Providing food for the refugees, survivors and underground members
One of the tasks that was seemingly prosaic but of paramount importance, and which required supreme heroism was the provision of food and clothing for all the needy Jews that came to Budapest.
This mission began in 1941, when the first refugees arrived from Poland, and intensified in 1942, with refugees from Slovakia. Most were young people, members of the Zionist youth movements in their countries, who found refuge by their friends from the movement. The refugees were housed in hiding places (due to their foreign language, or because they had no personal documents). The Hungarian movements provided for the daily needs of their members.
Later, refugees came from elsewhere, as well as Hungarians who escaped from the labor camps and fled to the capital. Above all else, these people needed food. Starting in March 1944, the provision of food became a mammoth logistical operation, with tens of thousands of mouths to feed, including 3000 that found refuge in The Glass House.
On 1 January, 1945, the authorities forced those living in the “protected houses” to move to the main ghetto. The reports indicate that there were 32,500 people. The residents of the “starred houses” were also transferred to the main ghetto, where the population swelled to 70,000. The over-crowding was horrendous, as the ongoing war forced everyone into the basements. Although these provided some protection from the Russian artillery fire and aerial bombardments, there was no food, no heating fuel, no water and no electricity.
The establishment of children’s houses toward the end of 1944 imposed tremendous responsibility on the youth movements. All the children’s needs had to be met. At the height of this operation, there were approximately 6,000 children. The underground Zionist youth movements were in charge of the continuous supply of basic foods to the children’s houses, as well as fuel for heating during the winter months. Every evening, the representative of the Administrative Division of the Economics Branch of the International Red Cross and the person that trasported the food shipments, met with Efra Agmon, the representative of the underground.
Together they decided what to send the following day, from which warehouse, and the mode of transportation. They also decided which children’s house, “protected house” or the main ghetto in District VII would receive the supplies. The role of the underground youth movements was to escort the wagons, to protect the food shipments from harassment by groups of armed Arrow Cross men, or from arbitrary confiscation by army units. Each wagonload of food had to make it safely to its destination – this was the underground’s most important mission.
During the Arrow Cross’s reign of terror and the siege and battles for Budapest, the underground youth movements established, operated, maintained and saved 55 children’s homes, in which 6,000 children survived. This is an unparalleled and unfathomable story during the raging battles of WWII.