The Holocaust in Hungary

The Importance of Gender, Age and Geography for the Jewish Experience1

Laura Palosuo

Laura Palosuo is a Doctoral Candidate at The Uppsala Programme for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Uppsala University, Sweden. 


She received her MA in History at the Uppsala University, Sweden, in 2002. She is currently working on her Ph.D. thesis, which deals with the Holocaust in Hungary from a gender perspective. Presently teaches a course on The Holocaust in European History and Historiography. She has recently co-edited Collaboration and Resistance during the Holocaust. Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, together with David Gaunt & Paul A. Levine (eds.), Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2004. (

A shorter version of this paper will be published in the forthcoming publication assembling contributions from The Legacy of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust conference in Krakow in May 2005.

European Jews experienced the Holocaust in many different ways, even though they were all victims of the Nazi Third Reich’s race politics. It is an accepted fact that geography was of utmost importance in shaping the experiences of European Jewry. In Poland, for example, the ghettoization and deportations began in an early stage of the war, while the Hungarian Jews lived in relatively secure circumstances until the German occupation on March 19, 1944. The deportations of provincial Jews were instigated in May 1944 and halted in early July 1944, just before the deportation of the Budapest Jewry was planned to start. The simple fact of where one lived at the time of the deportations sealed hundreds of thousands' fates. Many other factors, such as gender, social status, age, and religion affected the individual Jewish experiences. In this article, gender serves as a starting point for a discussion about the Holocaust in Hungary, but age and geography will also be brought into the analysis.2

The issue approached in this essay is how gender shaped the experiences of Jewish women and men in different age groups in Budapest and in the provinces during 1939-1945. Questions proposed are: what problems and severities did the Hungarian Jews, both women and men, confront during the Holocaust? How did women and men deal with their everyday lives, in the labour service, in the ghettos of the provinces, or in the ‘Jewish houses’ in the capital? I will show the reader some examples and fragments from the source material that illustrate the significance of gender, age, and geography for the Jewish experience.3 Furthermore, I would like to emphasize the importance of including both females and males in the study of Hungarian Jewish life before and during the Holocaust. To understand the significance of studying women’s experiences, it is, I argue, necessary to study them in parallel to male experiences. Comparison of female and male life situations puts the details in contrast and also questions the importance of these contrasts. If women or men alone are examined, the overall picture will lose some of its stringency.

In general, there is a growing number of studies concerning Jewish women’s ghetto and camp experiences, and gender roles in the resistance.4 However, there is little, if any research on gender relations during the Holocaust in Hungary, the ‘final chapter’ of the extermination of the European Jewry.5 One reason for this is of course that very little research about the Hungarian Holocaust was conducted within the country’s borders before 1990.6 After the archives opened up to historians, a great deal has been done to fill in the gaps in the Hungarian Holocaust historiography, but the study of gender has not been prioritised.7 Thus there is a great need for more studies.

By using oral history sources, such as extensive interviews, and other individual reports and memoirs, it is possible to study female and male survivors’ experiences, and create a picture of the Hungarian Jewish gender system and determine how or if it changed during this period.8 The conclusions drawn in this paper are mostly based on primary source materials from the Raoul Wallenberg Archive (RWA) at the Uppsala University Archives, The Hungarian Jewish Archives (HJA), and the Archives of the Wiener Library (AWL) at the Open Society Archives (OSA) in Budapest, including mainly interviews, eyewitness reports, and memoirs.9 Even though the material is not representative of the whole Hungarian Jewish community, there are some details that seem to be general. Some other details seem to be exceptions, but they are still interesting for a gender analysis. I want to emphasize that cases brought up in this paper are examples of the material, and illustrate how they can be analysed.

The paper is structured as follows: first, a short background concerning the history of the Hungarian Jewry is given, which is necessary to understand of the events during the war. Second, some statistics from the Hungarian Jewish Archives in Budapest are analysed to show how gender and age intersected in the experiences of the Jews in provinces and in the capital. Finally, the importance of gender, age and geography for the Hungarian Jewish experience before and during the Holocaust are exemplified and examined.

The historical context

By the beginning of the 20th century, Hungarian Jewry was relatively well assimilated into Hungarian society. The emancipation had brought the Jews equal rights as Hungarian citizens in 1867 and the Jewish faith was legally recognised as a religion in 1895.10 In Budapest, the middle class consisted mostly of Jews. Even though the Jewish women were relatively well educated11 and highly active in social organisations, in general the Jewish family was characterised by patriarchal structures and ‘traditional’ gender relations. Many women were housewives, and even those women who worked were in charge of the household and the children. The male was the authority; he acted as the head of the family and was economically obliged to support them.12

The situation of the Jews in the provincial cities was similar to that in Budapest. Many Jews were well-educated and the women participated in society through welfare and women’s organizations.13 In smaller towns and in villages gender relations were even more wedged into the traditional patriarchal patterns. In Eastern Hungary the concentration of Orthodox and Hassidic Jews was greater than in other parts. The urban Jewry was often both more assimilated and wealthier than the countryside Jewry.

Events connected to the First World War made antisemitism highly visible in Hungarian society. The country was in political turmoil after the defeat in the war, and in 1919, a communist republic was created under the leadership of Béla Kun. The rapid failure of this regime was blamed on the Jews. Moreover, Hungary suffered great territorial and human losses in the peace treaty, which was signed in June 1920 in Trianon, Versailles. The country lost 70 percent of its territory, and 60 percent of its total population. Approximately three million Hungarians remained outside the new borders, including practically all of the country’s non-Hungarian inhabitants. Instead of being a multicultural nation Hungary became a homogeneous nation state with only two larger minorities, the Jewish and the German.14 As in Germany, the Jews also became the scapegoats when it came to explaining the Hungarian defeat in the war; the Jews had ‘back-stabbed’ their nation.15

The country’s economy was in great difficulty in the early 1920s. Antisemitism grew stronger, and the law of Numerus Clausus was enacted in September 1920, restricting the proportion of Jews in the universities to five percent.16 The extreme right movement evolved during the 1920s, and the Hungarian politics became German oriented in the 1930s.

The so-called first and second anti-Jewish laws were introduced in 1938 and in 1939.17 They were “designed to assure more effectively the proper balance in the social and economic life” of Hungary, reducing the proportion of Jews in free professions and civil jobs. The second law provided a detailed definition of ‘the Jew’ and formulated the question explicitly on racial grounds. The Jews were stigmatised as “an alien, destructive body”.18

In 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Act II of 1939 on national defence was ratified. A new labour service system was introduced, which had a major effect on the country’s Jews.19 Jewish men of military age were summoned for forced labour, especially after Hungary joined the war in late 1941. When Hungary was drawn into the war it was also pressured by its German ally to take further steps towards ‘the solution of the Jewish question’. The third anti-Jewish law, known as the Race Protection Law, was introduced in August 1941 and it indicated the increasing acceptance of racial ideology. This led to further alienation and exclusion from society, making the leap from exclusion to extermination smaller.20 The law was heavily influenced by the German Nuremberg-laws and forbade ‘miscegenation’ through mixed marriages. In 1942, the legal status of Jewish religion was abolished. Judaism became a tolerated religion (as opposed to a fully accepted, received religion) and conversions to Judaism were banned.21

Despite growing antisemitism, anti-Jewish laws, and forced labour service, the situation for the Jews in Hungary was more secure than in many other European countries during the early war years. The situation changed radically after the German occupation in March 1944. The German troops met practically no resistance at the border and the occupation was completed within a few days. Hitler’s minister plenipotentiary, Edmund Veesenmayer, was put in charge of ‘the Jewish problem’. Veesenmayer and Eichmann were supported by the new Hungarian Prime Minister Sztójay, but also by László Endre and László Baky, two antisemitic radical rightists from the Ministry of Interior. These two secured the Germans unrestricted access to and support from the state and military authorities.22

The first phase of the Holocaust in Hungary was carried out within a few weeks. The Jewish Council in Budapest was established only a week after the occupation and a number of new anti-Jewish decrees were introduced in a steady stream. The Jews were forced to identify themselves by wearing a six-pointed yellow star and they were forbidden to belong to professional organizations. Jewish property (finances, radios, cars etc.) was confiscated and Jewish literature was burned in bonfires. Approximately 3,000 Jews were arrested in ten days.23

Hungary was divided into six zones and the ghettoization in the provinces in five of the zones (Budapest remained as the sixth) was carried out quickly and effectively, starting on April 16, 1944.24 The Germans in co-operation with the Hungarian Gendarmerie, deported approximately 450,000 Jews in slightly less than two months, from May 15 to July 7, 1944, mainly to the extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Children, women with children, and the elderly were sent directly to the gas chambers, while able-bodied women and men were selected for work. The deportation of the Budapest Jewry was meant to be the final step of the Nazi extermination plan in Hungary. However, the head of state Miklós Horthy - who had allowed the earlier deportations of the provincial Jews – stopped the transports on July 7 and the Budapest Jews were saved for the moment.25

On October 15, 1944 Horthy declared Hungarian armistice on the national radio. The same afternoon the Arrow Cross occupied the broadcasting station and the day after Horthy gave up and was replaced by Ferenc Szálasi, whom the Germans supported. Anti-Jewish violence and killings started directly after the takeover.26 The Germans realized that they now had their chance to complete ‘the Final Solution’ in Hungary. According to Braham, there were approximately 160,000 Jews left in Budapest. Eichmann negotiated with the Minister of the Interior Gábor Vajna that 50,000 able-bodied Jews would be transferred on foot to Germany for forced labour. These so-called death marches towards the Austrian border began on November 8. Approximately 2,000 Jews per day were sent to the border town Hegyeshalom. The labour was to be used in the first place for building up Vienna’s defense and this would in turn make Budapest Judenfrei.27

During the siege of Budapest, the Jews of Budapest experienced severe persecutions and executions. The Arrow Cross systematically carried out raids and shootings at the Danube. The Red Army liberated Budapest on February 13, 1945, after two months of intense street fighting. By that time the country and its capital had suffered tremendous human and material losses. But how did these losses and these events affect the Hungarian Jewry?

The losses of Hungarian Jewry: gender, age, and geography

There are no exact numbers of the total losses of Hungarian Jewry. The Hungarian Section of the World Jewish Congress estimates that the number of Jews in 1941 was approximately 825,000, including the annexed areas. According to Randolph L. Braham, roughly 63,000 persons died prior to the German occupation, while the losses amounted to 502,000 after March 19, 1944. Altogether, about 565,000 (68.5 percent) Hungarian Jews were killed during the war and about 5,000 fled abroad.28 However, according to Tamás Stark, these figures are too high, as the number of remaining Jews in Hungary after the war simply has been subtracted from the number of Jews before the war. Thus the figure above represents both those Jews who were killed and those who survived but did not come back to Hungary directly after the liberation. Stark’s estimation is that altogether, approximately 450,000-540,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust. We have detailed statistics concerning the number of deportees, but we do not know exactly how many of them were actually killed. The lack of records on survivors makes it impossible to get more precise figures. This is especially true regarding the casualties in the areas annexed to Hungary during the war.29

However, the statistics available can be used for an intersectional analysis of the Jewish Community in Trianon Hungary, which included a total number of 400,980 Jews in 1941. Figures from The News Bulletin of the Hungarian Section of the World Jewish Congress are particularly important for my analysis, to show not just that ‘race’, but also age, gender, and geographic origin affected the Hungarian Jewry’s wartime experiences.30 Yet there are some problems that I want to point out before entering into the investigation. Due to the lack of statistics from the annexed areas, I have excluded those Jews in the following tables, which makes the analysis incomplete. Yet I use testimonies from the annexed areas later on, to exemplify gender aspects in the empirical material. Since Hungary consisted of considerably larger areas than just the Trianon Hungary during the war years, I believe that it is important to include it, despite the lack of information.

Another problem in the following statistics, as Stark has pointed out, is that the method used was simple subtraction. Thus the tables do not include the survivors who chose not to return to Hungary and possible Jewish POWs in Russian labour camps. According to Stark, the number of survivors not included in these statistics can be as high as 60,000.31 The figures from Budapest ought to be more precise than those from the provinces, as the number of deported Jews was smaller in the capital. Similarly, the numbers concerning the losses of children and the elderly should be more accurate than the numbers in the age groups of 20-40 as they almost without exception were killed directly upon the arrival in Auschwitz.

Despite these problems I want to use these figures, as they show distribution of the Jews by age and gender. I argue that the figures are reasonably representative, even though they are not entirely complete.

To begin with, let us look at the age and gender distribution before and after the war (Table 1.1.). We notice that the patterns are quite similar in the provinces and in Budapest in 1941. The gender distribution for Hungarian Jews before the war was close to 50 per cent males and 50 per cent females. In the age groups of 40-60 and above 60 we can see that there were a few more women than men, which can be explained by the losses in the First World War and by the fact that women usually live longer (see also Table 1.2.). Another important piece of information we get from these tables is that the number of children was significantly larger in the provinces than in the capital (60,132 compared to 29,042), in relative terms about the double as large as the number of children in Budapest. Thus the families in the countryside had in general several children more, on average, than the middle class families in the capital.

TABLE 1.1. Distribution of the Jews of Trianon Hungary by Age Groups and Gender in 1941 and 1946

a. The Provinces



Age group

















































b. Budapest



Age group

















































Source: Zsidó Világkongresszus32

If we compare the absolute numbers of women and men in the provinces (Table 1.1.a.) we see that most of the survivors (22,559) living within Trianon Hungary in 1946 were 20-40 years old. We can also see that approximately 1,000 more women than men in this specific age group were killed or still missing (20,717 versus 19,649 respectively; see Table 1.2.). These numbers might seem a bit illogical; one could have presumed that the discrepancy would have been larger since more women than men were killed upon the arrival at Auschwitz. The relatively small difference in absolute numbers can be explained by the fact that many males were killed in the labour forces instead of in Auschwitz. In the 40-60 age group males had a notably higher survival rate. In this age group very few were drafted to the labour service, thus the numbers can be explained as a result of mothers carrying their children at the arrival at Auschwitz and therefore directly taken to the gas chambers. This discrepancy can also to a certain decree be explained by the fact that men in this age group were often physically stronger than women, thus the selected male persons in the camps might have had better chances to survive than women 40-60 years old.

In the countryside, the losses according to these statistics were highest in the age groups of 0-20 and above the age of 60. Persons in the age group 20-40 years were more likely to survive than persons in other age groups. In Budapest, however, the figures are different. Those above the age of 40 had greater chances to survive than those younger than 40 (see Table 1.1.b and 1.2.b). Furthermore, young children in Budapest were more likely to survive than children in the provinces (54.6 percent dead in Budapest compared to 87.4 percent in the provinces). These differences can be explained by the deportations, which struck both female and male children and the elderly harder than the able-bodied adult persons.

TABLE 1.2. Losses of the Jews in Trianon Hungary

a. The Provinces

Losses* in absolute numbers

Losses in per cent

Age group






Total %











































b. Budapest

Losses* in absolute numbers

Losses in per cent

Age group

















































Source: Zsidó Világkongresszus33

Note*: “Losses” include Jews killed during the Holocaust and the approximately 60,000 missing persons.

As for Budapest Jewry, the gender differences are more noticeable. The most remarkable result seen in Table 1.1.b and Table 1.2.b is that the number of surviving females is significantly higher compared to the number of surviving males in every age group except in that of 0-20 years old. Also in the youngest age group the male losses are 1,200 higher in absolute numbers - six percent higher than the female losses. Of the total amount of survivors, only 38.8 percent were men and 61.2 percent women. These figures are again explained by the fact that relatively few Budapest Jews were deported, which would have resulted in higher killing rates for females. Additionally, more male Jews were taken into forced labour service where many of them died, and it is also possible that more men than women were shot during the violent months of the Arrow Cross government.34 In sum, many women in Budapest survived because the deportations were stopped.

Of the male population in Budapest, the age group 20-40 and 40-60 suffered most likely the highest losses. Initially, men between the age of 20 and 40 were taken into labour service; later on also males in the age of 40-60 were called up. Another devastating result is that children in Budapest had high death rates (54.6 per cent of all children lost their lives). Children who were put in the ghetto lived under very unhealthy circumstances and were most often not as strong as the adult individuals, resulting in more severe malnutrition and diseases. Compared to the countryside, however, this is a relatively low figure. Almost 90.0 percent of both female and male children and youngsters in the provinces were killed. The figures are about the same for persons above the age of 60; 90.7 percent of the elderly in the provinces met their death during the Holocaust, compared to 31.2 percent of the capital’s older Jewish population. It should also be noticed that further comparisons within the case of Budapest are needed. There is probably a significant difference in survival rates for those Jews living in the International ghetto or in the Pest ghetto, and those living in hiding.35 This is however something that I will not explore in this article.

Finally, the provinces of Trianon Hungary were missing 169,383 out of its Jewish population of 216,507 (78.2 percent), while in Budapest 87,973 out of 184,473 (47.7 percent) were killed or missing. In other words, 47,124 or 32.8 percent out of 143,624 recorded survivors were from the countryside, and 96,500 or 67.2 percent lived in Budapest. In total, 257,356 or about 64 percent of the Trianon Jews were killed or missing.36 The missing survivors are estimated to have been about 60,000, which gives us a figure of approximately 200,000 losses.

When dividing the victims into women and men, we see that 80.0 per cent of the Jewish women in the countryside were killed or missing, compared to 39.0 per cent of the Budapest female Jews. The losses within the male population are a bit more even. 76.4 per cent of the provincial male Jews had not returned in 1946, compared to 57.3 of the male Jews in Budapest. I would like to stress once more that these differences are mainly because the deportations of the Budapest Jewry were halted in early July.37 Tables 1.3. and 1.4. illustrate the female strength by 1,000 males in Budapest and in the provinces. Notice the differences in the various age groups between the capital and the provinces in 1946.

TABLE 1.3. Jewish females by 1000 Jewish males in Hungary 1900-1946






















Source: Zsidó Világkongresszus38

TABLE 1.4. Jewish females by 1000 Jewish males in 1946

Age group




















Source: Zsidó Világkongresszus39

Tim Cole reminds us not only about the importance of geography, age, and gender, but also that of time. There was a change in time, affecting women and men in different ages and in different parts of Hungary in different ways. Gender was a highly decisive factor together with age before 1944, when most of the Jewish adult males in age group 20-40 were called up for labour service. Cole concludes; “the first victims of the Hungarian Holocaust were adult males”.40 After the occupation, however, the situation changed. Jewish women in the age group 20-40 were the major part of the ghetto populations in small towns in the provinces. They had the responsibility for the families when the male population was forced to labour.41 And again, it was children, women with children, and the elderly who were deported and gassed to death in the first place. Thus during the deportations, all these three factors were significant, but in another way than before the German occupation.

In Budapest, the situation changed gradually with time, but after the Arrow Cross putsch the risks grew radically. Now, not only the Jewish men in the labour service were the physical victims, but also women, children and the elderly. Gender and age did not seem to matter as much as it did earlier. All the Jews were to be killed. Nevertheless, the statistical results show that even in Budapest gender and age were highly significant through the whole period of time. This is very interesting, but the reasons for this are not yet clear. My interpretation for now is that the social construction of gender and gender relations is only one of the explanations; the men were taken to the labour forces as this was a ‘traditional’ thing to do, and women and children were not killed ‘eye to eye’ as often as men because of the conception of how women and men were supposed to be treated. ‘Race’ was not always the only or the most important fact that contributed to the individual lives of the Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, more evidence is needed to sustain the claim.

Now, let us turn to the examples of gender and age related experiences for the Hungarian Jewry.

The Labour Service System

The labour service system introduced through the Act II of 1939 had a major effect on the country’s Jews. Jewish men of military age were called up for forced labour, especially after Hungary joined the war in late 1941. The Jews were classified as ‘unreliable’ and were not given the right to carry arms. Instead, they served as army engineers, in mine clearing operations, and did many kinds of physical hard work in the course of the war. József Friedrich was drafted in 1942 and this is how he describes the everyday life in the labour service:

The Jews in labor service companies 110/26 and 110/27, each with 214 Jews, had to work under the most cruel conditions. We had to perform various types of outdoors heavy military labor at Ojtusz and Sosmező near the Romanian border. For a while we had to get up at 3 a.m., were given some coffee at 3:30, and had to leave at 4 a.m. for our work site 12 kilometers away. At noon we ate our lunch while standing up, and then worked again to 6 p.m. We got back to the camp at 9 p.m., had dinner at 9:30, and went to sleep at 10:00. It was very strenuous work.42

We have numerous eyewitness accounts from the labour service. Many of the Jewish labourers were mistreated, and the brutality increased throughout the war. The food was often insufficient and during the winters the men suffered from wet and cold. Tens of thousands of Jewish men died because of malnutrition, diseases, assaults, and also in killing actions.43 An example of this is the eyewitness story of Zoltán Singer, a member of one of the labour battalions that was sent to the Ukrainian front. A “hospital” for the Jewish labour workers was set up in the village of Doroshich (or Dorosits), in which hundreds of sick and exhausted men were crammed together. Singer describes how the building was deliberately burnt down on the night of April 30, 1943: The fire started at four separate points, so it is certain that it was no accident. The outbuilding had been deliberately torched by the guards. We also discovered that the doors had been closed with wire from the outside. The flames spread in an instant across the dry straw and up the wooden walls. Within seconds the silence of the night was shattered by desperate shrieks and wails. The fit and the conscious broke out through the collapsing plank walls like flaming torches but the guards were waiting outside and started firing on them. This hell lasted only ten minutes but it was endless minutes. The building and most of the people in it were consumed by flames and the charred corpses were lying there in piles until the next morning. Most of those who got out were mown down by machine gun fire and many others were saved further suffering when they died a few hours later as a result of burns and bullets wounds. Only a few of us escaped this massacre.44
However, it must be emphasized that this type of massacres were the exception in the Hungarian labour service system. Some of the survivors even witness that they were treated and fed well.45

Even though men suffered physically in the forced labour, women were also victims of the system, as they found themselves in a new, difficult situation. They experienced losses of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, as well as their economical and emotional support and security. When a large part of the male population was forced away from their homes, women’s responsibility to support their families grew larger. Women had to learn not only new ways of living, but they also had to be prepared to take decisions that men had made before. The remaining men, often the older and sick ones, experienced the loss of their masculine identification when the gender relations changed. Many women used their traditional crafting skills and started sewing and selling clothes in order to earn some money.46

Aranka Siegal (former Davidowits) describes her family’s life in Beregszász - today Beregovo in the Ukraine - when her father was drafted. A woman by the name Mrs. Gerber had also her husband in the labour forces, and she and her two children often visited the Davidowits’s. Aranka’s mother inspired the children and Mrs. Gerber by cooking something out of the small resources she had. Mrs. Davidowits had her own garden and she even kept – against the rules – a goat for a while so she could give milk to her children. Mrs. Davidowits was also involved in helping Jewish refugees and Aranka, who was only eleven years old in 1941, sometimes showed the refugees the way to a house where they were taken care of.47

In sum, Jewish men were the first physical victims of the Holocaust in Hungary.48 They suffered more or less brutal treatment and were forced to be away from their families, which must have affected them mentally.49 Women were not physically persecuted at this stage, but they suffered because of their husbands, fathers, and brothers’ absence. It should also be noted that at the in the spring and early summer of 1944, the labor service actually saved Jewish men from deportation and the highly likely death that awaited them. My conclusion is that the labour service system affected the gender order within the Jewish community, both in the provinces and in the capital, but to what extent is still too early to say.

The Hungarian Holocaust: March 1944-February 1945

What did the events during the last year of war mean for the Hungarian Jewry when analysed in terms of gender and age? There were naturally big differences in the fates of the provincial Jews and the Budapest Jews. The deportations started in the provinces and were stopped just before they reached the capital. But how did Jewish women and men in the countryside live through the severities of ghettoization and deportations, and how was the situation in Budapest? What impact did age have on the Jewish experiences? In the following, I will illustrate the situation in the provinces through some examples from survivor stories and memoirs, bring up examples from Budapest, and compare them to the experiences of the provincial Jews.

The provinces

After the German occupation the number of labour service draftees increased drastically.50 Thus an increasing number of women, children, and elderly people were living without their adult male family members, both in the provinces and in the capital. This meant a continuing insecure livelihood for many individuals.

When the announcement of the establishment of the Beregszász ghetto came in late April, Mrs. Davidowits baked her last flour into bread. This is how Aranka Siegal recalls their exchange of words and her own thoughts about the yeast that her mother usually saved for next baking:

"I am not going to bother to save the growing yeast for the next baking," [Mother] said. "There is no next. This is the last of our flour, and who will be here to bake bread?"

I had once asked Mother about the neat little ball of dough she always saved from her Friday baking and tucked inside a flowered tin box for the following Friday. She had answered, "I brought this tin box with me from Komjaty when I first moved to Beregszász. My mother gave me a ball of her growing yeast to take with me. She got her original ball of dough from her mother. This way the bread we bake stays the same for generations."

"Are you going to give me a ball of the dough when I get married?" I asked.

"Of course," she had answered.

I stood now remembering that promise and watching her scrape up every morsel of dough from her wooden kneading bowl. With a determined expression on her face, she formed it into the last loaf of bread. Over the next few evenings I watched her sitting at the stove, the top plate covered with even slices of bread. She sat and patiently turned the slices until they were browned on both sides. Satisfied that they were done, she placed them in a pillow case.

"Why are you making all the bread into toast?" I asked.

"Bread mildews, but toast keeps," she replied.51
This quote is both symbolic and descriptive at the same time. On the one hand, for these four generations of women, the ‘dough ball’ had become a symbol of continuity of their family and a specific ‘mother to daughter’ ritual. Mrs. Davidowits understood that the times were changing and that she and her family probably would not return. What use was there to save the yeast regarding to the circumstances her family was facing? On the other hand, this episode shows how important women’s traditional skills could be for the survival before the deportations. The bread Mrs. Davidowits baked lasted for their whole two-week-stay in the ghetto. She also knew how to keep the bread from getting mouldy. The baking was not only a matter of cultural reproduction, but also of physical survival. Similarly, Irene Csillag (former Blász) from Satu Mare – former Romania, annexed to Hungary in 1940 – tells us how her mother baked a lot of dry cookies when they heard that they would be taken from the ghetto to a labour camp. She also prepared some kind of white sauce, which she put in a jar “for emergencies.”52 In these two examples, the socially constructed gender patterns and behaviors are highly visible.

The people in the Beregszász ghetto, which was a large brick factory building, consisted mostly of women and children.53 Mrs. Davidowits tried to create a home for her family and the Gerber’s. She hung up some cloth and blankets to get some privacy and demanded that the badly-built lavatory area be reconstructed. The others could not understand why she was making such a big effort; they would not stay in the ghetto for a long time. Even Mrs. Gerber was wondering how she had the energy. Mrs. Davidowits answered that she did not want to ‘give in to them’, ‘to become one of the Schwein.54 The two women often spoke about their husbands in the labour service and their prewar lives, and also exchanged recipes for their favorite dishes. Siegal thought that this was strange, because she was continuously hungry and got even hungrier when she thought about food.55 This behavior, described by Siegal, is brought up in many testimonies and books about women in the ghettos and in the camps.56 However, men could also recite their favorite dishes. Ernő Szép remembers how he dreamt about food in labour work and how he heard some other men portray their favorite meals:

In the evening I overheard two gentlemen reminiscing in chow line. One, whose face was familiar to me from Tarján's Café, said: 'I'll describe what used to be my favourite menu in Budapest: Perch-trout ŕ la Mornay, sautéed veal, sautéed potatoes, with Debrecen sausages and goose liver added (and here he gave a sigh of pain and pleasure); and then, an "omelette surprise", and for cheese, a Gervais. For drinks, I used to start with a cocktail, then a glass of beer, followed by my special wine, a Riesling, Festetich vineyards (here a loud smacking of the lips); and I always had a snort of Benedictine with my coffee. Do you think we will ever eat like that again? My heart aches, my friend, when I think of those bygone nights.'

The other replied:

'And how! As for me, my dear, I went in for good old Hungarian-style cuisine. Listen to this dinner menu: Noodle and potato soup, pan-roasted steak, cabbage strudel, perhaps some egg dumblings, and my cheese was Brie, but it had to be runny! Regarding cheese, I am a partisan of the French. There is nothing like Brie in this whole wide world.57
Why is this quote of significance for my study? As I interpret it, food was not only something that was important for the women. ‘Foodtalk’ could also be a sort of survival strategy for the men. In these lines, one can sense a longing for freedom and for the old times. Of course, hunger was something that all the victims experienced, but it was handled in different ways. In comparison to the female way of describing recipes and thus remembering something normal for their lives before the persecutions (and hopefully something that would also become normality after the war), these two men would remember the extravagancy of eating good food, but probably not the preparation of it, as the women did. However, it would be interesting to find out if any male persons were talking about ‘cooking’ food or to what extent they were ‘eating’ the food. So far, I have not seen much research done on this, and perhaps it is so due to the lack of examples.

Judy Cohen (former Weissenberg) talks about the ghetto in Debrecen: “I remember we were all miserable. The women tried to make meals with the meager supplies but it was never enough. Lack of adequate food and medical supply, lack of freedom, lack of privacy made life seem more and more hopeless every day.”58 Cohen also states that as a teenager, the menstruation in combination with the lack of privacy and sanitary facilities was particularly problematic.59 This was naturally a problem that only the fertile women experienced and can thus be seen as an experience connected to the categories of gender and age.60

Just before the Jews of Beregszász were deported, they were subjected to body searches. This is how Siegal remembers her friend Judi, her sister Ibolya and herself being harassed by the German soldiers: The lines in front of us started to disintegrate, and we moved forward until we could see a group of German soldiers stop the line in front of the Gerbers and search the people, reaching in and under their clothing. Then the Gerbers were next. One of the soldiers grabbed Judi and put his hand inside her blouse. Mother pulled Joli down and clutched Ibolya and me to her sides.

"Nein! You will not touch my daughters!" she declared in German and repeated in Hungarian, her voice filled with anger and fear.

They laughed at her, and as we came into the first line position, Ibolya, Mother, and I were pulled apart by three of the leering Germans. The back of my neck was suddenly in an iron grip, and a coarse, rough hand brushed down my chest and over each of my breasts, bursting the buttons of my blouse. Bending over me so close that I could smell his sausagy breath and see the tobacco stains on his teeth, the soldier reached into my bloomers and felt inside my private parts. I couldn't tell if the stinging in my eyes was more from hurt or shame.61
Many other Hungarian survivors describe the same type of treatment. Lujza Molnár stayed in the ghetto of Ózd in Northern Hungary with her grandmother, mother and father for two weeks. Her father was badly beaten when the Gendarmerie was looking for gold and other valuables. All the men between the age of 16 and 60 were beaten, she says in an interview, while every young girl was exposed for body search.62 Olga K. from the ghetto of the small town of Salgótarján in Nothern Hungary lets us know that her father, uncle and aunt were beaten up after the German occupation. In the ghetto the Hungarian Gendarmes exposed the Jewish women to a gynecological search. Olga K. saw the men performing this search on her 10-12 years old cousins.63 Also Cohen’s father was physically abused; his feet were so badly hurt that he could hardly walk. However, in his case it was the Gestapo instead of the Hungarian Gendarmerie who performed the beatings.64 Thus there certainly were specific cases when older men were beaten and young untouched women were humiliated through body searches, but to what extent this was a general pattern is still hard to determine. Nevertheless, gender and age were important in many cases for how the Jews in the provinces were treated before the deportations. In sum, the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness must have been equal for both women and men, yet they had different tasks, roles, experiences, and ways to survive in the ghettos and in the families. Males were still considered as the leaders and the women cared for the families’ social well-being, even though their responsibilities increased.65

The deportations and the arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau will not be analyzed in this article. There are many fine works that already describes the selection process in Auschwitz, where women and men were separated. In short, as already mentioned above, all able-bodied men and able-bodied women without children were selected for work, while children, women with children and the elderly were murdered directly upon arrival.66 The selection process is one of the most evident examples of how gender could affect the experiences and the lives of Jewish women and men during the Holocaust.


How did the Budapest Jews experience this period of time? Magda Szanto illustrates her own situation as follows: My husband was called up to the labour service in May [1944]. This was very difficult to us all. We knew, according to our earlier experiences, that the treatment of the Jews in the labour forces was bad – and this time we could expect that it would get even worse. It was equally difficult for the remaining family members to stay behind and wait. We heard rumours from the provinces that the deportations were in full activity. It was only a question of time when the Budapest Jewry would be deported. [...] It seemed as the authorities’ program was to deprive the Jewish families from their male members and in this way make women, children and the sick defenceless for the terror of the decrees and later for the danger of the deporations.67 Szanto describes how the rumours from the countryside arrived in Budapest, and that the remaining family members felt insecurity when her husband was drafted.68 Mrs. Kauders says in an interview that there were no male members left in the family, thus she had to support her son, her mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law all by herself. She started to sew to get money for the daily groceries. The feeling of insecurity and fear was constantly present.69

There is little difference between the experiences in the provinces and the capital when it comes to the labour service system; it affected the Jews equally wherever in Hungary they lived. There is, however, a difference in that the Budapest Jews were eventually informed about the on-going deportations and they became more conscious about what might happen to them. The rumours about the deportations had a psychological effect on them and the created a slightly different kind of feeling of vulnerability.

The anti-Jewish decrees enacted after the occupation involved new type of severities for the women left behind. For example, both obtaining proper material for the yellow star and sewing it onto the outer garments was a woman’s job. Here, geography was not decisive; women regardless of location faced the same problem. Magda Szanto experienced this decree not only humiliating, but also difficult in practice. It was very hard to find the right type of yellow material for the star, especially directly after the decree was launched in early April. Later on it was possible to buy factory-produced stars.70 But how come the male eyewitness stories do not bring up this kind of dilemma? There can be various reasons for this: first of all, many of the Jewish men were in the labour service and did not have to think about it at all. Secondly, it might have been regarded as natural that the women took care of this type of tasks in the families; it was a situation constructed by gender order.

In late June the Jews were relocated into ‘Jewish houses’, scattered all over the city. No ghetto was established at this point. When the concentration into Jewish houses was carried out, women, children, and the elderly had difficulties in organizing the move.71 This was another problem that many families had to solve without their male members.

An additional difficulty that Jewish women faced was grocery shopping. On the one hand they were at risk while walking in the streets, with the yellow star on their chests. On the other hand, the curfew brought up the problem of shortage in provisions, as the groceries often were sold out by the time the Jews were allowed to go out.72 However, there was an alternative way for women to solve this predicament. Rozsa Solymosi describes how she hid her star when she went out for groceries during the curfew. There was a small risk that she would be discovered and thus she could avoid harassments on the streets.73

If the women faced problems with obtaining material for the yellow star and getting food for their families, the remaining men met other risks and severities. ‘Trouser inspections’ was one of the specific risks for Jewish men. For example, a male person living under false identity was in great danger if his identity papers were controlled in the street. If a Hungarian police officer, a German SS officer, or a Gendarme wanted to know a person’s origin, he could just pull down the trousers and check whether this person was circumcised. Many survivors bear witness of this treatment, especially in Budapest.74 The Hungarian Arrow Cross caught Emery R. in a trouser inspection. He was taken to the Gestapo headquarters and tortured. His nose was broken and one of his testicles was crushed before they sent him to the Arrow Cross headquarters. He was suspected for espionage and sentenced to death. However, he was able to escape from the prison before the execution.75

Tivadar Soros and his family lived under Christian false identities through the last half year of the Holocaust. Soros had also thought about the problem of circumcision and as a precaution he arranged medical certificates for himself and his two sons, certifying that they had been circumcised for phimosis (tight foreskin), and not because of a Jewish religious tradition. Soros knew that the certificate was of doubtful value, but it gave him a certain feeling of security when walking on the streets.76

It is evident that the tradition of circumcision engendered a feeling of danger for the Jewish men living in Hungary after the occupation. Whether this feeling was built more on a concrete foundation or on rumours is hard to say. There are examples in the source material, which show that ‘trouser inspections’ occurred, but it is still too early to conclude if it was a frequent phenomenon. However, many Jewish men felt that they could not go out with the yellow star on their chests as they risked harassment and physical violence from German and Hungarian Nazis, the Gendarmes and sometimes also the Hungarian Police. On the other hand, they could not go out without their stars and pretend to be Christians because of the fear that the fact that they were circumcised as newborns would be discovered. Many males defied, however, the decrees and the danger, and went out anyway, with or without false Christian identity papers. Yet it was more common that the women ran errands when needed, due to the smaller risks (irrespective of being real or imaginary).

When it comes to gender and age, it is noticeable that after the Arrow Cross putsch in October 1944, all remaining Jewish men up to the age of 60 were drafted. Ernő Szép describes in his memoir how he and thirty-five other Jewish elderly men were taken from their apartment house and brought to the outskirts of the city, to the "Kisok" soccer field. Szép writes: “Most of the gentlemen were between 50 and 60 years old, a few under 50; some as old as 65, 70, 72 even. Upstairs, the building commander had made it clear that there was no age limit, we all had to go. [...] Only two bedridden invalids, too sick to move, were allowed to stay upstairs.”77 Even if the regulation concerned male persons under the age of 60, these Arrow Cross members implementing the order did not care about the age limitation. They forced all Jewish men in that particular apartment house to the labour service, where Szép together with the others were put in work digging trenches in November cold. The trip started with a march that lasted for several days: “How strange that walking was more bearable than stopping, which was real torture. If we halted for a minute or two, I began to feel stabbing pains in my feet and legs, the straps cutting into my shoulder; and my back really started to suffer under the relentless pressure of the knapsack.”78 After three weeks all men over the age of 60 were released, among them Ernő Szép who had just turned 60.

Special call-up orders for women were issued on November 2 and 3, ordering the registration of women who knew how to sew, between 16 and 50 years of age, and able-bodied women between 16 and 40 years of age.79 Susan S. remembers how she was called up and went to the sport arena where all the women were gathered, but she realized that for her own best interests, she should not be there and managed to sneak out without permission.80 In this way she could avoid the hard work in one of the trench-digging locations, and/or the death marches, which often followed the forced labour. The 24-year-old Mrs. Koltai obeyed the order and was forced to dig trenches outside Budapest. She and her comrades had to walk long distances every day. Those who could not keep up the pace were shot to death.81

In this way, the treatment of the elderly men and women was getting less distinct from that of younger men. They were not ‘spared’ from forced labour anymore, as they were during the earlier war years. Thus the Jewish women in Budapest experienced something that the women in the provinces never even had the ‘opportunity’ to witness within the Hungarian borders. The interesting point is that the ‘tradition’ of only using men as labour force was dissolving, as it did in the Nazi labour and concentration camps. This can be explained by the fact that more labour workers were needed when the Red Army approached Budapest, but it is also obvious that the anti-Jewish actions were getting more and more brutal during the Arrow Cross regime.

The Budapest ghetto was mapped out on November 29, 1944.82 A large part of the 70,000 people living there were children, elderly, or sick persons. By now most of the women and men had already been taken to the labour camps and to the death marches. A large part of these ‘deported’ Jews were first taken to brickyards in Budapest. After a few days they started to march to Hegyeshalom, a 200-kilometre walk that took about a week. The conditions during the marches were dreadful. Without food, water, and proper clothing, the people were forced to walk and sleep in the winter cold. Many died during the marches, even before getting to Hegyeshalom.83 During November 1944, more than 25,000 people were taken to the Austrian border. Of these 25,000 at least 5,000 died because of malnutrition, cold, exhaustion, and shootings. Roughly 70 percent of the Jews taken to the death marches from Budapest were women.84 This was a natural consequence of the fact that many males already were in the labour forces, of whom many also experienced the death marches. György Endre was first taken to Mauthausen and from there they marched to Günskirchen. In his diary (which he wrote during the march) he states: “the women are marvellous, although they walk slowly their stamina is excellent, we take our hats off to them. We have not seen any women killed, but a few men mainly young ones. Those who cannot keep up are shot.”85

The inhabitants in Budapest experienced frequent air raids. The Allies started to bomb the Hungarian capital during the summer, and the bombings intensified during the siege in the winter of 1944-1945. In the meantime, thousands of Jews were shot into the Danube. There is no information of who these people were, so it is hard to draw any gender-related conclusions. However, there are some testimonies that indicate that groups of women and children were sometimes let go.86 Margit Jarovitz reports that her sister was spared in a raid just because she was pregnant.87 Thus in spite of the situation where the Jews did not have any legal rights what so ever, sometimes the killers ‘respected’ the old tradition of not killing any women and children. Other times, the Jewish women were treated in exceptionally atrocious ways. Katalin Lebovitz was caught in the street together with another, for her unfamiliar woman. They were brought to the Royal Hotel where the Arrow Cross had one of their headquarters, where Lebovitz witnessed how the other woman was tortured: They took us in a room and this lady was lain on the table like this, like that hard table. And you know these guns that have this little... thing you would look through... […] the sight. I saw that this ‘Nyilas’ took her pants off and put that thing into her. I went hysterical. I got so scared.88 After this even Lebovitz was tortured. She was accused for espionage but she refused to confess. Lebovitz was forced to drink salt water: “[T]hat makes you throw up. Oh, did you ever tasted salt water to drink? [...]After a mouthful you can hardly swallow the thing. It brings everything up in you. So, if you are really weak, you... you give in, because you don’t want to drink anymore of that junk.”89 The Arrow Cross finally gave up, but before Lebovitz could escape she was brought to her own apartment where she witnessed an Arrow Cross soldier raping a young woman. Then she fled, leaving the young girl alone with the Arrow Cross man.90

Even though actual rape during the Nazi era is seldom mentioned in the testimonies, many women tell about their fear of being raped. Moreover, when the Russians arrived to Hungary and to Budapest, rapes were conducted against both Hungarian and Jewish women. Heddy Bleier was raped, hiding under false identity in the village of Kisláng. She reports how she, her mother, and her sister-in-law were raped in the same room: “There was no emotion, […] just revulsion and fear. The soldiers were dirty and smelled of vodka. When they had gone, [Heddy’s mother] said, ‘Well, we survived that one too. This all goes with it, my dears. Never mind.’”91 Bleier continues:

[T]o go through that, with your children in the other room, Manyi and mother being raped at the same time a couple of feet away, I didn’t know who I was anymore – it was like losing your soul. I just thought, this is the price of survival, it has to be paid.”92 Bleier got pregnant and was infected with syphilis. Free abortions were offered to women raped by the Russians and eventually she recovered physically.93 To live with the fear of rape and with a possible risk or memories of rape is unquestionably a gender-related experience and it is evident that deeper investigations are needed.


It is hard or even impossible to compare suffering and human lives, and it is not my task. Still, it is extremely important to contrast the experiences of women and men, children, adults and elderly, and to do this in different geographical parts of Europe. Figures and facts about the Holocaust give us a more detailed picture and increase our understanding of the events. It is clear that women and men had both similar and dissimilar experiences during the prelude to the Holocaust, and the Holocaust itself. Gender was one factor among others that determined the experiences.

The main question proposed in this paper was how Jewish women and men in different age groups in Budapest and in the provinces experienced the period of 1939-1945. I argue that as the male defined the ‘race’ and as the male was normative in society, the Jewish men were also the first victims of the Holocaust. The labour service system is one of the most obvious point markers of a ‘traditional’ conception of gender when dealing with the Holocaust in Hungary. The tables on pages 5-8 show that the Jews in provinces and in the capital experienced huge losses, but that the losses were different in different gender and age groups. One example is that the number of female victims was higher in the provinces, since Budapest Jewry was saved from the massive deportations.

The gender relations were loosened up gradually, first due to the anti-Jewish laws and later, because of the physical absence of the male persons in the Jewish families. The women gained more responsibility and supported the families in various ways. In the last phase of the Hungarian Holocaust, both women and men were drafted to forced labour, which resembles the praxis in the European wide Nazi camp system.

Moreover, I have exemplified women and men’s distinct experiences in their daily lives. I have brought up a few of these, for example how hunger, preparing food, and ‘food talk’ could be experienced by females and males. Another experience, unique to men, is the so-called ‘trouser inspection’-phenomenon. Only men were exposed for this because of the tradition of male circumcision. Thus women could more easily stay outdoors without being harassed. A third example is the specific female experience of rape or fear of rape. This is not a subject that the men refer to, but many women recalls in their testimonies and the interviews.

In conclusion, I argue that the Holocaust could affect and did affect women and men in different age groups and in different parts of Hungary in different ways and that the experiences were sometimes shaped by gender. Naturally, all the victims went through the events as individuals, thus every individual experience is unique, yet there are some patterns that were general for women and for men. Finally I would like to point out that the Holocaust both strengthened and altered the gendered division of labour, especially on the family level, but it is hard to determine whether the gendered conception of the man as the norm changed. I hope that others’ and my future research will bring up these important questions in more detail.


1. A shorter version of this paper will be published in the forthcoming publication assembling contributions from The Legacy of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust conference in Krakow in May 2005. [Back to essay]

2. Gender is defined as the social organization of sexual difference, following Joan Scott’s definition in Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 2. It is also important to notice the biological differences between the sexes when discussing the Holocaust, but here the social construction of gender is more significant. [Back to essay]

3. The author is currently working on this subject in her PhD thesis, forthcoming in 2008. She seeks to examine what impact the anti-Jewish laws, the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944, and finally the Holocaust had on the existing gender relations within the Jewish community. Another important question posed is: how did other factors, such as age, social status, and geographical origin, affect the Hungarian Jewry’s experiences during the period of 1938-1944? [Back to essay]

4. For an excellent historiographical summary on this topic, see Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg, "Introduction" in Experience and Expression. Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, ed. Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003). [Back to essay]

5. László Csősz, "Life Histories of the Survivors of a Former Hungarian Jewish Community" Villa Rana 2 (2001); Tim Cole, "A Gendered Holocaust? The Experiences of 'Jewish' Men and Women in Hungary, 1944" paper presented at the Holocaust in Hungary Sixty Years Later (Washington, DC: The Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies, USHMM, 2004). See also Rita Horvath, "The Relationship between Women's Pre-deportation Social Roles and Their Behaviour upon Arrival in Auschwitz", 2005, paper presented in Krakow at Women and the Holocaust conference. Auschwitz-Birkenau, where almost half a million Hungarian Jews were killed, has gained some attention concerning gender issues, but the situation within the Hungarian borders has not been thoroughly investigated. [Back to essay]

6. See Attila Pók, "Germans, Hungarians and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry" in Genocide and Rescue - The Holocaust in Hungary 1944, ed. David Cesarani (Mid Glamorgan, UK: WBC Book Manufacturers, 1997). [Back to essay]

7. See for example Götz Aly and Christian Gerlach, Das Letzte Kapitel. Realpolitik, Ideologie und der Mord an den ungarischen Juden (Stuttgart & München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2002); Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide - The Holocaust in Hungary, Vol. I (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); László Karsai, Holokauszt (Budapest: Pannonica, 2001). Today there is a number of publications from younger scholars working on issues related to the Holocaust, see for example Gábor Kádár and Zoltán Vági, Aranyvonat fejezetek a zsidó vagyon történetébol (Budapest: Osiris, 2001); Gettomagyarország 1944. A Központi Zsidó Tanács iratai, edited by Zsuzsanna Toronyi, MAKOR (Magyar Zsidó Leveltári Füzetek), vol. 5 (Budapest: Magyar Zsidó Levéltár, 2002). [Back to essay]

8. I will not go into the discussion of source criticism here, others have done it elsewhere. See for example Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past. Oral History (Oxford University Press, 2000). about oral history and Pascale Rachel Bos, "Women and the Holocaust: Analyzing Gender Difference" in Experience and Expression, ed. Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003) for an excellent article about problems faced when dealing with eyewitness stories. [Back to essay]

9. The material in the Raoul Wallenberg Archive (Uppsala University Archives) include about 170 interviews with survivors and persons involved in rescue actions in Budapest. This group of survivors were in one way or the other in connection with Raoul Wallenberg or his co-workers, and/or lived for a period of time in the ‘International ghetto’ in Budapest. Memoirs, diaries, and eyewitness reports can be found in the Hungarian Jewish Archives (i.e. XX and DEGOB) and the Open Society Archive keeps eyewitness reports from the Wiener Library in London.  [Back to essay]

10. See for example Ezra Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987) Braham, The Politics of Genocide;, chapter 1; Raphael Patai, The Jews of Hungary. History, Culture, Psychology (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1996), pp. 357-363. [Back to essay]

11. Hungarian women were welcomed to universities in 1895. In the first decade of the 20th century, 42 per cent of university students in Budapest were Jewish women, compared to 32 per cent Jewish men. See Andrea Pető, "A "fiúnak nevelt lányok" és a tikkun olam szerepe a magyarországi zsidó nők politikai szerepvállalásában" in A zsidó nő, ed. Zsuzsanna Toronyi (Budapest: Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár, 2002), p. 80 [Back to essay]

12. Usual occupations for the Jewish women in Budapest were housewife (34,0%); seamstress (24,5%); office employed and clerks (9,2%); trade (3,9%). These figures cannot be regarded as representative (a total of 465 women in the author’s database), but they give a hint of what type of occupations the women had. Source: DEGOB (Deportáltatak Gondozó Országos Bizottság) in Magyar Zsidó Levéltár [The Hungarian Jewish Archives] (HJA). See also Jewish women who studied during the Interwar Period chose often to become teachers, social workers, and nurses. They were also often involved in politics. See Pető, "A "fiúnak nevelt lányok"", p. 78 [Back to essay]

13. Since a large part of the Hungarian middle class was of Jewish origin, many of the central figures in the women’s organisations were Jewish. Vilma Glücklich, Róza Bédy-Schwimmer, Szidónia Willhelm, Adél Spády, and Paula Pogány were some of these central figures. See F. T. Zsuppán, "The Reception of the Hungarian Feminist Movement 1904-14" in Decadence and Innovation. Austro-Hungarian Life and Art at the Turn of the Century, ed. Robert B. Pynsent (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), pp. 62-64. One of the first Jewish women’s organisations A Pesti Izraelita Nőegylet [The Pest Jewish Women’s Association] was organised in 1866. The organization worked for example with establishing an orphanage for Jewish girls and organizing a kosher soup-kitchen, as Richers shows in her article. See Mária Lendvai, "A Pesti Izraelita Nőegylet megalakulása és szociális intézményrendszerének kiépülése (1866-1885)" in A zsidó nő, ed. Zsuzsanna Toronyi (Budapest: Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár, 2002) and Julia Richers, ""Jótékony rablás" csupán? A Pesti Izraelita Nőegylet tevékenységi körei (1866-1943)" in A zsidó nő, ed. Zsuzsanna Toronyi (Budapest: Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár, 2002).  [Back to essay]

14. Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe, p. 85; Tibor Hajdú and Zsuzsa L. Nagy, "Revolution, Counterrevolution, Consolidation" in A History of Hungary, ed. Peter Sugar, Péter Hanák and Tibor Frank (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 314 [Back to essay]

15. Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe, p. 95; Patai, The Jews of Hungary, pp. 464-469. Patai gives us a number of examples of persecutions against Jews during the counter-revolutionary ‘White Terror’ in 1919; about 3,000 of the executed 5,000 persons were Jews. Jews were identified with Communism, partly due to the fact that most of the ministers (twenty out of twenty-six) in Kun’s government were Jews. Béla Kun himself had a Jewish father, but even though he had declined his Jewishness, he still was regarded as a Jew. See also Attila Pók, "Scapegoats in Post-World War One Hungarian Political Thought" in Hungary and Finland in the 20th Century, ed. Olli Vehviläinen and Attila Pók (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2002) for a more detailed account of the scapegoat theories.  [Back to essay]

16. See for example Nathaniel Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews. Policy and Legislation 1920-1943 (Jerusalem: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1981), pp. 60-79; Hajdú and Nagy, "Revolution, Counterrevolution, Consolidation", p. 317. In 1920, 12.5 percent of university students were Jews – more than twice their representation in the population. [Back to essay]

17. Numerus Clausus in 1920 was the first law that affected the Jews, but it was officially not enacted as an anti-Jewish measure. It did not mention the word ‘Jew’ and is thus not referred to as the ‘first’ anti-Jewish law in the literature. See Magyarországi zsidótörvények és rendeletek, edited by Róbert Vértes (Budapest: PolgART, 2002) for the Hungarian anti-Jewish laws and regulations, both in original and in an excellent short summary. [Back to essay]

18. See Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews, pp. 104, 138-140; Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp.128-147; Mária Ormos, "The Early Interwar Years, 1921-1938" in A History of Hungary, ed. Peter F. Sugar, Péter Hanák and Tibor Frank (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 338. Article 1 of the second anti-Jewish bill stated that every person who belonged to a Jewish denomination was regarded as Jewish. Similarly, every person whose parents or two grandparents belonged to a denomination were Jews by law, even if she/he had converted to Christianity. Persons converted before the age of seven were exempted, as well as Olympic champions, war heroes and university professors. These exemptions indicate that the definition was not yet entirely based on race, but on more or less pragmatic grounds. [Back to essay]

19. Vera Ranki, The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion. Jews and Nationalism in Hungary (New York & London: Holmes & Meier, 1999), pp. 170-171 [Back to essay]

20. Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews, p. 180. [Back to essay]

21. Katzburg, Hungary and the Jews, p. 184 [Back to essay]

22. The Holocaust in Hungary. An Anthology of Jewish Response, edited by Andrew Handler (Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1982), p. 22. [Back to essay]

23. Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 465-468, 528-537; Aly and Gerlach, Das Letzte Kapitel, pp. 132-134, 186-187. An interesting question that also needs to be answered is if it was mostly men that were arrested? [Back to essay]

24. David Cesarani, "Introduction" in The Last Days, ed. Steven Spielberg and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (UK: Weidenberg & Nicolson, 1999), p. 34 [Back to essay]

25. The Holocaust in Hungary, p. 22; Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide - The Holocaust in Hungary, Vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 661-684, 850-859; Aly and Gerlach, Das Letzte Kapitel, pp. 133-148, 249-343.  [Back to essay]

26. About the coup, see Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 947-953. Horthy and his family left for exile in Germany. Miklós Horthy Jr. was arrested by the Gestapo and later taken to Mauthausen. [Back to essay]

27. Yehuda Bauer, "Conclusion: The Holocaust in Hungary: Was Rescue Possible?" in Genocide and Rescue - The Holocaust in Hungary 1944, ed. David Cesarani (Mid Glamorgan, UK: WBC Book Manufacturers, 1997), p. 204.  [Back to essay]

28. See HJA, XVIII-A: Zsidó Világkongresszus Magyarországi Tagozata Statisztikai Osztályának Közleményei [The News Bulletin of the Statistical Department of the Hungarian Section of the World Jewish Congress], 1948:10 (hereafter Zsidó Világkongresszus) and Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp.1296-1301. Braham also brings up László Varga’s estimations, which coincides in large with the data from the World Jewish Congress. Braham maintains that the number of casualties suffered before the German occupation is somewhat exaggerated, and that László Varga’s estimation of 48,000 is more likely correct. Varga’s conclusion is that the total wartime losses of Hungarian Jewry amounted to 550,000 (66.7 percent of the total). Aly & Gerlach relies basically on same figures as Braham. [Back to essay]

29. Tamás Stark, Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust and After the Second World War, 1939-1949: A Statistical Review (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp. 110-114  [Back to essay]

30. Trianon Hungary refers to the borders after the First World War, the ‘small’ Hungary. The figures and tables below are based on statistics in Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10.  [Back to essay]

31. See Stark, Hungarian Jews, p. 111. Stark estimates the total number of survivors in the Trianon Hungary to about 210,000-240,000. The figure in Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10 is about 150,000, which gives a discrepancy of at least 60,000 recorded survivors. [Back to essay]

32. HJA, XVIII-A: Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10, p. 3-4 [Back to essay]

33. HJA, XVIII-A: Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10, pp. 3-4, 7 [Back to essay]

34. This is however something that I cannot yet prove. There are cases in the Raoul Wallenberg Archive indicating that women were sometimes spared, while men were more often taken for example to the shootings by the Danube. See for example RWA: F2C:11, act 319, pp. 44-48; F2C:20, act 523, p. 11 [Back to essay]

35. See Tim Cole, Holocaust City (New York & London: Routledge, 2003) about the Budapest ghetto. [Back to essay]

36. There are a few mistakes in the percentages in the table of the losses in Budapest in the News Bulletin of Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948, no. 10, p. 7. Braham seems to have noticed this and corrects the figures in his book. Nevertheless, he misses one the percentages; in table 32.2. and in the text on p. 1300 the figure is 52.31 percent. However, it should be 47.69 percent (87,973 losses out of 184.473). See Braham, The Politics of Genocide, p. 1299-1300. [Back to essay]

37. Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 830-832. Horthy was informed of the deportations from the beginning, but in June his son, Miklós Horthy Jr, after reading the Auschwitz protocols appealed to his father to interfere. Simultaneously, Horthy received a protest letter from Roosevelt, King Gustav V of Sweden, and the Vatican, and the deportations were stopped. [Back to essay]

38. HJA, XVIII-A: Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10, p. 9 [Back to essay]

39. HJA, XVIII-A: Zsidó Világkongresszus, 1948:10, p. 9 [Back to essay]

40. Cole, "A Gendered Holocaust?" p. 9. [Back to essay]

41. Cole, "A Gendered Holocaust?" p. 17. [Back to essay]

42. József Friedrich in The Wartime System of Labour Service in Hungary. Varieties of Experiences, edited by Randolph L. Braham (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 129  [Back to essay]

43. See for example the eyewitness stories in The Wartime System of Labour Service; Naplók [Diaries] and Visszaemlékezések [Memoirs] in the Hungarian Jewish Archives in Budapest, XX-G: dossiers D6/5 and D6/6; Tibor Vandor, 1959, OSA, AWL, Series I, Section II: P.III.i: Reel no: 62, act 1136, pp. 2-7 [Back to essay]

44. Zoltán Singer in The Wartime System of Labour Service, p. 44. See also Judy Cohen (former Weiszenberg), 2002, Personal Reflections, In the Camps. Cohen’s brother Jenő was killed in this very same action in Doroshich. Renée Firestone reports a similar (or the same?) event. Her fiancée was burned inside a barn in Ukraine, together with other workers infected with typhoid. See Renée Firestone, 1999, in The Last Days, p. 129.  [Back to essay]

45. See for example RWA: F2C:19, act 505; F2C:20, act 514; F2C:21, act 531 [Back to essay]

46. See for example RWA: F2C:6, act 306, pp. 20-22; F2C:19, act 502, p. 6; act 505, p. 9; F2C:20, act 508, p. 8; F2C: 21, act 525, p. 8; act 532, p. 9; and act 539, pp. 6-7. See also Nechama Tec, Resilience and Courage. Women, Men, and the Holocaust (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 35 for a similar conclusion. [Back to essay]

47. Aranka Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat. A Childhood in Hungary 1939-1944 (Sunburst: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), pp. 64-65, 119. [Back to essay]

48. See also Cole, "A Gendered Holocaust?" Cole is currently working on a book titled The Holocaust in Hungary: A History in Fragments, in which he examines the multiple experiences of Hungarian Jews in terms of place, gender, age, and class. [Back to essay]

49. Letters and postcards from the labour service to the families at home bear witness of this. See Levelek munkaszolgálatból [Letters from Labour Service] in HJA, XX-G: D6/2 [Back to essay]

50. According to Braham, the number of Jewish labour companies was to be increased from 210 to 575. See Braham, The Politics of Genocide, p. 353 [Back to essay]

51. Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat, p. 141 [Back to essay]

52. Irene Csillag (former Blász), 2002, Personal Reflections, In the Camps [Back to essay]

53. See also Cole, "A Gendered Holocaust?" about the Veszprém and Körmend ghettos; the pattern is similar in Cole’s study.  [Back to essay]

54. Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat, pp. 165-167 [Back to essay]

55. Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat, p. 184 [Back to essay]

56. See for example Lujza Molnár, 2005, interview by the author, Budapest, 5 May 2003, tape no. 3; Ruth Bondy, "Women in Theresienstadt and the Family Camp in Birkenau" in Women in the Holocaust, ed. Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 316; Myrna Goldenberg, "Memoirs of Auschwitz Survivors: The Burden of Gender" in Women in the Holocaust, ed. Lenore J. Weitzman and Dalia Ofer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 335.  [Back to essay]

57. Ernő Szép, The Smell of Humans. A Memoir of the Holocaust in Hungary (1945; reprint, Budapest: Corvina in association with Central European University Press, 1994), p. 167 [Back to essay]

58. Judy Cohen (former Weissenberg), 2002, Personal Reflections, In the Camps [Back to essay]

59. Judy Cohen (former Weissenberg), 2005, interview by the author, Debrecen, 13 May 2005, tape no. 1:528.  [Back to essay]

60. See also Bondy, "Women in Theresienstadt", p. 315; Tec, Resilience and Courage, p. 168. [Back to essay]

61. Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat, p. 213 [Back to essay]

62. Lujza Molnár, 2005, interview by the author, Budapest, 5 May 2005, tape no. 1, 640-738.  [Back to essay]

63. Olga K., 1995, interview by Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, New York, 4 June 1995, tape no. 03012-0, 00:56:00. [Back to essay]

64. Cohen, 2002, Personal Reflections, In the Camps.  [Back to essay]

65. See for example Siegal, Upon the Head of the Goat, p. 156 [Back to essay]

66. See for example Women in the Holocaust, edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Horvath, "The Relationship between Women's Pre-deportation Social Roles and Their Behaviour upon Arrival in Auschwitz." [Back to essay]

67. Magda Szanto, 1958, Open Society Archives (OSA), Budapest: Archives of the Wiener Library (AWL), Series I, Section II: P.III.i: Reel no: 62, act 771, p. 4. Translation from German to English by the author. [Back to essay]

68. For similar comments, see also RWA: F2C:19, act 516, p. 7; F2C:20, act 536, p. 31 [Back to essay]

69. RWA: F2C:7, act 306, p. 22 [Back to essay]

70. Magda Szanto, 1958, OSA, AWL, Series I, Section II: P.III.i: Reel no: 62, act 771, p. 2. See also RWA, F2C:22, act 560, p. 10 [Back to essay]

71. Magda Szanto, 1958, OSA, AWL, Series I, Section II: P.III.i: Reel no: 62, act 771, p. 5. See Cole, Holocaust City, Chapter 5, about Jewish houses. [Back to essay]

72. Magda Szanto, 1958, OSA, AWL, Series I, Section II: P.III.i: Reel no: 62, act 771, p. 5-6 [Back to essay]

73. RWA: F2C:11, act 319, pp. 29-32. See also RWA: F2C:20, act 539, p. 7 [Back to essay]

74. See for example RWA: F2C:17, act 343, p. 22f; F2C:20, act 508, p. 19; act 523, p. 8-11; Tom Lantos in The Last Days, edited by Steven Spielberg and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (UK: Weidenberg & Nicolson, 1999), p. 177; and Tivadar Soros, Maskerado - Dancing around Death in Nazi Hungary (1965; reprint, Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2000), p. 152. [Back to essay]

75. Emery R., 1998, interview by Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Chicago, 20 June 1998, tape no. 42664-2, 01:03:00 [Back to essay]

76. Soros, Maskerado, p. 194 [Back to essay]

77. Szép, The Smell of Humans, p. 3 [Back to essay]

78. Szép, The Smell of Humans, p. 84 [Back to essay]

79. Braham, The Politics of Genocide, p. 963 [Back to essay]

80. Susan S., 1998, interview by Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, Newton Centre, 14 May 1996, tape no. 13576-3, 01:14:00  [Back to essay]

81. RWA, F2C:7, act 310, p. 23 [Back to essay]

82. Cole, Holocaust City, pp. 210-220. [Back to essay]

83. Braham, The Politics of Genocide, pp. 963-965. [Back to essay]

84. Braham, The Politics of Genocide, p. 963; Aly and Gerlach, Das Letzte Kapitel, p. 360. Aly and Gerlach discusses the number of people taken to Hegyeshalom and also the number of deaths. According to them, it is hard to estimate an exact figure. However, the earlier estimates of 50,000 people are exaggerated. Eichmann reports 27,000 and Veesenmayer mentions the figure of 30,000 people. According to information received from Raoul Wallenberg there were approximately 30,000 people taken to Hegyeshalom, while another Swedish eyewitness account mentions the figure 25,000. [Back to essay]

85. György Endre, 17 April 1945 in HJA, XX-G, D6/6: Naplók [Diaries]: DD9/6, p. 3 [Back to essay]

86. See footnote 46. [Back to essay]

87. RWA: F2C:20, act 539, p. 15 [Back to essay]

88. F2C:20, akt 523, s.12. ’Nyilas’ is the Hungarian word for Arrow Cross. [Back to essay]

89. F2C:20, akt 523, s.12 [Back to essay]

90. F2C:20, act 523, s.13 [Back to essay]

91. Susan Varga, Heddy and Me (Victoria: Penguin Books, 1994), p. 120 [Back to essay]

92. Varga, Heddy and Me, p. 121 [Back to essay]

93. Varga, Heddy and Me, p. 122 [Back to essay]