This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the Summer of 1944, the Summer of D Day, and the beginning of the end of World War Two. The world just celebrated the D Day anniversary with much deserved pomp and gratitude, honoring the sacrifice of the survivors, and the memories of the fallen. 1944 holds other anniversaries as well, ones much less worthy of celebration but just as important to commemorate. 1944 was also the worst summer of the Holocaust, with the gas chambers at Auschwitz working almost around the clock to eliminate trainloads of Hungarian Jews. By the spring of 1944, the Germans had been in full retreat in the East for almost a year, and had lost Italy and North Africa. Hungary, which up until this point had been an Axis ally, was attempting to make a separate peace with the Allies. When word got to Berlin about this betrayal, Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944 and instituted a friendly government. The Nazis also sent Adolf Eichmann to Budapest to begin deportation of the Hungary’s Jewish and Roma populations. Until the German invasion, the Jews in Hungary had been protected from deportation and although they were subject to significant restrictions, the Jewish community remained largely intact in Hungary. This changed dramatically with the German invasion.
The Nazis actually diverted trains from the war in the east to Hungary to deport as many Jews as they could as quickly as possible. This is a crucial point, and it is worth reiterating: the Nazis diverted trains from bringing supplies to the war in the East (and wounded back to Germany), from a war they were already losing. They hampered their ability to continue to fight a war, losing German lives in the process, to be able to deport and kill more Jews. It is important to note that the Germans did not divert all or even most of their trains away from the war effort, the highest estimates are 5% of their train capacity; but 5% is important when you have men dying at the front for lack of supplies. That 5% became even more important after June 6, 1944, when Operation Overlord, or D Day, was launched in the west.
Just 2 weeks after D Day, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration, the largest offensive of the war. Bagration was wildly successful, hurling the Nazis back toward Poland almost immediately. Even after this latest set back, the Nazis continued the massive deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.