Could the BBC have done more to save Hungary’s Jews during the Holocaust? Does it have blood on its hands? The issue was explored at length in a recent documentary program on the BBC, and Professor Ladislaus Lob, who himself is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has published an article today on the BBC’s website exploring the issue.
At the time of the Second World War Hungary was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, tallying somewhere between 750,000-800,000 people. By 1944 two-thirds of them had been murdered.
During the Second World War the BBC broadcast to several European countries. It was overseen by the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), which was at the forefront of the British propaganda machine. The BBC Hungarian service broadcast everyday, giving updates on the war. Yet as far back as 1942 a memo had been issued that read: “We shouldn’t mention the Jews at all.” It was written by Carlile Macartney, the Foreign Office’s top adviser on Hungary at the time. According to Professor Lob “Macartney believed that to champion the Jews would alienate the majority of the Hungarian population who at that time, he argued, were anti-Semitic. Given that British propaganda directors wanted to draw German troops into Hungary as an occupying force, the argument was that anti-Semitic Hungarians wouldn’t help the Allies if they seemed too pro-Jewish.”
Professor Lob continues: “From December 1942 the British government, the PWE and the BBC Hungarian Service knew what was happening to European Jews beyond Hungary, and the very likely fate of the Hungarian Jews if the Germans invaded.
“No one could have expected the staff at the Hungarian Service to predict the Germans’ March 1944 invasion of Hungary. But PWE documents do show that it was the aim of some of its broadcasts to provoke such an invasion.”
The conclusion the article arrives at is that Macartney’s “policy of silence on the Jews was followed right up until the German invasion in March 1944. After the tanks rolled in, the Hungarian Service did then broadcast warnings. But by then it was too late.”