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The Persecution of Jews in Hungary and the Catholic Church

During the German Occupation
19 March 1944 - 4 April 1945

Extracts from Documents and Comments

compiled by Dr. Andras Zakar

Part 2





      Map of Hungary      
      A Profile of Dr. Andras Zakar    
      Sources of Information    


  19 March to 15 October 1944  
      Persecution of Jews    
      Pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops  
      The Impeachment of Nazism  


  15 October 1944 to 4 April 1945  


  Catholic institutions in the resistance movement


  Dr. Zakar's commentary on Jeno Levai's book

Chapter III
Catholic Institutions in the Resistance Movement

Antal Meszlényi, in his book The Hungarian Church and the Protection
 of Human Rights,
lists all institutions, schools, convents, monasteries,
 students' hostels, etc. which offered asylum to persecuted Jews.

1. The Lazarist House, Budapest

Thirty men were hidden in this house, pretending to follow spiritual exercises. Father Koehler, one of the priests was the indefatigable leader - a sort of commander-in-chief - of the Budapest rescue operations. As head of the team authorized by the Papal Nunciature, he issued thousands of safe conduct passes and when Jews were later driven into ghettos he obtained special permission from the authorities to be with them all the time, caring for them in fourteen emergency hospitals and two chapels. He was greatly helped in his work by the Sisters of Charity who also provided food for the detainees.

2. The Mother House of the Sisters of Charity.

They began their life saving operation in August 1944 by admitting fifty adults and 150 children of deportees. They concentrated their efforts on the poor, abandoned and lonely subjects of the persecution. The Nazis tried several times to search the premises, but strangely enough they were satisfied each time after looking at some documents nuns presented to them at the door. Every Jew was saved.

3. Sacred Heart Day School, Sophianum

Eighty women and forty children were the first Jews admitted. Ten, mostly husbands, joined them later and were fed all through the siege of Budapest, most of them free of charge. The school, situated in centre of Budapest with no garden for the enclosed nuns to get fresh air, owned a small villa in Zugliget, on the outskirts of the city, in Buda.

There they first housed twenty fugitives, but when the Sion Convent had to be evacuated eighty more found refuge there. Arrow C­ross agents tried to raid both places several times, but the firm resistance of the nuns saved the situation each time. All Jews survived.

4. National Association of Catholic Housewives
            (Benedictine Oblates)

Ten political refugees and eighty-two Jews sought and obtained asylum in the institute and some of them were still there in 1970, because they had nowhere else to go.

5. Sion Convent, Sashegy, Buda.

One hundred and ten persons were there when the Gestapo, stationed nearby, discovered their hiding place. The nuns succeeded in evacuating the shelter before the search party arrived and placed the refugees partly with the Sacred Heart nuns in Zugliget and partly with private persons. All were thus saved from certain death.

6. Franciscan Missionary Sisters, Hermina út, Pest.

In mid-October they opened their house to 120 children and 30 adults. The children received a schooling. The 150 refugees had no ration cards, so the nuns fed them from their own resources and suffered much hunger themselves. On 10 December the Nazis broke into the house, and took away all but a few older children and adults who managed to break through the surrounding cordon. To punish the nuns the attackers robbed them of all their money and food. The sisters also took part in Father Koehler's rescue operation to the border town of Hegyeshalom, carrying safe-conduct passes from the Nuncio to Jews being taken to Auschwitz. The nuns were brutally attacked by the Nazis and accused of being British spies, but in spite of that they managed to rescue and bring back to Budapest a large number of Jews.

7. The Hospital of the Order of St Elizabeth (Elisabethinae)

Over one hundred Jews were admitted as if they were patients. The nuns were so clever in disguising them that in spite of several inspections the agents of the Arrow-Cross never found out that they were refugees.

Furthermore, with the safe-conduct passes of the Nunciature the nuns brought out of the brick factory at Obuda many Jews detained there prior to deportation. They provided them with clothes when needed. Everyone survived.

8. The Capuchin Friary (O.F.M. Cap.)

The Germans occupied it in the summer of 1944 for military purposes, so none could be hidden there. But the friars managed to find private hiding places for many Jews.

9. The Society of the Sacred Heart Sisters (Népleányok), Pest.

There was very little room in their Home, so they sent applicants to the nearby Jesuit Provincial House. But in the Corda bookshop run by the Sisters they set up an admission bureau to which the Holy Cross Association and parishes could direct the refugees. The Holy Cross Association was established for the protection of baptized Jews under the spiritual leadership of Professor József Jánosi SJ and directed by the journalist Dr. József Cavallier.

The bureau then passed them on to brave private individuals who volunteered to hide them in their homes. In their Vöröstorony Retreat house outside the capital the Sisters hid twenty persons and gave 200 meals daily to those in need. All this amid constant harassment by the Nazis. Everyone survived.

10. Collegium Marianum (Students hostel in Pest)

One hundred girls were sheltered there and were fed free of charge if destitute. All were saved.

11. College of St Anne, Pest.

Countess Pejacsevich placed 150 refugees there, the majority of whom were children from the countryside. They escaped harrassment by the Nazis because one of the policemen on duty at the nearby Romanian Embassy posted himself in front of the college gate, pretending it was an official building. Everyone was saved.

12. Collegium Theresianum, Pest.

Thirty Jewish girls were hidden there among the students. The Nazis raided the house three times, but never found anyone, because the girls rushed each time to the partly bombed part of the house through a passage dug under the rubble. The Nazis never reached that part of the house because they did not find the secret passage.

13. The Champagnat Institute of the Marist Brothers

They gave refuge to one hundred children and fifty parents, but they were betrayed by one of the French soldiers also hiding there. He came from Alsace and was probably an SS agent. Forty Gestapo men burst into the building one night and murdered most of the Jews. They arrested the six Brothers and took them to Gestapo headquarters on Svábhegy. From there they were taken to the district court of Pest and to the cellars of parliament and were cruelly tortured. Finally they were taken to Castle Hill, where they survived the siege. Only a few Jewish children and adults, accidentally left behind in the institute, survived.

14. The Pauline (Pálos) Monastery, Mount St Gellért, Buda.

Mostly occupied by the German army since summer 1944 they could not admit anyone, but they managed to place in private homes all those who turned to them for help.

15.Mother House of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer, Svábhegy,Buda

They sheltered 150 children, but the Nazis and the Gestapo, whose headquarters were quite near by, found them and took them away.

16. The Carmelite Nuns (O.D.C.)

Gave hospitality to 330 Jews, mostly children, all of whom were saved.

17. The Mary Ward School in Váci utca, Pest.

They admitted 40 children and 8 adults, later a further sixty children and twenty adults to their villa in Zugliget. Both places were inspected and harassed several times but nothing happened to anyone.

18. The Central Seminary, Pest.

They hid forty children, but when the situation became too dangerous the seminarists took some of them home to their parents and relatives. Fourteen remained with the students and temporary shelter was provided for another thirteen refugees.

19. The House of Mercy, Obuda.

Twenty-five adults and fifteen children hiding there were taken before Christmas to so-called sheltered accommodation on Nazi orders. People in sheltered houses were under curfew and supposed to be deported later, but because of the siege there was no time to carry out the deportations and many Jews in sheltered houses survived.

20. The Good Shepherd Convent, Buda.

They admitted 112 girls. Here again the Nazis twice raided the house, but a hidden passage into an adjacent building provided a refuge for the fugitives and everyone survived.

21. The Jesuit Provincial House, Pest.

Father Rayle, with the Lazarist Father Koehler, one of the leading figures of the rescue team, hid roughly 150 Jews in the Provincial House, which especially during the last week of the siege of Budapest was in a highly vulnerable position. Day after day the Nazis broke into the house and chased the priests all over the building at gunpoint. Father Rayle put an end to this procedure by disguising two Hungarian soldiers - from 100 soldiers who were also hiding in the building - as policemen, transforming the porter's lodge into a police post. This stopped further entry by anyone into the building. All refugees survived.

22. The Ranolder Institute - Girls school run by the Sisters of Charity, Pest.

The school suffered extensive damage during the Allied bombings and could not admit anyone, but 100 Jewish girls were hidden in the Blessed Catherine Holiday Home in Zugliget. There the nuns installed a fake military workshop and managed to survive until the siege, when that part of the city was quickly liberated from the Germans and the Jews were saved.

23. The Daughters of Divine Charity, Knézits utca, Pest.

In November 1944 two hundred forced labourers were put up in the house and very well catered for. After they left 110 adults and children were given asylum. Arrow-Cross agents stationed across the road spotted them and broke into the house. They kept the Sister Superior at gunpoint and took away the fugitives. Only five or six managed to escape over the roof.

24. Women's Home, run by the Social Sisters, Bokréta utca, Pest.

The twenty-five refugees hiding there were denounced by a Nazi employee. Sister Schalkházi and teacher Vilma Berkovits together with two Jews were driven away and shot the same day. The papers of other refugees were found in order, but they did not feel safe and fled.

25. Institute of St Theresa, Proféta utca, Pest.

Thirty fugitives were put up in the house, which also functioned as accommodation agency. Many hundreds of Jews picked up their safe­-conduct passes and false papers there and about 500 were directed to safe private addresses. The Nazis tried to infiltrate the Institute several times, but the Sisters always managed to avert the danger and everyone survived.

26. The Cistercians in Horánszky utca, Pest, successfully sheltered fifteen refugees.

27. The Headquarters of the Catholic Apprentices

Twenty-six places were retained for refugees. Dénes Sándor, a teacher of religion, and Dutch officers who were hidden there on a secret mission to Budapest, directed the resistance activities of an enthusiastic group of young Christians. They carried out their humanitarian rescue operations while doing military service by tricks worthy of the most daring adventure stories. Many thousands of safe-conduct passes and false documents were handed out from here. In spite of a German motorised unit being moved into the premises at the end of December, everyone survived.

28. Sisters of Mercy of Szatmár, Hám János Home.

The Home was just one flat in a large housing block, but the Sisters managed to admit twenty Jews. The other tenants only found out about this when they did not come down to the air raid shelter because Germans sheltered there as well. Everybody kept quiet about it, so all the Jews were saved.

29. Society of the Sacred Heart, Ajtósi Dürer Sor, Pest.

Two hundred women and children found refuge in this boarding school for girls. Furthermore, a large contingent of forced labourers (all Jews) who were living in a grammar school nearby obtained papal safe­-conduct passes through the Sisters.

When the labour force was moved away, many of them found refuge and accommodation through the Sisters. They were given food and clothing as well. Everyone was saved.

30. Caritas Old People's Home

Though very small it sheltered eleven Jews. The Arrow-Cross agents became suspicious of the numbers and arrested the warden during the night. They interrogated and threatened him with imprisonment, but he gave nothing away and all were saved.

31. Josephinum (Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Pest. [11]

Sixty children and twenty adults, including two Yugoslav citizens were hiding there, quite near the infamous Nazi centre on Andrássy út. In spite of that no harm came to anyone, they all survived the siege.

32. The Benedictines (O.S.B.)

Hid 80 Jews in the air-raid shelter of their monastery and kept them all through the siege. Fathers Lucius Havasi and Francis Xavier Szunyogh suffered much while acting as ghetto chaplains.

33 The Sisters of Unio Eucharistica, Pest.
Their Institute was in a private apartment in Appony Square, near the Elizabeth Bridge. They transformed it into a small hospital and admitted twenty Jews as 'patients'. Following a betrayal, the Nazis raided the flat in the middle of the night and drove away all the refugees whose documents were not good enough. They also dragged the Sister Superior to a detention centre, beat her, and threatened her with execution. They then let her go with a warning that if she was caught once more hiding Jews they would kill her at once. In spite of that she hired another flat in Andrassy út and later in Benczur utca, where she again took in thirty Jews. She placed a further forty in private houses all were saved. The founder of the Order, Prelate Professor Arnold Pataky, also placed his four-room flat at the disposal of fugitives and provided many Jews with false documents which he obtained by bribing a Nazi. All destitute people were helped free of charge. Professor Pataky was a member of the Upper House of Parliament and was present at the only session called by the new head of state, the Arrow­ Cross man, Ferenc Szálasi, at which he vigorously protested against the inhuman treatment of Jews.

34. Salesian Fathers' House of St Aloysius, Obuda

Twelve adults and forty children were admitted there. The close proximity of the local Nazi centre made the place dangerous from the start. The Nazis attacked it three times. During the first raid they drove away half the refugees, some of whom they shot at once. The second time five men were taken away. The third time the Nazis returned was during Christmas night when they drove thirteen little boys to the river Danube. There they shot twelve of them dead. The thirteenth, who could swim, was not hit but simulated the fall into the Danube and miraculously survived to tell of the horrors of that night. Meanwhile the Father Superior and his deputy were dragged to Nazi headquarters for a brutal beating. Only the personal intervention of the Papal Nuncio saved their lives. As a further punishment, the house was ransacked and the money box of the poor Salesian Fathers stolen.

35. Rescue operations of the Social Sisters (Sociális Testvérek)

Under the leadership of Sister Margit Schlachta, the Society of Social Sisters took the lion's share of all rescue operations. Their sense of justice and respect for human dignity placed them in the forefront of fighters against brutality, injustice and murder. Few people know that Sister Schlachta travelled to Rome and personally presented to the Pope a secret report she had compiled on Jewish persecution in Slovakia. As a result of her efforts the Slovak bishops took an energetic stand against the Nazis and put an end to deportations from Slovakia. While in Rome she also had discussions with Cardinal Spellman. Margit Schlachta also sent a circular letter to 500 Hungarian members of parliament, blaming them for the unlawful appropriation of Jewish property. The Sisters organised courses to explain and condemn Hitlerite doctrines and to teach Christian charity. 

The Social Sisters' periodical Word of the Spirit bravely sided with the persecuted. Sister Schlachta's New Year letter enraged extreme right wing politicians. Hundreds of letters of safe conduct were obtained by the Sisters from the International Red Cross, the Swedish Embassy and the Papal Nuncio. The latter's residence provided a 24­ hour emergency service.

In 160 groups with eighty teachers, spread all over the country, they provided religious instruction to over 10,000 Jews who, protected by the Holy Cross Society, wanted to become Christians. Four Sisters were murdered by the Nazis and are considered as martyrs. One of them, Sister Salkházi said one year before her death: "If anyone among the Sisters has to die during these hard times, let it be me." God accepted her sacrifice.

The Sisters also did a wonderful job in ghettos and sheltered (yellow-star) houses, helping many Jews to escape. Roughly a thousand Jews were rescued in the following houses of the Society of Social Sisters: The Mother House in Budapest, Thököly ut: 140 persons; Remeteváros: 120; Ajtosi Dürer Sor 100; at Pécs: 20; Jankovich holiday camp: 20; Zamárdi: 15; Kolozsvár: 10; Nagyvárad 20; Szegvar: 10; Ulászlo utca: 16. The others were in the houses at Bokréta utca, Pest, Szombathely, Székesfehérvár, Gyöngyös and Zugliget.

Chapter IV

Excerpts from the commentary by Dr. András Zakar on L'Egl ise Ne S'est pas Tue (Dossier Hongroise 1940-45) (The Church did not remain silent - Hungarian Dossier 1940-45) by Jenö Lévai.

In an introductory study in Levai's book, L. Bolgar and T. Schreiber review the history of Judaism in Hungary. Coming mostly from Galicia the Jews very quickly occupied important economic and trading positions in the country and gained more and more influence on the political and cultural life of the nation. Bolgar and Schreiber think this is due to the fact that the Hungarians in the 19th century were too busy trying to resist Germanising tendencies coming from Vienna.

The Versailles, or Trianon, peace treaty of 1920 was supposed to be based on the self-determination of ethnic groups, and yet it excluded four and a half million Hungarians from belonging to their motherland.

The unjust peace treaty and many other events, such as the Anschluss (Austria's annexation by Germany) in 1938, and the failure of the Western Powers to resist Hitler's dictatorship gradually orientated Hungarians towards the Third Reich, because they hoped it would support their claim to review the Trianon frontiers. However, when World War II began, Hungarian politicians initially resisted German pressure quite successfully. In September 1939 the government refused to allow German troops to use Hungarian territory on their way to Poland. In 1941 the Prime Minister Count Pál Teleki committed suicide rather than submit to Germany's demand that Hungarian troops attack Yugoslavia. Thus Hungary succeeded in remaining an oasis of peace in war-devastated Europe until early 1944, and gave asylum to 70,000 Jews from neighbouring German-occupied countries.

"When deportations began", continue Bolgar and Schreiber, basing their assertions on contemporary documents, "the Hungarian Church, especially Cardinal Serédi, constantly acted according to the intentions of the Holy See and its representative in Hungary the Apostolic Nuncio Angelo Rotta. Bishops and clergy heroically tried to protect the persecuted. It is true that some - especially after the Arrow-Cross coup of October 1944 - vacillated and lost courage, but many remained firm and dedicated, especially Bishops Aron Márton of Gyulafehérvár (Transylvania) and Vilmos Apor of Györ."

Jenö Levai also writes an introduction in which he analyses Hochhuth's play The Representative, and the book by Gerald Reitlinger The Final Solution in which Chapter 16, which deals with Hungary, is incomplete and needs important corrections and amendments. "My first documentation", he says, "dates from 1946, when authentic sources of information were scarce. Later, from German diplomatic sources, Hungarian official documents and with the help of Mgr. Genaro Verolino who, with the Nuncio's permission, allowed [me] to see the Apostolic Nuncio's archives, I saw more clearly and could use this new material in my Hungarian book published in 1946 and entitled The Grey Book. Alas, Mr. Reitlinger did not take my amendments into consideration when his book was published again and translated into English in 1956. Therefore, I have to admit that Hochhuth and Reitlinger are not accurate where details on the fate of Hungarian Jews are concerned."

Lévai's book is in two parts. The first part contains memoranda which Nuncio Rotta sent to the Hungarian government on behalf of Pope Pius XII, the latter's open telegram to Regent Horthy and his reply. It also contains the text of the Vatican's safe-conduct passes issued to thousands of Jews.

The second part of Lévai's book is entitled: Independent activity of the Hungarian Catholic Church. In this section one can read details of Cardinal Serédi's correspondence, protests sent to various members of the government and their replies, records of personal interviews with the Nuncio and other bishops, the strictly confidential letter to the Episcopate, a report on the Gerecse meeting. Finally, this part summarises reports and some documents relating to sermons preached during the persecutions, and details of activities of institutions trying to save lives. (See Chapter III.)

Unfortunately the book contains several errors and omissions. This is all the more regrettable because the author had access to historical documents and claims to be reliable. It needs rectification and the filling in of many gaps.

It must be said, therefore, that no one should believe that after reading Lévai's book he or she has an accurate picture of the Church's life-saving activities (The work of the Holy Cross Society is not mentioned at all). Nevertheless, the book is valuable because, for the first time after 22 years, documents are submitted to an international forum which prove that the Hungarian Catholic Church and its leader, under the guidance of Pope Pius XII, tried to protect the persecuted Jews most courageously and successfully in spite of great risk to themselves. Dr. Zakar's main criticism concerns the quite obviously biased use of the published material.

1) A small but very important passage of the 1944 Pastoral Letter has been omitted from the French text. This is all the more regrettable because without it the impartial views held by the bishops on the Jewish question are not evident, nor is the responsibility of the Jews themselves for their contributing to the ill-feeling mentioned. The relevant passage - obviously omitted intentionally - runs as follows: 'We cannot deny that some members of the Jewish community have had a subversive and destructive influence on Hungarian economic, social and moral life and no protest was made against it by fellow-Jews. We do not doubt that the Jewish question has to be solved legally and justly. Therefore, we do not object to, but approve of, any necessary and justifiable reforms of the economic structures which need to be undertaken for the abuses to be remedied'.

2) The number of deaths cited include not only those due to persecution, but also those of war victims, such as civilian casualties from Allied military action, the atrocities of the conquering Russian forces, or natural deaths.

3) Many Jewish people living in the provinces managed to avoid deportation (by escaping from detention, hiding, or going to Budapest, etc). Therefore, Lévai should not rely on only three sets of figures when compiling his statistics: those Jews saved in Budapest 119,000; those who came back from deportation 121,000; and those who survived forced labour camps 20,000; a total of 260,000. There were more Jews living in Hungary after the war than Lévai's statistics would indicate.

4) Lévai's statistics also omit to mention all those who after the war returned to territories outside the Trianon borders. He quotes the number of Jews living in the enlarged Hungary, but his number of those returned refers only to the smaller, post-Trianon Hungary.

5) The picture is made even more confusing by the fact that Lévai's statistic does not say that the figure of 825,007 Jews living in Hungary includes also the territories which were returned to Hungary between 1938 and 1941. It is probable that French readers know nothing about the country's reduction in size after 1920 and again in 1945. Statistics of survivors are very sad matters indeed. Every human life is of infinite value, but when facts are distorted it is our duty to rectify them.

6) True figures should be sought from German sources which are far more satisfactory. According to a report by Veesenmeyer, the representative of the German government in Hungary, sent to the German Foreign Office in December 1943, 1,100,000 persons in Hungary were affected by anti-Jewish laws in 1940. In the memorandum handed over by Cardinal Serédi to the prime minister in 1944 he mentions roughly one million. The disparity of 100,000 between the two figures was due to the difference between the Hungarian and German assessment of who was a Jew. The Church had obtained a change in the law defining a Jew (two Jewish grandparents instead of one, etc). According to the 1941 census out of the 14,683,323 inhabitants of Hungary, 725,007 (4.9%) were of Jewish religion, of which only 139,433 considered themselves to be Jewish nationals.

7) It is evident that there are many more survivors than are accounted for in the book. Furthermore, there are many who returned to the USSR, Romania, Yugoslavia and Austria. It should also be established how many went to other foreign countries, including Israel.

Finally, many of those who initially fled to Budapest and managed to save their lives there, later left the country and settled down elsewhere (UK, USA, etc.).

8) The book should have mentioned the political maturity of the Hungarian people, the risks the Church took and the battles it fought to save the lives of the Jews, while during that same period no similar efforts were made in other occupied countries - apart from some isolated attempts to save a few Jewish individuals, especially rich ones. With reference to the deportation of Jews from Hungary, one should mention that exceptions were made in the case of some wealthy Jews and their families, Weiss, Chorin, Kornfeld, etc. (1,684 individuals). These were flown to Switzerland and Portugal by the SS in exchange for their handing over their factories and wealth. It must be added that many non-Jewish people were also deported and murdered, such as left-wing politicians, intellectuals, trade union leaders and others who would not submit to Nazi rule.

Sometimes, attempts to save Jews were hindered or even frustrated by the Allies. One such was an attempt to present a ransom proposal to Adolf Eichmann, but the British arrested the courier on the Turkish­ Syria border and did not release him until after the war. [12] Many people believe it was some British and American actions that prevented the saving of one million lives and not the Hungarians. It is ironic that the victorious powers after the First World War, in 1920, were capable of destroying the thousand-year-old geopolitical, historical, economic and cultural entity of Hungary, but could not, or would not, protect the victims of fanatical racism in 1944.

9) Figures in Lévai's book (p. 15) are confusing because, if the number of Jews deported and killed during the German occupation is 618,007, and that of the survivors is 260,000, we get the figure of 878,007, whereas there were originally supposed to be only 825,000 in all. A book on the subject twenty-two years later should show more thorough research.

The author states that in Hungary and in many other countries you could read Mein Kampf. He should have mentioned that the basic error of the Rosenberg racist theory was that it made every Jew responsible for Talmud ethics. In a Papal encyclical published in 1937 the Church condemned racial persecution and Nazism, and was not only 'shocked' by it, as he says on page 11. By constantly emphasizing equal human rights and Christian brotherhood, Pope Pius X11 infuriated racists [13]. Some Jewish leaders strictly adhered to rabbinical explanations of the Talmud which are based on a religious and national creed established 2,500 years ago and never revoked. This belief proclaims the absolute superiority of the Jewish race over all others.

By dying on the Cross for all mankind Jesus Christ obtained for every human being the privilege to become the 'chosen' of God, a privilege originally granted to Abraham and his descendants, of whom the Messiah would be born. After Jesus Christ the elevation of one race above another is not acceptable any more. If someone refuses to adopt Christ's teaching he has in our time to accept the solemn declaration of the United Nations on the equality of races and of human rights.

10) On page 34, the book does mention the risks Hungarian bishops took when protesting against Jewish persecution and when they smuggled the Auschwitz Minutes to Geneva for publication. But it does not tell its readers that the Swiss authorities refused to allow their publication or circulation. They were then sent on to England, but when published there many people treated them with scepticism.

It is a pity the book does not comment on the odd situation that while the Hungarian Church and people under Nazi occupation had the courage to take risks, Switzerland which made much capital out if its neutrality, did not allow even a newspaper article to inform the world of what was going on. As a neutral state it is just that kind of service it could have offered to mankind... The Jewish Council, established for the protection of Jewish interests, could have had the same role, but they did not even take the trouble to warn those whom they knew would be taken to concentration camps next day. Nor did they help to publicise the real purpose of the deportations.

11) On page 109 there is just a short mention of the dramatic Gerecse conference between Cardinal Serédi and the prime minister, and of the confiscation of the pastoral letter by the government. The author should have added that next day special couriers did take 700 copies personally to parish priests who had not received them [Cf. p 211.]


If there is common ground between Christian and Jewish Hungarians it must be our common faith in the almighty, merciful God on whose blessing all our efforts for reconciliation and harmony depend. A second common ground is surely the earthly reality that Hungary is our common home. Do we not share the same sentiments, the same love for our homeland? If we do, that should be a guarantee for working together for the good of our country, irrespective of racial, religious or cultural differences. There was a great Hungarian Jew who believed in this dream. He was the Chief Rabbi of Hungary, Simon Hevesi (Handler) who died in 1943, before Hungary became the last victim of the Nazi tyranny.

When Hungary regained some of the territories taken away by the unjust Trianon Peace Treaty, he composed the following prayer at the end of 1941:

"Almighty and wonder-working God! I believe in the miracle of world history. I believe that Thou hast worked wonders with Hungary, our beloved nation, and shalt work wonders with her forever. May Thou keep and protect her and may Thy mercy, like a golden bridge, glitter over her.

"Praised be Thou, O Lord, for restoring to our nation the lands that had been taken from her. We raise our countenance to Thee in hopeful trust and believe fervently that Thy justice shall not diminish. The paths of world history are tangled, but Thy justice is like the glittering rays of the sun that cut through even the densest mist of time.

Oh may Thou continue to be the heavenly guardian of truth and bring a joyous, glorious, and blessed future upon the Hungarian nation. May truth and tranquillity, fraternal labour, blissful contentment, and sincere cooperation flourish in this land. Grant us, O Lord, that we may share in the sacred work of building the future. Grant us, O Lord, the nobility of comprehension so that we may serve the highest truth, the glory and welfare of our land, the moral order of the world, and brotherly love with labour, endurance, sacrifice, renunciation, enthusiasm, unselfishness, and devotion. May we be allowed to witness the coming of better times, to contribute with exemplary moral conduct and the purity of our daily lives, to the realization of a higher moral ideal in which the salvation of mankind and our nation is hidden and the brightness of which emanates from Thy sacred teaching.

"Like a thirsty deer that languishes for the cool waters of the brook, our souls yearn for Thee, Helping God, our Protector in Heaven, and Ever-vigilant Guardian over earthly affairs. Blot out the memory of our tribulations and sufferings and bring relief to tormented mankind. May wisdom and understanding, intelligence and creativity, and the spirit of faith and kindness descend upon mankind so that we may enjoy the happiness which Thou hast bestowed upon it with the treasures of the universe that Thou hast created in Thy fatherly mercy. Like eternal desire and dreamlike lamentation, yearning for Thy mercy and for salvation lives in the hearts of all of us. Pardon our sins and redeem us. Merciful God, redeem mankind, the flock of Thy covenant, that lives in fear of the dark future and longingly awaits the blessing of Thy divine mercy.

"Do not cast us away from Thee; do not deprive us of Thy sacred spirit. Let Thy light and bliss descend upon us so that they may guide us to Thee.

"Sacred holidays are at hand; the present shall soon be past on the wings of time; the new year is upon us. We raise our countenance toward Thee. Look down upon us, O Lord! Our Redeemer! Our God! Write mankind into the book of happiness! Our Father, our King, grant us a happy new year! Amen." [14]

If all Christian and Jewish Hungarians could pray together like this, a dream could become a reality, the peace of Hungary would be an inspiration to the rest of the world. Should we dare to have such a hope? I wonder.

At the meeting between Pope John Paul II and the Hungarian Jewish representatives on 18 August 1991, in the Apostolic Nunciature in Budapest, Peter Kardos, the Chief Rabbi of Hungary, in his welcoming address said: "The most horrendous manifestation of anti-Jewish behaviour [by Hungarian Catholics] was in the middle of the 20th century, when six million of our Jewish brothers and sisters, among them 600,000 Jews living in Hungary, were murdered. The leaders of the Hungarian Catholic Church at that time did not make any public condemnation of the deportation of the hundreds of thousands." Hardly the hand of welcome.

What hope is there of improving Hungarian Christian-Jewish relations when Stephen Kinzer writing in The New York Times (19 August, 1991) can criticise the Pope's decision to pray at the tomb of Cardinal Mindszenty upon arriving in Hungary? He describes Cardinal Mindszenty as an anti-Semite, who, he writes, quoting the Hungarian Jewish monthly magazine Szombat, "as Bishop of Veszprém, allowed priests to hold Mass on 25 June 1944, at which they prayed to God to free their town from Jews", whereas the opposite was the case (Cf. Mindszenty Memoirs p. 17). He also blames the Cardinal for the increased tension between Jews and Catholics in Hungary.

For all Hungarian Catholics, and for other Christians too, Cardinal Mindszenty is a martyr of the Hungarian Catholic resistance to Nazism and Communism. If Hungarian Jews maintain their present critical attitude towards the late Cardinal and the Catholics of Hungary in general, an attitude which appears to be founded upon questionable statistics and a partial interpretation of the events of Hungarian history during the years 1944-45, there can be little progress towards a better understanding based on the truth.

Little or no recognition has been given by the Jewish community, now living freely in Hungary, to the Church as a whole or to those many individual men and women who worked at considerable risk to themselves to save their Jewish compatriots. If the Jews of Hungary continue to inject a note of rancour as they propound their ill-founded belief that they were alone in their suffering, with all hands turned against them, supporting this belief on grounds of doubtful validity, what chances can there be for a genuine reconciliation between us?

Simon Hevesi

Born in Aszód (Pest county) in 1868, Simon Hevesi (Handler) completed the last years of his high school education in the National Rabbinical Institute in Budapest, where he continued his theological studies. He was ordained rabbi in 1894, and following brief periods of service in small communities, he was elected rabbi of the Pest community in 1905.

He became chief rabbi in 1927, a position he was to hold until his death in 1943. A skilled and effective speaker he taught homiletics and Jewish philosophy at the National Rabbi­nical Institute Hevesi was also a frequent contributor to scholarly publica­tions and a leader in the cultural life of Hungarian Jewry. His works include Dalalat Alhairin (1928), a study on Moses Maimonides's Guide for the Per­plexed. "Prayer" is translated from "Ima," in Ararát, ed. Aladár Komós (Budapest: Országos tzraelita Leányárvaház, 1941), pp. 10-11. By permis­sion of A Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviselete.


1. Leaders of all religious denominations in Hungary, philosophers, economists and writers as well, have joined forces in the newly established Reconciliation Foundation, the aim of which is to combat anti-Semitism.

2. Dr. Jusztinián Serédi, a Benedictine monk, professor of Canon Law and a personal friend of Pope Pius XII, was Cardinal Archbishop of Esztergom and Prince Primate of Hungary from 1927 until his death on 29 March 1945.

3. He wrote a few books, published in Hungarian in the West: Elhallgatott Fejezetek a Magyar Történelemböl. (Suppressed Chapters of Hungarian History), 1976; Gróf Teleki Pál Halála, (The Death of Count Pal Teleki), 1981; Melkizedek, 1982: Kazariai Allamcsiny (The putsch of Kazakhstan), 1987.

4. A nationalist party, many members of which were Nazi sympathisers.

5. Adolf Eichmann (1906-62) was an official of the Nazi S.S. As head of the Gestapo's Jewish section after 1939, he was chiefly responsible for the murder of millions of Jews in occupied Europe. Arrested by the Allies in 1945, he escaped and fled to South America. He was captured by the Israeli secret service in Argentina (1960), taken to Jerusalem, tried, and executed (1962).

6. The Jewish Chronicle published in its issue of 5 July 1991, a report by Joseph Finklestone from Bucharest about the country's Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen accusing the Romanian Government at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Romanian pogroms that the Romanian people had been lied to for fifty years about the Holocaust. There was also harsh criticism of President Iliescu who, in a speech written for the occasion, maintained that "Hitler's 'Final Solution' had not been put into effect in Romania because its citizens had had the courage to resist it." The remark was greeted with gasps of astonishment from the 2,000-strong congregation, which included a number of Holocaust survivors and prominent historians.

The ceremony was followed by the unveiling of a monument in memory of the estimated 400,000 Romanian Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Concern for the future of Romania's 18,000 Jews was expressed in a speech by Mr Hammer and in messages from Israel's President Chaim Herzog, US Secretary of State James Baker, former German Chancellor Willy Brandt and several prominent American Jewish leaders.

7. These are reputed to be reports by escapees from Auschwitz about their treatment.

8. Apart from a considerable number of Jewish converts to Christianity, about 100,000 Christians were regarded by the Nazis as Jews because one of their parents or grandparents was a Jew, and these were included in the total Jewish population, thus making the total up to 825,000 (1941).

9. The national organisation representing Jewish interests.

10. Since the times of St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary (1001-1038), the Prince Primate is not only the leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary but also a prominent Political figure and is regarded as the highest-ranking citizen of the country.

11 The Hungarian Catholic weekly Uj Ember reported on 7 July 1991 that on 4 June 1991, at the Embassy of Israel in Budapest, Slomo Marom, Israel's Ambassador to Hungary, presented the Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its foundress Zsuzsanna Ván with the Yad Vasem Medal for saving Jewish lives at the time of the Jewish persecution by the Nazis. The Ambassador expressed the gratitude of all Jewish people and assured Sister Van that her name will be engraved on the marble tablet kept at Yad Vasem Park in Jerusalem, a national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

12.   Joel Brand, a wealthy Jewish businessman who emigrated from Germany to Hungary in 1934, regarded it as his special task to rescue Jews from the East. Dr Rudolf Kastner, the leader of the Hungarian Zionist movement, offered a ransom to Eichmann in exchange for all the Jews in Hungary. Kastner was regarded as a Nazi collaborator and was later murdered in Jerusalem (F. K. Kaul The Eichmann Affair, Budapest, 1965, pp. 222-223.)

13. The Independent reported (17 July 1991) that Rudolph Rahn, a former German ambassador to Rome, stated in an interview given to the Catholic magazine 30 Giorni, that in late 1943 Hitler wanted to storm the Vatican, seize Pope Pius XII and his cardinals and deport them to Germany.

Rahn and General Karl Wolff, who was to be in charge of the operation, persuaded him not to go ahead with the plan.

14. The Holocaust in Hungary by Andrew Handler, p. 33. The University of Alabama Press, 1982. See note on Simon Hevesi p. 45

Copyright ©; ChurchinHistory 2003

This version: 29th May 2006

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