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On this date in 1944, two days after occupying Hungary, the Nazis set up a Jewish Council (Judenrat or Zsidó Tanács in Hungarian) in Budapest, headed by a banker, Samu Stern. At the same time, Adolf Eichmann was meeting with Hungarian Interior Ministry officials: “That evening,” he would later write, “the fate of the Hungarian Jews was sealed.” On March 31, Eichmann assured the leaders of the Zsidó Tanács that, notwithstanding the newly imposed yellow star and numerous anti-Jewish restrictions, he would (according to minutes of the meeting) “prevent all plunder of Jewish possessions and . . . punish those seeking to enrich themselves from Jewish property.” If Jews worked for the benefit of the Nazi war economy, Eichmann promised, they would receive “the same good conditions as regards payment and treatment as all the other workers.” Meanwhile, he was planning with cooperative Hungarian officials the deportation of the country’s Jews to Poland for slaughter, beginning on April 29. By early June, 92 trains had carried over 289,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a special line had been constructed to carry the trains straight into the camp. The number murdered would grow to 450,000 — 70 percent of Hungary’s Jews — by the war’s end; Eichmann continued the mass murder even when Heinrich Himmler ordered it halted so that evidence of the Final Solution could be destroyed as the Red Army poured into the country.
“[The deportation] was a surreal scene . . . a procession of people, with carriages, old people, . . . disabled people . . . and at the head of the procession walked the rabbi, wearing his white Yom Kippur robe and holding the Torah scroll in his hands.” —survivor Rita Weiss
More video testimony from Weiss and Elisheva Zimet Stern can be heard in the following clip: