19 March 2014
The Seventieth Anniversary of the Activities of the Underground Zionist Youth Movement
In the darkness of the tragic events suffered by Hungarian Jewry in 1944, the Zionist Youth Movements’ rescue enterprise is a ray of shining light.
On 19 March 1944, the eve of the German occupation of Hungary, the leaderships of the Zionist youth movements instructed their members to go underground, and use their new identities to work toward rescuing others.
In the wake of Aryanization, and despite the risk to their own lives, the movement members made contact with Jews in the provincial towns that were cut off from Budapest. More then 150 emissaries brought news of the impending Ghettoization and deportation, as well as forged documents, money, and instructions for the Jewish youth on how to escape to Budapest where the youth movements would take care of them.
Between April and August 1944, on the initiative, organization, and responsibility of the Underground Zionist Youth Movement, some 15,000 young people were smuggled to Romania on their way to Palestine, instead of Auschwitz.
During the Arrow Cross Party’s reign of terror, when the thunder of cannon could be clearly heard in Budapest, the halutz movements initiated, printed, and distributed over 100,000 Swiss Schutzpasses (letters of protection) to every Jew, in order to buy time.
During this period, the Zionist Youth Movement opened the gates of the Glass House (the building that housed the offices which processed Jewish immigration by the Swiss legation), where more than 4,000 Jews, including families and deserters from the forced labor units, found refuge. The residents of the Glass House survived the siege on Budapest.
During the reign of the Hungarian fascists, fifty-five children’s homes were established for Jewish children who had been separated from their families, ostensibly under the aegis of the International Red Cross. This was done on the initiative of the Zionist Youth Movement, the instructors were youth movement members, the household and administrative staff was recruited by the Youth Movement, and the equipment – from mattresses to toys and kitchen utensils – was provided by the Zionist Youth Movement that were operating underground.
A multidimensional, multi-branch feeding enterprise was established to sustain the Glass House and the children’s homes, from locating food sources, through purchasing, storing, distributing, and transporting the food, to protecting the consignments at any given moment by people from the Underground Zionist Youth Movement (all ostensibly under the aegis of the International Red Cross).
A central workshop for forged documents was established and successfully operated for the benefit of the underground, which faithfully served all the underground’s rescue and resistance operations throughout the German occupation. This workshop was the biggest of its kind in all of German-occupied Europe in terms of the range of its products, and the scope and sheer quantity of documents it placed at the disposal of the rescue operations.
In a bold operation carried out by the Underground Zionist Youth Movement, 120 imprisoned underground operatives were liberated from the central military prison during the siege on Budapest.
The leadership of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary read the picture of the political and social reality at a time of extreme crisis in history, and responded instantly and practically. It prepared rescue operations, and assumed responsibility for life and death. The leadership delegated responsibilities, and activated the members of the underground in expanding circles. The members of the underground knowingly risked their lives to rescue their friends as well as other Jews they did not know, in the spirit of Jewish and human solidarity.
The activities of the underground bore ideological and collective significance for the general Jewish public. Toward the end of Ferenc Szálasi’s rule, the Jewish public in Budapest viewed the underground and its leaders as an alternative Jewish leadership.
The German Nazis and the Hungarian fascists intended to exterminate Hungarian Jewry without trace. The Zionist Youth Movement courageously stood up to these plans, and successfully rescued more than 30,000 souls. The Zionist Youth Movement emerged from the ruins of the war bloody and wounded, but triumphant.
The Zionist Youth Movements’ unique and wide-ranging rescue enterprise with its impressive achievements during the German occupation, wrote glorious pages in the history of Hungarian Jewry – lessons and inspiration for future generations.