International Holocaust Remembrance Day 27.01.20
Hungary's invasion and the extermination of the Hungarian Jews – Mrs. Gertrud Deak's testament
From 1938, Hungary, which was Germany's ally during most of the war, started to impose anti-Jewish laws on the Jewish population living in its territory. It included a gradual denial of civil rights and restrictions on their occupations until the entire adoption of the Nuremberg laws in 1941. Tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews were sent to the Labor battalions within the regular Hungarian army. About 42.000 of them died performing forced labor in harsh conditions in Hungary and on the eastern fronts of Ukraine and Serbia. Many succumbed due to the brutality of their commanders. In July and August 1941, Jews who were not able to prove their Hungarian nationality, were caught and handed over to the Germans. They were massacred at Kamenets-Podolski in Ukraine on the 27 - 28 of August, together with thousands of local Jews. The total number of victims reached 23.600. In the former Yugoslavian town of Novi Sad, about 1000 Jews among thousands of locals, mostly Serbs, have been murdered, following a brutal operation of the Hungarian army against partisans. However, during the war years and until 1944, Hungary refused to hand its Jews over to Nazi Germany.
On March 19, 1944, after Hungary's leader Miklos Horthy began contacts with the British and the Americans for a separate peace agreement, Germany invaded Hungary. Adolf Eichmann, along with the Judenkommando and the Hungarian authorities, started organizing the deportation of the Jews. Between May 15 and July 9, about 440.000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Following international pressure and threats on the Hungarian government and its leader Horthy, the deportations ceased in July, but only to be renewed in October, after the anti-Semitic Arrow Cross party and its head Ferenc Szalasi, helped by the Germans, took power. Among Budapest Jews, 70.000 were concentrated in the ghetto, tens of thousands were sent to forced labor sites, and thousands were murdered in the streets and on the Danube banks. Until the end of 1944, over half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered.
The Death Marches - Todesmärsche
The end of the war and the defeat of Germany were closer than ever and brought great chaos and cruelty. In January 1945, according to German documents, about 714.000 prisoners were incarcerated in concentration camps. From fall 1944, the Germans started to evacuate the eastern camps, among them the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, in order to bring the prisoners into numerous camps in the Third Reich territory. The evacuation, which soon developed into Death Marches, stemmed from Himmler's order to let no Jew and no prisoner fall into the enemy's hands alive. The main reason for the evacuation operation was keeping a labor force for Germany's war effort for the months to come. In the fall and winter of 1944, the evacuation was relatively organized. Between January and May 1945, however, the total disorder led to mass murder and killing of the prisoners. Thousands of people, wearing merely their camp clothes and without any food, were marched or transported in open cattle wagons on tens and hundreds kilometers. Many of them died of cold, starvation or exhaustion, or were killed by the German guards and their local assistants. Anyone who slowed down or stopped walking was killed on the spot. The dismantlement of the Nazi administration, the chaos caused by different, and sometimes contradictory orders, and the failure of the logistics system, made the Death Marches period one of the cruelest in the history of the war. About 250.000 prisoners, a third of them Jewish, perished during the Death Marches of winter 1945.
Mrs. Gertrud Deak's testament narrates what she went through as a Jew in Hungary, then during her deportation to Auschwitz, the forced labor she had to suffer, and finally during the Death March.