The Hungarian deportations and their aftermath

Photo:  A plaque to honour Raoul Wallenberg in the area of Budapest where he had organised safe houses for Jews, photo taken in 2009.

450 words / 2 minute read

On 10 March 1944 Adolf Eichmann and his principal subordinates met at Mauthausen concentration camp in order to work out a deportation programme for the 750,000 Jews of Hungary.  Eight days later, on March 18, Hitler again summoned the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Horthy, to Klessheim Castle, near Salzburg.  Horthy agreed to deliver 100,000 “Jewish workers” for the German war effort, but he was still reluctant to agree to a general deportation.  At 9.30 that evening his train left Salzburg for Budapest.  Forty-five minutes later, German troops began to move into Hungary. 

On May 15 the trains from Hungary began crossing Slovakia and southern Poland, on their way to Birkenau.

… within a few days, twelve thousand Jews were being gassed and cremated every twenty-four hours.  

 … July 8 … That week, the deportees from Hungary were being taken from the suburbs of Budapest.  But the news smuggled out by the escapees Vrba and Wetzler in April, and Mordowicz and Rosin in May, telegraphed from Switzerland to London and Washington on June 24, led to demands from the King of Sweden, the Pope, and the Geneva-based International Red Cross, as well as from Britain and the United States, to the Hungarian Regent, urging him to halt the deportations.  On July 7, Horthy agreed to do so.  On July 8, the deportations stopped.

By this time, a total of 437,000 Hungarian Jews had already been deported.  More than 170,000 remained in Budapest, from where Eichmann had intended to begin deportations in the second week of July.

On July 9 a Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, reached Budapest from Sweden with a list of 630 Hungarian Jews for whom Swedish visas were available.  No longer in danger of deportation to Auschwitz, these Jews were desperate nevertheless for whatever protections they could receive.

Raoul Wallenberg, the man who now sought to protect the Jews of Budapest from further disasters, was the great-great-grandson of Michael Benedics, one of the first Jews to settle in Sweden, at the end of the eighteenth century, and a convert to Lutheranism.  Wallenberg’s father had died of cancer three months before his son’s birth in August 1912.  In his youth, Wallenberg had studied in the United States.  In 1936 he spent six months studying management at the Midland Bank at Haifa:  it was there that he had met many refugees from Hitler.  In 1944 four American institutions, the American-based World Jewish Congress, the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, the State Department, and President Roosevelt’s recently established War Refugee Board, had persuaded the Swedish Foreign Ministry to send Wallenberg to Budapest, with instructions to do whatever he could to help save the surviving Jews of Hungary.

Excerpt from The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy

For the chronology in Budapest: Read Here 

On the question of bombing Auschwitz: Read Here 

On the role played by Rudolf Kasztner:  Read Here 

Get this book: The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy

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