The Journal of Historical Review

Beyond Auschwitz

New Light on the Fate of the Hungarian Jews

Samuel Crowell

According to the standard anti-revisionist history of the Holocaust, from May to July of 1944 approximately 430,000 Jews from wartime Hungary were deported to Auschwitz, and about ninety percent of them immediately selected out, gassed, and burned. Most of the remainder were held as “transport Jews” (Durchgangsjuden) until their transfer to other camps.1 The support for this version derives from several contemporaneous sources in Hungary that indicate the deportation of about 430,000 Hungarian Jews in May–July 1944; from evidence that some Hungarian Jews were registered at Auschwitz that summer, and, as usual, a number of rather implausible eyewitness testimonies and postwar confessions.

While the above is the standard story, it is important to note that in recent years even traditional Holocaust scholars have shown that they are not completely comfortable with it.

For example, Jean-Claude Pressac, in an early edition of his second book on the crematoriums at Auschwitz (1993), argued that the number of “transport Jews” was 118,000, that is, 27 percent, rather than 10 percent, of the 430,000 deported, and in a later edition of the book argued that only between 160,000 and 240,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz at all.2 Robert Jan Van Pelt, in his expert opinion for the defense in the Irving v. Lipstadt trial, indicated his discomfort with the standard calculations, but pointedly dismissed Pressac’s revisions. Van Pelt further claimed that the current numbers for the disposition of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz – both arrivals and those allegedly killed – were accurate within a range of about ten percent.3

In our view, the fact that Pressac, as probably the leading anti-revisionist student of Auschwitz, should have so much trouble establishing precise figures for the Hungarian Jews only goes to show how slender is the evidence which upholds the traditional narrative. No less an authority than Istvan Deak, a leading expert on Hungarian history, has recently written: “Let me note here that statistical data on such things as the number of Second Army soldiers and forced laborers, or the casualties they suffered, or the number of Hungarian Jews gassed at Auschwitz, or the total number of Jewish dead, are not much better than guesses. There exists no reliable information on these subjects.”4

There have been two revisionist responses to the general claim of a massive Hungarian Jewish extermination. The first, articulated by Professor Arthur R. Butz in his 1976 book, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, is that the documentation is so slender that no revisionist is bound to accept it.5 In addition, Professor Butz has suggested that there may have been some manipulation of the documentary record.

The other response, recently made by Jürgen Graf, and responded to by Professor Butz,6 is that the number of Jews deported is probably correct, but that they were widely distributed in the concentration camps. Graf’s thesis rests largely on his discovery, along with Carlo Mattogno, of records of the passage of some thousands of Hungarian Jewish women through the concentration camp of Stutthof, near Danzig. The data further indicate that some of them had earlier been in Riga, Latvia and Kovno, Lithuania. All three locations, of course, are far beyond Auschwitz. Graf also appeared emboldened by a comment of Pressac that Hungarian Jews could be found in some 386 camps.7

Describing the fate of the Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz is difficult, for reasons which will be discussed below. Nevertheless, in our own research we have been surprised to find a number of approaches, and types of data, which, we believe, suggest a provisional solution. In this article, we simply want to elaborate and expand on what we consider to be the main questions concerning the Hungarian Jewish deportations, to provide some generally unused data, and to point to how the question might be ultimately settled.

The main questions seem to us to be the following: How many Hungarian Jews were deported? How many were deported to Auschwitz? After arriving at Auschwitz, to what other places were they sent? To what purpose? Is there evidence concerning Hungarian Jews that specifically contradicts the extermination claim? How many of these deportees survived the war?

The scope of the deportations

The claim that 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported derives principally from a series of telegrams to the German Foreign Office prepared by Edmund Veesenmayer, a German bureaucrat who worked with the Hungarian government. The telegrams, issued every few days, list the number of Jews that had been deported as of that date. The telegrams do not, however, indicate specific destinations, other than that the were being sent to “the Reich.” The numbers in Veesenmayer’s telegrams are more or less corroborated by notes by Ferenczy, an official of the Hungarian police, or gendarmerie, as well as by the recently discovered lists of an attorney in Kosice, a Slovakian town on the main rail spur through which the trains would have traveled to Auschwitz.8

The support these documents provide for a deportation on the scale alleged is not particularly compelling. First of all, we have reason to believe that Veesenmayer and Ferenczy both received their numbers from the same source: namely, the Hungarian gendarmerie. In essence, then, this evidence consists of two bureaucrats who are simply repeating information obtained from someone else, which means their numbers do not independently corroborate each other. Instead, the proper focus should be the accuracy of the original gendarmerie data.

Second, none of the evidence moves much beyond giving us numbers of deportees. We lack the kind of layered documentation such a massive movement of people would entail: railway records, memos about delays, shortages of guards or fuel, complaints about the timetable, emergencies and their resolution, and so on. It must also be said that the lists of the Hungarian attorney, which surfaced only in 1988, are not much better on detail than Veesenmayer and Ferenczy, and furthermore offer an unlikely scenario: that the trains stopped in the Slovakian town of Kosice for accurate head-counts before proceeding, that the attorney and his friend carefully recorded the date, place of origin, and numbers for each transport, and then, apparently, forgot about them for over forty years.9

Still, if we accept that the deportation lists are generally accurate, an interesting statistic emerges: only about 150,000 of the deportees come from inside the boundaries of Hungary as determined by the Treaty of Trianon in 1919 and, later, after the Second World War. The rest of the deportees, including 150,000 from Transylvania, and 85,000 from Sub-Carpathia, come from areas that, while traditionally part of the Kingdom of Hungary, were under Hungarian control after Trianon only from 1938 to 1945. In other words, if the deportations were on the scale alleged, they still would have affected only about a third of the Jews of interwar or postwar Hungary, that is, about 150,000 out of a total population of 450,000. This might help explain the well-known comment of the Red Cross in its postwar report, which describes 100,000 Hungarian Jews fleeing to Budapest from the provinces in November of 1944.10

In our judgment, there are certainly good reasons to question the suitability or even the veracity of the evidence offered for the deportations. The Veesenmayer and Ferenczy data represent high-level documents with no underlying support. Meanwhile, the notes of the Hungarian attorney at Kosice present an unlikely scenario, were discovered late, and, given the highly charged and partisan nature of this topic, are bound to be viewed with suspicion.

Still, we are inclined to believe that hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were deported in the summer of 1944. The reason lies in three data points that we have for the population of the German concentration camp system. The first, developed by Richard Widmann in an interesting statistical study,11 is that the total population of the German concentration camp system in April 1944 was 280,000.

The second data point, a well-known telegram by Wilhelm Burger, indicates that by the beginning of August that population had swelled to 524,286.12 The third data point, a letter from Himmler dated February 20, 1945, but evidently based on data from the end of January, indicates 700,000 prisoners in the camp system, exclusive of Auschwitz and Monowitz, and including 28,000 prisoners over the age of 50, and 5,000 over the age of 60.13

It follows that the growth of the German concentration camp system tracks fairly closely the influx of large numbers of Hungarian Jews, and other Jews, who would have been entering the camp system via Auschwitz at this time. However, we should keep in mind that to the extent that the Veesenmayer-Ferenczy statistics are inaccurate, any other calculations will be skewed accordingly.

To Auschwitz or Elsewhere?

Assuming that there was a general plan to deport all of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, for whatever reason, we can expect that there would have been exceptions to the rule. In his writings, the father of Holocaust Revisionism, Paul Rassinier, provided an example:14

Once again, my personal testimony: I refer to a group of Hungarian Jews whose convoy, originally bound for Auschwitz, had arrived at Dora at the end of May 1944. Of the 1,500 or so people of this convoy, a certain number were sent to satellite camps around Dora as soon as they arrived. How many remained with us, I do not know; maybe they filled an entire block … After a little while, the special surveillance over them became hardly more than a facade: once in a while we could exchange a few words with them, and even have short conversations. Thus it was that we learned about their odyssey. They told us about what they had had to leave behind when they came into the camp, and, since we were old hands in their eyes, they asked if they would get it back, when, how, and so on. They had been transported from Hungary to Dora, 70 to 80 persons in a car, with all of their baggage. They had made a long periplus of six to seven days before arriving. They had been told when leaving that they were being taken to Auschwitz, and when they learned that it was at Dora that they would be unloaded, they were pleased. They told the most appalling things about Auschwitz. There were neither women nor children among them. The latter had been separated out on departure, and at the moment it did not surprise us since that is what happened to us.

Of course, as eyewitness testimony or hearsay, we cannot give too much weight to Rassinier’s observation. But, as with all eyewitness testimony, it can in many cases give us an inkling of what might have occurred, not only in this case, but in others. The one detail that appears most striking is the claim that the women and children were separated out before departure: this reminds us that the Hungarian Jews were incarcerated in ghettoes, and that these ghettoes could have been the source of all kinds of numbers that would be reported by the Hungarian gendarmerie to Budapest. The second point is that the separating out of the women and children would seem to violate the whole purpose of the deportations, if that purpose was mass murder.

Strangely enough, a personal letter written just after the war was over, and which is posted on an anti-revisionist site, supports Rassinier’s account.15 Recently translated from Hungarian, the eleven-page letter describes in great detail the experiences of a Hungarian woman during the deportations in late June 1944. On the appointed day, the Jews were gathered in a synagogue, the women to age twelve were inspected for pregnancy, and then, over the course of some ten days, they passed through a series of staging areas by truck and train until they ended up in Szeged. There, the Germans demanded a list of those Jews under the age of twelve and over the age of fifty: to the horror of the woman writing the account, her parents, in-laws, and four-year-old daughter were all placed on the list. Again according to her account, the woman managed to place herself on the list with the rest of her family, so as to share their fate. The rest of the letter describes the journey of the woman with her family to Strasshof, outside Vienna, and to Bergen-Belsen toward the end of the war. The only fatality described is the death of the woman’s mother-in-law, apparently from typhus, a few days after the war was over.

Naturally, when we consider that the source of this letter is a website very hostile to revisionism, we are inclined to be skeptical of this account, and would prefer to see the letter authenticated. Nevertheless, we consider the account probably true. Moreover, there is independent corroboration: in the last days of June 1944, over 20,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to the Strasshof camp, including 5,200 from Szeged, which would have been the transport the woman described.16

To sum up, it is clear that there were significant numbers of Hungarian Jewish deportees who were not sent to Auschwitz. Moreover, the selecting out of those incapable of work appears to have taken place at least in certain areas and at certain times throughout the course of the deportations, and that the deportations themselves involved the confinement and transfer of the Hungarian Jews in several different locations within Hungary. This last circumstance could also have contributed to inaccurate statistics.

After Auschwitz

Those who argue for the massive gassing and burning of the Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz usually claim that there are no significant records of Hungarian Jews sent from Auschwitz to anywhere else, and rest their case on the Auschwitz Chronicle, compiled by Danuta Czech, a Polish Communist.

Most of Czech’s data consists of various lists of prisoners who were registered in the camp, in various number sequences. It is assumed, of course, that most of those registered were ultimately gassed themselves, and it is furthermore assumed that any quantity of registrations presupposes a much larger quantity gassed without registration. Thus, for example, we might read that on a certain date one hundred Jews were selected from an RSHA transport from Hungary and assigned a range of inmate numbers, and that the rest were taken to the gas chambers. Such an entry might appear authoritative, but in fact usually the only source material at Czech’s disposal is a list of the prisoners (in this case, one hundred) who were registered on the day in question. In short, we have no way of knowing how many Hungarian Jews were in fact sent to Auschwitz. Even so, Czech’s statistics do indicate that some 26,000 Hungarian Jews were registered in the camp between May and early September 1944 (usually in the “A” series), and that another 25,000 were transferred to other camps, including 20,000 in May, June, and early July alone, usually in packets of 1,000 or more, and usually to Buchenwald and Mauthausen. The combined total, some 50,000, is the general upper bound of Hungarian Jews not exterminated on arrival.17

Yet Czech’s data are glaringly incomplete. The German historian Isabell Sprenger’s history of the Gross Rosen concentration camp lists in an appendix a chronology of all known transports to that location.18 For May 16–17, 1944, that is, at the very beginning of the Hungarian deportations, we find reference to a transport of 1,500 Hungarian Jews arriving at Gross Rosen from Auschwitz. There is no record of this transport in Czech. Another transport, from May 24, lists 3,189 Hungarian Jews arriving in Gross Rosen from Auschwitz. This is not properly recorded by Czech. Still another, on June 8, records the arrival of 4,000 Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz. Again, Czech makes no mention of this transport, and, in fact, mentions no numbers for Gross Rosen at all until the fall, where a transport of 200 Hungarian Jews to Gross Rosen is recorded for September 19.

It is a certainty that the initial transport of May 16–17 was not registered at Auschwitz, indeed, it is likely that the prisoners were not even debarked from their train before being sent on. So this is not a question of double-counting. However, the fact that 1,500 Hungarian Jews would be sent to a non-extermination camp after passing through a camp supposedly designed for their extermination, and in the very first transports, strongly contradicts the assertion that the Hungarian Jewish deportations ever had mass murder as their aim. Furthermore, in reviewing the incoming transports for only one camp, out of some twenty main concentration camps, and several hundred satellite camps, we have already accounted for almost 10,000 Hungarian Jews, who would normally be assumed to have been gassed and burned at Auschwitz. This points up the serious unreliability of the Auschwitz Chronicle as a source for accurate statistics.

Indeed, other sources for other camps provide further missing Hungarian Jews. For example, the records of Mauthausen indicate a shipment of 2,000 Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz on May 28, 1944, which also is not recorded by Czech.19 Of course, Czech also fails to record the Hungarian Jews in Riga, Kovno, or Stutthof discovered by Graf and Mattogno.

The overall approach of attempting to quantify the Hungarian Jews outside of Auschwitz would entail locating all the camps where Hungarian Jews were sent, gathering data, and then analyzing the results. For lack of time and resources, we can only make a few observations in this area. To begin with, the 386 camp figure that Graf cites from Pressac almost certainly derives from a passing comment made by Randolph Braham in his lengthy Politics of Genocide, later repeated in an article in Auschwitz: Anatomy of a Death Camp.20 The source of Braham’s figure, cited in the first book, is an appendix to a study on Hungarian forced labor by the Hungarian historian Szabolcs Szita, which has not been translated from Hungarian. Consulting Szita’s book ourselves, we find that it contains not just a list of 386 camps, but rather of over 520 locations where Hungarian Jews were held, including seventeen main concentration camps, hundreds of their satellites, and over a hundred other kinds of camps in which Hungarian Jews were imprisoned.21

Some of the satellite camps in Szita’s list are well known and have been the subject of special studies in English, for example, the story of the thousand or so Hungarian women sent to the Hessisch Lichtenau sub-camp of Buchenwald in order to work in an explosives factory.22 Of greater interest are those locations listed that are not affiliated with any concentration camp, for example, Unterlüss near Hannover, or Moerfelde-Walldorf near Frankfurt. Van Pelt indicated that large numbers of Hungarian women worked at Unterlüss,23 which was a subsidiary camp of Rheinmetall, while news reports inform us that 1,700 Hungarian Jewish women labored at Moerfelde-Walldorf building an airstrip for the construction firm Zueblin, after having been transferred from Auschwitz in May.24 Again, neither of these locations appears to be mentioned in the Auschwitz Chronicle. The fact that significant numbers of Hungarian Jews eventually were assigned outside the concentration camp system makes the numbers for Hungarian Jews derived from records of the growth of the concentration camp prisoner population seem underestimates of their actual numbers in the Reich.

Turning to the Baltics, we find that Szita has Hungarians listed in several concentration camps and labor camps throughout the region, including Kovno, Klooga, Riga-Kaiserwald, Stutthof, and several sub-camps. According to Andrew Ezergailis, author of The Holocaust in Latvia, one of these sub-camps, at Dundaga, employed between two to five thousand Hungarian Jewish women who had been transferred from Auschwitz from May 1944 on.25

Overall, by following up on the data gathered by Szita and other historians of Hungarian forced labor, we find that there was a very wide distribution of Hungarians throughout the German areas of influence very soon after the deportations began. In many cases, the Hungarians at these other camps are described as having been sent from Auschwitz. It may be presumption in some cases to claim that these Hungarian Jews passed through Auschwitz, yet it seems clear that the deportations of Hungarian Jews were very extensive. This is indicated not only by the fact that Hungarian Jews were distributed to so many different locations, but also because it was typical to dispatch concentration camp inmates for labor in packets of 500 to 1,000.26

The Purpose of the Deportations

The idea that the Hungarian Jews were deported simply for the purpose of killing them would seem to be a strategy contrary to the interests of the German Reich, which, by May 1944, was fighting for its life. It seems therefore reasonable to argue, as many have done, that the deportations of the Hungarian Jews are simply not credible given the priorities of the war, transport and otherwise.

Yet, if we consult the documents and the various public declarations of the time, we find unanimity about the desperate need for labor for a variety of war-related programs, and specifically for the kind of labor that the Hungarian Jews would provide. These include the remarks of Himmler, referencing the planned influx of 200,000 Hungarian Jews for labor purposes, the specific authorization of Hitler to allow these intakes, and records of the various conflicts among the various agencies desperate for labor.27 Among these projects were the construction of large concrete bunkers for Speer’s Organization Todt, the assembly of V-2 rockets for the V-weapon campaign, the construction of defensive barriers on the eastern frontier of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the construction of fighter planes for the Luftwaffe, and many other war-related projects.28 These needs alone, vital to Germany’s war effort, could have allowed for the prioritization of Hungarian Jewish transports of considerable size.

On the other hand, if forced labor was the purpose of the deportations, that does not very well explain the reason why considerable numbers of women, children, and the elderly also appear to have been deported. Part of this appears traceable to conflicts with the Hungarian government. We should keep in mind that many Hungarian Jewish men wore the uniform of the Hungarian Labor Service, and, while discriminated against, tens of thousands of them lost their lives serving their country, which was, after all, Germany’s ally in the war against the Soviet Union. It also appears that the Labor Service underwent significant expansion at the time of the deportations, and that thousands more Hungarian men avoided deportation in this manner.29 (This too may have contributed to statistical inconsistencies.) These drafts of Hungarian Jewish men help explain why the Germans were initially surprised to be receiving so many women, and others incapable of work. Still, it is known that Himmler and Oswald Pohl, chief of the concentration camp system, soon found a way to integrate the Hungarian women into the German war economy.30

But what of those Hungarians incapable of work? No doubt interned because of the unjust suspicion that they, as Jews, would foment rebellion before the advancing Red Army, there is plenty of evidence that they were not exterminated as a matter of course. We have seen, for example, Himmler’s reference to over 30,000 concentration camp inmates outside of Auschwitz over the age of fifty: it is a certainty that the vast majority would be Jewish prisoners, and probably included many incarcerated at Theresienstadt. At Theresienstadt itself, we find a record of 1,150 Hungarian Jews, apparently transferred from Auschwitz, and by definition non-workers: twelve had died by the end of the war.31 We can also find records of Hungarian Jews incapable of work – by definition, including children and the elderly – at Bergen Belsen, where there were at least two camps for Hungarian Jews, and at Buchenwald, which had a block set aside for over a thousand children of various nationalities. Even at Auschwitz itself, as Graf has noted, significant numbers of children and elderly were liberated by the Red Army, including Hungarian Jewish children mentioned by name. This is the proper context for the famous photograph showing a group of smiling Hungarian Jewish women, liberated at Dachau with their newborn babies on their laps.

Calculating the Survivors

The final question one can pose about the Hungarian Jews deported in the summer of 1944 is the most difficult to answer, because, as we have seen, there is some uncertainty about the accuracy of the numbers of the deportations.

The first thing we have to recognize is that the losses of Hungarian Jews are usually calculated globally: that is, the problem is looked at in terms of the overall losses of the Hungarian Jewish community, but not in terms of how many survived the summer 1944 deportations. Indeed, the latter question is never addressed in detail. At the same time, there are several categories of Hungarian Jewish losses related to the war or to the deportations of fall 1944 that have nothing to do with the deportations to Auschwitz, and the combined totals are hard to analyze. There is a canonical number of Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but instead of six million it is six hundred thousand, generally rounded up from about 560,000. The ultimate source of this number is calculations of the World Jewish Congress made in 1945 and 1946.32

The statistics concerning Hungarian Jews have been extensively analyzed over the past decade by the Hungarian historian Tamas Stark. There are three main aspects of Stark’s analysis. First, he is wary of official statistics, knowing full well their potential political import, and so tries to compare them with any other known sources. Second, Stark tries to address the gaps in the statistical record by itemizing the many reasons for Hungarian Jews not to have returned home, or to have been unable to do so, after the Second World War. Third, Stark is the only expert in this field to stress the fact that after the war large numbers of Hungarians indeed did not return home, but instead emigrated to other countries.

Stark’s work has exposed him to some criticism, and perhaps because of this he has revised his calculations. Originally, he estimated the total loss of life for Hungarian Jews at 390,000, but in a recent study he has raised that number to about 500,000.33 The point, as far as our analysis is concerned, however, is that any increase in the number of Hungarian survivors generally increases the number of Hungarian Jews who survived the summer 1944 deportations.

To put it another way: it is generally conceded that about 500,000 Hungarian Jews were deported in 1944: these include the assumed 430,000 deported May through July, and another 50,000 or more deported to the Austrian border in the fall.34 Of this number, it is universally conceded that about 100,000–120,000 returned from deportation. Assuming a proportional split, this means that about 20 percent of the Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz returned home.35

Yet Stark points out that there were reasons not to return home, and, if returning home, not to declare one’s Jewish identity. First, there was the psychological dread of returning home and failing to find one’s family.36 Second, there was the fact that the Red Army typically seized Hungarian Jewish men and dragged them off to forced labor in the Soviet Union (Stark estimates that 30,000 Hungarian Jews went from one dictatorial system to the other: they were never heard from again).37 Third, Hungarian Jews were on a path of heavy assimilation even before the war, and there would be little reason for many to return to the community after the war, especially in view of the severe persecution Jews had just endured.38 Yet precisely such a failure to be counted in the Jewish community in the postwar period would have contributed to artificially low numbers of returnees. The World Jewish Congress, after all, was interested in determining the size of Jewish communities, not in counting Jews by racial criteria as was the case under the Nazi, Horthy, or Arrow Cross regimes.

In the absence of reliable statistics, Stark did considerable research in contemporary newspapers and other periodicals, noting especially references to Hungarian Jews who remained in Germany or in other countries and who did not return. His research suggests that a considerable number, perhaps as many as 100,000 or more, remained outside of Hungary and made their homes elsewhere.39 It is by settling on a conservative figure of 50,000 that Stark arrives at his overall figure of approximately 500,000 Jewish deaths among the Hungarian population in the Second World War.

However, Stark’s calculation essentially increases the number of those Hungarian Jews who survived the summer 1944 deportations by 50,000 as well, which in turn means that over one third survived. If his higher estimate of 100,000 Hungarian expatriates is used, that percentage rises to over 45 percent. With such numbers, one cannot sustain the contention that the Hungarian Jews were deported in the summer of 1944 with the intention of exterminating them.

Conclusions

The issue of the fate of the Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz has long dominated Holocaust studies, because the deportations took place in the midst of a large-scale media campaign in which the Allies and several Zionist groups protested the deportations even before they began.40

Although the current narrative continues to hold that vast numbers of Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned at Auschwitz, the evidence we have consulted contradicts that notion. Specifically, we can now provisionally answer the questions with which we began.

It appears that hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. These included Jews of all ages and conditions. However, it seems likely that the figures quoted – 430,000 – could well be inaccurate, if only because these figures might have derived from one of the early stages of the deportation process before the deportations beyond Hungary’s borders actually took place. Perhaps some tens of thousands were not deported beyond their staging areas; perhaps, too, some thousands of Hungarian men were drafted into the labor service from these areas. It is further possible that some thousands or tens of thousands managed to escape, at least temporarily, to Romania. It is interesting to quote Adolf Eichmann in this regard:41

All told, we succeeded in processing about half a million Jews in Hungary. I once knew the exact number that we shipped to Auschwitz, but today I can only estimate that it was around 350,000 in a period of about four months. But, contrary to legend, the majority of the deportees were not gassed at all but put to work in munitions plants. That is why there are thousands of Jews happily alive today who are included in the statistical totals of the “liquidated.” Besides those we sent to Auschwitz, there were thousands and thousands who fled, some secretly, some with our connivance. It was child’s play for a Jew to reach relative safety in Rumania if he could muster the few pengö to pay for a railroad ticket or an auto ride to the border. There were also 200,000 Jews left in a huge ghetto when the Russians arrived, and thousands more waiting to emigrate illegally to Palestine or simply hiding out from the Hungarian gendarmerie.

If the number of deportees was appreciably lower than 430,000, and if they managed to remain in the provinces, or in nearby Romania, that would help explain where the 100,000 Jews came from who fled to Budapest in November of 1944. Incidentally, Stark also discusses this flight, which he claims took place from Sub-Carpathia and Transylvania, that is, areas supposedly cleared out by the May–July deportations.42 Yet, if the number of deportees was 350,000, as Eichmann claims, or even lower, as Pressac has argued, there still would be ideological reasons to suppress such data. As the controversy over Stark suggests, the Hungarians are as committed to the number of six hundred thousand Hungarian Jewish victims almost as much as Holocaust historians are committed to the six million statistic.

Whatever the number, the Hungarian Jews, from the moment they began arriving at Auschwitz, were sent to other camps: Gross Rosen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Stutthof, and hundreds of other camps. This influx of Hungarian Jews into the concentration camp system directly tracks the statistical growth of the concentration camp system as a whole. Nor should we forget that by being sub-contracted to private firms, it seems likely that some thousands of Hungarian Jews would never have appeared on the concentration camp rolls at all. At the same time, our analysis indicates that there are yawning gaps in the canonical record of comings and goings at Auschwitz.

The Hungarian Jews deported to these various other camps were involved in labor that was of critical importance to Germany’s war effort and moreover there was considerable competition for their services. It is not believable that any Hungarian Jew capable of work would have been exterminated.

Nor is it believable, on the basis of the data reviewed, to assert that Hungarian Jews incapable of work were automatically killed. While the saving of Hungarian Jewish lives is usually explained by the intercession of this or that saintly diplomat or businessman, there is no easy way to get around the fact that there were significant numbers of Hungarians who did not work in several camps, and who survived the war. This is not to deny the idea that some portion of non-working Hungarian Jews could have been killed: it simply means that the known exceptions are varied enough that the thesis of an extermination policy, let alone an extermination plan, is decisively undercut. Nor should we forget the survival rates implied by Stark’s analyses, suggesting that 35 percent to 45 percent of the 430,000 deported survived the war.

But what of the missing Hungarian Jews who apparently did not survive? What happened to them, if they were not exterminated? The question brings us back to the statistical measurements of returnees, and émigrés, measured by Stark in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 or more, versus the canonical statistic of 430,000 deportees, or lower estimates of 350,000 by Eichmann and 160,000 to 240,000 by Pressac. Using Stark’s low estimate of returns and emigrations, along with Pressac’s low estimate of deportations, we could arrive at a death rate among the May–July deportees of about ten thousand, which strikes us as absurdly low.

We have to remind ourselves that there were many ways for people to die in the closing months of the Second World War, and not just in the concentration camps. Disease no doubt played a large role, as we know that tens of thousands of camp prisoners died in the last months of the war and even after from various epidemics, tuberculosis, and above all, typhus. Nor can we ignore the high death rate in the concentration camp system overall, brought on by poor nourishment and overwork in a psychologically debilitating atmosphere, a death rate that was always high but which reached catastrophic levels in 1945. Combined with Allied bombings, Soviet ship sinkings, and random shootings by panicked soldiers or SS, we could easily account for most of the missing Hungarian Jews, even if we set that number at 150,000 or more.

Still, we cannot exclude the possibility that some number were killed at Auschwitz, although, bearing in mind the many other dangers Hungarian Jews would encounter during the war, and the estimated numbers of returnees and émigrés, that number could not have been more than a few tens of thousands at most. Here we have to keep in mind the iron rule imposed by the limits of the Birkenau crematoriums. Rather than saying that 90 percent of the Hungarian deportees died at Auschwitz, it should be possible to argue the reverse: the evidence suggests that 90 percent of the Hungarian Jews did not die at Auschwitz, regardless of their ultimate fate.

When the Auschwitz death toll was officially revised from four million to about one million in 1989, the traditional figure of 400,000 Hungarian Jews killed at Auschwitz assumed greater importance than ever before. The Hungarian Jews, now 40 percent of the total, became the largest group of Jews said to have been exterminated in that camp. However, the evidence we have reviewed makes it clear that the Hungarian Jews deported in the summer of 1944 were deported for labor in war-important industries, and they were in fact employed in such labor after being transferred from Auschwitz to hundreds of other camps. In addition, we have seen evidence that significant numbers of Hungarian Jews unfit for labor were not in fact exterminated. We have also seen the overall population of the camp system increase, commensurate to the influx of large numbers of Hungarian Jews. Finally, we have seen reasonable statistics that indicate that 45 percent or more of these deportees survived, in spite of the catastrophic death rates that prevailed in the camps at the end of the war.

Determining the fate of the Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz with some finality would entail a detailed analysis of the records of all of the camps and sub-camps of the concentration camp system, as well as all the private and government agencies which had a declared interest in Hungarian Jewish labor in 1944. Probably such materials could be located in the various files pertaining to forced labor during the National Socialist period not only in German archives, but also in those of Washington, Budapest, and above all, the former Soviet Union. It seems likely that such records exist, given the scope of some of the material we have reviewed. We expect these records will continue to be uncovered and used, especially by Hungarian historians, as they try to reconstruct the wartime fate of their countrymen, Jewish and non-Jewish.

It seems to be generally recognized today that the mass exterminations that are supposed to have occurred in “extermination camps” such as Auschwitz have been manipulated for political and ideological purposes.43 This does not make the extermination claims automatically false, but what such abuse does accomplish is to reduce the people involved to passive statistics, fit only for posthumous martyrdom.

We say this because the reduction of death statistics at extermination camps is frequently said to rob the victims of their dignity in death. But on the contrary, as the studies of Szita and Stark suggest, a more detailed and nuanced study of the experiences of a people does not diminish, but rather enhances, the dignity and the tragedy of their individual lives. And, as such studies tell us what did happen, they also make it rather clear what did not.

It follows from the evidence at our disposal that 430,000 Hungarian Jews were not gassed and burned at Auschwitz, and that the death toll for that camp should again be revised downward by about 40 percent. But it also follows that historians have barely begun to grasp the fate of Hungary’s Jews in the Second World War.

Notes

1
The general estimates of Hungarian Jewish casualties come from Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (Boulder, CO: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 792, and László Varga, “The Losses of Hungarian Jewry,” in Randolph Braham, ed., Studies on the Holocaust in Hungary, East European monographs, no. 301 (Boulder, CO: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 256–265. Of an estimated 509,000 deportees, Varga reckons 383,000 died (p. 262), and gives remarkably low estimates for emigrants, and survivors who did not return (5,000 for each of the se two categories). These estimates were repeated by Robert Jan Van Pelt in his expert report for the Irving v. Penguin/Lipstadt trial (pp. 46–48). His expert opinion, though unpublished, can be found both on Irving’s website (www.fpp.co.uk) and a site maintained on Deborah Lipstadt’s behalf (www.holocaustontrial.com).
2
Detailed in Van Pelt’s expert opinion, pp. 47–48, the changes occurred between the original French version, Les Crématoires d’Auschwitz, and the Italian and German editions of Pressac’s book.
3
Van Pelt, op. cit., p. 48.
4
István Deák, “A Fatal Compromise? The Debate over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary,” in István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 72 n. 22.
5
Arthur R. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1977), pp. 133–159, 170–171.
6
Jürgen Graf, “What Happened to the Jews Who Were Deported to Auschwitz but Were Not Registered There?,” and Arthur R. Butz, “On the 1944 Deportation of Hungarian Jews,” in the Journal of Historical Review (JHR) 19, no. 4 (July–August 2000), pp. 4–29.
7
Graf, ibid. The source of the “386 camps” will be discussed below.
8
The various classes of data are discussed extensively in Tamás Stark, Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust and after the Second World War, 1939–1949: A Statistical Review, translated by Christina Rosznyai, East European Monographs (Boulder, CO: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp. 21ff. This is essentially a translation of his Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után, 1939–1955 [Jewry during the Holocaust and after Liberation, 1939–1955] (Budapest:1995). Szabolcs Szita also discusses the scope of the deportations in Haláleröd: A munkaszolgálat és a hadimunka történetéhez [Death Fort: On the History of the Labor Service and Military Labor] (Budapest: 1989), pp. 45ff., and provides the lists of the attorney in Kosice.
9
Stark, op. cit., pp. 24f.
10
Quoted and discussed by Butz, op. cit., pp. 139, 142ff.
11
See Widmann, “Transfers to the Reich: The unregistered inmates of Auschwitz” page 21, current issue of the JHR.
12
In this August 15, 1944, telegram, Burger also describes 90,000 Jews as part of the Hungarian action. By our interpretation, the 90,000 Hungarian Jews mentioned by Burger refers either to transit Jews not yet assigned to work or to Hungarian Jews who were incapable of work in Auschwitz-Birkenau as of that date. Because, moreover, we know that there were no further Hungarian deportations to Auschwitz later than August 15, 1944, it seems as if the actual population of the concentration camp system would be 90,000 higher, if these 90,000 were included. Braham, op. cit., p. 793, misuses this document, a misuse traceable to Danuta Czech’s erroneous claim that the document refers to the population of Auschwitz only, rather than to the concentration camp system as a whole.
13
Robert N. Proctor, The Nazi War against Cancer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 260, 346 n. 31, and references German researcher. Proctor assumes (p. 260) that the figure is too high for the camps alone, but the magnitude is generally accepted by most scholars, cf. Ulrich Herbert, Fremdarbeiter (Bonn: Dietz Verlag, 1999), p. 426.
14
Paul Rassinier, The Holocaust Story and the Lies of Ulysses, Costa Mesa, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1978, p. 365
15
www.mazal.org
16
Stark, op. cit., p. 25.
17
Van Pelt, op. cit.
18
Isabell Sprenger, Gross-Rosen: Ein Konzentrationslager in Schlesien, Neue Forschungen zur Schlesischen Geschichte, vol. 6 (Köln: Böhlau Verlag,1996), pp. 335–359.
19
Szita, op. cit., pp. 217ff.
20
Braham, op. cit., pp. 792f. and “The Hungarian Jews,” in Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998), p. 466.
21
Szita, op. cit., pp. 281–287. To be fair, Szita also mentions some locations in Russia where Hungarian Jews of the Labor Service were employed, for example, Kiev, locations that were clearly not available as destinations by May, 1944.
22
Dieter Vaupel, “The Hessisch Lichtenau Sub-Camp of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944–45,” in Braham, ed., Studies, pp.194–237.
23
Van Pelt, op. cit., pp. 26ff.
24
The Detroit News, Saturday, July 25, 1998 (Internet edition).
25
Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia 1941–1944: The Missing Center (Riga:1996), p. 367.
26
Vaupel, op. cit., p. 195, for the minimum figure.
27
Himmler quoted in Wilhelm Stäglich, Auschwitz (Newport Beach, CA: Institute for Historical Review, 1986), pp. 73ff. See also Graf, op. cit., p. 13; also Albert Speer, Infiltration (NY: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 289–291, and Herbert, op. cit., pp. 426–431.
28
Speer, op.cit. Szita’s various books describe many aspects of Hungarian forced labor, especially for the lower Danube defense works, and for the Mauthausen complex. There are also testimony and documents about the use of Hungarian forced labor in the records of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal (NMT), especially Case 2 (the Milch case), Case 4 (the Pohl, or Concentration Camp, case) and Case 5 (the Farben case).
29
Stark, op. cit., pp. 28ff.
30
The famous exchange between Pohl and Himmler, culminating in Himmler’s insistence that enough garlic be provided the Hungarian Jewish women, was recorded in documents of Case 4 of the NMT, and is cited in Braham, Politics, p. 783.
31
Terezin website, www.scrapbookpages.com/CzechRepublic/Theresienstadt/statistics.html; Stark, op. cit., p. 74, cites five to six thousand Hungarian Jews at Theresienstadt at the end of the war.
32
Braham, Politics, p. 1298; Stark, op. cit., p. 127.
33
Stark’s original estimate in “A magyar zsidóság veszteségei” (The Losses of Hungarian Jewry), Historia (Budapest), no. 1–2 (1989), pp. 54–56, the later number discussed in Stark, Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, pp. 136–138. In his original article, Stark gave rough calculations as follows (p. 56): 490,000 deportations, 360 non-returns (inferring 130,000 returns), a minimum of 50,000 who emigrated, and therefore 310,000 deaths among the deportees, or 63% mortality.
34
Other sources claim 100,000 or more deportees from Budapest in this period. However, most of the sources cited by Stark (op. cit., pp. 32–35) mention 30 to 35 thousand. Stark settles on “50–100 thousand.” It is a key point, because the lower the numbers deported from Budapest, the lower the overall number of deportees, and, because the number of returnees is fixed at about 100 to 120 thousand, the higher the survival rate among the May–July deportees.
35
This is a key issue, because there is a tendency to assume that the returnees would comprise mostly those deported to the Austrian border in the fall of 1944. Szita’s work, however, makes it clear that the death rate on the Austrian border was very high, and that, furthermore, the deportees from the fall were mostly from Budapest, not the provinces targeted during the May–July deportations. Stark Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, pp. 79f., meanwhile, lists 83,000 registered returnees, of which only about 20–25% come from Budapest, which means the balance must have come from the May–July deportations.
36
Stark, Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, p. 75, quoting a contemporary newspaper.
37
Stark, Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, pp. 46–56, esp. 56.
38
Stark, Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, pp. 85–86, 87, 89, esp. 90,91,93.
39
Stark (see note 33 above).
40
Compare the discussion in Butz, op. cit., and particularly the large literature concerning of the bombing of Auschwitz.
41
Life 49, no. 22, November 28, 1960, p. 109.
42
Stark discusses the influx of Hungarians, presumably including Jews, from the outlying provinces to escape the advancing Red Army, as well as the flight of provincial Jews to the capital to escape deportation.
43
E.g., Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry (NY: Verso, 2000) and Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (NY: Basic Books, 2001).

About the author

Samuel Crowell is the pen name of an American writer who describes himself as a “moderate revisionist.” At the University of California (Berkeley) he studied philosophy, foreign languages (including German, Polish, Russian, and Hungarian), and history, including Russian, German,and German-Jewish history. He continued his study of history at Columbia University. For six years he worked as a college teacher.


Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 26.


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