Secret Details of Nazi Offer to Release Hungarian Jews Revealed by JTA Correspondent
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Secret Details of Nazi Offer to Release Hungarian Jews Revealed by JTA Correspondent

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The brazen attempt by the Gestapo to barter the lives of 400,000 Jews in Hungary for relaxation of the Allied blockade of occupied Europe was made at Istanbul last month and received extensive consideration by the British and American governments, it can be revealed now.

Details of the attempt were divulged to this correspondent at that time in confidence, with the warning that publication then would be harmful. Since the substance of the story has now been published, the writer feels free to fill in hitherto undisclosed and important details. The full story, of course, cannot be told until after Germany’s defeat and the Nazi motives for the strange offer, which they must have known would never be accepted, may never be learned.

The offer was carried to Istanbul from Budapest by two men, one of whom was a reputable Jew whose family had been taken as hostages to ensure his return when the mission was completed. He is now being held on British territory. The two men arrived at Istanbul early in June to establish contact with refugee rescue organizations, to which they disclosed the Gestapo proposals.

All that can be revealed of these at this time is that the Nazis offered to cease deporting Jews from Hungary to Poland for extermination and agree to permit them to remain in Hungary providing the Allies modified the blockade, permitting the Germans to import a specified quantity of rolling stock and other needed supplies.

The proposal contained the warning that if it was not accepted the deportation and extermination of Jews would be accelerated. It was communicated to the Allied authorities and was the subject of a series of conferences in Cairo in the middle of June, when detailed reports went to the British Foreign Office and the State Department. Representatives of the United States War Refugee Board, American Jewish relief organizations and the Jewish Agency for Palestine participated in the Cairo discussions with Lord Moyne, British Resident Minister of State in the Middle East, and other British officials.


Ira A. Hirschmann, of New York, who had just recently returned to Istanbul after reporting to the State Department on refugee work in Turkey, flew back to Cairo to confer with Lord Moyne and British Middle East authorities and returned to Istanbul after a two-day stay.

Moshe Shertok, political secretary of the Jewish Agency, to whom the proposals had been communicated from Istanbul, came to Cairo and conferred with Lord Moyne. Then, on agreement with the British authorities, Shertok flew to London on June 25 to discuss the entire question with the Foreign Office.

The strictest secrecy was observed at the time in fear that the Nazis might use publication as an excuse to intensify measures against the helpless Jews. It was never considered, either in Cairo or Istanbul, that there was any possibility that the Nazi offer would be accepted since the Allies could never agree to weaken the blockade and since there was no assurance that the Germans would keep their end of the bargain. The opinion was expressed that to make one concession of this nature would only induce the Nazis to make further blackmail demands.

Why the Nazis should have made the offer remains a puzzle. They were fairly certain in advance that it would not be accepted. Quite probably their chief aim was to provide an additional source of embarrassment to the Allies and furnish propaganda material.

It is noteworthy that since the proposals were made both the British and American governments have stepped up their warnings to Hungary on the massacre of Jews.

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