The Hungarian experience is one of the largest subjects of the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive. Nearly 8,000 of the archive's interviewees talk about Hungary in the periods before, during, and after the war. If we include the areas of Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia that Hungary annexed during the war, that number rises to around 9,300. The collection includes 1,355 interviews in the Hungarian language and 802 conducted in Hungary.
The expansion of the Hungary's borders between 1938 and 1941 was an attempt to rectify the perceived injustices of the Versailles Treaty, by which significant portions of what was once traditionally considered Hungary had been given to its neighbors after World War I. The country's association with Nazi Germany assisted the process.
As Czechoslovakia was dismembered by Germany, Hungary acquired territory. In November 1938, in accordance with the First Vienna Award, Hungary gained a strip of southern Slovakia and western Subcarpathia referred to as Felvidék. In March 1939, the Hungarians annexed the remaining part of Subcarpathia, known as Kárpátalja (today part of Western Ukraine). More than 2,300 Shoah Foundation interviewees were born in this region. Under the Second Vienna Award, Hungary acquired large sections of prewar Romania too, in August 1940 annexing Northern Transylvania, home to over 1,800 Shoah Foundation interviewees.
In the wake of the German invasion of Yugoslavia of April 1941, Hungary was able to annex parts of that country. Collectively known as Delvidék, these were sections of the Baranja, Backa, and Banat (today part of northern Serbia), as well as small portions of Medjumurje (northern Croatia) and Prekomurje (north eastern Slovenia). Some testimonies from these areas refer to the Novi Sad Massacre (January 21-23, 1942).
The expansion of Hungary's borders brought with it an increase in the number of non-Hungarian citizens, something that concerned the Külföldieket Ellenõrzõ Országos Központi Hatóság (National Center Alien Control Office). Many internment camps were established in Hungary. After the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in summer 1941, Hungarian forces briefly administered some towns in south-western Ukraine (prewar Poland), including Skala and Kolomyja. Hungarian authorities deported a large number of Jews without Hungarian citizenship to this area. In August, over 23,000 of these "alien" Jews were massacred by German and Ukrainian forces in Kamenets-Podol'skii.
Within the borders of the expanded Hungary, anti-Jewish laws were enacted. From 1939 on, men of draft age were conscripted into the forced labor service (Munkaszolgálat), part of the Hungarian army not given weapons and that performed menial and dangerous tasks on the front lines (at least 1,700 interviews relate to this experience). Conscripts to the forced labor battalions often avoided deportation to Auschwitz and were generally marched to camps in Germany and Austria only in late 1944-early 1945. Others were shot, for example in the Pusztavám Massacre (October 16, 1944).
To head off Hungary's negotiations with the Allies, Germany invaded on March 19, 1944. Immediately, they set about enacting the Final Solution at unprecedented speed, assisted by the Hungarian authorities and gendarmerie. Ghettos were established across Hungary and its annexed territories as early as April 1944 (the archive contains information on 172 ghettos in wartime Hungary). Shortly afterwards Jews were being deported en masse to Auschwitz. By that summer, the countryside—everywhere except for Budapest—was Judenrein.
Attempts were made to rescue Hungarian Jewry. Around 170 testimonies discuss the Kasztner transport, a trainload of Jews from Cluj/Koloszvar who were saved from deportation to Auschwitz by Rezsö Kazstner's negotiations with Adolf Eichmann. Others were also diverted from Auschwitz, such as the "Strasshof transports".
In the capital Budapest, there was initially no ghetto. Instead in summer 1944, Jews were required to move to "Yellow Star houses" (discussed in at least 630 testimonies). Others were sheltered in the so-called "international ghetto"—Swedish, Swiss, and Spanish protected houses (over 640 interviews). The actions of consular officials of those nations and of the Vatican contributed to the rescue of thousands. Many Jews in Budapest went into hiding or assumed false identities (1,294 in the archive). There are around 200 interviews with survivors who hid in Budapest and who were involved in the underground. Various Zionist organizations were active in the underground in the city, including the Va'adat Ezra ve'Hatzalah.
In numerous testimonies, the role of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian fascist party) is discussed, especially after its leader Ferenc Szálasi came to power in a coup in October 1944.
In November 1944, the Budapest ghetto was established (over 750 interviews). Deportations from the ghetto soon became impossible as the Soviets surrounded the city; executions took place in a nearby racetrack. The archive contains at least 330 survivors who were liberated in the Budapest ghetto in January 1945.
With the end of the war, Budapest became a city through which people traveled searching for relatives, and en route to former homes. Many opted to leave, some immediately, some after the Communist takeover. Over 300 testimonies discuss the 1956 Revolution, around the time of which many more interviewees fled Hungary. Some of those who remained were involved in the Communist administration.
Selected Indexing Terms
Arrow Cross members
Budapest (Hungary : Ghetto)
Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság
deportation of "alien" Jews (Hungary 1941)
Esterházy, Count Móric
Fábián, Dr. Béla
Fischer, Dr. József
forced labor battalion commanders
forced labor battalion military guard personnel
German invasion of Hungary (March 19, 1944)
Glass House (Budapest)
Hungarian annexation of Carpatho-Ruthenia and Felvidék (November 1938 and March 1939)*
Hungarian annexation of Northern Transylvania (August 1940)**
Hungarian armed forces
Hungarian forced labor battalions
Hungarian invasion of Yugoslavia (April 7, 1941)***
Hungarian occupation conditions
Hungarian police and security forces
Hungarian resistance groups
Hungarian Revolution (October 23-November 4, 1956)
Jewish labor servicemen
Kommunisták Magyarországi Pártja
Külföldieket Ellenõrzõ Országos Központi Hatóság
Magyar Demokrata Ifjúsági Szövetség
Magyar Függetlenségi Mozgalom
Magyar Izraeliták Országos Irodája
Magyar Szocialista Munkás Párt
Magyarországi Keresztény Zsidók Szövetsége
Magyarországi Szociáldemokrata Párt
military labor conscription
Mindszenty, Cardinal József
Novi Sad Massacre (January 21-23, 1942)
Országos Magyar Zsidó Segítö Akció
protected houses (Budapest)
protected workshops (Budapest)
Rotta, Monsignor Angelo
Sinti and Roma labor servicemen
Strasshoff (Austria : Concentration Camp)
Va'adat Ezra ve'Hatzalah
Yellow Star Houses
*To find all locations in Hungarian-occupied Slovakia and western Subcarpathia, search for terms which have the word “Felvidék” as part of the synonym. To find all locations in Hungarian-occupied eastern Subcarpathia, search for terms which have the word “Kárpátalja” as part of the synonym.
**To find all locations in Hungarian-occupied Romania, search for terms which have the word “Northern Transylvania” as part of the synonym.
***To find all locations in Hungarian-occupied Yugoslavia, search for terms which have the word “Delvidék” as part of the synonym; the more specific areas can also be searched, e.g “Bacska”, “Baranya”, “Banat”, “Muraköz”, and “Muravidék”.
Bauer, Yehuda. Jews for Sale?: Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Braham, Randolph. The Politics of Genocide: the Holocaust in Hungary, New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.
Cole, Tim. Holocaust City. The Making of a Jewish Ghetto, New York: Routledge, 2003.
Cole, Tim. Traces of the Holocaust. Journeying in and out of the Ghettos, London: Continuum, 2011.
Gerlach, Christian and Aly, Gotz. Das letze Kapitel. Der Mord an den ungarischen Juden, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2002.
Vági, Zoltán; Csősz, László; and Kádár, Gábor. The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide, Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press in association with the United States Holocaust Museum, 2013.