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Report: Did the BBC Purposely Fail to Warn Hungarian Jews of Nazi Threat?

November 13, 2012 2:27 pm 8 comments

British Army bulldozer pushes bodies into grave at Bergen-Belsen. April 19, 1945. Photo: Wikipedia

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.”


  • What a pile of misrepresentations!
    1. Zach Pontz: I did not “publish an article” as Mr Pontz claims. Some comments by me are quoted in the margin of the BBC online report. The statements attributed by Mr Pontz to me were made by others.
    2. Michal bat Ze’ev: It is not true that everyone on the train paid for a place, had to be invited by Kasztner and was a relative of Kasztner etc. It would take very little research to see what other categories of people were involved. The train was not diverted to Bergen-Belsen by “some Nazis not in the know”, but by Eichmann. The group was not liberated by the British but released to Switzerland four months before liberation. No judgment based on ignorance can be taken seriously.
    3. Mihai-Robert Soran: I don’t “call” myself a survivor of Bergen-Belsen: I am. My father and I were not “privileged” or “well-situated”. Kasztner’s “main interest” was not only to save the “richest or most renowned” but as many Jews as possible . To insinuate that Kasztner profited financially from the deal is close to libel. Does Mr Soran think he is a better judge of who is a “criminal” than the Supreme Court of Israel that cleared Kasztner of collaboration? It is Mr Soran who “manipulates history” . If he had read my book instead of throwing it in his recycling bin he might have argued from knowledge rather than prejudice and animosity.
    4. While the experience of this group cannot bear comparison to Auschwitz, the term “guest of Bergen-Belsen” is insulting and mischievous.

  • Hungary was remarkable and singular.
    The Hungarian Jewish community had more warning than any other. For almost 3 years the Holocaust raged in every neighboring country and the Hungarian Jewish community
    No preparation—no obtaining of weapons—no organization
    for resistance. They were living in dreamland. And the
    secular and religious leadership was a hindrance and not a
    In parts of Europe, Jewish resistance was an inspiration for the ages. Hungary, in better circumstances and with
    the advantage of foreknowledge, is a sorry chapter in
    Jewish history.

  • How could anyone have been a preferential ‘guest’ of Bergen-Belsen?

    • Michal bat Ze'ev

      A “preferential guest” of Belsen was someone who had paid for a place on a train Kastner had organized with Eichmann. For payment of a high price, to be paid in gold or US dollars cash, one could get a place on this train which was supposed to go to Switzerland. Not only was payment required, one also had to be invited by Kastner. Places were limited; there were fewer than 2,000 places and Kastner filled them with relatives, in-laws, people from his hometown and certain Budapest Jewish Council bigwigs. After payment. The train to Switzerland began its trip loaded with rich, privileged Hungarian Jews. However, not everyone on the train’s route knew about the scheme and some Nazis not in the know, diverted the train and it ended up in Belsen. All the passengers were kept together at Belsen, where they did receive preferential treatment; they were allowed to eat the foods they had brought on the train. From Belsen, they urgently tried to reach Eichmann but they were eventually liberated with the rest of the camp by the Brits.

  • Fredric M. London

    So, I guess today’s BBC comes by it honestly.

  • Mihai-Robert Soran

    Professor Ladislaus Lob, Historian, writes:

    “Even if the BBC had warned everybody, it would not have helped the Jews in Hungary escape, resist or hide.
    Jews could quite easily have fled Hungary but nobody would have accepted them.
    People in Hungary did not know exactly what was happening in Auschwitz, but they knew something terrible was going on.
    They very often did not want to know because they could not do anything about it so they repressed it. They persuaded themselves that it could not happen in Hungary.”

    He calls himself “a Bergen-Belsen concentration camp survivor and author of Rezso Kasztner: The Daring Rescue of Hungarian Jews – A Survivor’s Account”.

    He’s manipulating history. Kasztner and the Judenrat have on full purpose REFUSED to warn the Hungarian Jews and Jewish communities although they had the DIRECT REPORT of two Jews who fled AUSCHWITZ because their main interest was to get out the richest or most renowned Jewish families through a deal with Eichmann for millions the Germans (and … you may imagine who who also cashed in …) got from the 1700 Jews offered the opportunity to leave in peace.

  • Mihai-Robert Soran

    BBC certainly has no blood on its hands. And certainly could have acted better. But the Zionist leader Simon Wise and people like Rezzö Kasztner, Hungarian Jewish “Judenraete” and Zionist leader had blood on their hands, much, very much …
    Largest part of my family perished due to Rezso Kasztner’s betrayal and cold-blooded inner Jewish and Zionist policies. This is a fact, especially since my grandfather and him were working partners and my family didn’t leave in time Hungary because of Kasztner’s intrigues, exploitation of his personal acquaintances with Eichmann and other high ranking SS officers and false promises which were made for large financial advantage.
    The author did what he can – as many other privileged, well situated Jews and Zionists from the Hungarian elite who got tickets out of the Holocaust, on board of a train very different from the trains heading for Auschwitz gas chambers and Co.
    Kasztner and his gang were the most hideous Hungarian Jews known to history. And the book belongs into a recycling bin

  • Mihai-Robert Soran

    Pro. Ladislaus L̦b is not a Bergen-Belsen camp survivor Рas claimed (b y himself) in the BBC article. He was a PREFERENTIAL GUEST, one of more than 1,600 rich Jews that were housed in Bergen-Bergen for five months , waiting for the closure of the Kasztner business with Eichmann, before being sent with a large, long train to Switzerland.
    And Kasztner was the biggest Hungarian Jewish criminal. He has “sent” 10% (600,000) of the 6 million WORLDWIDE Holocaust Jewish victims into the gas and fire death by not warning them just in order to save 0,2% of the 800,000 Hungarian Jews.

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