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The Jewish Men Forced to Help Run Auschwitz

The Jewish Men Forced to Help Run Auschwitz

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Lesław Dyrcz leaned over a pile of rubble and dirt, completely unaware that he was about to make a discovery that would shed light on one of history’s darkest moments. It was 1980, and the forestry student was working to help restore the original forest around what was once Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the Nazis’ most notorious death camps. Dyrcz was there to help mitigate the effects decades of air pollution had on the forest, attempting to let its original pine trees grow once more. But the student was about to change history.

As he dug, Dyrcz discovered a leather briefcase buried in the ground. He opened it up and found a thermos. Inside the container were pages of handwritten paper. Though Dyrcz could not read the text—it was written in Greek—he had just discovered one of the most important pieces of testimony of the Holocaust: eyewitness accounts of Nazi crimes, written by Marcel Nadjary, a Jewish man from Greece who had been enslaved with about 2,000 others and forced to help the Nazis as they operated their grimly efficient killing machines.

Nadjary had been one of the Sonderkommando—a group of men, most of them Jewish, tasked with taking the Nazis’ victims from the gas chambers and disposing of the bodies. At the peak of Auschwitz’s operations, up to 6,000 Jews a day were gassed by the Nazis. Then, the Sonderkommando’s unthinkable task began.

The men of the Sonderkommando did more than help dispose of the Nazis’ victims: They also provided critical documentation of their captors’ crimes. Though historians had known about the Sonderkommando, the secrecy of their work and the fact that so many didn’t survive the Holocaust, made testimony like Nadjary’s even more precious.

Even at the height of the Holocaust, the work of the Sonderkommando was shrouded in mystery and performed under threat of death. Since the people brought to the gas chambers were all murdered, the Sonderkommando were the only witnesses who survived. And since they knew the Nazis’ secrets firsthand, their lives at Auschwitz were marked by fear and isolation.

The word Sonderkommando means “special unit” in German, and from the start, the men tasked with helping the Nazis lived lives that were different from those of other prisoners at Auschwitz. Young prisoners—all able-bodied men—were selected for the unit when they arrived at camp and were forced to serve without being given a briefing on what their tasks would be. Since the men were required to lift corpses, they were given better rations than other prisoners. They were also kept in isolation; most never interacted with other prisoners at the camp aside from other members of the unit and those who were about to be murdered.

READ MORE: Horrors of Auschwitz: The Numbers Behind WWII's Deadliest Concentration Camp

The duties of Sonderkommando varied, but all entailed helping the Nazis move along their extermination of Jews. Nazis did the actual killing, dropping Zyklon B pellets into gas chambers, but the Sonderkommando were forced to do nearly everything else. They helped maintain order among prisoners who were about to be killed, lying and telling them that they needed to take showers before rejoining their families. They removed the naked bodies from the gas chamber, picked them over for gold teeth and hidden valuables, and cut their hair off to sell to German companies to be used for cloth, ammunition packaging and other purposes. They sorted the clothing and personal effects they had left behind. They carried the bodies to the crematoria and stuffed them into the ovens. Then they ground the remaining bones and took the ashes to various dumping sites to hide the evidence.

The Sonderkommandos’ work ultimately helped the Nazis, but was performed under constant threat of death and with an understanding that, as material witnesses to the Nazis’ crimes, they too would be murdered at some point. Many were even forced to dispose of the bodies of their own loved ones.

But the proximity of the Sonderkommando to the Nazis’ crimes also gave them special access to evidence of the mass murder and genocide committed at Auschwitz. In late 1944, as the war seemed close to an end, a group of Sonderkommando revolted in a short-lived mutiny that ended with the explosion of one of the crematoria and the murder of most of the conspirators. Many members of the units felt the urgent need to spread the word about what they had witnessed.

“Survivors of Auschwitz have repeatedly reported that members of the Sonderkommando called out to them: ‘When you leave the camp, talk, write and scream so the world may learn what is happening here!’” wrote Hermann Langbein, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942.

Another attempt to record the history of the killing operation at Auschwitz took place in 1944, when a group of Sonderkommando smuggled a camera onto their job site and photographed a group of naked women awaiting their turn in the gas chambers. They also took an accidental photo of some trees in the forest where the gas chambers were located and two photos of bodies being burned in the open, which had become a necessity due to overcrowded furnaces.

The four photographs, which were smuggled out of the camp in a toothpaste tube and delivered to Polish Resistance fighters, are the only photos in existence that document what happened near the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Those images—and the testimony of people like Nadjary, who recorded details of the gas chambers along with his desire to avenge his mother, father and sister, all of whom were murdered at Auschwitz—didn’t stop the killing. They couldn’t save the Sonderkommando either: only about 100 survived. But these documents remain as important proof of what happened during the Holocaust, as well as evidence of the immense physical and psychological toll the Nazis exacted on the men they forced to help carry out their crimes.

“I am not sad that I will die,” Nadjary wrote in the buried letters, “but I am sad that I won’t be able to take revenge like I would like to.” Nadjary never got a chance to exact his revenge—but by documenting his forced work on behalf of the Nazis’ Final Solution, he provided critical evidence of the magnitude of the Nazis’ murders, forever shaping the understanding of this period of history.

Listen to HISTORY This Week Podcast: Episode 4: January 27, 1945 Surviving Auschwitz

History of the Jews in England

The history of the Jews in England goes back to the reign of William the Conqueror. Although it is likely that there had been some Jewish presence in the Roman period, there is no definitive evidence, and no reason to suppose that there was any community during Anglo-Saxon times. The first written record of Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070. The Jewish settlement continued until King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290. After the expulsion, there was no overt Jewish community (as opposed to individuals practising Judaism secretly) until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to the Commonwealth of England, a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain.

The Jewish Naturalisation Act of 1753, an attempt to legalise the Jewish presence in England, remained in force for only a few months. Historians commonly date Jewish Emancipation to either 1829 or 1858, while Benjamin Disraeli, born Jewish but converted to Anglicanism, had been elected twice as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1868 and in 1874. At the insistence of Irish leader Daniel O'Connell, in 1846 the British law "De Judaismo", which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was repealed. [1] Due to the lack of anti-Jewish violence in Britain in the 19th century, it acquired a reputation for religious tolerance and attracted significant immigration from Eastern Europe. [2] In the 1930s and 1940s, some European Jews, including almost 10,000 children, fled to England to escape the Nazis.

Jews faced antisemitism and stereotypes in Britain, and antisemitism "in most cases went along with Germanophobia" during World War I to the extent that Jews were equated with Germans, despite the English themselves, as well as the Royal family, having partial German ethnic origins. This led many Ashkenazi Jewish families to Anglicise their often German-sounding names. [3]

Jews in Britain now number around 275,000, with almost all (over 260,000) of these in England, which contains the second largest Jewish population in Europe (behind France) and the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide. [4] The majority of the Jews in England live in and around London, with almost 160,000 Jews in London itself, and a further 20,800 just in Hertfordshire, mostly in Southwestern Hertfordshire. The next most significant population is in Greater Manchester, a community of slightly more than 25,000, primarily in Bury (10,360), [5] Salford (7,920), [6] Manchester proper (2,725) [7] and Trafford (2,490). [8] There are also significant communities in Leeds (6,760), [9] Gateshead (3,000), [10] Brighton (2,730), [11] Liverpool (2,330), [12] Birmingham (2,150) [13] and Southend (2,080). [14] Towns and villages in Hertfordshire with large absolute populations include Bushey (4,500), Borehamwood (3,900), and Radlett (2,300). It is generally believed that Jews are undercounted in censuses due to a disinclination on the parts of some community members to reveal their ethnoreligious background and practice, so these numbers may be low estimates.

10 Eugeniusz Bendera

When the famous Auschwitz escapee Kazimierz Piechowski fled the camp, he was accompanied by three other men who are far less known. Eugeniusz Bendera was one of these men. Although many details of his early life are unknown, he displayed as much bravery as Piechowski in coordinating the escape.

Bendera was a Ukrainian man who worked as a car mechanic in Auschwitz, where he and Piechowski became friends. When a resistance worker in the camp told Bendera that he was slated for execution, he went to his friend Piechowski, a former Boy Scout and another resistance member.

Together, the two men devised an escape plan. [1]

On June 20, 1942, Piechowski and Bendera, along with two other men, pushed a cart brimming with garbage through the main camp and into a storage block. While three of the men stole officers&rsquo uniforms, Bendera went to the garage with a duplicate key, got behind the wheel of the fastest car in the camp, and drove to where his friends were hiding.

As the car approached the main gate, Piechowski shouted at the SS guards to open the gate. When the guards complied, the four men drove out of the camp. They drove on country roads for hours. Then they abandoned the car and escaped into a Polish forest. Ultimately, Bendera settled in Warsaw, where he remained until he died in the 1980s.


Origins Edit

It is possible that some Jews fled to North Africa after the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century BCE or the destruction of the Second Temple in the first century CE. [4] It is also possible that they arrived on Phoenician boats (1500 BCE - 539 BCE). [4] There is also a theory, supported by Ibn Khaldun, that Moroccan Jews were indigenous Imazighen (Berbers) who converted to Judaism, although the question of who converted them remains, and this theory has been rejected by most scholars. [4] The Jewish community of Ifran, from the Tamazight word ifri meaning cavern, is supposed to date back to 361 BCE and is believed to be the oldest Jewish community in what is now Morocco. [4]

Under the Romans Edit

The first irrefutable evidence of Jews in what is now Morocco, in the form of gravestone epitaphs in Hebrew at Volubilis and the ruins of a third century synagogue, dates back to late antiquity. [4] Emily Gottreich contends that Jewish migration to Morocco predates the full formation of Judaism, as the Talmud was "written and redacted between 200 and 500 CE." [5]

The Hebrew or Aramaic languages used by Jews were closely related to the Punic language of the Carthaginians many Jews also settled amongst Berbers and adopted their languages. [ citation needed ] Later, under the dominion of the Romans and (after 429) the Vandals, Mauretanian Jews reportedly increased in number and prospered. [ citation needed ]

As Christianity was adopted by the Roman state, the church Councils of Carthage adopted policies that discriminated against adherents to Judaism. The Justinian edict of persecution for North Africa, issued after Vandal rule had been overthrown and Mauretania had come under the dominion of the Byzantines (534), was directed against the Jews as well as the Arians, the Donatists, and other dissenters. [6]

In the 7th century, the Jewish population of Mauretania received as a further accession from Iberian Peninsula those who wished to escape Visigothic legislation. At the end of the same century, at the time of the great Arab conquests in northwestern Africa, there were in Mauretania, according to the Arab historians, many Jews.

Arab conquest and the Idrisids (703–1146) Edit

Since the city of Fez was founded in 808 CE, it attracted a diverse kind of population from all around the area, among those new newcomers came the Jews who contributed their commercial capabilities to the new developed economy. They settled in the medina of Fez, and formed a stable community, which was an integral part of the city life. [7] The golden age of the Jewish community in Fez lasted for almost three hundred years, from the 9th to 11th centuries. Its yeshivot (religious schools) attracted brilliant scholars, poets and grammarians. This period was marred by a pogrom in 1033, which is described by the Jewish Virtual Library as an isolated event primarily due to political conflict between the Maghrawa and Ifrenid tribes. [8]

Under the Almoravids Edit

The Almoravids (Arab. Al-Murābiṭūn "Warrior-Monks"), confederation of Berber tribes of the Sanhajah group who lived in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Their religious fervor and fighting capabilities enabled them to establish a formidable empire in the Morocco and Muslim Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries. Their theological Islamic zeal is attributed to Yahya ibn Ibrahim, their spiritual leader, as well as to the 'alim (religious scholar) 'Abd Allah ibn Yasin. Imbued with Islamic zeal, the Almoravids conquered Morocco and major sections of western Algeria between 1054 and 1092. In 1062 they turned Marrakesh into their base of operations and religious capital. Thenceforth, their main leaders embraced the title of Amir al-Muslimin ("commander of the Muslims") but nevertheless continued to recognize the legitimacy of a still higher authority in Islam: the Abbasid caliph in Iraq upon whom the title Amir al-Mu'minīn ("commander of the faithful") had been bestowed. It was toward the end of the 11th century that the Castilian Christians who held on to parts of Spain began challenging the authority of the Almoravids and encroaching on their territories. The Almoravid leadership succeeded in temporarily repulsing the Christians and foiling their plans to conquer such key cities as Córdoba and Toledo.

With the exception of Valencia, Muslim Spain remained under Almoravid control. Notwithstanding, perhaps the weakest aspect of Almoravid rule in Spain and the Maghreb is the fact that they were a Muslim Berber minority in charge of a Spanish-Arab empire. With the passage of time, they found it increasingly difficult to protect all their territorial possessions from the Christian reconquest, especially in the aftermath of the fall of Saragossa in 1118. Moreover, in 1125 the Almohads (those who advocated the "Unity of Allah"), a confederation of rival Berber tribes, began to rebel against them in the Atlas Mountains. Following a protracted struggle and relentless fighting, the Almohads defeated the Almoravids in 1147 they transformed Marrakesh into their own capital and extended their authority into Muslim Spain.

The position of the Jews under Almoravid domination was apparently free of major abuses, though there are reports of increasing social hostility against them – particularly in Fes. [9] Unlike the problems encountered by the Jews during the rule of the Almohads (the Almoravids' successor dynasty), there are not many factual complaints of excesses, coercion, or malice on the part of the authorities toward the Jewish communities. It is known, however, that Yusuf Ibn Tashfin forbade Jews living in the capital city Marrakesh. It was allowed for them to trade there, but if a Jew was caught in the city during night hours it was punishable by death. [10]

Under the Almoravids, some Jews prospered (although far more so under Ali III, than under his father Yusuf ibn Tashfin). Among those who held the title of "vizier" ( وزير ) or "nasih" ( ناصح ) in Almoravid times were the poet and physician Abu Ayyub Solomon ibn al-Mu'allam, Abraham ibn Meïr ibn Kamnial, Abu Isaac ibn Muhajar, and Solomon ibn Farusal.

Under the Almohads (1146–15th century) Edit

The Dhimmi status, which called for the payment of jizya (taxes for non-Muslims) in exchange for a certain level of protection for religious minorities, came to an end under the strict militant dynasty of the Almohads, who came into power in 1146. Instead, the Almohads forced Jews to choose between conversion to Islam or death, compelling many Jews to convert, or at least pretend to. Due to the many similarities between Jewish and Islamic practice, Jews felt as though they could clandestinely maintain their Jewish practices under the guise of Islam. [11] For example, names such as Benchekroun (initially Chokron or Choukroun or Chekroun depending on the pronunciation), El Kohen, and Kabbaj were Jewish in origin. Maimonides, who was staying in Fez with his father, is said to have written to the communities to comfort and encourage his brethren and fellow believers in this time of oppression [12] In the above-mentioned elegy of Abraham ibn Ezra, which appears to have been written at the commencement of the period of the Almohads, and which is found in a Yemen siddur among the kinot prescribed for the Ninth of Ab, the Moroccan cities Ceuta, Meknes, the Draa River valley, Fez, and Segelmesa are especially emphasized as being exposed to great persecution. Joseph ha-Kohen [13] relates that no remnant of Israel was left from Tangier to Mehdia.

Due to the nature of the forced conversions, the later Almohads were no longer content with the repetition of a mere formula of belief in the unity of God and in the prophetic calling of Muhammad. The third Almohad Prince, Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur, spoke on this matter, saying “If I were sure about the sincerity of their Islam, I would let them mix with the Muslims. and if I were sure of their unbelief, I would kill their men, enslave their offspring, and declare their property spoils for the Muslims. But I am uncertain about their case.” [11] Thus, al-Mansur made an effort to distinguish the neo-Muslims from the “true” Muslims. He compelled them to wear distinguishing garments, with a very noticeable yellow cloth for a head-covering from that time forward the clothing of the Jews formed an important subject in the legal regulations concerning them.

The reign of the Almohads on the whole exercised a most disastrous and enduring influence on the position of the Moroccan Jews. Already branded by their clothing as unbelievers, they furthermore became objects of scorn and violent despotic caprice from which there was no escape.

An account by Solomon Cohen dated January 1148 CE describes the Almohad conquests:

"Abd al-Mumin . the leader of the Almohads after the death of Muhammad Ibn Tumart the Mahdi . captured Tlemcen [in the Maghreb] and killed all those who were in it, including the Jews, except those who embraced Islam. . [In Sijilmasa] One hundred and fifty persons were killed for clinging to their [Jewish] faith. . One hundred thousand persons were killed in Fez on that occasion, and 120,000 in Marrakesh. The Jews in all [Maghreb] localities [conquered] . groaned under the heavy yoke of the Almohads many had been killed, many others converted none were able to appear in public as Jews." [14]

Under the Marinids Edit

The Marinid dynasty (Berber: Imrinen, Arabic: Marīniyūn) was a dynasty of Zenata Berber descent that ruled Morocco from the 13th to the 15th century. [15] [16]

The Marinids overtook the Almohads controlling Morocco in 1244, [17] and briefly controlled all the Maghreb in the mid-14th century. They supported the Kingdom of Granada in Al-Andalus in the 13th and 14th centuries an attempt to gain a direct foothold on the European side of the Strait of Gibraltar was however defeated at the Battle of Salado in 1340 and finished after the Castilian conquest of Algeciras from the Marinids in 1344. [18]

During Marinid rule, Jews were able to return to their religion and practices, once again outwardly professing their Judaism under the protection of the dhimmi status. They were able to re-establish their lives and communities, returning to some sense of normalcy and security. They also established strong vertical relations with the Marinid sultans. [19] When the still-fanatic mobs attacked them in 1275, the Merinid sultan Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Abd Al-Haqq intervened personally to save them. The sovereigns of this dynasty benevolently received the Jewish ambassadors of the Christian kings of Spain and admitted Jews among their closest courtiers. Of these Jews, Khalifa b. Waqqāsa (Ruqqasa) became steward of the household of the sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf an-Nasr and his intimate counselor. A victim of palace intrigues, he was put to death in 1302. His nephew, who was also named Khalifa, held the same office and suffered the same fate (1310). However, there were no repercussions against the Moroccan Jews as a result of the execution of their powerful coreligionists. They were the principal factors in the prosperity of the country. The Sahara gold trade, which was of primary importance, and the exchange with the Christian countries were completely under their control. Their relatives and associates in the kingdom of Aragon financed, when necessary, the navies which defended the Moroccan ports. In addition to the jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims), they paid enormous sums to the treasury in customs duties for their imports and exports. In the outlying areas, particularly in the Atlas region where there were large concentrations of Jews of early origin, the Jews wielded great influence in both the political and spiritual domains. Jewish physicians enjoyed well-deserved renown. The study of Kabbalah, as well as philosophy, was then in vogue. The last Moroccan philosopher of the Middle Ages was Judah b. Nissim ibn Malkah, who was still alive in 1365.

The last ruler of the Marinid dynasty, Abd al-Haqq II, appointed many Jews to high positions. The appointment of Jews to high positions, such as vizier, angered many Muslims, as they viewed such increases in Jewish power as transgressing the dhimmi status. Abd al-Basit b. Khalil, a medieval Moroccan author, claims that Jews became arrogant with their newfound prestige, using their power to command Muslims. This is a clear disruption to the established social order. Once a rumor began to circulate that the Jewish vizier in Fez, Aaron Batash, struck a Muslim woman, there were public outcries amongst Fez's Muslim population. They demanded the Mufti (Islamic legal expert) to issue a Fatwa (legal opinion) to permit the killing of Jews in the name of the Allah. The Mufti had no choice but to make these killings permissible. Thus, began the 1465 Moroccan revolt, one of the worst pogroms in Morocco's history. [20]

The Spanish Expulsion of the Jews Edit

By 1249, the Spanish Reconquista had concluded its main phase. During the murderous scenes enacted in 1391 in Spain, Spanish-controlled Seville, and Majorca, the Sephardi Jews of Spain seized the opportunity to emigrate to North Africa in order to escape persecution. A hundred years later, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile issued the Alhambra Decree - an edict ordering the expulsion of practicing Jews from Spain. Consequently, the Jews were driven from Spain in 1492, and later from Portugal in 1496 following a similar decree by King Manuel I of Portugal. The sudden inroad of Jews into Morocco and the whole of North Africa was then repeated on a much larger scale.

Following the 1465 Moroccan revolt under the Marinid dynasty, the native Jewish community in Morocco had shrunken substantially, having been massacred and marginalized. The Moroccan Jewry began to recover from the pogroms of 1465 under the Wattasid dynasty, a ruling group of Zenata Berbers which had gained control during the fall of the Marinid in 1472. The Jewish community in Morocco then swelled with the waves of refugees arriving from Spain and Portugal after 1492, increasing the cultural and economic power of the Moroccan Jewish community considerably. Incoming Sephardi Jews tended to be economically better off than their native counterparts, bringing with them specific ideas of culture shaped by centuries of life on the Iberian Peninsula. As a result, the Sephardic scholarly mercantile elite were quick to dominate Jewish communal life in Morocco. [21]

A number of natives from Fez fled to Spain over the course of the fifteenth century and returned to Fez following 1492, acting as a unique bridge between the native Jews of Morocco and the newly arrived Sephardim. Among this group, the most outstanding representatives were the Ibn Danan family. Fleeing from Fez in either 1438 or 1465, the Ibn Danans settled in Granada where Rabbi Moses Maimon Ibn Danan and his son Saadiah achieved fame as scholars. Saadiah returned to Fez after the Spanish expulsion and served as a spiritual guide for other exiles, whilst identifying himself with the native Jews. The Ibn Danan family was among the intellectual and financial elite of Fez for centuries, creating alliances across Sephardi families and maintaining a prominent synagogue in Fez. [22]

The arrival of Spanish Jewish refugees brought important changes in city life and within the preexisting Jewish community. Jewish life in the Muslim interior of Morocco became dominated by the Sephardic plutocracy that continued to maintain control of the Moroccan Jewry up until modern times. Each local community had a rigid, or shaykh al-Yahud, who was appointed by the government. The chief figure in the larger Jewish community was the Nagid of the capital, who was invariably a court Jew. [21] Throughout the Moroccan Jewish community, there were famous Sephardic dayyanim such as the Ibn Danans whose authority was largely recognized by Jews within the whole country. [7] [23] However, the influx of refugees also caused overcrowding in the larger cities of Morocco and aroused uneasiness among both the Muslims, who feared an increase in the price of necessities, and the Jews already settled there, who had hitherto barely succeeded in creating a livelihood in handicrafts and petty commerce.

While many Spanish Jewish exiles to Morocco were able to successfully integrate into the larger community in part due to their relative wealth, the problem of poverty among exiles still left a significant number of Jewish refugees vulnerable. [24] Many died of hunger and some returned to Spain [25] most fled to Fez, where new challenges awaited them. More than 20,000 Jews died in and around Fez following a terrible fire and subsequent famine in the Jewish quarter of the city. [24]

Despite the trials faced by Jews in Morocco, numerous "New Christians" - also referred to as "Marranos" - that still remained in Spain and Portugal following the expulsions endeavored to make their way to North Africa. In response to this, King Manuel I issued a number of ordinances in 1499 forbidding the emigration of New Christians without explicit royal permission. Nevertheless, with monetary and transportive aid from figures already established in the Jewish diaspora, many New Christians succeeded in immigrating to North Africa. [26]

A new group of New Christians came to Morocco through the establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal under Pope Paul III in 1536. [27] In 1508, Portugal had come to occupy parts of Morocco, succeeding in conquering the old seaport town of Safi, which had a large number of Jewish inhabitants and had subsequently become an important commercial center. [28] In 1510, Safi was besieged by a large Moorish army. Following this, some Portuguese Jews brought assistance to the besieged with ships manned by coreligionists and equipped at their own cost. [28]

In Safi, the Jews were allowed to live as such by King Manuel I's permission in addition to Asilah after 1533, which had long been a Portuguese possession. [24] In the quarrels which took place afterwards between the Moors and the governors of Azamur, the Wattasid sultans employed some of the well-connected immigrants as commercial and diplomatic go-betweens with the Portuguese crown. Men such as Rabbi Abraham b. Zamiro of Safi, and Jacob Rosales and Jacob Rute of Fez, were as much agents of Portugal as Morocco. The Wattasids also took in their service some Jewish artisans and technicians who possessed strategic military skills. These men were employed in much the same spirit as Christian mercenaries, and were generally not considered to be government officials with any administrative authority over Muslims. [21]

Under Saadi dynasty Edit

The Saadi dynasty or Saadian dynasty was a dynasty of Arab descent that ruled Morocco from 1554 to 1659.

From 1509 to 1554 they had ruled only in the south of Morocco. While still recognizing the Wattasids as Sultans until 1528, Saadian's growing power led the Wattasids to attack them and, after an indecisive battle, to recognize their rule over southern Morocco [29] through the Treaty of Tadla.

Their reign over Morocco began with the reign of Sultan Mohammed ash-Sheikh in 1554, when he vanquished the last Wattasids at the Battle of Tadla. The Saadian rule ended in 1659 with the end of the reign of Sultan Ahmad el Abbas. When, in 1578, the young king Sebastian with almost his whole army met death, and Portugal saw the end of her glory, in the Battle of Alcazarquivir, the few nobles who remained were taken captive and sold to the Jews in Fez and Morocco. The Jews received the Portuguese knights, their former countrymen, into their houses very hospitably and let many of them go free on the promise that they would send back their ransom from Portugal. [30]

Samuel Pallache of the Sephardi Pallache family, having earned the confidence of Zaydan An-Nasser, had a significant role in Morocco–Netherlands relations, serving as the interpreter for his embassador Hammu ben Bashir in a journey to the Dutch Republic, then again with Ahmad ben Abdallah al-Hayti al-Maruni, which led to the signing of the Dutch-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship and Free Commerce in 1611. [31]

Megorashim and toshavim Edit

As a result of the Pogroms of 1391, the Alhambra Decree of 1492, and the Spanish Inquisition, numerous Sephardic Jews—speakers of Spanish dialects: Ladino and Haketia—migrated from Iberia to Morocco, where they were referred to as the megorashim ( מגורשים "exiles") or the rūmiyīn ( روميين "Romans," i.e. "Europeans"), in contrast with the older autochtonous Amazigh and Arabized Jewish communities in Morocco, referred to as the toshavim ( תושבים "residents") or the bildiyīn ( بلديين "natives"). [32] The Sephardic megorashim were officially welcomed by the Sultan Mohammed al-Shaykh, though they had difficulties settling in Morocco. [32] Arriving with their wealth and unable to defend themselves in the new land, they were seen as easy targets for criminals, and suffered theft, rape, and violence. [32]

With their skill in European commerce, arts, and handicrafts, hitherto largely unknown to the Moors, and with their wealth, the megorashim Jews contributed conspicuously to the rise and development of the Alaouite Dynasty since its beginning in 1666. [33] At first the Sa'dis appeared to be fanatical religious zealots who were intolerant of non-Muslims. They imposed heavy taxes on the local Jewish community. As they consolidated their authority in the country, however, they gradually evinced greater toleration toward the Jewish minority. Like their Wattasid predecessors, the Sa'di sultans now employed Jews as physicians, diplomatic emissaries, and interpreters. Beginning in 1603, Abraham bin Wach and later Judah Levi served as ministers of the treasury. Members of the Jewish aristocratic Cabessa and Palache families were recruited by the sultan's court as agents and negotiators with European merchants who entered the country. Whereas the authorities increasingly proved to be friendly toward the Jews, the same could hardly be said of the Muslim masses as well as local urban and rural chieftains and governors. [34]

Under Moulay Rashid and Moulay Ismail Edit

The Jews suffered much during the great conquests of Moulay Rashid, who united the separate parts of Morocco into one single state, and wished to add to it all northwest Africa. According to Chénier, when Al-Raschid took the city of Marrakech in 1670, at the desire of the inhabitants he caused the Jewish counselor and governor of the ruling prince Abu Bakr, together with the latter and his whole family, to be publicly burned, in order to inspire terror among the Jews. [35] He also tore down the synagogues of the city, expelled many Jews from the Berber region of Sus and treated them tyrannically. His demands on the Jews in the way of taxes were enormous he had them collected by Joshua ben Hamoshet, a rich Jew, to whom he was under obligations for various services and whom he appointed chief over the Jews. He even ordered the Jews to supply wine to the Christian slaves.

In 1668 the Jewish community of Chaouya settled in Fez after Mulai Rashid attacked the town of Chaouya. They were given three days to leave and left with their rabbi Maimon Aflalo. They numbered around 1300 households and possessed great wealth. After they moved to Fez they were granted their own synagogue . [23]

Moulay Rashid's successor was his brother Ismail (Moulay Ismail) (1672), one of the cruelest of tyrants. On his accession Ismail appointed his Jewish adviser Joseph Toledani, son of Daniel Toledani, Moulay Raschid's counselor, to be his minister, in which capacity Joseph concluded a peace between Morocco and Holland. Under Ismail's rule the ruined synagogues were rebuilt, although his taxes on Jews were oppressive. One day, he threatened to compel them to accept Islam if their Messiah did not come within a definite time. The Jews understood the hint and satisfied his pious zeal with a very large sum of money. [36] The Jews, who served as tax-collectors on the whole coast, used to give Ismail a golden riding-outfit as an annual "present"—an inducement to keep them in office—and a hen and a dozen chickens fashioned in gold as a tax payment for the whole Jewish community. [37] Ismail had another way of securing money: for a certain sum he would sell to an aspirant for honors the position and wealth of one of his favorites. In one such transaction Maimaran, who was chief ruler over the Jews of the realm, feared a rival in Moses ibn 'Attar, and offered the sultan a certain sum for his head. Ismail then let Moses ibn 'Attar know how much had been offered for his head, whereupon Ibn 'Attar offered double the sum for the head of his opponent. The sultan took the money from both, called them fools, and reconciled them to each other, whereupon Ibn 'Attar married a daughter of Maimaran and shared with his father-in-law reign over the Jews. The same Moses ibn 'Attar was Moorish plenipotentiary in the making of a compact with Great Britain in 1721.

After 1700 Fez no longer attracted as many Jews as in the previous centuries, while others still continued to arrive, other retained residence in Fez, while spend their time elsewhere. [23]

In 1703 a controversy happened between the Jews of Chaouya residing in Fez to the rest of the Jewish community. They demanded from their communal leaders that the governmental taxes will be assessed for them separately. Furthermore, they had a bad relations with the rest of the community, and tried to form separate agreements with the government. Those two events, did not passed on eventually. [23]

The two communities, those who came from Spain (megorashim) and the locals, finally melded together. Arabic was the main language, while unique Spanish rituals were kept and practiced. The number of the community members fluctuated through the following years. There were times of relative peace and times of epidemics and different crises. For example, in 1723 an extended drought transformed the mellah into a ghost town as many Jews escaped and abandoned the area. "The houses of the rich are empty, their inhabitants have disappeared, the gates of the courtyards are closed, weeds grow up and robbers enter, stealing the doors and the beds. Many houses have been demolished, their stones and rafters taken away. Most of the streets of the mellah are deserted." Hunger took the lives of more than 2000 people and 1,000 more converted from Judaism. [38] [23]

In the 18th century Edit

The condition of the Jewish community was unchanged under Mohammed III (1757–89), who distinguished himself by his attempt to introduce European culture into his kingdom. The Jews counciliers of Mohammed Ben Abdelah helped United States between 1776 and 1783 through Intelligence operations coordinated by Luis de Unzaga 'le Conciliateur' and his brothers-in-law Antonio and Matías de Gálvez via Canary Islands and Louisiana. [39] The Sultan's eldest son, Moulay Ali, governor of Fez, courageously opposed his father's suggestion to impose a tax upon that city in favor of his other brothers, which tax was to be paid by the Jewish community. He stated that the Jews of Fez were already so poor that they were unable to bear the present tax and that he was not willing to increase still further their misery. [40] His minister was the Jew Elijah ha-Levi, who had at one time fallen into disgrace and had been given as a slave to a smuggler of Tunis, but had been restored to favor. [41] The accession to the throne of Yazid, on the death of Mohammed III in 1789, led to a terrible massacre of the Moroccan Jews, having refused him their support in his fight with his brother for the succession. As a punishment the richer Jews of Tetouan, at his entry into the city, were tied to the tails of horses and dragged through the city. Many were killed in other ways or robbed. Jewish women were raped. The Spanish consul, Solomon Hazzan, was executed for alleged treachery, and the Jews of Tangier, Asilah, and Alcazarquivir were condemned to pay a large sum of money. Elijah, the minister of the former king, who had always opposed Yazid in the council, quickly embraced Islam to avoid being persecuted. He died soon after. The cruelty of the persecutors reached its climax in Fez. In Rabat, as in Meknes, the Jews were ill-treated. In Mogador, strife arose between the Jews and the city judge on the one hand, and the Moorish citizens on the other the dispute was over the question of Jewish garb. Finally the Jews were ordered to pay 100,000 piasters and three shiploads of gunpowder and most of them were arrested and beaten daily until the payment was made. Many fled beforehand to Gibraltar or other places some died as martyrs and some accepted Islam. [42] The notables and the Muslim masses then rose to intervene on behalf of the Jews. They hid many of them in their houses and saved a great many others. In Rabat, the governor Bargash saved the community from the worst. [43] The sanguinary events of the year 1790 have been poetically described in two kinot for the Ninth of Ab, by Jacob ben Joseph al-Mali? and by David ben Aaron ibn Husain. [44]

From the second half of this century various accounts of travels exist which give information concerning the external position of the Jews. Chénier, for example, describes them as follows:

"The Jews possess neither lands nor gardens, nor can they enjoy their fruits in tranquillity. They must wear only black, and are obliged when they pass near mosques, or through streets in which there are sanctuaries, to walk barefoot. The lowest among the Moors imagines he has a right to ill-treat a Jew, nor dares the latter defend himself, because the Koran and the judge are always in favor of the Mohammedan. Notwithstanding this state of oppression, the Jews have many advantages over the Moors: they better understand the spirit of trade they act as agents and brokers, and they profit by their own cunning and by the ignorance of the Moors. In their commercial bargains many of them buy up the commodities of the country to sell again. Some have European correspondents others are mechanics, such as goldsmiths, tailors, gunsmiths, millers, and masons. More industrious and artful, and better informed than the Moors, the Jews are employed by the emperor in receiving the customs, in coining money, and in all affairs and intercourse which the monarch has with the European merchants, as well as in all his negotiations with the various European governments." [45]

There were, indeed, quite a number of such Jewish officials, negotiators, treasurers, councilors, and administrators at the Moroccan court, whom the European is inclined to call "ministers", but whom in reality the ruler used merely as intermediaries in extorting money from the people, and dismissed as soon as their usefulness in this direction was at an end. They were especially Jews from Spain, the megorashim, whose wealth, education, and statesmanship paved their way to the court here, as formerly in Spain. One of the first of such ministers was Shumel al-Barensi, at the beginning of the 16th century in Fez, who opened the "state career" to a long succession of coreligionists ending in the 19th century with Masado ben Leaho, prime minister and representative councilor of the emperor in foreign affairs. It would be erroneous to suppose that these Jewish dignitaries of the state succeeded in raising the position and the influence of their fellow believers, or that they even attempted to do so. They were usually very glad if they themselves were able to remain in office to the end of their lives.

Moroccan Jews were employed also as ambassadors to foreign courts. At the beginning of the 17th century Pacheco in the Netherlands Shumel al-Farrashi at the same place in 1610 after 1675 Joseph Toledani, who, as stated above, concluded peace with Holland his son Hayyim in England in 1750 a Jew in Denmark. In 1780 Jacob ben Abraham Benider was sent as minister from Morocco to King George III in 1794 a Jew named Sumbal and in 1828 Meïr Cohen Macnin were sent as Moroccan ambassadors to the English court. [46] [47]

Another event caused to a population decrease among the community was the two-year exile of the Jews from the mellah in 1790–1792, during the brief reign of sultan Malawy yazid . The whole community was forced to leave to Qasba Shrarda which was on the other side of Fez. This time the population of the Jews around the mellah was at the lowest stage of all time, and did not manage to "heal" itself. A mosque was built on the site of the main synagogue, under the order of yazid, tomb stones from a near Jewish cemetery was used to built the mosque, and the cemetery itself was moved to the entrance of the Muslim quarter along with the bones of the saintly rabbis. The exile lasted around for two years, and only after the death of yazid, the qadi of Fez ordered the mosque to be torn down and the Jews were permitted to return to their quarter. [7] [8] [38]

Historical Background: The Jews of Hungary During the Holocaust

After Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933, the Hungarian government became interested in making an alliance with Nazi Germany. The Hungarian Government felt that such an alliance would be good for them, in that the two governments maintained similar authoritarian ideologies, and the Nazis could assist Hungary in retrieving land it had lost in World War I. Over the next five years, Hungary moved closer to Germany.

A Hungarian gendarme checks a woman entering the Munkács ghetto

German soldiers supervising the deportation of Jews, Hungary, 1944

The Munich Conference of September 1938 allowed Germany to annex the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia. In November, Germany carved a piece of Czechoslovakia &mdash territory that had formerly belonged to Hungary &mdash and handed it back to Hungary in order to cement the relations between the two nations. In August 1940, Germany gave Hungary possession of northern Transylvania. In October 1940, Hungary joined Germany, Italy, and Japan in the Axis alliance.

Hungary was awarded more land in March 1941 when, despite its alliance with the Yugoslav government, Hungary joined its new ally, Germany, in invading and splitting up Yugoslavia. By that time, with all its new territories, the Jewish population in Greater Hungary had reached 725,007, not including about 100,000 Jews who had converted to Christianity but were still racially considered to be &ldquoJews.&rdquo Approximately half of Hungary's Jewish population lived in Budapest, where they were very acculturated and a part of the middle class.

Deportation of the Budapest Jews to the Ghetto

Deportation of Jews from Dunaszerdahely, Hungary, to Auschwitz, June 15, 1944

Hungary commenced issuing anti-Jewish legislation soon after the Anschluss in March 1938. Hungary passed a law whereby Jewish participation in the economy and the professions was cut by 80 percent. In May 1939, the Hungarian Government further limited the Jews in the economic realm and distinguished Jews as a "racial," rather than religious group. In 1939 Hungary created a new type of labor service draft, which Jewish men of military age were forced to join (see also Hungarian Labor Service System). Later, many Jewish men would die within the framework of the forced labor they performed pursuant to this draft. In 1941 the Hungarian Government passed a racial law, similar to the Nuremberg Laws, which officially defined who was to be considered Jewish.

Budapest, Hungary, A homeless Jewish man in the ghetto

Soltvadkert, Hungary, Jewish deportees before boarding the deportation train, June 1944

Although these anti-Jewish laws caused many hardships, most of the Jews of Hungary lived in relative safety for much of the war. Despite this relative safety, however, tragedy struck in the summer of 1941. Some 18,000 Jews randomly designated by the Hungarian authorities as "Jewish foreign nationals" were kicked out of their homes and deported to Kamenets-Podolsk in the Ukraine, where most were murdered. In early 1942, another 1,000 Jews in the section of Hungary newly acquired from Yugoslavia were murdered by Hungarian soldiers and police in their "pursuit of Partisans.&rdquo

As the war progressed, the Hungarian authorities became more and more entrenched in their alliance with Germany. In June 1941, Hungary decided to join Germany in its war against the Soviet Union. Finally, in December 1941, Hungary joined the Axis Powers in declaring war against the United States, completely cutting itself off from any relationship with the West.

However, after Germany's defeat at Stalingrad and other battles in which Hungary lost tens of thousands of its soldiers, the Regent of Hungary, Miklos Horthy, began trying to back out of the alliance with Germany. This, of course, was not acceptable to Hitler. In March, 1944, German troops invaded Hungary, in order to keep the country loyal by force. Hitler immediately set up a new government that he thought would be faithful, with Dome Sztojay, Hungary's former ambassador to Germany, as Prime Minister.

Jews saved from deportation at the last minute in Budapest, Hungary, November 1944

Jews accompanied by Hungarian gendarmes before boarding the transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soltvadkert, Hungary, June 1944

Accompanying the German occupation forces was a Sonderkommando unit headed by Adolf Eichmann, whose job was to begin implementing the &ldquoFinal Solution&rdquo within Hungary. Additional anti-Jewish decrees were passed in great haste. Judenräte were established throughout Hungary, with a central Judenrat called the Zsido Tanacs established in Budapest under Samu Stern. The Nazis isolated the Jewish population from the outside world by restricting their movement and confiscating their telephones and radios. Jewish communities were forced to wear the Yellow Star. Jewish property and businesses were seized, and from mid to late April the Jews of Hungary were forced into ghettos. These ghettos were short-lived. After two to six weeks the Jews of each ghetto were put on trains and deported. Between May 15th and July 9th, about 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported, mainly to Auschwitz, where most were gassed on arrival. In early July, Horthy halted the deportations, still intent on cutting Hungary's ties with Germany. By that time, all of Hungary was "Jew-free," except for the capital, Budapest. Throughout the spring of 1944 Israel Kasztner, Joel Brand, and other members of the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest began negotiating with the SS to save lives. These negotiations are discussed in greater depth below. Many Jews (perhaps up to 8,000) fled from Hungary, mostly to Romania, many with the help of Zionist youth movement members.

The Munkács brick factory where the Jews of the town were brought before their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Deportation of Jews from the town Koszeg, Hungary, 1944

From July to October, 1944, the Jews of Budapest still lived in relative safety. However, on October 15 Horthy announced publicly that he was done with Hungary's alliance with Germany, and was going to make peace with the Allies. The Germans blocked this move, and simply toppled Horthy's Government, giving power to Ferenc Szalasi and his fascist, violently antisemitic Arrow Cross Party. The Arrow Cross immediately introduced a reign of terror in Budapest. Nearly 80,000 Jews were killed in Budapest itself, shot on the banks of the Danube River and then thrown into the river. Thousands of others were forced on death marches to the Austrian border. In December, during the Soviet siege of the city, 70,000 Jews were forced into a ghetto. Thousands died of cold, disease, and starvation.

During the Arrow Cross's reign of terror, tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest were saved by members of the Relief and Rescue Committee and by other Jewish activists, especially Zionist youth movement members, who forged identity documents and provided them with food. These Jews worked together with foreign diplomats such as the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, the Swiss Carl Lutz, and others who provided many Jews with international protection.

Hungary was liberated by the Soviet army by April 1945. Up to 568,000 Hungarian Jews had perished during the Holocaust.

The Kasztner Controversy

Dr. Israel (also known as Rudolf or Rezso) Kasztner was a Hungarian Zionist leader in his native Transylvania and then in Budapest after Transylvania was annexed by Hungary in 1940. In late 1944 he helped found the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest. Until spring 1944, the committee successfully smuggled refugees from Poland and Slovakia into Hungary.

Once Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, Kasztner came to believe that the best way to save Hungarian Jewry &ndash the last Jewish community in Europe &ndash was to negotiate with the German authorities. Thus, the Rescue Committee contacted the SS officers in charge of implementing the "Final Solution" in Hungary. Soon thereafter, Adolf Eichmann made his offer to exchange "Blood for Goods," whereby a certain number of Jews would be spared in exchange for large amounts of goods, including trucks. Kasztner negotiated directly with Eichmann and later with Kurt Becher, a Nazi official.

Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia undergoing selection on the ramp at Birkenau.

In late June 1944, Kasztner convinced Eichmann to release some 1,700 Jews. Kasztner and other Jewish leaders drew up a list of Jews to be released, including leading wealthy Jews, Zionists, rabbis, Jews from different religious communities, and Kasztner's own family and friends. They were transported out of Hungary on what came to be known as the "Kasztner Train." After being detained in Bergen-Belsen, the members of the "Kasztner Train" eventually reached safety in Switzerland.

Kasztner and Becher continued negotiating for an end to the murder and later for the surrender of various Nazi camps to the Allies. These negotiations may have led to the order to stop the murder in Auschwitz and to stop the deportations from Budapest in fall 1944.

After the war, Kasztner moved to Palestine and became a civil servant working in the Israeli government. He was accused of collaborating with the Nazis by a journalist named Malkiel Grunwald. The Israeli government sued Grunwald on Kasztner's behalf in order to clear Kasztner's name, but Grunwald's lawyer turned the trial into an indictment of Kasztner. The judge summed up the trial by saying that Kasztner had "sold his soul to the devil" &ndash by negotiating with the Nazis, by favoring his friends and relatives on the Kasztner Train, and by not doing enough to warn Hungarian Jews about their fate.

Kasztner appealed this verdict and, ultimately, the Israeli Supreme Court cleared Kasztner of all wrongdoing. However, before the new decision could be announced, Kasztner was assassinated by extreme right-wing nationalists.


Before 1095 Edit

It is not definitely known when Jews first settled in Hungary. According to tradition, King Decebalus (ruled Dacia 87-106 CE) permitted the Jews who aided him in his war against Rome to settle in his territory. [13] Dacia included part of modern-day Hungary as well as Romania and Moldova and smaller areas of Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Serbia. Prisoners of the Jewish Wars may have been brought back by the victorious Roman legions normally stationed in Provincia Pannonia (Western Hungary). Marcus Aurelius ordered the transfer of some of his rebellious troops from Syria to Pannonia in 175 CE. These troops had been recruited partly in Antioch and Hemesa (now Homs), which still had a sizable Jewish population at that time. The Antiochian troops were transferred to Ulcisia Castra (today Szentendre), while the Hemesian troops settled in Intercisa (Dunaújváros). [14]

According to Raphael Patai, stone inscriptions referring to Jews were found in Brigetio (now Szőny), Solva (Esztergom), Aquincum (Budapest), Intercisa (Dunaújváros), Triccinae (Sárvár), Dombovár, Siklós, Sopianae (Pécs) and Savaria (Szombathely). [14] A Latin inscription, the epitaph of Septima Maria, discovered in Siklós (southern Hungary near Croatian border), clearly refers to her Jewishness ("Judaea"). [13] The Intercisa tablet was inscribed on behalf of "Cosmius, chief of the Spondilla customhouse, archisynagogus Iudeorum [head of the synagogue of the Jews]" during the reign of Alexander Severus. In 2008, a team of archeologists discovered a 3rd-century AD amulet in the form of a gold scroll with the words of the Jewish prayer Shema' Yisrael inscribed on it in Féltorony (now Halbturn, Burgenland, in Austria). [15] Hungarian tribes settled the territory 650 years later. In the Hungarian language, the word for Jew is zsidó, which was adopted from one of the Slavic languages. [13] [16]

The first historical document relating to the Jews of Hungary is the letter written about 960 CE to King Joseph of the Khazars by Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Jewish statesman of Córdoba, in which he says that the Slavic ambassadors promised to deliver the message to the King of Slavonia, who would hand the same to Jews living in "the country of Hungarian", who, in turn, would transmit it farther. About the same time Ibrahim ibn Jacob says that Jews went from Hungary to Prague for business purposes. Nothing is known concerning the Jews during the period of the grand princes, except that they lived in the country and engaged in commerce there. [13]

In 1061, King Béla I ordered that markets should take place on Saturdays instead of the traditional Sundays (Hungarian language has preserved the previous custom, "Sunday" = vasárnap, lit. "market day"). In the reign of St. Ladislaus (1077–1095), the Synod of Szabolcs decreed (May 20, 1092) that Jews should not be permitted to have Christian wives or to keep Christian slaves. This decree had been promulgated in the Christian countries of Europe since the 5th century, and St. Ladislaus merely introduced it into Hungary. [13]

The Jews of Hungary at first formed small settlements, and had no learned rabbis but they were strictly observant of all the Jewish laws and customs. One tradition relates the story of Jews from Ratisbon (Regensburg) coming into Hungary with merchandise from Russia, on a Friday the wheel of their wagon broke near Buda (Ofen) or Esztergom (Gran) and by the time they had repaired it and had entered the town, the Jews were just leaving the synagogue. The unintentional Sabbath-breakers were heavily fined. The ritual of the Hungarian Jews faithfully reflected contemporary German customs. [13]

1095–1349 Edit

Coloman (1095–1116), the successor of St. Ladislaus, renewed the Szabolcs decree of 1092, adding further prohibitions against the employment of Christian slaves and domestics. He also restricted the Jews to cities with episcopal sees – probably to have them under the continuous supervision of the Church. Soon after the promulgation of this decree, Crusaders came to Hungary but the Hungarians did not sympathize with them, and Coloman even opposed them. The infuriated Crusaders attacked some cities, and if Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya is to be believed, the Jews suffered a fate similar to that of their coreligionists in France, Germany, and Bohemia. [13]

The cruelties inflicted upon the Jews of Bohemia induced many of them to seek refuge in Hungary. It was probably the immigration of the rich Bohemian Jews that induced Coloman soon afterward to regulate commercial and banking transactions between Jews and Christians. He decreed, among other regulations, that if a Christian borrowed from a Jew, or a Jew from a Christian, both Christian and Jewish witnesses must be present at the transaction. [13]

During the reign of King Andrew II (1205–1235) there were Jewish Chamberlains and mint-, salt-, and tax-officials. The nobles of the country, however, induced the king, in his Golden Bull (1222), to deprive the Jews of these high offices. When Andrew needed money in 1226, he farmed the royal revenues to Jews, which gave ground for much complaint. The pope (Pope Honorius III) thereupon excommunicated him, until, in 1233, he promised the papal ambassadors on oath that he would enforce the decrees of the Golden Bull directed against the Jews and the Saracens (by this time, the papacy had changed, and the Pope was now Pope Gregory IX he would cause both peoples to be distinguished from Christians by means of badges and would forbid both Jews and Saracens to buy or to keep Christian slaves. [13]

The year 1240 was the closing one of the fifth millennium of the Jewish era. At that time the Jews were expecting the advent of their Messiah. The Mongol invasion in 1241 seemed to conform to expectation, as Jewish imagination expected the happy Messianic period to be ushered in by the war of Gog and Magog. Béla IV (1235–1270) appointed a Jewish man named Henul to the office of court chamberlain (Teka had filled this office under Andrew II) and Wölfel and his sons Altmann and Nickel held the castle at Komárom with its domains in pawn. Béla also entrusted the Jews with the mint and Hebrew coins of this period are still found in Hungary. In 1251 a privilegium was granted by Béla to his Jewish subjects which was essentially the same as that granted by Duke Frederick II the Quarrelsome to the Austrian Jews in 1244, but which Béla modified to suit the conditions of Hungary. This privilegium remained in force down to the Battle of Mohács (1526). [13]

At the Synod of Buda (1279), held in the reign of King Ladislaus IV of Hungary (1272–1290), it was decreed, in the presence of the papal ambassador, that every Jew appearing in public should wear on the left side of his upper garment a piece of red cloth that any Christian transacting business with a Jew not so marked, or living in a house or on land together with any Jew, should be refused admittance to the Church services and that a Christian entrusting any office to a Jew should be excommunicated. Andrew III (1291–1301), the last king of the Árpád dynasty, declared, in the privilegium granted by him to the community of Posonium (Bratislava), that the Jews in that city should enjoy all the liberties of citizens. [17]

Under the foreign kings who occupied the throne of Hungary on the extinction of the house of Arpad, the Hungarian Jews suffered many persecutions. During the time of the Black Death (1349), they were expelled from the country. Although the Jews were immediately readmitted, they were again persecuted, and were once again expelled in 1360 by King Louis the Great of Anjou (1342–1382). [18] Although King Louis had initially shown tolerance to the Jews during the early years of his reign, following his conquest of Bosnia, during which he tried to force the local population to convert from the "heretic" Bogomil Christianity to Catholicism, King Louis attempted to impose conversion on Hungarian Jews as well. However, he failed in his attempt to convert them to Catholicism, and expelled them. [19] They were received by Alexander the Good of Moldavia and Dano I of Wallachia, the latter who afforded them special commercial privileges. [18]

Some years later, when Hungary was in financial distress, the Jews were recalled. They found that during their absence the king had introduced the custom of Tödtbriefe, i.e., cancelling by a stroke of his pen, on the request of a subject or a city, the notes and mortgage-deeds of the Jews. An important office created by Louis was that of "judge of all the Jews living in Hungary," who was chosen from among the dignitaries of the country, the palatines, and treasurers, and had a deputy to aid him. It was his duty to collect the taxes of the Jews, to protect their privileges, and to listen to their complaints, which last-named had become more frequent since the reign of Sigismund Luxembourg (1387–1437). [18]

The successors of Sigismund: Albert (1437–1439), Ladislaus Posthumus (1453–1457), and Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490) all likewise confirmed the privilegium of Béla IV. Matthias created the office of Jewish prefect in Hungary. The period following the death of Matthias was a sad one for the Hungarian Jews. He was hardly buried, when the people fell upon them, confiscated their property, refused to pay debts owing to them, and persecuted them generally. The pretender John Corvinus, Matthias' illegitimate son, expelled them from Tata, and King Ladislaus II (1490–1516), always in need of money, laid heavy taxes upon them. During his reign, Jews were for the first time burned at the stake, many being executed at Nagyszombat (Trnava) in 1494, on suspicion of ritual murder. [18]

The Hungarian Jews finally applied to the German Emperor Maximilian for protection. On the occasion of the marriage of Louis II and the archduchess Maria (1512), the emperor, with the consent of Ladislaus, took the prefect, Jacob Mendel of Buda, together with his family and all the other Hungarian Jews, under his protection, according to them all the rights enjoyed by his other subjects. Under Ladislaus' successor, Louis II (1516–1526), persecution of the Jews was a common occurrence. The bitter feeling against them was in part augmented by the fact that the baptized Emerich Szerencsés, the deputy treasurer, embezzled the public funds. [18]

The Ottomans vanquished the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács (August 29, 1526), on which occasion Louis II lost his life on the battlefield. When the news of his death reached the capital, Buda, the court and the nobles fled together with some wealthy Jews, among them the prefect. When the grand vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, preceding Sultan Suleiman I, arrived with his army at Buda, the representatives of the Jews who had remained in the city appeared garbed in mourning before him, and, begging for grace, handed him the keys of the deserted and unprotected castle in token of submission. The sultan himself entered Buda on September 11 and on September 22 he decreed that all the Jews seized at Buda, Esztergom, and elsewhere, more than 2,000 in number, should be distributed among the cities of the Ottoman Empire. [18] They were sent to Constantinople, Plevna (Pleven) and Sofia, where they maintained their separate community for several decades. In Sofia, there existed four Jewish communities in the second half of the 16th century: Romaniote, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and "Ungarus". The overflow of Hungarian Jews from Sofia also settled in Kavala later.

Although the Ottoman Army turned back after the battle, in 1541 it again invaded Hungary to help repel an Austrian attempt to take Buda. By the time the Ottoman Army arrived, the Austrians were defeated, but the Ottomans seized Buda by ruse.

While some of the Jews of Hungary were deported to Anatolia, others, who had fled at the approach of the sultan, sought refuge beyond the frontier or in the free royal towns of western Hungary. The widow of Louis II, the queen regent Maria, favored the enemies of the Jews. The citizens of Sopron (Ödenburg) began hostilities by expelling the Jews of that city, confiscating their property, and pillaging the vacated houses and the synagogue. The city of Pressburg (Bratislava) also received permission from the queen (October 9, 1526) to expel the Jews living within its territory, because they had expressed their intention of fleeing before the Turks. The Jews left Pressburg on November 9. [18]

On that same day the diet at Székesfehérvár was opened, at which János Szapolyai (1526–1540) was elected and crowned king in opposition to Ferdinand. During this session it was decreed that the Jews should immediately be expelled from every part of the country. Zápolya, however, did not ratify these laws and the Diet held at Pressburg in December 1526, at which Ferdinand of Habsburg was chosen king (1526–1564), annulled all the decrees of that of Székesfehérvár, including Zápolya's election as king. [18]

As the lord of Bösing (Pezinok) was in debt to the Jews, a blood accusation was brought against these inconvenient creditors in 1529. Although Mendel, the prefect, and the Jews throughout Hungary protested, the accused were burned at the stake. For centuries afterward Jews were forbidden to live at Bösing. The Jews of Nagyszombat (Trnava) soon shared a similar fate, being first punished for alleged ritual murder and then expelled from the city (February 19, 1539). [18]

The Jews living in the parts of Hungary occupied by the Ottoman Empire were treated far better than those living under the Habsburgs. During the periods of 1546-1590 and 1620–1680, the community of Ofen (Buda) flourished.

The following table shows the number of Jewish jizya-tax paying heads of household in Buda during Ottoman rule:

1546 1559 1562 1590 1627 1633 1660
50 44 49 109 11 20 80

At the end of the Ottoman era, the approximately one thousand Jews living in Buda worshipped in three synagogues: an Ashkenazi, a Sephardi and a Syrian one.

While the Ottomans held sway in Hungary, the Jews of Transylvania (at that time an independent principality) also fared well. At the instance of Abraham Sassa, a Jewish physician of Constantinople, Prince Gabriel Bethlen of Transylvania granted a letter of privileges (June 18, 1623) to the Spanish Jews from Anatolia. [20] But the community of Judaizing Szekler Sabbatarians, which had existed in Transylvania since 1588, was persecuted and driven underground in 1638. [21]

On November 26, 1572, King Maximilian II (1563–1576) intended to expel the Jews of Pressburg (Bratislava), stating that his edict would be recalled only in case they accepted Christianity. The Jews, however, remained in the city, without abandoning their religion. They were in constant conflict with the citizens. On June 1, 1582 the municipal council decreed that no one should harbor Jews, or even transact business with them. The feeling against the Jews in that part of the country not under Turkish rule is shown by the decree of the Diet of 1578, to the effect that Jews were to be taxed double the amount which was imposed upon other citizens. [20]

By article XV of the law promulgated by the Diet of 1630, Jews were forbidden to take charge of the customs and this decree was confirmed by the Diet of 1646 on the ground that the Jews were excluded from the privileges of the country, that they were unbelievers, and had no conscience (veluti jurium regni incapaces, infideles, et nulla conscientia praediti). [20] The Jews had to pay a special war-tax when the imperial troops set out toward the end of the 16th century to recapture Buda from the Ottomans. The Buda community suffered much during this siege, as did also that of Székesfehérvár when the imperial troops took that city in September 1601 many of its members were either slain or taken prisoner and sold into slavery, their redemption being subsequently effected by the German, Italian, and Ottoman Jews. After the conclusion of peace, which the Jews helped to bring about, the communities were in part reconstructed but further development in the territory of the Habsburgs was arrested when Leopold I (1657–1705) expelled the Jews (April 24, 1671). He, however, revoked his decree a few months later (August 20). During the siege of Vienna, in 1683, the Jews that had returned to that city were again maltreated. The Ottomans plundered some communities in western Hungary, and deported the members as slaves. [20]

Further persecution and expulsions (1686–1740) Edit

The imperial troops recaptured Buda on September 2, 1686, most Jewish residents were massacred, some captured and later released for ransom. In the following years the whole of Hungary now came under the rule of the House of Habsburg. As the devastated country had to be repopulated, Bishop Count Leopold Karl von Kollonitsch, subsequently Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary, advised the king to give the preference to the German Catholics in order that the country might in time become German and Catholic. He held that the Jews could not be exterminated at once, but they must be weeded out by degrees, as bad coin is gradually withdrawn from circulation. The decree passed by the Diet of Pressburg (1687–1688), imposing double taxation upon the Jews. Jews were not be permitted to engage in agriculture, nor to own any real estate, nor to keep Christian servants. [20]

This advice soon bore fruit and was in part acted upon. In August 1690, the government at Vienna ordered Sopron to expel its Jews, who had immigrated from the Austrian provinces. The government, desiring to enforce the edict of the last Diet, decreed soon afterward that Jews should be removed from the office of collector. The order proved ineffective, however and the employment of Jewish customs officials was continued. Even the treasurer of the realm set the example in transgressing the law by appointing (1692) Simon Hirsch as customs farmer at Leopoldstadt (Leopoldov) and at Hirsch's death he transferred the office to Hirsch's son-in-law. [20]

The revolt of the Kuruc, under Francis II Rákóczi, caused much suffering to Hungary's Jews. The Kuruc imprisoned and slew the Jews, who had incurred their anger by siding with the king's party. The Jews of Eisenstadt, accompanied by those of the community of Mattersdorf, sought refuge at Vienna, Wiener-Neustadt, and Forchtenstein those of Holics (Holíč) and Sasvár (Šaštín) dispersed to Göding (Hodonín) while others, who could not leave their business in this time of distress, sent their families to safe places, and themselves braved the danger. While not many Jews lost their lives during this revolt, it made great havoc in their wealth, especially in Sopron County, where a number of rich Jews were living. The king granted letters of protection to those that had been ruined by the revolt, and demanded satisfaction for those that had been injured but in return for these favors he commanded the Jews to furnish the sums necessary for suppressing the revolt. [20]

After the restoration of peace the Jews were expelled from many cities that feared their competition thus Esztergom expelled them in 1712, on the ground that the city which had given birth to St. Stephen must not be desecrated by them. But the Jews living in the country, on the estates of their landlords, were generally left alone. [20]

The lot of the Jews was not improved under the reign of Leopold's son, Charles III (1711–1740). He informed the government (June 28, 1725) that he intended to decrease the number of Jews in his domains, and the government thereupon directed the counties to furnish statistics of the Hebrew inhabitants. In 1726 the king decreed that in the Austrian provinces, from the day of publication of the decree, only one male member in each Jewish family be allowed to marry. This decree, restricting the natural increase of the Jews, materially affected the Jewish communities of Hungary. All the Jews in the Austrian provinces who could not marry there went to Hungary to found families thus the overflow of Austrian Jews peopled Hungary. These immigrants settled chiefly in the northwestern counties, in Nyitra (Nitra), Pressburg (Bratislava), and Trencsén (Trenčín). [22]

The Moravian Jews continued to live in Hungary as Moravian subjects even those that went there for the purpose of marrying and settling promised on oath before leaving that they would pay the same taxes as those living in Moravia. In 1734 the Jews of Trencsén bound themselves by a secret oath that in all their communal affairs they would submit to the Jewish court at Ungarisch-Brod (Uherský Brod) only. In the course of time the immigrants refused to pay taxes to the Austrian provinces. The Moravian Jews, who had suffered by the heavy emigration, then brought complaint and Maria Theresa ordered that all Jewish and Christian subjects that had emigrated after 1740 should be extradited, while those who had emigrated before that date were to be released from their Moravian allegiance. [23]

The government could not, however, check the large immigration for although strict laws were drafted in 1727, they could not be enforced owing to the good-will of the magnates toward the Jews. The counties either did not answer at all, or sent reports bespeaking mercy rather than persecution. [23]

Meanwhile, the king endeavored to free the mining-towns from the Jews – a work which Leopold I had already begun in 1693. The Jews, however, continued to settle near these towns they displayed their wares at the fairs and, with the permission of the court, they even erected a foundry at Ság (Sasinkovo). When King Charles ordered them to leave (March 1727), the royal mandate was in some places ignored in others the Jews obeyed so slowly that he had to repeat his edict three months later. [23]

Maria Theresa (1740–1780) Edit

In 1735, another census of the Jews of the country was taken with the view of reducing their numbers. There were at that time 11,621 Jews living in Hungary, of which 2,474 were male heads of families, and fifty-seven were female heads. Of these heads of families 35.31 per cent declared themselves to be Hungarians the rest had immigrated. Of the immigrants 38.35 per cent came from Moravia, 11.05 per cent from Poland, and 3.07 per cent from Bohemia. The largest Jewish community, numbering 770 persons, was that of Pressburg (Bratislava). Most of the Jews were engaged in commerce or industries, most being merchants, traders, or shopkeepers only a few pursued agriculture. [23]

During the reign of Queen Maria Theresa (1740–1780), daughter of Charles III, the Jews were expelled from Buda (1746), and the "toleration-tax" was imposed upon the Hungarian Jews. On September 1, 1749, the delegates of the Hungarian Jews, except those from Szatmár County, assembled at Pressburg and met a royal commission, which informed them that they would be expelled from the country if they did not pay this tax. The frightened Jews at once agreed to do so and the commission then demanded a yearly tax of 50,000 gulden. This sum being excessive, the delegates protested and although the queen had fixed 30,000 gulden as the minimum tax, they were finally able to compromise on the payment of 20,000 gulden a year for a period of eight years. The delegates were to apportion this amount among the districts the districts, their respective sums among the communities and the communities, theirs among the individual members. [23]

The queen confirmed this agreement of the commission, except the eight-year clause, changing the period to three years, which she subsequently made five. The agreement, thus ratified by the queen, was brought on November 26 before the courts, which were powerless to relieve the Jews from the payment of this Malkegeld (queen's money), as they called it. [24]

The Jews, thus burdened by new taxes, thought the time ripe for taking steps to remove their oppressive disabilities. While still at Presburg the delegates had brought their grievances before the mixed commission that was called delegata in puncto tolerantialis taxae et gravaminum Judeorum commissio mixta. These complaints pictured the distress of the Jews of that time. They were not allowed to live in Croatia and Slavonia, in Baranya and Heves Counties, or in several free royal towns and localities nor might they visit the markets there. At Stuhlweissenburg (Székesfehérvár) they had to pay a poll-tax of 1 gulden, 30 kreuzer if they entered the city during the day, if only for an hour. In many places they might not even stay overnight. They therefore begged permission to settle, or at least to visit the fairs, in Croatia and Slavonia and in those places from which they had been driven in consequence of the jealousy of the Greeks and the merchants. [25]

The Jews also had to pay heavier bridge-and ferry-tolls than the Christians at Nagyszombat (Trnava) they had to pay three times the ordinary sum, namely, for the driver, for the vehicle, and for the animal drawing the same and in three villages belonging to the same district they had to pay toll, although there was no toll-gate. Jews living on the estates of the nobles had to give their wives and children as pledges for arrears of taxes. In Upper Hungary they asked for the revocation of the toleration-tax imposed by the chamber of Zips County (Szepes, Spiš), on the ground that otherwise the Jews living there would have to pay two such taxes and they asked also to be relieved from a similar tax paid to the Diet. Finally, they requested that Jewish artisans might be allowed to follow their trades in their homes undisturbed. [25]

The commission laid these complaints before the Queen, indicating the manner in which they could be relieved and their suggestions were subsequently willed by the queen and made into law. The queen relieved the Jews from the tax of toleration in Upper Hungary only. In regard to the other complaints she ordered that the Jews should specify them in detail, and that the government should remedy them insofar as they came under its jurisdiction. [25]

The toleration-tax had hardly been instituted when Michael Hirsch petitioned the government to be appointed primate of the Hungarian Jews in order to be able to settle difficulties that might arise among them, and to collect the tax. The government did not recommend Hirsch, but decided that in case the Jews should refuse to pay, it might be advisable to appoint a primate to adjust the matter. [25]

Before the end of the period of five years the delegates of the Jews again met the commission at Pressburg (Bratislava) and offered to increase the amount of their tax to 25,000 gulden a year if the queen would promise that it should remain at that sum for the next ten years. The queen had other plans, however not only did she dismiss the renewed gravamina of the Jews, but rather imposed stiffer regulations upon them. Their tax of 20,000 gulden was increased to 30,000 gulden in 1760 to 50,000 in 1772 to 80,000 in 1778 and to 160,000 in 1813. [25]

Joseph II (1780–1790) Edit

Joseph II (1780–1790), son and successor of Maria Theresa, showed immediately on his accession that he intended to alleviate the condition of the Jews, communicating this intention to the Hungarian chancellor, Count Franz Esterházy as early as May 13, 1781. In consequence the Hungarian government issued (March 31, 1783) a decree known as the Systematica gentis Judaicae regulatio, which wiped out at one stroke the decrees that had oppressed the Jews for centuries. The royal free towns, except the mining-towns, were opened to the Jews, who were allowed to settle at leisure throughout the country. The regulatio decreed that the legal documents of the Jews should no longer be composed in Hebrew, or in Yiddish, but in Latin, German, and Hungarian, the languages used in the country at the time, and which the young Jews were required to learn within two years. [25]

Documents written in Hebrew or in Yiddish were not legal Hebrew books were to be used at worship only the Jews were to organize elementary schools the commands of the emperor, issued in the interests of the Jews, were to be announced in the synagogues and the rabbis were to explain to the people the salutary effects of these decrees. The subjects to be taught in the Jewish schools were to be the same as those taught in the national schools the same text-books were to be used in all the elementary schools and everything that might offend the religious sentiment of non-conformists was to be omitted. [25]

During the early years Christian teachers were to be employed in the Jewish schools, but they were to have nothing to do with the religious affairs of such institutions. After the lapse of ten years a Jew might establish a business, or engage in trade, only if he could prove that he had attended a school. The usual school-inspectors were to supervise the Jewish schools and to report to the government. The Jews were to create a fund for organizing and maintaining their schools. Jewish youth might enter the academies, and might study any subject at the universities except theology. Jews might rent farms only if they could cultivate the same without the aid of Christians. [25]

Jews were allowed to peddle and to engage in various industrial occupations, and to be admitted into the guilds. They were also permitted to engrave seals, and to sell gunpowder and saltpeter but their exclusion from the mining-towns remained in force. Christian masters were allowed to have Jewish apprentices. All distinctive marks hitherto worn by the Jews were to be abolished, and they might even carry swords. On the other hand, they were required to discard the distinctive marks prescribed by their religion and to shave their beards. Emperor Joseph regarded this decree so seriously that he allowed no one to violate it. [25]

The Jews, in a petition dated April 22, 1783, expressed their gratitude to the emperor for his favors, and, reminding him of his principle that religion should not be interfered with, asked permission to wear beards. The emperor granted the prayer of the petitioners, but reaffirmed the other parts of the decree (April 24, 1783). The Jews organized schools in various places, at Pressburg (Bratislava), Óbuda, Vágújhely (Nové Mesto nad Váhom), and Nagyvárad (Oradea). A decree was issued by the emperor (July 23, 1787) to the effect that every Jew should choose a German surname and a further edict (1789) ordered, to the consternation of the Jews, that they should henceforth perform military service. [26]

After the death of Joseph II the royal free cities showed a very hostile attitude toward the Jews. The citizens of Pest petitioned the municipal council that after May 1, 1790, the Jews should no longer be allowed to live in the city. The government interfered and the Jews were merely forbidden to engage in peddling in the city. Seven days previously a decree of expulsion had been issued at Nagyszombat (Trnava), May 1 being fixed as the date of the Jews' departure. The Jews appealed to the government and in the following December the city authorities of Nagyszombat were informed that the Diet had confirmed the former rights of the Jews, and that the latter could not be expelled. [27]

Timeline: The history of Auschwitz-Birkenau

WARSAW, Poland — The Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau is an enduring symbol of the Holocaust.

Part of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” plan for genocide against European Jews, the camp operated in the occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim between June 1940 and January 1945.

Of the more than 1.3 million people imprisoned there, 1.1 million — mainly Jews — perished, either asphyxiated in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion, and disease.

The world marked the 75th anniversary on Monday of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.

Here is its history, based on information from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum:

  • September 1: Nazi German invasion of Poland starts World War II in Europe. Nazis massacre Polish Jews or force them into ghettos, start to wipe out Poland’s elites and try to stem resistance.
  • April 27: Schutzstaffel (SS) leader Heinrich Himmler picks site at barracks in Oswiecim, southern Poland, renamed Auschwitz.
  • June 14: First 728 Polish political prisoners arrive.
  • Autumn: Resistance informs exiled Polish government in London about camp, it tells Allies.
  • March 1: Himmler inspects Auschwitz, orders expansion.
  • June 22: Germany invades Soviet Union, breaking a 1939 pact, sends POWs to camp.

  • January 20: Nazis set plans for “Final Solution,” the genocide of Europe’s Jews.
  • January: Mass gassing of Jews in Auschwitz begins.
  • March 1: “Auschwitz II-Birkenau” camp opens.
  • March: First mass deportation of foreign Jews to camp, 69,000 from France, 27,000 from Slovakia.
  • May: 300,000 Jews sent from Poland, 23,000 from Germany and Austria.
  • May 4: First Birkenau “selection” of arriving prisoners takes place, splitting those slated for slavery from those to be gassed.
  • June 10: Birkenau mutiny, seven prisoners escape, 300 die.
  • July: 60,000 Jews sent from Holland.
  • August: 25,000 Jews sent from Belgium, 10,000 from Yugoslavia.
  • October 30: Industrial “Auschwitz III-Monowitz” camp opens.
  • October: 46,000 Jews sent from today’s Czech Republic.
  • December: 700 Jews sent from Norway.
  • February 26: Camp for Roma set up at Birkenau.
  • March: 55,000 Jews sent from Greece.
  • October: 7,500 Jews sent from Italy.
  • May: Allied planes photograph camp, spot gas chambers and smoke. Britain and United States later bomb Monowitz.

  • May: 438,000 Jews sent from Hungary.
  • August: 67,000 Jews sent from Lodz ghetto in Poland.
  • August 2: 3,000 Roma gassed.
  • August: 13,000 Poles sent amid Warsaw Uprising.
  • October 7: Mutiny by “Sonderkommando,” Jews forced to burn bodies from gas chambers. Three SS men, 450 Sonderkommando prisoners die.
  • November: Mass gassing ends.

  • January 21-26: Germans blow up Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria, withdraw as Soviet scouts approach.
  • January 27: Soviet troops arrive, find 7,000 survivors.

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Frightened victims: Wilhelm Brasse took some 40,000-50,000 photographs inside Aushwitz for the Nazis including these shots of Czeslawa Kwoka after she was beaten by a guard

Haunting: The identity photographs of an Auschwitz inmate that Brasse took as part of the Nazi German effort to document their activities at the camp

Harsh truth: Polish inmate Brasse was among many put to work capturing such images

Distressing: Brasse was given the job of taking pictures for the Nazis because he had been a professional photographer before the war

After the war, Mr Brasse tried to return to photography but it was too traumatic.

The final evacuation and liquidation of the camp

From January 17 to 21, the Germans marched approximately 56 thousand prisoners out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps in evacuation columns mostly heading west, through Upper and Lower Silesia. Two days later, they evacuated 2 thousand prisoners by train from the sub-camps in Świętochłowice and Siemianowice. The main evacuation routes led to Wodzisław Sląski and Gliwice, where the many evacuation columns were merged into rail transports. From the sub-camp in Jaworzno, 3,200 prisoners made one of the longest marches&mdash250 km. to Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Lower Silesia.

The evacuation columns were supposed to consist only of healthy people strong enough to march many score kilometers. In practice, however, sick and enfeebled prisoners also volunteered, since they thought, not without reason, that the Germans would kill those who remained behind. Underage prisoners&mdashJewish and Polish children&mdashset out on the march along with the adults.

Along all the routes, the escorting SS guards shot both the prisoners who tried to escape and those who were too physically exhausted to keep up with their fellow unfortunates. Thousands of corpses of the prisoners who were shot or who died of fatigue or exposure to the cold lined both the routes where they passed on foot or by train. In Upper Silesia alone, about 3 thousand evacuated prisoners died. It is estimated that at least 9 thousand, and more probably 15 thousand Auschwitz prisoners paid with their lives for the evacuation operation. After the war, the travails of the evacuated prisoners came to be known as the &ldquoDeath Marches.&rdquo

One of the few extant Nazi documents referring to the Death Marches is an SS report from March 13, 1945 on the arrival in the Leitmeritz (Litomierzyce) camp in Bohemia of 58 prisoners evacuated from the Auschwitz sub-camp of Hubertushütte, mentioned above. The report states that 144 other prisoners (mostly Jews) &ldquodied&rdquo (verstorben) en route.

Massacres of prisoners took place in some of the localities along the evacuation routes. At the Leszczyny/Rzędówka train station near Rybnik on the night of January 21/22, 1945, a train carrying about 2.5 thousand prisoners from Gliwice halted. On the afternoon of January 22, the prisoners were ordered to disembark. Some of them were too exhausted to do so. SS men from the escort and local Nazi police fired machine guns through the open doors of the train cars. The Germans then herded the remaining prisoners westward. After they had marched away, more than 300 corpses, of prisoners who had been shot or who had died of exhaustion or exposure, were gathered from the grounds of the station and its surroundings.

Many Polish and Czech residents of localities along or near the evacuation route came forward to help the evacuees. For the most part, they gave them water and food, and also sheltered escapees. People in various localities were honored after the war with the Israel Righteous among the Nations of the World medal for helping escapees survive until liberation.

There are detailed studies (by Andrzej Strzelecki, Jan Delowicz, and Halina Wróbel) of the course of the marches along the routes Oświęcim &ndash Pszczyna &minus Wodzisław Śląski, and Leszczyny/Rzędówka &ndash Kamień &ndash Rybnik &ndash Racibórz, as well as of the routes that passed through the Opole area (in works by Stanisław Łukowski and Krzysztof Świerkosz) and the route from Kamienna Góra to Kowary (by Hermann F. Weiss), which was part of the route from Mielęcic (Geppersdorf) to Lower Silesia.

Documentary material in the collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum could also serve as the basis for a precise description of the evacuation of prisoners on the routes from Oświęcim &ndash Gliwice (for prisoners from Monowitz and various other sub-camps) and from the Golleschau sub-camp in Goleszów to Wodzisław Śląski. There is also material on the rail &ldquodeath transports&rdquo through Moravia and Bohemia and some localities in Saxony.

Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front during World War II

For the vast majority of Hungarian Jews, their family history includes the story of their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands who were drafted into the Labor Service to perform forced labor during the Holocaust. A large percentage of Jewish Labor Service draftees (some 45,000 out of about 100,000) were sent with the Hungarian Second Army to the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, primarily from spring 1942 until the summer 1944. Subjected to grinding brutality on the front, the Jewish forced laborers’ suffering was often increased exponentially by the treatment they received at the hands of the Hungarian officers and soldiers who controlled their lives. Some 80% of the Jewish forced laborers never returned home, falling prey to battle, disease, Soviet captivity and outright murder at hands of Hungarian soldiers.

The thrust of this book is the attempt to tell the story of the men of the Labor Service from eye level, although it also sets out the establishment of the Labor Service System, the attitudes of those who set it up and ran it toward the Jewish forced laborers, and their behavior toward them. But mostly, it seeks to convey what the laborers themselves were undergoing and as much as possible, what they were thinking and how they were responding.

The main documentary basis for this monograph is personal accounts – testimonies and memoirs, and a few diaries and letters, of those who endured. These personal accounts were supplemented by a unique set of documents from the war itself that is held by Yad Vashem. The Hungarian Military’s card index of casualties among the forced laborers on the Eastern Front, with varying degrees of detail about those who fell, was an integral instrument for corroborating information gleaned from personal accounts and for adding details and statistics.

Bound up in the saga of the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers on the Eastern Front are nearly unimaginable, gratuitous hatred and cruelty, interspaced with occasional humanity and even heroism. The laborers were made to work very hard in generally exacting conditions and frequently with the cruel harassment of the Hungarian officers and soldiers in charge of them. Even work like cutting trees could be made to be terrible when the men had to run many kilometers with the freshly cut wood on their shoulders, run back, and do it all over again several times in a given day, all the while being subjected to curses and blows. Some jobs were simply dangerous, such as burying the dead on the forward lines without any kind of protection while bullets from both sides of the lines flew past the forced laborers. Other jobs were outright murderous, like clearing mine fields without previous training and wielding only sticks to dig out mines that were discovered. The underlying idea was that the men would reveal mines by stepping on them, with the obvious consequences to life and limb.

As cruel as their treatment was in general, there were exceptions. A few Hungarian soldiers and officials did their best to help the forced laborers, treating them like human beings and trying to better the conditions of their service. Among them several have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

The forced laborers were direct and indirect witnesses to the destruction of the Jews in the areas in which they were stationed. Yet despite this and their own suffering, they did not usually see themselves as part of the unfolding Holocaust. Still they were not simply passive participants in events. At times they tried to help local Jews they encountered, especially early in their service, by giving them food. They sometimes banded together to help each other within their companies as a whole, or in smaller support groups. A few sought to escape to the local partisans, but unfamiliarity with the terrain and language, as well as the expected punishment for failure, deterred most from following this path. When Soviet forces drew near, many intentionally became prisoners of war, hoping their trials and tribulations would soon end. The Soviets, however, regarded them as Hungarian soldiers and as result they entered the Soviet prisoner of war system. Tragically only about a quarter of those who became prisoners survived.

The Labor Service System was not set up to be an instrument of torture and murder. It was meant to be a framework for those who were considered unworthy of bearing arms to serve the Hungarian nation in time of war. By the time Hungary became fully involved in World War II, however, Jews had been defined as unworthy of being regular soldiers. In the crucible of the war, with rampant antisemitism in Hungarian society as a whole, and particularly in the military, forced labor for Jews on the Eastern Front became lethal for the great majority.

Unlike the industrialized, dehumanized, anonymous murder we associate with the extermination camps that has become the paradigm for the Holocaust, the story of the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers on the Eastern Front is a tale of intimates. The men of the Labor Service sometimes knew one another before the war, and the great majority, in the crucible of the war, spent intensive weeks, months and even years together in the same company. In other words, the victims were not merely abstract constructs to the perpetrators – the “other” - but real people. This intimacy raises many issues regarding the nature of the Shoah, the responsibility of the perpetrators and their society, how one can be an intimate and an “other” at the same time, and why we must strive to create societies in which there are no “others.”