The Righteous Among The Nations
Between 1941-1943, some 50,000 Hungarian Jewish men were drafted into military labor-service companies, and sent to the Russian front, along with the Hungarian army. So many of these Jews fell victim to frost and hunger, or were murdered by the notoriously antisemitic Hungarian forces, that only a few thousand of them returned home alive. Béla Király was a high-ranking officer in the Hungarian army. Unlike most of the general staff serving at the Russian front, Király was sympathetic to the Jews’ plight, and used his position to save their lives. Király was responsible for supplies in the 201st Division, to which a Jewish labor company also belonged. When he arrived at the front, Király ordered that the Jews be given new warm army uniforms to replace the tattered civilian clothes they had been wearing. He issued them hats bearing the symbol of the Hungarian army, as well as shoes, which many of them lacked. He also made sure that the Jews’ food rations and sleeping quarters were identical to those of regular soldiers. Because they could not be distinguished from the Hungarian troops, the Jews in the labor company were spared persecution by German soldiers. However, the Germans at the front did complain about the fact that Jews were wearing army uniforms. The Jews who served in the labor unit later testified that Király’s policies saved their lives. They recalled how Király made sure that his troops treated the Jews “like human beings, and not like we were human dust,” as they had before Király took charge of the division. Andor Bálint, one of his survivors, testified: “Király allowed us to hold on to our humanity and made our physical and mental survival possible.” János Fodor and Sándor Farkas recalled how Király took care of them, even during the chaos of the great retreat of the Hungarian and German armies, despite the fact that he had many other things to worry about. Béla Király broke the law by giving new army uniforms to Jews under his command. He used his rank and authority to improve the conditions of Jews in the forced labor unit, and helped them survive the war.
On March 11, 1993, Yad Vashem recognized Béla Király as Righteous Among the Nations.