30 Apr MOSHE (Miklush) KRAUS
In 1986, a 78-year-old man named Moshe (Miklush) Kraus passed away in Jerusalem. You likely don’t know the name. He was never honored in any capacity. He is not mentioned in any Holocaust reference books. In any case, Moshe Kraus lead the biggest operation rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, on an immense scale. Oskar Schindler, a German with cleverness and strength, saved 1,200 Jews; Kraus saved several thousands.
Historians have not come to a conclusion about the exact number, yet the most moderate gauge talks no less than 40,000 individuals, and a few estimates are even as high as 100,000 Jews who got away from the Nazis in Hungary because of this daring man.
It is 1944. The Nazis are venturing up the pace and sending an ever increasing number of Jews to their deaths in a bid to rapidly exterminate all Hungary’s Jewry. A roomy glass factory located at 29 Vadasz Street in Budapest is given extraterritorial status under the support of Switzerland. Approximately 3,000 Jews locked themselves inside this building, named the Glass House, for three months.
An ever increasing number of homes in Budapest were transformed into so-called Swiss “safe houses,” excluding Germans and the Hungarian authorities that played along with them, and each housing a huge number of Jews. The Swiss embassy granted 40,000 Jews declarations of citizenship turning them into foreign Swiss nationals. A huge number of extra documents are forged while the Swiss ignored them. Youthful, brave Jews masked as Nazi officers wander the roads giving out these records to Jews, and all of this is coordinated by Kraus.
Among the survivors of the Glass House are many popular Jews, for example, Moshe Shkedi, who was the father of a leader of the Israeli Air Force; Major General Eliezer Shkedi. “My dad lived on account of the Glass House,” Shkedi says. “His folks and every one of his siblings were killed. The main message is that not just that Christians saved Jews during the Holocaust. Jews also saved thousands.
The account of the Glass House is the most historical event recorded of that period. Much like the man behind the operation, Kraus, this occasion has by one means or another evaded public attention and never got the acknowledgment it merited. The Beit Haedut museum in NirGalim has as of late built a reproduction of the Glass House, in endeavors to correct this historical wrong. The forgotten story is currently starting to shed more light because of the activity of Ariel Bariach, the head of the museum. Bariach is not a Jew of European Descent, in truth his parents are from Tunis. He says that “some people didn’t like it that a person of Mizrachi descent was a curator of a Holocaust museum, but the Holocaust happened mostly to Jews, and I’m a Jew.”
A mathematical trick
For Hungary’s Jews, the Holocaust began long after Europe’s skies wound up noticeably soaked with smoke from crematoriums. About 20,000 Jews who fled the Nazis in occupied nations looked for asylum in Budapest, which was viewed as a safe place. In March 1944, after the German intrusion of Hungary, the Nazis started sending Jews from distant Hungarian towns to killing camps in Poland. Within a span of two months, about half a million Jews from the Hungarian outskirts were sent to their deaths, around 12,000 daily. Many communities were totally exterminated, in a steady progression.
In April 1944, two Slovakian Jewish detainees escaped from Auschwitz. Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba had a meeting with Oscar Krasniansky, the leader of the Slovak Jewish Council, and gave him a full record of what was happening at the death camp. Krasniansky deciphered their record and made a 32-page report (the Auschwitz Protocols) providing, a firsthand account of precise and itemized information on the techniques and dimensions of the Nazi annihilation efforts. Vrba and Wetzler said that by then 1.75 million individuals had been murdered at Auschwitz, and that the camp was getting ready for the arrival of 800,000 Hungarian Jews, scheduled to be executed.
Around May, Moshe (Miklush) Kraus had received the report. Kraus was a leader of the Zionist development in Hungary and he coordinated the Palestine Office in Budapest. He added his own report to the Auschwitz Protocols explaining the transport and killing of the Jews in the distant Hungarian towns. The report named each person from each city and area. He then did everything possible to spread the two reports.
These documents found their way to Miklos Horthy, the ruler of the Kingdom of Hungary, and to all the main political figures in Hungary. An international news organization grabbed the story, printed it and distributed it, and the reports made a significant stir in Switzerland. Swiss public opinion put a huge weight on Horthy. The pope, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and Swedish King Gustaf the fifth, all sent letters of protest to Budapest. President Roosevelt of the US’s letter to Horthy gave a military threat. Subsequently, Horthy put a stop to the extradition of Jews.
Around July and October of that year before Horthy was dismissed and the Arrow Cross Party rose to control, Kraus gave his everything to attempt to incorporate whatever number of Jews as would be prudent in the mathematical trick he had contrived with the assistance of the Swiss. How did as such a large number of Jews figure out how to avoid the Nazis’ awareness? At the center, it was an accomplishment of bureaucratic sleight of hand on a monstrous scale.
At the time, a British-issued migration certificate, simply called a “certificate,” giving entry to Palestine, was seen as a defensive shield. Anybody possessing such a certificate was viewed as a British native secured by the Swiss legation in Hungary, since Switzerland had Britain’s political interests in Hungary at the time. Toward the end of 1943, the Hungarian government acknowledged the rights of 1,500 holders of such certificates.
Kraus, along with other Palestine Office workers, met with Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who was deployed to Budapest as vice consul diplomat and headed the office that had British interests. Lutz was kind to the Jews, as he had worked in Jaffa in the Swiss consulate. Kraus and Lutz had the idea to transform the 1,500 certificates for individuals into certificates for families, including the families of 1,500 Jews in these protective documents — totaling 7,800 people.
Nearly two months after the Nazis occupied Hungary, when ghettos were established in the remote towns, Lutz and Kraus, with the assistance of anti-Nazi Hungarians who worked in foreign offices, brainstormed yet another deceit: They changed the 7,800 certificates once more into individual documents, applying them to families also, enabling them to save around 40,000 individuals, every one of whom now had immigration documents issued by Switzerland. The International Red Cross, Britain and Switzerland accepted the 40,000 documents. The Nazis officially accepted just 7,800, yet Kraus proceeded with his endeavors to get Nazi acknowledgment for the full 40,000.
“The wait (for a reply) was long, and we didn’t know the reason,” Kraus wrote in an article, “until we found out that someone had told the Nazi’s that the 7,800 documents were for individuals, not families. That someone was one of us — Dr. Kastner.”
Lutz gave the bearers of the certificate protective passports also named “Schutz-Passes” — which recognized the bearers as Swedish subjects anticipating repatriation and in this manner kept their extradition. The documents issued by the Swiss office in Budapest showed that the Swiss government office’s branch of foreign interests affirms that so and so appears in a collective Swiss passport, and ought to be treated as having a legitimate international ID. The collective passport included thousands of names. With a specific end goal to mask the deceit, Lutz numbered the people being referred to in the vicinity of 1 and 7,800 — the number that had as of now been approved by local authorities.
Five hundred Glass House workers who dealt with these documents were made into Swiss embassy workers, getting all the consular advantages: they were absolved from wearing the yellow star, and some of them were permitted to use the government office vehicles and the consular phone as part of their “consular” work. Kraus travelled in a vehicle bearing the Swiss flag, and was driven by a Swiss driver.
The Swiss consulate in Budapest was too small to undertake such a gigantic operation. Arthur Weiss, who was a Jew and an owner of the Glass House, gave the keys to his enormous factory to Kraus, and Lutz organized diplomatic immunity from Switzerland to the building. A Swiss flag was hung at the front of the house. Kraus wrote some time later: “I chose the Glass House because I thought that there may be a lot more trouble with the Nazis and I knew that this building could hold a lot of Jewish people in a time of need,”
Stepping up the rescue efforts
In October 1944, Horthy was removed from power and the Pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party took control. Budapest established a ghetto, and all Jews between the ages of 16 and 40, barring foreign nationals, are told to come to work camps. Hungary’s national radio station declares three times each day that people holding Swiss documents are absolved from work and can move uninhibitedly any time of the day (Jews were not allowed to leave their homes for over two hours every day).
A huge number of Hungarian Jews came regularly to the Glass House looking for Swiss papers, including Jews as of now slated to cross the border into Germany. A photograph taken by an unknown photography amid that time portrays masses of individuals swarming the building’s doors stretching out their arms.
Lutz and Kraus intensified their rescue efforts. Asides from the 40,000 certificates, several thousands are issued fake documents, printed both inside the Glass House and somewhere else on paper stolen from a same printing house that printed the original documents for the Swiss. The documents give a feeling of assurance, yet sometimes they are perceived as imitations by the authorities and their holders are sent to the death camps.
Whenever Eichmann and the S.S. look to get every one of the Jews in the Budapest ghetto to set them up for transportation to death camps, Kraus approaches Lutz and requests that he give extra houses extraterritorial status. Lutz buys 76 houses in Budapest and gives them Swiss immunity. A huge number of Jews having Swiss documents are given shelter in these safe houses. These houses are viewed as Swiss territory in every regard, and their occupants are shielded from being deported or taken to work camps. The Red Cross gave them food and fundamental supplies.
Lutz’s challenging plan is received by different diplomats hailing from neutral nations. Swedish ambassador Raoul Wallenberg transforms 28 houses in Budapest into Swedish territories, housing 4,500 Jews. The Portuguese, Spanish and Vatican legations land at similar agreements with the Hungarian authorities: Spain is permitted to distribute 1,500 certificates, Portugal 700 and the Vatican 3,000. Signs are posted on the safe houses announcing that they are under the protection of the legation and that foreigners are not permitted to enter. Every one of the houses that are protected by foreign delegations were named “international ghettos”.
Next, Kraus bought another building, a textile mill, then leased the football association head quarters that shared a fence with the Glass House, keeping in mind the end goal was to house a huge number of Jews he expects to save. About 3,000 individuals squeeze into the Glass House alone, sleeping next to each other, head to toe, not daring to leave the building at any time. They sleep in any space, in basements, passages, on tables, in attics. On Shabbos they came together and hold a Kiddush.
Those working with the Zionist youth development turn into Kraus’ assistants. Pinhas Rosenbaum, a youth Hungarian Jew at the Glass House, got an Arrow Cross uniform somehow and went out in camouflage each day to distribute many Swiss Passports to Jews. Tova Singer, a girl of 12, takes a fake document stating that she was a Christian, and transports orphan youngsters from the ghetto to Red Cross orphanages.
Meir Friedman, a Glass House survivor narrates how the report disseminators became noticeably bolder and bolder as time passed by. “Dr. Shendor Unger, one of the Zionist administrators, took an office vehicle and drove close by the death match from Budapest to Vienna. The individuals who could say their names were given documents on the spot, in the auto. They filled out the form and gave it to them. In 90 percent of the cases, the Hungarians had no real option except to respect these papers. Another car that followed the march took those individuals back to Budapest.”
In November 1944, the deliberate annihilation of Jews left outside the safe houses started. Death walks to the Austrian border took 2,000 Jews to their deaths every day, in the rankling cold. Kraus and Lutz talk about whether they should continue to issue Schutz-Passes, in light of the fact that if they somehow managed to issue a more papers than they were designated the trick would likely be found, risking the whole operation. At last they chose to continue issuing.
Clerks and youth development members worked throughout the whole night signing documents. Kraus’ kin and individuals from the Swiss and Swedish legations go out into the streets, distributing life-saving papers still damp from the ink. They also went to the death marches to give out Swiss papers. The Hungarians had no choice but to release some Jews every time.
According to Kraus, up to 60 or 70 thousand people were put in the safe houses. After the war Kraus wrote: “It appeared that only 32,000 Jews were in the ghetto, while there were around 150,000 Jews in Budapest at the time.” “That is when the authorities decided to start looking for the missing Jews.”
The assaults against the rest of the Jews became steadily worse. The Nazis begin taking Jews to the banks of the Danube River, took their clothes off and killed them, after which their bodies were thrown into the river.
“We slept on the tables”
The Arrow Cross attempt to go into the Glass House and the other safe houses a few times, under the guise that they are searching for fake documents, yet they withdraw after Lutz steps in, stating the house’s diplomatic immunity.
Meir Friedman was 18 years of age when he went into the Glass House. In the spring of 1944 he and his family ran from northern Hungary and made a dash into Budapest. “Lutz was a genuine exemplary gentile. After all, he would have had to be blind not to see through the maneuver that the Zionist youth movement lead by Kraus had undertaken. Lutz pretended not to know,” Friedman recalls.
“It was an amazing miracle that 3,000 individuals could fit inside that building. The conditions were bad, but rather it was a Holocaust luxury compared to what the general population on the outside were experiencing. I lived in a little alcove between the workplace and the top floor, together with a few others. Everybody kept busy so as to not go crazy,” he says.
“There was even a place for Orthodox Jews. They continually studied Torah. There was a place with counselors and lectures. There were many professors, lecturers and doctors. There were even choir rehearsals.”
Friedman appended photographs to printed certificates. “The certificates didn’t give total security, yet the Nazis mostly honored them. There were cases, when they tore up the papers and took the Jew.”
Didn’t the Nazis see that a huge number of Jews wound up noticeably Swiss nationals directly in front of them?
“Perhaps they noticed, yet they couldn’t change the laws that enforced them. They needed to demonstrate the world that they regarded international law.”
“On December 31 individuals from the Arrow Cross went into the Glass House compound to take us to the Danube. I will always remember it, because of the dreadful cold. We were outside for two hours until the Swiss embassy mediated and they were compelled to release us back in. The ruling party needed to be perceived as legitimate and honest, so the Swiss were respected.”
Vera, (Zipora) the wife of Friedman, landed in Budapest from Vienna, at five years of age, not long after Kristallnacht. Her dad was taken to a work camp and she and her mom stayed with relatives in the city. When she was 11, the Arrow Cross rose to control.
“One day, our friend Pinhas Rosenbaum came to visit us all dressed up as a Nazi officer. We were scared, and didn’t know him. When the guard left, he started speaking Yiddish, so as to alleviate our fears. He took us to the Glass House,” she recounts.
“The front of the building was great and irregular. It was made completely of glass. Inside were workplaces, a yard and a warehouse. People slept on big tables, and underneath them. Twenty individuals on the table and another ten below. There were families in each corner. We lived on the ground floor.”
“On Shabbat we would hold a big Kiddush and everybody sang. Amid Hanukkah we lit candles. We weren’t sad together, yet every one of us was miserable by himself. Everybody had one bag that which served as a closet and it served as a segregation from the next person”
“The youngsters who were out dressed as Nazis ensured there was food, and we got food from the Red Cross. Peas, mushrooms, etc. The sanitary conditions were unpleasant — there were just four or five washrooms for 3,000 individuals. People remained in line for the washroom for quite a long time. We washed once every week. Men washed in the yard in below zero temperatures, and the ladies used one bucket filled with ice water in a corner. Once a week it was covered with a curtain.”
“Every afternoon we had s meeting with Bnei Akiva. There we sang songs and discussed Eretz Israel. We heard that every one of the Jews in Europe had been killed. Every one of my relatives in Poland and Vienna. My mom’s eight family members. We never knew whether we would survive. We never knew what each day had in store for us. We asked ourselves questions regularly. We realized that we had a purpose — we had to keep the fire burning and go to Israel to have a Jewish life.”
Meir Friedman met his better half after the war, at a Bnei Akiva party in Hungary. Together they moved to Israel as a major aspect of the youth development, and later wedded and had three children and numerous grandchildren and grandchildren.
In February 1945, with the freedom of Budapest, it turned out to be certain that more than 100,000 Jews in the city had survived. The Glass House’s owner, Arthur Weiss, was murdered by the Nazis a few days before the liberation. His better half and child survived, and moved to the U.S. after the war.
Yad Vashem granted Carl Lutz the title “righteous gentile.” He was one of the first granted that honor. In 1965, a reward was issued by Israel, and a road in Haifa was named after him.
Moshe Kraus moved to Israel and ran an insitution for young men. He wedded a Holocaust survivor from Budapest. The two had no kids.
The Swiss government respected Kraus for saving 30,000 Hungarian Jews. In any case, when Dr. Nadivi started her doctoral research on the Palestine Office in Budapest, there was no data about Kraus in the YadVashem documents.
“It is very sad. He was a tremendous rescuer. There was nobody like him. There was no other rescue operation during the Holocaust that saved such a large number of Jews because of the activity of one individual. Thousands followed in the way that he cleared — individuals from youth developments, who likewise saved others,” Nadivi says.
Towards the end of the war, when the Jewish Agency disclosed to Lutz that he would be inducted into the JNF’s “Golden Book” of honor and that a function would be held to respect him, he expressed gratitude toward them, yet he told them that it was Kraus who ought to get the respect, in light of the fact that without him, the operation wouldn’t have succeeded. As the ceremony got closer, Lutz wrote a letter to the JNF again requesting that they acknowledge Kraus’ contribution. But at the expensive ceremony, nobody said Kraus. Just Lutz lauded him over and over.
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