Murder & Intrigue
March 1944 to December 1944
Germans tanks roll into Hungary
In March 1944 German troops marched into Budapest.
Although Hungary was allied to the Nazis, Hitler considered the country an unreliable partner, especially when they refused to deport some 760,000 Hungarian Jews.
While Jewish activist Joel Brandt was in Turkey trying to arrange a deal with the Allies, Hungarian Jews were being transported to Auschwitz. As a general rule photography was prohibited at Auschwitz, but a cameraman from the SS took these photographs of an arriving Hungarian transport
On April 25, 1944, SS officer Adolf Eichmann, famous for organizing the mass murder of Jews, held a meeting in Budapest with a Hungarian Jew named Joel Brandt. Brandt was a well-known, politically active member of the Jewish community. During the meeting, Eichmann made the surprising offer to sell him one million Hungarian Jews. Nazi Germany, Eichmann explained, was more interested in goods (trucks, in particular) than in money, and he wanted Brandt to travel abroad and connect with international authorities to broker a deal.
Shortly thereafter, on May 17, 1944, Eichmann allowed Brandt to leave Hungary. His mission was to see if the Allies would exchange ten thousand trucks for one million Jews. Brandt’s mission was urgent. The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz had already begun.
A couple of Germans were separating us. When he was looking at the old people he put to the right and the young people to the left. The right lane they took them right away to the gas chamber.
Morris Venezia, Hungarian Jewish prisoner, Auschwitz
Joel Brandt arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, and met representatives with ties to the Jewish leadership in Palestine. Brandt told them things were getting difficult for the Germans and they wanted to negotiate. He insisted Jerusalem be cabled immediately. The reaction from the room was noncommittal. Brandt was finally told to travel to Aleppo, Syria, where on June 11, 1944, he met with Moshe Shertok of the Jewish Agency. What he heard was bad news for the Jews of Hungary.
The British believed that the trucks the Nazis wanted to exchange for Jews was an attempt by Heinrich Himmler to split the Allies. According to the Nazi proposal, the trucks were to be used only on the Eastern Front, against the advancing Red Army.
Foreign Office, London
At the Foreign Office in London, the Brandt proposal was considered on May 31. The proposal was rejected because the idea of exchanging trucks for Jews was thought to be blackmail.
Soon after this decision, the Americans and Soviets also agreed not to negotiate with the Nazis.