Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hungary November 1944 - January 1945

In our survey of ADSS with regard to the response of the Pope, the Vatican and the Nuncio to the crisis confronting Hungarian Jewry in the last months of the war there is a discernible increase in efforts to try and save as many people as possible, especially children.  Pius XII was kept informed of the activities of Angelo Rotta (1872-1965) and gave his blessing to the nuncio's work.  It appears that despite some statements praising cooperation between the nunciature and the Hungarian bishops, most of the work was done by Rotta and, through his connections, the ministers of the Neutral States who had missions in Budapest.  Contact with Hungarian government officials continued and the language of diplomacy was retained, although there are moments when one can read frustration and possibly anger in some of Rotta's remarks to the Arrow Cross fascists.  

The Red Army began its offensive against Budapest at the end of October, and by November 1944 it was clear that a Soviet-occupation of most, if not all the country was imminent.  Most government ministries and offices fled the capital in December, leaving the civilian population under the "protection" of Hungarian and German troops.  Angelo Rotta and the nunciature staff remained in the city to do whatever they could for the citizens of Budapest.  By any standard this was an heroic act.  On Christmas Eve 1944 the Red Army had encircled the city and begun a siege that would drag on until February 1945.  

Rotta's last communication with the Vatican recorded in ADSS was on 23 December 1944.  In early January 1945 the Vatican informed the nuncio in Germany, Cesare Orsenigo, and the Apostolic Delegate in the USA, Amleto Cicognani, that there was no longer any communication with Budapest.

For the Jews of Hungary the last months of the war were nothing less than hellish.  In the first week of November 25,000 Jews were forced march from Budapest towards KL Mauthausen with another 50,000 following soon after.  Liberation was tantalisingly close.  By the end of the first week of that month, Soviet troops were twenty kilometres from the city centre. However the Soviet advance slowed enough for the defenders to mount a stubborn defence and the remnant government in Budapest made the decision to create two ghettos in Budapest on 17 November.  Ironically this was followed by a halt to the forced marches on 21 November.  Life for the remainder of Hungarian Jewry was bleak but there were glimmers of hope as the Arrow Cross agreed to recognise foreign passports, letters of protection and passes issued by the nuncio.  It was estimated that Angelo Rotta and his assistant, Gennaro Verolino (1906-2005) issued between 15 to 16,000 safe conduct letters and passes.

Liberation for the Jews of Budapest who had survived the eleven months of German and Arrow Cross rule came on 16 January for Pest and 13 February for Buda.  In total some 80 to 90,000 Jews remained alive.  Many of them owed their lives to the actions of the nuncio along with the neutral diplomats who often risked their own lives.

Yad Vashem recognised Angelo Rotta and Gennaro Verolino as "Righteous Among the Nations" in 1997 and 2007.

Angelo Rotta, Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary        Gennaro Verolino, attache to Budapest                                                                                                        Nunciature                                                

What follows over the next series of posts are the relevant documents from ADSS.  It is an insightful task that sheds light on the intricate diplomatic messages as well as the internal Vatican positions communicated in sensitive language, indicative of the reality that third parties could "listen in".

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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