So much for the Holocaust as extortion racket. An article in The Forward proves otherwise. Last week, the Hungarian government finally agreed a compensation scheme for surviving relatives of Hungarian Jews murdered during the Second World War. The amount? For each relative that died, just $1,800. An earlier program paid out just $150 per parent and $70 per sibling.
And how much is your life insurance?
Contrary to popular myth, the deportation of Hungarian Jews in the spring and early summer of 1944 was a crime carried out largely by the Hungarian government, not the German occupation force. Eichmann and his helpers were on hand to 'supervise', but the men in uniforms who herded Hungarian citizens onto a mix of German and Hungarian trains belonged to Hungarian Gendarmerie. So the fact that payments of some small kind have been finally made acknowledges this responsibility.
Because of property expropriations made by Eastern Bloc countries on a class basis, as well as the expropriation of property owned by ethnic Germans expelled after 1945, many East European countries have been extremely reluctant to compensate survivors for loss of their homes and businesses. Many Hungarian Jews will have received compensation payments as survivors of Nazi slave labour camps.
Yet as German historians Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly showed in their 2002 book Das letzte Kapitel, the proceeds of 'Magyarisation' were the main motivation for the Horthy regime to cooperate with the SS in deporting over 430,000 Hungarian Jews before the transports stopped in July 1944. Gerlach and Aly's claims have been substantianted by the work of Hungarian historians, who strongly emphasise material greed as the prime cause of Hungarian complicity in genocide.
Aly has since gone on to stir up controversy over the conclusions of 2005's Hitlers Volksstaat, which argues that the expropriation of Jewish property across Europe helped fund part of the Nazi war effort. By levying burdensome occupation costs, the Nazi regime brought about a 'sparing of the German taxpayer' (Schonung des deutschen Steuerzahlers - the phrase was Göring’s from November 1941). In today's terms, the amount of money seized by Nazi Germany was much less than the amount paid out in compensation by the Federal Republic of Germany since 1954.
Quite aside from exposing Denier claims of 'Holocaust greed' as fiction, the Hungarian case poses another interesting challenge to Denier myths. The 'Hungarian Action' from May to July 1944 brought over 430,000 Jews on more than 140 trains to Auschwitz, of whom 110,000 were selected as slave labourers and transported onwards to practically every single concentration camp in occupied Europe. Over 320,000, however, were selected for the gas chambers and murdered.
Proving a rightful claim to the Hungarian government's compensation scheme will be the work of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference. I've seen their research staff at work; it is a job which requires considerable documentation and proof. And therein lies the rub.
No matter how hard Holocaust Deniers try, no amount of fancy aerial photo-interpretation, disputing of eyewitnesses or claims of forensic improbability will get around the fact that the trail for hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews went cold at Auschwitz. Where did they go? Hungary was a Soviet ally after 1945. No, they did not emigrate; they were murdered.
Of 825,000 Jews in 'Greater Hungary' before 1944, approximately 500,000 died, at Kamenets-Podolsk in 1941, inside Hungarian Army forced labour battalions and during the occupation, as well as in Auschwitz or other German concentration camps. Around 300,000 survived, the majority of these escaped deportation. Today, after border changes and emigration, especially in the wake of the 1956 Uprising,there are less than 100,000 Jews in Hungary. But by no means all will be able to make a claim. Since the claims are being paid only for those whose relatives died, many tens of thousands of Jews who resided in Budapest, which was not as affected by the deportations as provincial Hungary, will be automatically excluded.
It will be interesting to see what the take-up rate for this compensation scheme turns out to be. So much, methinks, for the extortion racket.