Tom Veres, the photograph of the Hungarian holocaust

21-02-2008

Born 1923, Budapest, Hungary

After the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, Tom was ordered to work in labor camps and factories. He escaped after a few months and decided to contact the Swedish legation, where he met Raoul Wallenberg in October 1944. Tom stayed in Budapest and, using his training in photography, became active in Wallenberg’s efforts to rescue the Jews of Budapest. He made copies of and took photographs for protective passes (Schutzpaesse), and documented deportations. 
Full transcript from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Collections

It was a snowy night, and one night the…the Arrow Cross came and the whole legation was taken to the Arrow Cross place. At the apartment of one of the Arrow Cross. So I knew this is the end again. And…uh…I had some false identification with me. I told you I didn’t believe in them. That was…uh…for the Red Cross. And it had…uh…red canvas binding–very nice papers. They were stating that I worked for the Red Cross. And on the way to the Arrow Cross house I ate it. Though it tasted very badly, but I ate it little by little (laughter). And, I didn’t want them to find it on me. And, there were too many people. Everybody from the whole…uh…legation was taken out. So a lot of people. Don’t ask me how many, because I…well over a hundred. So, when we got to one building where they wanted to put us in the cellar, I heard the Arrow Cross yelling at each other, « Put them on top of each other. They’re gonna die anyway. » And then they didn’t put…put them because there…there…there wasn’t place for it. So they took it to their house and started to…they liked my boots right away (laughter). I found a customer; they said, « This is mine. » And we were standing next to the wall hands up and there was an old little guy there who was always very [inquisitive]…he’s a very nice person but he…he always asked questions. And as we were standing next to the wall ready to go to the Danube for, you know, he…he’s asking me, « Mr. Veres, do you know which way’s the Danube? » So, I…I think I didn’t lose my sense of humor. I told him, « Once the shooting starts, you’ll know we’ll be there. » And the next moment, a truckload of Hungarian policemen came with, had [Raoul] Wallenberg heading. What happened that the Arrow Cross did not notice that there was a…on the other floor, there was a phone connection. The whole room was phones, and the woman who was doing the phones, who was the daughter of the head of the department, phoned Wallenberg and reached him and he collected a truckload of…of Hungarian policemen. And they came with a truck. And they came in and he said that, « These are my people. You cannot touch them, » and took everybody out.

The train station had about ten thousand, fifteen thousand…uh…men–Jews ready for deportation. They were the ones who were surrounded from Budapest, the labor camps who were still at that time, end of November, sent to Germany by train. Later on it was on foot. This time it was by train, for deportation. And [Raoul] Wallenberg was there, and set up…uh…a little table, and I went to him and he whispered to my ear, « Tom, take as many pictures as you can. » I didn’t want to ask him (laughter), « Will you pose? » or anything, you know…how…. So I…I had my coat on me and I had a shawl and I always have a pocketknife with me and I made a slit in the shawl and prearranged the camera setting on my Leica, and I just threw the shawl…I…I…I did bring just the lens out and started, through the shawl, shooting. Sometimes I was sitting in his car and shooting from the car. And sometimes I just went around looking…you know…left or right like nothing happened and…and take the pictures.

Tom Veres has written a testomy on his Budapest war period, « I was there »
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