In a recent interview with Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, Marton Gyongyosi, the deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesman for Hungary’s third largest political party, questioned whether 400,000 Jews were actually deported from Hungary and murdered during World War II. You can read this news here.
Why would anyone question whether 400,000 Jews were deported from Hungary and killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau? The SS staff at Birkenau took numerous photos of the Hungarian Jews as they arrived on trains in cattle cars filled with 100 Jews on each car.
Hungarian Jews arriving at Birkenau, May 26, 1944
Notice the man wearing a striped suit and striped hat on the right hand side of the photo. He was a Kapo, or a prisoner who helped the Nazis in the camps. Some of the Kapos survived and provided testimony at the war crimes trials after the war. Most of the Holocaust survivors still alive today were Hungarian Jews who lied about their age to save themselves from the gas chamber. They are writing books and speaking to school children today, telling them about their family members who were gassed within hours of their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. How could anyone doubt this? For one thing, it’s against the law to deny that at least 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Hungarian children walking to the gas chamber at Birkenau
“Sonderkommando Eichmann,” a special group of SS soldiers under the command of Adolf Eichmann, was activated on March 10, 1944 for the purpose of deporting the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz; the personnel in this Special Action Commando was assembled at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and then sent to Hungary on March 19, 1944 during the celebration of Purim, a Jewish holiday.
The deportation of the Hungarian Jews began on April 29, 1944 when a train load of Jews were sent to Birkenau on the orders of Adolf Eichmann, according to the book Auschwitz, a New History by Laurence Rees, which was published in 2005.
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 Birkenau 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.
Train tracks at Birkenau brought Jews to Krema II and Krema III 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.
SS men doing a selection of Hungarian Jews for the gas chamber at Birkeanu
In October 1940, Hungary had become allies with the Axis powers by joining the Tripartite Pact. Part of the deal was that Hungary would be allowed to take back northern Transylvania, a province that had been given to Romania after World War I. Hungarian soldiers participated in the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
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.
From the beginning of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis in 1933, until March 1944, Hungary was a relatively safe haven for the Jews and many Jews from Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland sought refuge within its borders. However, in 1938, Hungary had enacted laws similar to the laws in Nazi Germany, which discriminated against the Jews.
On September 3, 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies and turned against Germany, their former ally. Horthy hoped to negotiate a similar deal with the Western allies to stop a Soviet invasion of Hungary.
On March 18, 1944, Hitler had a second meeting with Horthy at Schloss Klessheim, a castle near Salzburg in Austria. An agreement was reached in which Horthy promised to allow 100,000 Jews to be sent to the Greater German Reich to construct underground factories for the manufacture of fighter aircraft. These factories were to be located at Mauthausen, and at the eleven Kaufering subcamps of Dachau. The Jews were to be sent to Auschwitz, and then transferred to the camps in Germany and Austria.
When Horthy returned to Hungary, he found that Edmund Veesenmayer, an SS Brigadeführer, had been installed as the effective ruler of Hungary, responsible directly to the German Foreign Office and Hitler.
On March 19, 1944, the same day that Eichmann’s Sonderkommando arrived, German troops occupied Hungary. The invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union was imminent and Hitler suspected that Horthy was planning to change sides. As it became more and more likely that Germany would lose the war, its allies began to defect to the winning side. Romania switched to the Allied side on August 23, 1944.
The next day after German forces took over Hungary, Adolf Eichmann arrived to oversee the process of deporting the Hungarian Jews. 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.
The Jews in the villages and small towns were immediately rounded up and concentrated in ghettos. One of the ghettos was located in a brick factory in the city of Miskolc, Hungary, where 14,000 Jews were imprisoned while they waited to be transported to Birkenau.
Elderly Jews wait for the truck which will take them to the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau
In June 1944, Adolf Eichmann deported 20,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and then transferred them to the Strasshof labor camp near Vienna. This was an attempt to extort money from the Jewish community in Hungary, according to Laurence Rees who wrote in his book Auschwitz, a New History, that Eichmann convinced the Jewish leaders that he was going against orders in making an exception for these Jews and then demanded money for food and medical care because he had saved 20,000 Jews from the gas chambers at Auschwitz. David Cesarani wrote in The Last Days, that Jewish leader Rudolf Kastner was able to prod Eichmann into sending these Jews to Austria where three quarters of them survived the war.
Hungarian men arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Hungarian men after they were selected for work at Birkenau
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.
Women holding babies were directed to the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau
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.
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 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 director of the Auschwitz Museum, this means that thousands were transferred from Auschwitz to labor camps without being registered.
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 sub-camps of Dachau.
Nerin E. Gun was a Turkish journalist who was imprisoned at Dachau in 1944; his job was to take down the names and vital information from Hungarian Jewish women who were on their way to be gassed in the fake shower room in the Dachau crematorium.
In his book entitled The Day of the Americans, published in 1966, Gun wrote the following regarding his work at Dachau:
I belonged to the team of prisoners in charge of sorting the pitiful herds of Hungarian Jewesses who were being directed to the gas chambers. My role was an insignificant one: I asked questions in Hungarian and entered the answers in German in a huge ledger. The administration of the camp was meticulous. It wanted a record of the name, address, weight, age, profession, school certificates, and so on, of all these women who in a few minutes were to be turned into corpses. I was not allowed in the crematorium, but I knew from the others what went on in there.
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. Other prominent Jews that were sent to Theresienstadt were transferred to Auschwitz in October 1944, including the famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl from Austria, who was not registered in Auschwitz, but was transferred again, after three days in the Birkenau camp, to Dachau and then sent to the Kaufering III sub-camp.
The Jews who were neither gassed nor registered at Auschwitz upon arrival, but instead were transferred to a labor camp, were called Durchgangsjuden because they were held in a transit camp in the Mexico section of the Birkenau camp for a short time.
Hungarian Jews who were sent to Bergen-Belsen
On April 7, 1944, two Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. They made their way back to Slovakia and wrote a report which soon reached the hands of the Pope, the King of Sweden, and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The neutral nations such as Sweden and Switzerland began to issue passports that saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews, including Tom Lantos, who subsequently emigrated to America and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
U. S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, a Jewish advisor to President Roosevelt, urged him to intervene, according to Robert E. Conot who wrote Justice at Nuremberg. Roosevelt threatened that “Hungary’s fate will not be like any other civilized nation’s…unless the deportations are stopped.” On July 2, American planes bombed Budapest and its railroad facilities, according to Conot.
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 train platform, 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. (The 1.7 million Jews who had already been gassed by March 1944 were not Hungarian Jews.)
After a meeting on June 26, 1944, the Hungarian Council of Ministers decided to permit the emigration of 7,800 Jews, most of whom had immigration papers for Palestine. Others had protection documents issued by the Swedish government. At this point, Horthy ordered the deportation of the Hungarian Jews to stop and 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 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.
Himmler had already opened a special section at the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp on July 8, 1944, where 1,683 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 on their clothes.
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.
Himmler, who was beginning to think of himself as Hitler’s successor, had begun working behind Hitler’s back in negotiating with the Jews. On August 21, 1944, three SS officers (Kurt Becher, Max Grüson and Hermann Krumey) who were representing Himmler, and a representative of the Budapest Jews, Rudolf Kastner, met with Saly Mayer, a leading member of the Jewish Community in Switzerland.
The meeting took place in the middle of a bridge at St. Margarethen, on the border between Germany and Switzerland, because Mayer refused to enter Germany and he also did not want the SS men to enter Switzerland, according to Yehuda Bauer.
Becher asked for farm machinery and 10,000 trucks, and in return, he promised to free 318 Hungarian Jews from Bergen-Belsen. In a show of good faith, the train with the 318 Jews was already waiting at the Swiss border. Mayer offered minerals and industry goods instead of the trucks.
According to Yehuda Bauer, Becher later claimed that he had persuaded Himmler not to deport the Budapest Jews, and that was why Himmler issued an order to stop the deportation three days later.
A second group of 1,368 Hungarian Jews left the Bergen-Belsen detention camp on December 4, 1944 and entered Switzerland just after midnight on December 7th, according to Yehuda Bauer. One of the Hungarian Jews in this group was 11-year-old Adam Heller, who survived and is now a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin, TX.
Altogether, there was a total of 2,896 Jews released for ransom, including a transport of 1,210 Jews from the Theresienstadt Ghetto who entered Switzerland on February 7, 1945.
After the departure of the second Hungarian transport to Switzerland in December, more transports from Budapest continued to arrive at Bergen-Belsen and the Hungarian section remained in existence there until April 1945.
According to Eberhard Kolb, who wrote Bergen-Belsen 1943 – 1945, it was a transport of Hungarian Jews in February 1945 that bought in the lice that started a typhus epidemic in the camp. The delousing facilities in the camp had been temporarily out of order at that time.
When Hitler learned that Himmler was negotiating to ransom the Hungarian Jews, he was so enraged that he later expelled Himmler from the Nazi party. However, Hitler had already given his permission in December 1942 to release Jews for ransom, so Himmler was not going against established Nazi policy.
After the Hungarian Jews had entered Switzerland, there were false reports by the Swiss press, that the Jews were being ransomed in exchange for asylum for 200 SS officers who were planning to defect. When Hitler heard this, from Ernst Kaltenbrunner who was no friend of Himmler, he ordered all further releases of Jews for ransom to stop. Nevertheless, Himmler continued to release Jews from the concentration camps, as he continued to negotiate with the Allies. For example, he allowed a transport of prisoners to leave the Ravensbrück women’s camp in the last days of the war.
Between April 6 and April 11, the Hungarian Jews were evacuated from Bergen-Belsen on the orders of Himmler who was planning to use them as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the Allies. The Jews in the Star Camp and also in the Neutrals Camp were also evacuated, along with the Hungarians, in three trains which held altogether about 7,000 Jews who were considered “exchange Jews.”
One of these trains arrived with 1,712 people on April 21, 1945 in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Two weeks later, the Theresienstadt Ghetto was turned over to the Red Cross, just before Russian troops arrived. The other two trains never made it to Theresienstadt because they had to keep making detours due to frequent Allied air attacks, according to Eberhard Kolb (Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945).
One of the trains finally stopped on April 14 near Magdeburg in northern Germany; the guards ran away and the Jews on the train were liberated by American troops. The third train halted on April 23, 1945 near the village of Tröbitz in the Niederlausitz region; they were liberated by Russian troops after the guards had escaped.