Hungary before 1944
Budapest – an immigration paradise.
By beginning of 1944 the war was taking its toll on the axis and the inevitable ending was not questioned: the allies were now winning the war and it was only a question of time and the price that the losing side will have to pay and endure. Germany’s allies where horrified at their prospects and during that year they would try and find ways out of this unholy marriage they put themselves in.
Romania would switch sides following a coup d’état that King Michael led. By then it was becoming unbearable for the country: allied bombings and the advancing attacks by the Red Army on its door steps. The Antonescu regime was ousted and now Romania was part of the allied side, with even gaining support from the Kremlin.
Hungary’s position was also dire: she was also aware of the disastrous end that would fall upon her so armistice negotiations were carried out with the allies while still fighting the Soviet Union on Germany’s side. Cracks in the Axis alliance where not going to be tolerated, and once Hitler learned about this, he ordered his army to invade the country, known as Operation Margarethe, and this was done on March. Her fate was not the same as Romania’s, who avoided German occupation. The country was liberated from German presence once the Red Army entered.
During the German occupation, the final solution was being implemented to the full. Adolf Eichmann was sent to Hungary to take charge of the deportation of country’s Jewish population and in a period of about 10 weeks 437,000 Jews were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.
Before we go into the document here and the added images, it is important to step backwards and give some explanation, of importance, to additional information relating to the events of the time. Up to the German occupation of the country, Hungary was seen as a safe-haven for Jewish refugees and those fleeing occupied Europe: Jews from Poland, France, Yugoslavia, Slovakia and even far away from Holland in the west have noticed that there was one country that was safe for Jews. The authorities in Budapest, following the defeat in Stalingrad, and comprehending to the fact that Germany was heading down a path which was inevitable, meaning losing the war, allowed various Jewish organizations to operate relatively freely and permit the persecuted to enter its borders and remain safely until departing for British Palestine. Thus, like mushrooms after the rain, various bodies and organizations operated freely, relatively, in the capital: Jewish Immigration for Palestine (JAFP) and the World Zionist Organization for example. Moshe Krausz, the influential head of the Palestine Office in Budapest used his skills to tie formative connections with local government officials (for example, with the notorious Külföldieket Ellenőrző Országos Központi Hatóság (Central National Authority for Controlling Foreigners, or KEOKH)) and diplomats to ensure his goal of safe passage of Jews into and out of Hungary (following the German invasion in 1944, he would move his offices into the buildings of the Swiss Legation in the capital, working under Swiss protection and even be assigned diplomatic identity papers; he was exempt from wearing the Star of David; but due to internal conflicts among the heads of the Jewish movements in British Palestine and after the formation of Israel, due to politics, he was not credited appropriately for his war time efforts: It was Raoul Wallenberg, Jean de Bavier (Head of the International Red Cross) and Moshe Krausz, the three who contributed immensely to the saving of Budapest’s Jews in those crucial dark moments after March of 1944).
The 1938 Anschluss is a good example to show how a significant event paved the way to a system that would eventually be adopted during the darkest hours of the occupation of Budapest: diplomatic life-saving visas and certificates: following the occupation of Austria, the Jewish population of Burgenland were deported close to the Hungarian-Czechoslovakian border. A group of over 200 refugees, who were on board a boat, were stranded on the Danube. Thanks to the intervention of the Palestine Office head in Budapest, together with the assistance of the British ambassador to the country Jeffry Knox, permits were given by the British PCO that would indicate they were eligible to immigrate to Palestine. With such certificates in their hands, the authorities would not touch them, since by law, foreigners where off limits. This first event as mentioned above, of foreigners holding immigration permits indicating that they are British Mandate citizens who were thus except from harsh actions from the Hungarian government, was a fundamental and crucial land mark in future rescue operations and protection to come.
The document here was issued to a refugee or a stateless Jewish woman living in still-free Hungary: Eva Maged was issued this remarkable life-saving travel document in Budapest on January 4th of 1944. It was valid to transit through these following countries with the explicit destination to British Palestine:
Here is the catch: the only way to enter the Mandate was by getting a British entry permit, but there was no such consulate or embassy in war time Hungary (on December 7th 1941 the UK declared war on the country). With connection to the above, the Palestine Office managed to secure false or doctored pre-made Hungarian passports, and travel documents, and “issue” them to the would be immigrants, in this case like Eva. Thus she had to leave the country, and once in Turkey locate the British diplomatic mission (this escape route, the only one available by then in Europe, would shut down once Germany occupied Hungary, but would re-open after liberation in 1945).
1943 was the year that the Jewish Agency for Palestine opened its rescue offices in Istanbul and its mission was to assist Jews escape German occupation and arrive safely in neutral Turkey, and from there, obtain an entry permit into the Mandate (Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey 1942-1944): in 1943 Viscount Cranborne, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, issued a secret directive to the British embassy in Ankara, stating that any Jew arriving on his own to Turkey would receive an entry permit into the Mandate), and this the rescue committee was doing, by that time they already sent word of this ‘positive development’ to their contacts in occupied Europe, and boats with refugees were being arranged, in small numbers, to escape Europe, via Romania and Bulgaria. Other routes included direct train passage from Budapest via Romania and Bulgaria all the way to the Turkish border, to the jointly, and tightly by the Germans as well, controlled border check point of Svilengrad. Thanks to the efforts of the JAFP in Hungary who worked tirelessly in order to facilitate escape and immigration out of the country, Eva here most likely was lucky enough to obtain her Turkish Transit visa on January 10th (The British consular section in Istanbul sent immigration certificates for Palestine to the Turkish legation in Budapest, who in turn issued the transit visas – during this time (1944) approximately 2,000 were issued ), and the remaining necessary visas from the Bulgarian & Romanian embassies on the 17th (by this time Europe had 4 important rescue centers: Jerusalem, Istanbul, Geneva and Budapest).
Leaving Hungary on the 17th into Romania via the border crossing point at Curtici, and from there on to the Bulgarian border, entering the country on the 19th at Giurgiu to the Bulgarian side via their border crossing point at Ruse. From there into neighboring Turkey on the 21st, via the crossing at Edirne.
Once arriving into Turkey, she managed to obtain the long awaited for entry permit into Palestine and the transiting military permit through Syria, through Gaziantep crossing on the 26th, Meidan Ekbes on the other side of the border.
The Syrian visa program had a lovely set of entry visa revenue stamps printed specially for the usage in passports:
Purple 10franc stamp for ENTRY
Blue 5franc stamp for ENTRY
From there she crossed into the safety of British Palestine on January 28th at the Lebanese-Palestinian border crossing of Ras al-Naqoura or as it is known on the other side as Rosh Ha-Nikra.
No words need to be said about how fortunate she was at leaving 2 months before all hell broke out in that European country…in life, timing could mean everything.
Have added sample images found inside various passports that were used to travel to or from Hungary towards the outbreak of war and afterwards.
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.