Szeged's Jewish

In June 1944, five Jewish leaders were sitting in a shed in the brick factory of Szeged and, by German command, made lists of their fellow Jews. Without knowing the purpose of the lists, they decided who ought to get a chance of survival. The lists created by them got lost. In a research project in 2020-21, an international research team led by the author of the current article tries to reconstruct the detailed lists of passengers deported from Szeged in the last days of June 1944. The research is done based on archival material and testimonies, complemented by state-of-the-art data science. The current paper describes the events around the deportation and the process of the reconstruction of the deportation list(s).

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 were destroyed in the Holocaust. The Hungarian authorities deported 440000 Hungarian Jews in less than two months (Braham and Tibori Szabó 2007, 1:7-92), and in many cases, no records have survived on the deportation, nor on the Hungarian side, nor at the destination (which in most of the cases was Auschwitz). The majority of the deported were killed within 24 hours upon arrival, with no records (Rees 2017, 392). 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) that time under Hungarian occupation. Approximately 2000 Jews living near Novi Sad in Bačka were ultimately transported to Auschwitz or Strasshof in April-May 1944 via Szeged. In June 1944, approximately 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, while the third train was sent to Strasshof too, with most of the Jews surviving. The setup of the three transports resulted in the fact that the Jewry of Szeged was the most intact Jewish community in the Hungarian countryside with an exceptionally high, an estimated 50-60% rate of survival, including babies, children, and elderly. In the case of Szeged, this also means that a relatively large number of testimonies, memoirs and from people of all ages and backgrounds is available.

Several questions can be raised regarding both the process of the deportations and the reconstruction of the events. How were decisions made on who was to be transported with which train? How precise are the testimonies? Are the estimations of the number of deportees accurate? Were cases of birth and death kept track of in the transit camps? What raised the chance of survival in the case of Szeged’s Jewry? Is there a correlation between certain aspects, such as occupation and the rates of survival? Can the network of Szeged’s Jewry be reconstructed based on the documents related to the Holocaust?

The current article describes the methodology of an ongoing research project conducted in the Szeged Jewish Community describing how missing vital sources on the Holocaust such as the non-existing lists of deportation can be reconstructed based on different sources, such as the newly catalogued, indexed and partly digitised archives of the Szeged and Novi Sad Jewish communities,[2] the regional and national archives, the already existing background literature, oral and written testimonies from several sources, various Holocaust-related online databases as well as genealogical sites. The project aims to identify and recreate the names of those 10500 Holocaust victims deported from or via Szeged and reconstruct who was deported with which train by using, merging, and reconciling every available source. The project also aims to find patterns and combine personal stories and big data to reconstruct the happenings of May-June 1944.