The Capital: Budapest

On the eve of the German occupation of Hungary, 760,000-780,000 Hungarian citizens were affected by the Anti-Jewish Laws. Most of them lived in Budapest, approximately 200,000-220,000 people, including the ca. 40,000 converts.[1] The majority of them (ca. 160,000 people) belonged to one of the largest and wealthiest Jewish communities of world, the neologue Pest Israelite Community. State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior László Endre, the Hungarian organiser of the deportations, wanted to send the Budapest Jews to Auschwitz in the first place. His German colleague and friend, Adolf Eichmann, however, thought that the Jewish communities should be demolished advancing from the east to the west, and after encircling the capital, Budapest Jews and those who escaped there should be deported in the framework of one extensive action. Eichmann's will prevailed, but Regent Horthy intervened in the last moment. Therefore the Budapest Jews were temporarily spared deportation. After the Arrow Cross takeover the Jews of the capital were threatened by annihilation again, from which they were saved by the victory of the Red Army.

Click here to read more about the Holocaust in Hungary. 

From the occupation till the Arrow Cross

In the days following the occupation, the Hungarian and German authorities captured hundreds of

Jewish journalists in an internment camp

Jews in the capital in the course of targeted and random arrest actions. Many anti-Nazi and left-wing intellectuals and politicians were detained, but several "simple" Jews were also dragged away from railway stations, public transportation vehicles, or just the open streets. Z. L. was arrested by the Gestapo because of his connections to the labour movement: "I was beaten by fist and a rubber truncheon. They said that if I tell them everything then I will only be interned, but if not, I won't get out of there alive. But I should not think that I would be just simply shot, since we Jews do not deserve such a death, but they have other means too". [2] Mrs D. K. wanted to send a package to her husband who was performing labour service through a comrade of his who was on leave. She was to meet the comrade at the Keleti railway station.  "I asked a policeman whether I could enter the building of the railway station. I told him that I don't want to travel, but I'm Jewish. He politely responded ‘Just come in,' and he right away put me in the line of other captured Jews."[3] Those arrested were closed in different internment camps (Kistarcsa, Csepel, the Rabbinical Seminary in Rökk Szilárd Street, the synagogue in Páva Street, etc.). Many of them were deported to Auschwitz before the mass transports from the countryside.[4]

The deportations from the countryside commenced on May 15, 1944. By the beginning of July, Jews could be

The moving together of the Jews of the capital in summer 1944

found only in the capital and labour service units in Hungary. According to Eichmann's plan, the next step would have been to drag away the Jews of Budapest. The concentration before the deportation took place in June. Based on the decision of the Ministry of the Interior, the Budapest municipal authority designated 2600 scattered buildings. All the Jews of Budapest were obliged to move into these by the 24th of June.[5] The houses designated by yellow stars were extremely crowded. Mrs József Reiner was moved into Izabella Street 45: "three families lived in a two-room flat".[6]  The approximately 28,000 abandoned flats were sealed, then the distribution of these real estates to the Gentile population began.[7]

Yielding to the deteriorating military situation and international and domestic protests from the end of June, Horthy inclined to stop the deportations. Certain leading officials of the Ministry of the Interior did not wish to let this happen: State Secretary László Baky and his companions planned to move thousands of gendarmes into the capital in the first days of July and thus to deport the Budapest Jews even against the will of the Regent. The appearance of the gendarmes caused a panic among the Jews and urged the otherwise rather hesitant Horthy to act. He also most likely believed the rumour that Baky would attempt to take control over the country. Backed up by his loyal armoured troops in the capital and those redeployed from the countryside, he ordered the gendarmes to leave the city immediately, and they finally left. 

The Germans did not give up their plans to deport the Budapest Jews, and Horthy's resistance gradually decreased. The collaborating government and the Nazis eventually set the date of the deportation as August 25. However, right before that day, Romania left the German alliance and turned its weapons against the Wehrmacht. The Germans' position became very fragile in the region, and preserving the peace in Hungary became Berlin's number one goal.  Therefore the deportation of the Budapest Jews was cancelled again. Eichmann and his men left the capital.

The situation of the Budapest Jews improved somewhat in September. Many imprisoned Jews were set free, the strict curfew regulations were loosened for the great Jewish autumn holidays, and the chairman of the Jewish Council was received by Horthy.[8] Budapest Jews started to hope: the ordeals might be over, and they would perhaps avoid the fate of the countryside Jews.

Death march, mass murder, ghetto 

On October 15, the day of Horthy's aborted attempt to leave the German alliance, many

Dead body on the bank of the Danube

Jews tore off the yellow star and rejoiced. In the evening, however, the radio broadcast Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi's general order. "After this great happiness I was terribly disappointed," remembered Jenő Lukács about the fateful day.[9] Soon all hell broke loose on the streets of the capital: armed Arrow Cross militiamen killed the Jews indiscriminately. According to the recollection of L. L., "hundreds of injured people appeared in the hospital in Wesselényi Street with broken bones, bullets, and all signs of blows and physical assaults."[10]

An agreement was made about the transfer of labour force, i.e., the recommencing of the deportation of the Jews, first by Eichmann (who quickly returned to the city) and Arrow Cross Minister of the Interior Gábor Vajna; then a couple of days later by German special envoy Edmund Veesenmayer and Szálasi himself.[11] The Germans intended to use the Hungarian Jews to build the new fortifications to protect the Reich on the Austrian-Hungarian border.

Those dragged away from the yellow star houses were organised into "ditch digging companies" and were compelled to perform work on the fortifications around Budapest. From November 6 on, some of these companies and many others carried away from yellow star houses were set off for Germany - on foot. The main collecting point was the Óbuda facility of the Nagybátony-Újlak Brick Factory. F. M. was dragged away from a yellow star house on November 6. "In the brick factory the Arrow Cross beat up people. They seized wedding rings, watches, jewellery and money."[12]  J. K. was imprisoned in the brick factory for a week: "Meanwhile I was looted and beaten by the Arrow Cross".[13] F. L., a chemist, spent only a few hours there, but that "night was the most horrible experience of the whole deportation ... many committed suicide, and died that night."[14]

In the brick factory, the Jews suffered for an average of two or three days-hungry and thirsty, exposed to the rigours of weather and the cruelty of the Arrow Cross. "We marched along the main road leading to

Exhumation of victims in the "large" ghetto of Pest in 1945

Vienna: men, women, old people and children in endless rows,
" remembered Miklós Kellner.[15] M. S., a seamstress, and her companion were also chased westwards: "We walked along the highway suffering through the whole march; we were mocked, beaten, and cursed."[16] Medical candidate T. B., who was dragged away from his apartment, remembered the highway leading to Vienna as follows: "We were chased in a foot march. We could not bath ourselves, we did our bodily needs next to each other ... those who wanted to get up or raise their heads not to lay in the mud were hit back with the butt of the rifle".[17] It is not a surprise that the marches soon became death marches. É. S, a university student, was marching westwards as a member of a "ditch digging company". The deportees "could not walk, they threw away their luggage. There were corpses lying on the side of the road." [18]  53-year-old Ignác Blasberg could hardly drag himself: "On the way the Arrow Cross hit me, I was plundered several times and many were shot to death. On the road leading to Vienna, dead bodies of Jewish men and women were laying."[19]

Tens of thousands of Budapest Jews were chased to the western border under such circumstances. There they built fortifications together with the labour service companies that were also commanded to that area. The survivors were swallowed up by the German concentration camps.[20] The "fortunate" did not have to drag themselves through the country; many hundreds of Budapest Jews were transported westwards by train.

The pressure of the neutral states made Szálasi-who found international recognition of his rule extremely important-gradually halt the deportations in late November-early December, although it was strongly opposed by the Nazis. The Jews of Budapest were ghettoized. Jews holding a fake or original document proving their protective status provided by any of the neutral diplomatic corps were locked in the "small" or "international" ghetto. The "large" ghetto was filled with those lacking such papers. In the two ghettos there were altogether 100,000 people imprisoned, exposed to the Arrow Cross raids, the executions on the banks of the Danube, the perils of the siege, the hunger, diseases.  Many thousands were hiding in the city with the help of Gentiles, fake papers, and were in constant life danger.[21] The wife of the head physician of the Wesselényi Street hospital remembered these apocalyptic times as follows: "Arrow Cross atrocities started to become more intense. Patients with a bullet in the back of the neck coming back from the bank of Danube testified to this process. One night 4-5 shot people were carried to us, who presented the story of the other 200 unfortunates. They wiped out entire families. Shot victims were saved and carried in from all around the city, from the ghetto - and not only from the bank of Danube. It was at this time when certain Jewish houses were attacked, for instance when they massacred people in the air raid shelter of one of the houses in Wesselényi Street. Forty-six innocent Jews were killed here, among them a teacher couple from the High School of Israelite Girls."[22]

During the Arrow Cross rule, approximately 8000 Jews were murdered by militiamen, an additional 9000 persecutes died due to the siege, hunger, diseases or committed suicide. The two ghettos were liberated by the Soviet troops on January 16 and 18. The exact number of the Budapest Jewish victims of the Holocaust has been clarified: the loss can be measured in the ten thousands. It is safe to estimate that the community of the capital suffered proportionately the smallest numerical losses in Hungary.



[1] Kepes 1993, pp. 26-27.

[2] Protocol 2122.

[3] Protocol 701.

[4] At the end of July, i.e., after the deportations came to a halt, Eichmann spirited out two additional transports from the internment camps and directed them to Auschwitz. Braham 1997, pp. 848-851.

[5] About the concentration, see Braham 1997, pp. 810-820.

[6] Protocol 25.

[7] On the distribution of  Jewish real estates, see Kádár - Vági 2005, pp. 313-320.

[8] Protocol 3627.

[9] Protocol 2736.

[10] Protocol 3596.

[11] Braham 1997, pp. 913-914 and p. 919.

[12] Protocol 136.

[13] Protocol 1649. 

[14] Protocol 1954. 

[15] Protocol 1765.

[16] Protocol 2629.

[17] Protocol 1638.

[18] Protocol 1308.

[19] Protocol 730. 

[20] On slave labour performed on the western border and the further fate of the deportees, see Szita 1989 and Szita 1991.

[21]On the ghettos, see Braham 1997, pp. 927-972.

[22] Protocol 3596.


Braham 1997

Randolph L. Braham: A népirtás politikája - a Holocaust Magyarországon. (The Politics of Genocide. The Holocaust in Hungary.)  Vols. 1-2. Budapest, 1997, Belvárosi Könyvkiadó.

Kádár-Vági 2005

Kádár Gábor-Vági Zoltán: Hullarablás. A magyar zsidók gazdasági megsemmisítése.(Robbing the Dead. The Economic Annihilation of the Hungarian Jews.) Budapest, 2005, Jaffa-HAE.

Kepes 1993

Kepes József (szerk.): A zsidó népesség száma településenként (1840-1941). (The Jewish Population by Settlements, 1840-1941) Budapest, 1993, Központi Statisztikai Hivatal. 

Szita 1989

Szita Szabolcs: Halálerőd. A munkaszolgálat és a hadimunka történetéhez 1944-1945. (Death Fortress. The History of the Labour Service and the Military Labour 1944-1945) Budapest, 1989, Kossuth.

Szita 1991

Szita Szabolcs: Utak a pokolból. Magyar deportáltak az annektált Ausztriában 1944-1945. (Roads from Hell. Hungarian Deportees in Annexed Austria 1944-1945) Budapest, 1991, Metalon Manager Iroda KFT.

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