The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is mandated by Congress to educate Americans about the history of the Holocaust and to annually commemorate its victims in the national Days of Remembrance ceremony. The Museum has designated “For Justice and Humanity” as the theme for the 2004 Days of Remembrance in memory of the Jews of Hungary, deported sixty years ago in the final stages of World War II, and to honor those courageous individuals as well as the few organizations and countries who attempted to rescue them.
In 1944, Nazi Germany and its collaborators continued, even accelerated, the killings of the "Final Solution" despite certain military defeat. By late summer 1944, Soviet forces, having crushed the German Army in Belorussia, were approaching Germany from the east, while British and American forces, following their successful D-Day invasion of France in June, approached from the west.
Suspicious of Hungarian efforts to desert the Axis alliance, German forces occupied Hungary in March 1944. In May, Hungarian officials, with German guidance, began the systematic deportation of Jews from Hungary. Most of the victims were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland, while a minority was deported to a string of transit and forced labor camps on the Austro-Hungarian border. In less than three months, German and Hungarian authorities deported approximately 440,000 Jews. At least half of them were killed in gas chambers immediately upon their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the time the Red Army drove the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators out of Hungary in April 1945, nearly four-fifths of the Hungarian Jewish community had been killed.
Yet there were some individuals, organizations and countries that asserted the value of human life in the face of the systematic murder of men, women and children. The War Refugee Board (WRB), established on January 22, 1944, by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, worked with Jewish organizations, diplomats from neutral countries, and resistance groups in Europe to rescue Jews from occupied territories and provide relief to inmates of Nazi concentration camps. Its mandate was to take "all measures to rescue victims of enemy oppression in imminent danger of death."
The creation of the WRB was largely the work of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and his team. Following the 1942 confirmation of the mass murder of Europe's Jews, the failure of the Bermuda Conference on rescue in April 1943, and the growing outrage of the American Jewry at how little was being done to rescue the remnant of Europe's Jews, there was pressure on Roosevelt to take action, which he finally did in establishing the WRB in 1944. Measured against the enormity of the Holocaust, the work of the WRB and its accomplishments were far too late and exceedingly modest. Yet, when viewed in the context of the military situation in early 1944, and the enormous challenges faced by the agency, the activities and results of the WRB were significant.
Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat based in Budapest, Hungary, led the War Refugee Board's most extensive rescue efforts. Wallenberg and his Swedish colleagues, such as Per Anger, helped protect tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from being deported to Auschwitz by distributing protective Swedish passports or travel papers. As Sweden was a neutral country, Germany could not easily harm Swedish citizens. Diplomats from other neutral countries joined the rescue effort. Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, issued certificates of emigration placing nearly 50,000 Jews in Budapest under Swiss protection. Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, issued forged Spanish visas and established under his "authority" safe houses, including one for Jewish children. Angelo Rotta, the papal nuncio in Budapest, protested the treatment of the Jews and issued thousands of Vatican protective passes. When Soviet forces liberated Budapest in February 1945, more than 100,000 Jews still remained in the city because of the efforts of Wallenberg, Lutz, Perlasca, Rotta, and other diplomats and individuals. The War Refugee Board played a crucial role in the rescue of as many as 200,000 Jews in German-occupied Europe.
U.S. officials knew about German plans to murder the European Jews more than a year before taking specific action, in establishing the War Refugee Board, to help rescue Europe's Jews. Even though this action was late, it saved lives, reminding us of the terrible consequences of indifference and of the possibility for individuals, organizations and countries to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.
Ambassador Ayalon, His Excellency, Ambassador of Israel »
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States »
Elie Wiesel, Founding Chair, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
Benjamin Meed, Member, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
Ruth B. Mandel, Vice–Chair, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
Fred S. Zeidman, Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
January 22, 1944
President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board to take “all measures for the rescue of victims of enemy oppression.”
March 19, 1944
German forces occupied Hungary.
March 29, 1944
The Hungarian council of ministers, working in cooperation with the Germans, issued anti-Jewish decrees including the requirement that Jews wear an identifying Star of David badge beginning April 5.
May 15, 1944
Hungarian police officials, in coordination with German officials began the mass deportation of around 440,000 Jews from the Hungarian provinces, mostly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland.
June 6, 1944
D-Day. Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. By September they approached Germany.
June 22, 1944
Soviet forces launched a major offensive in Belorussia. By the end of July they reached the east bank of the Vistula River, in the suburbs of Warsaw.
July 7, 1944
In light of the deteriorating war situation, increasing Allied threats to prosecute perpetrators, and appeals from Pope Pius XII and King Gustav V of Sweden, Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy suspended the deportations of Jews from Hungary. However, by this time, the only remaining community of Jews in Hungary was in Budapest.
July 9, 1944
Swedish embassy attaché Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest with authorization from the Swedish government to distribute certificates of protection (Schutzpässe) to Jews in Budapest.
October 15, 1944
After learning that Hungarian authorities were prepared to negotiate an armistice with the Soviets, the Germans supported the fascist Arrow Cross Party in a successful attempt to seize power. Over the next several weeks, Arrow Cross units raided buildings designated for Jews, killing hundreds.
November 8, 1944
Hungarian Arrow Cross authorities began a forced evacuation of Jews to the Austrian border, where they turned them over to the Germans to work on a defensive wall protecting Vienna.
December 10, 1944
Budapest ghetto was sealed.
December 25-27, 1944
Soviet troops complete the encirclement of Budapest
December 31, 1944
Arrow Cross units raided the “Glass House,” a building under the protection of the Swiss government that sheltered several thousand Jews. Arrow Cross raids aimed at capturing Jews continued throughout Budapest for the next few weeks
January 20, 1945
Leaders of the National Independence Front, a provisional Hungarian government established behind Soviet lines in Debrecen, signed an armistice with the Soviet military representatives; Arrow Cross elements continued to hold out in besieged Budapest and in western Hungary
February 13, 1945
German-Hungarian garrison in Budapest surrendered to Soviet military authorities, ending the fighting in the capital. Around 120,000 Jews survived in the city
April 4, 1945
Pro-German Hungarian units driven out of Hungary into Austria by the Red Army
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