Case study: Hungary

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Very soon after Hitler came to power in Germany, the Hungarian government attempted to build an alliance with Nazi Germany.

In September 1938, following the German annexation of the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia, a portion of the area was given to Hungary in order to build relations between the two nations. Over the next 3 years, as Germany invaded and controlled countries surrounding Hungary, Germany gave Hungary possession of other lands. By March 1941, the Jewish population in Hungarian controlled land had reached in excess of 725,000.

In March 1938, Hungary began to issue anti-Jewish legislation. Jews were systematically removed from the economy and were distinguished as a racial group.

During 1939, all Jewish men of military age were forced to join the Hungarian Labour Service. In 1941 the Hungarian Government passed a law defining who was Jewish. Despite the anti-Jewish measures, the majority of Jews within Hungary lived in relative safety during the war. However, there were instances of murders of Jewish ‘foreign nationals’ by Hungarian soldiers and police.



In June 1941, Hungary joined Germany in the war against the Soviet Union. After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Hungarian government attempted to pull out of the alliance with Germany. During March 1944, German troops invaded Hungary. Hitler set up a new government faithful to Germany.

A Special unit under the orders of Adolf Eichmann, began implementing the “Final Solution” within Hungary. Anti-Jewish decrees were passed. Judenraete were established across Hungary. A separate one was set up for Budapest, the capital.

Jews had to wear a Star of David and their movement was restricted. Telephones and radios were confiscated, whilst Jewish property and businesses were seized.

During April the Jews of Hungary were forced into ghettos. Very soon, the Jews of each ghetto were put on trains and deported. Between 15 May and 9 July 1944, approximately 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported, mainly to Auschwitz. The majority of them were gassed on arrival; many more died with the camp over the next few months.

By early July 1944, when the deportations were halted, apart from Budapest, the capital, Hungary was Judenrein.

Throughout the spring of 1944, the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest began negotiating with the SS to save lives. Many Jews were able to flee Hungary.


The Arrow Cross

Between July and October 1944, the Jews within Budapest lived in relative safety. However, when, on 15 October, the Hungarian government announced they were going to make peace with the Allies, the Germans toppled the government. They gave power to Ferenc Szalasi and his fascist, and antisemitic, Arrow Cross Party.

The Arrow Cross began a reign of terror across the city. Almost 80,000 Jews were killed. Many victims were shot on the banks of the Danube River and their bodies thrown in the river. In addition, many thousands were forced on death marches to the Austrian border.

In December 1944, whilst the Soviet Army laid siege to Budapest, around 70,000 Jews were forced into a ghetto. Many thousands died of cold, disease, and starvation.

  • Rescue

    Despite the brutality of the Arrow Cross reign of terror, many thousands of Jews in Budapest were saved by the Relief and Rescue Committee. Other Jewish activists, such as Zionist youth movement members, forged identity documents and provided them with food. Foreign diplomats such as Raoul Wallenberg, from Sweden, and Carl Lutz, from Switzerland, helped Jews achieve safety through international protection.

    Hungary was liberated by the Soviet army during April 1945. However, by this time 568,000 Hungarian Jews had perished during the Holocaust.