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Chapter VII

The Brichah in Hungary


Map of Hungary after World War II


According to the 1910 census, the number of Jews in Hungary was 911,227, or 4.99% of the 18,264,533 people living in Hungary, (in addition, there were 21,231 Jews in the autonomous Croatia–Slavonia). This was a 28.7% increase since the 1890 census even though 324,000 Jews left Hungary for the United States between 1888 and 1901 and only a 0.3% increase (from 4.7%) in the overall population of Hungary. At the time, the Jewish natural growth rate was higher than the Christian community. The majority of the Jewish population of Hungary (75.7%) reported Hungarian as their primary language, so were counted as ethnically Hungarian in the census. Yiddish speakers were counted as ethnically German.

The population of Budapest included 203,000 Jews or 23% of the city population. This community had established numerous religious and educational institutions. Jews dominated the business area. Merchants, artisans, bakers, printers and innkeepers were heavily represented by Jews. Twenty percent of high school students were Jewish.


Interior of the Neologue Dohany Street Synagogue, Pest, Hungary.
This is the second largest synagogue in the world.

(The largest is the reform Temple Emanuel in New York City)


Hungarian Jewry was divided among three religious groups, the Neolog group similar to the Reform movement in the US, the Orthodox group and the Traditionalist group. The Neolog movement was strong in Budapest, the capital, and in the south and west of Hungary. The Orthodox movement was strong in the north and west of the country. The Traditionalist synagogue was the smallest movement.

The Austro–Hungarian Empire was dissolved after World War I during which about 10,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives on the battlefield. Hungary lost a great deal of land and people following the war. A communist regime headed by Bela Kun, a Hungarian Jew, seized power. It was soon overthrown by fascist elements that exacted a heavy price from the Jewish community. It is estimated that about 3,000 Jews were killed by the fascist forces. By 1920 the political situation stabilized and violence abated, but anti–Jewish sentiments did not wane. Anti–Jewish laws and regulations were enacted similar to the ones passed in Germany. For instance, enrollment of Jews in institutions of higher learning was restricted to five percent. Jewish reaction was timid. The Zionist movements in Hungary were very small and limited to some youth groups. Assimilation was very popular among the Jews and conversions to Christianity were increasing. Jews were restricted in how they could earn money and pauperization became widespread. Hungary joined the Axis powers (Germany, Austria and Italy) and thus annexed parts of Slovakia, Transylvania, Yugoslavia and Sub–Carpathian Ruthenia; most of these areas belonged to Hungary before World War I. By mid–1941, the annexation increased “Great Hungary's” Jewish population to 800,000.

The decimation of Hungarian Jews began in 1941. Jews who could not prove Hungarian citizenship were sent to the area of Kamieniec–Podolski, Poland where the Germans killed them. It is estimated that between July 15 and August 12, 1941 about 20,000 Jews were killed. In the massacres of Újvidék (Novi Sad) and villages nearby, 2,550–2,850 Serbs, 700–1,250 Jews and 60–130 others were murdered by the Hungarian Army and “Csendőrség” (Gendarmerie) in January 1942. Those responsible, Ferenc Feketehalmy–Czeydner, József Zöldy and others were put on trial in 1943 in Budapest and sentenced. Some of the murderers escaped to Germany.

During World War II, Jews were called up to serve in unarmed “labour service” units that repaired bombed railroads, built airports or cleared minefields at the front. Approximately 42,000 Jewish forced laborers were killed on the Eastern front, another several thousand forced laborers died in the copper mine of Bor, Serbia. Hungary behaved badly towards its Jewish population, especially towards the drafted Hungarian Jews. But the Hungarian Prime Minister, Miklós Kállay, refused to send the Hungarian Jews to the death camps in Poland. The Germans applied pressure but Hungary refused to cooperate. This situation lasted until March 19, 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary. Miklós Kállay was dismissed and Döme Sztójay, a rabid anti–Semite, was installed as prime minister on March 23, 1944.


Adolf Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem


SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann soon arrived in Budapest with 20 officers and a staff of 100, including drivers, cooks, etc. He immediately began plans to deport all Hungarian Jews. In May 1944, the first trains started to roll to Auschwitz. By July 9, 437, 402 Jews had been deported, according to the official German reports of Reich Plenipotentiary in Hungary Edmund Veesenmayer.1 One hundred and forty–seven trains were sent to Auschwitz, where 90% of the people were exterminated on arrival. Each day 12,000 Jews were delivered to Auschwitz, among them the future writer and Nobel Prize–winner Elie Wiesel, age 15 at the time.


Elie Wiesel


Elie Wiesel was born in Sighet, a Romanian shtetl, September 30, 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family. His parents, Shlomo and Sarah, owned a grocery store in the village. He had two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, and a younger sister, Tsiporah. When he was three years old, Wiesel began attending a “Heder” or Jewish school where he learned Hebrew, Bible, and eventually Talmud. His thinking was influenced by his maternal grandfather who was a prominent Hasid. Hasidut amongst Jews was prevalent in the area. The entire region was soon turned over to Hungary thus Wiesel became a Hungarian citizen without leaving his apartment.


Hungarian Jewish women and children from Carpatho–Ruthenia after their arrival at the Auschwitz death camp (May/June 1944)
Photo from the Auschwitz Album


Most Hungarian Jews were deported from the provinces starting in May 1944, except for the Jews of Budapest. Eichmann had planned for them to be deported in August 1944, but the Hungarian government bowed to international political pressure. When the Germans cracked down further in Hungary, the Budapest Jews were also sent to Auschwitz. Members of the Hungarian Zionist youth movement smuggled around 4,000 Hungarian Jews into Romania. Some Jews escaped to Budapest, where there were already many illegal Polish and Slovakian Jews. The Zionists organized relief efforts and provided fake passports, food, clothing and places to hide. Two famous Palestinian paratroopers Hannah Senesh and Peretz Goldstein, tried to reach Hungarian Jewry but were caught and jailed by the Hungarians.

Two well–known individuals involved in saving Hungary's Jews were Charles Lutz, a Swiss diplomat in Hungary, and Raoul Wallenberg, secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest. The deportation of Budapest's Jews began in October 1944. The majority of the Budapest Jews were sent to a central ghetto, while some managed to live in “protected ghettos” in quarters secured by various neutral states. Many Budapest Jews were forced on death marches to Austria and it is estimated that about 98,000 Jews from Budapest lost their lives in these marches by January 1945.


Brichah agents in Hungary
From right to left; Mordechai Rosman, Mordechai M., Zelig Rabinowitz, Rachel G., Moshe Laufer, and Naftali Kratzmer


At the end of the war, the Hungarian Jewish community consisted of about 200,000 people, 150,000 in Budapest and 50,000 throughout the country. 50,000 Jews were elderly and sick people who needed immediate help.[1] Hungary, unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, did not permit Jews to leave the country. The JDC was the only relief organization permitted to operate in Hungary; even UNRRA was forbidden to enter Hungary.[2] Mordechai Rosman was sent from Poland by Abba Kovner to Hungary to assume the leadership of the Brichah in Hungary.[3] There he met Yoel Palgi, a Palestinian Jewish parachutist who helped the various Zionist youth movements in Hungary. The Brichah helped transport Polish Jewish


Hungarian Zionist youth group on route to DP camps in Germany


refugees in Hungary to Romania or Austria. Many youth groups were sent to Brichah camps where they were trained to fight while they waited to go to Palestine. The JDC paid for these camps as well as for the various Zionist youth activities. As in other countries, the JDC also provided food for elderly people and opened three hospitals for sick people. Hungarian authorities watched the JDC very closely. The Brichah managed to transport Jews out of Budapest by train via Sopron, Hungary, to Wiener Neustadt in Austria.[4] Due to a careless mistake, several Hungarian fascists joined a transport of Jews leaving Hungary. The Brichah agents were supposed to carefully check each group, but for some reason this did not happen. The Hungarian army decided to check the Jewish transport and found the two Hungarian fascists who were trying to leave the country. A scuffle occurred and the Hungarian army decided to ban all train transports of Jewish refugees. The Brichah leaders were arrested and interrogated until payment was made for their release. The Hungarians always demanded money for any legal infractions.

Some Hungarian Jews, especially Transylvanian Jewish Shoah survivors, headed for Romania since they had nothing to return to after the war.[5] Initially after the war, Hungarian Jews left for Romania or Austria but this movement declined with time. Hungary became basically a transit place for Jewish Shoah survivors who came from Romania and headed to Austria. Many of these Jews were actually Polish Jews who went to Romania in the hope of heading to Palestine but that door was closed. They were joined by Romanian, Moldavian and Transylvanian Jews. It is estimated that from the end of the war to the end of 1946, about 18,000 Hungarian Jews left their country via Austria and Yugoslavia.[6] Toward the end of 1946, few Hungarian Jews left the country. The economic situation in Hungary improved and Jews saw an opportunity to live in peace. The Communist Party gained more power, especially in Budapest where Zoltan Vas, mayor of the city, greatly restricted the activities of the Brichah. The idea of spending time in a DP camp became less and less appealing to Hungarian Jews. Still, about 18,000 Romanian Jews transited Hungary on their way to Austria.


Yona Rosen surrounded by the secretaries of the Brichah office in Budapest, Hungary
Notice sign at the entrance: Jewish Agency for Palestine


Partial list of Brichah agents in Hungary

Name First Code name Gender
ALFI Moshe Pil M
ALON Moshe Haupt M
AYALON Itzhak   M
BILITZER Asonihu Reigush M
DAN Sheike   M
DORON Amir Moshe F M
EOZEN Yona   M
FORRER Moshe AmirDoron M
GANTZ Hannah   F
GEIR Albert Dr. M
GLICK Moshe   M
GRINWALD David Tzutzi M
GROSSMAN Alexander   M
HAFT Shlomo   M
HARRY Yehudit   F
KAMAI Shlomo   M
KATZ Moshe   M
KISH Kathleen   F
KOMIN Eliezer   M
KOTZER   Peitzek M
KRATZMER Naftali   M
LAUFER Rachel G.   F
LAUFER Moshe   M
LEVI Yehuda Pitzi M
MEIR Moshkowitz Janek M
MIRON Yaacov Polek M
PALGI Yoel   M
PFEIFER Yehuda   M
RETZMAN Yossef   M
ROSENBAUM Pinhas Tibor M
ROSENBERG Raphael xxx M
ROZEN Yona   M
ROZEN Meno   M
ROZMAN Mordechai   M
SABO Zeev Willie M
SHACHAR Mordechai Muka M
STEIN Eliezer   M
TALMI Yehuda Arieh M
VARDI Yaakov   M
WEISS Chaim   M


  1. Szulc, Alliance, p,177 Return
  2. Ibid., p.177 Return
  3. Bauer, Flight. p.156 Return
  4. Ibid., 165 Return
  5. Bauer, Flight, 153 Return
  6. Bauer p.295 Return


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