The history of the Üllői út 2-4,
When Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest, Per Anger had already been in action in the office disposed in a villa rented by the Swedish Embassy in 2, Minerva street.It is obvious that Wallenberg located his headquarters and started organizing his activity there too. The staff, which was yet relatively small in number, assembled in the second half of July, and had an initiative and leading role in both making the Schutzpasses and administratively organizing as well carrying out the Activity. We remember the members below with comparative accuracy (the order of the list means role-hierarchy in the same time): Hugó Wohl, Dr. Pál Hegedűs, Vilmos Forgács, Dr. Ottó Fleischman, István Engelman, Imre Terner, Iván Székely.
Office-clerk of the secretariat: countess Erzsébet Nákó, Mrs. Falk Lászlóné, Mariann Bach, Hedda Kátai, Lilla Boros, Tibor Vándor, Pál Forgács.
Supposedly, besides the above listed people, others also played an important role, but might be missing from the list due to their secondary importance or a lapse of memory.
The Schutzpass-action leaked out among the threatened Jewry of Budapest, partly as a consequence of the „mole-news” spreading surprisingly fast. When recalling that period of time we shall take into account the fact that the period from the desarming of the Baky-Endre gendarme coup up to the arrow-cross putsch (thus from 20th July to 15th October) was a relatively easier period for the Jewry of Budapest settled in houses, marked with the yellow star. Street raids, leading to deportation had ceased, the limitations to agression to street were taken less severely. Some people took off the yellow star, were circulating without them, and were less afraid of the consequences.
As a result of the looser circumstances, Jews with or without the yellow star were standing in the queue in front of the Minerva street building. Mobbish scenes were taking place, especially, when already certified applicants were called in by their name, and/or led in through a side entrance, or the posting policeman cleared the way for them in the crowd with the average police habit to make them possible to get in. People in the queue were holding real or less real documents, and strange scenes were taking place in many instances when they got in the office in front of the administrative admission committee. It was difficult to keep order. The officials ceased their 13 hours a day work at half past six in the evening, and one of them asked the crowd outside to come back the day after, but preferably only those who had acceptable documents certifying their legitimacy. These daily „closing scenes” also involved tragic moments.
The regent and a small group of conservative politicians around him who became anti-Nazi prepared the attempt to withdraw from the German alliance „with fingers all thumbs”, as it has been explored many times. One needn’t have been a desperate extreme right politician or a tormentor to be able to predict the approximate date of the armistice.
This atmosphere had an impact on the Minerva street area. Shady figures were inquiring among people in the queue already around 10th October. They were taking notes and photos from the other side of the street. Naturally, this caused alarm in the queue. Once, Captain Gábor Alapi, a supporter of R.W., in plainclothes asked everyone standing on the other side about their identity. Surprisingly, this action itself was enough for them to disappear.
In the afternoon of 14th October and in the morning of 15th October Raoul Wallenberg, Kázmér Kállay and Vilmos Forgács were occupied with the problem of setting free hundreds of people on labour service with Swedish Schutzpass assembled in the synagogue of Aréna road. The synagogue was declared to be a „closed area”, which practically meant a temporary internment camp, and as an ad-hoc solution, it was loaded with a mass of one and a half thousand people, who partly became void of corps due to the break-through of the southern front line, or runaways from labour service later captured during raids. Pál Prokopp, captain, the commander of the Swedish protected concentrated company, was unable to keep order, therefore, asked the neighbouring train barrack for armed guard. This was an unfortunate step, since the educands of the arm-badged school operating in the barrack were sent. It was well-known that the officer-candidate school of the train barrack was called „the brute trainer”. The guarding staff marching over with drawn bayonets met the requirements. The enormous synagogue became so crowded that it was almost impossible to sit down, not to mention that only one water-tap and two lavatories should have supplied one and a half thousand people. Unlike to other sources in the literature, it was captain Prokopp who informed Wallenberg of the catastrophic change. One of Wallenberg’s colleagues, presumably Dr. Hegedűs or Gábor Alapi obtained a direct order from W.D., which would have made it possible to immediately dissolve the concentrated company of Aréna street.
Since Raoul Wallenberg was occupied with this action, he only got to know about Miklós Horthy’s radio speech announcing the armistice from Kázmér Kállay. They did not want to leave Minerva street, because they were waiting for the direct order from the W.D. there, hence R.W. arrived at the synagogue at half past four in the afternoon, where the situation became anarchical. The officer-candidate guard was transferred to the Rákosrendezői railway station, and raggle-taggle volunteers or militiamen, wild, evil livers provided the guard instead of them. The direct order was handed over to Prokopp, who showed it to the completely confused commander of the guard, then, Wallenberg with his own hands opened the gates. The hundreds of people flowed outside, however, only those got into safety who had Swedish protection. The others’ fate is unknown, but there were a few smart young men who drifted among those with Swedish protection and later became legally protected (e.g.: Sándor Flamm).
After finishing setting free people, Raoul Wallenberg went to Minerva street, where, to his great surprise, the embassy was closed in by a Nazi cordon armed with machine-guns. He found access to his own office, made some telephone calls, as a result of which professor Lajos Nékám transported Wallenberg’s direct colleagues, the Wohl, Ernster, Forgács and Kállay families to his house in 2, Rezeda street. Professor Nékám and his family were hiding and feeding 20-22 people from 15th October to 3rd November.
Hence, the Schutzpass office in Minerva street ceased to exist, it became impossible for the colleagues to go to work there, the surroundings of the building got under Nazi control.
Hungary declared itself to be at war with Great-Britain and the United States in December 1941. As a result of this, it automatically got into war with Holland and Belgium (not with France, because it hadn’t been belligerent since August, 1940, due to the German-French armistice).
The diplomatic interest protection of the citizens of the Netherlands was taken over by Sweden. The economically highly significant Hungarian-Holland Insurance Company was one of these, the leadership was taken by Lole Smit, the representative of Philips in Budapest, for the period of suspending operation. The office of 7-800 m2, consisting of more than 30 rooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and lavatories, being in 2-4, Üllői street, presumably was rented from Mr. Smit.
After 15th October Raoul Wallenberg with the aid of Kázmér Kállay and Andor Balog collected the colleagues, spread from Minerva street through trying and systematic work. In the same time, together with Hugó Wohl and Vilmos Forgács, who were sheltered in Dr. Lajos Nékám’s villa in Rezeda street, he created in writing the „organizing and operating regulations” of the organization, the operating conditions of which had dramatically changed. The master-copy of the regulations and program can be found in the Blue book. By 4th November Wallenberg and many of his colleagues (Imre Terner, Pál Tatai, András Geiger and others) managed to install the enormous office in Üllői street in such a way that the greatly increased number of colleagues and particularly their families could stay there.
The Üllői str. office became the headquarters. In addition to that, offices were established in 1, Jókai street (labour service cases) and in 16, Arany János street (logistics).
105 employees were working in the Üllői street office, and 140 family members of these employees were staying inside the office. According to the official name register of the Blue book, the number of people settled there was 245.
The order of the office was very strict. Two gate-keepers were at all three of the entrances, four hours at a change. Office members and family members got admittance certificates. Others could only enter the office with a registered, written permission of the secretariat. The telephone lines were concentrated; one could use telephone only in the secretariat, in the rooms of Hugó Wohl and Vilmos Forgács. For the Schützling protocol, which is to be described later, we provided separate lines from the flats left empty in the two houses (Wallenberg didn’t know about these vandalic intrusions). We were tacking the broken-in doors thoroughly, and put sealed ribbons on them to prevent lootings. These legality saving measures were not taken into account in the highest degree either by the air bombes, or by the furious fire in the Kálvin square part of the house, or by the soviet soldiers and arrow-cross henchmen fusillading in the staircase.
The large number of materials explored so far, including the most accurate and coherent book of Jenő Lévay and Mária Ember’s Wallenberg in Budapest, describe the role of several people. These materials lack for the organizational scheme of the tasks divided between people, which was coherent in a company-like manner. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone, except for János Beér, living in the US today, who could check and correct my memories. Even though, I am striving for accuracy.
The number of active officials working in the office was approx.: 100-110. The majority of the „outside-workers” were known only by the ones assigned for keeping contact outside. The conspirative contacts arouse consistent with reason, e.g.: Pál Szalay was only known by Dr. Hegedűs and Dr. Fleischmann; Dr. Parádi gendarme captain by István Engelmann and Vilmos Forgács.
1. Secretariat: Mrs. Falk Lászlóné, countess Erzsébet Nákó, Tibor Vándor, Mrs. Simon Gyuláné.
Car drivers: Kázmér Kállay (from August to 4th November, when he completely went underground), Vilmos Langfelder, Tivadar Jobbágy (from the beginning of November to his death on 6th January).
Neither György Széll, nor Sándor Ardai was a chauffeur of Wallenberg for even a minute. György Wilhelm, the fellow-worker of the International Red Cross, an old friend of Wallenberg, was an occasional car driver several times.
2. Processing of applications, Schutzpass issuance, registration, inner office organization, employment: Hugó Wohl, Vilmos Forgács, Imre Terner, Gyula Simon. The apparatus consisted of approx. 20 people.
3. Logistics (it was not called so that time, of course), supply for printed materials, supply with raw material and provisions: Andor Balogh, Dezső Donnenberg, Dr. Miklós Magasdi (outside-worker), Imre Tordai. The apparatus consisted of approx. 15 people, the majority of which were not protected Jews, but paid employees.
4. Outer contacts, diplomatic counselling, daily politics: Dr. Pál Hegedűs, Dr. Ottó Fleischmann, Hugó Wohl, Lajos Stöckler, Dr. József Nagy. The latter two were members of the Jewish council. Károly Szabó can be listed here as someone who had a significant role in making contact with the Nazi apparatus. As it can be found everywhere in the literature, Károly Szabó was the typewriter mechanics of the Swedish Embassy, who was a so-called official of national defence during the more moderate Horthy-era, he played a determining role among Wallenberg’s supporters in the autumn of 1944.
5. Field-work – Schützling protocol (these were the real heroes): István Engelmann, Dr. Péter Sugár, Iván Székely, András Szentgyörgyi, János Beér, Tamás Veres, András Geiger, László Geiger and some ten people whom I didn’t know or I don’t remember for. This section was on duty in 24 hours a day, with 8-10 telephone lines by means of the inside stations. In a less degree, Raoul Wallenberg’s informants infiltrated into authorities informed the charge of the critical situations; to a greater extent, the field-workers of Üllői street and Jókai street did so. Apart from Raoul Wallenberg’s private car, only Andor Balog’s car was available. It appeared in different works that bicycles were used to get to the locations, which is a product of fantasy. The co-operators of the Schützling protocol could only set off if instructed by Raoul Wallenberg, István Engelman or Hugó Wohl. The organization was so tightly disciplined that, for instance, Imre Terner or Vilmos Forgács weren’t allowed to set off field-workers, even though they belonged to the leader colleagues. Without Raoul Wallenberg’s personal permission no one was allowed to get in touch with the supporters working for the military power (Pál Szalai, Gábor Alapi, Dr. Parádi, etc.). No doubt, there were urgent exceptions to these rules, but the order must have been kept generally. Obviously, I do not remember for a lot of people, some of them surely being remarkable, but their names faded from memory. The tasks and the scopes of activities were often overlapping, since everything had to be done immediately, and only poor devices were available.
The main works being elaborated so far (Werbell-Clarke; Kati Marton; Mária Ember) do not include a few essential facts:
– Dr. Pál Hegedűs and Lajos Stöckler were Wallenberg’s main counselors in the field of keeping continuous contact with German authorities and the arrow-cross apparatus.
– In general, the roles and personal influence of Dr. Hegedűs and Dr. Fleischmann on Wallenberg’s decisions and urgent actions remained in obscurity in the Wallenberg literature, since these stories are not romantic enough, and cannot be embroidered.
The literature neglects to give information about the leaders and leadership of the Újlipótvárosi international ghetto, that gave shelter to 14 thousand people protected by Swedish, Swiss and other neutral powers. The severe problems of the everyday organizational existence of the protected houses are only mentioned in few words, as well. Thousands of people had to be accommodated, fed, and medical attendance had to be provided. These tasks were carried out by Elemér Milkó, Ödön Gergely and Rezső Müller with 24 hours a day work, involving immense risk.
According to the international literature, Pál Névi, but he wasn’t known either in the protected area or in the embassy, was the leader of the hospital. The hospital was directed by Dr. Lipót Schischa since 26th November. I cannot recall the name of his predecessor. The provisionment and medication of the protected district was accomplished by Andor Balogh, Dr. Sándor Hahn and Géza Frommer. Bread-supply was ensured by Dr. Magasdi Miklós, the lawyer of the bakery, at the risk of his life day by day. The flour stores needed for this were distracted from the daily military baking. The military commander of the bakery gave his silent assistance for the act.
Chronology. The handing out of Schutzpasses had to be stopped for about 4-5 days from the installation of 4th November, because the registration and administration had to be put straight. It created a new friction surface, of course; bitter memories of misunderstandings formed in some people then. In the same time, this period of time revealed the fact that handing out unprepared Schutzpasses filled out on site would be needed on occasion. Due to the severe inner control, these field-blanks could only be handled by István Engelmann and Vilmos Forgács, who gave the blankets provided with serial numbers to the hands of field-workers. Since the Schutzpasses were signed by Danielsson ambassador until the last minute (20th December) on the basis of Wallenberg’s prior signaling, the owners of the Schutzpasses handed out on site were registered, on the basis of which they were successfully rescued in most cases, then they could take the Schutzpasses later in Üllői Street according to the register. (I got to know during my research into the archives in Stockhom, January 2004, that the office at 16, Arany János Street also handed out Schutzpasses.)
The work was proceeding roughly in a regular order until 25th November. The office was not exposed to outer persecution either. The complete lack of central heating and hot water supply caused some problems. A three months old baby, the child of Mrs. Lászlóné Kelemen, was staying inside the office. The professional nursing and health protection of the infant comprised the common concern for all the 100 people.
In a little while after moving in, Wallenberg came to a decision that legal rights for Schutzpass must have been extended. Therefore, on the basis of the agreement with Danielsson, the „primal colleagues”, approx. 24 people, got the right to draw up a „Familien liste” of 50 people per head. However, they insisted on the severe administrational order and the certification of legitimacy. This concession met with semi-success only, since, as a result of the latter events, not even the half of the extended legitimacy could be filled.
The dead-marches of Hegyeshalom set off on 25th November from the brickworks and the KISOK field. At this moment, Wallenberg closed his eyes, and what is done cannot be undone.
We must note here that Wallenberg had an „inner security service” in the person of Dr. András Geiger, viz. he charged Geiger with supervising the colleagues of the action regarding the illegal or corrupt handing-out of Schutzpasses. The prevention of Schutzpass-forgering of somer-cionist origin taking place in the city was also Geiger’s duty.
The administrative body of the office was desperately trying to keep some organizational order and control, but when it regularly happened that field-workers of the Schützling protocol arrived at the office with a message of Raoul Wallenberg so difficult to check that e.g. he was asking for ten blank Schutzpass-sheets, then numbered registering became impossible.
In the late evening hours of 24th December, when Károly Szabó and Pál Szalai called his attention to the fact that Gábor Vajna assumed city command, no protection remained and all the previous agreements expired, Wallenberg was taking measures without falling to pieces: he transported the leaders of the Üllői street staff to the safety vault of Hazai bank. He told the others to go wherever they could, but came back in one-two hours and said that everyone could stay there who wanted to, since someone (Pál Szalai, I guess) took measures that gendarmes in civil clothes would protect the office rooms. Thus, it happened that a cram of 100-130 people between 24th December and 5th January was saved by the most debauched, bloodthirsty rascals of the National Retalcation Chair. They disappeared on 6th January, they must have wanted to go underground to cover their horrible past. The day after, all of us were dragged away by the arrow-cross executing brigade of the city commandership to the arrow-cross house in 41, Ferenc Boulevard. We were not aware of Wallenberg’s whereabouts, thus we could not inform him. Luckily for us, Andor Balogh, a courageous co-worker for the Activity was looking for his sister in Üllői Street. Then he got to know about our being dragged away. He notified Pál Szalai, who instructed György Gyulai police superintendent of district VIII to rescue us from the arrow-cross house even by force of arms. Thus it came about at midnight that 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the arrow-cross house and rescued all of us. We were accompanied back to the cellar in Üllői Street, where he stated that he could not ensure further protection for us, everyone could be staying there at his/her own risk.
As I, myself, was an active participant in the whole story, I must refute a few mild inaccuracies stated in connection with the same story.
– It was not Dr. Fleismann, but Andor Balog, who notified Pál Szalai.
– Szalai took measures without Wallenberg, since Raoul Wallenberg only got informed of the events that night by the Stöcklers.
– No valuables were taken away from anyone either in the Mária Terézia Barrack or in 41, Ferenc Blv. When we were cribbed into the Két Medve cellar, all the rucksacks and portmanteaus were taken away from everyone, but no body-searching took place.
– Lajos Stöckler was not among people being dragged away, just his whole family.
– Pál Szalai did not accompany the march back to the building of Üllői Street, but policemen with arms at full cock did so in close march. There the police superintendent stated that he could not ensure further protection for us, everyone could be staying there at his/her own risk
Only eight days passed from 7th to 15th January. During these eight days the 100-130 people of the Üllői Street office were left to themselves. Everyone was shrinking in cellars, provisioning ceased, which meant that the ones without own stores must have come upon others or were starving. We discovered a cellar, in which was a fountain with drinking water, under the cinema Vörösmarty. A part of the people was staying there, especially as the entrance iron door was almost invisible.
The house was hit by a bomb on 9th January, as a result of which a part of the house at 2, Üllői Street collapsed. No one out of the colleagues was injured, however, as it turned out later, two unknown refugees sheltering themselves in a flat broken in on the third floor died. There was no leader or unitary leadership for the people staying in the cellar.
A few enterprising youngsters ventured to go out even under siege conditions, since it was possible to take some food legally or illegally from the provisions store in Szentkirályi Street. A few of us attempted to supply the ones hiding in Harmincad Street with food from this store.
On Sunday, 15th January, at half past three p.m. the soviet soldiers intruded into the cellar, occupied Kálvin square, and were cannonading all the Kecskeméti Street from the front of the building. By 19th January, the whole Pest side was cleared from the Germans and arrow-crosses, and the colleagues of the office in 2-4, Üllői Street and their families spread away. Except for Dr. Péter Sugár who was shot dead on 20th December, no one else died out of us, and only one injured. We must also mention that Dr. István Szécsi, despite being an internal specialist, was operating Russians, arrow-crosses, Germans on a kitchen table, by candlelight without intermission from 10th to 15th January. The “theatre nurses” were Mrs. Árpádné Sigmund and Éva Schwartz.
I assume, there are only one-two still living witnesses of this place and this time.
I have to warn all historians and other research-workers from those all who pretend now a days to be participants of Wallenbergs activity.
I tried to be correct.
2004 March Gabor Forgács
More articles by Gabor Forgács: