Diplomatic efforts to save people

The reason for putting a halt to deportations from Budapest was the intervention of foreign diplomacy.

By distributing the Auschwitz report exposing the SS activities, Miklós Krausz, the secretary of the Palestinian Authority (Palamt) in Budapest, and George Mandel-Mantello, Consul General of San Salvador in Geneva did an excellent job.

To Krausz, the support of Carl Lutz, Vice-Consul of Switzerland, one of the founders and outstanding personalities of the rescue operations in Budapest meant precious help.

Emigration as one way of escaping was constantly on the agenda, but options depended on the German aggressors. "In principle" they endorsed the travel of individuals and families to Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. In practice, the "preconditions" were set to prevent realization. In spite of this, on 24 July, the Swiss Embassy opened the Emigration Office of the Department Representing Foreign Interests in the so-called Glass House, under the leadership of Arthur Weisz. With the support of Lutz, lists of names were compiled and collective passports produced. At the same time, they interpreted the emigration licenses issued for 7,800 persons as covering whole families. Very soon, the Office was transformed into one of the centers of Jewish self-assistance by the activities of Zionist youth.

The Budapest office of the Swedish Red Cross, operated by Valdemar Langlet and Nina Langlet issued protecting letters (Schutzbrief) to the persecuted Jews since May. The office created sixteen units and protected several religious institutions. Its activity was suppressed later by Arrow Cross brutality. Friedrich Born, who arrived as a delegate of the International Red Cross in July, also took a significant part in the rescue operations. Born sent Swiss merchant Benedikt Eduard Brunnschweiler to Pannonhalma, where he successfully protected the refugees hiding in the Benedictine monastery, among them Jewish mothers and children.

The Spanish Embassy in Budapest prepared the transportation of 500 Jewish children with some 50 to 70 persons in escort by the International Red Cross to Tangier. The plan eventually failed. Spanish chargé d'affaires Ángel Sanz Briz did a lot for the persecuted. He provided 352 Jews with temporary Spanish passports in French language. Another 1898 received protecting letters as Sephardic Jews with alleged Spanish relations. Most of them managed to survive. The Portuguese envoy Garrido Carlos Sampaio and chargé d'affaires Carlos Branquinho protected the lives of several thousand Hungarian Jews. In order to save lives, protecting letters of San Salvador were issued in Budapest.

The rescue operations were extended using and quickly realizing the opportunities, and with ingenuity. In August and September, significantly more protecting documents were issued than approved by the Hungarian authorities. The need for these documents continued to increase.

The bearers of the letters of protection dared to move more freely. Therefore, they could renew existing, or establish new contacts that aided their hiding or escape. At the meeting of the council of ministers on 2 August, Minister of Interior Andor Jaross stated that "the number of Jews staying in Budapest can be estimated to 280,000. In the Jewish apartments there are 170,000 Jews registered. The missing 100,000 Jews are hiding in Christian flats or managed to find some other hiding. The number of baptized Jews can be estimated at 20,000."

By mid-August, the German occupying forces demanded with increased frequency and more openly the continuation of deportations. On 21 August, Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta, Swedish ambassador Carl Ivan Danielsson, chargés d'affaires of the Portuguese, Spanish and Swiss embassies Carlos Branquinho, Ángel Sanz Briz and Antoine I. Kilchmann handed over a protest note to the Hungarian government. In the name of Christian civilization, they strongly demanded not to renew the deportations. The Hungarian government was required to end this procedure "that should never have happened in the first place."

The deportation from Budapest, planned in detail by the SD, did not occur, most probably based on the assessment of SS leader Heinrich Himmler. (Opening of the western front, rapid changes in the war situation, the defection of Romania, the fall of Paris certainly played a role in this.) Based on new arrangements with the Germans, preparations began in the capital to transfer Jews unfit for labor service, elderly and children into camps in rural areas. This plan was sabotaged.

In the shadow of defeat, Horthy negotiated with many and planned quick withdrawal from the war. Regarding the issue of emigration, engineer Otto Komoly, Zionist leader, established contacts with Miklós Horthy jnr. (The office led by Komoly dealt with organizing military steps aimed at rescuing the Jewry of Budapest.) Links were established between the Hungarian Front and Jewish groups planning or considering resistance. The German occupying forces intervened successfully. General Szilárd Bakay and Horthy's son were kidnapped. The blackmailed Governor resigned. The fighting continued on Hungarian territory for German interests. Hitler gained months.

The envoys of neutral states that continued to stay in Budapest established contacts with the new leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The "Hungarist" government of Ferenc Szálasi needed international recognition badly. The complete "de-Judification" of the country was on the agenda, but the already issued protecting documents, lists of exemptions sank the plans of the Arrow Cross. Furthermore, striving for the coveted international recognition, they were compelled to make further concessions. At the same time, the foreign diplomats applied successful tactics. They demanded acceptance of international protection, approval of emigration, confirmation of exemptions.

On 23 and 24 November Raoul Wallenberg and Per Anger made a journey on the Budapest-Hegyeshalom road. They prepared an Aide Memoire on their journey for Baron Gábor Kemény, Minister of Foreign Affairs. This proves that they observed closely the disturbing sight of Jews deported on foot and provides an objective description of exhausted people "reduced almost to the level of animals." They concluded that the foreign documents of protection "were not respected 100 percent neither in Budapest, nor at the handover in Hegyeshalom." From the Swiss embassy, Dr. Harald Feller, Ernst von Rufs, Dr. Peter Zürcher also assisted, rescued lives. 

An exceptional example of rescuing human lives took place within the Spanish Embassy in the winter of 1944. An Italian businessman, Giorgio Perlasca, with the assistance of several Hungarian Jews presented himself as the Spanish charge d'affaires. With this deceptive maneuver they saved hundreds of lives at the embassy and elsewhere. Zionist youth produced thousands of identification documents; a battle of documents enfolded in Budapest. Among the captured forgers of the documents, the gendarmerie inspectors beat Miklós Langer to death.