Yehoshua-Sándor Ungar: "Mizrachi" Activist in the Glass House in Budapest

[Father]drove alongside the death marches three times and gave out letters of protection - Schutzpass - to whomever he could.  He drove in the Swiss car with a typewriter on his knees […] He traveled for three hours up to the border and called to people to stand on the side until he had prepared the letters of protection with their names [...] All along the route Nazi Hungarian punks [Arrow Cross men] stood on both sides with their rifles pointed upwards.  There were those who received the letters [Schutzpass] and those who tore them up.

These are Shoshana (Zsuzsa) Klein-Ungar's recollections about her father, Dr. Sándor Ungar, who worked to save Jews in the Glass House, and to remove them from the death marches that departed from Budapest in November 1944 in the direction of the Austrian border.

Yehoshua-Sándor Ungar was born in 1895 in the town of Nagytétény, Hungary, today part of Budapest.  His father was the orthodox Chief Rabbi of the town.  Ungar studied dentistry, but his studies were interrupted during World War I, when he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army. After the war, he resumed his studies, and was active in the General Zionists and in Young Mizrachi, as well as the Zionist student union in Budapest, "Maccabiah".

Dr. Ungar married Elizabeth Rachel Esther Ernst in Budapest, and their only daughter Shoshana-Zsuzsa was born in 1928.  Dr. Ungar ran a dental clinic from home.  The family lived comfortably and led a religious Jewish lifestyle.  In 1933, Sándor and his wife visited Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine), and looked into the possibility of immigrating there.  Sándor travelled to Eretz Israel again in 1939, but the outbreak of World War II put paid to their plans, and the family remained in Budapest.  Shoshana recalls that every evening after working at the clinic, her father went to the Mizrachi office in Budapest.  His activities there included helping Jewish refugees who reached Budapest from Poland and Slovakia. 

In March 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary.  The mass deportation of Jews from outlying cities to Auschwitz began in May, and by late June, some 430,000 Jews had been deported.  The Jews remaining in Hungary were mainly living in Budapest, and those who had been drafted to the Hungarian Army labor battalions. 

Moshe-Miklos Kraus was one of the leaders of the Zionist movement in Hungary, a member of the Mizrachi movement and director of the Eretz Israel office in Budapest.  In late May 1944, he was made aware of the fate of the deportees, and of the extermination in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau and he did what he could to disseminate this information.  He had 7,800 certificates - immigration permits to Eretz Israel - in his possession.  In order to activate the certificates, he enlisted Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, who represented British interests in Hungary.  Lutz succeeded in persuading the British to consider the certificate owners British citizens, and took them under his protective auspices. 

In June, the Hungarians permitted the departure of the approximately 7,800 certificate owners.  Kraus came up with the idea to count each certificate as a family certificate, and thus increased the number of people entitled to protective custody to approximately 40,000.  Arthur Weiss, one of the major importers of glass in Hungary, gave Kraus his office building on 29 Vadász Street in Budapest - the Glass House.  Under the leadership of Lutz and Kraus, the house became a rescue activity hub, and the location for the preparation and distribution of the letters of protection.  Alongside the Mizrachi and General Zionist activists, there were also representatives of the Budapest Pioneer Underground movement, "Hanoar Hazioni"," Hashomer Hatzair", "Dror" and "Maccabi Hatzair".  The house operated under the auspices of the Swiss Consulate.  On 24 July, the Glass House officially opened its doors to the public.  One of the Mizrachi activists working there was Sándor Ungar.  His family moved there in November, together with other activists and their families, which resulted in severe overcrowding. 

Shoshana recalled the conditions in the Glass House:

Each one brought his immediate family to live in the Glass House […] it was a protected house […] and later, they also brought more distant family members and acquaintances […] We were packed like sardines […] We were never alone, night or day, for months.  I had one wish - to be alone in the room one day.

Shoshana remembers her father as dedicating his whole life to Eretz Israel and to the Jewish people.  A religious Zionist activist, he always worked behind the scenes, and was fearless. Speaking about 1939, when he was in Eretz Israel to organize their immigration and the war broke out, he said it was his destiny not to immigrate at that point in time, because he saved people in the Holocaust. 

The Ungar family immigrated to Israel in 1949.  Moshe Kraus followed in 1952.

Other diplomats worked alongside Kraus and Lutz to save Jews in Budapest, including Raul Wallenberg and Per Ungar, Swedish diplomats who issued letters of protection and established safe houses for Jews in Budapest.  Also active was Jorge Mandel-Montelo, a Romanian Jewish businessman who was Consul General of El Salvador in Hungary until 1942, and worked in Switzerland together with the Consul General of El Salvador in Switzerland, Jose Castellanos, to rescue Jews by issuing forged El Salvador citizenship documents; and Friedrich Born, Swiss representative of the International Red Cross in Budapest, who established safe houses for Jews under the auspices of the Red Cross.  Thanks to all these rescue activities and others, tens of thousands of Budapest Jews were saved. 

Carl Lutz and his wife Gertrude, Raul Wallenberg, Per Anger, Friedrich Born and Jose Arturo Castellanos were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.