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May 4, 2012

How many Hungarian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust?

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 9:42 am

In yesterday’s news, I read about David Kahan, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, who gives talks to students about the Holocaust.  According to the news article in The Voice:

“Within 10 months over 800,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.”

There were 725,000 Jews living in Hungary in 1944, including many who were previously residents of Romania, according to Laurence Rees, who wrote Auschwitz, a New History.

Most of the Holocaust survivors, who are still alive today, are Hungarian Jews. Could Laurence Rees be wrong about the number of Jews in Hungary in 1944?

Hungarian Jews going through a selection process at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944

Women and children waiting for their turn in the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau

David Kahan’s story is similar to the stories of many other Hungarian survivors.  This quote is from the news article in The Voice:

Kahan, who was 15 at the time, was sent to a ghetto near his hometown to be shipped off to the Auschwitz extermination camp. After being herded into a train car with his parents, brother and sister they were taken off the train and lined up.

At the head of the line was the infamous Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, who took a quick look at each person and with a flick of his thumb, told each person which way to go. One way was to be taken to the gas chambers and the other was to the barracks for work. His parents and younger brother and sister were sent to the gas chambers. He was chosen to live and to work.

Kahan worked for only a few days at Auschwitz before being shipped off to two other concentration camps over the next 10 months. Then one day Kahan and other Jews were loaded on a train that was to take them to an unknown location; before it reached that location though it was stopped and liberated by United States troops.

Hungarian men who were selected to work at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp

Hungary was an ally of Germany but the Hungarian Jews were not deported to camps until the Spring of 1944, after the German Army took over Hungary. Laurence Rees wrote that it was not until May 1944, when the Hungarian Jews were deported, that Auschwitz-Birkenau became the site of the largest mass murder in modern history and the epicenter of the Final Solution.

According to Rees, in 1942, there were 2.7 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, including 1.6 million at the Operation Reinhard camps, but only 200,000 Jews were gassed at Auschwitz that year in two old converted farm houses. Rees wrote that almost one half of all the Jews that were killed at Auschwitz were Hungarian Jews who were gassed within a period of 10 weeks in 1944. Up until the Spring of 1944, it had been the three Operation Reinhard camps at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, that were the main Nazi killing centers for the Jews, not Auschwitz.

After the formation of the Reich Central Security Office (RSHA) in 1939, Adolf Eichmann was put in charge of section IV B4, the RSHA department that handled the deportation of the Jews. One of his first assignments was to work on the Nazi plan to send the European Jews to the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa. This plan was abandoned in 1940.

According to Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, “Eichmann had concerned himself with the Jewish question since his youth and had an extensive knowledge of the literature on the subject. He lived for a long time in Palestine in order to learn more about the Zionists and the growing Jewish state.”

In 1937, Eichmann had gone to the Middle East to research the possibility of mass Jewish emigration to Palestine. He had met with Feival Polkes, an agent of the Haganah, with whom he discussed the Zionist plan to create a Jewish state. According to testimony at his trial in 1961 in Jerusalem, Eichmann was denied entry into Palestine by the British, who were opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine, so the idea of deporting all the European Jews to Palestine had to be abandoned.

After the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, at which the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was planned, Eichmann was assigned to organize the “transportation to the East” which was a Nazi euphemism for sending the European Jews to be killed at Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  (The killing of the Jews at Chelmno began before the Wannsee Conference.)

According to Daniel Goldhagen, the author of the best-selling book entitled Hitler’s Willing Executioners, the Nazis were in a frenzy to complete the genocide of the Jews before the end of the war. Even though they were desperate for workers in their munitions factories, it was more important to the Nazis to carry out the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, according to Goldhagen who wrote the following:

Finally, the fidelity of the Germans to their genocidal enterprise was so great as seeming to defy comprehension. Their world was disintegrating around them, yet they persisted in genocidal killing until the end.

On April 17, 1943, after Bulgaria, another ally of Germany, had refused to permit their Jews to be deported, Hitler met with Admiral Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian leader, in Salzburg and tried to persuade him to allow the Hungarian Jews to be “resettled” in Poland, according to Martin Gilbert in his book entitled Never Again. Admiral Horthy rejected Hitler’s plea and refused to deport the Hungarian Jews.

The deportation of the Hungarian Jews did not begin until April 29, 1944 when a train load of Jews were sent to Birkenau on the orders of Adolf Eichmann, according to the book by Laurence Rees. According to The Holocaust Chronicle, a huge book published in 2002 by Louis Weber, the CEO of Publications International, Ltd., another train filled with Hungarian Jews left for Birkeanu on April 30, 1944; the two trains with a total of 3,800 Jews reached Birkenau on May 2, 1944. There were 486 men and 616 women selected to work; the remaining 2698 Jews were gassed upon arrival.

On May 8, 1944, former Commandant Rudolf Höss (Hoess) was brought back to Auschwitz-Birkenau to supervise the further deportation of the Hungarian Jews. The next day, Höss ordered the train tracks to be extended inside the Birkenau camp so that the Hungarian Jews could be brought as close as possible to the gas chambers.

According to Laurence Rees, in his book Auschwitz, a New History, the first mass transport of Hungarian Jews left on May 15, 1944 and arrived at Birkenau on May 16, 1944. The mass transports consisted of 3,000 or more prisoners on each train.

The last mass transport of 14,491 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz arrived on July 9, 1944, according to a book entitled Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz, by Franciszek Piper, the former director of the Auschwitz Museum. After this mass transport of Jews left Hungary on July 8, 1944, Horthy ordered the deportation of the Hungarian Jews to stop.

By that time, a minimum of 435,000 Hungarian Jews, mostly those living in the villages and small towns, had been transported to Auschwitz, according to evidence given at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 in which transportation lists compiled by Laszlo Ferenczy, the chief of police in Hungary, were introduced.

On July 14, 1944, Adolf Eichmann attempted to deport another 1,500 Jews, but Horthy ordered the train to turn around before it could make it past the Hungarian border. On July 19th, Eichmann ordered the 1,500 Jews to be loaded onto the train again and rushed out of the country.

On August 13, 1944, a small transport of 131 Jews arrived from Hungary at Auschwitz and on August 18, 1944, the last transport of 152 Jews arrived.

In a telegram sent to the Foreign Office in Berlin on July 11, 1944 by Edmund Veesenmayer, it was reported that 55,741 Jews had been deported from Zone V, by July 9th as planned, and that the total number of Jews deported from Zones I through V in Hungary was 437,402

In a book entitled The World Must Know, which is the official book for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Michael Birnbaum wrote:

Between May 14 and July 8, 1944, 437,402 Jews from fifty-five Hungarian localities were deported to Auschwitz in 147 trains. Most were gassed at Birkenau soon after they arrived. The railroad system was stretched to its limits to keep up with the demand of the camp, where as many as 12,000 people a day were being gassed.

The exact number of Hungarian Jews murdered at Auschwitz is unknown, and the estimates vary widely. Robert E. Conot wrote in his book Justice at Nuremberg that 330,000 of the Hungarian Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust puts the total number of Hungarian Jews who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau between May and July 1944 at approximately 550,000, the majority of whom were gassed. Raul Hilberg stated in his book entitled The Destruction of the European Jews that over 180,000 Hungarian Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

According to Francizek Piper, the majority of the Hungarian Jews, who were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, were gassed immediately. A booklet purchased from the Auschwitz Museum stated that 434,351 of the Hungarian Jews were gassed upon arrival. If these figures are correct, only 3,051 Hungarian Jews, out of the 437,402 who were sent to Auschwitz, were registered in the camp. However, Francizek Piper wrote that 28,000 Hungarian Jews were registered. The Jews who were gassed were not registered in the camp, so the number of Jews who were gassed is unknown.

The web site of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum confirms that over 100,000 Hungarian Jews were used for labor, as agreed upon by Hitler and Horthy on March 18, 1944, and that some of them were transferred to other camps within weeks of their arrival.

The following quote is from the USHMM web site:

Between late April and early July 1944, approximately 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported, around 426,000 of them to Auschwitz. The SS sent approximately 320,000 of them directly to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau and deployed approximately 110,000 at forced labor in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex. The SS authorities transferred many of these Hungarian Jewish forced laborers within weeks of their arrival in Auschwitz to other concentration camps in Germany and Austria.

If only 28,000 Hungarian Jews were registered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as stated by Franciszek Piper, the former director of the Auschwitz Museum, this means that thousands were transferred from Auschwitz to labor camps without being registered. The prisoners who were gassed were not registered in the camp, and no records were kept on them.

According to records kept by the Germans at the Dachau concentration camp, between June 18, 1944 and March 9, 1945, a total of 28,838 Hungarian Jews were sent from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Dachau and then transferred to Landsberg am Lech to work on construction of underground factories in the eleven Kaufering subcamps of Dachau.

Some of the Jews who were selected for slave labor were sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and its sub-camps where they worked in German aircraft factories.

Others were sent to the Stutthof camp near Danzig, according to Martin Gilbert, who wrote the following in his book entitled Holocaust:

On June 17 Veesenmayer telegraphed to Berlin that 340,142 Hungarian Jews had now been deported. A few were relatively fortunate to be selected for the barracks, or even moved out altogether to factories and camps in Germany. On June 19 some 500 Jews, and on June 22 a thousand, were sent to work in factories in the Munich area. [...] Ten days later, the first Jews, 2500 women, were deported from Birkenau to Stutthof concentration camp. From Stutthof, they were sent to several hundred factories in the Baltic region. But most Jews sent to Birkenau continued to be gassed.

According to the Museum at the former Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic, there were 1,150 Hungarian Jews sent to Theresienstadt and 1,138 of them were still there on May 9, 1945 when the camp was liberated by Soviet troops.

Hungarian Jews were also sent to Bergen-Belsen, which was an exchange camp until December 1944.  After Hitler himself put pressure on Admiral Horthy to deport the Budapest Jews to Auschwitz, the Hungarian government decided to begin transporting the Budapest Jews on August 25, 1944. 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 for Auschwitz on August 27, 1944. However, 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 stop.

According to Eberhard Kolb, who wrote a book about the Bergen-Belsen camp, Reichsführer Himmler had already opened a special section at the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp on July 8, 1944, where 1683 Hungarian Jews from Budapest were brought. The Jews in the Hungarian section were treated better than all the others at Bergen-Belsen. They received better food and medical care and were not required to work. They wore their own clothes, but were required to wear a yellow Star of David patch. The Bergen-Belsen camp had different categories of prisoners, and the Hungarian Jews were in the category of Preferential Jews (Vorzugsjuden) because they were considered desirable for exchange purposes.

The first transport of 318 “exchange Jews” left the Bergen-Belsen Hungarian camp on August 18, 1944, bound for Switzerland. On August 20th, the trainload of Hungarian Jews arrived in Bregenz and then went on to St. Gallen the next day.

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