Following the German occupation of Hungary on19 March 1944

The entry of the Wehrmacht troops into Hungary created a new situation.

The German security forces first stormed the Poles. Soldiers and civilians alike were detained in groups. In some cases they were slaughtered on the spot. The German and the Austrian Jews fleeing from the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst, most of them laying low in Budapest, knew that there was no other refuge from the pursuers. Some of them committed suicide during the first weeks of the occupation.

The deportation squad (Sonderkommando) of SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann and the Hungarian collaborationist high officials exerted deadly pressure on the 825,000 strong Hungarian Jewish community. Still, most people hoped that they would not share the destiny of Jews in other countries. They were wrong. The Government of General Döme Sztójay plied completely to the German demands. The persecution of the Jews did not shock the Hungarian society. The majority, accustomed to the ”legal” exclusion of the Jews and brainwashed by propaganda, remained indifferent. Only in the city of Győr did some brave youth display yellow flowers in their buttonholes as a sign of compassion with Jewish citizens required to wear the yellow star.

On 16 April, following the instructions of their experienced SS "advisers", the Hungarian authorities began transferring hundreds of thousands of rural Jews into ghettos. (Since 2004, 16 April is the Day of Holocaust Remembrance in Hungary.) Jews and those who were considered Jewish had to leave all their property behind and move with their families into assigned buildings, brick factories, empty suburban factory buildings, warehouses. Formally, the ghettos had "self-management", but in practice the gendarmerie and the authorities were in command in these places. Many Jewish people were interrogated and beaten to death in an attempt to find their hidden values. Assigned midwives searched women and young girls in degrading, inhuman ways.

Those who felt sympathy for the suffering offered their own identity documents to Jewish friends and acquaintances. Abbey priest József Pór organized in his parish food assistance for the ghetto in Bonyhád. He provided temporary shelter and support to several persecuted people. This kind of action, assisting Jews, was not without danger. Home Defense Forces lieutenant Jenő Thassy attempted to help his acquaintances crowded in the synagogue in Barcs. The gendarmerie commander of the site detained him as well, as a "punishment".  Later, he was released amid threats.

Others offered to hide their Jewish friends, but very few people used this opportunity. The number of Jews who went into hiding during the deportations was very low in rural areas. An extraordinary example of rescuing was performed by a refugee from Austria, Leo Tschöll, who initially forged documents for Hungarian Jews in Gödöllő. Later, taking a high risk, he used these papers to free people destined for deportation from the collection sites.

Rescuers had various motivations. In most cases the rescuers and helpers were in social contact with the rescued, but there were examples of assistance provided by unconnected persons, benevolent strangers. Some offered assistance on moral grounds, based on their upbringing, humanity and philanthropy. There were examples when a person who had provided assistance at the beginning got frightened of the danger of being denunciated, reported to the authorities and did not want to continue accepting the risks. With various excuses, they withdrew their assistance and let the protected persons find their own ways.

There were cases when greed was the motivating factor for assistance. Some of the rescuers asked for, or expected compensation. Some were motivated by the quick and "fabulous" gains. On one of the possible escape routes, at the Hungarian-Romanian border, it was possible to bribe the Romanian officials, railway workers (and occasionally the Wehrmacht soldiers as well). According to a report by the German Embassy in Budapest dated 10 June, Germans caught in assisting were court-martialed and executed on 29 May.

In the miserable conditions of the ghettos, the majority were resigned to their fate, yet still held some hope. It has to be noted that in several settlements, the administrative leaders became hesitant and occasionally this hesitation evolved into a willingness to help. The gendarmerie and the internal inspection suppressed quickly and powerfully these open or covert gestures and intentions.

A large number of interesting cases, plenty of dramatic developments can be linked to the history of ghettos in rural Hungary. There are data on individual, risky and successful rescue efforts from the ghettos in Técső/Tjachiv, Dés/Dej, Kassa/Košice, Szatmárnémeti/Satu Mare, Munkács/Mukachevo, Losonc/Lučenec and Csorna. Successful actions took place in Békéscsaba, Jászapáti, Győr, and in hunting lodges in Zselice. The supportive action in Miskolc resulted in people hiding for long months.

Citizens trusting the rule of law tried to help with appeals and petitions addressed to the authorities in case of many respected Jewish lawyers, medical doctors, traders and their family members. Consequently, they themselves got harassed and threatened. The inspectors of the gendarmerie acted immediately, and those who hoped to be rescued were further humiliated and stripped of their possessions.   

In the brutal reality of life in the ghetto, special attention has to be devoted to the efforts of doctors and medical staff to save lives. They risked their own, relatively safe position by supporting and rescuing the persecuted. Some reported an outbreak of typhus or other dangerous epidemics in the ghetto, attempting to save people from deportation. Others set up separated wards, and hid the protected in remote sickrooms.

In Hungary, the Eichmann commando carried out quickly and without resistance the program of the Endlösung. By 9 July, the Jewry from the countryside, tormented and deprived of their possessions by the Hungarian authorities, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The complete annihilation of the Jews in Hungary was prevented by the action of Governor Horthy. Following the advance of the allied forces, the continuous deterioration of the German military situation, as well as the broad international protests, he ordered the withdrawal of gendarmerie forces concentrated in the capital. Without Hungarian armed support, the Germans could not carry on with the deportations. The 200,000 strong Jewish community of the capital, as well as the Jewish men serving in the unarmed auxiliary labor forces were saved for the time being.

In the period until the Arrow Cross takeover, there were brave scholars and teachers saving their students among the rescuers. One could witness a housewife saving a Jewish orphan in Szabadka (present day Subotica/Serbia), a servant rescuing the children of her former master in spite of a thousand obstacles, or employers undertaking everything possible to pull out their Jewish engineers. Many stood up expressing their moral convictions in defense of Jewish doctors, pharmacists, university professors.