Lecture on the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement in Hungary – Ghetto Fighters House, 2020

Lecture on the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement in Hungary – Ghetto Fighters House, 2020


First, I would like to show you a short 10-minute video, that we produced at the Society for the Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary, presenting a summary of the events and operations of the resistance movement members. This summary can perhaps give us a sense of the mood and the feeling of those days. Afterward, I will try to explain the events in more detail.

The video was prepared at my request, from excerpts from the four documentaries that Benny Barzilai produced for the society (The film: Summary of the resistance operations).

Toward the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, it was obvious to the leadership of the Zionist youth movements in Hungary that the Germans were systematically exterminating the Jews of Europe.

On March 19, 1944, when the Germans invaded Hungary, the leadership realized that Hungarian Jewry was the remnant of European Jewry. It was the obligation and responsibility of the leadership to do everything possible, and even the impossible, to rescue Hungarian Jewry and foil the plans of the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators. The Zionist youth movement leadership made a conscious decision to not take up arms, but rather to engage in rescue operations, and the reasons that tipped the scales unequivocally in favor of rescue were:

  • Lack of topographic conditions – most of Hungary is an enormous plain, with few forests and no swamps
  • Lack of time – as soon as the Germans entered Hungary, the anti-Jewish decrees were issued one after the other at a dizzying pace. Within a shockingly short time the Jews were concentrated in ghettos and within a few weeks the Jews in the rural areas were deported to Auschwitz. There was no time to organize an armed resistance.
  • Lack of an arms-bearing population group – most of the Jewish men aged 21-42 served in forced labor units in the Hungarian army, and in 1942 most of them were at the Russian front. Those who were not recruited before then, the men aged 18-48, were summoned to serve after the entry of the Germans. With only women and children, it was impossible to organize armed resistance.
  • Lack of solidarity from the local population – an atmosphere of hostility and estrangement prevailed among the Hungarian citizenry. It was impossible to expect any help from the local non-Jews. Not water, not food, not hiding places, not intelligence, and definitely not weapons.

The entry of the Germans to Hungary surprised the Hungarian authorities as well as the Jewish institutions, apart from the Zionist youth movements. On the eve of the occupation and the following morning, when other organizations had not yet realized the dramatic significance of the situation, the Zionist youth movements were already responding. They ordered their adult members over the age of 17 to change their identities to Aryan identities (Aryanization) and to go underground. Thus, with their new identities, the anti-Jewish decrees that would be issued would not affect them, and they would be free to operate and rescue others. This strategic decision was the beginning of the underground operations.

One of the factors behind the success of this process was the illegal workshop for the preparation of forged documents, which Dan Zimmerman and Shraga Weil had managed to set up even before the German occupation began. A wide range of documents was produced, including “residency” permits, food ration cards, birth certificates and identity papers, etc., and at a later stage, from October, 1944, even “Military factory work certificates” and “Military discharge certificates.” The person who took charge of that workshop was David Gur, an 18-year-old youth, who turned the boutique creation of the forged certificates into a mass production operation. The forgery team cunningly managed to obtain originals of the relevant certificates, make the appropriate seals and manufacture their own “defensive weapons.” Today David is 94 years old and is the last surviving operative of that underground. He has been the chairman of the Society for the Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary since its establishment, and until today.

Alongside the Aryanization efforts, the youth movements decided on the first two rescue operations:

The dispatching of emissaries to the Jewish communities in the field cities and the forced labor camps:

From the first day of the German occupation of Hungary, the Jewish communities of the field towns were cut off from their surroundings, from the major Jewish institutions in Budapest and from the entire world. Jews were not allowed to use public transportation, their telephone lines were disconnected, and their radios confiscated by the government. The underground youth movements, of their own initiative, sent emissaries to the isolated communities, to warn them of the anticipated anti-Jewish processes: the ghettoization, the deportations and the aim of the deportations. The emissaries brought forged documents, money and instructions for the Jewish youth, to flee to Budapest.

Sometimes the emissaries succeeded in contacting friends or local Jews, and in convincing them to flee to Hungary’s capital, Budapest. Mostly, however, the local Jews did not believe the emissaries and the community leaders even threatened to turn the youths in to the police if they did not leave immediately. There is documentation from throughout 1944 pertaining to nearly 200 emissaries who visited 300 communities and forced labor camps. In Hungary, the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement was the only organization that initiated and carried out the dangerous emissary missions to rescue others. Unfortunately, this dangerous mission failed, due to lack of trust and lack of desire of the families to leave.

The organization of the smuggling of Jewish youth over the Romanian border – toward Eretz Israel:

The escape route that was found to be the preferred one and the most likely to succeed against the alternative of being sent to a concentration camp or extermination camp and certain death, was over the Romanian border and to make aliya to Eretz Israel (which was called Palestine t that time). The smuggling operation began Immediately after the German invasion of Hungary, with the code name Tiyul (a Hebrew word meaning outing or trip). This was the organized smuggling of Jewish youth to Romania, via the border cities of Szeged, Kolozsvar Békéscsaba and Nagyvárad-Oradea. Some of those that were responsible for and active in this dangerous operation of bringing dozens of teenagers across the border every night, were Moshe Alpan, Hanna Ganz, Asher Arányi, Ya’akov Deutsch, Yehuda Levi, and Menahem Tzvi Kadari.

Smuggling people was a complex and risky operation. It began with assembling the group in Budapest, and preparing each person individually. Everyone needed suitable clothing and forged documents, and had to carefully review their new name and learn their cover story. Each traveler needed both Hungarian and Romanian currency, and was instructed on how to behave during the long train journey, where to meet the smuggler and how to recognize him. They also had to learn what to do in a foreign city in the evening hours, how to send word that the border had been crossed safely, and what to do on the Romanian side.

In Hungary, the escaping youths first had to elude the rings of security forces, the army and the secret service agents, who constantly sought to identify and capture disguised Jews on their way to the transportation office to buy train tickets. After that, throughout the long hours of the journey, they had to avoid drawing attention, and present their documents calmly and naturally to the suspicious inspectors. After reaching the border city in the evening, the youths had to meet the smuggler and, under cover of darkness and the smuggler’s help, cross the border into Romania on foot and send back the agreed signal that they had escaped. The youths then had to reach the first big city on the Romanian side – Arad or Torda – and meet with the underground member who was waiting for them. The Jews in those cities spoke Hungarian and helped the escapees, who did not speak Romanian, to find places to stay for the first few nights, and to continue their journey to Bucharest. From there, they journeyed on toward Eretz Israel. During this dangerous operation several youths were caught on the trains in Hungary, in the border cities and sometimes even on the Romanian side.

The organized smuggling operation came to an end on 23 August, 1944, when Romania aligned with the Soviet Union and declared war on Germany. The Romanian-Hungarian border became the front line.

The notations in the Jewish community ledgers of Arad and Torda show that some 15,000 young Jews crossed the border illegally between April and August of 1944. This operation, which saved the escapees from extermination, is unprecedented in its scope during WWII in German Occupied Europe.

I would like to read to you’re the testimony that my father wrote in Rafi Benshalom’s book, We Struggled for Life. “Sitting in a small hotel in the border city of Nagyvárad, on August 23, 1944, after Romania switched aligned with the Allied Forces, and the border became a genuine battlefront, and it became impossible to smuggle more people safely, he wrote…:

‘The thought occurred to me that this is the last opportunity to take my own “jump” to freedom. I knew that the Tiyul was now over and done, and therefore also my mission. But I couldn’t leave the other underground members. The hardest work was about to begin, only now, because we had become hopelessly ensnared in a mousetrap from which there would no longer be any way out. I said goodbye to my Romanian friends, bid farewell to Uncle Peter…I left the city that had opened a window to freedom to so many – and had cost others their lives…and I decided to return to my comrades who had remained in Budapest, and to continue helping as much as I could, despite the tremendous risk.”


Among the underground’s many rescue stories, the role of the Glass House is very prominent in them, and at a certain stage, its management House and decision making.

Starting in 1941, the Swiss embassy represented the interests of Great Britain and of Eretz Israel, as part of the British Empire, and the arrangements for immigration to Eretz Israel. Three weeks after the successful of invasion of Normandy by the Allied Forces (June 6, 1944), a forum of Hungarian government ministers convened, headed by the Regent Miklós Horthy, who already wanted to attract the attention of the Allies, whose victory was almost certain. The forum confirmed the memorandum of the Swiss embassy, submitted to the forum by Vice-Consul Karl Lutz, for the implementation of the 7,800 immigration certificates issued by the British authorities in Palestine, and which were in the possession of the Eretz Israel office in Budapest.

On July 24, 1944, the Glass House, located at 29 Vadász St., opened an office for the registration of Aliya applications and the organization of Aliya. A sign was affixed to the building: Swiss Embassy – Emigration Department for Representation of Foreign Interest. Until the completion of the administrative processing of their emigration, applicants-candidates received a certificate stating that they were registered on a collective passport, and until their departure from Hungary they were considered Swiss citizens under the protection of the Swiss representation. This certificate became known as a Schutzpass (protection certificate). The authorities and the Hungarian security personnel honored this certificate!

The Zionist youth movements demanded a presence in the Glass House, as the building enjoyed extraterritorial status as an extension of the Swiss embassy. Their presence was granted, despite the objections of Moshe Krausz, director of the Eretz Israel office, and Arthur Weisz, the owner of the building, who were officially responsible for the management of the building. Starting in August 1944, the building had an office whose door bore the sign, “Halutz Department,” and which was managed by Rafi Benshalom, who was in charge of the external relations of the youth movements.

From there, operations were already much easier. The office was used for the distribution of all the documents necessary for the rescue operations; for the assignment of missions to members of the underground; for the briefing of candidates on how to escape across the border to Romania. This office received the encoded messages regarding successful border crossings; and sent emissaries-liaisons to the forced labor camps. The Glass House received word of underground members who had been caught and imprisoned, and operations were launched to free them. The Halutz office was the meeting place for discussions and negotiations with representatives of the Hungarian anti-German and anti-Fascist groups, for joint operations – without the knowledge of the Glass House’s management. Consultations among the leadership of the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement were also held within the safe confines of the Glass House, which replaced the various opportune coffee shops and parks, where danger lurked in every corner, and which had been used for meetings until the opening of the Glass House.

In the second half of October 1944, after the coup by the Arrow Cross party, the gates of the Glass House were opened at the initiative of Alexander Grossmann, and the building absorbed escapees from the forced labor camps, the families of the Zionist operatives, youth movement members and other refugees.

The Zionist youth movements organized the internal life in the Glass House and the two other buildings that became branch offices of the Emigration Department. Moshe Biderman, Simha Hunwald and Benjamin Feigenbaum were among the many Zionist youth movement members who played an active role in these operations. The three buildings of the Glass House became a safe haven for over 4,000 Jews, who were liberated by the Red Army (Russia) on January 18, 1945.

October-November 1944 marked the beginning of the feverish race to save lives. Jewish men aged 16-60 and women aged 16-40 were ordered to report for forced labor for the defense establishment and the fortifications surrounding Budapest. Seventy forced labor units of Jews were transferred by the Hungarian army to Germany on October 26. The horrific death marches of women, children and the elderly set out on November 6. By that time, the thundering of the Russian Katyusha rockets 12-20 kilometers from Budapest could already be heard in the city.

The Zionist youth in the Glass House initiated a rescue operation on a massive scale, with a very ambitious goal: to provide a Schutzpass to anyone who asked – to gain time – to delay the inevitable. They ordered 10,000 blank certificates from the print shop that produced the original certificates, distributed them and helped any Jew who could be reached, to fill in the forms. This daring effort was repeated several times, and a total of 120,000 certificates were issued and distributed to anyone who asked, via the members of the underground from the Glass House, from the offices of the International Red Cross (at 4 Mérleg St., 52 Baross St. and József Blvd.) and at the Swiss consulate at 2-4 Perczel Mór St., which was established specifically for this purpose. Even though the Arrow Cross gendarmes began to suspect the certificates at a certain stage, and stopped honoring them, and there were some Jews who had certificates and were captured and marched to the frozen Danube River, shot and pushed into the water, the Schutzpasses saved tens of thousands of lives.


The establishment of the children’s houses was another amazing operation in which members of the underground were very involved and whose practical implementation became their full responsibility

On October 15, 1944, following the coup of the fascist Arrow Cross party, and the rise to power of its leader, Ferenc Szálasi, the brutal persecution of the Jews of Budapest began. Every day different age groups of Jews, men and women, were ordered to report for forced labor and were deported. These mass call-ups resulted in the disappearance of the adult Jewish population in Budapest and many children were left without their parents. A spontaneous unorganized phenomenon began: neighbors and older siblings came to the offices of the International Red Cross at 4 Mérleg St. with the children, and left them there. The underground Zionist youth responded immediately. Within a short time 55 children’s houses were established with the help of Friedrich Born, the International Red Cross representative in Hungary, under the auspices of Department A, headed by Ottó Komoly, the president of the Hungarian Zionist Association. The department located and rented appropriate buildings, provided them with the basic equipment – beds, mattresses, blankets, kitchenware, toys – and organized teams of youth movement members to care for the children. The department also appointed administrative and economic staff, stationed guards outside each building, and hung signs on the façade: “This building is under the protection of the International Red Cross.” Large signs were also put up in front of the buildings, declaring that they were intended for sick children with contagious diseases…

During the murderous rule of the Arrow Cross, during the siege of Budapest and during the battles for the city, the underground youth movements established, operated, fed and sustained 55 children’s houses, in which 5,000 children survived and were saved, along with nearly 1,000 staff and caregivers. This is a unique story that is quite incomprehensible during World War II. After the war, the underground youth continued caring for the children, and most of them made Aliya to Israel.

It is difficult in a short lecture to go into the fine details of the deeds of the underground Zionist youth. I will end with the epic story of the foods supply to the children’s houses and the protected houses, an operation of massive proportions and of vital importance. The key figures were Efra Agmon, who operated in conjunction with Hansi Brand, a heroine in her own right, who helped many of the underground members. They also made sure that underground operatives, dressed in Arrow Cross uniforms, escorted the food convoys, which were under constant threat of capture and confiscation, by starving mobs, Arrow Cross members and regular soldiers, because of the terrible food shortage throughout the city.

Members of the Zionist underground constantly carried out operations to free their comrades who were captured and imprisoned. In one such operation, over the course of a few days, they managed to extricate around 120 underground members from the main military prison on Margit Blvd., including the leadership of Dror Habonim: Neshka and Tzvi Goldfarb, Ze’ev Eisikovics, Eli Shalev and others. That operation was managed by Moshe (Pil) Alpan, Tzvi צבי רבס, Yitzhak Herbst-Mimish and Efra Agmon. It was the largest rescue of this type, of Jews and non-Jews, in the entire history of the Holocaust, from any prison.

The leadership of the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement in Hungary (which consisted of Hashomer Hatzair, Dror Habonim, Maccabi Hatzair, Hanoar Hatzioni and Bnei Akiva) read the political and social picture during this extreme historical crisis and responded immediately and practically. They planned rescue missions and shouldered the responsibility over life and death. The leadership nobly took responsibility and activated members of the underground in widening circles. The underground operatives knowingly risked their lives to save their comrades and to save tens of thousands of Jews whom they did not know, in the spirit of Jewish and humanitarian solidarity.

The underground leadership’s decisions on the rescue operations were autonomous. They received no orders from anyone, not locally and not from other countries. The underground operatives could have escaped and saved themselves at any time. They did not do so. They remained on duty, endangering themselves time and again to rescue others.

I would like to conclude this lecture with a quote from a speech by my father, Moshe Alpan, who represented the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement at the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day service at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in 1984:

Whoever has never felt the responsibility of making fateful decisions between survival and heroic death, between vengeance and rescuing lives, between bringing a child to a safe haven and ‘Let me die with the Philistines’ (the words of Samson before he brought down the temple of Dagon on himself and all the people inside) does not know the magnitude of the test facing those who stood up, of their own free will and took full responsibility, as a Halutz in front of the camp that marched toward the unknown…”

The Zionist Youth Resistance Movement’s unique rescue operation, with its tremendous scope and impressive achievements during the rule the Nazi collaborators and the rule of the Hungarian fascists, an operation that saved tens of thousands of Jews, is a glorious part of the history of Hungarian Jewry.

The rescue operations by members of the Zionist Youth Resistance Movement in Hungary were the largest organized operations by Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Thanks to their efforts, hundreds of thousands of Jews are alive today.

The heroic deeds of these young men and women are worthy of serving as an example and a legacy for the Jewish People and inspiration for future generations.


Yuval Alpan, June 25, 2020