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February 4, 2016 2:41 pm

Holocaust Survivors Sue Hungary in US Court Over Nazi Cooperation

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The arrival of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.  Fourteen Hungarian Holocaust survivors have filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. against the Hungarian government. Photo: The German National Archive via Wikimedia Commons.

The arrival of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Fourteen Hungarian Holocaust survivors have filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. against the Hungarian government. Photo: The German National Archive via Wikimedia Commons. – Fourteen Hungarian Holocaust survivors have filed a class action lawsuit in the US against the Hungarian government and its national train company for cooperation with the Nazis, complicity in the deportation of more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews, and confiscation of property.

Currently, Hungary does not compensate Holocaust survivors or their heirs, nor has the country ever been prosecuted for collaborating with Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

Six of the plaintiffs currently live in Israel, while the others live in the US, Canada, and Australia. The federal court initially rejected the lawsuit, but that ruling was overruled last week on appeal, sending the lawsuit back to the US court.

“We did not establish a sum, but in actuality it will amount to billions of dollars. This is basically a class action lawsuit. If we win, a fund under the court’s supervision with a mechanism that will inform every Holocaust survivor and their families will be established, and then the court will make sure the money is distributed according to a formula that it will determine,” said Israeli-American lawyer Marc Zell, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs and is also a relative of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

“This is a large and important lawsuit that arrives 71 years after the war. A relatively large amount of Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their descendants live in Israel. There were attempts in the past to get reparations from Nazi criminals in Hungary, but this case is unique because this is the first time the Hungarian government is being sued. Usually the Nazi crimes occurred in areas where there was no independent regime, such as Poland. There, the Nazis established their own regime and they are the ones who committed the crimes, as well as Poles who cooperated with them,” explained the lawyer.

Zell described the Hungarian government as “antisemitic from the start” during the Holocaust.

“In our lawsuit, we also mentioned the Hungarians’ activities in 1941 — before the big deportation,” he said. “They expelled 20,000 Jews from Hungary proper into the hands of the Nazis, and all of them were shot to death in Ukraine. They initiated this, without the Germans asking them to do it. The Hungarians wanted to get rid of the Jews. In 1944, the remaining Jews were deported by the Hungarians to Auschwitz and Mauthausen in trains, and basically they were sent to their deaths.”

The lawsuit was filed in America, said Zell, “because the US has a law that gives the option for individuals to file a claim for damage caused to them by a foreign government or a foreign government’s company.”

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  • Torontonian

    Hungary was not ‘collaborating with the Nazis. On March 12, 1944, Hungary was occupied by the Nazis (Operation Margarethe). The ghettoization and subsequent deportation of Jews into Nazi concentration camps started in April 1944.

    After the war, Hungary was occupied, systematically oppressed and robbed for decades by the Soviets, which left the country in poverty. Now, that the country is trying to get on its feet, comes this lawsuit.

    Under these circumstances, to claim collective guilt and try to punish a whole nation is nothing short of hate filled vengeance, and has nothing to do with justice.

    Those bringing the class action lawsuit are more interested in fanning the flames of hate than arriving at justice.

    • Moshe

      Torontonian, you forgot the so called “Jewish Laws” that was not forced on Horthy or any of his governments by any foreign power.
      And ghettoization started earlier than you state it.

      Back then Jews didn’t “only” lose their lives they lost their properties, too. For example my grandpa or father was never compensated – although that is clearly the fault of the commie system that followed the war.

      Having said that I don’t agree with this lawsuit either. It is too late and expects the impossible. Besides, it tries to punish peoples who have nothing to do with the Shoah.

      • Torontonian

        The anti-Jewish laws in Hungary had nothing to do with ghettoization and/or deportation to concentration camps, and as such they were less draconian than the anti-Jewish laws in France, for example. Yet, France turned out to be the great defender of freedom and Hungary was turned into a pariah. Go figure …

        Yes, it is terrible what happened AFTER the German occupation.

        Millions of Hungarians had their goods confiscated also, and they never got compensated either. 700 000 thousand ended up in Soviet Gulags, 300 000 died there and many more after their return home. Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, tortured or killed. No one seeks justice for them.

        Hungary was robbed and pillaged for forty years by the Soviets. Now that it starts to stand up, you would like to punish those who had nothing to do with those crimes and neither did benefit from it.

        Knowing this well, this has nothing to do with justice. This is about hate-filled vengeance.

  • Peter Tarjan

    My maternal grandparents, two of my father’s sisters were taken in cattle cars from Pecs to Birkenau. Only one of his sisters escaped the gas chamber, who returned alive and raised me as I became an orphan at the age of eight.
    While the trains were taking more than a half million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Hungarian officials allowed the looting of the valuables left behind the deportees.

    My grandmothers’ postcard survived from the time of the German occupation until almost the time of their deportations. She described how their household goods were inventoried and taken into “storage.” When their daughter, my maternal aunt returned in Pecs in April 1945, there was nothing to be recovered. Everything my grandparents and other relatives had owned was systematically stolen through official acts.

    • Torontonian

      I am sorry about the inhuman suffering you and your family were subjected to. This cannot be justified, nor can it be undone. And I believe there is no restitution that could rectify it, either. Holding the guilty responsible? Yes! By all means! But they should be guilty and responsible. Punishing otherwise completely innocent people simply because they are, in this case, Hungarian but otherwise completely innocent, is simply amounts to hate-filled vengeance. Nothing more, nothing less.

      As you rightly point out, Hungary was occupied by the Nazis on March 12, 1944. The ghettoization and deportation of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps started after this. Prior to that many Jews fled from neighbouring countries to Hungary, seeking refuge.

      The goods and property confiscated from the Jewish population simply disappeared during the 45 years of looting and pillaging of Soviet occupation.

      Now you want the stolen and confiscated goods back, but from who? From those who themselves were robbed, humiliated, tortured, killed or otherwise oppressed, and who otherwise did not take a cent from what belonged to the Jewish population?

      Remember, 700 000 Hungarians were deported to the Soviet Gulags. Of those, 300 000 died in the camps, and many more after returning home a broken man.

      During the Communist regime, millions of Hungarians’ goods were confiscated and stolen, and hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, tortured and killed in Hungary.

      Now, when this country, after decades of oppression and suffering, finally starts to find its footing, you want that people who had nothing to do with the deportation of the Jews of Hungary, and did not see a cent from their goods, you want them to pay restitution? From what?

      If you want to fan the flames of hate, you can do this. But that will be that, Hate. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Ezra

    As a son of a Jewish Czech/Hungarian Auschwitz survivor, I am glad to know that the spotlight is being shed on the Hungarians, and their culpability in sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to their death. I know the stories first hand as my mother, two aunts and an uncle who survived Auschwitz experienced the hatred and antisemitism that Hungarians directed against the Hungarian/Czech Jews. If nothing else, we need to hold the Hungarians accountable for their crimes even if the plaintiffs never collect one penny. We need to do this in the name of our brothers and sisters who were murdered during the Holocaust.

    • Torontonian

      There were Hungarians who were culpable for the ghettoization and deportation of the Hungarian Jewish population. Bu those were put in power by Nazi occupiers after the march 12th of 1944.

      Which Hungarians do you want to hold accountable? The ones who had nothing to do with it? Or is it guilt by association? Or is the charge collective guilt, with which the Jews were accused of in history?

      Please try to make a distinction of holding responsible those who are guilty, and the pursuit of blind vengeance. The former is a first step to reconciliation, the second is about generating and fanning the flames of hate.