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Handing Over Jews

In response to:

The Jew Hater from the November 16, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

Robert O. Paxton’s article [NYR, November 16, 2006] is typically excellent. One detail, however, deserves comment. He writes that France was “the only case in Western Europe where Jews were handed over to the Nazis from areas without any German occupation forces, and an example matched in Eastern Europe only in Bulgaria and Hungary.” This contention is not true; the independent Slovak state also delivered Jews to death camps in German-occupied areas.

Claude Cahn

Budapest, Hungary

To the Editors:

Robert O. Paxton in “The Jew Hater” writes: “France…[is] the only case in Western Europe where Jews were handed over to the Nazis from areas without any German occupation forces…an example matched in Eastern Europe only in Bulgaria and Hungary.”

Hungary has enough atrocities on its account without mistakenly carelessly burdening it with this false accusation. My school year ended abruptly on March 19, 1944, in Budapest because the arriving German army requisitioned the building and grounds for its stables. Their 600,000 plus Jewish victims had indeed been herded and handed to them by fellow Hungarians, but only after the German occupation began.

Arthur Nádas

Budapest, Hungary

To the Editors:

Robert Paxton in his review entitled “The Jew Hater” makes an unforgivable mistake by stating that France was “the only case in Western Europe where Jews were handed over to the Nazis from areas without any German occupation forces, and an example matched in Eastern Europe only in Bulgaria and Hungary.”

Bulgaria was a shining exception (together with Denmark) to the dismal record of all other European countries in terms of their treatment of their Jewish compatriots. This subject has been covered in a number of books, including Tzvetan Todorov’s The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust, which was actually reviewed in your pages on May 31, 2001. To group Bulgaria with Hungary—a country with one of the worst records in Europe in terms of virulent anti-Semitism—is a travesty.

Carl Djerassi

Professor of Chemistry Emeritus

Stanford University

Palo Alto, California

Robert O. Paxton replies:

The Nazi murder of the Jews of Europe took place mostly, though not entirely, in areas directly occupied by German forces. Some cooperative governments turned Jews over to the Nazis from areas that were not under direct German occupation.

Vichy France, notoriously, in the case I examined in my review, volunteered in May 1942 to hand over to the Nazis 10,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Central Europe who had been interned in camps in the unoccupied zone of southern France. The transfer took place in July–August 1942, and aroused voluble criticism from some French eyewitnesses and clergymen. This was the only such transfer in Western Europe.

In Eastern Europe, several amenable governments handed Jews over to the Nazis, usually but not always foreign Jews, from areas outside direct German occupation.

As Claude Cahn rightly points out, my list should have included newly independent Slovakia. Between March and July 1942 the authoritarian Catholic regime of Mgr. Josef Tiso rounded up 54,000 of the Jews of Slovakia and placed them in Nazi hands.

In Hungary, the regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, refused to deport the Jews of Hungary as long as his country remained unoccupied by German forces, as Arthur Nádas correctly notes in his letter. Before then, however, when Hungarian armed forces took part alongside the Germans in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hungarian authorities expelled some 20,000 Jewish refugees without Hungarian nationality to eastern Galicia where they were murdered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen.

The Bulgarian case was far more complicated than Professor Djerassi allows. The government of King Boris III, formally allied with the Axis, instituted an ascending spiral of discriminatory legislation against Jews, beginning in summer 1940 (totally unlike Denmark), and in April 1941 facilitated the German invasion of the Balkans. As a reward Bulgaria received control over Thrace and Macedonia, taken from Greece and Serbia. In March 1943 King Boris acceded to Nazi pressure to deport 20,000 Jews. The plan was to take as many as possible from Thrace and Macedonia, making up the rest with Jews from within Bulgaria proper. Protests from the public and from parliamentary and clerical authorities (along with the changing tide of the war) persuaded King Boris to cancel these deportations, but not before all 11,343 of the Jews of Thrace and Macedonia had been rounded up by Bulgarian authorities and sent to Treblinka and Auschwitz. All this is clear enough in Tzvetan Todorov’s The Fragility of Goodness, a book that Professor Djerassi appears to have read selectively. While King Boris’s change of heart is commendable, Bulgaria belongs indisputably among the states that handed over Jews to the Nazis from areas without direct German occupation.

I might also have included in my list Romania, where popular anti-Semitism reinforced the state’s restrictions on Jews before 1940. Even though the dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu eventually declined to deport some Jews of Romanian citizenship from within his country’s heartland, the Romanian army deported and massacred thousands of Jews from the territories it occupied after its invasion of the Soviet Union in summer 1941.

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