EHRI Fellow Adam Gellert's Research into the 1941 Deportations of Hungarian Jews

Tuesday, 21 January, 2014

Adam Gellert is one of the 11 EHRI fellows of 2013. Adam is a jurist and an independent researcher on the history of the Holocaust in Hungary. He received his Master’s degree in international law from the University of Amsterdam and has been an expert in several Hungarian war crimes cases. During his EHRI fellowship, he conducted research on the 1941 deportation and massacre of Hungarian Jews in and around Kamenets-Podolsk. He was happy to answer a few questions about his fellowship at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich and experiences as an EHRI fellow.

What is your background and what are your areas of interest in terms of historical research?

I am a jurist specializing in international criminal law and a public advocate in crimes against humanity cases in Hungary. Three years ago, I initiated criminal proceedings against former high-ranking Hungarian communist officials and drafted a piece of legislation on crimes against humanity. Later on I started collecting and presenting evidence against László Csatáry, a former police officer and commander of the Kosice ghetto. These cases stirred quite a debate in Hungary. However my penchant for unearthing the past dates back to 2009 and this is why I applied for an EHRI fellowship. 

What has been the focus of your research?

It is one of the largely forgotten aspects of Hungary’s war time history. It concerns the deportation of 20.000 Jews who had been living in the country for decades.  In July 1941 subsequent to the invasion of the USSR, the Hungarian government approved the expulsion of a limited number of “foreign” or “Galician” Jews. However authorities in Sub-Carpathia – a region adjacent to newly occupied Soviet territories – embarked on a massive deportation operation and forcibly expelled thousands of local Jews.

They had to leave behind everything, were only allowed to carry small amount of money. Entire families were loaded onto trains regardless of age and sex, transported to the border and hauled over on military trucks. Their final destination was a no man’s land across the Dniester river. At that time chaos reigned over this territory. Armed local bands were roving about and German killing units were sweeping across the area. Although promised by the Hungarian Army, they were left here without food, shelter or protection. Hundreds of them died of hunger and thirst throughout July and August. Due to the shortage of food supplies and security considerations, German military authorities tried to ship them back, or at least provide them with return papers.

However on August 25th, HSSPF Friedrich Jeckeln vowed to “solve the problem” by his own means once and for all. About 23.600 people, including local Jews were slaughtered in bomb craters just outside of Kamenets-Podolsk. It was the largest, five-digit massacre in the history of the unfolding Holocaust.  The deportations were finally stopped by the Hungarian government in mid-August but, although with sufficient knowledge of the consequences, they prevented the return of the deportees. 

How has the EHRI fellowship helped you?

Enormously. German documents and post-war testimonies of the perpetrators are one of the main sources of my research. 

How much time did you spend in Munich?

Actually, I divided my stay in Germany. As it was my initial plan to make use of my time as much as I can, I spent three weeks in Munich sifting through various collections at the top-notch research library of the Institut für Zeigeschichte. Then I was doing research in the federal archives in Ludwigsburg for an additional two weeks. Also I was fortunate enough to get access to some of the files kept by the Federal Prosecution Service in Munich and visited the City Library as well. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of Giles Bennett at IfZ. He was a perfect host. He showed me how to manouvre within the labyrinth of archives. His help was indispensable to get by most efficiently.

Where do you intend to go with your research after completing your Fellowship?

Building on this research, presently I am preparing a comprehensive article on the subject with a grant offered by the Tauber Fund within the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.

How is your research going at the moment and what are your plans for the future?

Thanks to the fellowship my research gained new impetus. During my stay in München I widened my initial research plans and strayed into the area of the deportation of Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. Following the footsteps of Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly, I realized that there is a lot of new and mostly untouched material lying around in German archives. Collating this huge amount of information with Hungarian documents, Hungarian scholars may be able to rewrite many aspects of the Hungarian Holocaust. Right now, however, I am finishing the manuscript of my first book. Building on Hungarian and Serb sources, the book is going to chronicle the massacres committed by Hungarian forces in and around Novi Sad in January 1942. 

How do you see the fellowship program?  

As other junior historians from Hungary received EHRI fellowships (Linda Margittai, Izabella Sulyok), I can safely say, EHRI makes a great impact on Hungary’s recent Vergangenheitsbewältigung. And in Hungary we have a lot to catch up with.

Read more about Adam and the other EHRI fellows 2013.