A Gendered Holocaust?1
The Experiences of "Jewish"2 Men and Women in Hungary, 1944
Tim Cole, Ph.D.
University of Bristol School of Humanities
Dept of Historical Studies
"His research interests lie broadly within the area of Holocaust Studies. He is specifically interested in the implementation of the Holocaust in Hungary, particularly the spatiality of ghettoization and questions of gender and the Holocaust. He is also interested in contemporary representations of the Holocaust, especially within memorial and museum space.
He has published books on both the Hungarian Holocaust and Holocaust representation, as well as writing a number of essays and articles on related themes. He is currently working on a new book - The Holocaust in Hungary: A History in Fragments - which examines the multiple experiences of Hungarian Jews in terms of place, gender, age and class." (gleaned from the University of Bristol web site.)
Just before stepping into the elevator that begins the Permanent Exhibition, visitors to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are invited to collect an identity card from two boxes labelled "male" and "female." The victim featured on the card accompanies the visitor on their tour of The Holocaust, and with each turn of the page further information on their fate is revealed. In the original design for the Permanent Exhibition, the plan was to assign an identity card of both a similar age and gender to the visitor.3 However, today's visitors choose only on the basis of gender, tending to take an identity card of the same sex as themselves.4 It would seem that not only the museum's designers, but also we the visitors, assume gender to be a--if not the‑-significant category for those who visit the museum. But what difference did gender make during the historical event that we know as the Holocaust, and in the case of the Hungarian Holocaust in particular?
Over the last couple of decades, a growing number of writers have stressed the significance of gender in understanding the experiences of Holocaust victims. Beginning with the seminal conference on "Women Surviving the Holocaust" organized in 1983 by Joan Ringelheim and Esther Katz,5 the suggestion that "Jewish" men and "Jewish" women experienced the Holocaust differently has, by and large, been accepted within the academy, if not always outside of it.6 In an essay published at the end of the 1990s, Ringelheim, whose scholarship on the subject spanned the 1980s and 1990s, summarized what can perhaps be seen as an emerging consensus on the question of the gendering of the Holocaust:
Whilst emerging as a consensus of sorts, this position has been critiqued in more penetrating ways than simply reactionary outbursts. In a fascinating essay, which argues for the need for sensitivity to the gendered narratives of the Holocaust, Pascale Rachel Bos suggests that the ways in which Nazi policy towards the "Jews" was gendered was in reality much more limited than many who have written on gender and the Holocaust have argued. Shifting focus to the gendered nature of memory, Bos argues that what were shared experiences can be remembered and recounted differently by "Jewish" men and women. For Bos, only three major elements of an essentially shared Holocaust process were gendered at the point of implementation:
First, the Nazis selected mostly men for the (relatively privileged) positions of Jewish leadership. Second, because Jewish men were more often selected to work than women, women were more often killed immediately: Finally as is to be expected, women were especially vulnerable with respect to their sexuality and reproductive function. Yet women's sexuality could work both to their advantage and disadvantage. Women were at risk of being assaulted ...but sometimes women were in a position to barter sex for food rations, an option that could prove life saving.8
The second gendered difference highlighted by Bos -- labour is one -- of particular significance in the case of Hungary. However the relationship between "Jewish" men and labour was not as simple as Bos suggests. The labor potential of "Jewish" men in Holocaust Europe in general and in Holocaust Hungary in particular could "work both to their advantage and disadvantage."
There is evidence that labour offered "Jewish" men a degree of privilege. As Joan Ringelheim argued, the fact that the Nazis saw "Jewish" women "as persons less valuable than men because of the curious and damaging sexual division of labor9 had an impact on Jewish Council attempts at adopting a policy of "rescue through work,"l0 and offered limited possibilities for "Jewish" men to escape immediate death through labour. Looking at the sheer statistics of Schindler's list, with its 1000 "Jewish" men and 200 "Jewish" women makes it "easy to see why women had less of a chance to survive than men."11 The end result was, Ringelheim suggested, that "Women and children often suffered a killing rate faster than that of men because the Nazis had even less use for Jewish women than for Jewish men. All in all, genocide was not neutral about gender. Gender was a coordinate in the process of destroying the Jewish populations." 12
However, the same patriarchal assumptions that saw "Jewish" men as a potential means of labour could—and--did also see "Jewish" men as a potential threat. As a result, Nazi thinking was ambivalent about "Jewish" men. As Nechama Tec has suggested, given the dominant assumptions of patriarchy, "Jewish men were viewed as a potentially greater threat to the Nazi political system than Jewish women. Inspired by this kind of reasoning, the Nazis set out to eliminate Jewish men first."13 Tec implicitly suggests a need to think chronologically about the gendered implementation of the Holocaust. At least initially, "Jewish" men can be seen as subjected to harsher measures. Chronologically, the first victims of the Holocaust tended to be overwhelmingly male. Whilst "in the final tally, women were most probably more than half of the dead," Raul Hilberg suggests that "men died more rapidly."14
The phenomenon of men dying first WAS not confined to the ghettos. The shootings in the occupied USSR began with the killing of men. The same procedure was followed in Serbia .... Men in the Hungarian labour service companies were among the first casualties from Hungary. "Labour" in the east was the German explanation for deportations from France, and the first six transports from that country consisted almost wholly of men.15
As Hilberg suggests, the labour potential of "Jewish" males—at least in these initial years‑-was far from advantageous. However, once mass deportations to death camps commenced, then labour could--and did-- mean something different. Hilberg argues that
the comparative advantage afforded to women was limited to the labour recruitment and expansion drives of 1940, 1941, and 1942. With the onset of deportation there was a reversal of fortunes. Labour became numerically the most important reason for deferment or exemption during roundups. More women than men could now be considered "surplus."16
With this shift, labour did offer to "Jewish" men a means of reprieve from immediate gassing. The result was, Hilberg suggests, that in the death camps "fewer women than men were spared from immediate gassing."17
"Jewish " Men, the Holocaust, and Labour: The Impact of Gendered Policy in Veszprém, Hungary
This shifting chronology of gendered labour as a potential danger in the early 1940s, and a potential means of reprieve once mass deportations commenced, is particularly marked in the case of Hungary. With the entry of Hungary into the war on the side of the Axis powers on June 27, 1941, plans for separate "Jewish" labour battalions were put into action. "Jewish" men aged 20‑42 years were called up to serve for a period of two years in auxiliary labour service units, which were deployed to the Eastern Front alongside the Hungarian army divisions fighting there. Randolph Braham notes that here they suffered especially harsh conditions and higher casualty rates than the "non‑Jewish" male military divisions.18 Indeed Braham suggests that prior to the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, some 42,000 labour servicemen died.19
Placing "Jewish" males of military age in labour battalions meant that an entire generation of "Jewish" men was removed from the "Jewish" community in Hungary. The demographic impact of this plan can be seen in the surviving lists of "Jewish" communities submitted to the authorities in the spring of 1944. In Veszprém, in western Hungary, the list of the "Jewish" community drawn up in early May 1944 revealed a significant drop in the "Jewish" population of the town from the census statistics gathered three years earlier.20 At the time of the 1941 census prior to mass mobilization‑-887 "Jews" of Jewish faith and ninety‑nine "Jews" not of Jewish faith were living in Veszprém.21 After the German occupation, the registration recorded 608 "Jewish Jews," forty‑three "Christian Jews," and twenty‑three "Christian Jews" in mixed marriages. Of the 674 "Jews" of varying classification in Veszprém in spring 1944, 401 were female (59.5%) and 273 were male (40.5%).22 Breaking down the male and female populations into age groups reveals that this marked predominance of females was due in large part to the call‑up of "Jewish" males into labor battalions during the preceding three years. Missing from the town is a significant element of the labor battalion generation-men aged 18‑42.
Table 1. "Jews"Registered in Veszprém May 2, 1944
The lists reveal a small number of "Jewish" men explicitly noted as not currently residing in Veszprém because of being posted elsewhere on labor service.23 However, what the lists show more by dint of implicit absence rather than explicit presence are the numbers of "Jewish" men of military‑service age absent from the town. And it is clear that a number of those missing from the May 1944 list were already dead. On November 21, 1942, a twenty‑seven‑year‑old "Jewish" labor battalion member from Veszprém Dr. Sziklai Imre, was buried at Jablocsnoje, leaving a wife and seven‑year‑old son in the city.24 In January 1943, at the time of the Battle of the Don, a host of labor battalion members from Veszprém were reported missing.25 During these years‑‑1942 and 1943‑when all Hungarian "Jews" were subjected to a number of anti-Jewish laws, which amounted in particular to an economic onslaught,26 it was only "Jewish" men in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s who were dying. In short, the first victims of the Hungarian Holocaust were adult males.27 All of this changed in 1944.
Following the occupation of Hungary by Nazi Germany on March 19, 1944, the newly formed Sztójay government introduced a raft of anti‑Semitic measures. At the beginning of April 1944, Hungarian "Jews" were compelled to wear a yellow star on their outer clothing when in public places. At the end of April, the process of crowding the country's "Jews" into ghettos began: a process that was completed nationwide by the end of June. On May 15, mass deportations of Hungarian "Jews" from these newly established ghettos to Auschwitz‑Birkenau commenced. Throughout the early summer of 1944, "Jews" from all ghettos apart from Budapest were transported out of the country.
In the context of the implementation of ghettoization and mass deportations, service in labor battalions offered a degree of gendered advantage for Hungarian "Jewish" men of military age. In the ghettoization decree issued at the end of April 1944, Jewish labor battalion members on active service were explicitly exempted from being placed into ghettos.28 However it was not only men already serving who were exempt from ghettoization. Rather, as ghettoization was being implemented, new conscription of "Jewish" men took place, to the exasperation of Gendarmerie Lieutenant Colonel László Ferenczy who was in charge of the concentration and deportation of the "Jews." Ferenczy informed László Endre--one of the two undersecretaries of state in the Interior Ministry who oversaw anti‑"Jewish" measures‑in his May 10 report that draft papers were being delivered to the newly established transit camps. His comments pointed to a degree of contestation over "Jewish" male lives (seen as a more valuable commodity than "Jewish" women) between the Hungarian Army and the German Security Police.29 He reported an order of mass conscription by the former, whilst the latter claimed Ministry‑of‑Defense agreement that "Jews" could not be called up for labor service in areas where they were being rounded up and placed into transit camps and ghettos. In view of what he termed "two contradictory directives," Ferenczy informed the Interior Ministry of his decision to halt "the delivery of draft notices to the camps until instructions are received from higher authorities."30 In his May 29 report, Ferenczy complained about the freedom of movement being enjoyed by labor battalion members, and pointed to the continuing delivery of call up notices to "Jews" in transit camps and ghettos.31 A few weeks later, on June 12, he reported "new attempts to call Jews up for labor service."32
The conscription of "Jewish" men aged 18‑48 during the early summer of 1944 meant that men were not only being removed from ghettos and transit camps, but were also therefore being spared from the mass deportations to Auschwitz‑Birkenau. As Randolph Braham has reflected, "it is one of the ironies of history that the Ministry of Defense, which had been viewed as one of the chief causes of suffering among[male] Jews during the previous four to five years, suddenly emerged as the major governmental institution actively involved in the saving of Jewish lives."33 The motives behind the conscription campaign of early summer of 1944 are, Braham suggests, "not absolutely clear" but certainly mixed.34 He suggests that, "it is safe to assume that many local commanders, aware of the realities of the ghettoization and deportation program and motivated by humanitarian instincts, did everything in their power to rescue as many Jews as possible," but also that "Hungarians were also probably motivated to save able‑bodied Jews because of the manpower shortage from which the country was suffering at the time."35 At this stage in the war, the Hungarian administration arguably saw "Jewish" male lives as a more valuable commodity than "Jewish" female lives, given assumptions about their greater potential for performing labor. It was not "Jewish" women, children, or the elderly who were being fought over in early summer 1944, it was "Jewish" men aged 18-48. Only in the fall of 1944, when the Arrow Cross (Nyilas) government was increasingly desperate for labor, were "Jewish" women living in Budapest called up en masse.36
The impact of the waves of conscription of "Jewish" men in May and June 1944 can be seen in the city of Veszprém in western Hungary, where deportations were not scheduled until early July 1944. On May 20, thirty‑seven Veszprém "Jewish" men ranging in age from 18 to 49 were drafted.37 On June 4, eleven "Jewish" men from Veszprém county, ranging in age from 25 to 46 were drafted.38 On June 12, a further seventeen "Jewish" men from Veszprém ranging in age from 23 to 48 were drafted.39 By mid June 1944, the city ghetto in Veszprém had already been established. It is clear that men were called up in Veszprém not only before the community was concentrated in the ghetto, but were also called up once they were in the ghetto itself. Aware that this situation would occur, the vice president of the Jewish Council in Veszprém wrote to the deputy mayor on May 23, 1944, requesting that those 21‑48 year old men awaiting their call‑up for labor service be permitted to take a backpack of additional clothing and equipment into the ghetto with them.40
The impact of these‑-and other‑drafts upon the gender balance of the two ghetto populations in Veszprém was marked.41 Of the total population of 627 in the main city ghetto in mid June 1944, 434 (69.2%) were female and 193 (30.8%) male.42 With the renewed mobilization of "Jewish" men for labor service, this clear female majority within the ghetto more generally was most visible within the adult population. Whilst there were 187 women aged 18‑49 living in the ghetto, there were only thirteen men of the same age.
Table 2. "Jews" in the Horthy Miklós u. Ghetto, Veszprém June 1944
A similar picture emerges when the other ghetto in Veszprém is examined‑-the Komakuti ghetto‑-which housed "Jews" gathered from surrounding villages. Of the 447 Jews concentrated in this second ghetto, 316 (70.7%)' were female and 131 (29.3%) were male. As with the ghetto housing the city's "Jews," the clear female majority was most visible within the adult population. There were 129 women aged 18‑49 living in the Komakuti ghetto, but only eight men of the same age.
Table 3. "Jews" in the Komakuti Ghetto, Veszprém June 1944
The fact that the inmates of the Hungarian ghettos were predominantly female corresponds to the situation throughout central and eastern Europe, where women comprised a majority of ghetto populations.43 However, the predominance of "Jewish" women‑-and specifically "Jewish" women aged 18‑49‑-in Hungary is particularly marked given the history of the mass mobilization of "Jewish" men for labour service. To give only one example, in the Warsaw ghetto where women made up 57.3 percent of the ghetto population in January 1942, women outnumbered men most markedly in the 20‑29 year old age group (where they accounted for 65%) and the 30‑39 year old age group (where they accounted for 58.5%).44 Such figures are dwarfed by those from the two ghettos in Veszprém. In the Horthy Miklós u. ghetto where women made up 69.2 percent of the ghetto population in June 1944‑women accounted for 97.4 percent of 20‑29 year olds and 90.8 percent of 30‑39 year olds. In the Komakuti ghetto‑where women made up 70.7 percent of the ghetto population in June 1944‑-women accounted for 96.7 percent of 20‑29 year olds and 97.4 percent of 30‑39 year olds.
As such figures suggest, there is a need to consider the intersections of gender and age when examining just who was placed in the ghettos in this Hungarian city in the early summer of 1944. The absence of men serving in labour battalions did not simply mean the absence of men, but the absence of men of working age. There was not simply a striking gender imbalance in the ghetto populations, but also an age imbalance. The result was that the two ghettos in Veszprém were effectively populated by women, children, and the elderly.
Both ghettos proved to be short‑lived. After less than a month, the women, children, and elderly from Veszprém's two ghettos were taken to Papa and on to Auschwitz‑Birkenau.45 From what we know of the selections at Auschwitz‑Birkenau, there can be little doubt that, given the demographic breakdown of the "Jews" deported from Veszprém a very high proportion of those deported would have been selected for immediate gassing and cremation. The three groups most vulnerable to immediate gassing at Auschwitz‑-pre‑adolescent children, the elderly, and mothers accompanying children under the age of fourteen46‑‑dominated the 1074 "Jews" transported from the two ghettos in Veszprém.47
Table 4. "Jews" in the Two Veszprém Ghettos, June 1944
Total number of "Jews" in
Total number of "Jews" in
|+1 (no d.o.b.)|
|447||= 1024 "Jews"|
Conclusions: Three Families' Stories
Clearly, the experiences of Veszprém's Jews were not shaped by gender alone. For children and the elderly in Veszprém gender differences were of much lesser significance than for those aged roughly 18-49. But, for "Jews" from Veszprém aged 18‑49, gender was of primary importance after ethnicity ("Jewishness") in determining what happened before and during the fateful early summer of 1944. Prior to 1944, "Jewish" men aged 18‑42 from Veszprém were targeted with mobilization in labor battalions. By the time ghettoization was implemented in June 1944, a number of these men were already dead, killed in particular when the Hungarian Army was devastated at Voronezh during the disastrous Battle of the Don in January 1943. However, with the implementation of ghettoization in June 1944 and the subsequent deportations to Auschwitz‑Birkenau at the start of July 1944, conscription‑and in particular the waves of conscription in the summer of 1944‑-provided "Jewish" men aged 18‑49 with a reprieve from deportation to Auschwitz‑Birkenau at least, even though they still faced labour service during the final year of the war.48 Three families' stories‑‑families that lived a short walk from each other in Veszprém‑‑reveal something of the impact of the intersections of age and gender in shaping differing experiences of the Hungarian Holocaust.49
Shopkeeper Simon Füzes, aged seventy‑three in 1944, lived on Szent Imre út with his sixty‑year‑old wife Róza. They had already felt the impact of the mobilization of "Jewish" men for labour service well before the registration and ghettoization of Veszprém's "Jews" in the summer of 1944. Just under a year and a half earlier, their son György, aged forty‑three, was reported missing at Kamenka.50 In June, Simon and his wife moved into the ghetto. However their younger son, László‑‑a factory worker aged thirty‑five in 1944‑did not remain with them in the ghetto for long. On June 12, he was among the seventeen local men mobilized for labour service.
Also mobilized for labour service in the early summer of 1944 was nineteen‑year‑old carpenter László Krebsz. He lived with his forty‑five-year-old mother Irén, his seventeen‑year‑old brother Zoltán‑‑a glazier and his sixteen‑year‑old sister Irma‑‑ seamstress‑on Cserhát u. László was one of the thirty‑seven men mobilized for labour service on May 20, 1944, thus he did not join his mother and younger brother and sister when they were taken into the nearby ghetto a week or so later. Whilst László was old enough to be called up for labour service, his brother Zoltán was just a year too young.
Living on the next street‑-Völgyikut u. ‑ was the day labourer Dénes Salzberger, aged forty‑five in 1944, his wife Ilona aged thirty-eight, and their children György (eighteen)‑-an apprentice‑-Éva (sixteen), and László (eight)‑-both students. Like László Krebsz, Dénes Salzberger and his oldest son György were drafted in May 1944.51 Just over a week later, his wife Ilona was forced to move, along with her daughter Éva and youngest son László, into the ghetto created in the nearby synagogue and "Jewish" community buildings. Joining them was Ilona's seventy‑three‑year‑old mother, Adolfné Neu.
A month later, the ghetto was liquidated and the entire population transferred to the transit camp in Papa, and then on to Auschwitz‑Birkenau. There, teenagers Irma Krebsz and Éva Salzberger were chosen for labour and sent to the concentration camp at Stutthof.52 However for the rest of Éva Salzberger's family‑-a seventy‑three‑year‑old woman, and a thirty‑eight‑year‑old mother accompanying an eight‑year‑old son, Auschwitz‑Birkenau was a lethal place.
These are, of course, only three families' stories.53 However, the stories reflect the differing experiences of male and female, and young and old "Jews" from Veszprém prior to and during the months of May, June, and July 1944. The experience of "Jews" from that city suggests that the implementation‑-and not simply the experience‑-of the Holocaust in this particular city can clearly be seen as gendered, and that this situation influenced not only the process, but also the end.54 What happened in Veszprém in 1944 cannot be taken as representative of the entire Hungarian experience, let alone the Holocaust more generally, because the specifics of time and space are crucial.55 However, it would seem that the experience in Veszprém suggests what was happening in the early summer of 1944 in at least some areas of Hungary.
In the regional archives, a letter addressed to the chief administrative officer of Körmend from the Szombathely army headquarters survives and calls for the Jewish Council to gather "Jewish" men‑‑ both converts and of Jewish faith‑‑born between 1896 and 1926 (aged 1848) in the ghetto early on the morning of June 12 for recruitment.56 The instructions contained in this letter of June 8 were implemented by the chief administrative officer the next day. He wrote to the Körmend Jewish Council instructing them to oversee the compulsory gathering of all "Jewish" men of the relevant ages, and arranged for municipal clerks, doctors, and gendarmes to be present for the call‑up.57 Although this is the only such letter that appears to have survived, clearly it was not the only form‑letter sent from Szombathely army headquarters implementing a Defense Ministry decision.58 And it is also clear that this Defense Ministry decision was advertised much more broadly than in the Szombathely district. Certainly, in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged, the local press reported the national decision that "those men considered Jewish, born between 1896 and 1926" were "obliged to enlist for (noncombatant) military service on June 4 and 5," and called for Szeged "Jewish" men to comply with this requirement.59 This call‑up in early June was one that Szabolcs Szita suggests took place not only in the gendarmerie district--Szornbathely‑-which included Veszprém and Körmend but also in the Budapest, Székesfehérvár, and Miskolc gendarmerie districts.60
The case study of Veszprém is thus not entirely exceptional. Indeed, the age and gender profile of the "Jews" in the Körmend ghetto61 is almost identical to that of the "Jews" in Veszprém. Such evidence surely points to the need for gender to be much more central to the research agenda regarding the implementation and impact of the Holocaust in Hungary. At the very least, we would do well to end sterile debates over whether gender is an appropriate or inappropriate category with which social historians of the Holocaust should work. Atina Grossman, in a review essay on recently published works on gender and the Holocaust, noted the irony that,
despite the vast archival, memoir, and testimonial evidence they have accumulated, scholars who insist upon gender's relevance in the Holocaust still operate on the defensive. They feel compelled to note the obvious: that to explore difference does not imply hierarchizing or trivializing suffering; on the contrary, the aim is to hear the voices of the victims and survivors in such a way as to deepen our understanding of events that defy comprehension.62
Her conclusion, "If the Holocaust is available for scholarly analysis, rather than occupying a sacred dark void in which awed silence must reign, then gender analysis of the Holocaust is as legitimate as it is for any other historical inquiry,"63 is perhaps particularly relevant given the somewhat exceptional nature of the Hungarian experience for those of us who research the Holocaust in Hungary. Not only is there room for gender to assume much more importance within the historiography of the Hungarian Holocaust, but also for the Hungarian experience to be much more central to the broader literature on gender and the Holocaust.
1. The author thanks the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Resnick family for their generous support through the granting of the Pearl Resnick Post‑doctoral Fellowship in 1999‑2000 and the Leverhulme Trust for their generosity in granting a research fellowship in 2003‑2004. [Back to essay]
2. On my use of quotations to stress the constructed nature of the category "Jew" in wartime Hungary, see my more general theoretical comments in Tim Cole, "Constructing the `Jew,' Writing the Holocaust: Hungary 1920‑15," Patterns of Prejudice 33:3 (1999): 19‑27; and Tim Cole, Holocaust City: The Making of a Jewish Ghetto (New York: Routledge, 2003), 44‑8. The use of quotations when referring to the "Jews" in Veszprém seems necessary given that the May registration makes a clear distinction between "Jewish Jews," "Christian Jews," and "Christian Jews in mixed marriages." [Back to essay]
6. See in particular the critical comments leveled against gender analysis of the Holocaust by the editor of Commentary, Gabriel Schoenfeld, in his "Auschwitz and the Professors," Commentary 105:6 (June 1998), 42‑6, and the flurry of letters from academic and non‑academic respondents in the August 1998 issue. [Back to essay]
8. Pascale Rachel Bos, "Women and the Holocaust: Analyzing Gender Difference," in Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, eds. Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003), 32‑‑3. [Back to essay]
10. Ibid., 148. Ringelheim suggests that the Jewish Council policy of "rescue through work" presumed that usefulness to the Nazis would save the lives of Jews. But the strategy did not benefit women. If it benefited anyone, it was Jewish men. The skills the Nazis needed were those of men, not women. Ghetto Chief Jacob Gens of the Vilna Ghetto summed this up most succinctly: "I want to avert the end through work. Through work by healthy men. Thanks to that the ghetto exists .... The Germans wouldn't keep a ghetto forwomen and children.. for very long: they wouldn't give them food for one extra day." [Back to essay]
11. Joan Ringelheim, "Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research," in Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, eds. Carol Rittner and John Roth (New York: Paragon House, 1993), 399, notes that, "In another labor camp, Debica, there were 10 women and 300 men. None of these numbers can make us sanguine about the possibilities for either Jewish women or Jewish men to survive. But they add to the growing impression that Nazi policy allowed for the possibility of more Jewish men than Jewish women to survive; and that the Jewish Councils, either through ignorance or acknowledgement of the situation, decided to save Jews‑-which often meant the saving of Jewish men." [Back to essay]
15. Ibid., 129. See the same chronology as noted in the case of Liepăja, Latvia, in Edward Anders and Juris Dubrovskis, "Who Died in the Holocaust? Recovering Names from Official Records," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17:1 (2003): 131‑32, who argue, "In Liepaja in the summer of 1941 the Y chromosome suddenly became lethal, and men were killed regardless of personal qualities and skills. By fall it was equally dangerous to be old. By winter, it was fatal to be a Jew of either sex at any age, unless one had certain occupational skills. In Riga in 1943/44 it was fatal to be old, or a mother with a young child." [Back to essay]
18. On the labour service system, see Randolph Braham, The Hungarian Labour Service, System, 1939‑1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); and Randolph Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 1, 294‑380 (hereafter Braham, Politics). [Back to essay]
19. Braham, Politics, II, 1298. The military General Staff gave the following figures for "Jewish" labour battalion casualties in 1943: 2158 deaths, 716 injured, 18843 missing, and 1591 captured‑see Sables Szita, "A zsidó munkaszolgalát" (The Jewish labour service), in The Holocaust in Hungary: Fifty Years Later, eds. Randolph Braham and Attila Pók (New York: Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, Graduate Centre of the City University of New York; Budapest: Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences: Europe Institute; Boulder CO: Social Science Monographs, 1997), 339. [Back to essay]
22. In Hungary the figure of a "Jewish" population made up of 52.08% women in 1930, roughly matched the proportions in other national communities: Poland‑52.08% in 1931; Germany‑52.24% in 1933; Czechoslovakia‑50.81% in 1930; Lithuania‑52.08% in 1923; Latvia‑53.68% in 1930; Ukraine‑53.70% in 1939; Byelorussia‑53.25% in 1939. See Hilberg, Perpetrators, 127. [Back to essay]
24. Gavriel Bar Shaked, ed., Nevek: Munkaszázadok veszteségei a keleti Magyar hadmüveleti területeken (Names: The losses of labour service companies in the Hungarian eastern front lines) (New York and Paris: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1992), II, 592. [Back to essay]
25. Ferenc Deutsch was reported missing‑aged 38‑leaving a mother and older sister in Veszprém, ibid. 1, 158; György Füzes was reported missing‑aged 43‑leaving a father, mother and younger brother in Veszprém, ibid., I, 321; János Kaszas was reported missing aged 23‑leaving a widowed mother and older sister in Veszprém, ibid., II, 18; Rezső Pollák was reported missing‑aged 35‑leaving a father and mother in Veszprém, ibid., II, 334; Andor Rosenfeld was reported missing‑aged 30‑leaving a mother in Veszprém, ibid., II, 389; Imre Szántó was reported missing‑aged 27‑leaving a father, mother and wife in Veszprém, ibid., II, 580. Unfortunately Nevek does not reproduce the place of residence of the next of kin, which is information included on the files from the Department for Missing Persons in the Hungarian Ministry of Defense. However place of birth and mother's maiden name are reproduced making it possible to compare Nevek with the registration and ghetto lists from Veszprém. [Back to essay]
27. Two points are worth bearing in mind here. First, the exception to this general rule was the expulsion—and subsequent execution-‑of some 20,000 "Jews" in 1941 (see Braham, Politics, I, 205‑22). Second, non‑"Jewish" men of military age were also conscripted during this period and suffered heavy losses at the Battle of the Don in January 1943. Tom Kramer, From Emancipation to Catastrophe: The Rise and Holocaust of Hungarian Jews (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 120, notes that the mortality rate of Jewish labour service conscripts attached to the Second Hungarian Army was over 85% in comparison to a mortality rate of 65% for non‑"Jewish" Hungarian combat troops, and points to "the fundamental dichotomy between these two figures: whereas the Hungarian Second Army was decimated by enemy action in the theatre of battle, the Jewish Labour Service casualties resulted largely from the deliberate actions of nominally friendly forces. [Back to essay]
33. Braham, Politics, I, 352. See also ibid., II, 1122, where Braham notes that, "the institutional approach... was more effective in saving Jewish lives. Among the agencies of the government that contributed toward this end were the Ministry of Defense, which recruited able‑bodied Jewish males into the labour service system..." See also Randolph Braham, ed., The Wartime System of Labour Service in Hungary: Varieties of Experiences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), vii‑viii, where Braham notes the irony that "when the Final Solution program was launched ...the labour service system became refuge for many thousands of Jewish men. While the newly established quisling government of Döme Sztójay virtually surrendered control over the Jews to the SS, the labour service system continued to remain under the jurisdiction of the Hungarian Ministry of Defense. As a result the labour servicemen were not subjected to the ghettoization and deportation that took place during April‑July 1944." [Back to essay]
34. Braham, Politics, 1, 352. See also ibid., I, 356. Szita, "Zsidó," 340, notes the problem of a lack of sources to determine exactly what lay behind Ministry of Defense mobilizing of "Jews" in the aftermath of the Nazi German occupation. [Back to essay]
36. Ibid. 357‑58, "Jewish" men between the ages of 16 and 60 and "Jewish" women between the ages of 16 and 40 were called up "for national defense service" on October 26, 1944. "Jewish" women aged 16 to 50 who knew how to sew were called up on November 2. Although see also Elek Karsai, ed., Vádirat a Nácizmus Ellen: Dokumentumok a Magyarországi zsidóüldözés történetéhez (Documents on the persecution of Jews in Hungary), III (Budapest: A Magyar lzraeliták Országos Képviselete Kiadása, 1967), 53‑4, which refers to the call‑up of 18‑30 year old "Jewish" and "non‑Jewish" women in Budapest in July 1944. [Back to essay]
39. Ibid., June 12, 1944, list of enlisted Veszprém, "Jews." Note that fifteen of the seventeen men on the list are from Veszprém, with one each from the surrounding communities of Nemesvámos and Városlöd. [Back to essay]
40. A Veszprémi "Zsidó," Hitközség Gyüjteményből, letter of May 23, 1944, reproduced in Csaba Králl, ed., Holocaust Emlékkönyv: A vidéki zsidóság deportálásának SO évfordulója alkalmából (Memorial Book: On the fiftieth anniversary of the deportation of Jews from the provinces) (Budapest: TEDISZ, 1994), 388. [Back to essay]
41. For the two ghetto lists, see USHMM, RG‑52.001M, I 171. These lists can also be found in Töredék: Fejezetek a Veszprémi "Zsidó," körösség történetéből (Fragmentary chapters from the history of the Jewish community of Veszprém,) (Veszprém: Veszprémi "Zsidó," Örökségi Alapítvány, 2001), 73‑90, 93‑105. [Back to essay]
42. The Horthy Miklós u. ghetto included "Jewish Jews" and "Christian Jews" from Veszprém, (some of whom were not included on the earlier May registration list) and fifty‑one "Jews" brought in from surrounding villages. [Back to essay]
43. For Lódz, see Michael Unger, "The Status and Plight of Women in the Lódz, Ghetto," in Women, Eds. Ofer and Weitzman, 123, who notes that in Lódz, a prewar predominance of women over men in the "Jewish" community (52.3% cŁ 47.7% in 1931) was heightened in the ghetto. He suggests that in 1940 the ghetto population was 54.4% female and 45.5% male and that this disparity increased due to higher mortality rates amongst men and the labour transports of men. At the end of December 1941, Hilberg, Perpetrators, 129, notes that the Lódz, ghetto population was 57% female and 43% male. Once deportations from the ghetto commenced in January 1942, women were a majority of those deported. However despite this, women continued to be a majority of the ghetto population, with the ghetto population in December 1942 being 56.6% female and 43.4% male (Unger, "Status," 127). Ringelheim, "Women," 398, argues that, "Women formed the majority of the population (both indigenous and refugee populations) of the Lódz, ghetto, and they were chosen for deportation in greater numbers and percentages than their representation in the population: overall 62% of those transported were women and 38% were men. Gender differences must be a critical factor in the analysis of the transports." For Warsaw, see Dalia Ofer, "Gender Issues in Diaries and Testimonies of the Ghetto: The Case of Warsaw," in Women, Eds. Ofer and Weitzman, 145, who notes that a pre‑war predominance of women in the "Jewish" community (the "Jewish" population of Warsaw in 1939 was 54% female and 46% male) was heightened in the ghetto, with a ghetto population in January 1942 that was 57.3% female and 42.7% male. With the onset of mass deportations in the summer of 1942, a majority of those deported were women, leading, Hilberg, Perpetrators, 129, suggests, to a minority (44%) of women in the registered ghetto population post‑deportations. Ringelheim, "Women," 398, comments that, "there are far fewer statistics for Warsaw than for Lódz, However, in those that are available, the numerical pattern is similar: there are more women than men in the population; fewer women than men die in the ghetto of disease; more women are available for deportations; and more women are sent to the camps .... At the beginning of 1942 there were more women than men in the ghetto by a ratio of 4:3. After the deportations, the ratio was reversed ...." For the rather different case of Theresienstadt, see Ruth Bondy, "Women in Theresienstadt and the Family Camp in Birkenau," in Women, Eds. Ofer and Weitzman, 313, who notes that, "from May 1942, when the transports of old people started to pour in from Germany and Austria, until the liberation, the number of women in the ghetto always exceeded the number of men ...." In January 1944, the ghetto population was 60% female, and "after seventeen thousand people left with the transports of autumn 1944, Theresienstadt was a city of women. The only men remaining were most of the prominents, all the Danish Jews, and others privileged in German eyes." [Back to essay]
44. Ofer, "Gender," 145. See Unger, "Status," 123‑24, who notes that in the case of the Lódz, ghetto in June 1940, "for Jews between ages 20 and 45‑-those in the fertile years and their physical prime-‑the [gender] disparity was even greater: of the 64,430 members of this group, 27,281 were men and 37,149 were women. Thus women comprised 57.7% of this age group." [Back to essay]
45. Veress Csaba, "Adatok a zsidóság Veszprém, megyében an II: Világháború idején lejátszódott tragédiájához" (Data on the tragedy of Jews in Veszprém, County during the second world war), Töredék: 23. [Back to essay]
46. See Carol Rittner and John Roth, "Prologue: Women and the Holocaust," in Different, Eds. Rittner and Roth, 3, who note that, "At Auschwitz ...the Jewish women selected for labour were mainly in their late teens and early twenties and without children. Auschwitz selection policy kept children, usually those under fourteen, with their mothers. Along with older women, those mothers were typically dispatched to the gas chambers on arrival." See also Deborah Dwork, Children with a Star (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), xix, who argues that, "Women alone had a chance for a temporary stay of execution, but mothers and their children were sent to death immediately." [Back to essay]
47. Based on lists drawn from USHMM, RG‑52.001M, I 171. Csaba, `Adatok', 24, suggests that only fifty of the 750 Veszprém, "Jews" returned from the camps and that for Veszprém, county as a whole, the figure was 640 from a total of 4106 "Jews" deported. [Back to essay]
52. Gavriel Bar Shaked, ed., Nevek: Magyar "Zsidó," nők a stutthofi koncentrációs táborban (Names: Hungarian Jewish women in the Stutthof concentration camp) (New York and Paris: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1995), 331, 474. As Hilberg notes, Perpetrators, 3, "at Auschwitz…the Jewish women selected for labour were mainly in their late teens and early twenties and without children." [Back to essay]
53. Tec, Resilience, 8, rightly notes that, "Unrepresentative figures about deportations or mass killings cannot prove whether more women perished than men. At best, they indicate that in specific places, at specific times, either men or women were more likely to be deported, that in particular environments either men or women may have had a better chance to survive. Evidence about the death rates of men and women is so scattered, so incomplete, that definitive answers are impossible. The most we can say is that we don't know: the exact figures are missing." However the evidence from Veszprém, while fragmentary and by definition essentially unrepresentative, does afford the opportunity for at least suggestive‑-if not definitive‑‑conclusions. As anyone engaged in historical research knows all too well, fragmentary sources are what we inevitably end up working with. The critical issue is recognition of the limitations of our source material, and a consciousness of not extrapolating wildly from a limited source base. [Back to essay]
54. See Braham, Politics, II, 1300‑301, who notes that compared to Budapest, "in the countryside, where the losses among the labour servicemen were somewhat lighter and the deportations affected the entire Jewish population, the male‑female ratio of the survivors was considerably better. In 1946 there were 24,604 male survivors and 22,520 female survivors. In the vital 20-to-60 age group, the number of males (19,619) exceeded that of females (16,685) by 2,934. The exact ratio, of course, varied from community to community." [Back to essay]
55. Braham's passing comments on Veszprém, perhaps suggest that he viewed the situation in this town to be exceptional. See Braham, Politics, Il, 764, who notes that, "according to one report approximately 170 Jewish men escaped deportation because they had been called up for labour service." The report he mentions is presumably the Jewish Council report reproduced in Jenö Lévai, Zsidósors Magyarországon (Jewish fate in Hungary) (Budapest: Magyar Téka, 1948), 421, which notes that close to 170 were absent from Veszprém, excluding the war dead. [Back to essay]
58. It is clear that this is a form letter, which has been tailored to the specific circumstances of Körmend. See the addition of the date of the call up (June 12) in a separate type. See also the signature is not that of Ujvárossy‑‑his name is simply given in type at the end of the letter. [Back to essay]
This essay has been published previously in a book titled "The Holocaust in Hungary: Sixty Years Later". Edited by Randolph L. Braham and Brewster S. Chamberlin - The Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. Published in association with the United States Holocaust Museum. Distributed by Columbia University Press. Copyright 2006 Randolph L. Braham. ISBN:0-88033-576-9.
Published on "Women and the Holocaust" website by the permissions of Dr. Tim Cole and Dr. Randolph L. Braham.