Holocaust in Hungary, Term Paper Example
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Anti-Jewish sentiments in the Central European country of Hungary did not start with the Holocaust, and the government that rose to power after World War II and the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920 was a sympathizer of antisemitic ideology for a long time before Germany invaded Hungary. The below paper will attempt to examine the social, political, and economic conditions that led to Holocaust being a state-sponsored and accepted method in the country. The author will argue that the influences of Germany and other nationalist countries, as well as the power structure of the Hungarian politics led to the full adaptation of anti-Jewish laws and Holocaust. Indeed, Molnar states that political antisemitism started in Hungary between 1770 and 1780, however, until the 20th Century, the government’s approach towards Jews was to promote assimilation. The main research question of the below study is as follows:
“Which political, social, and international conditions encouraged Hungary to take an active part in the horrific acts of Holocaust, and embrace the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi party?”
The author of the current research will attempt to reveal the ideological foundations of antisemitism in Hungary, reaching back decades before the Third Reich, and the reasons why politicians and national leaders joined Nazi Germany to execute the country’s citizens.
Background and the Origin of Antisemitism in Hungary
According to Molnar, antisemitism rose in Hungary after the country lost the first World War, and 2/3 of its territory, according to the Trianon Treaty in 1920. The disastrous peace treaty almost paralyzed the country, and left the economy unable to recover. The author connects the rise of antisemitism with the two revolutions in Hungary, in 1918 and 1919. According to a popular ideology of the time, the Jews were responsible for the disaster of the Trianon Treaty, as they started the two revolutions. The very first anti-Semitic, discriminative legislation in Europe was created in 1920 in Hungary. The Law XXV. limited the number of people from each race to enter universities, due to the “overproduction of professionals”. With the rise of Regent Miklós Horthy on power, new anti-Jewish regulations were introduced on the state level. At this time, the government differentiated between “assimilated” and “immigrant” Jews. After the Anschluss in Austria, the first Jewish Law was introduced in Hungary. According to the restrictive measures introduced by the government, the percentage of Jews in medical, legal, and other professions should not be higher than 20 percent. After these initial discriminative measures, on Christmas Eve of 1938, a law on limiting the economic and social expansion of Jews was passed in Hungary. The focus of discrimination by 1939 changed, and the state no longer distinguished between assimilated and immigrant Jews, and classed someone Jewish if at least one of their parents or two of their grandparents were Jewish. This classification is a movement towards racial discrimination that was the basis of the Nuremberg Laws. The author states that prior to the Nazi occupation of Hungary, the German state did not put pressure on the country to introduce the laws, and the country’s politicians acted on their own initiative. However, given the fact that the dismembered country of Hungary was a member of the Axis powers during World War II and relied on Fascist Italy and Germany for support, this cannot be confirmed. A small country in the middle of Europe, it is likely that Hungary relied on its allies’ aids and military support more than they relied on Hungary’s government.
By 1944, when Germany occupied the country, the Hungarian government was ready to fully collaborate enforcing Jewish laws. Fenyves states that after World War I Hungary was the first country to introduce a Jewish quota in higher education, also called the “numerus clausus law”. At the time when the laws were introduced, more than half of the Hungarian Jews lived in urban areas, and made up 1/8 of the total big city population. They were suddenly everywhere, and very visible. However, the Hungarian society did not stop at marginalizing Jews: they were soon considered to be “cultural threats”. As the author states, in the beginning of the 20th century, half of the doctors were Jewish. This over-representation of the racial minority triggered antisemitic sentiments in the political life and society alike attempting to reclaim Christian hegemony and fighting against accepting diversity. While the above reasoning does not provide justification of the “numerus clausus law”, it explains the social and political environment in which the regulations were created. Deak states that while “Interwar Hungary was thus a rightist, counter-revolutionary, antisemitic country”,
Towards the Hungarian Holocaust
According to Zakar, after the Trianon Treaty of 1920, almost 6 percent of the Hungarian population was Jewish. Zakar’s account on the German march in Hungary on the 19th of March 1944 shows that the public was not aware of the total collaboration between the Nazi regime and the Hungarian government. Indeed, the majority of people had no knowledge of the concentration camps and the prosecution of minorities. When the occupying forces of Germany arrived in Hungary, a special unit assembled by Adolf Eichmann, also crossed the border, consisting of hundreds of Gestapo members. The main goal of the unit was to coordinate the liquidation of the Hungarian Jews. The first rules made by the new regime was to make all Jews wear a yellow star, and confiscate their shops and other properties. Until the deportation started in May that year, Jews were gathered up in Ghettos, awaiting their fate. The official version of the relocation of Jews was that they were required to complete a labor service. Around 75 percent of those who left for concentration camps never returned.
The existence of concentration camps in Europe was not known to the public, and often not even to country leaders. The acting regent of Hungary, Admiral Miklós Horthy first heard about the mass murders on the 20th of June 1944, after he pledged for full collaboration with the German powers, and his country submitted to the Nazi Army. According to Zakar, the leader received a document smuggled in from Switzerland, called the “Auschwitz Minutes”, which described the acts of the Nazis in detail. Once hearing about the fate of deported Jews, Horthy passed on the document to Cardinal Serédi, and gave the government clear instructions to stop the deportations. Seredi wrote a pastoral letter and circulated it among the Catholic population of the country, to inform the public about the state-sponsored murders. However, as Zakar quotes an eyewitness account, “the Germans threatened to massacre all Jews and to destroy the entire country if the pastoral letter was read out publicly”. The government had to compromise, and had to refrain to asking the Germans to stop the deportations and consider the Jewish minority Hungary’s internal affair. Unfortunately, Hungary that lost 2/3 of its territory in the first world war, and left economically, politically paralyzed was not able to successfully step up against the greatest empire at the time. Regent Horthy was forced to resign. A new regime started when the Germans appointed Szalasi as the leader of the Arrow-Cross party (Hungarian nationalist party), who was ready to collaborate with the Germans. Deportations increased in volume and number.
How did Nazi Germany manage to replace the political elite of Hungary and obtain full state support for executing the evil plan of Holocaust in Hungary, one might ask. The timeline provided by Molnar regarding the events before the regime change and the full collaboration of Hungary, resulting in killing hundreds of thousands of Hungarian citizens. The author states that right after the German invasion of Hungary, reports were sent to the government about German soldiers breaking into Israelite families’ homes. The simple response of Germany’s military headquarters is quoted by Molnar as follows: “”The case will not go unpunished; strict orders have been issued to German soldiers to refrain from taking any material objects, and anyone not returning these objects to where they have been taken from, will be severely punished.”. At this point, the Nazi Army was already executing Jews in Germany, therefore, they simply lied about their intentions and pretended that the actions of soldiers were not a part of the government’s Jewish strategy. It is important to note that the Germans took part in the election of the Horthy administration and hand-picked the officials to ensure that the Hungarians will fully collaborate. Several ministers were dismissed, and replaced by right-wing (Party of Hungarian Renewal) party members. The Germans managed to cleanse the Hungarian administration and ensure full collaboration. However, they did not consider how the Hungarian leaders would act if the true reason for deportations came to light. They believed that Regent Horthy was going to remain loyal and ready to execute orders. Even the police was taken over by Eichmann’s people, and “yellow star raids” were common. Jews who did not wear the star in a manner that was considered to be appropriate by authorities were fined a huge sum. The ghetto decree passed in April, 1944, restricting Jews to designated locations. Jews were banned from public baths. Expressing his concerns about the “mistreatment of Jews”, deputy foreign minister, Jungerth-Arnóthy referred to reports in foreign newspapers about “Jews being gassed and burnt in Poland” . His concerns were dismissed by Interior Minister Jaross, who stated that the Hungarian government was not concerned about where the Jews were going. According to Molnar, between the 14th of May and the 9th of July, 1944, 147 trains left Hungary to take 434.351 Jews and other minorities to concentration camps. Molnar summarizes her findings as follows: “not unlike the administrative personnel in Germany or the Netherlands, the majority of the officials in Hungary went about solving the “Jewish question” with initiative, flexibility, and often even with enthusiasm”.
Another analysis concludes that Horthy stopped the deportations in 1944 because of international pressure. However, the deportation of over 400.000 Jews could not have been executed without the collaboration of authorities. The commando unit of Eichmann was too small to control all the raids and law enforcement tasks related to collecting Jews, gathering them in a Ghetto, and organizing their transportation to train stations. As Fritz and Eschinger confirm: “this commando had to rely on the assistance of Hungarian police and gendarmerie forces”. It is, however, hard to estimate the total number of people killed and deported during the Gestapo’s power, as in 1944 Hungary was one of the most popular refuges of Jews in Europe.
Hungarian Survivors’ Accounts
Laczo examined Hungarian Holocaust survivors’ accounts to provide a true report on how the deportations were executed, and how people were treated before and after their arrival to concentration camps. Hungarians reported that they were informed about the existence of the gas chambers, and often also the quotas imposed by the authorities. They knew how many people were cramped in the camp, and how many the prison guards were going to execute in order to free up space. Those who were weak or fell ill were to be executed first. Witnesses also state that at first they simply could not imagine that gas chambers and executions could be real. Some stated that they would have preferred to die in ignorance. The witness accounts were recorded in Hungary between 1945 and 1946, and have fully revealed the terror the government subjected its own citizens.
Lichtmann, studying in Hungary at a high school remembers: “All Jewish men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were marched away from the Jewish star-marked buildings a few days later. They were permitted to carry only a bag of necessities. We were taken to dig trenches around Budapest”. His father was separated from him a week later and was marched to sure death. Him and his friend had to leave on the train to a forced labor camp. He recalls dehumanization and humiliation every day of the six months he spent in the camp. When the Russians arrived, the camp commander marched all detainees, and ordered the execution of those who could not walk. He could not walk, therefore, he hid. After returning, he realized the scale of systematic killing. Remembering his experiences after returning to Hungary, he states that after the war many people benefited from the deportation of Jews and gained fortunes, even factories in return to favors. He could not come to terms with the new order, and believed that the prosecution of those responsible would never make up for the crimes that were committed against the Jews in Hungary.
The Resistance to Nazi Power
As Zakar states, the Catholic Church in Hungary organized a resistance movement to educate the public about the inhumanity of Nazi ideology. While there were many people helping deportees escape concentration camps and almost sure death, churches were more effective, as the Nazis somewhat respected churches and monasteries, and were not extremely motivated to search them. In Buda, the Sion Convent, for example, nuns sheltered ten people, when they got discovered by Gestapo, stationed close by. The nuns managed to help Jews escape before the arrival of the soldiers. Zakar lists 35 church-run properties where Jews found refuge and help to escape.
The Non-Jewish Victims of the Hungarian Holocaust
Among Jews, other ethnic minorities were targeted in the Hungarian Holocaust, as well. Teleki talks about the untold story of the fate of Hungary’s Roma population. The Nazis believed that there was indeed not only a Jewish problem, but also a Gypsy problem that the national socialist party needs to solve. As the author confirms, “Like the Jews, the Roma suffered discrimination, persecution, arbitrary internment, forced labour and murder under the Nazi regime” .The main reason why the Roma population was discriminated against was because of their cultural diversity and different lifestyle. According to Nazi ideology, the Roma were also considered to be a threat for Aryan race. When the Roma were taken to the concentration camps, they were tattooed with a letter Z for “Zigeuner”, and had to wear black or brown triangles. The “Gypsy Camp” was located in Auschwitz-Birkenau. According to Hanebrink, in the post-war Hungary, there was a trend that can be best described as “cultural antisemitism”.
Johansson and Percy state that homosexuals were also discriminated against and prosecuted based on their lifestyle and unethical behavior. The Nazi ideology believed that homosexuals are just as unnatural and unhealthy as disabled individuals, who were also to be eliminated from the superior society. Both homosexuals and Jews were blamed for spreading the ideas of Freud, considered harmful and dangerous by the German leadership. After the occupation of Hungary, the Nazis made homosexuals wear pink triangles and were treated the same way as Jews and the Roma.
The Aftermath of Holocaust in Hungary
It is indeed hard for Hungarians to live with the knowledge that their government fully collaborated with the Nazis. Fritz and Eschinger talks about “Living on” in the country of the (Co-)perpetrators” as a shared experience of people who witnessed the Nazi occupation. There were between 180.000 and 260.000 people returning from concentration and forced labor camps after the Nazis’ defeat. Survivors were constantly reminded of their sufferings, and the loss of their loved ones. One survivor, quoted by the authors states: “Every place I went reminded me of the horror, torture and immense hate that the Hungarian Nazis still harbored for the Jews”.
In 1945, the Hungarian government revoked all discriminative laws related to Jews, and a People’s Tribunal was established in Hungary to investigate war crimes, finding the people responsible. Communists were on board with this initiative, as their occupation’s political rhetoric included the “liberation of the country from Nazis” Therefore, between 1945 and 1950 the tribunal charged over 26.000 people with treason. A further 60.000 were found guilty of war crimes. The government handed out 476 death penalties, and carried out 189 executions. The leader of the Arrow Cross Party, fully collaborating with the Nazi regime after the resignation of Horthy was executed in 1946. At the same time, the Soviet power placed more than 40.000 Hungarians in interment camps, and the revenge on Hungarian Germans started. Over 200.000 German nationals had to leave Hungary. Hungarians started to notice that the methods of the Soviets were not much different from the Nazis’, as they applied the principle of “collective guilt” on German ethnic minorities. At the same time, the National Committee for Returning Deportees was established, and worked on protocols regarding Holocaust survivors. Returning deportees often found that their properties were distributed among other members of the community, and they had nowhere else to go. At the same time, as the authors state, “encountering the survivors again weighed heavily on the conscience of the people. To reduce or eliminate the guilty feelings, they turned the Jews into a scapegoat”. This led to the resurrection of antisemitic sentiment in the society.
After 1948, Holocaust became a political taboo in Hungary, and in the 50-s, a rising hidden anti-Zionism appeared. However, every ideology that was not related to communism was oppressed by the new regime. For a long time, Hungarians were unable to face their own collective consciousness and sense of guilt. After the revolution of 1989, however, it was possible to reinterpret the past freely, without government control. The country that finally embarked on a journey towards liberalism and democracy woke up. In 2004 the Holocaust Memorial was opened, dedicated to showcasing the horrors of the Nazi occupation and concentration camps. Holocaust is also represented in a famous museum on Andrassy Street, where the headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party used to be, along with the terrors of the Communist regime and dictatorship. The museum is dedicated equally for the victims of the Nazi and the Soviet regime.
Summary of Findings and Conclusion
The above research has reviewed survivor accounts, official documents, and historian research related to the development of antisemitism in Hungary, and revealed the origins of Anti-Jewish sentiment. Attempting to answer the original research question: “Which political, social, and international conditions encouraged Hungary to take an active part in the horrific acts of Holocaust, and embrace the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi party?”, it is hard to provide a straight answer. First of all, it is clearly visible from the literature examined that antisemitic sentiment existed in Hungary before the Second World War. Indeed, the high visibility of Jews in professional life and the urban population can be one of the main reasons for the spread of ideologies. However, it is also important to consider the state of Hungary after the First World War. Losing not only the war, but also 2/3 of its territory, the society found it hard to come to terms with the national tragedy of Trianon. People in Hungary believed that they were unfairly punished, and there had to be a “hidden” reason for this extreme punishment. Some politicians embraced the idea that the failed 1918-19 revolutions were the main triggers of the post-war dismemberment of the country. The revolution was commonly attributed to Jewish intellectuals. Therefore, the nationalist parties found a “scapegoat” in the Jews.
It is also important to note that the first discriminative state regulations against Jews in the 20th Century were introduced in Hungary as early as 1920. However, these laws were restricted to reducing the presence of Jewish people in certain professions and social life, and did not include mass murder. The level of consciousness within the 1944 Hungarian government regarding the horrors of concentration camps is not clearly determined. Contradicting accounts exist. Whether or not the Nazis threatened Hungary or not, the leadership still collaborated with the Gestapo. Today, the Holocaust Museum and the House of Terror act as the collective consciousness of Hungary, reminding the entire country of the horrific acts they played a part in. Without understanding the events leading to the German occupation of the country and the collaboration of the Arrow-Cross Party with the Gestapo, as well as the resistance movement and the thousands of people trying to help deportees, the picture cannot be complete, though.
Deak, Istvan. “Retribution or Revenge:War-Crimes Trials in Post-World War II Hungary, In: Hungary and the Holocaust Confrontation with the Past Symposium Proceedings. 2001. Web.
Fenyves, K. “A successful battle for symbolic space: the numerus clausus law in Hungary” In: The numerus clausus in Hungary Studies on the First Anti-Jewish Law and Academic Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe Edited by Victor Karady and Peter Tibor Nagy. 2012. Web.
Fritz, R. and Eschinger, D. Memory Crossroads. Remembering the Holocaust in Hungary after 1945. 2007. Web.
Johannson, W. and Percy, W. “Homosexuality and the Holocaust”. Web.
Laczo, F. “Breaking the Silence Again. Hungarian Jewish witness accounts of the Nazi camps from 1945-46” 2014. Print.
Lichtmann, A. “The Holocaust in Hungary: Confrontation with the Past”. In: Hungary and the Holocaust Confrontation with the Past Symposium Proceedings. 2001.
Molnar, J. “Nazi Perpetrators: Behavior of Hungarian Authorities During the Holocaust” Jewish Virtual Library. 2015. Web.
Teleki, L. The fate of the Roma during the Holocaust: The Untold Story. 2007. Web.
Zakar, A. The Persecution of Jews in Hungary and the Catholic Church. 1991. Web.
 Molnar, 2015.
 Molnar, 2015.
 Fenyves, 2012, p. 151
 Deak, Istvan. 2001. p. 32
 Zakar, 1991
 Zakar, 1991. p. 18.
 Molnar, 2015
 Molnar, 2015
 Fritz and Eschinger 2007
 Fritz and Eschinger 2007, p. 75
 Zakar, 1991
 Laczo, 2014
 Lichtmann, 2001, p. 95
 Teleki, 2007, p. 18.
 Zakar, 1991. p. 91.
 Ibid, 92.
 Fritz and Eschinger, 2007
 Johannson and Percy, 2001
 Ibid 77
 Fritz and Eschinger, 2007, p. 80
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