Crime and Punishment?
The Hungarian Gendarmerie during and after the Holocaust
Keywords:Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie, Holocaust, deportations, punishment, criminal proceedings
The Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie was one of the most important state institutions be tween 1881 and 1945. Its task was to preserve law and order in the countryside, to prevent peasant uprisings and Socialist agitation in the villages. In 1944, it also became the task the gendarmerie to concentrate and deport the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. The contempo rary documents so far researched as well as the papers of the people’s court trials seem to clearly support the supposition that the gendarmerie, from the lowliest patrols to the gen darmerie district headquarters and to the detective subdivisions, readily took part in the collection and then the deportation of Jews. If deemed necessary, the trainees of the gendarmerie schools and training battalions assisted in the detection and collection.
The first question I attempt to answer in this paper is why Adolf Eichmann and his ‘specialists’ primarily trusted the Hungarian gendarmerie in the spring and summer of 1944, when the Jews in Hungary were deprived of their property, herded into ghettoes and collection camps, and finally deported. This fundamental question thus relates to the crime, i.e. the deportation, and the role the gendarmerie played in the Holocaust. Second, I discuss the size of the gendarmerie, the number of those participating in the deportation, their connection to other agencies, above all the police and the administration, as well as their attitudes to ward the persecution of Jews and to deportations. Third, I investigate whether the gendarmes were cruel, as most of the survivors claim, or, on the contrary, whether they helped the per secuted, whether they protested and perhaps refused to obey orders, as former gendarmes claim, and as some people in Hungary are still trying to have the public believe. Finally, I investigate what they knew, what they could have known about the destination of the depor tation trains, and about the true, final end of the deportations.
My other fundamental question relates to the punishment, to the accountability. What was the extent of the gendarmerie’s punishment, and how did it proceed? Was it a political show, or was their participation in the deportation the real reason for their punishment? How was evidence collected during the proceedings of the screening committees, the people’s prose cutor and the people’s court? Was torture resorted to, were the charges based on statements of witnesses, and/or were contemporary documents also attached to the indictments? The comparison to the criminal proceedings of other war criminals will be another important aspect of analysis.
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