybaczoni Nagy, Minister of Defense alleviated the burdens of the Jewish men forced to undertake unarmed service. His human approach drew the increasingly loud protests of the pro-Nazi extreme right. After ten months in office, he was forced to resign in June 1943.
In northern Transylvania, Lieutenant-Colonel Imre Reviczky, commander of the Tenth Auxiliary Labor Force Battalion and Sergeant-Major Jenő Gombay displayed an exemplary human attitude. They consistently protected their Jewish staff from atrocities. (Both of them are Righteous Among the Nations.) The Arrow Cross accused Reviczky of "unfaithfulness", of resistance activities at the beginning of 1945. The swift arrival of the front saved him from execution. By providing selfless assistance to hundreds, he acquired lasting merits. Streets were named after him in the 3rd district of Budapest and in three towns of Israel.
Ret. Colonel Imre Ozoray and his family provided much assistance to their Jewish acquaintances. As a commander of a Jewish labor company, this officer seized various opportunities. He was able to get hold of rubber stamps which he used for rescuing people. Two dozens of persecuted Jews found refuge in his villa. Career officer lieutenants Jenő Thassy and Guidó Görgey, descendants of famous Hungarian historical families, Righteous Among the Nations, joined the movement of resistance. Moreover, they protected ingeniously their Jewish acquaintances, among them the writer Ferenc Karinthy and others. Görgey's mother, Friderika Görgey de Thierry was a brave and active participant of their actions.
Groups of armed resistance organized around Lieutenant Lajos Gidófalvy, General Staff Captain Zoltán Mikó, Lieutenant Vilmos Bondor performed extensive rescue operations. They distributed hundreds of identification documents, certificates of exemption to people in hiding, deserters, mobilized students and those persecuted because of their ethnic origin or religion. In the 6th district of Budapest, Gidófalvy and his comrades rescued hundreds of Jewish children. Mikó's group also took part in rescuing Hungarian writers and other members of the intellectual elite.
Kálmán Ferenczfalvy, chief of the economic office of the 20th Labor Force Battalion rescued hundreds of women and men in the labor service. In 1988, he was bestowed the Righteous Among the Nations award, and became honorary citizen of Gyöngyös in 2003. On many occasions, Captain László Tamásy introduced himself as an investigating officer of the Hadik Barracks (counter-espionage). He "arrested" demonstratively those he aimed to rescue, then brought them to the safety of a shelter. Many were saved as the result of legal and illegal actions by Colonel Raymund Bóth and Majors Emil Löderer and István Fehér.
The Artúr Görgey University Battalion under the command of lawyer Endre Csohány provided shelter and military documents offering temporary cover for Jewish people. During a raid, the counter-espionage seized ten men in the labor service hiding at their facility. These people were executed in the military prison on Margit Boulevard on 4 December.
Anna Szenes, with her paratrooper comrades trained by the British military, tried to set up Jewish self-defense and resistance. Treason thwarted their courageous plans. The Jewish radio-operator was tortured and executed in Budapest on 7 November.
The battles of the First World War left László Ocskay disabled. In spite of this, yielding to the persuasion of his Jewish friends, former comrades, he accepted the command of a labor company in 1944. The retired captain operated a so-called cloth-collecting unit as a cover to a sewing workshop in the former Jewish Grammar School of Zugló district in Budapest, where he rescued fifteen hundred persecuted Jews. The protected persons were employed at mending military uniforms, and German soldiers protected this "military workshop" from the attacks of the Arrow Cross.
Ocskay had direct contacs with Friedrich Born and Raoul Wallenberg. The Secretary of the Embassy and his driver, Vilmos Langfelder spent their last days in Budapest in his apartment. From this place, they were abducted to Moscow, never to come back. (Later, Ocskay fled with his family to the United States, away from the harassments of the Soviet authorities.) A documentary movie was made about his unique rescue operation. In honor of this Righteous Among the Nations a memorial bench has been placed in the Városliget City Park.
Lajos Kudar, Colonel of Gendarmerie and one of the leaders of the Center for State Protection, prevented the apprehension of hundreds of people during the rule of the Arrow Cross. Secretly, he handed over the names from the lists for arrest to Margit Rosner and Mrs. Dr. István Kovács. They alarmed the concerned persons and many managed to escape. In the end days of the siege of Buda, Kudar paid with his life for his humanitarian actions.
First Lieutenant Tibor Almásy was appointed as commander of one of the barracks in Sopron in March 1945. The German Todt organization carried out defense constructions in the surroundings of the town, using Hungarian Jewish forced laborers. At the approach of the Soviet troops, in the villages near Sopron, the SS executed by the hundreds men and women weak and sick as a result of the harsh work. On 28 March, a Hungarian armed escort fleeing west handed over to Almásy almost four hundred Jewish labor servicemen, claiming that the SS would "take care" of them.
The commander ordered the forced laborers into the cellar. He dressed in military uniform some of the German-speaking men from the group and ordered them to the gates. During the night, he hanged canvases with the words "Danger of typhus" on the walls of the barracks. The rescue operation was successful, the SS did not enter the territory of the barracks. People protected by Almásy survived the passing of the battle line, and he has been bestowed the Righteous Among the Nations award.
The Hungarian population also rescued British and American pilots, and risked their own lives hiding them from the German authorities. The Szalai family in Csapod, Sopron County sheltered for almost half a year American navigator Arnold R. Silverstein in the close vicinity of a German airfield. Honoring this outstanding act, Miklós Szalai received a high award of the American military in 1985.
Attitude of the population during the last months of the war
After 15 October 1944, the Eichmann commando, struggling with the shortage of railway carriages, dispatched Jews on foot from the capital to Hegyeshalom where an SS detachment took them over.
After marching more than 200 kilometers, their fate was decided by Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, former commandant of the Auschwitz Camp.
A part of the population along the road to Vienna, unlike during the early summer deportations, displayed an active humanitarian stance. In many cases, they sheltered the fugitives who were in a hopeless situation. Usually, the helpers were ordinary people, with few years of education, often poor.
They accommodated the fugitive Jews (first of all, the women and girls) in Komárom, Gönyü, Győr, Kisbarát, Rajka and Vének. Some assisted providing peasant dresses or food, others by offering temporary shelter. The Arrow Cross threatened to arrest and intern the culprits. The local authorities stepped up propaganda to de-motivate the lower clergy and population from providing assistance.
Who were these exceptional persons courageous enough to help? Based on what we know of them, they were not born heroes. They were ordinary people from the countryside; farmers struggling to make ends meet, artisans, some learned and some hardly able to write down their own names. Well-intentioned housewives, young girls helping without hesitation. In other cases, medical doctors or former patients of Jewish doctors. Religious persons and non-believers, churchmen and organized workers. Close and loose acquaintances, friends and absolute strangers, former employees and servants of the persecuted Jewish families. Kind-hearted retailers with sound morals, who provided food without payment for those in hiding.
Romantic rescues took place in spite of the "Acts on Defense of the Race". There were cases of a Christian husband following everywhere his Jewish wife, of Jewish and Christian friends helping each other during the march, in the struggle for survival, providing hope and endurance. From the testimonies of rescues, the most outstanding ones are those initiated by the rescued. Very often the persons saved compare the rescuer, who might have arrived to the scene at the very last moment, to the Angel of Life descending from heaven.
The shock of the deportations that sealed the fate of hundreds of thousands of rural Jews in the early summer, as well as the deterioration of the war situation contributed to the increased willingness of the people of Budapest to assist the victims during the winter of 1944. A number of artists wrote petitions to the authorities. Others produced "increasingly real" fake documents, offered their studios or a part of them as hiding places to fugitives. Visual artists, actors, writers and poets who condemned the Jewish Acts and the persecutions, focused mainly on rescuing, assisting, and sheltering their colleagues forced into labor service or camps.
It is worth mentioning the humanity of Vali Rácz, Klári Tolnay, Pál Pátzay, György Ruzicskay and others. For supporting and rescuing their Jewish colleagues, the Arrow Cross slandered, humiliated and detained famous actors Katalin Karády and Pál Jávor. Their popularity and fame could not protect them.
During the terror of the Arrow Cross rule, the threats to the population continued to increase. Therefore, in many places workshops, warehouses, cellars, backrooms were turned into shelters, even in the cave-dwellings in Budafok. At this last location, Erzsébet Kúpházy and her family, as well as Erzsébet Schuck assisted many, among others the writer Irén Egri and her husband. The forms of assistance included providing shelter, transferring to a safe location, supplying food, making life-saving documents and money available, pharmaceutical and medical assistance.
The Arrow Cross carried on with raids, searching apartments, looking for hiding Jews all over Budapest. Denunciations, reporting to the authorities were frequent. In many cases, men-hunters executed the rescuer along with the protected person. Many were driven to the banks of the Danube, stripped, tied together and shot into the river.
In Miskolc, ironworker Sándor Kopácsi and his family provided shelter to many persecuted. Through Jenő Winter, serving in the labor forces, they supplied fake identification documents to more than twenty. Iron turner Béla Bánhegyi in Diósgyőr sheltered Jews in his own apartment and assisted their further escape. In Nyíri, a small village of the Gönc district, farmer István Novák sheltered five, saving them from certain death. One of the survivors, Randolph L. Braham, became later a university professor in the USA and a world-renowned expert on the Holocaust.
Fugitive labor forces servicemen were sheltered in Bükkszentmárton, Eger and Vámosgyörk too. Dance teacher Elza Brandeisz sheltered many in Balatonalmádi. At the end, she had to flee along with the persons she had been protecting. At the time of liberation, she was hiding in the hay of a farm close to Herend, together with Mrs. Tivadar Soros, mother of George Soros.
Lives of deported Hungarian Jews were saved in Gmünd, Austria, where medical doctor Artur Lanc and his wife took great risks. In Enns, the Friedmanns sheltered the twenty-year old Dávid Hersch. The owner of a lumberyard, Ludwig Knapp in Weitra-Schützenberg, protected eighteen Jewish people from Szeged. Sixteen Hungarian Jews were hidden, fed and protected from peril in the village of Rohr. In Dobersberg, Rudolf Harrer and his wife, Irmgard Harrer assisted the Hungarian Jews brought there for forestry works. In Rechnitz, Franziska Hutter sheltered successfully the deported Dr. Sándor Székely from certain death.
Priest János Farkas from Deutsch-Schützen, taking great personal risk, protected the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers, hiding several of them in his parish. Among the more than hundred names on the list of Austrian Righteous Among the Nations, some two dozen received the Israeli award for rescuing Hungarian Jews.
Honoring Raul Wallenberg and the Righteous Among the Nations in Hungary
In conclusion, it is worth thinking about the meaning of rescuing.
It is about liberation from detention. Liberation, escape or protection from violence, peril, evil, from the limitations imposed by force. It may mean getting free from custody, assisting or achieving the escape, the breakout.
For the above-mentioned deeds, sixteen Hungarian citizens received the Righteous Among the Nations award between 1964 and 1970; by 1989, their number had reached two hundred. In respect of several hundreds of Hungarian rescuers, memorial plaques have been placed and trees have been planted in the large park of the Yad Vashem Memorial Center in Jerusalem. Lately, as space has become scarce, a touchingly beautiful memorial garden has been created. At this place, the names of those whose contribution to rescuing Jewish people at the time of the Shoah has been confirmed through the annual thorough legal procedure, are carved into walls of stone.
The Righteous Among the Nations award is tremendously prestigious. Thorough scientific research has to precede and support every individual nomination. By 2009, the number of persons decorated by the Yad Vashem Memorial Authority for rescuing Jews on the territory of Hungary had surpassed seven hundred fifty. Every year, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest presents several documented cases for the Israeli award. The Hungarian authorities bestow a Medal for Courage upon these people.
Many do not expect gratitude or recognition for their risky actions of rescuing. They have fulfilled their moral and human obligations – they claim – and would not accept any award.
The terrible facts about the tragedy of Jewry in Europe still shock compassionate people. In our days, the concrete examples of selfless responsibility, the cases and the actions of rescuing are coming into the focus of public attention. In our age full of challenges these provide unyielding moral examples and strengthen national self-respect. The Israeli authorities acknowledged some twenty-three thousand people worldwide for their deeds during the Shoah. It is generally accepted that rescue operations, as the most outstanding displays of humanity, convey, through many examples, firm moral values. These accomplishments represent authentic denials of bias and prejudice, of false generalizations repeated for decades. The newly discovered facts related to rescuing contribute to painting a more realistic picture of the years of war.
It is remarkable that the exhibition of Righteous Among the Nations displays values standing out even after six and half decades. In Switzerland, linked to this subject, the names of Carl Lutz, vice-consul accredited to Budapest, and of Friedrich Born, protector of numerous Hungarian institutions, among them the Monastery of Pannonhalma, are mentioned as examples. Lutz's commitment is honored with a memorial on the territory of the former central ghetto. A memorial plaque was unveiled in his honor in Washington, D.C. in 2010. At this solemn event, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, János Martonyi pointed out that the plaque was a reminder proving that the "most courageous could successfully resist the power of hate."
The tribute to Wallenberg is lasting and vivid worldwide. The US authorities have acknowledged his courage by granting him posthumous citizenship. Streets bearing his name are located in more then twenty towns of Israel. (On 6 July 1997 a memorial plaque in his honor was unveiled in Érsekújvár/Nové Zámky, Slovakia, followed by a memorial in Pozsony/Bratislava, although he never visited those places.) In the Hungarian capital, a hospital ward and a street were named after him already in 1945. Jenő Lévai published a book on his life and struggle in Budapest at the end of 1947. Within months, new editions were printed. His clients, survivors kept on expecting news from him for years. In vain, and decades of silence followed.
In the 1990s, there was a turn regarding the research of persecutions during the war and the history of rescuing in Hungary. Memoirs, digests were published and valuable documentaries were made. The topic was included in school curricula and institutional education. Memorial plaques were placed at many locations in the capital, honoring the Righteous.
An exhibition, organized by Mária Ember, Péter Bajtay, József Sebes and Emil Horn, was staged in Budapest from 4 August and 31 October 1992, titled "Raoul Wallenberg Was Born 80 Years Ago". Personal belongings of Wallenberg returned from Moscow were displayed, along with family documents, letters of protection, photos of his driver, Vilmos Langfelder. The catalog of the exhibition, completed with the copies of documents was published with the motto "… to preserve the memory of the Wallenberg exhibition in Budapest". In the series Faces of the City, a volume by Mária Ember Wallenberg in Budapest was published. Schools were named after Langlet, Perlasca, Wallenberg and, most recently, after Gennaro Verolino.
In 1992, the Foundation for Righteous People was established. It still pursues its noble aim of supporting the needy rescuers. On 6 June 1993, the Raoul Wallenberg Association evaluated its five years of activities. In the paper it declared: "For the formation of an honest Hungarian historical consciousness it is indispensable to harmonize the parts of school textbooks that provide a distorted and incomplete description of the holocaust with the facts discovered by scientific research and their significance."
Following a public initiative, a committee was formed in July 1998 to restore the Wallenberg monument in Budapest, made by Pál Pátzay. A copy of the original statue and the pedestal, discovered in Debrecen, was reproduced by sculptor Sándor Györfi. Half a century after its demolition, the second Wallenberg monument in Budapest was unveiled on 18 April 1999.
Since 2001, Wallenberg's birthday, 4 August is traditionally celebrated as the Day of Humanity. On this occasion, the Hungarian heroes of committed humanity are acknowledged. Until the present day, the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has contributed sixteen million HUF from private donations to commemorations. In the series of Wallenberg Booklets, six volumes have been published related to the work of the courageous Swede. In 2007, Memories of Wallenberg was printed, containing the bibliography of articles, periodical publications and studies published in Hungary about the Swedish embassy secretary.
In the summer of 2010, the Council of the City of Budapest decided on naming sections of the Danube quays after rescuers, mainly foreigners. With the aim of cultivating the moral legacy of the knights of humanity, the Society of Righteous People was founded. On 5 October, a play in two acts by Ernst Pichler, "Wallenberg, or The Endgame in Lubyanka" a theatrical adaptation of Wallenberg’s Soviet detention was staged in Szekszárd.
The Government of Hungary, in its act 1378/2011 (8 November) decided to duly commemorate the rescuer Swedish diplomat in 2012 in the context of the Raoul Wallenberg Year. In the framework of the memorial year, the capital and the whole country will take measures to celebrate the centenary of Wallenberg's birth on 4 August 2012. The Commemorative Committee, created by the Government's decision has undertaken to preserve and disseminate broadly the memory and valuable moral legacy of the humanitarian stance taken by the Swedish hero and his Hungarian supporters.