Two Cities, Two Policies, One Outcome: The De-Judaization of Pécs and Szeged in 1944
This article engages in a comparative analysis of the behavior and attitudes of the local civilian officials, policemen, and gendarmes of Szeged and Pécs during the Holocaust. These cities were provincial capitals as well as gendarmerie district seats. Both had substantial, largely Neolog Jewish populations. In May 1944, closed ghettos were created in both, as well as collection camps and deportation centers. The article looks at how these local leaders dealt with the new situation; whether and how they carried out the decrees and the orders of the government. It finds that the authorities usually carried out the central decrees more strictly on the local level. The civilian leaders of Szeged took independent action and initiative, whereas Pécs had more benevolent officials and police officers. Still, the histories of these two cities in 1944 are similar. The discernible differences among the Hungarian officials in enthusiasm for the anti-Jewish measures did not change the Jews’ fate. The lack of enthusiasm of the prefect, mayor, and local police of Pécs did not prevent the same stigmatization, plunder, ghettoization, and deportation of the Jewish population as in Szeged, where the local administrative and police authorities displayed enthusiasm. The two gendarmerie district commanders also had different interpretations on how to implement the decrees, with the commander of the Pécs District displaying more antisemitic enthusiasm than his counterpart in Szeged. But in the end, all those classified as Jews, whether Orthodox, Neolog, assimilated, or converted, met the same fate. The law-abiding agencies of public administration and public security decided to carry out the decrees and instructions and to meet the deadlines. The differences in the actual execution were determined by individual attitudes.