Trading in Lives? Operations of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Budapest, 1944-1945

Trading in Lives? Operations of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Budapest, 1944-1945

Trading in Lives? Operations of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Budapest, 1944-1945

Trading in Lives? Operations of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee in Budapest, 1944-1945

Synopsis

Set in the tumultuous moments of 1944-45 Budapest, this work discusses the operations of the Budapest Relief and Rescue Committee. Drawing out the contradictions and complexities of the mass deportations of Hungarian Jews during the final phase of World War II, Szita suggests that in the Hungarian context, a commerce in lives ensued, where prominent Zionists like Dr. Rezso Kasztner negotiated with the higher echelons of the SS, trying to garner the freedom of Hungarian Jews. Szita's portrait of the controversial Kasztner is a more sympathetic rendition of powerful Zionist leader who was later assassinated in Israel for his dealings with Nazi leaders. Szita reveals a story of interweaving personalities and conflicts during arguably the most tragic moment in European history. The author's extensive research is a tremendous contribution to a field of study that has been much ignored by scholarship--the Hungarian holocaust and the trade in human lives.

Excerpt

From the fall of 1941 on, the persecution of Jews intensified in the countries surrounding the Kingdom of Hungary. Thousands of refugees fled from systematic looting, ghettoization and deportation to Hungarian territory. the Jewish charity organizations in Hungary were faced with a new challenge. They were compelled to broaden the scope of their activities in order to provide assistance to the forlorn, defenseless multitudes.

The territorial revisions and the re-expansion of the country that took place between 1938 and 1941 brought a palpable strengthening in the Hungarian Zionist movement. (With hardly more than 4,000–5,000 members, Zionism had little influence over the lives of Hungarian Jews before 1938.) the growing popularity of Zionism was also due to the effect of a several rounds of antiJewish legislation and widespread, institutionalized discrimination directed against Hungarian Jews.

In Budapest and several provincial towns, Jews, both young and old, began to take notice of the Zionists, whose role, until that time, had been marginal in Hungarian Jewish society. Heavily pressed, indeed, driven against the wall, Hungarian Jews began to realize that the traditional spirit of Hungarian–Jewish coexistence was a thing of the past, and that rapid “Magyarization” was no longer a viable alternative. “Official” Hungarian Jewry had failed to stand its ground, adopting a wait-and-see attitude that merely aggravated the plight of all Jews. Zionism, by contrast, confronted Hungarian Jews with alternate patterns of identification and strategies, essentially offering them the prospect of deliverance.

Attila Novák, Átmenetben. a cionista mozgalom négy éve Magyarországon [In Transition. Four Years of the Hungarian Zionist Movement] (Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2000), p. 17. Zionistinspired emigration was continually low. For example, only 306 Jews emigrated from Hungary in 1931; in 1936 this number increased to 416, then fell again to a mere 318 in 1941.

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