Hungary makes new effort to ID Holocaust files in official archives

Among the issues being researched are the ghettoization of Jews and their recruitment to serve in forced labor battalions.

Hungary, with assistance from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, is making a new effort to identify Holocaust documents in the country's archives. A working group, including officials from the prime minister's office, other ministries and several historical archives, has been formed to clarify what documents are still in the Hungarian archives and what became of the missing files. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and the US Embassy in Budapest are also part of the working group, Lajos Gecsenyi, director of Hungary's National Archives and the professional leader of the group, said Monday. Among the issues being researched are the ghettoization of Jews, their recruitment to serve in forced labor battalions and the records of the Hungarian gendarmes, the armed force mostly responsible for rounding up and deporting Jews outside Budapest, the capital. "We already know that only a small number of these documents survived, but to avoid further debate, we will try to track them from 1945 to the present and determine their fate," Gecsenyi said in a telephone interview. "Our task is to establish what exactly happened to these documents. Were they destroyed during World War II or during the communist period or what happened to them?" Gecsenyi said several circumstances, including the destruction of archives during the heavy bombing of Budapest at the end of World War II, as well as an order issued to gendarmes to either burn their records or take them with them as they escaped towards Germany, meant that fewer documents were available in Hungary. Paul Shapiro, director of Advanced Holocaust Studies at the US museum, however, said that the gaps in the archives seemed not to be merely incidental. "No one knows that (the documents) exist, but it would be so unlikely that precisely these collections disappeared in their entirety," said Shapiro, who was in Hungary for a series of meetings about the archives and other issues related to the Holocaust. "In some Hungarian archives, there are rows of files until 1939, then a gap between 1939 and 1945 and then they begin again." Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany, and deportations of Jews started in the spring of 1944 after Nazis forces had occupied the country. Some 550,000 of Hungary's 825,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In less than two months beginning in April 1944, 437,000 Jews had been deported, all but 15,000 to Auschwitz and the nearby Birkenau camp. A third of Auschwitz victims were Hungarian, historians say. Gecsenyi said the working group hoped to conclude its task by next May and that a report of its findings likely would be issued. Shapiro vigorously welcomed Hungary's efforts, saying that while some of the collections, including the national archives and Budapest's municipal files, had been cooperative and allowed access to researchers, the archives being examined by the working group "still haven't met the standards." "The real success is going to be measured in results, in terms of the Holocaust records that get identified, declassified and become accessible for research," Shapiro said. "These collections of material are at the very heart of the history of the Holocaust in any country," he added. "Success in this effort is the least we can do for the memory of the Hungarian victims of the Holocaust."