This Week in 1945 in Budapest, Berlin, Moscow and Debrecen: 13-19 January.   Leave a comment

001On 13 January 1945, the Soviet Red Army’s advance into Budapest had reached the middle of the fashionable main arterial boulevard known as Andrássy út, and the parallel Benczúr utca. An ambitious Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenburg, who had been working with the Red Cross to protect the remaining Jews in the capital from the Hungarian Fascist Arrow Cross paramilitaries, was talking of making contact with Marshal Malinovski, the general in charge of the advance, as soon as possible. He went behind the Russian lines with a military escort, a major and his Hungarian helper, Vilmos Langfelder. The same day, in Berlin, a telegraphic summary informed Adolf Eichmann, now in Berlin, that the Swedish Ambassador in Budapest, Danielsson, had gone into hiding and that Wallenburg had been placed under German protection.

By this stage, Eichmann was more and more a burden to the upper echelons of the SS. The collapse of Nazi power was accelerating, and every initiative of the German military leadership was a failure. The inner circle of high-ranking officers clung to their blind faith that the wonder-weapons Hitler had promised could soon be put into action. Others were hoping for a split to emerge between the Allies at any moment, and a third group was already making plans to escape before Germany’s ruin was made total. Fantasists talked of a separate peace, spreading the myth that the West would in no way permit or tolerate Stalin and the Red Army penetrating deep into central Europe.  Several of them blamed the series of nightmares on Eichmann’s fanatical genocidal activities. He was personally aware, as were the other Nazi leaders, that he was near the top of the Allies’ lists of war criminals, and they kept their distance from him as catastrophe loomed.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Domokos Szent-Iványi was preparing to leave Moscow for Debrecen. His skills as a diplomat and a linguist had been needed in the Russian capital, but the Soviet-backed Provisional Government in Debrecen, and especially comrades Gerő and Rákosi, were getting nervous about what he was doing on his extended sojourn there. Both governments decided that he should return to Hungary, so he left Moscow on 13th, arriving in Debrecen five days later. When he left Moscow, the Hungarian Armistice Delegation were still in the city, having arrived during his stay there.  Back in Debrecen, Szent-Iványi made friends with the Speaker of the House, or President of the Diet, and the leader of the Smallholders’ Party, Ferenc Nagy, among others. After making official calls on Premier Miklós and the Cabinet Ministers, he had a meeting with Géza Teleki and Gábor Faragho in the home of the Presbyterian Bishop Imre Révész. The Hungarian Independence Movement members in Debrecen found themselves in an almost impossible situation. Power was essentially in the hands of the Soviet Secret Service, the NKVD, and their mouthpieces Gerő, Rákosi, and a few others, and that power was steadily growing.

Meanwhile, on 14 January, Wallenberg appeared in a Russian car, saying that he had transferred his effects and a briefcase containing 222,000 pengő to his flat in Zugló, a suburb of Pest. However, the address he gave turned out to be completely unknown, so that it’s possible that he had already been taken captive by the NKVD and was being held at the first Soviet interrogation centre in the Széchenyi Baths building, making contact with high-ranking officers. On the morning of the 16th or 17th (statements differ), Wallenberg caused a stir by appearing at the international ghetto, at the Swedish embassy office. With him were a Russian lieutenant colonel and Langfelder. At Wallenberg’s request the car called at the Swedish Embassy offices, the protected houses, before the car moved off in the direction of Gödöllő. During the journey he said that the Russians had treated him excellently. General Chernyshev, commander of the Pest parts of the city that had been taken, had agreed to his request to go to Debrecen. The escort consisted of three soldiers on motorcycles with side cars, one of them a captain. The Swede joked to one of the helpers in German that he didn’t know whether they were there to defend him or to keep an eye on him. I don’t know whether I’m a guest or a prisoner, he added with a laugh. This was the last anyone saw of Wallenberg in Budapest.

On 16th, before Wallenberg’s putative departure for Debrecen, the quarter where the ‘protected houses’ was liberated. On 17th, German and Hungarian troops withdrew from Pest into Buda, and the Germans blew up the five bridges across the Danube that linked the two halves of the city. Within Buda, especially around the central fortress which was defended by SS troops, the fighting became intense. The morning of the 18th brought the other tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest release from the Arrow Cross and Nazi terror, from mining and from air-raids. Advancing house-to-house, often from cellar-to-cellar, the Soviet forces reached the end of the central ghetto. They demolished the wooden gates and the pallisades in several places. Outside the Dohány utca synagogue, heaps of corpses lay in the streets, frozen hard. Burials began at once in the garden of the synagogue, with 2,281 bodies buried in twenty-four common graves. Forty-five men and women had been shot.

Pest was secured by the Red Army by the end of the day. With Wallenberg’s departure for Debrecen the Swedish humanitarian action was considered finished and the head of the office prepared a final report. In it he listed the in detail the Swedish protected and maintained offices, officials’ flats and the protected houses. He put the number of persons provided with passes and other documents at four thousand, the number of Hungarian colleagues as two hundred, and the total of their family members at four hundred. He reckoned the number supplied with Swedish Red Cross letters of protection as 2,500. He started to close the inventories and wind up the activity.

Sources:

Domokos Szent-Iványi (2013), The Hungarian Independence Movement, 1939-46. Budapest: Hungarian Review Books.

Laurence Rees (2008), World War Two Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. London: BBC Books.

Szabolcs Szíta (2012), The Power of Humanity: Raoul Wallenberg and his Aides in Budapest. Budapest: Corvina Books.

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Posted January 14, 2015 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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