The Protocols

General background

Beginning in early summer 1945, a number of returning deportees at the hospices run by the National Committee for Attending Deportees (Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság - DEGOB) gave accounts related to their tribulations of the preceding months. These conversations were recorded by the DEGOB employees. The earliest document derives from December 12, 1944. Naturally, this was not transcribed by DEGOB staff, since the organisation had yet to come into existence, but it was later placed among the recorded documents as Protocol 3659. In spring 1945, the Provincial Division of the Hungarian Association of Jewry prepared similar documents, which later also became part of the collection. Recording of the DEGOB protocols only commenced at the DEGOB's Budapest centre in early summer that year. The last testimony was transcribed on April 13, 1946.

The work of those recording the protocols[1] was facilitated by the creation of a list of questions, which also aimed at creating unity of content within the documents. The questions evolved with time and by September/October 1945, had certainly reached the form which we can see today in the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives (Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár - MZSML).[2] Not all the questions were asked when transcribing a testimony: the questions fill 14 typed pages while the protocols are only in average 2 to 4 pages each. Each recorder would bring his or her emphasis in terms of which questions were chosen. Ottó Rauch, for example, was interested in the demographic and social data of the Jewish community in the survivor's place of origin, while Ilona Haas dispensed with this and began her questioning with the arrival at the camp.[3]

The questionnaire comprised of twelve groups of questions. These were as follows:

1) Personal data

2) Situation of the Jewish community in the deported person's place of origin

3) Concentration in the ghetto and its antecedents

4) Deportation

5) Arrival

6) The first stage of deportation. Organisation and camp life

7) The Arbeitslager (work camp). Organisation and camp life

8) Evacuation

9) Stages following evacuation

10) Liberation

11) Camp life after liberation

12) The journey home


An important consideration for those assembling this material was to enable the creation of historically authentic documents. For this reason, they asked whether the survivor "knows this first hand or simply by hearsay?"[4] Certain questions did not relate to concrete facts but rather to the survivor's emotional and psychological reactions. (For example: "What did you immediately notice when you arrived, and how did your observations affect you?")[5] The overwhelming majority of questions inquired about concrete events and data. For this reason, an immense amount of information was obtained about the Hungarian Holocaust. 

In the final period of recording the testimonies, when the number of returnees had trailed off and the protocol recorders found themselves with more time at their disposal, DEGOB employees strove to conduct more in-depth interviews with people who played an important role in the events or, due to their position, had some insight into key events of the Holocaust. Examples of such people were Samu Stern, president of the Jewish Central Council and later director of the Interim Executive Committee of the Association of Jews of Hungary (Protocol 3627); Mose Pill, a prominent leader of the Zionist resistance movement (Protocol 3619) or Dr Miklós Nyiszli, the physician from Nagyvárad, who had to work as a pathologist alongside one of the chief doctors at Auschwitz-Birkenau, SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Dr Josef Mengele. Thus he obtained a relatively accurate picture of how the gas chambers and crematoria worked (protocol 3632).[6]

A few protocols, taken using Gabelsberg-Makovits shorthand[7] in German or Hungarian, were translated to English and German. Every document was produced in at least five original copies.[8] The great majority of typed copies in the MZSML are available to researchers; the number of original shorthand protocols is negligible. 

From summer 1945, the Documentation Department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine handled the steadily growing collection. On June 15th, they passed on their collection of written documents to the Hungarian Branch of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), including "4600 protocols, which were recorded based on the personal experiences of those returning from deportation."[9] Data regarding the number of protocols contradict each other. The Documentation Department, a few days after the merger (June 24, 1946) speaks of 3658 protocols in its report, while the WJC reports consistently refer to 4600 protocols transcribed till June 15, 1946, which according to Report no. 2, was increased by 370 by the Documentation Department merged into the WJC organization.[10] An employee of the Jewish Museum mentioned "approximately 4000 protocols in our possession" in a report prepared for the State Office of Church Affairs in February 1961.[11]

The staff of the Documentation Department dealing with this set of several thousand testimonies carried out their duties with imposing thoroughness. They sent 16 volumes of protocol material from the organized mass of documents to the Yiddish Scientific Institute (today: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research). The protocols functioned not just as an archive documenting the past, but also enabled the Department to make vigorous efforts to investigate individual war criminals based on the reminiscences: some 1200 protocols were passed on to the authorities.

The Documentation Department did not concentrate on just the protocols during its activity. Its delegates attended the most important war crime trials (the case of Szálasi, Sztójay and associates, as well as the Endre-Baky-Jaross, Zöldi-Grassy, Imrédy,  Rajniss, Pálffy, Ferenczy,  Kiss, Kolozsváry-Borcsa and Kovarcz trials), where they notated the cases' Jewish related material in shorthand. Additionally, the Department possessed a collection consisting of tens of thousands of articles with Jewish topics appearing in the Hungarian press. The Documentation Department carried out this expansive and influential activity with a staff that varied in numbers. While some twenty-five people worked during the most intensive period (summer and autumn 1945),[12] by September 1946, its staff was comprised of a department head, four officers, two ancillary staff and a cleaning woman.[13]

As a result of the activities of DEGOB and the Documentation Department, we have at our disposal several thousand testimonies which returning deportees gave immediately after they returned. We possess the stories of nearly 5000 survivors, since some of the protocols contain the testimonies of not one but two and sometimes more victims,[14] along with important data (names, places, dates, events.)  This is sufficient material for us to draw historical and sociological conclusions about the Hungarian Holocaust, by analyzing the documents according to different criteria while always adhering to the rules of source criticism. Combined, these parameters make the entire set of DEGOB protocols a truly unique set of documents.

Source criticism of the protocols

Although the material of the DEGOB protocols forms a unique historical database, the information that can be garnered from them must naturally be treated in accordance with the appropriate source criticism. We are talking about several thousand oral history documents, so the general rules relating to the examination of personal recollections must be applied to the DEGOB protocols as well. With this in mind, we must take into account the following frequently contradictory facts. The survivors returning after deportation gave accounts of their experiences while in a mentally and physically degraded condition, but their memories of what had happened to them in the previous months were still very vivid. It is also worth bearing in mind whether a survivor could have possessed certain information, because, for example a tortured prisoner, who was incarcerated in one barrack at the immense Birkenau camp, which was divided into three sections and ten sectors, may not have been able to discover precisely how many people there were in the camp. Similarly, it is important to take into account the source of a given piece of information. For example, Miklós Nyiszli, Mengele's pathologist and those working in the neighbouring Kanada camp (Sector BIIg) would know firsthand more or less the operation of the gas chambers in the crematoria. However the vast majority of deportees can only have learned of the monstrosities taking place there from, at best, unreliable gossip. We should also not forget that a year to eighteen months after given events, even under normal circumstances, anyone is liable to confuse the exact dates of when events occurred (e.g. ghettoisation, deportation, or the day of arrival at Birkenau), but this is even more the case with the survivors of a whole succession of traumatic events. By the same token, many remembered other dates with surprising accuracy, because they could link them to family events (their or their family members' birthdays, name days, wedding anniversaries), or to holidays (Jewish or Christian, religious or secular, etc.). At the Budapest people's tribunals, László Endre and László Baky, State Secretaries at the Ministry of Interior, deprived of notes and their diaries, were unable to recall certain dates. At his trial on December 17, 1945, Endre was incapable of recalling such an important date as his own appointment when he enjoyed an audience with Horthy: "I don't know precisely, I only think it likely. The Americans have taken away my diary, and it was precisely noted down there. Perhaps I was appointed in April or maybe early May", the former State Secretary told the president of the jury.[15] We know that even such precise Nazi bureaucrats like the Commander of Auschwitz Rudolf Höss, who made no attempt to cover up his crimes, recalled dates and events imprecisely, and there is no question that the average Hungarian deportee spent the final year of the war in vastly worse circumstances than either Höss or Endre. These considerations serve to warn potential researchers and readers that "hard" facts offered by the survivors (dates, numbers, names) must be treated at arm's length and where possible, cross-referenced with other sources.



[1] Throughout the whole period of DEGOB's operation, twenty-seven employees took down the protocols. For the list of names see Horváth 1997, p. 46. 

[2] Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives (Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár - MZSML) I. 6/1. On the questionnaire see also Horváth 1998, p. 88-90.

[3] Horváth 1997, p. 46.

[4] DEGOB questionnaire page 6, question 8 MZSML I. 6/1

[5] DEGOB questionnaire page 5, question 5 MZSML I. 6/1

[6] Other "prominent" survivors: Reserve Captain Miksa Domonkos, leader of the administration of the "large" Pest ghetto (protocol 3662); journalist Sándor Török, member of the Interim Executive Committee of the Association of Jews of Hungary, subsequently vice-president of the Interim Committee of the Hungarian Association of Christian Jews (protocol 3643); Mrs. Arthur Weiss, widow of the owner of the so-called "Glass House" (protocol 3598); Dr István Hahn, professor of the rabbinical seminary (protocol 3606); Rezső Müller, head of the Housing Department of the Jewish Council (3610); Dr László Benedek, one of the doctors of the Wesselényi Street hospital (protocol 3608); Dr Miklós Temesvári, chief doctor of the Weiss Alice hospital (protocol 3616); Rezső Müller, head of the Housing Department of the Jewish Council (protocol 3610) Róbert Pap, member of the Szeged Jewish Council (protocol 3560); Lajos Lévy, chief doctor of the Wesselényi Street hospital (3596).

[7] Murányi 1991, p. 45.

[8] MZSML World Jewish Congress materials (under filing)

[9] Report no. 2 of the Hungarian Branch of the Jewish World Congress. March, 1947. MZSML World Jewish Congress materials (under filing.)

[10] Ibid.

[11]Letter from Dr Ilona Benoschofsky to the State Office for Church Affairs. February 1961. MZSML World Jewish Congress materials (under filing).

[12] Benjamin Bernstein's report on "the organization and implementation of the documentation work of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Hungary". MZSML I. 6/1.

[13] MZSML World Jewish Congress materials (under filing).

[14] For example, protocols 2118 and 2861 were especially taken from many people. One of the "records" is 66 survivors (protocol 2118).

[15] Karsai-Molnár 1994, page 50.


Horváth 1997

Rita Horváth: A Magyarországi Zsidók Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottsága (DEGOB) története. (History of the National Committee for Attending Deportees.) Makor (Magyar Zsidó Levéltári Füzetek) 1997/1.

Horváth 1998

Rita Horváth: Jews in Hungary after the Holocaust: The National Relief Committee for Deportees, 1945-1950. The Journal of Israeli History, Summer 1998, pp. 69-91.

Murányi 1991

Murányi Gábor: "Volna lelke egy zsidó társát kihagyni ebből mókából?" (Would You Leave Out a Fellow-Jew of Yours of Such a Fun?") Múlt és Jövő 1991/3, pp. 44-53.

Karsai L. - Molnár 1994

László Karsai- Judit Molnár (eds.): Az Endre-Baky-Jaross per. (The Endre-Baky-Jaross Trial.) Budapest, 1994, Cserépfalvi.



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