Attitude of the population during the last months of the war

After 15 October 1944, the Eichmann commando, struggling with the shortage of railway carriages, dispatched Jews on foot from the capital to Hegyeshalom where an SS detachment took them over.

After marching more than 200 kilometers, their fate was decided by Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, former commandant of the Auschwitz Camp.  

A part of the population along the road to Vienna, unlike during the early summer deportations, displayed an active humanitarian stance. In many cases, they sheltered the fugitives who were in a hopeless situation. Usually, the helpers were ordinary people, with few years of education, often poor.

They accommodated the fugitive Jews (first of all, the women and girls) in Komárom, Gönyü, Győr, Kisbarát, Rajka and Vének. Some assisted providing peasant dresses or food, others by offering temporary shelter. The Arrow Cross threatened to arrest and intern the culprits. The local authorities stepped up propaganda to de-motivate the lower clergy and population from providing assistance.

Who were these exceptional persons courageous enough to help? Based on what we know of them, they were not born heroes. They were ordinary people from the countryside; farmers struggling to make ends meet, artisans, some learned and some hardly able to write down their own names. Well-intentioned housewives, young girls helping without hesitation. In other cases, medical doctors or former patients of Jewish doctors. Religious persons and non-believers, churchmen and organized workers. Close and loose acquaintances, friends and absolute strangers, former employees and servants of the persecuted Jewish families. Kind-hearted retailers with sound morals, who provided food without payment for those in hiding.

Romantic rescues took place in spite of the "Acts on Defense of the Race". There were cases of a Christian husband following everywhere his Jewish wife, of Jewish and Christian friends helping each other during the march, in the struggle for survival, providing hope and endurance. From the testimonies of rescues, the most outstanding ones are those initiated by the rescued. Very often the persons saved compare the rescuer, who might have arrived to the scene at the very last moment, to the Angel of Life descending from heaven.

The shock of the deportations that sealed the fate of hundreds of thousands of rural Jews in the early summer, as well as the deterioration of the war situation contributed to the increased willingness of the people of Budapest to assist the victims during the winter of 1944. A number of artists wrote petitions to the authorities. Others produced "increasingly real" fake documents, offered their studios or a part of them as hiding places to fugitives. Visual artists, actors, writers and poets who condemned the Jewish Acts and the persecutions, focused mainly on rescuing, assisting, and sheltering their colleagues forced into labor service or camps.

It is worth mentioning the humanity of Vali Rácz, Klári Tolnay, Pál Pátzay, György Ruzicskay and others. For supporting and rescuing their Jewish colleagues, the Arrow Cross slandered, humiliated and detained famous actors Katalin Karády and Pál Jávor. Their popularity and fame could not protect them.

During the terror of the Arrow Cross rule, the threats to the population continued to increase. Therefore, in many places workshops, warehouses, cellars, backrooms were turned into shelters, even in the cave-dwellings in Budafok. At this last location, Erzsébet Kúpházy and her family, as well as Erzsébet Schuck assisted many, among others the writer Irén Egri and her husband. The forms of assistance included providing shelter, transferring to a safe location, supplying food, making life-saving documents and money available, pharmaceutical and medical assistance.     

The Arrow Cross carried on with raids, searching apartments, looking for hiding Jews all over Budapest. Denunciations, reporting to the authorities were frequent. In many cases, men-hunters executed the rescuer along with the protected person. Many were driven to the banks of the Danube, stripped, tied together and shot into the river.

In Miskolc, ironworker Sándor Kopácsi and his family provided shelter to many persecuted. Through Jenő Winter, serving in the labor forces, they supplied fake identification documents to more than twenty. Iron turner Béla Bánhegyi in Diósgyőr sheltered Jews in his own apartment and assisted their further escape. In Nyíri, a small village of the Gönc district, farmer István Novák sheltered five, saving them from certain death. One of the survivors, Randolph L. Braham, became later a university professor in the USA and a world-renowned expert on the Holocaust.

Fugitive labor forces servicemen were sheltered in Bükkszentmárton, Eger and Vámosgyörk too. Dance teacher Elza Brandeisz sheltered many in Balatonalmádi. At the end, she had to flee along with the persons she had been protecting. At the time of liberation, she was hiding in the hay of a farm close to Herend, together with Mrs. Tivadar Soros, mother of George Soros. 

Lives of deported Hungarian Jews were saved in Gmünd, Austria, where medical doctor Artur Lanc and his wife took great risks. In Enns, the Friedmanns sheltered the twenty-year old Dávid Hersch. The owner of a lumberyard, Ludwig Knapp in Weitra-Schützenberg, protected eighteen Jewish people from Szeged. Sixteen Hungarian Jews were hidden, fed and protected from peril in the village of Rohr. In Dobersberg, Rudolf Harrer and his wife, Irmgard Harrer assisted the Hungarian Jews brought there for forestry works. In Rechnitz, Franziska Hutter sheltered successfully the deported Dr. Sándor Székely from certain death.

Priest János Farkas from Deutsch-Schützen, taking great personal risk, protected the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers, hiding several of them in his parish. Among the more than hundred names on the list of Austrian Righteous Among the Nations, some two dozen received the Israeli award for rescuing Hungarian Jews.