Germany to compensate Budapest Holocaust survivors

Germany will pay the first reparations to some 6,500 Holocaust survivors in Budapest, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced on Wednesday. The restitution comes more than 60 years after Jews in the Hungarian city were crammed into a ghetto and shot on the banks of the Danube River.

Germany to compensate Budapest Holocaust survivors
A girl stands by the Danube River on Holocaust Memorial Day. Photo: DPA

Previous reparation programmes did not include some Holocaust survivors in Budapest because the Nazi occupation there did not last long enough to qualify them for compensation. Germany also initially only paid reparations to Eastern European Jews who were deported to Germany.

Under a deal with the German Ministry of Finance, survivors who currently reside in Eastern Europe and have not been paid under other programmes are now entitled to a one-time payment of €1,900 ($2,930) from a €12.3 million reparations fund.

“This is a long overdue gesture to the survivors of Budapest,” Claims Conference spokesman Georg Heuberger said on Wednesday, praising German authorities for closing what he called “an important gap” in compensation to victims of the Holocaust.

Despite its relatively short duration there, the Holocaust “was in no German-occupied country more effectively and industrially organized than in Hungary,” Heuberger said.

Some 400,000 of the 725,000 Jews in Hungary were killed between the Nazi invasion in March 1944 and the Soviet army’s liberation of the country 11 months later, on Feb. 13, 1945.

German forces occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. By the next day, Adolf Eichmann was in Budapest to arrange the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz – but instead of deporting the Jews of Budapest immediately, as Eichmann had intended, the Nazis began with the Jewish population of the provinces. On June 16, some 200,000 Jews in Budapest were moved into a 2,000-house ghetto.

The pro-Nazi Hungarian Arrow Cross Party came to power in October 1944, killing 10,000 to 20,000 Jews in pogroms in Budapest. Another 20,000 Jews were shot on the banks of the Danube River, while 50,000 Hungarian Jews were force-marched to Germany. Some 7,000 people were shot along the way, while 2,000 died of exhaustion.

The Claims Conference, established in 1951, administers funding from unclaimed Jewish assets and reparations paid by the legal successors of Nazi states. Conference officials said they are issuing claims forms to 5,790 survivors believed to be eligible under the new program. Survivors who believe they are eligible but do not receive a claim form are encouraged to reply, the Claims Conference said.

The application deadline is August 6, 2009.