Barely known documents are presented in a new German source publication about the Holocaust in Hungary 

The ambitious volume will soon be published in English as well. Historian Horváth Sz. Ferenc wrote a review of the work, giving details on the immense number of sources used in the work and a sneak peek of the contents of some of the documents, including an until-now unknown protest letter in Transylvania against the deportation of Jews. 

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest initiatives in German history was the series launched in 2005: Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933–1945 (The Persecution and Murder of the European Jews by Nazi Germany, 1933–1945).

The series is edited by the Federal Archives, the Department of Modern History at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich and the University of Freiburg, as well as by renowned Holocaust researchers such as Susanne Heim, Ulrich Herbert, Dieter Pohl and Sybille Steinbacher. The series consists of 16 volumes: the first three and the eleventh volume present documents on the German Empire, while there are three volumes for sources related to Poland and two for the Soviet Union. The events in Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria are introduced to the reader in a single chunky volume, while the editors present documents related to Western and Northern Europe, as well as antisemitic acts and legislation in Southern Europe and Italy, in consolidated volumes. (Each volume has a separate editor or editing team). 

The most infamous of the concentration camps, Auschwitz, received a separate volume (Volume 16). The last volume of the series — in time, not in order — is the 15th volume, published in mid-May and entitled „Hungary 1944-1945” (or „Ungarn 1944-1945” in German), edited by Regina Fritz.

Regina Fritz defended her doctoral dissertation at the University of Vienna in 2010 on Hungarian history after the Second World War. The recently published volume to be presented here was edited between 2012 and 2016, and since 2016 she has been an assistant in the Department of Modern and Eastern European History at the University of Bern. In addition to editing this volume, her publications have focused on the Mauthausen concentration camp and university antisemitism. For the work reviewed here, she selected written sources that had been produced during the given period, i.e., neither photographs nor subsequent recollections could be taken into account.

The volume thus included 317 texts in seven languages: English, Hungarian, Italian, French, Swedish, Hebrew and German. These are all private sources (letter, diary entry), official documents (laws), newspaper articles, diplomatic / follow-up reports, court judgments and records of foreign persons. 

Regina Fritz wrote a long, comprehensive introduction, in which she reviews both the history of Hungarian Jews and the emergence of the so-called  “Jewish question” and antisemitic legislation after 1920. It takes into account the antisemitic policy of the 1940s, the deportation to Kamenets-Podolsk, as well as the massacre in Bács-Kiskun and Jewish everyday life in the antisemitic atmosphere of the time. She also presents the Holocaust after March 1944, the German occupation of the country, life in the ghettos, and deportations, while emphasizing the collaboration of Hungarian politicians and administration with the Nazis. Lastly, of course, it covers the reign of terror of the Arrow Cross, the death marches in the autumn of 1944, and the killings along the Danube. 

But it also does not withhold the help given to the persecuted Jews in the already enclosed and besieged capital by their Hungarian compatriots, international organizations and foreigners (Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz). 

The very first document in the book was taken from the 1937 edition of the American Jewish Yearbook, which focuses on Hungary’s rapprochement with Germany and growing Hungarian antisemitism. There are diary entries (Fanni Gyarmati), antisemitic comments (Lajos Méhely), poems (Lajos Szabolcsi), and a speech by Prime Minister Pál Teleki on the 2nd „Jewish Law,” followed by an excerpt from the law. 

A source about the Novi Sad massacre can be read as well as verdict out of Northern Transylvania (a court verdict against a Jew who had an affair with a Christian). The perspective of the persecuted, that is, the Jews, also prevails several times, such as when Jewish veterans made a petition to Governor Miklós Horthy asking to be excluded from the scope of the 2nd “Jewish Law.” 

A total of 123 sources cover the events of the spring of 1944, i.e., the occupation of the country and the subsequent antisemitic measures, ghettoization and deportations. The historian put the situation in the capital of Budapest at the center, but she also presents several sources regarding the ghettos of the Highlands (Slovakia), Transcarpathia and Northern Transylvania (Uzhhorod, Oradea, Cluj-Napoca, Târgu Mureş). The introduction of the yellow star and the various antisemitic measures are, of course, an important part of this section. 

The rescue of Jews persecuted, ghettoized and threatened with deportations is also dealt with via several sources, including the actions of Rezső Ksztner.

The letter of the Transylvanian writer Lóránd Daday on behalf of the „Transylvanian Cultural Association” for the sake of the Jews is interesting and hardly (or not at all) known. Daday protested in Cluj-Napoca in a letter dated May 30, 1944, against the deportation of the Jews, because they were causing the Hungarian majority of Transylvanian cities to disappear, i.e., Daday saw the deportation of Jews as a threat to the Hungarian presence in Transylvania (and did not protest for humanitarian or other reasons). 

The last 80 sources cover the period from July 1944 to March 1945. Here, too, the versatility of resources and perspectives stands out. The antisemitic provisions of the Szálasi government, the brutality and crimes of the Arrow Cross, the perspective of the Jewish houses and ghetto in Budapest, antisemitic violence, death marches and the shooting of Jews on Christmas 1944: the whole era and the horror of the Holocaust unfold before your eyes.  

The last source of the volume sets forth glaring examples from the time: In May 1945, Sándor Schönberger expresses in a letter-diary his despair and fear that he would never see his family members again. And he didn’t. 

The approximately 850-page volume starts with an introduction reflecting on the current state of Holocaust research in Hungary and provides a thorough account of what happened. The volume is thus a worthy part of an excellent and internationally recognized series for which Regina Fritz is to be congratulated. Her volume will be inevitable for historians, all the more so because, like the entire series, this one will be translated into English.

Regina Fritz (Ed.): Ungarn 1944-1945. Berlin-Boston 2021, 850 pp. (= Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945, Volume 15).

Cover image: Kistarcsa internment camp, 1944. Fortepan / Fortepan 

László Bíró became Jobbik’s candidate in the Szerencs pre-election – Neokohn