From class registers to memorial walls: Sources used for the reconstruction of deportation lists

Szeged’s Jewish community in Hungary has a rich cultural and historical heritage dating back two centuries. Like most Jewish cities in Europe, much of the Szeged Jewish population was utterly destroyed in the Holocaust. As a major regional centre in southern Hungary, the city of Szeged was the main deportation centre for the surrounding villages (Csongrád County) and parts of current northern Serbia (Bačka region) at that time under Hungarian occupation. Approximately 2000 Jews living -east-north of the city of Novi Sad in Bačka were ultimately transported to Auschwitz in April-May 1944 via Szeged. In June 1944, about 8600 people, including all the Jews of the surrounding cities and villages, were deported from Szeged in only three days. The first train went to Auschwitz, with most victims being murdered. The second train was uncoupled, with half going to Auschwitz and half to the Strasshof labour camp near Vienna, while the third train was sent to Strasshof too, with most of the Jews surviving. 

Much of the archival material of the Szeged and Novi Sad Jewish Communities stayed intact. Recently, in 2018-19, the documents of these archives were catalogued, indexed and partly digitised, including the list of ghettoisation and lists of survivors. In an international project funded by the Claims Conference (in 2020-21), all available records are compiled to build a database and identify all the victims, ca. 10600 Jews deported from or via Szeged. The project aims to integrate all available data, including written and oral testimonies and memoirs, to find patterns and to combine personal stories with big data to reconstruct the happenings of May-June 1944. The main outcome of this work and research will be a database with all the names and personal data of the deportees with the attempt to also reconstruct who was deported with which train. One of the project’s goals is to offer innovative solutions for the methodological developments related to the research process and provide a valuable framework for novel directions in Holocaust research. The database will be accessible through the webpage of USHMM and

The third phase of the project (2022-23), funded by IHRA, involves creating a digital memorial monument of the victims and a multilayered view of the Jewish communities of the Szeged and Bačka regions prior and during the period of World War II (1939-1945). The monument will be a living archive inviting family members, friends, historians and visitors to share and document their memories and stories to ensure that the Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust will always be remembered. The monument will feature images, links, videos, and documents. To achieve this, the project team will utilize the research conducted previously and will gather as much personal information on the individuals as possible, in the hope of including a list and a personal profile for each deported Jew from the Szeged-Bačka region who perished during the Holocaust with the placing of events against a timeline. The individual profiles will allow visitors to conduct more personal searches and in-depth research based on various criteria, e.g. occupations, family relations, age, official religion (religion as marked in the official registries), or place of residence. When collecting adequate and comprehensive data, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of detailed, relevant primary sources. 

In our case, documents about deportations and survivors’ lists from smaller villages are lacking, therefore other types of material, such as information about their family, property, professional career photographs can help us obtain a fuller picture of the survivors. To overcome these challenges, we use alternative sources, such as school records, vital registers, oral and written testimonies, newspaper articles and even the memorial walls of the particular places. The documents stored in the archives of the Szeged and the Novi Sad Jewish Communities are the last remaining witnesses of a bygone era. It is our moral obligation to preserve and analyze them by means of modern technology from as many aspects and angles as possible and thereby commemorate perished membersof these communities.


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