Part I: First-Hand Accounts
The diverse and multilingual nature of Holocaust-era records is clearly exemplified in the case of the historical sources pertaining to the Holocaust in Hungary. Despite large-scale wartime damage and intentional destruction, millions of Holocaust-era archival records survived in Hungary. Due to the subsequent border changes, the documents on the Holocaust in Hungary are scattered across seven countries today. Even within Hungary proper, the material is divided among more than one hundred collection-holding institutions.
The documents and photographs published and analyzed in this blog post are culled from six key collections from the four major archives in Budapest holding Holocaust-related records. This selection provides an insight into the final phase of the so-called “Last Chapter” of the Holocaust, as the genocide in Hungary aptly named.
The blog post is divided into two parts. Part I presented below depicts the last and bloodiest crimes committed by Hungarian extremist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest at the very end of the war via early survivor accounts and trial records, as well as documents of post-war autopsies and exhumations. Part II: The Profile of the Perpetrators will appear in the Document Blog soon.
Please follow the links for the collection descriptions in the EHRI portal:
January 18 is a key remembrance day in Hungary dedicated to the end of the siege of Pest and the liberation of the largest (and one of the last) surviving ghettos in Hitler’s Europe. However, the events which unfolded on the other bank of the Danube in these fateful days are seldom remembered. In Buda, the battle raged on, and pro-Nazi Arrow Cross militias continued to terrorize Jews, whom they held responsible for the Soviet invasion, and others they also regarded as „internal enemies”. Instead of facing the overwhelming Soviet forces, a group of Arrow Cross diehards took vicious “revenge” on the most defenseless targets. In the charming middle-class neighborhood of Városmajor (District XII) they launched raids against three Jewish health care institutions. Between January 12 and 19, the Arrow Cross men slaughtered more than 300 people, mostly the elderly, the sick and women, at these sites, while the advancing Red Army troops were only a couple of blocks away. The murderous campaign continued until the Soviets captured the Buda side of the city on February 13, 1945. The total number of Jewish civilians killed by Arrow Cross militias in Budapest is estimated at 8- 9,000.
As a result of the increased concentration of Jews in the historically Jewish quarters on the Pest side (Districts V, VI and VII) during the waves of ghettoization between June and December 1944, only a couple of thousand Jews had remained in the Buda side of the city. As most of the young men and women were dragged away for forced labor, those who stayed were mostly women with children and elderly people. Some of them lived in a couple of designated “yellow star” houses, whereas others found refuge in Jewish health care institutions. Many of these sites had been put under the protection of the delegations of neutral countries and the International Committee of the Red Cross. International diplomats launched a campaign in the summer of 1944, which evolved into the most-large scale and organized rescue operations in the history of WWII. As the Arrow Cross government pursued to gain international recognition, initially the embassies of neutral countries (including Sweden, Switzerland, the Vatican, Spain and Portugal) could keep the Hungarian authorities under pressure and the protective status was largely accepted. However, later on this influence diminished, as these countries failed to acknowledge Ferenc Szálasi’s regime. After Christmas time, when the Soviet forces encircled Budapest and the top leadership of the Arrow Cross left the city, terror was unleashed again in the streets of Budapest. Arbitrary violence perpetrated by independent Arrow Cross gangs did not even spare the sick, elderly or minors, and did not respect any diplomatic immunity. Instead, Jewish hospitals and social institutions became primary targets of vicious attacks. Robbery, blackmail, torture and rape became an everyday routine in this period. Thousands were dragged away from the ghettos and internationally “protected” buildings, taken to the bank of the Danube and shot into the icy river.
In District XII of Budapest, the Arrow Cross militias brought particular notoriety. They were under the command of the infamous former Catholic monk, “Father” András Kun, a particularly merciless and fanatic perpetrator. From their bases at Németvölgyi Road 5. and Városmajor Street 37. they launched raids on a daily basis, targeting Jews, whom they collectively accused of having Soviet and communist sympathies, as well as deserters, “traitors” or other opponents of their regime. Having retreated from the Pest side, they targeted Jewish social institutions in the neighborhood, which were under the protection of International Red Cross. The hospitals survived hostile attempts back in the end of November, when delegate Friedrich Born successfully intervened on behalf of them. In January, however, neither the status of immunity nor the certification issued by Arrow Cross higher authorities stopped the militiamen.
The Városmajor Massacres
On January 12, 1945, a detachment of some 20 armed militiamen under the command of András Kun raided the Jewish hospital in Maros Street. They sacked the building and then they led their victims to the garden, where they shot all the staff and patients, 40 men and 44 women. Four young nurses were dragged to the Németvölgyi Street base, where they were tortured, gang raped and killed. On January 14, 1945, 20 to 30 militiamen invaded the buildings of the “Dániel Bíró” Orthodox Jewish hospital and sanatorium in Városmajor Street under the pretext of controlling the papers of patients and employees. The terminally ill unable to move were killed in their beds, whereas the others were taken to the backyard of the building and shot. A group of Jews with forged documents and non-Jewish employees as well as some people hiding in the cellars survived this attack. However, the following day the murderers returned and killed every survivor found in the building. The death toll was around 150. In order to get rid of the bodies, the hospital building was set on fire on January 17 and burnt to the ground. Finally, on January 19 the Orthodox Jewish nursing home on Alma Street was attacked by the killing squad. Due to the close proximity of the two blocks, the old men and women in the nursing home witnessed the tragedy next door, and realized lethal danger, but they were helpless and had nowhere to escape in the besieged city. Kun’s men robbed the building as a routine, and then took more than 70 inmates to the nearby park, where they slaughtered them with hand grenades and gunshots. Then, they threw the bodies into a bomb-crater.
Justice and Documentation
In the case of the Arrow Cross atrocities in Budapest, retribution followed the crimes with exceptional swiftness. Only days after the massacres, the first investigations began on the Pest side, and the People’s Courts started to operate. The first war criminals were hanged on February 3, 1945, while the combat for Buda was still going on. In the upcoming weeks, nearly all members of the Városmajor killing squad were arrested, and the re-organized Hungarian authorities started to collect evidence on the events. Established by the National Committee of Budapest in late February, 1945, the Committee for the Investigation of Nazi and Arrow Cross Atrocities was one of the earliest attempts at the documentation of the Holocaust (avant la lettre) in Europe. The members of the committee collected thousands of testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses, organized exhumations, autopsies and burials of victims and provided the people’s tribunals with invaluable material for the trials against war criminals.
Only a fragment of the records of the Committee for the Investigation of Nazi and Arrow Cross Atrocities have survived in the Budapest Municipal Archives. The majority of the collection (6 fascicles) consists of administrative records concerning the creation and daily activities of the committee, correspondence, police records and photographs on fatalities and autopsies as well as burial records. Only 3 fascicles (Boxes no. 19-20, cc. 0,25 linear meters) contain testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses recorded or received by the Committee.
The exhumation of the victims of the three massacres in Városmajor began on April 22, 1945, and lasted for about a week. It became an emblematic commemorative event, as well as a key moment in early documentation of the Holocaust. Besides the representatives of Hungarian and Soviet authorities, the relatives of victims, eyewitnesses and a five-member camera unit under the renowned Hungarian-Jewish artist and photographer Sándor Ék, the officer of the Soviet Red Army, most of the perpetrators were also present. Fourteen out of the some twenty members of the killing squad had been captured and were confronted with the remains of their victims, as a series of dramatic photographs and a film footage testifies.
Newsreels on the exhumation of the victims in Maros Street, 1945: http://filmhiradokonline.hu/watch.php?id=5956
In a series of trials between 1945 and 1951, 20 members of the Városmajor Arrow Cross group were sentenced to death and were executed.
The memorial plaques erected at the killing sites had reflected the ambiguous and far from equivocal attitudes of Hungarian society toward the Holocaust: one plaque is hidden within the Maros Street building, the other in Városmajor Street merely mentions “Jewish victims who lost their lives here”. Only in 2015 was a memorial providing a detailed account of the events erected on the wall of the Alma Street nursing home.
On the ghettoization in Budapest in 1944, see Tim Cole, Holocaust City. The Making of a Jewish Ghetto. New York-London: Routledge, 2003, Chapters 5-8.
For a detailed account on the siege of Budapest and an overview on the Arrow Cross terror in general, see: Krisztián Ungváry, The Battle for Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II. London-New York: I.B. Tauris, 2010, esp. pp. 236-251.
For a documentary account and overview on the Arrow Cross rule, mass murders, and international rescue, see: Zoltán Vági, László Csősz and Gábor Kádár, The Holocaust in Hungary. Evolution of a Genocide. Washington, D.C.: USHMM-AltaMira Press, 2013, Chapters 5 and 9.
Translation of the documents: Gergő Paukovics, Hungarian National Archives
Special thanks go to Wolfgang Schellenbacher (Jewish Museum in Prague) and Krisztina Oláh (National Széchényi Library Map Collection) for their invaluable contribution to the editing process. We are grateful to our colleagues at partner institutions, János Varga (the former Hungarian National Film Archives), Etelka Baji and Judit Gaskó (Hungarian National Museum), András Sipos and his team (Budapest Municipal Archives) and Gábor Prinner (Hungarian Jewish Archives) who provided vital assistance in obtaining the documents featured in this blog post.
© Map of Budapest, 1937-38, courtesy of National Széchényi Library, Map Collection TA 6 696/ 25-27; 31-33
© Photos: Sándor Ék, courtesy of Hungarian National Museum Historical Photo Department (MNM TF 88.328; 88.271)