Years ago Robin W. Winks, a professor of history at Yale University, edited a book titled The Historian As Detective: Essays on Evidence. And indeed, historians often comb through information from a variety of sources until they experience their aha moment. Something like that happened to László Eörsi, the historian whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is legendary. I’m convinced that Eörsi knows exactly happened at every street corner during those thirteen days, in Budapest as well as other cities and towns in Hungary. But his research this time led him far afield: to 1944-45 and the Swedish Red Cross’s efforts at saving the lives of Hungarian Jews. It is a fascinating story with a twist at the end.
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I stumbled upon Zoltán Harangi’s name as a researcher of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Harangi had joined one of the rebel groups in Budapest, but during the struggle for freedom, he contacted the organizations of state security and ended up informing on his fellow fighters. Following this, he served as an informant for 15 years during the Kádár regime, causing numerous tragedies.
There are few sources detailing certain parts of Zoltán Harangi’s life journey. One of these mysteries is how he was able to become an employee of the Swedish embassy, especially considering that he was trained as a collier, completed a college degree in landscaping and had a criminal record with 11 counts of theft and two charges of receiving stolen goods.
At age 31, in June 1944, he became a founding member of the Swedish Red Cross and was given several confidential assignments. He directed the Red Cross’ investigations unit, thus it was up to him to oversee the screening of employees and he also addressed complaints relating to the organization. In June 1944, the Swedish Red Cross took under its protection the Körönd Rehabilitation Centre in Budapest, where Jews under the protection of the Sweden were housed. According to several victim testimonies, some doctors – especially Aurél Stürmer Lovassy – consistently blackmailed the persecuted, demanding money from them, in exchange for extending their stay in the building.
On November 25, 1944, Harangi reported the rehabilitation centre to the Arrow Cross party secretary in Budapest’s third district, Zoltán Nagyiványi. Nagyiványi in turn assigned János Traum, a master painter, who also served in the party’s district association, with the investigation of the situation. On the same night, the Arrow Cross removed 40 Jews, taking them to district party headquarters (171 Bécsi Road). They deemed the letters indicating that they were protected by Sweden as invalid. A total of 12 or 13 Jews were executed and others were tortured. The next day, Harangi was essentially forced to change his tune, as alongside the leader of the Swedish Red Cross, Langlet Waldermár, he visited the director of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Press Department, Ferenc Fiala, where he advocated on behalf of the deported. Based on Fiala’s decision, they transported back the deported Jews to the rehabilitation centre.
Harangi, however, provided the Arrow Cross with further information. On December 13th, they entered the headquarters of the Swedish Red Cross, right into the areas of the building where those escaping forced labour were hiding. Only three people, including Harangi, knew of this hiding place, thus the Red Cross became suspicious and Harangi was moved to a different department. As of this point, the Arrow Cross did not receive any further information.
During the German occupation Harangi blackmailed, robbed and reported on a woman, who in the end was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. “I met with Zoltán Harangi about three weeks prior,” noted Pál Rákosi, the husband of the woman who fell victim to such a tragic fate, in a June 1945 police report. “I did not dare to confront him, because he was in the company of a Russian officer, and you as well told me that he was serving with the GPU, as a detective,” he added. After the war, Harangi was on the hunt for Arrow Cross members and Volkbundists, in areas of Budapest controlled by the Soviets. While he searched apartments in the city, he also went about robbing them. In fact, he took the 3rd district, Darázs Street apartment of a Hungarian Jew who fled to Palestine. On April 19, 1945, Harangi was taken into custody, but he continued to make use of his skills. “I worked as a notetaker in the correctional facility and I could move freely and I was able to decide who, in addition to myself, could serve as notetakers”—wrote Harangi in a report from 1961. At the time, it was suggested that Harangi may also know of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish ambassador in Budapest, or that he may have been “actively involved in this.” Based on 15 eyewitness testimonies, the Tutsek Council decided to confiscate all of Harangi’s property in June 1949, and also sentenced him to 10 years of forced labour. According to the sentencing document, Harangi “deported the persecuted, several dozen people fell victim to his deeds, and he was driven by malicious intent.” Half a year later, István Aradi reduced his sentence by half, whilst noting that the war crimes conviction still stands.
Harangi was released in February 1952, but before the end of the year, he committed a break and entry, which resulted in a sentence of 12 years. But on October 30th, 1956, he was released from the correctional facility by the revolutionaries. We have data showing that until 1972, he collaborated with the Kádár regime. He lived until 1998.
My Hungarian-language study of Harangi appeared in March 2012, months before Harangi received from Yad Vashem the Righteous Among the Nations award. It is all but impossible that someone else would bear the same name, as the listed profession and date of birth is identical. We find it implausible that Haragi would have saved anyone’s life, as he would have referred to this in his defence, during his trial. But there is no mention of this anywhere during the proceedings. In fact, he never made made mention of saving lives in any of his later reports. Consequently, I ask Yad Vashem to review its decision.