Hungary fell increasingly under the influence of Germany as the Nazi regime consolidated itself during the 1930s. When Germany began to redraw national boundaries in Europe, Hungary was able to regain territory it had lost due to the 1920 Trianon Treaty, including southern Slovakia (1938) and Subcarpathian Rus (1939) after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, and Northern Transylvania from Romania (1940). In November 1940, Hungary joined the Axis alliance. In April 1941, it took part in the occupation of Yugoslavia, and annexed the Bačka, the Baranya triangle, the Medimurje and the Prekmurje regions. On 27 June 1941, Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union. After Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad and other battles in which Hungary lost tens of thousands of its soldiers, the Regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, initiated clandestine peace negotiations with the Western Allies. As a result, German troops occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944. However, Horthy was allowed to remain regent. Following a thwarted attempt to leave war, on 15 October 1944, Horthy was replaced by the fascist Arrow Cross government. The German occupiers were driven out of Hungary by the Red Army on 13 April 1945.
According to the 1941 census, Hungary with its annexed territories had a total population of about 14 million, including 725,000 Jews, among them 400,000 in Hungary proper, and tens of thousands of Christians who were considered Jewish by racist criteria. From 1938 onwards, anti-Jewish legislation effectively excluded the Jews from Hungarian society depriving them of many of their civil rights and economic opportunities. Jewish men were forced to perform unarmed military labour service in the Hungarian Army. Thousands of them perished on the Eastern front. Additionally, already in the summer of 1941, Hungarian authorities deported some 20,000 Jews, including refugees and aliens, but also Hungarian citizens. They were driven to the occupied Soviet territories, where most of them were killed by the German SS and Police near Kamianets-Podylskyi in Ukraine. In January 1942, Hungarian military units and gendarmes murdered about 3,500 local people, including Jews, in Novi Sad and in its vicinity, in the Bačka region.
Despite serious casualties and the increasingly antisemitic political climate, most of the Hungarian Jews could live in relative physical safety until March, 1944. However, after the German invasion, a large part of Jewry in Hungary was murdered. Due to the smooth cooperation of the Hungarian government, public administration, and law enforcement, the German authorities were able to deport nearly all the Jews from the provinces, close to 440,000 people, over a period of only 56 days between May and July 1944. With the exception of some 15,000 people who were sent to labour camps near Vienna, all the deportees were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where about 75% of them, mostly women, children and the elderly, were murdered in gas chambers upon arrival, the others remained in Auschwitz or other camps.
According to the Germans’ plans, the approximately 200,000 Jews of Budapest were next in line to be locked into ghettos and then deported. From the end of June 1944, they had to live in so-called “yellow star houses”. Jews in Budapest were spared from the deportations to Auschwitz. The persecution of Jews was resumed on 15 October, when the Arrow Cross Party came to power. Armed party militias killed thousands of Jews in the streets of Budapest, and tens of thousands were drafted for forced labour to build fortifications at the south-eastern border of the Greater German Reich in Austria. The remaining Jews were forced to move to a sealed-off ghetto in early December, whereas a so-called international ghetto was established for Jews with passports or protective documents issued by embassies of neutral countries. On 18 January, the Red Army liberated the ghettos. In Budapest, some 150,000 Jews survived in the two ghettos and in hiding. Between 1941 and 1945, more than half a million people, that is, two thirds of the Jewish population of the wartime territory of Hungary, was murdered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators, among them 260,000 Jews from Trianon Hungary.
The Act on public records, public archives and the protection of private archival holdings (Archives Act, Act LXVI of 1995), divided public archives in Hungary into national (general) archives, specialised state archives, municipal (city and county) archives, archives of public foundations and other public bodies, as well as private archives open to the public. The Public Records Act was modified by Act LXI of 2012, which fundamentally changed Hungary’s archival system. On 1 October 2012, the Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Országos Levéltár), the central repository holding collections transferred from national government bodies, as well as all county and most of the city archives were integrated into the newly established National Archives of Hungary (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár), a centralized, state-controlled body. There are a few municipal archives, which have not been merged into these new central archives, including the Budapest Municipal Archives. In addition, there are several specialized archives that hold records relevant for Holocaust research: some 20 church and some 20 Jewish community archives as well as around 25 museums, major Budapest libraries and private collections.
EHRI Research (Summary)
The National Archives of Hungary hold most of the collections relevant to Holocaust research in Hungary. Other key collection-holding institutions include the Budapest Municipal Archives, the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security, the Military History Archives, and the Holocaust Memorial Center, which are all situated in Budapest. EHRI has identified a significant number Holocaust-relevant repositories in Hungary, a full list of which can be found in the extensive report. By December 2018, EHRI had created over 140 collection descriptions, most of them in the National Archives of Hungary and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives. For further details, see below.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to Hungary: Pre-existing research and third-party surveys
The first large-scale survey of Holocaust-related archival records in Hungary was launched in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was conducted by Elek Karsai and his associates on behalf of the National Agency of Hungarian Israelites (MIOK). It resulted in the publication of a three volume series – Benoschofsky Ilona, Karsai Elek (eds.), Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. Dokumentumok a magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez 3 vols., Budapest: Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviselete, Kiadói félvászonkötésben 1958-1967 – and a broad selection of documents known as “Series I” were made available on 180 microfilms in the Hungarian National Archives, Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 1994, a follow-up project was launched by Ágnes Ságvári, which resulted in the creation of minor collections of selected Holocaust records in all the municipal (county) archives in Hungary, as well as a series of source publications. In 1993, a research guide to archival materials relevant for Jewish studies in Hungary (including some Holocaust-related parts as well) was published: György Haraszti and Géza Komoróczy (eds), Magyar zsidó levéltári repertórium [Hungarian Jewish Archival Guide] Vols. 1-2. Budapest: MTA Judaisztikai Kutatócsoport, 1993. Due to the re-organisation of the material, merging archives, newly found or added records and several other reasons, the information provided by this guide has remained incomplete, requiring updates and corrections.
The finding aids and descriptions currently available at archives in Hungary tend to provide scholars specialised in Holocaust Studies with little specific information. With the sole exception of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, none of the archives in Hungary provide visitors with detailed finding aids in English. Only some offer online collection descriptions, but in most cases only a general overview of the holdings is available online. However, many institutions have launched digitisation projects and there is an increasing number of online finding aids.
The research teams of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Yad Vashem Archives have conducted extensive research in the previous two decades in Hungary. They prepared detailed collection-level and file-level descriptions for institutions of particular importance to Holocaust research, including the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, the National Archives of Hungary, the Budapest Municipal Archives, the Historical Archives of the State Security and the Institute and Museum of Military History.
The most recent major comprehensive documentary account on the topic in English is The Holocaust in Hungary. Evolution of a Genocide by Zoltán Vági, László Csősz and Gábor Kádár (Washington, DC: AltaMira Press-USHMM, 2013). The volume offers a selection of archival material from various archives in Hungary and abroad. The most relevant archival sources, especially on the history of the ghettoisation and deportation in 1944 are summarised in the entries of Randolph L. Braham (ed.), Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2013).
EHRI’s experts on Hungary have made good use of the online finding aids on the microfilmed Hungarian records available on the USHMM website as well as of the valuable survey material we have obtained from colleagues at the Yad Vashem Archives. In addition, they have consulted archivists of the key collection-holding institutes.
B. Characteristics of the Hungarian archival system and specific challenges
According to the Act on public records, public archives and the protection of private archival holdings (in short: Archives Act, Act LXVI of 1995), public archives in Hungary were divided into national (general) archives, specialised state archives, municipal (city and county) archives, archives of public foundations and other public bodies, as well as private archives open to the public. The Public Records Act was modified by Act LXI of 2012, which brought about fundamental changes in the archival system. The Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Országos Levéltár), the central repository holding collections transferred from national government bodies as well as all county and most of the city archives, were integrated on 1 October 2012 into the newly established National Archives of Hungary (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár), a centralised, state-controlled body. A few municipal archives have not been merged into these new central archives, including the Budapest Municipal Archives. In addition, there are several specialised archives, some 20 church and 20 Jewish community archives as well as other collection-holding institutions, including about 25 museums, major Budapest libraries, and private collections that are hold records relevant for Holocaust research.
In Hungary, any person may, upon preliminary application, be granted free access to archival records held in public archives. Access to public records preserved in the National Archives of Hungary and its branch institutions are regulated by the Archives Act and its modifications since then (Amendment CXL of 1997. Enacting Clauses 19 and 20/1198. MKM), the Data Protection Act (LXIII of 1992) and the Privacy Act (LXV of 1995). One of the most important regulations concerning personal data of an individual mentioned in the records is that these data must not be published sooner than 30 years following the death of the person concerned, or if the year of death is unknown, for 90 years following the birth of the person concerned, or if both dates are unknown, for 60 years following the date of issue of the archival material concerned. “Personal data” is defined as any data that can be related to a certain natural person (“person concerned”) and any conclusion that can be drawn from such data about the person concerned.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Hungary
C. I. In Hungary
In Hungary, EHRI has so far identified a significant number of archival institutions, which are relevant for Holocaust research. EHRI has carried out archival descriptions in several of them: the Budapest-based Hungarian National Archives, the Budapest Municipal Archives, the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security, the Military History Archives, the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives; the Holocaust Memorial Center; and the Pest County Archives.
C. II. In other countries
Archival sources pertaining to the Holocaust in Hungary can be found in the archives of all seven neighbouring countries (Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia) as well as in other foreign countries, most importantly Germany, Israel and the United States. Key foreign archives holding material pertaining to the Holocaust in Hungary include the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives, the Yad Vashem Archives, the Bundesarchiv, and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC. While most records are written in Hungarian, finding aids and working languages differ in all these places. This continues to pose a serious challenge to researchers. Consequently, the identification and investigation of these archival documents require extensive international cooperation.