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Press Information published by the International Auschwitz Committee


80th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary and the deportation of the Hungarian Jewish families to Auschwitz

19 March 1944: the German Wehrmacht occupied Hungary on Hitler’s orders (Operation Margarethe). Photograph: www.origo.hu

19 March 1944: the German Wehrmacht occupied Hungary on Hitler’s orders (Operation Margarethe). Photograph: www.origo.hu




Today, Auschwitz survivors around the world are commemorating 19 March 1944 when, eighty years ago, the German Wehrmacht occupied Hungary on Hitler's orders (Operation Margarethe). Also on that day, the SS managed to lay its murderous hands on the last remaining large group of Jewish people in Europe.

Hungary, Germany's former ally, was immediately occupied the moment Hitler learned that the Hungarian leadership was holding secret talks with the Russians and Americans, because it was becoming increasingly clear that Hitler would no longer be able to win the war. Eichmann, a key organizer in the murder of the Jews, immediately followed the Wehrmacht to occupied Budapest and set up quarters in the Hotel Astoria with his staff of about 150 people. From there, together with the traditionally anti-Jewish Hungarian authorities, he began registering and ghettoizing the Jewish population.

The trains to Auschwitz started rolling on 27 April 1944. On arrival most of the Jewish women and children were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. By June 1944, more than 450,000 Jewish people from Hungary had already been killed in Auschwitz. In the summer months of 1944, the number of people murdered was so great that the ovens of the crematoria in the Birkenau camp could not keep up with the speed of the killings. The corpses of the murdered people were then piled up on the meadows of the camp, doused with gasoline and burned there. Eichmann stayed on in Budapest until 23 December 1944, when he finally fled from the approaching Red Army troops.

Now, on the 80th anniversary of this remembrance day, Christoph Heubner, Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, emphasized during a visit to the Auschwitz Memorial: "The survivors of Auschwitz will never forget the infernal summer months of 1944, when clouds of ash and the smell of burning human flesh hung over the camp, and when they saw the flames leaping from the chimneys of the crematoria. As each day passed, their immeasurable despair and their mortal fear of never experiencing liberation grew.

When asked what she remembered most about Auschwitz, the Hungarian Jew Erszi Semes replied again and again "the smell − it will stay with me to my very last day, just like the faces of the dead, to whom I was so close in life and who I now saw burning in the meadows at the hands of the murderers." And Erszi Szemes ended every conversation with young people with these words: "Never forget: you must protect democracy!"


For further Information

Christoph Heubner

Executive Vice President
International Auschwitz Committee
Phone ++ 49 (0)30 26 39 26 81