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Hungary Mobilizes More Than 135,000 Jews for Labor Camps

September 9, 1940
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

From 135,000 to 150,000 Jews have been mobilized in the last six weeks by Hungarian authorities for services in special labor camps, it was revealed today by a reliable source close to the Government.

Though Hungary’s 1,000,000-man army has been slowly demchilzing since the Vienna arbitration, Jews have been called up for labor service at a constantly accelerated rate. It was estimated that 50,000 were called within the last 10 days. Cases even were reported of young Jews who were sent to labor camps 24 hours after their repass from the regular army.

So many Jews have been sent away from Budapest, that the capital’s business life has been disrupted. An estimated 35,000–one-third of the city’s male Jewish population are now working on bridge and road-building projects throughout the country.

Until recently, when Jews of all ages were called, men sent to labor camps were 40 to 60 years old, drawn largely from the middle class–such as merchants, bankers, doctors, and lawyers–the majority of whom were not fitted for hard, manual labor. Although many among them are reserve officers and world war veterans, the Jews in labor camps are officered exclusively by Gentiles.

While Gentile officers–especially the older generation–treat their Jewish charges with consideration this correspondent learned that younger officers bred to the anti-Semitic credo treat them as if they were prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, not soldiers in the Hungarian army. While 100,000 or more Gentiles are serving in labor battalions, too these man are from the working class and are used on construction for which their training fits them.

The Jews, however, are segregated in special camps and in many case are forced to build swimming pools, tennis courts or merely dig ditches across fields which they are then ordered to fill up again.

This correspondent was told that Gentiles in labor camps sooner or later were issued shoes, blankets and capes with the insignia "Munka"(labor) printed on their collars. The Jews were given nothing but food and housing and must furnish their own clothing, blankets, and knapsacks. Some of the Jewish camps are high up in the Carpathian mountains where the temperature is below freezing every night. So cold are these camps, that authorities permitted two Jews to return to Budapest to collect shoes and clothing.

The Jewish community contributed 25,000 pengos ($5,000) for 500 blankets, and 500 shoes. Railway authorities however, refused to transport these supplies to the nearest terminus. The Jews were obliged to hire trucks to carry the supplies direct to camp.

In many camps, the wealthier Jews took up collections to buy clothing for their poorer comrades. When Budapest Jews applied for permission to take up a public collection, however, the authorities refused on the ground it would give a had impression if the Jews were better clad than Gentiles. According to circles close to the Government the Jews will kept in camps as long as mild weather lasts and outdoor work is possible. Later in the autumn when it is too cold to work the Jews will be discharged but will be called upon again in the Spring to build roads, bridges and railways in the new Transylvania territory, where the Government is unable to pay for private construction work.

It was reported that Jews recently were drafted four labor in quarries and in salt mines where there is labor shortage as a result of constant mobilization. When authorities received protests against employing lawyers, bank executives and other professional men for such types of work, they replied it would create bed blood if Jews were not mobilized at a time when a million Gentiles were in the army.

The policy of segregating Jews in labor camps is not popular among certain sections of officialdom as well as the Jews themselves. It was reported that Count Stephen Bethlen, former premier and leader of the Conservative bloe, advised Premier Paul Teleki in a three-hour conference on Friday against the policy on the grounds it would ultimately wreck Hungary’s economy.

It was understood that Bethlen repeated the warning yesterday in an audience with Regent Nicholas Horthy at Gogollo.

The main objection of Jewish circles to the labor mobilization is that it is contrary to the Rearguard Defense Act of last May. According to this law, in time of war or "imminent danger" every person from 14 to 70 years. without regard to sex, must "perform work for the defense of the realm in accordance with his or her mental and physical capacities." The law further requires that in every type of work, persons must be selected as far as possible on the basis of their training and experience. In the opinion of the Jewish community, the mobilization of businessmen and professionals, most of whom are old men, for physical labor is contrary to the spirit of these two provisos.

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