Hungary


Hungary
   The last phase of the Final Solution occurred in Hungary between 15 May and 9 July 1944. During these months, the Germans deported 437,402 Jews to the death camps. The number of Jews in Hungary at the time of the deportations numbered some 762,000, with an additional 100,000 converts to Christianity, who were considered Jews according to Nazi racial criteria.
   Although integrated into the social and cultural life of Hungary, Jews became targets of anti-Semitism after World War I when they were associated with the short-lived communist dictatorship of Bela Kun in 1919. Following the war, Hungary suffered territorial losses that were accompanied by severe economic hardships. Under these circumstances Admiral Miklos Horthy became the regent of Hungary in 1920. In the decades that followed, anti-Semitism was legitimized by the Horthy regime. During the 1930s, Hungary and Nazi Germany drew closer because the latter sought to expand its influence in east-central Europe, and the Horthy regime sought markets for Hungary’s agricultural products at a time when it was suffering from the worldwide depression.
   Economic cooperation between the two regimes was joined by a political alliance as Hungary tied its political fortunes to Germany in hopes of reacquiring territory it had lost during World War I. Following the Munich agreement in November 1938, Hungary received part of its former territory at the expense of dismembered Czechoslovakia. As a result of its territorial acquisitions, Hungary added 250,000 Jews to the 400,000 who already resided in Hungary proper. Not all of Hungary’s politicians, however, were enthralled with the German relationship. Some feared that a strong Germany would compromise Hungary’s political independence, and others saw cooperation with Germany leading to the acquisition of additional territory. The result was a cautious policy toward Germany. Hungary did not participate in the invasion of Poland and, in fact, allowed more than 100,000 Polish refugees to find shelter in Hungary. One of its territorial objectives, however, was the recovery of northern Transylvania from Romania, but the price for German support for this objective was the recognition of the Nazi Volkesbund, the spokesmen for the ethnic Germans residing in Hungary. Following Hungary’s acceptance of the German demand, it became a partner in the Tripartite Pact that joined Germany, Italy, and Japan in a military alliance. By early 1941, Hungary was in a military alliance with Germany and would, in conjunction with its ally, declare war on the United States in December 1941.
   The alliance with Germany led to the legitimation of the Arrow Cross Party, a pro-Nazi and vehemently anti-Semitic paramilitary group. The Hungarians also joined in the German invasion of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Following the German defeat at Stalingrad, which included heavy Hungarian losses, the government sought to extricate itself from its ally. In late 1943, the Hungarians sent peace feelers to the West, which the Germans did not attempt to stop as long as Hungary maintained its economic agreements. Horthy also called for the withdrawal of his troops from the Soviet Union. It became apparent to Germany, at this point, that Hungary was moving closer to changing sides.
   With the Red Army nearing the Carpathian Mountains, Adolf Hitler sent for Horthy in March 1944 and informed him of plans to occupy Hungary. Fearing that if Hungary resisted the Germans, the Romanians would take advantage of the situation and occupy Hungarian territory, Horthy capitulated to Hitler’s demands, and on 19 March 1944, German troops occupied Hungary. In addition to troops, the Germans also sent their Jewish “experts” to plan the deportation of the country’s Jews.
   Among the experts were Adolf Eichmann and members of the Jewish Section of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), whose mission was to implement the Final Solution in Hungary. Although the first deportations began in 1944, daily life for Hungarian Jewry had deteriorated much earlier. The first anti-Jewish laws were promulgated by the Horthy government in May 1938, whereby quotas were placed on the number of Jews permitted in private business. In 1939, a more sweeping law defined the status of Jews and barred them from positions in the media as well as placing a quota on the number of Jews allowed in the professions. The laws also enabled the government to expropriate Jewish real property with compensation. Following the annexation of territories in Ruthenia, the Hungarians rounded up some 17,000 stateless Jews and dumped them into German-occupied Ukraine. When Germany objected to the Hungarian action, 6,000 Jews were returned and used as slave labor; the other 11,000 were killed by Einsatzgruppen units. From 1942 to the German occupation in 1944, Jews continued to be subjected to forced labor but were not handed over to the Germans. The Hungarian government, in fact, refused the German demand that the Jews wear the yellow Star of David badge and be deported to Poland. In May 1943, Prime Minister Miklos Kallay rejected the resettlement of the Jews as a Final Solution as long as the Germans refused to satisfactorily respond as to their ultimate destination.
   The German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 led to the deposal of Kallay and end of whatever protection Hungary’s Jews had from being deported. Under the German occupation, Jews were now forced to wear the yellow badge, and with Eichmann’s urging, the Hungarians issued decrees that further isolated Hungarian Jewry. Jews were limited in their ability to travel, their telephones and radios were confiscated, and they became ever increasingly targets for the violence of the Arrow Cross gangs. Next came the expropriations of Jewish property as the Jews found that their bank accounts, jewelry, and other valuables were subject to confiscation. Jewish enterprises and financial establishments were prepared for the Hungarian version of Aryanization as the government engaged in the wholesale confiscation of the economic wealth of Hungarian Jewry. Hungarians quickly learned that anti-Semitism was a profitable enterprise as they profited from plundered Jewish property.
   Jews were concentrated in ghettos on 28 April 1944. For this purpose, Hungary was divided into five sections that included 55 ghettos and three concentration camps. The objective was to intern Hungary’s 427,000 Jews and then deport them to the death camps. Toward this end, Eichmann ordered the establishment of a Judenrat (Jewish Council) for the purpose of carrying out the German decrees. From 15 May to 24 May 1944, a total of 116,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. By the end of July, a total of over 437,000 Jews had been deported to the death camp.
   Fearing retribution from the Allies in a war that Germany appeared to be losing, Horthy halted the deportations, but his order was a case of “too little and too late.” Most of Hungary’s Jews, except for those in Budapest, had already been exterminated. Eichmann was taken aback by Horthy’s action but continued to round up Jews for deportation. Between August and October of 1944, the situation of Hungary’s remaining Jews improved, as Horthy was determined to remove his country from the war and halt the deportation of Jews. But, aided by the Germans, a coup against the government took place on 15–16 October 1944, which was led by Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of the Arrow Cross.
   Szalasi became the new prime minister and immediately resumed the deportations. Auschwitz, however, was in the process of being dismantled, and instead of transports leaving the country for the ex termination camp, Jews were placed in labor camps in Hungary. By the end of 1944, about 160,000 Jews were left in Budapest, where life was made miserable by Arrow Cross gangs. The winter only added to the suffering as cold and hunger pervaded their existence. By the end of winter, when the Russians occupied Budapest in February 1945, an additional 20,000 Jews had died. In a relatively short period of time, the Final Solution in Hungary had led to the death of over 450,000, or 70 percent, of the Jews of Greater Hungary. About 140,000 survived in Budapest and 50,000 to 60,000 survived in the provinces.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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