The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Testimony of Dr. Wilhelm Hoettl (Part 5 of 8)

I heard nothing about any planned persecution of the Jews or of any pogroms against the Jews after the First World War, apart from some violent incidents (particularly on the part of students).

To return to the original question, I should like to say that I know nothing definite as to who was originally destined to be the head of what became later the Eichmann Special Commando. I have, however, heard in conversations that an SS Sturmbannführer Krumey was originally supposed to be the head of the commando. Krumey came to Hungary later as Eichmann's deputy.

(26): I cannot answer the question why Eichmann was made head of this commando. I can only imagine that he found this assignment such an important one that he asked his chief to be detailed personally to Hungary.

(27): Dr. Kaltenbrunner no doubt considered the operation in Hungary to be so important that he thought it necessary to take part in it personally. I remember that Dr. Kaltenbrunner not only came to Budapest immediately, on 19 March, but also remained in Budapest for quite some time - perhaps even several weeks. In these circumstances, Kaltenbrunner practically had to conduct his official business as chief of the Head Office for Reich Security from Budapest.

Dr. Kaltenbrunner had originally been a lawyer in Linz, and as a result of his illegal activity with the SS, had received an important position in 1938, when the annexation of Austria took place. However, despite the fact that both Kaltenbrunner and Eichmann were from Linz, as far as I could see Kaltenbrunner did not know Eichmann well. It is certainly not true that they used the familiar "du" form to address each other.

When Dr. Kaltenbrunner occupied the post of State Secretary for Security Matters in the government of Dr. Seyss-Inquart, he became the Higher SS and Police Leader in Vienna. Because of the Berlin offices' mania for centralization, to which I have already referred, the position of a Higher SS and Police Leader had lost a great deal of weight, however, and it was therefore a great surprise even for those most in the know when in January 1943, Hitler appointed Kaltenbrunner Chief of the Security Police and the Security Service, as successor to Heydrich, who had been assassinated. This position which, after Goering's loss of power, was probably the most important one after those of Hitler and Himmler, was handed over to Kaltenbrunner, who was a decidedly average man.

(28): On this question I should like to refer to my previous comments, in which I tried to explain how difficult it was to have any clear view of the real chain of command in Hungary. Obviously, to some extent Eichmann was subordinate to the Senior Commander of the Security Police and the Security Service in Hungary, and thus, in turn, also to the Higher SS and Police Leader in the country, but in practice he really came under his Department Chief, Müller, in Berlin, and thus under Dr. Kaltenbrunner as well, as Müller's superior.

(29): I already stated my view on this question yesterday, when I gave a general description of conditions in Hungary. In this context I should perhaps mention the fact that in my job, although I was a member of the staff of the Head Office for Reich Security, I was really not subordinate to any German office in Hungary and answered only to my Berlin chief, Schellenberg. My official contacts with the Higher SS and Police Leader in Hungary and the Senior Commander of the Waffen-SS there were limited practically to some courtesy visits and social invitations.

(30): I believe that I have already answered the question as to who at this time was my superior.

(31): The anti-Jewish measures of the Hungarian Government before the events in March 1944 were doubtless in the main the result of Hungarian initiative, and are to be viewed more or less as a gesture to the German allies. However, in contrast, the anti-Jewish measures which occurred after the entry of German troops were definitely the result of an agreement between the German Reich Government and the newly appointed Hungarian Government under Premier General Sztojay. The German Ambassador, Dr. Veesenmayer, was given the assignment of advising the Hungarian Government on these matters, and above all of trying to lay legal foundations for the anti-Jewish measures which were about to be enforced. In this context it is worth mentioning that the German legation exercised pressure from the very beginning for the centralization of all anti-Jewish measures by the Hungarians, to which end an appointment of a special state secretary was to be made in the Ministry of the Interior. The person appointed shortly afterwards to the post was the former Vizegespan (Deputy District Commissioner), Dr. Laszlo Endre. The other State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, the former Major of the Gendarmerie, Laszlo Baky, as head of the executive, was also of the greatest importance for anti-Jewish measures, from the German occupying power's point of view. The Hungarian Minister of the Interior, Andor Jaross, himself had also always been considered to be a radical anti-Semite, as a staunch supporter of Goemboes.

The first anti-Jewish measures were still relatively harmless, such as confiscation of radios and similar matters. The documents for such confiscation operations had to be supplied by either the Hungarian Jewish Religious Congregation or by the "Jewish Council of Elders" (Aeltestenrat). As far as I know, the actual operations were carried out jointly by the Hungarian gendarmerie and police, together with German police units.

After that there was the expropriation of Jewish law offices, or deprivation of the right to practice, and this was followed by the Aryanization of businesses and factories (probably of real estate as well). All these measures were carried out on the basis of laws which, as far as I know, were published in the Official Gazette. There was no opposition in the parliamentary preparation of these laws, as far as I know, and most of them were passed unanimously or by large majority.

Opposition to these anti-Jewish laws and measures came primarily from the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, but there was not a uniform reaction. To a large extent, the prevailing opinion was that, in order to avoid something worse, to start with, it was better to give in and accommodate the Germans. There was no energetic reaction either from the aristocracy, which up till then had been influential. As far as Horthy himself is concerned, he was petitioned for help by the Jews affected, but would only extend help to his closer acquaintances and friends from Jewish circles.

As far as I remember, other typically discriminatory measures along the German example were also introduced, such as wearing the Jewish Star, marking of ration cards, and so on.

As far as the deportations are concerned, I can state the following:

During an official trip I made in May 1944 to the Carpatho- Ukraine, I witnessed for the first time long processions of Jews on an open country road, apparently being herded along to collecting camps. I saw these first transports not far from the town of Khust in northern Hungary. These transports were guarded by Hungarian gendarmes. People carried their own hand luggage, and horse-drawn waggons with larger items of baggage followed. I saw two or three such processions of Jews on foot, each consisting of several hundred people of both sexes and all ages. In the relatively short time during which I observed what was going on, I did not see any maltreatment by the escorts. I believe I remember with certainty that all in these marching columns wore the Jewish Star. As far as I could ascertain, the persons in these columns of deportees came from the immediate vicinity of Khust where, as far as I know, at that time there were purely Jewish settlements. The persons also gave the impression of being farmers and generally simple people.

In the meanwhile I got to know that these deportations were being carried out on the basis of a formal agreement between the German Government, represented by its legation in Budapest, and the Hungarian Government, through the two State Secretaries in the Ministry of the Interior.

However, I could not discover any laws in the Hungarian Official Gazette which would have given these deportations any form of legal foundation. It is, therefore, my opinion that there were no laws on this whatsoever, and it was simply a question of secret agreements between the German and Hungarian Government authorities. The general opinion in the Hungarian populace was that the Jews were being collected in ghettos in the north of the country. I do not know whether the Jews who were rounded up were immediately moved out of the country to extermination camps, or whether they remained temporarily in collection camps on Hungarian territory. I cannot state from my own knowledge whether the responsible Hungarian authorities knew that, in any case, these deported Jews would sooner or later get to extermination camps. However, from the frequently extremely flippant tone of many highly and very highly placed Hungarian Government functionaries when talking about the matter, I would tend to think that one can more or less safely say that these men probably knew what was the fate intended for the Hungarian Jews. As far as I could follow in the Hungarian press, it did not refer to the deportation measures at all and thus also did not criticize them. The general approach seems to have been to overlook these atrocities, or rather not to take notice of them.

According to what was doubtless a very cleverly prepared plan, the Jewish community of Budapest was to be deported last - the idea apparently being to prevent their taking refuge in the provinces, through advance warning. As I found out later, while those Hungarian Jews who did not live in the capital were almost without exception caught by the deportation measures, the events of the War in the summer of 1944 and the related deposition of the Sztojay government led to a suspension of the deportations, which, in my opinion, saved considerable parts of the Jewish community of Budapest.

The session was adjourned at 12.30, to be resumed the same day at 14.30.

Continued at 14.30.

Present: as at the morning session.

A further question was first put to the witness as to whether there was perhaps a different understanding of the notion of Jews in Hungary, as compared with the provisions in Germany, and what other race characteristics were relevant, such as Gypsy descent and so on.

I know nothing concrete about this; I also do not know whether, and in what respect, there were other rules outside Germany, in the Occupied Eastern and Western territories, or whether the principles and individual provisions of the so-called Nuremberg Racial Laws were simply adopted and made law in Hungary, or whether no precise notions were defined in that regard. I also do not know whether racial persecution also included Gypsies.

The witness was asked to explain also why his office (Schellenberg) did not intervene - as it had in the case of the "Operation Margarethe I" plan - against the measures for the persecution of Jews, on grounds of a superior interest, or if it did, with what success.

In accordance with the relevant provisions on allocation of functions, I could not, as a representative of the Foreign Intelligence Service, adopt any purely official position against anti-Jewish legislation which was enacted in Hungary under German pressure. What I was able to do, however, was to draw attention in my regular reports on the political, military and economic situation in Hungary to the disastrous consequences of all these anti-Jewish measures, and I made full use of this possibility. Schellenberg used to collate situation reports from the Foreign Intelligence Service into world situation reports, which, under the cover name "Egmont Reports," were brought to Hitler's attention at certain intervals. Some of the Egmont Reports, which had apparently been discovered in the Foreign Ministry, were submitted at the Nuremberg Trial and used by the prosecution as incriminating material against the so-called main war criminals. The idea was to prove in this way that the top echelons of the German Reich were very well informed by their secret service about the current situation abroad. In these Egmont Reports which I have mentioned - which in fact were produced by one of today's leading German journalists, Dr. Giselher Wirsing, of the newspaper Christ und Welt - I found in Nuremberg two paragraphs about the drawbacks of Hungarian persecution of the Jews for the German conduct of the War, and these are based on my reports. Anyone who was familiar with the frame of mind of Hitler and Himmler knows that with them one could achieve nothing with moral principles; the best one could do was to point to the advantages or disadvantages which German measures had for the conduct of the War.

Naturally foreign countries, particularly neutral states, had not failed to notice that the anti-Jewish tendency became noticeably more intense after March 1944. A few houses further on, in the Disz-ter, where my offices were, was the Swedish legation, and also the Vatican Embassy. I know from my own observations what efforts these diplomatic representatives made on behalf of persecuted Hungary Jewry, as also did the Swiss Ambassador and members of his staff. More particularly, these diplomats endeavoured to issue what were called Schutzbriefe (letters of protection) for Hungarian Jews, to protect them from deportation. In the last phase, before Budapest was occupied by the Red Army, these diplomatic missions had even managed to extend diplomatic immunity over entire houses and even blocks, and thus to protect the Jews who lived there from any evacuation measures.

In addition, the diplomatic missions of states allied with Germany were also active in these rescue operations. For example, the Croatian Ambassador in Budapest, Dr. Benzon, and an Italian consul, whose name I no longer remember, handed over to me, in the course of time, several dozen passports of their country, with the request to obtain exit permits for Romania from the Hungarian authorities. These two gentlemen made it absolutely clear that the holders of the passports were Hungarian Jews who were thus to be rescued. For the sake of historical justice it must therefore be acknowledged that in Hungary there were many individuals who, each in his own way, were active in helping the persecuted Jews. Here I should like to mention the fact that, for example, the old-guard ministerial civil servants in the Ministry of the Interior were very decent and helpful, unlike those who received top level positions there only after 19 March 1938. After seizure of power by the Arrow Cross, however, there was another purge in the ministries, probably also in order to make positions available to the large numbers of party supporters, and that made it far more difficult to provide useful help. It was only under the impact of the approaching Red Army that any more concessions were made in this respect.

As to acts of violence: Similar to the destruction of the synagogues in Vienna or forcing Jews in Vienna to sweep the streets, I myself did not see anything of this kind in Budapest until after the Arrow Cross revolt, and then, when I was driving past with Premier Bardossy, I saw Jews being maltreated on the street. I thereupon wrote a report to Kaltenbrunner, asking for redress against such occurrences, and was able to convince Bardossy to cosign it.

(32): I have no information on the details, but through State Secretary Baky, with whom I had dealings, since he was also Chief of the Hungarian Central Office for State Security, i.e., the police secret service, I know that the decisive negotiations on behalf of Germany were conducted every time by Ambassador Dr. Veesenmayer with the Hungarian Minister of the Interior. On the Hungarian side there were State Secretaries Baky and Endre, as well as, I am sure, a large team of specialists, the individual members of which I did not, however, know. The participants on the German side varied, but I believe that Baky spoke about participation by the "Adviser on Jewish Affairs" of the German legation, a Mr. Grell, and by the Senior Commander of the German Security Police in Hungary, Dr. Geschke, and also by Eichmann. I am sure that other specialists were also present for the Germans, but I am unable to give any details. However, I must stress that this information is second-hand, i.e. from State Secretary Baky, although I see no reason why he would have told me an untruth.

(33): I cannot give any information about this, since I never visited Eichmann at his quarters, and I also did not hear whether he was in charge of military or police units. However, I do not believe that what was called the Sonderkommando Eichmann was very large in terms of numbers. The Krumeyer (sic) I mentioned yesterday who, as far as I know was Eichmann's deputy in Hungary, is the only person whose name I have seen in the newspapers in recent years, so I assume he still lives in Germany. I cannot give a figure, in any case.

(34): I have already indicated what I myself know about the functions of the Sonderkommando Eichmann.

(35): I cannot give any precise details on this.

From my own experience I know that - at least in North Hungary - the Hungarian gendarmerie was responsible for rounding up and assembling the Jews. However, from all I heard later, I believe that the deportations to extermination camps were carried out by German units, and that these were also responsible for supervising the concentration of Jews.

As to the number of Hungarian Jews killed, the only information I can give is what I have extracted from the relevant literature in recent years. According to this, some two thirds of Hungarian Jewry probably died in extermination camps. Relative to Austria, where, according to the same sources, half to two thirds were spared annihilation, these figures for Hungary are particularly unfavourable. However, I believe that the percentage of Jewry annihilated in other countries, such as Poland, Belgium and Holland, is even more unfavourable than in Hungary. The relatively favourable result in Austria is a result of the considerable pressure applied for emigration in 1938 and 1939. According to my information, of those Jews who remained only a very small part survived the Second World War.

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