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March 21: Eichmann in Hungary

Lawrence Bush
March 21, 2010

HungarianJewishFamilyOn this date in 1944, the Nazis organized a Jewish Council (Judenrat) in Budapest, Hungary, two days after occupying the country, while Adolf Eichmann met with officials of the Hungarian Interior Ministry. “That evening,” he would later write, “the fate of the Hungarian Jews was sealed.” On March 31, he assured the leaders of the Judenrat 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 said, 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 trains right into camp. The number killed would grow to 450,000, or 70 percent of Hungarian Jews, by the war’s end; Eichmann pursued the mass murdering 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.

“Wherever in the world I come and the word Hungary is mentioned, the next word is anti-Semitism.” —Elie Wiesel

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.