The wind was blowing icicles into our eyes. Our breath got frozen to the fabric we used to cover our faces. One's legs were in great pain dragging the body…Anyone who got exhausted and sat down for a minute would inevitably freeze to death. That applied equally to men and horses. They lay there next to each other frozen to death, a soldier, a horse, and a Jew.
György Beifeld, 1943
2004 marked the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, during which approximately 564,000 Jews living within the wartime borders of the country were killed. Hungary occupies a particularly tragic place in the history of the Holocaust because of the speed and ferocity with which nearly two thirds of this significant European Jewish community, once so well integrated into the fabric of Hungarian life and culture, were murdered but a year before the surrender of Nazi Germany to Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union.
In recent years, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has been fortunate to obtain three highly significant collections of documents, photographs, art, and artifacts that illustrate and describe various aspects of the experience of Hungarian Jews during the period between 1933 and 1948. These collections include a handwritten journal of a Hungarian businessman, written while he was imprisoned in the Bergen-Belsen camp during the early months of 1945; a multi-volume diary of a Hungarian physicist and inventor, who reflected at length about the life of Jews in Budapest in the 1930s and 1940s; and lastly, the richly illustrated memoir of a Hungarian Jew who spent more than a year at the eastern front in 1942–1943 as a member of a forced-labor battalion. This last acquisition, the Byfield album, is the focus of this online display.
György Beifeld (later George Byfield) was a 40-year-old Hungarian Jew in 1942. He lived in Budapest, where he was trained as a lawyer, but earned his living as a stockbroker. He was also a talented artist who loved to draw and paint in his spare time. In the spring of 1942, Beifeld was one of 50,000 Jewish men who were deployed in the Hungarian Labor Service (Munkaszolgálat) in the USSR to support Hungarian troops sent to the eastern front to help the Axis to conquer the Soviet Union.