The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 6-7-8
(Part 8 of 10)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
The Extermination of Hungarian Jewry

Finally, in 1944, Hungary was the only country within the sphere of influence of the Reich left with a considerable Jewish population. After the annexation of Southern Slovakia, Northern Transylvania and Carpatho-Russia, there were about eight hundred-thousand Jews living in Hungary.

Since 1942, when a representative of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs had demanded of the Hungarian Ambassador to fulfil the Fuehrer's wish and take part in the "solution of the Jewish problem," there had been constant Nazi pressure on the Hungarian government to fall in line on the Jewish question. As usual, the promise was made that Jewish property would be turned over to Hungary. The objectives outlined by the Foreign Ministry to its representative in Budapest were to demand that the Hungarians remove the Jews from all influence in cultural and economic life, introduce the Jewish badge, uproot the Jews and deport them to the East.

The Magyars, however, contented themselves in the first place with legislation denying the Jews a number of rights. Prime Minister Kallay did not hide his anti-Semitic feelings, but he did not agree to throw the Jews to the wolves. Replying to a question from a member of the Arrow Cross Party in the Hungarian parliament, Kallay stated on 7 December 1942, that the time was not appropriate for imprisoning the Jews in labour camps and ghettoes.

Naturally, the Accused received a German Foreign Ministry report on this development.

Eichmann was already looking forward to the extermination of Hungarian Jewry. When the German Foreign Ministry proposed action against Jews who had taken refuge in Hungary, Eichmann stated that he objected to partial operations. On 25 September 1942, he wrote:

"In my view it would be necessary for this purpose to set in motion the whole deportation machine...without thereby bringing us closer to the solution of the Jewish question in Hungary...It would be better to wait until Hungary is ready to include her own Jews in the scope of this operation."
So he waited for his quarry and he knew that it would not escape him.

In the meantime, German anger grew, and in April 1943, Horthy, Regent of Hungary, was summoned to a meeting at the Klessheim Palace with Hitler and his Foreign Minister Ribbentrop. According to a minute of this conversation, Ribbentrop declared that there were only two alternatives: to imprison the Jews in concentration camps, or to exterminate them. Hitler said that the Jews should "be treated like tuberculosis bacilli" and showed his knowledge of history in the following statement:

"Peoples who have not been protected themselves against the Jews are doomed to extinction. One of the most famous examples is the decline of such a great and proud people as the Persians, who now lead a miserable existence as Armenians."
Horthy was not convinced.

At the end of 1943, Veesenmayer, who was later to be German Ambassador in Budapest, sent a final report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proposing that Germany should no longer rest content with the fact that independent Hungary was her ally but should actually occupy the country. One of the declared purposes of the occupation was to harness Hungary to the programme of exterminating the Jews.

This was done. When Horthy was invited a second time to meet Hitler on 7 March 1944, an ultimatum was presented to him, and while he was still debating what to do, the German Army crossed the border and took control of the whole country without resistance. With the entry of the Germans, Eichmann and his special units moved in. The fate of Hungarian Jewry had been sealed.

Eichmann brought into Hungary his whole group of accomplices, the entire gang of murderers, who together with him had carried out the extermination programme in the various concerned lands: Krumey, Wisliceny, Dannecker, Abromeit, Hunsche, Novak, Burger, Alois Brunner and others, all those who had already sent millions of Jews to the slaughter, who had gained experience throughout Europe in methods of persuading and inciting the local population. All of these, who had already proved their efficiency and talent, now swooped down upon Hungarian Jewry. Here they could not wait. The Soviet Army had already reoccupied the Ukraine and advanced into the Carpathian mountains. There was serious ground for the fear that if the destroyers did not carry out their evil work quickly, they would never be able to do so.

The top echelons of IVB4 were therefore assembled here after being released from their duties in other countries where the extermination programme had been completed or was continuing without them. Here then was an apparent sense of urgency in all their activities, a desire to finish the job at all costs, a need to concentrate all stages of the preparatory work, at times to skip some of them, to shorten procedures with the sole purpose of achieving results as quickly as possible.

The gang had at their disposal all the power of the German Army as well as the Hungarian civil service, when Sztojay, a puppet of the Germans, was appointed Prime Minister. It is doubtful whether the Nazis any longer believed at that time that they would win the War, but they wanted at least to complete the destruction of the Jews. On this front, come what may, they wanted to guarantee themselves a victory.

The arch exterminator himself took his place at the head of this group, controlling the "dirty work" in the field. Here he appears not only as the one who pulls the strings, directs, plans, stimulates and is generally responsible for implementation, but also as an independent executive officer. Himmler had laid down that Eichmann was his plenipotentiary, according to the evidence given by Vajna Gabor, the Hungarian Minister of the Interior. His faithful colleague was Endre, the Hungarian Secretary of State for Jewish Affairs.

The lesson of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt had been well learned. Eichmann was determined that this disgraceful episode would never be repeated. Particular attention was devoted to ensuring that it would never occur to the Jews to revolt or attempt to escape and save their property. The Nazi aim was to murder and to inherit at one and the same time. The entire familiar programme of oppression was put into action here at one fell swoop - accompanied, as usual, by inducements and the raising of false hopes. Expectations of rescues were raised while the property was being plundered; consideration was shown in trivial matters; and the illusion was spread that no harm would come to those Jews who were ready to work.

But in the meantime all the necessary preparations were made in the death camps, which had already actually ceased operations. Rudolph Hoess was ordered to set Auschwitz in motion again and to make preparations for intensified extermination, and he arrived in Budapest to coordinate arrangements with Eichmann. Eichmann insisted on an intake of frequent transports, but Hoess contended that he would be unable to handle such large numbers. Finally they compromised; two trains one day and three the next. And indeed Auschwitz had never witnessed a period of such feverish activity as in the summer and autumn of 1944. The gas chambers and furnaces worked day and night. Matters reached such a pitch that bodies were burned in the open field. There were times when, in one sweep, more than ten-thousand Jews a day were destroyed.

The extermination process in Hungary began in earnest on the morrow of the occupation. Already on 20 March 1944, Wisliceny and Krumey, Eichmann's principle aides, convened all the Jewish leaders, and announced the dissolution of the various community institutions and organizations and the establishment of the Central Jewish Council as the only body recognized by the Germans. At the same meeting, in which a sergeant stood by the German tyrants with a revolver directed at the fifteen Jewish representatives, it was furthermore stated that henceforth all Jewish affairs in Hungary were to fall under the supervision of the Special Unit of the SS. The Jews, however were not to worry - so long as they behaved themselves.

Eichmann, chief and commander of the Special Unit, which was called after his name "Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann," now became the lord of life and death, the absolute master, of Hungarian Jewry.

From that time on, the flood of the all too familiar laws and decrees was let loose: the prohibition to leave one's place of residence, the prohibition to use transport, the disconnection of telephones, the freezing of bank accounts, house curfew, the closure of shops, registration of all property, and the like. When the community representatives lodged complaints, the Accused retorted that all orders must be carried out without delay.

At the beginning of April all Hungarian Jews from six years of age and over were obliged to wear the yellow badge. An air attack on Budapest provided the command with a pretext to comandeer five hundred Jewish apartments, which were turned over, complete with furnishings and equipment, to Hungarians, and while the Jewish representatives were seeking to mitigate the decree, the number of apartments demanded was raised to two thousand.

Jews were hunted on trains and in the streets. Those taken were assembled in camps, the most infamous of which was the Kistarcsa Camp. A round up of Jews was started in the provincial towns, according to prepared zones marked out in advance. In a number of towns ghettoes were set up where conditions were so wretched that they defy description.

To carry out the round up in Budapest in one sweep was no easy task, as its quarter of a million Jews were scattered throughout the city. It was thus found necessary to operate in stages, the houses in which Jews were ordered to live being marked with a large yellow sign.

Here too, Hungarians and Jews were informed that the Jews were only wanted for work. The Hungarian Government agreed to put fifty thousand Jews at the disposal of the Reich for "work in Germany." But the official German correspondence, all in the name of the Accused, clearly indicates the true objective - Auschwitz.

The mass deportations began in the middle of May, 1944. Reports exist on the different stages of the operation, the details of which were worked out by Eichmann. While negotiations marked by extortions and promises of rescue, were in progress, a daily average of twelve thousand were being deported. Wisliceny contacted Pinhas Freudiger, a leader of the Orthodox community whose grandfather had been the recipient of an Austrian title of nobility and who was consequently addressed as Baron Freudiger. In return for two million dollars Wisliceny offered to rescue Jews and even received a substantial payment on account.

Parallel negotiations interspersed with threats of extermination and promises of rescue were in progress between Eichmann, Kasztner and Joel Brand. Kasztner was the representative of the Jewish Rescue Committee and it was Brand who was chosen as the emissary to bring Germany's fantastic offer - "Blood for Goods" - to the Western World. Jews were to be saved in return for trucks, coffee, tea and soap. The Jews were told that the trucks would not be used on the Western Front. Brand accompanied by Bandi Gross, on Eichmann's orders was instructed to travel to neutral Turkey to submit the offer to Jewish bodies.

Another motive on the part of the Germans was revealed in an official report sent by Ambassador Veesenmayer to Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop on hearing of the suggested deal over the London radio, requested his Ambassador to forward full details immediately. The latter reported that because of the shortage of certain commodities, Brand had been dispatched with an offer that in return for these goods "a number of Jews would be allowed to leave for Turkey."

According to Ribbentrop's testimony at the Nuremberg Trial, the Foreign Minister promptly intervened to cancel the deal, since it would be beneath German dignity to receive payment in return for stopping the extermination. Kurt Becher, a high-ranking SS officer, was delegated by Himmler to conduct these negotiations and his aim was to extort as much as possible from the Hungarian Jewish community. Himmler told Becher that he could promise what he liked: "What we shall carry out, however, is a different matter." In order to facilitate the negotiations, however, Becher obtained Himmler's consent to allow one train containing 1,684 people, to leave. The train was directed to Bergen-Belsen and from there, on two separate occasions, those released were permitted to travel to Switzerland. The Nazis extorted one thousand dollars from every person travelling on the train.

When explaining the release of the second batch from Bergen- Belsen for Switzerland, Schellenberg, a high-ranking SS officer explained that Himmler had something else entirely in mind in allowing these people to be rescued. Himmler, he said, wanted to earn himself a good name in the Western press, to assume the role of a terminator of the murders, the redeeming angel with whom it would be proper to establish contact with a view to a cease-fire and armistice. It is known that Himmler did have some such scheme in mind, having already despaired of the possibility of victory on the battlefield and believing that Hitler would be unacceptable to the Western Powers as a party to the negotiations. Consequently, Himmler wanted to groom himself for such talks. A few months later, he repeated the attempt and was on the verge of establishing contacts with the West. The premature publication of the matter over the London radio however, naturally thwarted the whole attempt, which was, among other things, preconceived as a means to split the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Becher was interested in extortion, Himmler in a "good name."

But there was one man who disapproved of the whole deal, who carried out Himmler's instructions to send Brand to Istanbul with notable distaste, who strove with all his might to sustain the extermination and murder operations. This man was Adolf Eichmann. He started mass deportations immediately after Joel Brand had departed. He announced that if an immediate affirmative reply was not received from Brand, "I shall let the Auschwitz mills work," and while making pretence that the survivors would be saved if the deal succeeded, he persisted in his satanic extermination operations.

The looting of Jewish property continued as did the arrests. Naturally the Jews tried to escape, particularly to Palestine. Eichmann knew of this and insisted on energetic steps to seal all outlets. "It should be explained to the Hungarian authorities in an unequivocable and clear-cut fashion," he wrote on 24 July 1944 that "migration to Palestine within the scope of this operation will not be approved." He complained about the Swedish and Swiss Embassies issuing the Jews papers which enabled them to emigrate from Hungary.

The main target of his venom was a young Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, an architect by profession and a man of sterling qualities who had made the rescue of Jews his life's vocation. Wallenberg gathered around him a whole team of workers, issued passports granting the holders right of residence in Sweden and, at the risk of his diplomatic status and even his life, instituted rescue operations. He rented and acquired buildings, in which he housed Jews under the protection of the Swedish flag, and assembled, at one period, as many as forty-thousand Jews. When the "Death March," of which I shall speak later, began, Wallenberg escorted the marchers with trucks laden with food, medical supplies and clothing. He also tried to remove from the March anyone to whom Swedish papers of protection could feasibly be issued.

Wallenberg, to whose credit can be counted tens of thousands of survivors, also enrolled the support of other diplomats as well as the Red Cross.

All this was the work of one courageous man, who had the strength to act according to his conception and belief. His deeds like those of King Christian of Denmark, again give rise to the sombre thought: how many could have been saved, even in the countries of actual extermination, had there only been many others like him among those who had the power to act, whether openly or in secret.

It is not surprising that Eichmann released a flood of anger against this liberator. The Swedish Embassy in Berlin lodged a complaint that Eichmann had told the Red Cross in Budapest he had it in mind to shoot "the Jewish dog" Wallenberg. The Foreign Ministry apologized to the Ambassador, stating that no doubt the words were not seriously meant. In the written exchange it was explained that Eichmann's reaction had to be understood against the background of Wallenberg's "illegal" activities to rescue Hungarian Jewry, and were meant to restrain him from persisting in his efforts.

The deportations were carried out in secret. Nothing was mentioned about them in the newspapers and the Germans took special measures to avoid publicity, lest the Jews of Budapest should be alarmed. The deportees, on arrival at Auschwitz were ordered to send soothing postcards to their relatives. The text of the postcards was dictated by the Auschwitz butchers, who instructed that an Austrian resort, "Waldsee," be designated as the place of despatch. The postcards stated that those transported for work were all well; they usually arrived after their senders had been consumed in the Auschwitz furnaces.

In response to a Red Cross request that a representative accompany the transport, Eichmann did not object to one being present during the despatch though only after the transport had been prepared by Eichmann, but "the accompaniment of the transport by a representative must on no account be allowed."

Meanwhile the German position at the front deteriorated; the Soviet Army advance continued. Pressure was put on Horthy from different quarters to put an end to the deportations and at the beginning of July he mustered up courage and ordered that they should cease. According to an official report of their Foreign Ministry, the Germans had succeeded up to the end of June in sending 437,402 Jews for extermination. Horthy's instruction frustrated the plans prepared for the middle of July 1944, to deport all the Jews of Budapest on one day by mobilizing all available manpower, including even municipal workers and postmen. The details of the plan were drawn up together with Eichmann. The Germans looked for a convenient excuse for this lightning operation, and the Director of the Foreign Ministry Press Office suggested that explosives "be discovered" in synagogues. Veesenmayer rejected the suggestion on the grounds that the synagogues for a long time had been under the strict supervision of the police and therefore the excuse would not hold water.

In spite of Horthy's order, Eichmann tried to continue the deportations. At the beginning of July, he attempted to despatch an extermination transport from the Kistarcsa Camp. The matter became known to the Budapest Jewish leaders, who intervened with Horthy, who ordered that the transport be stopped at the border and sent back. When the Accused saw what had happened, his lieutenants convened the whole of the Community Council a second time, ostensibly for discussions, and kept them occupied the whole day with inconsequential matters simply in order to detain them, while his agents in Kistarcsa loaded 1,200 Jews into a deportation train and sent it on its way. The Jewish leaders, virtually the prisoners of Eichmann's stewards, in Schwabenberg, forboded evil. When evening came and they were released, they heard about the train and hastened to Horthy to countermand the decree again. On this occasion, however, it was too late. The train had crossed the Hungarian border, and as has now been ascertained, the community representatives were only released after the receipt of a message from Eichmann's Unit that the train was safely on its way to death.

When Wisliceny afterwards met Freudiger he told him: "Did you really think that Eichmann would allow this old fool Horthy to frustrate his wishes?" This operation too proves Eichmann's satanic initiative. No one at that time demanded that he act; Horthy did not agree to the continuation of the deportations. No one could have pointed an accusing finger at Eichmann had he refrained from action and awaited the results of the diplomatic and military pressures applied by the Germans to Hungary to renew the extermination. But when the issue at stake was the extermination of the Jews, Eichmann acted over and above any instructions. Two letters and a postcard from Jakob Reich, who was in the two Kistarsca transports have been preserved. He wrote a letter from the Camp on toilet paper after having been miraculously saved in the first transport. On being deported a second time, he wrote a postcard, which it seems he threw from the train and on which was scribbled: "Blessed be the hand that sends this postcard." Such a hand was found, and the postcard was delivered to his wife in Budapest. This is what it said:

"It is Wednesday afternoon...They have packed us in and we are travelling. God be with you, my dear family. God be with you. I embrace you and many kisses. Father."
Reich was not privileged to see his family again. His widow will submit to you his letter and postcard.

The German pressure to renew the deportations did not cease. Hitler himself intervened and ordered his Foreign Minister to warn Horthy that Germany would not suffer any delay in measures against the Jews, and that Horthy's attitude would bring a catastrophe on the Hungarian people. To frustrate any possibility of the Jews leaving Hungary for neutral countries, Eichmann took steps, reported by Veesenmayer in the following terms to the Foreign Ministry on July 25, 1944:

"...It has been agreed with Eichmann that when the renewal of the deportations of the Budapest Jews...become possible, these should be carried out quickly and with the utmost dispatch so that the Jews who come into question for migration be deported before they have time for any formalities."
Austria at that time was in urgent need of workers for fortification work. The German war plan expected heavy defensive battles to be fought in this region. At the beginning of June, 1944, Blaschke, the Mayor of Vienna, approached his friend, the head of the RSHA, Kaltenbrunner with the request to consign a number of deportation transports to carry out the fortification work. Kaltenbrunner replied that instructions had been given to move about 12,000 deportees to Vienna and that they were to be kept in closed camps. The women, children and those incapable of work would be taken for "special operations," i.e. extermination.

However, the representatives of Hungarian Jewry were informed by Eichmann and his accomplices that Jews could be saved "by consignment to Austria," in return for ransom money. Anyone paying as demanded would be saved by travelling to Austria. Eichmann said that he would be prepared to "keep on ice" - his own expression - in Austria thirty-thousand Jews capable of work; the families would live in camps at the expense of the Budapest Jews. In return, he demanded a ransom of five million Swiss Francs the equivalent of two hundred dollars per head. Some fiteen thousand Jews were apparently consigned to Austria in this way.

In the autumn of 1944, Horthy attempted to withdraw his country from the War on the side of Germany. But the Germans, who knew of his activities, took control of Budapest by force in Operation "Iron Fist." They arrested Horthy, and on 15 October 1944, put Szalasi, the leader of the Arrow Cross, in power. Now once again the Jews were at their mercy. Eichmann who had left Budapest when the deportations had ceased on Horthy's instructions, returned on 18 October, and the operations against the Jews were renewed with full vigour.

And now, with the infamous operation known as "The Death March," came the finale of Eichmann's campaign of murder. There were no longer any trains available. Himmler had in the meantime ordered all exterminations to be stopped but Eichmann found a way to circumvent Himmler's instructions. He organized, with the help of his Hungarian Fascist allies, a march of Jews in the direction of Austria, ostensibly to provide labour for fortifications, but actually to murder them. Eichmann's calculation was simple: the weak would fall by the way, the sturdy would arrive at their destination to build the fortifications, and would afterwards be destroyed.

The march began in November in rain, snow and cold, along a 200-kilometer route. They lodged in the open or in pigsties. Thus were the women, children and old folk deported. Anyone who found the walking difficult was shot by the guards, who beat and tormented the victims every step of the way. Those who had no strength left, collapsed and died. Hundreds committed suicide or died of the typhus raging among the marchers. The food allocated once every few days consisted of hot water and some bread. People died like flies; the whole route was strewn with corpses. The number of those who fell by the way is estimated at six to ten thousand. The horrors attained such proportions that even the escorting Hungarian officers and soldiers began to mutiny, and requested that they be sent to the front. The intervention of Szalasi, the Hungarian Prime Minister, to put an end to the march, had no effect.

And then an astonishing thing occurred. Himmler himself reprimanded Eichmann for organizing this operation, and only then did the dreadful march end. The Soviet Army had by this time surrounded Budapest, and the remnants of the Jewish community in the capital were saved.

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