What happened in Kamenets-Podolskii in 1941?

It would be utterly foolish to attempt a thorough description of what happened in Kamenets-Podolskii (or, in Ukrainian, Kamianets-Podilskyi), today a fair sized city in Ukraine. In earlier times it was an important Jewish center of learning, but even in Soviet times it was a multi-ethnic community of Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Internet descriptions of the city’s history always mention that Kamenets-Podolskii was the place where “one of the first and largest Holocaust mass-murders” took place. They usually also note that most of the 23,600 victims were Hungarian Jews.

Luckily there are some excellent English-language sources dealing with the subject. Among them is a volume devoted solely to the topic: Kinga Frojimovics’s I Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land: The Hungarian State and Jewish Refugees in Hungary, 1933-1945 (2007), which is still available through Amazon. Randolph L. Braham’s monumental The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, 2 vols. (1994) can still be obtained in an abbreviated edition. In Hungarian Tamás Majsai wrote a book about the deportations that took place in July-August 1941. I learned a lot from Mária Ormos’s Egy magyar médiavezér: Kozma Miklós, 2 vols. Kozma served at that time as a kind of governor of the territory, acquired in March 1939, which was known in Hungary as Kárpátalja or, in English, Carpatho-Ruthenia.

Yesterday I wrote that Sándor Szakály, the new director of the Veritas Historical Institute, called the deportation and murder of about 25,000 people a simple “police action against aliens.” It was not part of the Hungarian Holocaust. Why is it so important for Szakály and therefore, I suspect, for the Veritas Institute and the Orbán government to disassociate the 1941 atrocities from what happened after March 19, 1944, when allegedly Hungary lost its sovereignty? The answer, I think, is obvious. No one, not even far-right historians of Szakály’s ilk, can claim that Hungary was not a sovereign state in 1941. And yet with the approval and support of Miklós Horthy, László Bárdossy, the prime minister, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, minister of the interior, and Miklós Kozma, one of the promoters of the idea, all agreed to begin the deportation of Jews who had escaped from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and after 1939 from Poland as well. In fact, although the official record of the cabinet meeting doesn’t indicate it, the whole cabinet gave the plan its blessing. The evidence can be found in notes jotted down by Miklós Kozma, who was present.

One must keep in mind that the northeastern corner of Greater Hungary was an underdeveloped region with a very large Orthodox Jewish community who were, especially in smaller towns, quite unassimilated. They were the ones Horthy hated most and wanted to get rid of. Kozma’s aversion to these people was most likely reinforced by living in the area. There were places where there were more religious Orthodox Jews than non-Jews. So, already in the fall of 1940 he entertained the idea of deporting them at the earliest opportunity, which came when Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. When Hungary joined the war effort on June 27 of the same year, conditions were ideal for the mass deportation of the unwanted Jews, foreign as well as domestic, because Hungarian troops were temporarily in possession of territories just across the border.

Hungarian gendarmes collected the victims, who were allowed to take along only 30 pengős and food for three days, herded them into cattle cars or in a few cases trucks, and took them to Kőrösmező/Yasinia, still inside of Hungary. The first group started to move across the border to Galicia and Ukraine on July 14. In the next few weeks 13,400 people were deported from Carpathian Ruthenia and 4,000 from other parts of the country, including Budapest. The majority of the deportees were taken to Kamenets-Podolskii by Hungarian soldiers, who took over the job of the gendarmes. Once there, the deportees were left to their own devices. No shelter, no food, no nothing. The few Jews in town tried to help, but they themselves were poor.

Soon enough the conditions became indescribable. Yet more and more transports arrived daily. Finally the Germans had had enough; they asked the Hungarian government to stop the deportations. In response, Keresztes-Fischer temporarily halted the deportation of Hungarian Jews, but the others continued to arrive daily in Kamenets-Podolskii. It was at that time that the Germans decided to “solve the problem.” They simply killed them and buried them in common graves. Some were still alive when they were thrown into the pit. A few Jews survived and even managed to get back to Hungary, although the Hungarian authorities doubled the number of gendarmes in order to prevent their return.

Deported Jews from Hungary in Kamenets-Podolskii / Source: www.memorialashoah.org

Deported Jews from Hungary in Kamenets-Podolskii / Source: http://www.memorialashoah.org

Yes, at the end of August the deportations stopped, but the Hungarian government didn’t give up the idea of resuming the deportations, especially from this particular corner of Hungary. László Bárdossy announced that because of the German request they halted the action but they have every intention of continuing it when the situation in that part of Galicia and Ukraine improves enough to accept the deportees.

Kamenets-Podolskiii was a dress rehearsal for the deportation of over 600,000 Hungarian citizens. Gendarmes were employed to gather and herd the victims into cattle cars in both cases. In 1944 as in 1941 the Hungarian authorities were the ones who seemed most eager to get rid of their Jewish citizens, and in both cases the Germans were the ones who tried to slow down the transports because they were overburdened.

So, it’s no wonder that the current Hungarian government wants to transform Kamenets-Podolskii into an innocent police action against illegal aliens. Sándor Szakály and the Orbán government are a perfect fit, and I’m certain that his Veritas Institute will do its level best to whitewash the Hungarian governments of the interwar period and make sure that Governor Miklós Horthy, whom Szakály seems to admire, is portrayed as an innocent victim of circumstances. And since soon enough all school books will be published by a state publishing house, I have no doubt that Szakály’s version of Hungary’s modern history will be the “true and only one.” After all, he is heading an institute called Veritas.


  1. From Melocco’s and Benedek’s praises of the concept:

    “Before the German occupation…the Hungarian intelligentsia had von Haus German culture”

    “The Germans made us believe that they represented Europe. We took in 200,000 Polish refugees. Until 1943, there were peaceful conditions in Hungary”

    “The massacring German army killed the country, using its Arrow Cross children”


  2. Kinga Frojimovics, Special Characteristics of the Holocaust in Hungary, p.251 in a book “The Routledge History of the Holocaust”, edited by Johnathan C. Friedman, New York, NY 2011:

    “At the end of summer of 1941, then, the first large-scale mass murder Jews from Hungary occurred. Here, the exclusive responsibility of the Hungarian authorities in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews cannot be established with complete unanimity.”

    Thomas Sakmyster, Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback, p.273, NY 1994:

    “18,000 Jews… were quickly and methodically massacred. When reports reached Budapest of this horrible atrocity, the Minister of the Interior, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, expressed his indignation and insisted that no further deportations take place. Miklos Horthy’s role in and attitude toward these anti-Jewish measures in the summer of 1941 remain unclear… It is certain, however, that neither Horthy nor his colleagues suspected in August 1941 that Jews handed over to the Germans would be machine-gunned on the spot. Indeed, reports describing this atrocity must have had a profound impact on Horthy and his advisors, for from this point on the Hungarian government refused to consider any further deportation of Jews.”

    DEGOB website, http://degob.org/index.php?showarticle=2019, The First Massacre: Kamenets-Podolsky:

    “…the public administration of Carpatho-Ruthenia and some officials of KEOKH supposed that under the chaotic circumstances of war they could deport the unwanted Jews to no man’s land. Kozma gained the approval of Prime Minister László Bárdossy, Minister of the Interior Lajos Keresztes-Fischer and also Regent Miklós Horthy… In August 1941, yielding to German demands, the Hungarian government temporarily halted the deportations. In addition to Jewish organisations, more than one famous public personality and politician (Károly Rassay, Margit Slachta, etc.) protested to the Minister of the Interior. Soon the Hungarian government was informed about the massacres.” Soon – means after August.

  3. Eva S. Balogh :
    Does anyone know why Hungary is portrayed as Archangel Gabriel?

    This comes from a Catholic legend that can be found in the Hungarian Catholic Lexicon
    (when was this legend created? 19th century or 18th century?)

    So Pope Sylvester wanted to give the sACRED cROWN derived from Attila to the Polish king, but Gabriel appeared in his dream that he should give it to the Hungarian Istvan.

    ” III. Ottó ném-róm. cs. (ur. 996-1002) a lengy. uralkodónak ígérte Attila koronáját, a ~t, miközben azt István m. fejedelem is (vissza)követelte. III. Ottó 1000. III-IV: megkerestette és személyesen föl is tárta Nagy Károly sírkamráját, ahol megtalálta a koronázási jogart és a ~t, s Ravenna érintésével Rómába vitte, ahova 1000. X. 2: érkezett meg. – Ottó és II. Szilveszter p. (ur. 999-1003) úgy döntött, hogy a ~t a lengy. uralkodónak szolgáltatják ki. II. Szilveszter p. azonban álmot látott, melyben Gábriel arkangyal arra figyelmeztette, hogy a ~t ne a lengy-eknek adja, hanem annak a követnek, aki másnap reggel érkezik. Másnap reggel az Arsakida családból származó István magyar fejed. követe, (Szt) Asztrik apát érkezett és kérte a ~t. Szilveszter p. megáldotta a ~t, és egy apostoli keresztet is küldött vele együtt, valamint egy levelet, melyben Szt István kir-t ap. jogokkal ruházta föl. ”


  4. I do not wish to stop the discussions on other subjects, but as the Horthy rehabilitation gets its Jewish supporters, who are convinced that it was the Regent who saved the Jews of Budapest, I like to direct Hungarian speakers to
    in which Mazsihisz states that Generalleutnant Gerhard Schmidhuber,commander of the German forces in Budapest has acted to save the Ghetto, by changing the Arrow Cross Guards and even arresting one of his own man for cooperating with the Arrow Cross plan of killing the Ghetto inhabitants.
    Another interesting Internet morsel can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A1l_Szalai
    which explains the connection between a Nazi police officer, Wallenberg and the German general.

  5. tappanch :

    Eva S. Balogh :
    Does anyone know why Hungary is portrayed as Archangel Gabriel?

    This comes from a Catholic legend that can be found in the Hungarian Catholic Lexicon
    (when was this legend created? 19th century or 18th century?)

    So Pope Sylvester wanted to give the sACRED cROWN derived from Attila to the Polish king, but Gabriel appeared in his dream that he should give it to the Hungarian Istvan.

    Hard to imagine that the creation of a statue based on such flimsy and unhistorical myth most people have never heard of.

  6. Why…If the Turul bird lead the Hungarians to Hungary and the Virgin Mary guards Hungary (maybe in partnership with the Archangel ??) everything is possible.

  7. Dear Eva,

    I do no think Kerenyi and his Fidesz friends read even the Catholic Lexicon: they must have copied the archangel from the 1896 statue on Hosok tere.

    This archangel is pretty dangerous: he ordered Mohamed to start Islam, for instance.

  8. tappanch :

    Dear Eva,

    I do no think Kerenyi and his Fidesz friends read even the Catholic Lexicon: they must have copied the archangel from the 1896 statue on Hosok tere.

    This archangel is pretty dangerous: he ordered Mohamed to start Islam, for instance.

    Most likely you’re right. But what about the sculptor? Is he that primitive?

  9. This hideous statue is the continuation of the Fidesz kitch, starting with the National Theatre building to the countless Trianon statutes all over Hungary to the recently erected Mary statue on the Buda Caste overlooking Pest.

    It is one of the defining characteristics of Fidesz to visually transfom Hungary into Kazakhstan.

  10. Here is my explanation for French origin:

    According to court testimony of the time, it was Gabriel who came to Joan of Arc and inspired her to go to the aid of the dauphin.

    Guess what: the cross of Lorraine is the same as the Hungarian “Apostolic” cross!

  11. Eva S. Balogh :

    tappanch :
    Dear Eva,
    I do no think Kerenyi and his Fidesz friends read even the Catholic Lexicon: they must have copied the archangel from the 1896 statue on Hosok tere.
    This archangel is pretty dangerous: he ordered Mohamed to start Islam, for instance.

    Most likely you’re right. But what about the sculptor? Is he that primitive?

    I guess, he got the concept suggested from Kerényi, just as the painters for those memorable works. There is a sum, obviously.
    Perheps the ideological kinship helped too. It’s a really sad thing, when otherwise talented people got corrupted by the system and selling themselves this way.

    They voted four to one in favor of this thing, I wonder, who dared to say no…

  12. “She was tried on twelve charges of sorcery. Her trial in Rouen lasted from February 21 to May 28, 1431, and after weeks of unrelenting questioning and being threatened with death by fire, she finally denied her voices and agreed to wear women’s clothes. When in prison she claimed that the archangel Gabriel had come to her and comforted her. “

  13. Archangel Gabriel appeared in the book of Daniel first:

    “while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, swooped down on me in full flight at about the time of the evening sacrifice
    and explained things to me.

    He said, “I have come now, Daniel, to enable you to understand this vision clearly.”

    So Gabriel is the archetype interpreter of dreams and visions.

    He appeared later in the dreams or visions of Mary, Mohamed, Joan of Arc.

    So Gabriel was transferred into Pope Sylvester’s dream to give the Sacred Crown to Istvan – although Istvan could not have possibly worn that crown, since it was made after his death.

  14. “The alleged story of the crown and papal legate authority given to Stephen I of Hungary by Sylvester in the year 1000 (hence the title ‘Apostolic King’) is noted by the 19th-century historian Lewis L. Kropf as a possible forgery of the 17th century.”

    Kropf, Lewis L. (1898). “Pope Sylvester II and Stephen I of Hungary”

  15. http://archive.org/stream/englishhistorica13londuoft/englishhistorica13londuoft_djvu.txt


    Although the bull said to have been issued by Sylvester II to the
    first king of Hungary is admitted by competent authorities to be a
    forgery, presumably of the seventeenth century,’ it may not be
    without interest to give a short account of the present state of
    the controversy among Hungarian scholars relative to the question.

    The orthodox story is that the son of the last duke of Hungary,
    the latter having embraced Christianity, applied to the pope about
    the year 1000 for a crown, which request was readily granted.
    The crown was subsequently united with another sent by the
    emperor of the East to Geza I (after 1074), and the two diadems
    thus conjoined form the present ‘ holy crown ‘ or ‘ St. Stephen’s
    crown,’ used at the coronation of the kings of Hungary. Accom-
    panying his gift Sylvester II is said to have issued a bull investing
    Stephen and his successors with the full powers of a papal legate ;
    and in token of this office the Hungarian kings have ever since
    borne the title of ‘ Apostolic King ‘ and enjoyed the privilege of
    having an apostolic double cross carried before them on solemn
    occasions. The double cross appears as the principal charge on
    the sinister half of the Hungarian escutcheon.

    In 1880 a committee was appointed by the Hungarian Academy
    of Sciences to examine the coronation insignia, and the results of
    its inquiries were published by Dr. Arnold Ipolyi, bishop of Neusohl,
    one of its members.^ The official position this prelate held in the
    Eoman church has probably biassed him in favour of the old view,
    but the facts contained in his book can lead only to the conclusion
    that, even if the story related in the legend of the Ufe of the king is
    true, and Sylvester II did really send a crown to Stephen, not a
    vestige of it can be seen in the present * holy crown.’ This con-
    sists of a crown of Byzantine workmanship,^ which was originally
    open {i.e. a * Stephanos’), but was subsequently transformed into a
    closed crown {i.e. a * stemma ‘) by having two cross-bands sur-
    mounted by a cross soldered to the open hoop. The bands are
    embellished with the images of the Saviour and eight apostles in
    enamel of apparently western design, if not workmanship. It is
    difficult to believe that the crown sent by Sylvester was broken up
    and that only a small portion of the material was embodied in the
    existing crown, as the hoop which formed the base of the original
    diadem, and probably also the images of four of the apostles, are
    missing.’* Hence it is probable that the bands in question originally
    did not form part of a crown at all, but were merely utilised in
    transforming the open crown into a closed one, and that probably
    the images of the other four apostles were on the extremities of the
    existing bands, but were cut off.

    Some Hungarian writers are beginning to doubt whether Syl-
    vester ever did send a crown to Stephen. For when Gregory VII
    claimed Hungary as a fief in 1074 he made no allusion to any
    such gift. The only Hungarian crown mentioned in his corre-
    spondence is the one which together with a spear was forwarded to
    Kome by the emperor Henry III, after his victory at Menfo in 1044,
    where he had the good fortune to capture the Hungarian king Aba
    with his crown and spear. Nor did Gregory refer to any bull or
    any other document.”

    As regards the title of * apostolic king ‘ another Hungarian
    bishop, Monsignor Fraknoi, has lately published a volume on the
    wider subject of the history of the Hungarian king’s powers as
    patron of the state-church, a treatise based to a large extent on
    hitherto unpublished material.^ The author shows that the title in
    question was assumed only a few centuries ago, and that at the
    outset it was a mere title, conferring no privilege whatever on the
    bearer. The first attempt to obtain an official grant or acknowledg-
    ment from Rome was made by Louis II when Pope Leo X granted
    to Henry VIII of England the title of ‘defender of the faith.’
    Another attempt — again ineffectual — was made by Ferdinand III
    in 1627. Some years later, in 1649, we find the Hungarian prelates …”


  16. Ovidiu :
    Nobody wants to understand, neither side wants to be objective, but only to either blame others or to exculpate themselves.And nobody learns anything, because he does not want.

    I am not sure I understand this. Are you implying that the Jews are to be blamed for any part of the holocaust?

  17. Ovidiu
    January 19, 2014 at 3:00 pm | #33 Quote
    “Just sinking deeper and deeper while trying to extricate the nation from its past deeds.That “1944-occupation” tale was a neat try but now, damn it, here it comes “Kamenets-Podolskii”-1941 ?.Gosh..one starts to regret that Hitler wasn’t so kind so as to occupy Hungary sooner.
    But, in all fairness, there are no people (Jews included) who can accept that they ever did something wrong in history.All of them think about themselves as absolute blameless and pure victims and use (i.e. distort) history to amplify/enhance their own nation sense of worthiness and blamelessness, and to deprecate the others.”

    I agree. I have lived in Hungary and in Israel. Boy, what a similarity.
    I have also lived in Germany and USA. What a difference.

    All nations need a good dose of honesty.

    Hungarians and Jews have got a tall task to come clean.

    Ovidiu and I are not claiming that the Jews have to apologize for the Holocaust.

    The Jews were painful victim without question.

    With Hitler and Horthy at the ruder, Europe was hunting them down. It will remain a moral stain on almost all European nations’ history.

    The Soviet and Iranian leaders have not learned anything, and have been repeating all crimes of Nazis.

  18. Hungary was not (!) occupied by the nazis as Hungary and Germany where full allies since 1941
    In memory of my grandmother Ilona Grosman-Roth who was taken from her house in budapest by Hungarian (black arrow member) never to return from the death camp I suggest not to use the victims holy memory part of the gov. Current on going absurd show…..
    True will preville eventually.

  19. Hi Joav, I’m glad that you read and now even comment on Hungarian Spectrum. I think that Spectrum over the years attracted a lot of bright and thoughtful people from all over the world. One can always find something interesting and new among the comments. Welcome!

  20. In a recent Facebook post Ivan Szegö quoted a letter dated 13th August 1941 by Margit Slachta to Mrs Horthy (Her Serene Highness Magdolna Horthy), https://www.facebook.com/ivan.szego/posts/10203034676416034?comment_id=7266832&offset=0&total_comments=2

    after her visit to Kőrösmező, the place where thousands of Jews were kept on the fields awaiting their expulsion to Kamenets-Podolskii where they will be murdered by SS troops.

    The letter begs the Regent’s wife to get the Regent to do something for these unfortunates and is heartbreaking to read. Obviously it was of no use and these people were abandoned by all including Horthy, Kozma and by Keresztes-Fisher.

    These deportations took place almost 3 years before the so-called occupation of Hungary by the Germans and there is no doubt that it was not due to the antisemitism of the German Nazis. It was a pure Hungarian affair as was the massacre in Ujvidek.

    The life of Margit Slachta can be read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margit_Slachta

    Further details of her dedicated work can be seen at http://www.millersville.edu/holocon/files/Margit%20Slachta%20and%20the%20early%20rescue%20of%20Jewish%20families.pdf

  21. Another entry is another report on those deported by the independent Hungary in 1941 and eventually murdered in Kamenets-Podolsk may be found on Facebook at

    https://www.facebook.com/nyary.krisztian?hc_location=timeline ,

    Of special interest is the photo showing some deportees and some Hungarian Gendarmes and soldiers. Not a single German to be seen, which is not surprising since the picture predates the Hungarian Holocaust by more than 3 years.

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