Hungarian Rescuers

Although from 1944 to 1945, the majority of the society observed the looting, ghettoization and deportation of the Jews with indifference, still, several thousand Hungarians decided not to abandon their persecuted compatriots. Several people with varying backgrounds and occupations but with similar courage helped the Jews to a smaller or greater extent by expressing sympathy to performing dangerous, self-sacrificing rescue actions.

After the German occupation of the country, sympathy for Jews was expressed in many places. In Balassagyarmat, the Jews and non-Jews up until 1944 "lived in harmonic understanding" and apart from a few "thugs ... the Arrow Cross had no serious party faithful". Here "after the star had been sewn on, many expressed their sympathy individually, they were sorry for the Jews and said that we should not be ashamed about wearing the star".[1] "At home in our community, people were generally decent, they liked us ... "[2]  - said M. M from Iza.

Also in Kótaj, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles had not deteriorated when "we were forced to wear the discriminating yellow star after the Germans arrived". Indeed, the gentiles continued to "behave very decently to us, they always helped".[3]

H. S. was standing in a bread queue in her home town of Volóc on April 19th, 1944 when a Gentile acquaintance addressed her: "He came to me and asked me to escape, and also to let my parents know about it. He was going to wait that night on the grape hill, till everybody would head over there one by one. When everyone was there, they would hide us. I immediately went home and told my father the plan. He thought it was a good idea but my mother hesitated because of my little brother, who made escape harder." Her mother persuaded the other members of the family to stay, arguing - as the official organisations stressed - they would only be taken to do agricultural work within the country, so they could remain with the children and work. H. S. was the only one of her family of five to return to Budapest in 1945. She was then 16.[4]

There were also positive examples from the period of deportation and ghettoisation. The Jews of Tarpa were given

Ungvár Jews on their way to the ghetto

only two hours to prepare to move to the ghetto. The Gentile population, which enjoyed a good relationship with the local Jewish community, looked on in astonishment. "When we entered the ghetto, everyone was sorry" - said Ignác Eisner, who was taken from there with his family to the ghetto at Beregszász. "[5]

Jenő Ligeti was a member of that fortunate transport which, in early July, went to Strasshof in Austria rather than to Auschwitz. He had earlier lived in the Szeged ghetto "quite well considering the conditions. We had occasionally guests, one or two brave Christians who confronted the public atmosphere and dared enter the ghetto."[6]

The population of Balmaújváros very much loved K. Gy.'s father, "so they always took good care of us in the ghetto. We had many Christian acquaintances who visited us in the ghetto and obtained what we needed".[7]

In addition to Gentiles who paid demonstrative visits to the ghetto and smuggled in food, some actively aided, rescuing the persecuted. At Beregszász, the gendarmes threatened to execute forty women if they didn't receive a million pengős by midnight. "There were Christians who loaned money, such as the doctor, Dr Linner." - recalled the nurse H. E.[8]

There were instances when the will to help extended even further.  At Nagyvárad "some kind Christians attempted to organise a rescue action to save a hundred people from being hurled into the ghetto."[9] People in Tárkány who wanted to bring food to the Jews were threatened with internment by the collaborating authorities.[10] At Ungvár Gentiles who wanted to take or smuggle food into the ghetto were not just threatened, but arrested.[11]

Of the Jews herded into the railway station of Máramarossziget, one was a 31-year-old Jewish mechanic from the Bártfalva ghetto, who admitted that "there were several Christians who wanted to hide me and promised to give me food until this situation was over". I. R. B. did not take advantage of this rare offer since "I wanted to share the fate of my parents and sister, from whose two gorgeous small children I didn't want to be parted". Apart from him, they all died in the Birkenau gas chamber.[12]

The brutal scenes as the Jews were loaded onto the trains astonished and sometimes prompted help from the civil population. This was often accompanied by dangers.

"If someone from the population benevolently tried to smuggle us some food under their clothes, they were beaten up and threatened with shooting. It happened sometimes, in Újpest, that they tried to pass us some small food items through the windows, but when the gendarmes noticed them, they beat them up along with us." - reported the widow K. Á, about her experiences.[13]

The rescue activities of the Gentile population in the capital was decisively stronger

Sára Schalkház was hiding Jews, the Arrow Cross killed her together with her protégés

during the Arrow Cross regime than in the period of the summer deportations from the countryside. By then, the summer atrocities had become widely known, furthermore, it was no longer a secret to many people what happened to those who were deported. The Arrow Cross regime did not enjoy great popularity among the majority population either, which earned those whom the Arrow Cross persecuted some sympathy as well. The Arrow Cross police hunted not just Jews but army deserters and left-wingers, so the fate of the Jews was much more closely involved with the tribulations of individual Gentiles than in the time of the deportations from the countryside. The rumbling of the Soviet cannons became louder each day, and this clearly fostered a willingness to rescue people. Additionally it was much easier to hide and lie low in a big city than a town or a village in the countryside. At the same time, the situation had deteriorated since the time of the countryside deportations: while in spring and summer, they "merely" interned those who helped the Jews,[14] during the Arrow Cross era, similar actions meant a death sentence.

Mrs. M. B, a young woman from Bonyhád, encountered a march of Jewish women on Rákóczi Road. "A woman I didn't know wanted to pass on a note to someone and I stepped from the pavement and took it from her. At that moment, an Arrow Cross man grabbed me by my collar and halted the column, all the time swearing broadly at me." This woman who was trying to help was taken to Ravensbrück. She was liberated in May 1945, by which time she weighed a mere 35 kilograms.[15]

K. B. was being marched from Budapest towards the German border, but at Győr he escaped. "An honest land-worker, who knew I had nothing, wanted to hide me, pretending I was a relative of his wife. But I was denounced to the Arrow Cross."[16]

M. T. and his companions were almost dying of hunger and thirst during a death march. "When we passed through Hungarian villages, the peasants would always give us what they could."[17]

When a group of Jewish women were being marched through the streets of Újpest in November, the Gentile women stood in the streets and wept.[18]

I. G. found himself in the Red Cross children's home on Zoltán Street, after a month of digging trenches. The home was only intended for those under fourteen, and he was at that time sixteen. The Arrow Cross removed the older children from other similar institutions. I. G.'s life was saved by a kind house warden, who warned him about an impending Arrow Cross raid, and he was able to escape in time.[19]

Mária Kóla, who was the deputy leader of the Swedish Red Cross's social department, went to great lengths to create protected houses and children's homes in Budapest. "Kálmán Kohányi also played a very lively role in the organisation of these houses, who despite being ‘Aryan' was one of those Christians not afraid of being labelled ‘A friend of the Jews.'" Kohányi did more than this. "On numerous occasions, he helped save people from the brick factory and from Szent István Park."[20]

In October 1944, one of the more uplifting episodes in the history of the Hungarian forced labour service occurred in Baja, to

Malvin Csizmadia was hiding escaped labour servicemen

where the labour servicemen (also the distinguished poet Miklós Radnóti) arrived in an appalling state from the first stage of evacuation from the Bor copper mine. On the journey there, the Hungarian guards continually tortured, beat and shot those lagging behind.  On October 7th, leaving behind about 600 dead, they arrived in Cservenka, where the following night, the SS shot 700 labour servicemen in groups of ten into prepared mass graves. The next day, the terrified Jews, still alive, were driven on towards Zombor. On the way, many labour servicemen were beaten or shot dead by the SS guards, who were largely made up of ethnic Germans from Bácska. This is how the survivors reached Baja.

One group waited in the Jewish cemetery for the seemingly inevitable mass execution, when "unexpectedly, a Hungarian colonel appeared and in the name of the army, took charge of us. That night, we went to an island of the Danube at Baja, where astonishingly and movingly, we were greeted by the population." "The non-Jewish population of Baja brought us food and clothing."[21]

A doctor treating the labour servicemen who were in dire condition was "a totally liberal minded person, wanted to send the most shocking report about our health to the superior authorities".[22]

Another member of this same group recalled: "We went as far as Baja, where the population received us with love, gave us food and tried to supply us with everything." "From there, we were taken to Szunyogsziget, where a lieutenant called Bánffy received us and tried to look after us as best as circumstances allowed."[23]

"The Baja community treated us very well. The mayor opened up the Jewish houses and gave us clothing they found there. A colonel put us under his protection. The Szeged labour servicemen, while fleeing, came this way and gave us their two daily rations of bread."[24] "The population received us kindly. They brought us water and fruit."[25] "We spent one night in the house, and the local people brought us food."[26] This collective, infectious wave of sympathy from the population of Baja, the civil population and the Szeged labour servicemen came at precisely the right time. The labour servicemen had escaped - at least for the time being.

László Wirth, who had deserted his unit together with his companions, remarked about the behaviour of the civil

Calvinist reverend Gábor Sztehlo saved hundreds of Jewish children

population: "We masqueraded as farm labourers ... thanks to the director of the state stud farm. He knew that we were Jews but employed us, we pretended to be refugees." Later they were caught when someone denounced them to the camp gendarmes, and in front of the gathered village people "they hit us and beat us until the audience, and particularly the son of Nagy [the director of the stud farm] stood up and asked the gendarmes to stop torturing us. The community agreed".[27]

"The population of Kassa was very good to us. They not only consoled us but advised us to stay there, saying they would hide us. Only about five or ten people dared to risk it." - said Gábor Grósz in 1945.[28]

A. M. also fled before the westwards deportation. "I was hiding with friends in Buda using Christian documents, but they were reported for hiding Jews. The detectives came and they took away everyone they found there."[29]

A pair of brothers, E. K. and T. K, gave independent testimonies of the same story. E. K. escaped from his company, while his brother's unit disbanded. They both came to Pest, not knowing the whereabouts of the other, at the time when the Arrow Cross seized power. The older brother, T. K. reached Budapest first, where he hid in the workshop of his former boss, Vilmos Faragó, a Gentile baker. Two weeks later, E. K. also arrived, but the Arrow Cross janitor of his own home (8 Kazár Street) closed the door on him, so E. K. did not dare enter. Baker Faragó, who was also the house warden, gave him refuge as well. Faragó was still determined to hide his two "mortally threatened" protégés, when the Arrow Cross broke into his house to take the Jewish men away. The house janitor, Mrs János Kultáta, had denounced all three of them. The K. brothers were separately sent to Mauthausen, from where they returned in summer 1945. Sadly, we do not know what happened to their rescuer, Vilmos Faragó.[30]

In sum, we can say that in Hungary in 1944 and 1945, there were plenty of people who showed solidarity with the persecuted Jews and undertook actions to save them. The overwhelming majority of the Hungarian population were passively indifferent and frequently accepted financial benefit from the deportations. However they were still more willing to help the persecuted rather than those actively participating in the "dejewification" of Hungary.



[1] Protocol 3550.

[2] Protocol 3087.

[3] Protocol 2940.

[4] Protocol 2476/B.

[5] Protocol 1279

[6] Protocol 3555.

[7] Protocol 1116

[8] Protocol 1091

[9] Protocol 2623.

[10] Protocol 16

[11] Protocol 1743.

[12] Protocol 182

[13] Protocol 1491

[14] See for example Új Magyarság May 4, 1944; Magyarság April 29, 1944; Kárpáti Magyar Hírlap July 25 and 30, 1944.

[15] Protocol 325.

[16] Protocol 2540.

[17] Protocol 3075.

[18] Protocol 3075.

[19] Protocol 3580.

[20] Protocol 3626.

[21] Protocol 3451.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Protocol 3409.

[24] Protocol 1788.

[25] Protocol 2730.

[26] Protocol 3062.

[27] Protocol 2971.

[28] Protocol 2757.

[29] Protocol 2100.

[30] Protocol 1160.



váltás magyarra