Hungary, formally a kingdom, lacked a king but was ruled by the Regent Nikolaus von Horthy. It was starkly divided between a rich aristocracy and an impoverished peasantry, and despite its robust history of Fascism, Jews remained in Parliament and even the Army during World War Two because Hungarians sharply distinguished between native and foreign Jews. The Nazis mostly left Hungary alone, so it became “an island of safety” for Jews until 1944, when Germany ordered 950,000 Jews (and converted Jews) evacuated to camps.
In Hungary, as in France, nationality took precedence over race or religion. By 1944, the Nazis were definitively losing WWII, and the Final Solution had been carried out to its logical end—nearly all Jews in the Reich and Eastern Europe were murdered, and governments throughout the rest of Europe had ceased or blocked deportations—so the Hungarian case is particularly unique.
Eichmann brought his whole staff to Budapest and convened a Jewish Council, but its members knew what was happening at the concentration camps. Remarkably, they council decided that bribery would be the best way to go, and Eichmann set about offering them gifts in the hopes of proving his team’s corruption. After the Jewish Council found its huge payments unappreciated, it started directly buying Jews’ freedom and forging baptism papers. Zionist leaders like Dr. Kastner began negotiating with Eichmann and the various other German officials in Budapest; they were well-connected and largely exempt from the usual restrictions against Jews.
Because it was already so late in the war, Hungary’s Jewish leaders could not be as easily deceived as those in other countries; the Nazis were also more worried about resources and money than continuing to increase the Jewish body count. Even in the war’s closing days, the Nazis continued to treat Zionists preferentially and receive deportees in exchange—their “idealism” led them to sacrifice thousands in order to send a few to Israel.
Eichmann tried to coordinate deportations from Hungary with “lightning speed,” and officers at Auschwitz prepared to gas Hungarian Jews as soon as they arrived. This continued for two months until, thanks to “protests from neutral countries and from the Vatican” as well as pressure from the Allies, Horthy ordered the end of deportations (even though Eichmann stubbornly insisted on sending one more train). With the Soviet Army approaching and the rail infrastructure no longer functional at the end of the war, Eichmann began marching Jews on foot towards the Reich, but was ordered to stop by Himmler. Less than 160,000 of Hungary’s 800,000 Jews survived.
Surprisingly, while Zionist leaders collaborated with the deportations, they stopped in response to international pressure and administrative action. While Hungary was going through the early stages of coming to terms with Nazi policy, it seems, the rest of Europe had already fought it off and so helped expedite Hungary’s response. Arendt has said that the prosecution was unfair to ask witnesses why they did not rebel, but if Hungarian Jewish Councils had even cooperated less enthusiastically (rather than outright rebelling), many Hungarian Jews would have been saved. Eichmann’s last desperate attempts to carry out Hitler’s orders are damning, and can also support the prosecution’s narrative that he was a radical anti-Semite.
Slovakia, governed independently of the Czech Republic by Germany, was a “primitive, backward, and deeply Catholic” country, Arendt says—anti-Semitic in the traditional sense, eager to deport Jews (because of their wealth, which could be seized) but reluctant to kill them. In March 1942, Eichmann and then Heydrich came to coordinate deportations, and the Slovak government duly agreed, so long as they “would not be given an opportunity of returning to Slovakia.” Eichmann returned in June, the same time Heydrich was assassinated in Prague, and with 35,000 Jews remaining in the country and 52,000 already deported, he learned that the Vatican had told the Slovak Catholic clergy what “resettlement” really meant. The Slovak government refused further deportations until the closing days of the war, when the R.S.H.A. sent 12-14,000 more Slovak Jews to concentration camps, leaving about 20,000 survivors.
Slovakia was as anti-Semitic as the Germans hoped; like Croatia, it was grateful to be treated as independent by Germany and eager to establish its ethnic purity by ejecting outsiders. Religion, although originally a means of distinguishing Slovaks from outsiders, ultimately led Slovakia to refuse the Nazis’ mass murder policy. At the same time, its flexibility meant it took a different form of opposition than that which succeeded in Denmark and Bulgaria: it stemmed from shared social values, not moral judgments. This becomes a crucial distinction for Arendt later on, because the former also allowed the Nazis to eliminate conventional morality in Germany.