Protocol Nr. 3647
The person in question has given us the following information: Since the 1st of October, 1942, I was employed as a librarian by the Israelite Community of Pest, in the community library no. I. This job was only in the afternoons, in the morning I worked in the National Széchényi Library of the National Museum. The 19th of March, 1944, I got the instruction to go in my office in the museum the next day, on the 20th. Here they told me that I had to take days off for an unknown period of time. The same day Dr. Jenő Munkácsi instructed me to appear in the central office of the religious community, as there may be a future need for a German correspondent. The 21st of March, 8 am, I went to see Dr. Munkácsi who told me the following: The first time the Germans came to the central office in Síp Street was on the 19th of March, 5 pm, when they were looking for Samu Stern, the president of the religious community. As these were not office hours they only found the troupe of National Cultural Association of Hungarian Israelites’ art club in the building, and its director, Dr. László Bánóczi. He told them he had no idea where Samu Stern was. From the religious community’s board Dr. Károly Wilhelm, Dr. Ernő Pető, and the secretary Dr. Munkácsi met the same day with Samu Stern on the flat of the chief notary, Dr. Hugó Csergő. The Germans instructed Dr. Bánóczi to convene 30 Jewish typographers in the printing office Világosság by 9 am, Monday. Monday passed without much happening in Síp Street, but the Germans appeared in the building of the orthodox religious community in 35 Dob Street, and chased the students, their teachers, and the officers out of the place of the religious community into the temple in Kazinczy Street, and told them that the building was to be emptied for a German garrison to be accommodated and was to be handed over. Hauptsturmführer Br. von Wisliceny, the person who had been in charge for liquidating the Slovakian Jews, was appointed to carry out anti-Jewish measures here. He stayed in the headquarters of Vasas in Magdolna Street. He was at the same time the chief commander of the internment camp in Szilárd Rökk Street. Monday the 20th, the Gestapo started to gather the so-called plutocratic Jews, amongst them Dr. Károly Wirth and Adolf Wertheimer, the president of the Hungarian Israelite’s Literature Society. Monday afternoon, Wisliceny made Samu Stern appear before him, and told him that the day after at 5 pm he and his squad was going to come to the office in Síp Street, where all officers of Jewish institutions should convene. Samu Stern mentioned the arrest of Dr. Wilhelm and Wertheimer, who were let free the same day. When Tuesday morning I went to the indicated place, I was given a confidential position right away: I had to join the group in contact with the authorities. The groups was headed by Dr József Vági, the advocate of the religious community, its members were lawyers Dr János Gábor, Dr György Gergely, and Dr László Pető. Tuesday 11 am, we had to be in hotel Astoria. The following people were present: school superintendent of the religious community Dr Zoltán Kohn, Dr József Vági, Dr János Gábor and me, although I was later sent back to Síp Street because we had to wait so long that the gentlemen in Síp Street needed to be reassured. When I arrived to the office in Síp Street I entered the room of Samu Stern together with a German officer who cried at Dr. Ernő Pető who was sitting there "If I enter the room, you filthy Jew stand up!", then he demanded in the loudest possible way 100 buckets, 100 brooms, and 100 scrubbing-brushes to clean the building in Dob Street. In the afternoon, Wisliceny finally arrived. There was also Obersturmbannführer Krumey and some SS soldiers with him. In the hallway Dr Gábor received them. His excellent German knowledge apparently won them, and as a result Dr Gábor later was almost a persona grata in front of them. Samu Stern waited for them also in the hallway, whom Wisliceny greeted the following way: "Ich bringe Ihnen gute Nachrichten Herr Hofrat." He declared to the gathered Jewish leaders that nothing bad would happen to the Jewish community if they obeyed to the commands. Since the 19th of March masses of Jews of Budapest had tried to escape into the countryside. Railway stations got closed, also the port and the stations of local trains. Wisliceny raised this issue and stated that running away into the countryside made no sense at all. I have to note here that dr János Vázsonyi wanted to travel to the estate of his wife from the port of Eötvös Square but was caught there together with all members of his family. Later, Wisliceny also mentioned that masses of Jews had withdrawn their money and valuables from the banks. This made no sense either – he claimed – as they did not want to cause harm to anyone. Upon that point the meeting ended. Already in the first days they set up the aforementioned internment camp in Rökk Szilárd Street. Preparations were mainly done by the students and teachers of the rabbi seminary, but the necessary straw mattresses and other objects had to be provided by the Jewish Council. The Jewish Council was assembled by the Germans. March the 20th, the president of the religious community asked for further information from the Ministry of Culture which was the authority above the community but he was turned down. In the Ministry of Culture it was only State Secretary Miklós Mester on whom we could count anyway. The Jewish Council had the following members: Samu Stern, Dr Károly Wilhelm, Dr Nisson Kahán, Dr Ernő Pető, Fülöp Freudiger, Samu Kahán Frankl, Dr Samu Csobádi, Dr Ernő Boda. The members of the Jewish Council and lower-ranking officers whose free move had to be secured received a certification. It read: "The owner of the present certificate is the member of the Jewish Council of Budapest, and as such is under protection. Any measure taken against him should be primarily authorised by the authorities signing this document." The certificate was signed by Obersturmbannführer Krumey, later it was also provided with a seal, and when the State Security Surveillance was established it also received the signature and seal of Head of Department Dr László Koltay. The owners of these certificates could not be interned. Dr Ernő Bródy, Dr Kálmán Balkányi and other Jewish personages could be brought out of the interment camp using these documents. Since the time the Jewish Council was established it had three main responsibilities: First, to satisfy the greater and greater, basically continuous demands of the Germans. Second, to keep rapports between the Jews of the countryside and of Budapest; and to settle the nerves of the Jewish population. Third, carrying out clandestine rescue attempts and international correspondence I. The main headquarters of the Gestapo was set up by the Germans in apartment houses and some surrounding villas on Svábhegy. We had to keep contact mainly with the commanders in chief, who were Kumey and Eichmann, then with Koltay and Péter Hain, who were all accommodated in Hotel Majestic. Their financial demands ran out of control. As an example I clearly remember the list they gave us when they were furnishing the Majestic: 150 deskS, out of which 15 for diplomats 150 tables, chairs, out of which 15 first-class 200 chairs 300 glasses for beer 150 radios 100 smoking sets (tables, chairs), out of which 15 with leather covering 300 glasses for liquor 300 glasses for wine 6 shakers of cocktail 150 paper chest 150 desk sets, out of which 15 of marble 150 desk lamps, out of which 15 beautiful. And this inventory continued listing office equipments till the smallest details, and everything in a huge quantity. These demands far surpassed the financial capacities of the religious community. Financial Secretary Bertalan Büchler, and Deputy Secretary Artúr Szüsz called together the financial committee, which decided to ask for individual contributions of the Jews of Budapest. Besides the headquarters of the Gestapo we had to furnish and restore the building in 35 Dob Street, where the Germans set up workshops. The staff of these workshops was made up of Jews. These people were exempted of everything – including internment - except for wearing the star. Since internment was a danger for everyone it was a great advantage to work there. In order to handle orders of a technical kind and to staff the workshops we needed to establish a technical department. Architect Dezső Székely was appointed its head, while its administrative leader was Miksa Domonkos. They were responsible for satisfying all needs, and remaining in close contact with the commander of the SS, who lived in the villa of Jenő Vida, and - among other things - needed a gardener who looked after the garden of the villa. It is needless to list all their demands, suffice it to say that the Germans had a tunnel built between the Majestic and Hotel Golf, and this work was done by Jews whose salary had to paid by the Jewish Council. Whatever needs they had they addressed the Jewish Council either greater construction works were involved or just a simple demand like that of Krumey who asked for a cello which was needed for a concert organised by the Gestapo. In some cases we managed to leave these demands unanswered, however, the heads of the Jewish Council needed to satisfy most demands even more so because they naively believed that this could avert or rescind the deportations that had already started in the country. The Germans demanded the Jewish Council to regularly publish a bulletin for the Jewish population. This is how the “Journal of the Jewry in Hungary” came into being since Germans did not agree with the title “Journal of the Hungarian Jews”. Germans needed to come here to let Hungarian Jews realise that they were not Hungarian Jews. The Germans have censored the journal, first Krumey, later, his orderly Mr Schwartz. A translating office was set up to translate the journal into German and to compile German petitions. The head of this office was Dr Dezső Kiss, a former employee of Pester Lloyd. Its members were Ernő Bródy, Pál Bacher-Bodrog and Dr József Turóczi-Trostler. Function and organisation of the religious community had to be adjusted to the new circumstances. Since new decrees were published day by day, and Jews were caught on trains and were interned, masses of Jews came to have legal advice. Therefore, next to the legal department we had to establish an information service in legal affairs. It was headed in the first two days by Dr László Pető and me, later, it was taken over by lawyer Dr László Vogel, till the point when a separate information office had to be set up on in Room 3 on the ground floor, as the huge mass of people had no space in the corridors any more. The most important task of this information service was to gather leading Zionists. The head of this office was Jenő Kolb, others who worked at his side were Dr Sára Friedlander, Vermes, etc. After the great bombing raids in April, we had to hand over 500 single room studio flats in the 8th and 9th district within 24 hours. Rezső Müller was commissioned to organise this event, more precisely, it was he who took this responsibility upon himself. I have to note that Rezső Müller left no stone unturned to satisfy the demands of German and Hungarian authorities in the best possible way. To carry out these requisitions he used the teachers of Jewish schools with an open order, regardless of their age and gender. Despite all his efforts he failed to provide 500 flats in 24 hours. What followed was Koltay’s appearance in Síp Street. He arrested Dr Wilhelm and took Kahán Frankl as hostages. When the former jumped into the car he said the most imprudent words against him. Later, there was a need for another 1,000 flats, and at the end of May, news about starred houses started to spread. Rezső Müller went on to lead the Housing Office. Miksa Trobits helped him in administrative matters, while lawyer Dr Ármin Kun controlled legal matters. It needs to be pointed out that a so-called “housing office in public interest” had already functioned before the Germans entered the country and was led by Dr István Kurzweil and Dezső Bánó. Naturally, these gentlemen joined the group of officers of the housing office of the Jewish Council. German and Hungarian authorities requested newer and newer villas to serve as flats for certain gentlemen. Although these were unjust demands Rezső Müller satisfied them without delays. For example he handed over a beautiful Jewish villa to the ill-famed commander of the camp in Rökk Szilárd Street Dr Pál Ubrizsy. Sabotaging official demands was to some extent a practice also in the housing office. In this respect mainly three men did well: one was György Bognár; the other one was Dr István Kurzweil who tried to use his connections to the city government to our advantage; the third one was chief engineer Dr Imre Heller, who participated in the identification of the starred houses in as much as he was entrusted to draw maps. When starred houses were selected, Rezső Müller called together the officers of the housing office and of the group in contact with the authorities, who were supposed to mediate although in the whole housing business no official demand passed through them. (This team was instructed only to empty individual houses.) Müller held a long speech, and told us that the authorities gave 24 hours to the people to move into starred houses, and that we should direct this process in the interest of the Jews. For this objective we would be provided with cars, wagons, movers in brief, the whole city would be dedicated to help our work so that Jews could move into starred houses in 24 hours. Naturally, all expenses would be covered by the Jewish Council, but he demanded the greatest dedication, day and night work from the officers of the council, etc. Lawyer Dr Adolf Kertész rose to speak and declared he was an advocate who would always serve the case of his clients with the greatest care. He felt that in this case the Jews of Budapest were his clients, who had to be served honestly, and he would not take part in the execution of such an immoral act. Lawyer Dr Sándor Arje spoke in the same way. Müller talked to him in such a manner that this person, who had a heart disease, got a heart attack and died two days later. Finally, the president of the Zionists, Ottó Komoly spoke and protested against this action in the calmest way. Müller, however, made him so upset that he gave Müller a slap. It was thanks to Dr Kurzweil’s connection the city authorities that the deadline was eventually prolonged to eight days. Concerning Müller it is still to be noted that he acted in the same way when he wanted to organise Jewish troops to clear the debris or to dig trenches. The fact that he failed was due to the sabotage of the Jewish captain Ferenc Schalk and captain Gobbi (father of Hilda Gobbi). Moreover, Müller’s administration consumed as much money as the cost of food supply of the Budapest Jews in the ghetto for three weeks. Having interned the so-called plutocratic Jews, they interned those unfortunate people who were denounced either in the Astoria or on Svábhegy, or those who wore no star, or wore it in an improper way, or covered it. The number of these people were great. Rich Jews were collected individually by the Germans and were kept in Rökk Szilárd Street. They were quite well supplied, and staying in the camp they did not face the danger to be interned into the camp of Kistarcsa any more. Since sick and old people were numerous amongst them, it could be attained that these were put into two temporary hospitals that replaced the Jewish hospital, which had been confiscated. One of them was led by Dr Lajos Lévy in 44 Wesselényi Street, the other one on Bethlen Square was directed first by Dr Dénes Fuchs, later by Dr János Biedermann. Establishing these hospitals, especially the one on Bethlen Square did not take more than a few hours. I clearly remember the Saturday morning when the administrative head of the Supportive Office, Sándor Timár entered my flat in Bethlen Square and asked me to help furnishing the sports hall in the building collecting 60 berths for hospital usage, since as many people can be taken from Kistarcsa as beds that we can provide. Naturally, we started to work right away. Together with Dr György Polgár we opened the stores of Dr Adolf Weiss in Bethlen Square, and took the blankets, towels, soaps from them, which had been anyway meant for poor Jews. This hospital was later transformed into a great hospital with 350 beds where 70% of the patients had been interned. It was not too difficult to get into the hospital from the camps of Rökk Szilárd Street or of Kistarcsa, especially the latter was easy where head physician Dr Tibold declared anyone to be in need of hospital care for 10-20,000 pengős. There was another form of internment, that followed the so-called lawyer and journalist registers. One day Dr János Gábor, whose nerves got slowly exhausted by the frequent negotiations, having come back from Svábhegy called me into his room and told me that by 8 am the next day ca. 60 people, whose names were on a list should appear in the camp of Rökk Szilárd Street. Summons needed to be distributed by the Jewish Council, what is more, we had to write and multiply them, too. The Jewish Council was responsible that the people indeed turned up. They did not tell us what would happen to them. These people could take a luggage up to 30 kilos, two blankets, etc. but no money. As telephones of Jews had been already dismantled we needed to organise a currier service. The staff of this service was made up of Jewish students of the schools of Budapest who delivered the paper and letters sent by the Jewish Council by bike or on foot. It was the school superintendent Dr Zoltán Kohn entrusted to organise the currier service. Next to his duties as a superintendent he became the apparent head of the religious community because Ernő Munkácsi citing his sickness as a reason stayed away from the stream of happenings. When the first lists were to be handed over I warned the people on the list, whom I knew, to go into hiding and in any case not to take the summons. “Maybe nothing bad would happen.” I have to note here that later we agreed with the heads of the Zionist movement that everyone who was summoned needed to be informed beforehand as much as it was possible. Zoltán Kohn realised I was about to sabotage the whole process and forcefully instructed me to refrain from it as it could endanger the existence of the entire Jewish Council. I responded that it did not seem to me a priority of the Jewish Council to uselessly bring trouble to Jewish brothers and sisters. The Council could take its part in sharing the responsibilities. Our sharp debate ended with Zoltán Kohn banning me out of the room where the distribution of the summons was orchestrated but I could still witness the scene when the nephew of the lawyer Dr Géza Dach took the summons regarding his uncle and collapsed. Anyway, this Géza Dach went into hiding, never reappeared and was never touched. This way Zoltán Kohn became responsible for the business of the interned of Rökk Szilárd Street and kept in touch with Ubrizsy and Ágoston. His unpleasant style turned many into his enemies, although it was not only his style but also his infinite cowardice. II. Concerning our contact with the Jewish population of the countryside it is relevant to note that the heads of Jewish councils in the country received a permission to visit the Central Jewish Council twice despite Jews were not allowed to travel. This way we heard about the dismay that moving together the Jews of the countryside and creating ghettos meant. The Jewish Council could only pose questions to the Germans regarding the deportations: where and why they happened. From the part of the Hungarian authorities it was Lieutenant Colonel Ferenczy in charge of the whole business doing his job with great enthusiasm. We received newer and newer accounts concerning the manners and acts of the gendarmes but could do nothing against deportations. All we could achieve was the mission of Dr Rezső Kasztner to which I will come back later. Some prominent Jews from the ghettos od Debrecen, Szeged, Székesfehérvár, Szombathely, Sopron, Kolozsvár, and Nagyvárad were brought to Budapest and we also made an attempt to recollect the closest relatives of the members of the Jewish Council from these ghettos but succeeded only in the case of the parents of Dr Imre Reiner. Jewish population had naturally little trust in the Jewish Council and had good reasons to do so, although objectively individual members of the Jewish Council during the time I was there showed obvious guts. Interestingly enough, they were precisely Samu Stern, Wilhelm, Pető and Freudiger who acted with courage and were ready to sabotage orders. The members of the Jewish Council realised that only the Zionist movement was still able to show up results as many of them as Aryans were free to move around. However, in these days the head of the Zionist movement was Ottó Komoly but people like Dr Rezső Kasztner or Joel Brand were there, too. Kasztner managed to find his way to Eichmann, and he remained the only one with whom the Germans were liable to negotiate. He attained that Brand could travel abroad to meet international Jewish leaders, first of all the heads of Joint and of the Jewish Agency. It was also Kasztner’s achievement that 1,750 was freed from the Vernichtungslager of Strasshof, who were sent to Switzerland through Bergen- Belsen. Moreover, it was thanks to him that after the first transport the issue of transports came to be managed in Síp Street. Another three members of the Jewish Council - Stern, Pető, and Wilhelm - contributed to another rescue mission that regarded the delivery of the Auschwitz protocols. The Council also suported the work of Vadász Street and the Jewish Council had delegates both in the Swiss and the Swedish Embassy. I still need to mention how the Jewish Council was transformed. At the end of May a directive of the Ministry of the Interior was sent to the council nominating new members: Dr József Nagy of Budapest; Dr Béla Berend, the rabbi of Szigetvár; and the writer Sándor Török as the representative of Jews of Christian religion. The name of the Jewish Council was to be changed into “Association of Jews of Hungary". The membership of Dr József Nagy was thanks to one of his patients working for the Ministry of the Interior; of Berend Béla was due to his friendship with the head of the Institute for Jewish Studies, Dr Zoltán Bosnyák; Sándor Török got into the council with the support of the converts. Before Béla Berend got into the council Stern, Pető and Wilhelm had all confidential documents destroyed because it was well known that Berend got into the council as a spy. Later, Berend indeed proved to be a traitor. In general it must be stated that during the time I was at the Jewish Council (till June the 24th) the members of the council tried to live up to their commitments and their failure was not exclusively the fault of their weakness. It would be an exaggeration to claim that the members of the Council put their personal interests ahead of the interests of the community. What is true is that they still have not realised that their policy was wrong for 25 years. I do not have much to say about the later phase of the Jewish Council as I left for the office of the Swiss Embassy in Vadász Street, the 24th of June. I only know that directly before the regime of the Arrow Cross it was transformed again and this was when Dr István Földes and Lajos Stöckler got into the Council, the latter was supported by Béla Berend.