The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz

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The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz

In the Spring of 1944 as the Soviet army of Russia was fighting the Nazi army on the border of Romania (1) and the western allies were preparing to invade the Nazi occupied coast of France at Normandy, the German army on March 19, 1944 occupied Hungary in preparation for the deportation and murder of one of the last remaining intact Jewish communities of Europe. (2)

At first the Hungarian Jews were often forced into ghettos, a few Jewish leaders held for ransom and in paying off the ransom entire communities were impoverished. A cover story was then offered: Jews were being sent to work in brick factories or on farms, not to death camps. Even so, fierce resistance was offered to deportation and many Jews were shot and killed resisting boarding trains bound for Auschwitz. (3)

The criminal mind-set of the Nazis is difficult to understand in both a general sense and in its particulars. But Ian Kershaw in his biography of Adolf Hitler cites one central tenant as articulated by a Nazi underling State Secretary in the Prussian Agriculture Ministry, Werner Willikens in a speech he gave to representatives from agricultural ministries on February 21, 1934 in Berlin: “Everyone has best worked in his place in the new Germany if, so to speak, he works towards the Fuhrer.” (4)

In other words, within the enormous governmental apparatus each individual must work out his or her attitude or orientation to each particular ethical or moral situation. But what was the will of the Fuhrer? Hitler’s governing principle encouraged ever increasing criminality. People were persuaded by various measures and it seems in retrospect that only fierce opposition to any and all aspects of whatever Hitler seemed to represent could counter the underlying criminality of his regime.

The Nazis had already achieved the alliance of Hungary in World War 2 but had as yet not forced the government to become accomplices to the special type of war criminality required by the systematic murder of innocent people in the Holocaust.
Even within the Nazi hierarchy there were grades of commitment to the wanton needless slaughter of innocents. The “least inhumane Nazis” (5) were selected out and replaced by more virulent believers in the total liquidation of the now captive population. (6) For example, in May 1944 SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, perceiving deficiencies in Commandant Liebehenschel of Auschwitz I and Commandant Hartjenstein of Auschwitz II brought back SS Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Hoss to Auschwitz to oversee a more efficient and absolute process of mass murder. (7)

Survivor Filip Muller was able to observe firsthand the gradations of commitment by various Nazi leaders at Auschwitz to the genocide. He wrote: “Lagercommandant Hoss arrived, followed a few days later by Hauptscharfuhrer Moll…. Hoss had decided to place the death factories under new management and to entrust Hauptscharfuhrer Moll, one of World War 2’s worst murderers, with the post of manager.” (8)

Muller then compares Lagercommandant Hoss to the man he replaced Oberscharfuhrer Voss: “As long as Voss was in charge of the cremation, our living conditions had been relatively tolerable, in marked contrast to the brutal hardships of Moll” and “In the execution of his duties Voss displayed neither the fanaticism nor the zeal of Moll.” Finally: “To us he (Voss) was, in spite of everything, of all the executioners the least inhumane.” (9)
But preparations for an accelerated genocide are underway at Auschwitz. New sidings for the trains were constructed allowing the trains to run directly into the camp saving the one kilometer walk for the victims and thereby speeding the process. (10) Each train consisted of forty to fifty cars and each car held approximately one hundred people: men, women, children, elderly and infirm. (!!)

Testimony at Hoss’s trial before the Supreme People’s Court in Warsaw in 1947 explains the working out of the train timetables. SS leader Adolf Eichmann at first anticipated five trains arriving daily at Auschwitz (12) but processing: sorting of prisoners by age, sex and infirmity; selection: sending about three quarters to immediate murder; and disposal: loading all belongings onto trucks sent to ‘Kanada’ took four to five hours. (13)

Eichmann arrives with the first transports in order to determine if it is possible to send at least four trains daily with Himmler demanding that the Hungarian operation be accelerated as much as possible. (14) But even after the gas chambers are stuffed full of victims and Moll at times personally shooting ‘the excess’ and directing others to be thrown alive into the burning crematory pits it is not possible to handle more than three trains daily. (15)
Vladek Spiegelmann arrived at Auschwitz as a prisoner to work at the cremation pits Filip Muller and others had been forced to dig by Otto Moll. (16) These newly dug pits: about fifty meters long, eight meters wide and two meters deep contained a Moll innovation: a thirty centimeter wide concrete channel sloped from the center to each end to divert the viscous fat from the burning bodies to be collected and used as an accelerant for later cremations. (17)
In the end Hoss goes to Budapest and a new plan is devised: on alternate days two trains then three trains would be sent, one hundred eleven in all. (18)
Not all Hungarian Jews were on the trains. In the town of Oradea, situated now in Romania near the Hungarian border but in 1944 in land annexed by Hungary, Lieutenant Colonel Imre Reviczky was sending Jews away from the death camps. As the strict timetable of deportations to Auschwitz was being realized Reviczky was issuing mass conscription orders sending Jews north and east to the town of Nagybonya in order to save them from almost certain death at Auschwitz. (19)

Also from Oradea comes the story of the heartrending diary of a young Jewish girl Eva Heyman. The first entry, February 13, 1944 is also the date of her thirteenth birthday. The last entry is on May 30, 1944. On that day she gives the diary for safekeeping to her grandmother’s Christian maid Mariska Szabo who is allowed to visit Eva by a ‘friendly gendarme’ . Soon Eva is put on one of those trains to Auschwtz. Eva’s mother Agi and new step-father the writer Bela Zsolt are able to survive the war but Eva does not. Agi learns after the war that on October 17,1944 Eva is ‘selected’ and killed. Also after the war the maid returns the little girls diary to her mother. In it we learn that the parents escape plan is known to Eva at the time, but somehow, whether by accident or design Eva does not make it. Eventually Agi publishes the precious document and shortly after commits suicide. (20)

In an impossible situation impossible choices must be made but I do not think it is right or proper to judge the victims, the exact opposite is true of the perpetrators.

  1. Document #2 excerpt from Gutman Yisrael and Michael Berenbaum “Hungarian Jews” in “Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp” , chapter 20 ‘Hungarian Jews’ by Randolph L. Braham p. 462-3

  2. Document #5 Dalia Offer and Lenore J Weitzman “Women of the Holocaust” One year in the black hole of our planet earth, a personnal narrative, Lidia Rosenfeld Vago Testimony

  3. Martin Gilbert, “Atlas of the Holocaust” William Morrow and Company Inc. N.Y. 1988 p.186

  4. Ian Kershaw “Hitler, a biography” WW Norton and Co. N.Y. 2008 p.320

  5. Document #4 Filip Muller Testimony “Eyewitness Auschwitz” three years in the gas chamber Birkenau-Auschwitz

  6. Document#3 excerpts from the Auschwitz Chronicle 1939-1945, Danuta Czech from the archives of the Auschwitz Memorial and the German Federal Archives, 1989

  7. Document #2 preparatory work in Auschwitz (Braham)

  8. Document #4 Muller

  9. Document #4 Muller

  10. Document #1 Auschwitz Album Photographs, photos organized and text written by Dr. Frances G. Sternberg, Midwest Center for Holocaust Education

  11. Document #3 Czech

  12. Document #3 Czech

  13. Document #1 Photographs

  14. Document #3 Czech

  15. Document #3 excerpts from Henryk Tauber testimony at Hoss trial

  16. Art Spiegelman “Maus II” A Survivors’s Tale, and here my troubles began, Pantheon Books, N.Y. 1991 p. 72

  17. Document #3 Czech

  18. Document #3 Czech

  19. Document #7 “I Survived the 20th Century Holocaust” ‘Forget You Not’ project, Lieutenant Colonel Imre Reviczky, translated by Susan Geroe, p 320

  20. Document #7 The Diary of Eva Heyman, introduction by Dr. Lajos Marton p320

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