National Committee for Attending Deportees (DEGOB, Hungary)
Creation of the National Committee for Attending Deportees
In the first few months after the end of the war in Hungary in April 1945 there was no central organization capable of coordinating the revival of the remaining Jewish community and arranging the coherent distribution of relief aid coming in from three main sources: the International Red Cross, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint), and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. To unify efforts, the National Jewish Aid Committee (Országos Zsidó Segítő Bizottság, OZSSB) was established on August 31, 1945. This organization integrated a number of independent groups implementing often overlapping support activities. The Joint, which provided the largest funds, recognized the new organization as the executive arm of the relief effort. As of August 31, the independent National Committee for Attending Deportees (Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság, DEGOB) was absorbed into the OZSSB’s organizational structure.
In addition to aid and relief, DEGOB performed important documentary work as well. A registration system was put in place to document data on survivors and victims. As part of the process, all returning deportees and labor servicemen were asked to list the names of survivors who had not yet returned to Hungary as well as data on those who had perished. Further, DEGOB staff recorded the testimonies of more than 5000 survivors (2 percent of the Jewish survivors) of the Holocaust.
DEGOB continued to perform its welfare and relief efforts until April 1950, when OZSSB was shut down and its responsibilities were taken over by the Central Welfare Committee of the National Office of Hungarian Israelites (Magyar Izraeliták Irodája Központi Szociális Osztály). In 1946, the information unit was absorbed by the Documentation Department of the World Jewish Congress.
The earliest testimony of the DEGOB collection was created on December 12, 1944. This was obviously not authored by the DEGOB staff as the organization did not yet exist at this point. However, the document was later placed into the series of testimonies as Protocol 3659. In the spring of 1945, the Countryside Department of the Hungarian Association of Jews (Magyarországi Zsidó Szervezete Vidéki Osztálya) prepared similar documents, which also became part of the collection. The last testimony was taken on April 13, 1946.
DEGOB employees recorded the testimonies by interviewing survivors according to a standard questionnaire. These were arranged into twelve topical groups (such as the characteristics of the Jewish community in the survivor’s original place of residence; events before 1944; the features of the ghetto; the circumstances of the deportation, arrival in the camp, and selection; life in the camp; evacuations, liberation, and the circumstances of homecoming, etc.). An important consideration for those assembling this material was to enable the creation of historically authentic documents. Survivors were asked whether “you know this firsthand or simply by hearsay?” Certain questions did not relate to concrete facts but rather to the survivor’s emotional and psychological reactions. (“What did you immediately notice when you arrived and how did your observations affect you?”) The overwhelming majority of questions enquired about concrete events and data. Thus, an immense amount of information was obtained about the Holocaust in Hungary.
The protocols were recorded using the so-called Gabelsberg-Markovits shorthand system and then typed up. The language was either Hungarian or German. Several Hungarian documents were translated into English and German. DEGOB sent 16 volumes of protocol material to YIVO in New York. 1200 protocols were submitted to the Hungarian authorities to investigate cases of war crimes. During the most intensive period (in the summer and autumn of 1945), 25 people worked at the Documentation Department of DEGOB. By September 1946 its staff comprised only 8 people.