The History of DEGOB

In the words of one of the leaders of the organization, the history of the National Committee for Attending Deportees (Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság - DEGOB) "starts when people re-emerged from the dank basements, from shelters and makeshift hiding places. ... It starts on a cold winter morning when man could return to the light of day and inhale the air of freedom ..., and simultaneously witness the extent of horrific devastation. Looking beyond the destruction all around, ruined apartment blocks and the unburied corpses lying in courtyards, the first thoughts were turned to taking stock of the survivors and the missing. ... What happened to our relatives, to the old people, children, husbands and wives separated by cruel hands and decrees, what happened to our once sheltering homes? These thoughts were followed by the most elemental concerns dictated by the instinct to survive: how and where to find subsistence, shoes and clothing, a new home with essential furnishing and kitchen equipment, etc."[1]

In the chaotic months following the liberation, there was no central organisation capable of coordinating the revival of the remaining Jewish community and arranging the coherent distribution of relief aid coming in from three main sources, the International Red Cross, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint), and the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

As all the involved parties were acutely aware that conditions at the time were inadequate in serving the needs of survivors, the National Jewish Aid Committee (Országos Zsidó Segítő Bizottság - OZSSB) was established on August 31, 1945. The organisation integrated a number of independent groups, often operating at cross-purposes. The Joint, which provided the largest funds, recognized the new organisation as the executive arm of the relief effort, i.e., it authorized the Committee to utilize available funds and organise the rehabilitation of as many individuals and Jewish communities as possible. As of August 31, the independent organisation, the National Committee for Attending Deportees (full name: the National  Committee of Hungarian Jews for Attending Deportees, DEGOB) was absorbed into the OZSSB's organisational structure.[2]

Originally, DEGOB was set up in March 1945 in Budapest. Its scope of responsibilities extended to three major areas:[3]

1) Repatriation. DEGOB facilitated the return of deportees to Hungary stranded in foreign countries following the liberation. The committee's staff undertook difficult and often dangerous missions to search for Hungarian Jews languishing abroad. With the assistance of the Joint's external agencies, the committee organised 26 expeditions and by December 31, 1945, managed to repatriate several thousand Hungarian Jews.[4]

2) Relief activity. Following the August 31 merger, DEGOB was integrated into OZSSB's structure, preserving its name and some measure of its organisational independence. It provided welfare services in cooperation with OZSSB's Relief Department. With the passage of time, structural integration increased to a level where in early 1946 the administration of the two departments was merged and subsequently a joint cashbook was created.  Looking at 

the personnel at DEGOB in November 1945 and at OZSSB's Relief Department in February 1946 it becomes evident that not only the director of the organisations was the same (Alajos Popper), but a number of department sections (e.g., correspondence and accounting) were run by the same people in part or entirely.[5] In cooperation with the Relief Department, DEGOB provided a wide range of welfare services in the critical years of 1945 and 1946.[6]

 3) DEGOB's documenting activities extended to a number of areas. A registration system was put in place to document data on survivors and victims. As part of the process all returning deportees and/or labour servicemen were asked to list the names of survivors who had not yet returned to Hungary, as well as data on those who perished. By September 1946 some 30,000 "living" files were compiled and by that time there were around 120,000 files for the deceased as well.[7] In a March 1949 report an OZSSB desk officer notes that the card indexing system "contains he all the data on all deportees who returned to Hungary".[8] (The statement clearly does not accurately reflect reality: learning from their experiences in 1944, many people were averse to enter their name on any list or registry.) Another area of documentation involved the recording of survivor testimonies, which resulted in the unique collection of the DEGOB protocols. [9]    

DEGOB's information office operated independently of OZSSB. In June 1945 with financial support from the Joint, the Hungarian Office of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Jewish World Congress established the Statistical and Information Agency (SIA) with twofold objectives: perform an accurate statistical survey of Hungary's remaining Jewish population and provide information to survivors searching for relatives. Based on minutes taken at SIA's Board of Director's meeting on August 29, 1945, the Agency and DEGOB agreed that its information office (i.e., the manager of the card-index database) will operate as SIA's off-site arm.[10] This meant that while DEGOB performed relief-aid work under OZSSB's organisational umbrella, its documentation responsibilities were discharged as an SIA sub-department. In other words, from August the Jewish Agency officially took over the documentation and information office it had de facto managed and financed since June.[11]

DEGOB continued to perform its welfare and relief effort until April 1950 when OZSSB was closed and its responsibilities were taken over by the Central Welfare Committee of the National Office of Hungarian Israelites.[12] In 1946 the information unit was absorbed by the Documentation Department of the World Jewish Congress. In summary, in addition to providing essential welfare and relief-aid services in the post-war years, DEGOB compiled an invaluable stockpile of documents. We have inherited the centrepiece of the project, the unique collection of the DEGOB protocols stored in the archives of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives in Budapest.


[1] Report by József Pásztor on the operation of DEGOB. Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives (Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár - MZSML) L. 4./6.

[2] Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Országos Levéltár - MOL) XXXIII-7-a/1.

[3] On DEGOB's history and activity in details, see Horváth 1998.

[4] Braham 1997, p. 1252.

[5] MZSML I. 1/4

[6] See more on DEGOB's relief effort in Horváth 1998, pp. 78-86.

[7] Report by József Pásztor on the activities of DEGOB.  MZSML L. 4/6

[8] MOL XXXIII-7-a/1

[9] On the documentation activity of DEGOB see Horváth 1998, pp. 86-91

[10] Board of Directors' minutes. August 29, 1945. MZSML World Jewish Congress Documents, under filing.

[11] Report by Benjamin Bernstein, "On the organisation and execution of documentation at the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Hungary." MZSML I. 6/1.

[12] Horváth 199, p. 86.


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.

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.


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