Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz and Beyond: An Exchange

Samuel Crowell's essay "Beyond Auschwitz" (in the March-April 2001 Journal) is spoiled by his unfounded assertion that "some portion of non-working Hungarian Jews could [emphasis added] have been killed," but that their number "could not have been more than a few tens of thousands at most." While Hungarian Jews may well have been executed for real or alleged violations of camp regulations, the killing of "a few tens of thousands" could only have happened as part of a limited extermination policy. Obviously, the first victims of such a policy would have been those unable to work, but as Crowell admits, many such Hungarian Jews, including children and old people, survived the war at Auschwitz and other camps -- so who were the mysterious "tens of thousands" who "could have been killed"?

Because Crowell dismisses the gas chambers, such mass killings would have required other methods, most likely shooting. How is it that there is no eyewitness testimony at all to such mass shootings?

Crowell's claim that up to 55 percent of the deported Hungarian Jews may have perished before the war's end is equally absurd. Raul Hilberg, who supports the gassing and mass extermination claims, puts the number of Hungarian Jewish victims at 180,000, which means that most Hungarian deportees must have survived. How then does Crowell, who rejects the gassing myth, arrive at his impossibly high percentage? In fact, no more than several tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews can possibly have died in the camps.

Well acquainted with the documents, and possessing remarkable linguistic skills, Crowell could contribute substantially to revisionist research. He should therefore refrain from making irresponsible statements that damage his credibility.

Jürgen Graf

The aim of "Beyond Auschwitz" was to derive some concrete indications about the fate of Hungarian Jews, whether from neutral sources or even those hostile to revisionism. These sources indicate beyond cavil that, assuming maximum deportations, about half of the Hungarians deported in the summer of 1944 survived the war, and that the Hungarian Jews who died, or were killed, at Auschwitz, could not realistically have exceeded 10 percent of those deported, as opposed to the 90 percent usually alleged.

Of course some will still consider these losses too high; but I see no reason to engage in special pleading for the lowest conceivable number. Part of the problem is the great difficulty in accurately establishing how many Hungarian Jews were actually deported, let alone the number who returned, the number who refused to declare themselves as Jews after the war, or the number who chose to emigrate. Clearly, Tamás Stark's estimates for these latter categories could be increased, but I see no reason to increase them without any evidence. Failing such arbitrary increases, we are left with large numbers of Hungarian Jews to account for.

On the other hand, the evidence that Szabolcs Szita and others provide indicates a very high death rate among camp inmates during the last several months of the war, due to epidemics and starvation, Allied bombing attacks, and shootings during forced marches. By my calculations, Hungarian Jews could have been the largest component among Jews in the concentration camp system at that time, so it follows that their losses were probably devastating. Naturally, this supposition could be wrong, but in the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary, I see no reason to abandon it.

The same logic suggests that considerable numbers of Hungarian Jews may have died at Auschwitz. There is plenty of testimonial evidence as to the killing of Auschwitz inmates incapable of work, either by shooting or injection. Unlike the gassing claims, these allegations are not incredible, and thus ought not to be rejected out of hand. We know, too, that 70,000 people perished at Auschwitz through 1943. In 1944, by my projections, twice as many people passed through the camp as in prior years. Therefore, to assume the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz in 1944 is completely unremarkable.

Finally, Hilberg's estimated Hungarian losses are based on pre-war Hungary: these figures are not useful unless compared to his numbers for Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. The combined total should yield figures comparable to those of standard historians.

I think it is important in revisionist research to be willing to state one's conclusions conservatively and fairly. It may be that to concede a large number of deaths among Jews, or, in this case, Hungarian Jews, may damage the credibility of a revisionist among some other revisionists. On the other hand, a refusal to concede severe losses among the Jewish people, even if such projections lack the final balance of proof, will appear even more irresponsible and damaging to one's credibility to the vast majority who are not revisionists. It is this majority, I believe, that should be our audience.

Samuel Crowell

From The Journal of Historical Review, May/June 2001 (Vol. 20, No. 3), page 48.