The Role of the Jewish Council in Hungary: A Tentative Assessment
The first phase of the Final Solution in Hungary occurred with the establishment of a Judenrat (Jewish council) in Budapest soon after the Germans invaded Hungary in March 1944. There was very little contact between the Budapest Judenrat and the forty-three peripheral Judenräte. The Hungarian authorities instructed the Jews to collaborate with the Germans. Samu Stern, a well respected leader and anti-Zionist, was appointed head of a council consisting of eight members. Jewish leaders were aware of the mass murder of Polish Jews. However, they kept such information from the majority. They had made no preparations to forestall such disasters in Hungary, some believing that Hungarian Jewry would survive the Nazi occupation. Furthermore, council members were often granted special privileges including immunity certificates, which allowed them to move more freely and even save family members. The Judenrat supported and readily carried out most of the duties requested by the Germans as regards the Jews. Had they not done so, the Germans would have completed their cruel tasks, but perhaps more slowly. Disunity and passivity of the community contributed to the tragedy of Hungarian Jewry. Jews in Budapest were subsequently interned, initially journalists and lawyers, and later others, all of whom were sent to Auschwitz. The Judenrat was replaced by a Provisional Executive Committee, which differed little from its predecessor. Thus, while 12,000 per day were being deported to Auschwitz the Provisional Committee appealed to the Jews for trust. Overall, the Nazis annihilated 500,000 Hungarian Jews.