|By Dr. Efraim Zuroff|
During the past decade and a half since the fall of Communism and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, one of the important aspects of the history of the Holocaust which has received renewed attention, is the issue of local collaboration with the Nazis. This is an extremely significant subject in Eastern Europe, where the level of collaboration was particularly high and the participation of numerous local collaborators in the murder of the Jews helped to significantly increase the number of victims. Most important, in practically all of these countries – Poland being the notable exception – the Nazis incorporated their local supporters into the process of mass murder and encouraged their active participation in the implementation of the Final Solution. In some countries, like the Baltics, the key role in this regard was played by indigenous police units such as several of the Lithuanian auxiliary police battalions and special murder squads such as the Ypatinga burys in Lithuania and the Arajs Kommando in Latvia, while in other countries fascist movements which had existed before World War II, such as the Ustasha in Croatia, Arrow Cross in Hungary, Hlinka Guard in Slovakia and to a lesser extent the Iron Guard in Romania, assumed a significant role in the anti-Jewish persecution and murder.
In Hungary, we see a combination of both factors, which significantly influenced the fate of Hungarian Jewish during the Shoa. Thus although the systematic mass murder of Jews was primarily carried out in Auschwitz, not in Hungary itself, the active involvement of the Hungarian police in the deportations was critical, and at the same time Hungary’s local fascist movement, the Arrow Cross, was to assume a leading role in the reign of persecution and terror unleashed against Hungarian Jewry during the latter stages of World War II.
In assessing Hungarian collaboration with the Nazis and the role played by Hungarians in the implementation of the Final Solution, it is important to note that already in the immediate aftermath of World War I and the short-lived Communist government headed by Bela Kun, several thousand Jews were murdered in a wave of anti-Communist terror unleashed by conservative and nationalist elements. Shortly thereafter, in 1920, Hungary was the first country in Europe to pass an anti-Jewish quota law in violation of the League of Nations Minorities Protection Treaty, which limited to 6% the number of Jewish students in institutions of higher learning.
These events were, unfortunately, merely a prelude to the tragedy which befell Hungarian Jewish during the Holocaust. Before presenting those details, however, it is important to briefly recount the geographic changes which took place starting in 1938 and which significantly affected the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, Hungary was stripped of two-thirds of its historical territory, one-third of its Magyar population and three-fifths of its total population. Thus from a peak of 910,227 Jews in 1910, the number of Jews in Hungary in 1930 was approximately only 445,000. This was to change fairly drastically during the late thirties and early forties as Hungary, which aligned itself politically with Nazi Germany, was rewarded by the annexation of the following territories, each of which had a significant Jewish population:
1. Felvidek: from Czechoslovakia in November 1938 – approximately 68,000 Jews
2. Carpatho-Ruthenia: from Czechoslovakia in March 1939 – approximately 78,000 Jews
3. Northern Transylvania: from Romania in August 1940 – approximately 164,000 Jews
4. Delvidek: from Yugoslavia in April 1941 – approximately 14,000 Jews
These changes made Hungarian Jewish the third largest community in Europe after Poland and the Soviet Union.
When analyzing the role played by Hungarians in the mass murder of Hungarian Jewry, we must focus on five topics: the anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Hungarian government during the years 1938-1941; the labor service required of Jewish males of military age; the murder of Jews in the Ukraine and Serbia in 1941-1942; the mass deportations to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944; and the reign of anti-Jewish terror unleashed in October 1944 when the Arrow Cross party came to power. While the mass deportations are perhaps the best known of the numerous crimes committed against Hungarian Jewry, it is important to stress that Hungarians murdered tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary, and took measures that directly resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews outside Hungary, making them full and important accomplices in the annihilation of the community.
1. Anti-Jewish legislation (1938-1941)
On May 29, 1938, the first such law was passed which limited Jewish participation in the professions and in financial, commercial and industrial enterprises to 20%. This was followed, a year later, by a law which further reduced the Jews’ participation to a maximum of 6% and introduced a racial definition of who was a Jew. In August 1941, a third law patterned after the Nuremberg racial laws and which prohibited marriage and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews went into effect.
2. Labor service for Jewish males of military age (Munkaszolgalat)
This unique police sent Jewish men to work projects in Hungary and in Hungarian and German-occupied parts of the Ukraine and Yugoslavia and directly led to the death of approximately 42,000 Hungarian Jews before the Nazi occupation on March 19, 1944. It is described in detail elsewhere in the magazine.
3. Murder of Jews in the Ukraine and Serbia (1941-1942)
a.In the summer of 1941 the Hungarian authorities began rounding up Jewish refugees living in Hungary who were not Hungarian citizens. By the end of August, 18,000 such persons had been deported to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine, where on August 27-28, 16,000 of them were murdered together with many of the local Jews by SS units, Ukrainian Nazi collaborators and reportedly a Hungarian sapper platoon composed of Swabians.
b.In January 1942, Hungarian troops carried out large-scale executions of Jews (and Serbs) in the Bacska region, and especially in the city of Novi Sad, in the course of which more than 1,000 Jews were murdered.
4. Mass deportations to Auschwitz (spring 1944)
Following the Nazi occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, the Hungarian government took measures to separate the Jews from the rest of the population and confiscate their property. On April 5, 1944, all Jews were required to wear a yellow star as a means of identification. On April 28, 1944, the government ordered the ghettoization of Hungarian Jewry, a process that had in fact already been started in Carpatho-Ruthenia in mid-April. A total of 55 ghettoes and concentration points were established in Jewish neighborhoods, or in local brick factories or other such edifices. The ghettoes were guarded by local police and gendarmes especially brought in for this purpose and were totally sealed off. Besides the terrible physical conditions, the Hungarian police often conducted barbaric searches for valuables among those perceived as wealthy.
On May 15, 1944, the deportations began from Carpatho-Ruthenia and Northeastern Hungary, with the process determined by the progress of the war and the advance of Soviet troops from the East. In the course of fifty-six days (May 15-July 9), one hundred and forty seven fright trains brought a total of 437,402 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, where the large majority were gassed immediately upon arrival.
5. Arrow Cross regime (October 11, 1944 – January 18, 1945)
By the time that the Arrow Cross government headed by Ferenc Szalasi was established under pressure from the Nazis, the only Jews left in Hungary were in Budapest. The new regime unleashed a wave of terror and murder against the Jews. Thousands, mostly women, were force marched to build fortifications for the defense of Vienna and Arrow Cross gangs roamed the streets of Budapest robbing and killing thousands of Jews whose corpses were thrown into the Danube. In early December 1944, the Jews of Budapest were ordered into a ghetto in the Jewish quarter, where thousands died as a result of the extremely harsh physical conditions.
In all, 564,500 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, slightly more than half from Trianon Hungary (267,800 – of whom 85,000 were from Budapest and 182,300 from the provinces) and the rest (233,700) from the annexed territories. Throughout the process, at every stage, Hungarians were full and active participants in the annihilation of their Jewish countrymen.
After the war, close to 27,000 Hungarians were convicted for crimes committed during World War II, of whom 477 were sentenced to death and 188 executed. Since becoming a democracy, Hungary has not investigated, let alone prosecuted, a single case of a Hungarian Nazi collaborator.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff
Director of Simon Wiesenthal's office in Jerusalem.