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The Foundation and Activities of the Hungarian Jewish Council, March 20 - July 7, 1944

Judit Molnár

  1. Ernő Munkácsi, Hogyan történt? Adatok és okmányok a magyar zsidóság tragédiájához (Budapest:Renaissance, 1947), p. 59.
  2. Between June 25 and 28, 1944, five trains (one from Szolnok, two from Debrecen, and two from Szeged) left Hungary for Auschwitz. Although this was their destination, they did not travel via Kassa (Kosice), but they were directed westward, toward Strasshof. Most of the passengers on these trains survived the deportation. For details, see Judit Molnár, “Embermentés vagy árulás? A Kasztner-akció szegedi vonatkozásai,” in Judit Molnár, ed., Csendőrök, hivatalnokok, zsidók. Válogatott tanulmányok a magyar holokauszt történetéből (Szeged: Szegedi Zsidó Hitközség, 2000) pp. 183- 197.
  3. Fülöp Freudiger, chairman of the Budapest Autonomous Orthodox Israelite Religious Community and later member of the Jewish Council claims in his memoirs that the Eichmann Kommando had only 150 members. [Freudiger Fülöp,] Beszámoló a Magyarországon 1944. március 19. és augusztus 10. között lejátszódott eseményekről [October 1944]. The text is published in Hungarian in Mária Schmidt, Kollaboráció vagy kooperáció? A Budapesti Zsidó Tanács (Budapest: Minerva, 1990), p. 285. For Freudiger’s memoirs in English, see Randolph L. Braham ed., Hungarian Jewish Studies, vol. 3 (New York: World Federation of Hungarian Jews, 1973), pp. 75-146.
  4. Journals of the Cabinet Meetings, Magyar Országos Levéltár (OL), K27; March 22, 1944.
  5. For the text of the “attendance sheet” containing the first orders of the Gestapo, see Ilona Benoschofsky and Elek Karsai eds., Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. Dokumentumok a magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez vol. 1 (Budapest: MIOK, 1958), pp. 25-28. See also Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 14-17; Schmidt, Kollaboráció, pp. 255-256; Samu Stern, “Versenyfutás az idővel! (A Zsidó Tanács működése a német megszállás és nyilas uralom idején)” [1945] in Schmidt, Kollaboráció, pp. 57-60. For Stern’s memoirs in English, see Braham, Hungarian Jewish Studies, pp. 1-47. Additional material is available in the memoirs of Nison Kahan, in Judit Molnár, “A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása – cionista szemmel. Dr. Kahan Nison visszaemlékezése,” in Holocaust Füzetek, vol. 13 (1999) pp. 93-117.
  6. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 15. Munkácsi’s statements are corroborated by Nison Kahan; see Molnár, A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása, p. 111.
  7. See note 5.
  8. Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 59.
  9. “Pető Ernő feljegyzése az Ügyvédi Kamara Igazgatóságához [1945]” in Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 324.
  10. Schmidt, Kollaboráció, pp. 60, 324-325.
  11. Ibid., p. 325.
  12. Ibid., pp. 60-61.
  13. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 11.
  14. Jenő Lévai, Zsidósors Magyarországon (Budapest: Magyar Téka, 1948), p. 73.
  15. Stern, Pető, and Wilhelm were arrested and kept imprisoned under remand. Eventually, their cases were not tried by the people’s court. See Stern Samu és társai, Budapest Főváros Levéltára, Nü. 7367/1947, Zsidó Tanács – ügy, Történeti Hivatal, V-129 355/a.
  16. For most of the decrees, see Benoschofsky and E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1. It should be noted that, while negotiations were under way about the formation of the new government, the Gestapo continuously arrested and deported Hungarian politicians; among them, those who had been in contact with members of the Jewish Council until the German occupation.
  17. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 54; Schmidt, Kollaboráció, pp. 63., 257., 328.
  18. Papers of the Jewish Council, daily applications, Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár (MZSML) H-1944. (My attention was called to the file by László Karsai.)
  19. For the text of the invitation, see Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 20-21., and Lévai, Zsidósors Magyarországon, p. 75.
  20. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 21; Munkácsi’s list includes only twelve names. Attendance sheet, March 28, 1944, MZSML, H-1944, (J 5/3).
  21. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 22; see also Molnár, A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása, p. 103.
  22. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 28-33.
  23. Ibid., p. 34.
  24. Papers of the Jewish Council, MZSML, H-1944, (J 5/3); for a part of the Hungarian text of the plan, see Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 34-36.
  25. According to Nison Kahan, Samu Stern originally designated a Jewish Council of seven members, and Kahan was included as the eighth member because the Gestapo insisted on the participation of the Zionists. For details, see Molnár, “A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása”, pp. 98-99.
  26. Status Quo: Hungarian congregations adhering neither to Neologism nor Orthodoxy after the split of Jewish communities in 1869 but remaining unattached as previously.
  27. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 25.
  28. For details, see Molnár, A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása, p. 99.
  29. Plan for the organization of the Hungarian Jews, April 4, 1944, Papers of the Jewish Council, MZSML, H-1944, J 5/3.
  30. With regard to the Jewish Council, Ottó Komoly, president of the Hungarian Zionist Association, wrote in his diary even on March 20, 1944 that “…news of the founding of Judenrat … we [the Zionists – J.M.] will not go to the Judenrat.” According to his entry on April 10, his daughter Lea had volunteered to work for the information department of the Central Jewish Council. From April 14, Ottó Komoly himself was regularly on duty in the Information Office of the Jewish Council. The diary is in the Yad Vashem Archives (YVA), P 31/44.
  31. For details, see Viktor Karády, Önazonosítás, sorsválasztás. A zsidó csoportazonosság történelmi alakváltozásai Magyarországon (Budapest: Új Mandátum, 2001), pp. 40-76, 199-241, 263-295; Ezra Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe between the World Wars (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), pp. 85-128.
  32. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 33.
  33. Ibid., pp. 36-37.
  34. Benoschofsky and E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, p. 114.
  35. Ibid., pp. 115-117.
  36. Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide. The Holocaust in Hungary, revised and enlarged edition. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 436, 442.
  37. Yehuda Bauer, The Holocaust in Historical Perspective (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980), p. 105.
  38. Lévai, Zsidósors Magyarországon, p. 81; Braham, The Politics of Genocide, p. 453.
  39. For details, see Robert Rozett, The Relationship between Rescue and Revolt: Jewish Rescue and Revolt in Slovakia and Hungary During the Holocaust, Ph.D. Dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1987, pp. 75- 80. I wish to express my thanks to Dr. Robert Rozett for allowing me to use this source.
  40. László Károly, Az út Auschwitz felé. Ifjúságom Magyarországon (Budapest: Kapu Alapítvány, n.d.), pp. 122, 189-190.
  41. For details, see Asher Cohen, The Halutz Resistance in Hungary 1942- 1944 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 52-80.
  42. For details, see László Karsai, Holokauszt (Budapest: Pannonica, 2001), pp. 262-270.
  43. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 36-37.
  44. See, for example, Kecskemét Congregation – Letter from Ernő Pető to Kecskemét Congregation, MZSML, 1944 - K 8/2 - 175/1.
  45. Benoschofsky and E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, pp. 78-79.
  46. Ibid., pp. 128-129.
  47. See, for example Elek Karsai, ed., Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. Dokumentumok a magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez,. vol. 3 (Budapest: MIOK, 1967), p. VIII.
  48. For the text of decree No. 6163/1944. BM VII, see Benoschofsky and E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, pp. 124-127.
  49. Ibid., pp. 244-255.
  50. László Baky supervised, following his appointment on March 24, Departments VI of police, VIII of police penal, XVIII of national mobilization, and XX of gendarmerie affairs. László Endre was appointed under-secretary of the Interior by Minister of the Interior Andor Jaross on April 8. Endre was put in charge of Departments III of county and municipal, IV of urban, XXI of housing affairs, as well as of the Committee for rationalizing the administration. In addition, on May 13, Minister Jaross established a separate service within Sub-department XXI/b for “dealing with affairs in connection with the resettlement and moving into camps of the Jews and not falling into the jurisdiction of any other department, under the direct instructions of UnderSecretary dr. vitéz László Endre.” Ministerial Vice-secretary Zsigmond Molnár was appointed the head of the service.
  51. Benoschofsky and E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, p. 126.
  52. Letter from Stern to Jaross, YVA, O 15 H/75.
  53. László Karsai, Magyarország, 1944 április – új dokumentumok a Holocaustról (manuscript).
  54. Ibid. Independent of the above petition, Stern had submitted a petition to Sztójay on April 14, informing him that, by an oral order from the Gestapo, the Central Council of Hungarian Jews had come into being, because the Hungarian authorities had instructed them to meet the wishes of the Germans. At the same time, he asked Sztójay “to graciously receive our delegates at an audience,” so that they can report on how the instructions have hitherto been executed. There is no trace of any reply. YVA, O 15 H/75.
  55. The Yad Vashem Research Group, working in Hungary since 1995, regards as one of its main tasks, besides uncovering documents, examining the details of the cooperation between the German and Hungarian authorities on both the national and local levels. This cooperation was probably not without friction. One obvious example is the so-called Manfréd Weiss case. For that, in detail, see Elek Karsai and Miklós Szinai, “A Weiss Manfréd-vagyon német kézbe kerülésének története,” in Századok, vol. 4-5 (1961) pp. 680-719; Gábor Kádár and Zoltán Vági, Aranyvonat (Budapest: Osiris, 2001), pp. 155- 168.
  56. Benoschofsky and Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1., pp. 190-191.
  57. Ibid., pp. 191-194. Munkácsi erroneously dates the release of the decree to April 27; Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 70.
  58. Benoschofsky and Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, p. 190.
  59. Papers of Royal Hung. Police, Kiskunfélegyháza District, Bács-Kiskun Megyei Levéltár-Kiskunfélegyháza (BKML-Kf), 1506/1944. The decree appeared in Budapesti Közlöny on May 13. For its text, see Benoschofsky and Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 1, pp. 196-197.
  60. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 71.
  61. Ibid., p. 72.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Ibid., p. 73. Since Munkácsi dates - from memory - the appearance of the decree on April 27, consequently, in his book, this meeting also is set at a later date.. Nison Kahan, while describing his talks with the Gestapo officers in detail in his memoirs, never says a word about meeting Argalás. Nor does Ernő Pető’s memorandum contain any reference to the meeting above. According to the (unfortunately unnumbered) document in the Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem, the “Temporary Board of the Association of Hungarian Jews” was made up of the members of the first Jewish Council plus Béla Berend. Berend’s name was written on the list in the hand of Under-secretary of the Interior László Endre, and he also wrote on the back of the sheet, “tomorrow the 12th these [i.e., the members of the Jewish Council], Bosnyák, Argalás, Blask[ovich] in your office.” YVA, O 15 H/75.
  64. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 73.
  65. Ibid., p. 74.
  66. Török at that time was in the internment camp at Csepel. See Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 72. According to Török, his friend Lajos Thury had appealed to Ferenc Rajniss on his behalf, who, in turn, asked for the mediation of Béla Imrédy, president of Magyar Megújulás Pártja [Party of Hungarian Renewal] to have Török appointed as a member of the board of the Association of Hungarian Jews. As a result of this support, Minister of the Interior Jaross appointed Török a member of the board, and the latter soon was released from internment. See Sándor Szenes, Befejezetlen múlt. Keresztények és zsidók, sorsok. Beszélgetések (Budapest: Szerző, 1986), p. 190.
  67. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 75.
  68. According to Kahan, Berend said he was a revisionist, and he maintained connections with certain members of the executive committee; see Molnár, ”A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása”, p. 99.
  69. Schmidt, Kollaboráció, pp. 75, 326, Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság – protocols, MZSML, protocol 3647, p. 9: “Before the arrival of Béla Berend, confidential documents had to be destroyed at the order of Stern, Pető, and Wilhelm because it was widely known that Berend had been put on the Jewish Council as a traitor.” For Berend’s activity in the Jewish Council, and for the story of his being tried before the People’s Court and acquitted after World War II, see Krisztina Munkácsi, “Berend Béla főrabbi népbírósági pere,” in Századok, vol. 6 (1996), pp. 1525-1552. For Kahan’s opinion of Berend, see Molnár, “A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása”, pp. 112-113.
  70. In 1945, Pető recalled that Kahan-Frankl had never been put on the Executive Committee because he had disappeared earlier; Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 326. It is a fact, however, that his name appears on the list of those appointed, and Munkácsi claims that he chaired the meeting on May 15. No documents, indeed, have been recovered concerning his activities after that.
  71. Berend himself writs that he got to Budapest on May 18; see “Az antiszemitizmus cionizálása: eredmények és következmények” in Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 349. Ottó Komoly met him first on May 20; see Ottó Komoly’s Diary, YVA, P 31/44. Gendarme Lt.-Colonel László Ferenczy, liaison officer of the gendarmerie with the German security police, said at the People’s Prosecution in 1946, that he had met Berend first on May 30, at Munkács, in the police holding cell; see Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 357. It could not be proved that Berend had forged documents, and he produced the card of the Jewish Council, so he was released. At the same time, in his original report dated June 8, Ferenczy writes that he had Berend and his wife transported to Munkács from the reception camp at Sátoraljaújhely for interrogation. The Berends had wanted to have their relatives released; at the time they were still at Sátoraljaújhely. After the interrogation they were handed over to Eichmann; see László Karsai and Judit Molnár, eds., Az Endre—Baky—Jaross per (Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1994), p. 514. According to Kahan, it was the Jewish Council that intervened with the Germans for the Berends; see Molnár, “A Zsidó Tanács megalakulása”, p. 113. Komoly met Berend the second time in Budapest on June 8; see Ottó Komoly’s Diary, YVA, P 31/44.
  72. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 75.
  73. Ibid. This is confirmed by the report of Endre dated June 16. For the text, see E. Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen, vol. 3., pp. 38-39.
  74. Letter from Róbert Pap to Kecskemét Congregation, MZSML, K 8/2 – 149/12.
  75. Papers of the Jewish Council, MZSML, H-1944, (J 5/3).
  76. Letter from Gyula Virányi to MIOI, MZSML, K 8/2 – 149/13. The arrest was probably made by the Hungarian authorities. László Baky, in his decree 5999/1944. VII.res. BM of March 31, had instructed the security forces in the countryside to take into custody persons suspected of being Communists and leftists who might jeopardize the security of the state and the public. Jews were arrested in great numbers on the basis of this decree. See, for example, the arrests in Szeged in Judit Molnár, Zsidósors 1944-ben az V. (szegedi) csendőrkerületben (Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1995), pp. 56-57. Lajos Vajda, incidentally, was also the vice-chairman of the Israelite Congregation District XXII, and, thus, the deputy of Róbert Pap.
  77. On June 10, Chairman Lajos Vajda was certainly at a “place unknown.” His wife would get a pension from her husband’s work only if she could prove that her husband, the retired director of the Hungarian General Credit Bank, was alive. It was in this respect that the Jewish Council of Kecskemét asked the Provisional Executive Committee of the Association of Hungarian Jews for help; MZSML, K 8/2 - 183.
  78. MZSML, 8/2 - 181. The Central Jewish Committee of Kecskemét asked Samu Stern, on May 21, to take steps on behalf of Gyula Virányi, who was in a poor state of health. Virányi “was first at Topolya, then at Szabadka, and he is now at Baja in the internment camp on Vaskúti road.”
  79. Jews 1944, papers handled separately, BKML, IV. 1928. A file from the 1944 papers of the mayor of Kecskemét handled separately: for the document, see also MZSML, K 8/2 - 47.
  80. Letter from Kecskemét to Central Jewish Council, MZSML, K 8/2 - 25.
  81. Ibid.
  82. Letter from Kecskemét to Róbert Pap, MZSML, K 8/2 - 16.
  83. Letter from Dezső Schőnberger to Béla Liszka, MZSML, K 8/2 - 27.
  84. Letter from Kecskemét to Central Jewish Council, MZSML, K 8/2 - 29. The members of the Central Jewish Council of Kecskemét were: Károly Adorján, Miksa Gerő, Lajos Gratzer, Mihály Kecskeméti, and István Maskó.
  85. Ibid. The Kecskemét Jewish Council informed the Central Council about all that on May 17.
  86. Letter from Róbert Pap to Kecskemét Congregation, MZSML, K 8/2 - 46.
  87. Csongrád Congregation 1940-44, MZSML, 289 (26/1944), 290 (27/1944). The members of the Csongrád Jewish Council were: István Faragó, chairman of the congregation; István Fehér, vice-chairman of the congregation; Jenő Reichlinger, chairman of the congregation society; Dr. Sándor Vida, former chairman of the congregation; Dr. Lajos Ság; Jenő Strasser; and Artur Váradi.
  88. Papers of the Mayor of Makó, Csongrád Megyei Levéltár (CSML) - Makó, 11.474/1944, 11.475/1944; Neologism: The Hungarian branch of Reform Judaism. Many aligned themselves with the movement in the second half of the 19th cent., when Hungarian Jewish communities had to declare their religious orientation.
  89. Papers of the Mayor of Kiskunfélegyháza, BKML-Kf, 13.000/1944, Papers of the Hung. Royal Police Kiskunfélegyháza District Police Station, BKML-Kf, 1535/1944.
  90. Papers of the Mayor of Kiskunfélegyháza, BKML-Kf, 13.000/1944.
  91. Papers of the Chief Constable of the Kalocsa District, BKML, 2686/1944.
  92. Papers of the Hungarian Royal Police Kiskunfélegyháza District Police Station, BKML, 1420/1944.
  93. Ibid.
  94. OL, Microfilm Archives, Series I, box 66, title 149, serial 321.
  95. Papers of the Chief Constable of the Kalocsa District, BKML, 3191/1944.
  96. Papers of the Hungarian Royal Police Kiskunfélegyháza District Police Station, BKML, 1251/1944.
  97. Proposals of Central Council of Kecskemét Jews, MZSML, K 8/2 - 62, 63, 64.
  98. Schmidt, Kollaboráció, p. 329.
  99. Ibid., p. 69.
  100. Ibid., p. 74.
  101. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, pp. 65, 82.
  102. Papers of the National Bureau of the Jews of Hungary, MZSML, 1944.
  103. Papers of the Jewish Council, MZSML, H-1944, 6/1.
  104. Munkácsi, Hogyan történt, p. 82. The report of the provincial department, which has survived from the period after the events in August, falling outside the scope of the present discussion, confirms the claims of Munkácsi. During August, information was gathered at forty places in fifty-two cases concerning the whereabouts of the deportees “through agents sent to the spot”; Papers of the Jewish Council, MZSML, H-1944. However, the young Zionists did not succeed in persuading the Jews; see Leni Yahil, The Holocaust. The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 642-643.
  105. Szegedi Új Nemzedék, May 27, 1944, p. 7.
  106. Jews 1944, papers handled separately, BKML, IV. 1928.
  107. Papers of the Szeged Prefect, CSML, 847/1944; for details, see Molnár, Zsidósors 1944-ben, pp. 124-125.
  108. Papers of the Csanád Sub-Prefect, CSML, 7979/1944.
  109. Jews 1944, papers of the Mayor of Kecskemét - handled separately, BKML, IV. 1928.
  110. Béla Vágó, Jewish Leadership Groups in Hungary and Romania during the Holocaust (New York: International Scholars Conference on the Holocaust – A Generation After, 1975), p. 35; YIVO, 9/74.358 – manuscript.
  111. See Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews. 3 vols. (London, New York: Holmes and Meier 1985), pp. 574-583, 726-730; Joseph Michman, “The Controversial Stand of the Joodse Raad in Holland — Lodewijk E. Visser's Struggle,” Yad Vashem Studies, X (1974), pp. 9-68.
  112. See Ilona Benoschofsky and Elek Karsai, Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. Dokumentumok a magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez, vol. 2 (Budapest: MIOK, 1960), p. 43.
  113. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 118.