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September 7: Saving Jewish Children in Hungary

September 7, 2011

The International Red Cross established its “A Office” in Hungary on this date in 1944, with funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. This enabled Otto Komoly, president of the Rescue Committee of Budapest, to purchase thirty-five children’s homes in which 550 Jewish adults took care of nearly 6,000 Jewish children and saved them from destruction. Komoly (born Nathan Kohn) was an architect and Zionist leader who ignored his own privilege — earned as a World War I hero and national figure — to serve the Jewish community. He smuggled Jews out of Hungary, smuggled Polish Jews into Hungary, negotiated with the Hungarian government both before and after the Nazi occupation of the country in March, 1944, organized non-Jewish protests among clergy and politicians against Nazi policies in Hungary, and made preparations for the self-defense of the Jewish community. Kohn was kidnapped and murdered by the fascist Arrow Cross Party on January 1, 1945. Yad Natan, a moshav in southern Israel, was named in his honor.

“Since German allies and satellites (including Hungary throughout the war) had the sovereign power to agree or refrain from agreement to deport Jews, it was their decision to cooperate which was the proximate cause of Jewish vulnerability in those states. Almost two-thirds of the processing of Jews toward their destruction—definition and stripping—occurred in Hungary prior to the German occupation in 1944.” —Helen Fein