Jerusalem Working Group
for Recognition of Major Jewish Rescuers during the Shoah
POB 23718 Jerusalem 91236
The Society for the Research of the
History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary
By David Gur
"RESCUE AND RESCUERS: DIFFERENT FORMS AND ACHIEVEMENTS"
Presented at the Fifteenth International Conference in Jerusalem, Israel
In the course of World War 2, during the occupation of Hungary by Germany particularly in 1944, the Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary actively engaged in rescue and resistance operations. Their activities were many-sided and crowned with success:
Sending more than 100 members of youth movements and other emissaries from Budapest to approximately 200 destinations in ghettos located in country towns, and forced labor camps. They carried with them false identification documents, money and instructions for rescuing Jewish youth.
Organizing "tiyul" (illegal crossing of the border) into Romania until the end of August 1944, the time Romania abandoned its pro-Germany policy. About 15,000 youth and adults have been rescued in that action. Most of them arrived at that year in Israel (then Palestine) and took part in Israel's War of Independence. Approximately 400 members of youth movements crossed the border into Slovakia, where they participated in the Slovak National Uprising in August 1944. Many of them fell in combat.
Establishing more than 50 children homes in Budapest for children whose parents were taken to forced labor units or deported to Austria. This unique undertaking included the following: rental of buildings, purchasing the necessary equipment, appointing directors and counselors, care for personal safety and security. The operation was carried out under the "protection" of the International Red Cross, and it took place until the liberation of Pest by the Red Army on January 18, 1945. Most of the children homes survivors arrived in Israel between 1945 and 1949.
Supply of food, between November 1944 and January 1945, to the Budapest ghetto with its 70,000 inhabitants, the children homes, the dwellers of the "Glass House" and the "International Ghetto".
The central workshop, which produced tens of thousands of forged identity documents for members of the movements, as well as the general Jewish population (100,000 protection documents = Schutzpass) and non-Jews persecuted by the Nazis. The volume and diversity of documents produced by the workshop were a unique phenomenon all over Europe at the time of German occupation.
The Zionist Youth Movements were responsible for organizing everyday life within the "Glass House" for its 3,500 dwellers. Jewish youth took an active part in rescuing Jews from the Brick factory, where thousands of Jews were concentrated prior to their expulsion, and from the "Death March" toward the Austrian border as well as saving entire units of forced labor battalions from that border, and carrying them back to Budapest.
Releasing 120 imprisoned members of youth movements and Jewish communists from the central military prison in Budapest. During the whole era of World War 2 no other operation of that kind took place in Hungary.
Hungary has been the only country in the realm of German occupation during the Second World War where a small Zionist movement significantly helped local non-Jewish resistance groups, and vice versa.
The collective activity of the Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary in terms of volume and its result stands out as a unique phenomenon in comparison to other resistance movements in Nazi Germany occupied territories in Europe during World War 2.
The progress of the Allied forces in various fronts at the beginning of 1944 was as follows:
The Southern Front: Rommel was expelled from North Africa. The Allies invaded Sicily and moved along Italy to the north. On September 3, 1943 the Italian government surrendered. The front came to a standstill in the Monte Casino area, north of Naples, until the taking of Rome in June 1944.
The Eastern Front: The 1943-1944 winter attack by the Soviets came by April-May 1944 to a standstill along the pre-war borders of 1941. In 1944 the Soviets ran the blockade of Leningrad.
The impact of the progress along the fronts on the situation in Hungary:
Hungary's Prime Minister Kállay intensified his efforts in looking for ways to draw Hungary out of the cycle of war. In order to gain points – in accordance with his perception – he permitted in 1943 the renewal of the Zionist Youth Movements activity. In January 1944, Horthy, Regent of Hungary, wrote to Hitler and requested the return of Hungarian units from the Eastern Front, posted for the defense of the Carpathian Mountains. Hitler responded immediately by occupying Hungary. His aim was twofold: to prevent developments similar to those in Italy, and secure lines of supply to the German army on its retreat along the Russian front.
Responses to the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944:
The Hungarian governmental administration was taken by surprise and paralyzed. The Jewish leadership was also astounded and fell into helplessness. The response by the Zionist Youth Movements was different: The leadership of each movement decided to engage in underground activities. Their first step was Aryanization of their activists and members, in order to save members of the movements from the effect of anti-Jewish laws to be introduced, and facilitate freedom of movement and rescue operations. The second stage consisted of an overall plan to rescue as many Jews as possible.
Why did the underground leadership decide to concentrate its effort in rescue operations?
-Because of the hostility of the population at large; lack of partners and co-fighters.
-Hungary's geography: flat land with no forests, swamps and hiding places.
-Men at age between 21 and 42 were drafted into forced labor units within the framework of the army, far away from the Jewish population. Active resistance could not be based on women, children and elderly.
-The existence of a large city in Hungary with a population of almost 2 million enables hiding.
-The situation along the fronts: there was no doubt about the end of war, but the question of time was still ahead. Therefore, it was necessary to gain time.
Formation of underground activities by the Youth Movements
-By February 1944, establishment of the "Defense Staff", as recommended by representatives of the Kibbutz Movements seated in Istanbul
-The reception and absorption of members of youth movements who escaped German persecution in neighboring countries and entered Hungary as refugees, particularly in 1942-1943. Their presence and experience as refugees, who turned underground life into routine, as part of their adaptation to the political reality in Hungary.
Missions to Country Towns
At this conference, I wish to present, for the first time, an extraordinary scoop, by revealing a most significant action, in terms of its volume as well as its results: the sending of emissaries from Budapest to Hungary's country towns. Those missions have been initiated and carried out by the Youth Movements. At the present phase of my research, approximately 100 such missions to 200 communities have been discovered and determined. The research is well under its way.
The research based on a survey of sources responds to the most bothersome questions: Why did you not inform us? Why did you not help? Why did you not rescue Jews from country towns?
The fact of the matter is that emissaries sent by the Youth Movements came to country towns on rescue missions prior to the German occupation of Hungary, at the time of setting up ghettos for the Jewish population. During the entire period of German occupation, emissaries arrived at forced labor camps in order to organize the desertion of their comrades from those camps, and the return of entire units to Budapest just on time before their planned deportation to Germany.
Bravery, resourcefulness, creativity, comradeship and solidarity characterized the highly motivated and fully devoted emissaries who took upon themselves those missions. Despite the risks and dangers, the results were amazing. However, some of the missions failed: the emissaries were caught and became victims of the occupants and their local collaborators.
The initial phase of the research has been published in the April 2006 issue of "Yalkut Moreshet".
Aryanization – the Central Workshop for Forging Documents
Forged documents, the greatest "hits" of the era, were part and parcel of any action or move. Like a gun in the hand of a partisan who fought in the forests, forged documents were used by members of the underground in the jungle of the city environment. On the day following the German occupation, the leadership of all movements decided to go underground and ordered their respective memberships to obtain Aryan identification papers. Members of movements stormed local registry offices in all quarters of town and obtained original birth certificates of Christians. Because Hungary was a police-state, every person had to constantly carry identification documents, including a certificate on his/her place of residence, issued by the police.
In order to live in a city and rent an apartment as a Christian one had to have forged papers. In order to desert a forced labor camp, to get on a train, to reach a town near the Romanian or Slovak border, one needed appropriate documents. One could not run away from the ghetto without a valid identification card. Those who escorted supply of food delivered to children homes or to the "Glass House" needed both appropriate documents and uniforms. A person at the age of military service needed a special form of release from the army, or a document that certifies his employment in a high priority enterprise which takes part in the war effort. Once you did not receive – via the manager of the building – a food ration card at the apartment you rented, on the basis of your registration at the official registry, you must immediately move to another place of residence. There you need a new identification card.
The emissaries were another category. How could they go on their risky missions without appropriate documents?! Moreover, if you establish a fake "fascist militia unit", how can you do so without the assistance of the Underground Workshop?!
The Central Workshop for Forging Documents operated by the Youth Movements provided the answer and tools to all, with no limits, during the whole period, in accordance with changing conditions and tasks and aims. In addition to "tailor-made" means, it dealt with the production and mass distribution of "Protection Papers" (Schutzpass), which reached all strata of persecuted Jews in Budapest, as well as non-Jewish groups of resistance. It should be reiterated that Hungary was the only place among European countries under German occupation where small Zionist Youth Movements provided significant assistance to local groups of resistance.
All in all, the work done by the Workshop of forged documents, founded and operated by Zionist Youth Movements in Hungary, the variety and quantity of its products, and its support given to the underground activity at large was an unprecedented phenomenon, in comparison to all resistance movements in Europe during World War 2.
The fascist "Arrow Cross", which took over the Hungarian government on October 15, 1944, inflicted riotous terror on Budapest. Women who were still at home were taken into "work", and mass deportation by foot toward the Austrian border had begun. Thousands of children remained without parents and care. Older brothers and neighbors – sometimes non-Jews – came to the International Red Cross offices. The Youth Movements responded immediately. Within Department A, under the leadership of Nathan Komoly, president of the Zionist Organization in Hungary, they took in the children and accommodated them in children homes, which were acquired and equipped from one day to the next. 6,000 children and staff members were crowded in 50 children homes. All counselors were members of Youth Movements. Daily supply of food, heating material and other commodities has been carried out by members of Youth Movements, who also safeguarded the children.
Supply of Food to All Needy
The Youth Movements acted within Department A, located at the International Red Cross offices. Uncle Somló, wholesaler of food, and Uncle Rudi Weiss' haulage company helped the Youth Movements in regular supply of food to all children homes, to the "Glass House", as well as to the Budapest ghetto in the 7th quarter and the "International Ghetto" in the 5th quarter of town. The Youth Movements were in charge of delivering food from the suppliers to the economy department warehouse, and distributing food taken out of the warehouse and sent to a large number of destinations. Regrettably, not all deliveries reached their destination. Some were caught by the fascists, and the members of Youth Movements fel victims to their murderous acts.
In my presentation I brought up only a few of the activities which took place under the leadership of members of Underground Youth Movements during the German occupation. A significant part of those activities, such as the establishment of children homes and supply of food to large segments of the Jewish population in Budapest under the rule of Szálasi exceeded by far beyond actions carried by Youth Movements or underground activists in other places. Thanks to those deeds, Jewish survivors in Budapest recognized and acknowledged the Youth Movements as the one and only reliable entity and de-facto leadership.