The Deportation of the Hungarian Jews


Hungarian Jewish men selected for work at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Elderly Jews waiting to be taken by truck to the gas chamber

On July 9th, the same day that the last mass transport of Hungarian Jews arrived at Auschwitz, a Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg was assigned to the Swedish legation in Budapest. He was actually working as an agent for the American War Refugee Board which President Franklin D. Roosevelt had established in January 1944 at the request of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the Secretary of the Treasury. Wallenberg saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by providing them with an illegal protective passport (Schutz-Pass) which identified them as Swedish subjects living in Hungary. Wallenberg set up safe houses for Jewish refugees in Budapest which were paid for by the Swedish embassy. Some of the Jewish refugees were housed in the Swedish legation in Budapest. As a result of Wallenberg's efforts, as many as 200,000 Hungarian Jews were saved, including Tom Lantos, who emigrated to America after the war and subsequently became a US Congressman.

When Hungary was liberated by the Soviet Union, Wallenberg was last seen on January 17, 1945. Ten years later, the Soviet Union released the information that he had been arrested as a spy and imprisoned in a Soviet gulag; he allegedly died in captivity. As a young man, Wallenberg had studied in the United States and had received a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan in 1935. He also spoke Russian.

Rudolf Vrba, aka Walter Rosenberg

The plight of the Hungarian Jews first came to the attention of the world when, on April 7, 1944, two Jewish prisoners, Rudolf Vrba, aka Walter Rosenberg, and Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape from Birkenau, the infamous Auschwitz II camp where the gas chambers were located. They made their way back to Slovakia, where Vrba's mother was still living, and wrote a report which soon reached the hands of the Pope, the King of Sweden, and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Hungarian government and Admiral Horthy were informed that Vrba and Wetzler had proof that the Jews were being gassed at Auschwitz. Vrba, who worked at the Judenrampe, the train platform where the Jews disembarked before the railroad line was extended, had counted the number of Jews who arrived at Birkenau and were then never seen again. Vrba's estimate was that 1,765,000 Jews had been gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau by March 1944, just before he made his escape.

Two other prisoners, Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz, also escaped from Auschwitz at the end of May and wrote a report which told about the beginning of the "Hungarian Action" and the mass murder of the Jews.

Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, two Jewish advisors to President Roosevelt, urged him to intervene, according to Robert E. Conot, who wrote "Judgment at Nuremberg." Roosevelt threatened that "Hungary's fate will not be like any other civilized nation's...unless the deportations are stopped." With a population of 125 million people in America in 1933, when the Nazis first came to power, the USA had plenty of room to absorb all of the approximately 15.6 million Jews in the world, but the American Congress would not change the laws that limited Jewish immigrants until 1948.

On July 2, American planes bombed Budapest and its railroad facilities in an attempt to stop the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, according to Conot. The King of Sweden and the Pope also intervened and put pressure on Horthy to stop the deportation. The bombing of Auschwitz was briefly considered, but was rejected.

According to a newspaper article by Washington Times writer Jay Bushinsky in January 2007, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, the papal ambassador to Turkey, worked with Chaim Barlas, a Jewish Agency Rescue Committee official, to persuade the Pope to help the Hungarian Jews. Roncalli and Barlas worked together to save around 12,000 Hungarian Jews by making false baptismal certificates for them and issuing travel papers. Roncalli wrote letters to Pope Pius XII urging him to ask Miklos Horthy to stop the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. In June 1944, the Pope contacted Horthy and asked him to stop the deportation, which Horthy finally did in July. Roncalli later became Pope John XXIII.

After a meeting on June 26, 1944, the Hungarian Council of Ministers decided to allow the emigration of 7,800 Jews, most of whom had papers permitting them to emigrate to Palestine. On July 17, 1944, the Hungarian government announced that all Jews who had immigration papers for Palestine would be given exit visas and allowed to leave.

After Hitler himself put pressure on Horthy to deport the remaining Jews, the Hungarian government agreed to begin transporting the Budapest Jews, who had initially been spared. According to Yehuda Bauer, the plan was to transport the Jews on 6 trains with 20,000 Jews on each train; the first train was scheduled to leave on August 27, 1944. When Eichmann learned of this, he tried to get Horthy to advance the date to August 20th. Horthy refused and Eichmann requested and received permission to leave his post in Hungary. The deportation plans were stopped when the Hungarian government received a telegram from Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on August 24th; Himmler ordered the preparations for the deportation of the Budapest Jews to cease.

According to the US Holocaust Museum, there were 200,000 Jews still living in Budapest after the deportations stopped.

Hungarian children arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 26, 1944

On October 8, 1944, Hungary formally sought peace terms with the Allies, according to the book entitled "The Last Days," which was published in conjunction with a documentary by the same name, filmed by Steven Spielberg. Hitler had anticipated this move, and the SS protected the pro-Nazi Hungarian leaders of the Arrow Cross fascist political party from arrest while Otto Skorzeny, the famous German commando, and his elite unit kidnapped Horthy's son. Horthy's coup was stopped and the Germans forced Horthy to appoint Ferenc Szalasi of the fascist Arrow Cross party as the prime minister of Hungary.

Adolf Eichmann then returned to Hungary and began negotiations with the Hungarian government to deport 50,000 Hungarian Jews to Germany to work in building anti-tank barriers and in the munitions factories in the concentration camps. Due to the destruction of the railways by Allied bombing, the Jews were forced to march on foot to the border between Austria and Hungary where they were then put on trains and taken to various concentration camps, including Mauthausen, Gunskirchen and Buchenwald. Hungarian women were also sent on the march and eventually reached the main Dachau camp, where they were then sent to one of the Dachau sub-camps.

One of the 7,000 Budapest Jews, who were sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and then transferred to Buchenwald or other camps, was the famous Hungarian novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, Imre Kertész . In several novels, Kertész wrote about the Holocaust, although not about his personal experience.

Jews for Trucks

Hungarian Jews sent to Bergen-Belsen


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This page was last updated on December 6, 2009