Protective document issued to Erika Vermes by the Swedish Red Cross.
1944 September 04
- Photo Designation
RESCUE MISSIONS -- Hungary: Rescue of Budapest Jewry -- Documents/Passes
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Erica & Joseph Grossman
Protective document issued to Erika Vermes by the Swedish Red Cross.
The document states that Erika's name appears on the passenger list of a Swedish children's transport that is about to leave Hungary and appeals to the authorities to let her remain at her current residence until the time of her departure.
- Erika Grossman (born Erika Vermes) is the daughter of Aladar and Helena (Beck) Vermes. She was born on May 14, 1931 in Topolcany, Slovakia, where her father was a studio photographer and her mother, an opera singer. Erika had an older brother, Robert (b. 1924). On March 27, 1942 members of the Slovak fascist Hlinka Guard rounded-up the Jewish men in Topolcany, including Erika's father and brother, and deported them to Majdanek, where they were killed. Two months later the Hlinka Guard came back for the women. The Guardsman who came to the Vermes apartment turned out to be someone who knew Erika's father. When the Slovak, whose name was Palcat, realized who he was about to arrest, he allowed them to get away. Immediately the Vermes' sealed up their house and fled over the border into Hungary. They settled in Budapest, where Helena was able to obtain a work permit because she had been born there. She placed Erika in a local Jewish orphanage for girls directed by Esther Jungreis. After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, Erika was given false papers in the name of Erika Virag. The Hungarian documents allowed her to move about freely, but she had no place to go, and so remained at the Jewish orphanage. In September 1944 Erika obtained a Swedish Red Cross Schutzpass [protective document] granting her immunity from deportation. It did not, however, protect her from arrest by members of the fascist, Hungarian Arrow Cross, who in November and December were rounding-up groups of Jews, shooting them along the banks of the Danube and throwing their bodies into the river. Erika was captured in one such round-up and taken to the Danube, but she managed to slip away during the heavy Russian bombardment of the city and survived until the liberation of Budapest in January. While Erika was at the orphanage, her mother was arrested and deported to a slave labor camp in Austria, called Feldbach. Near the end of the war the camp was evacuated and its prisoners, including Helena, her sister and her future husband, Imre Berczeller, were sent on a death march, during which Helena's sister died. After the liberation Erika and her mother met by chance on a street in Budapest. Together they returned to Topocany, but Helena soon went back to Budapest to marry Imre. A short time later there was a pogrom in Topolcany, and Helena and Imre decided to take Erika and move to western Czechoslovakia. When they reached the Sudety they learned about the orphans transport to England. Though officially not an orphan, Erika was accepted and left for Prague to join the transport. During her first years in England she lived at the Mansell Street shelter in London and worked in a jewelry business. In 1951 Erika immigrated to the United States, where she became an interpreter for HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] and married Joseph Grossman, another member of the orphans transport, in 1954. Erika's mother and stepfather immigrated to Palestine in 1949.
Raoul Wallenberg (1912-c.1947), Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest in the period between July 1944 and January 1945. Born into an aristocratic Swedish banking family, Raoul led a life of privilege. During his college years he studied architecture at the University of Michigan, but ultimately went to work for the family. In 1936 he spent six months at the Holland Bank, a branch of the family bank, in Haifa, Palestine. There he came into contact with Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution for the first time. Upon his return to Sweden he became an executive of an import-export firm headed by an Hungarian Jew that conducted business in Central Europe. During the early years of World War II, Wallenberg led a lively social life and otherwise appeared indifferent to world events, but there was an inner restlessness about him that seemed to be seeking an outlet. That outlet was found in the rescue of Hungarian Jewry. In the spring of 1944, the Swedish government (along with other neutral governments and organizations) was asked by the newly established U.S. War Refugee Board to help protect the Jews of Hungary, who in the wake of the German occupation, were in imminent danger of deportation to death camps. The Swedes delegated this task to Wallenberg, who was appointed First Secretary of the Swedish legation in Budapest. In addition to a diplomatic passport, he was given a large sum of money from the World Jewish Congress and War Refugee Board and carte blanche to use whatever methods necessary to effect the rescue of Hungarian Jewry. By the time Wallenberg arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944, the Hungarian government had just halted the deportations begun in March. With the steady advance of the Soviet army, the puppet regime seemed eager to dissociate itself from the Nazis and polish its image in the international community. However, Adolf Eichmann continued to press hard to bring the Final Solution to the Jews of Budapest. Wallenberg wasted no time when he got to the capital and quickly became known for his unconventional methods and seeming fearlessness. After learning from Carl Lutz and others about the use of the Schutzbriefe (diplomatic protective passes), Wallenberg applied to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry for authority to use them. When permission was granted for only 1,500, he bribed officials to increase the figure to 15,000. Similarly, he sliced through bureaucratic complications to set up an extensive network of hospitals, daycare centers and soup kitchens for Jews under his protection. By early October Wallenberg was convinced that the situation was under control and that he could return to Stockholm. However, on October 15, a dramatic reversal took place as a result of the Arrow Cross coup and installation of the fascist Szalasi government. Deportations were resumed, the Schutzbriefe were revoked, and gangs of Arrow Cross hoodlums roamed the streets beating up Jews. In November Eichmann organized a series of death marches of Jews from Budapest to the Austrian border. Wallenberg reacted immediately. By dangling the possibility of Swedish diplomatic recognition as bait, he got the new government to revalidate the Schutzbriefe. He also played a key role in the establishment of the International Ghetto, a series of 31 buildings in which more than 30,000 Jews were concentrated under the protection of the neutral legations and the Red Cross. Using the money at his disposal he organized a paid staff of over 300, including medical personnel for two hospitals. Wallenberg repeatedly appeared at the railroad station in Budapest to distribute Schutzbriefe to Jews assembled for deportation, who he then escorted to a convoy of diplomatic cars parked nearby. When the death marches began, Wallenberg followed the columns of Jews in his car and handed out hundreds of Schutzbriefe during rest stops. These Jews were then sent back to Budapest. In the last weeks of the war, when he heard that the retreating Germans intended to blow up the central ghetto and its nearly 70,000 Jewish residents, Wallenberg rushed to the office of the garrison commander and threatened to have him prosecuted for war crimes if he carried out the plan. Wallenberg's life was under constant threat and rumors spread that the SS and Arrow Cross were engineering an "accident" to eliminate him without violating his diplomatic immunity. In the end, however, he was captured by the Russians rather than by the Germans and their collaborators. On January 17, 1945, a few days after the liberation of Pest, Wallenberg set out for Debrecen under Soviet military escort to see the Russian commander, Marshal Malinovsky, about a plan for the rehabilitation of the Jewish community. He was never seen again, and no explanation was ever proffered for his arrest. In 1957 the Soviets officially announced that Wallenberg had died from a heart attack in 1947 at Moscow's Lubianka prison, but no evidence was provided. When the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous came into existence in 1963, Wallenberg became one of the first rescuers to be officially recognized by Yad Vashem.
[Sources: Paldiel, Mordecai. The Path of the Righteous, KTAV, Hoboken, NJ, 1993; Saul, Eric. "Visas for Life" exhibition, February 2000]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Erica & Joseph Grossman
Record last modified: 2004-04-01 00:00:00
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