The Holocaust in Hungary, 1944:
The Role of the Non-Jewish Hungarians

by
Megan Brady

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On November 5, 2001, Center for Historical Studies Fellow Christian Gerlach of the University of Maryland presented his paper The Holocaust in Hungary, 1944: The Role of the Non-Jewish Hungarians. Explaining the Holocaust is a difficult task, as pinpointing exact motives and causes remains controversial. In his talk, Gerlach emphasized the context of Hungarian political interests and nationalism, discussing the latter in more detail than in his paper.

The case of the Hungarian Holocaust is unique within the general context of genocide. Between May and July 1944, the Hungarian government deported about 420,000 people to Auschwitz, of whom the Germans immediately killed 75%. This rate of mass murder is similar to the extreme case of Poland in the late summer and fall of 1942. As the killings occurred in the last year of the war, historians have typically emphasized the importance of Hungarian anti-Semitic ideology in the Ministry of the Interior and in the gendarmene to explain the rate and speed of the destruction of two thirds of Hungarian Jewry. Gerlach points out that the efficiency of the violence also necessitated more widespread domestic and political support for this to be possible. In his talk, he suggested that historians ought to examine the Hungarian political context and nationalism, both in relation to internal and external affairs.

During the Interwar years, Hungary was a newly independent transitional society in possession of newly annexed territories. Following the end of World War One, in the span of one year, Hungary experienced major political upheavals. Violently changing from a democratic regime to a Bolshevik revolution into final form as an authoritarian government supported by aristocrats, the radical right and the military, Hungary also faced a Romanian invasion. The regime did not deal with the resulting social tensions