Friday, July 11, 2014

ADSS Volume 10 and the Holocaust in Hungary 1944

The last significant number of references to the situation of Jews in Hungary in ADSS appeared in Volume 8 of ADSS.  Volume 10 (Victims of the war) covers the period January 1944 to May 1945. Here we find a large number of documents detailing the gradual growth in awareness of the implementation of a "solution" to the "Jewish Question" in Hungary.

The Apostolic Nuncio, Angelo Rotta (1872-1965) lived in Budapest from 1930 until the end of the war.  Before 1944 Rotta's reports to the Vatican were characteristically detailed and very accurate - he clearly had links to "people in the know" - but nothing that would point to the change the came after March 1944.  In the days after the German invasion of Hungary on 19 March until the arrival of the Red Army in January 1945, Angelo Rotta's reports to Rome have become for us a valuable insight into the realisation that the security Hungary's Jews appeared to have was illusory and doomed.  Rotta's reports showed the escalation of anti-Jewish violence and persecution across the country, inspired by Germans, but executed by Hungarians.

The destruction of the Jews of Hungary ranks as one of the most chilling episodes in genocidal behaviour anywhere on earth.  Within four days of their arrival in Budapest, a joint German-Hungarian commission had drawn up and approved the plans for a systematic deportation of the entire Jewish population,which, in early 1944, was about 850,000.


(Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Adolf Eichmann and his "team" executed the most smoothly operated exercise of mass murder in human history.  They were ably assisted by the Minister of the Interior, Andor Jaross (1896-1946) and state undersecretaries, László Baky (1898-1946) and László Endre (1895-1946).  In early April a flood of anti-Jewish regulations were enacted, beginning with the wearing of the Star of David and followed by a barrage of decrees designed to despoil and impoverish the Jews as quickly as possible.  From the far north-eastern provinces of Subcarpathian-Rus Jews were concentrated into ghettos.  For most Hungarian Jews outside of Budapest, concentration in a ghetto only lasted, at most, a few weeks to a month.  The process of destruction was devastatingly fast.


(Map courtesy of the USHMM)

On 15 May the final stage of the plan went into operation.  Over a space of 56 days Hungarian police rounded up 437,402 Jews loaded and deported them in 147 trains made up of 45 cattle cars.  422,000 were sent directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau and murdered.

Nuncio Angelo Rotta was not a passive bystander who simply recorded what he saw and heard.  He actively engaged his diplomatic position to protest, badger, harass, disturb and upset politicians as much as bishops, the Cardinal Primate as much as the Regent.  When the escalation of the killing became obvious, Rotta did whatever he could to stop it.  That he failed was in no part his responsibility.  When Admiral Horthy called a halt to deportations in July, the situation became static for a few months until the Germans re-started the process in October 1944.

Rotta's reports were written in the customary diplomatic language of the time, but it does not take much to "read between the lines" and see a growing frustration at the inactivity of the Hungarian bishops and an equally growing anger at the actions of ostensibly Catholic Hungarian politicians who not only tolerated the anti-Jewish actions, but in more than a few cases, openly supported and encouraged them.

The first set of documents takes us through March to the beginning of July.

There are many excellent books written on the Hungarian Holocaust.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has just published Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide (2014) which has received positive reviews.  There are also a number of equally good websites of which this one from Hungary (and in Hungarian) has a lot of very helpful and interactive maps, diagrams, photos and commentary.


Angelo Rotta 1872-1965
Nuncio to Hungary 1930-1945



  

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