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Captain László Ocskay and the 101/359 Labor Service Company

Dan Danieli


T A B L E   O F   C O N T E N T S :




The activities of Captain László Ocskay is a subject which is somewhat limited in its appeal, not well known to most interested in the various aspects of the Holocaust. It does not contain philosophy or shattering historical revelations. It does however has information to illuminate a particular corner of the tapestry of human suffering inflicted by the Germans and their faithful Hungarian Quislings on the Jews of Hungary. It has a redeeming aspect too: it affirms that in time of the most horrendous crimes committed by man against man, there is a certain quantity of good that comes to the surface, sometimes intentionally and planned, sometimes just by it's own inertia and from totally unexpected sources.

In researching  this subject I used extensively published data concerning the Hungarian Holocaust,[1] and about the military labor service in Hungary. [2]  My own research into the history of  one labor company, the number 101/359 in Budapest, was published in the form of a copyrighted monograph.[3]

 "Rescue Through Labor Service in Hungary..." which was the original title of this author's research could have created  the impression that the Labor Service in Hungary, which was  forced labor, was in itself a rescue operation, created and used for that specific purpose. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Labor Service was an exploitative, oppressive, discriminatory organization, that went from bad to horrendous during its existence. It turned from exploitation of cheap labor into a convenient tool of the Final Solution, with stages in between, each stage worse than the previous in it's cruelty toward the laborers, both men and women and even children over the age of 16.

Most countries allied with the Axis during WW-II had labor units or combinations of labor camps and concentration camps for "undesirable" elements, undesirable for religious, political, sexual preference or other reasons. The Hungarian system was unique in one very important aspect: it was organized and managed by the Ministry of Defense, as part of the army, a system with a chain of command and military officers and NCO-s in charge, with a rather extensive structure within the Ministry of Defense that had to deal as their only competence with the Labor Service.

It had a setup based in law, the  1939 March 11 Law no. II-1939[4]  which established the legal base for the Labor Service System, however several laws and regulations preceding it have their origin dating back to the post WW-I period. The objective was to make sure Jews and other undesirable and unreliable people are not  in possession of weapons, have no access to sensitive military information, and are not in any command position. The basic law was modified and additions issued time and time again, with numerous directives and orders issued by the Ministry of Defense[5]. The Labor Services Units evolved into massive pools of labor available to the military, within the borders of Hungary and outside, as adjuncts to the army fighting the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front,  performing building, fortification, mine clearing and other services, always under Hungarian officers' command, guarded by Hungarian soldiers. As the war turned to the Axis powers disadvantage and the Germans demanded more and more contribution to the war efforts from the pliable and very willing Hungarian governments, the Labor Service turned in part into a bargaining chip in the hands of the Hungarians. To illustrate some of what happened during the course of the war to the Labor Service, the following are some important milestones:

  • July 12, 1942 was the start of deploying  approximately 50,000 Jewish laborers to the Ukraine front.
  • April 30, 1943 massacre of Jewish Labor Service personnel in Doroshits  - Ukraine
  • July 2, 1943 German-Hungarian agreement to deploy 6200 men in Jewish  Labor Service companies  to Bor, Serbia, to work in the copper mines.

By the summer of 1943,[6] over 800.000 individuals, both Jews and non-Jews, were in the military labor service. Organizationally, these individuals served within the framework of the following three major labor service systems:

  • Military labor companies  (Katonai Munkásszázadok) composed of Hungarians and national minorities of Trianon Hungary.
  • Public labor service battalions (Közérdekü munkaszolgálatos zászlóaljak).
  • Auxiliary, i.e. Jewish, labor service companies  (KisegítŒ zsidó munkásszázadok).

April 5, 1944 a decree was issued that revoked the right of Jews to wear military uniforms. From that time they had to wear their own clothing and no replacement was provided. Even before that, Labor Service Companies often did not receive government issued clothing or uniforms.

April 26, 1944 the Hungarian Sztojai government agrees to place 50.000 Jewish Labor Service under direct German command, at the sole German disposition.

October 7-8, 1944 massacre of Jewish Labor Servicemen evacuated from Bor, Serbia where they performed mostly duties in copper mines, under the most barbaric conditions.

It must be stressed at this point, that the condition of the labor units changed to the worse as the war progressed, Hungarian governments changed, influences within politics changed. The rather chaotic situation within the government, or the governments that followed each other, with various and different views of collaboration with the Germans, the Regent Horthy's vacillation and his various Prime Ministers, Ministers of Defense and Chiefs of Staff world view, all influenced the conditions under which the units have been deployed and the condition of those who served in the units.

Painting a picture with a very broad brush, the conditions, depending on which areas of deployment are being discussed, can be characterized from bearable, to bad, to horrendous, to homicidal. During certain periods some commanding officers acted without any supervision living out their wildest anti-Semitic dreams on the defenseless laborers. Other commanding officers tried to provide some measure of humane environment in very difficult conditions. From extreme sadism, through benevolent by-the-book commanders and to a very few outspoken and clearly helpful officers one could find all types and everything in between. Directives from the Ministry of Defense, sometimes alleviating  conditions and sometimes making them harsher, have been grudgingly adhered to in the field, but sometimes the same directives have been disregarded, creating ups and downs and enormous discrepancies between the various units. From the Ministry, on many occasions orders contradicting each other have been received, depending where the orders originated and during which period of time.

It should be clear from what was presented to this point, that the Labor Service per se  could by no means be considered a vehicle for rescue. It was a tool of exploitation and degradation, turned into slavery as time passed  and conditions got worse. However, there is no proof, documentation or any testimony at all, that the organization was set up as a mean to deport, annihilate, exterminate the laborers, at least not as an official Ministry of Defense policy. It has to be understood, that there was an enormous gap in policy and in execution between the official highest  Ministry levels and the commanders and guard units in the field. The sadistic homicidal anti-Semitism of many soldiers in the field was not directed by the higher levels, although even there, large differences in attitude toward the Jews can be easily discerned. Certain officers in the Ministry were as anti-Semitic as can be and had no incentive to halt or moderate excesses in the field, while others looked aside knowing what is going on and again others actively tried to prevent cruelty, murder and exploitation.

It is not my intention to detail the history of the Labor Service in Hungary. The English language coverage is widely available. The coverage in Hungarian is rather comprehensive, not so much in the form of a unified total history, but more as individual researches on certain aspects of the Service and the history of individual Service Units. It is clear from all what was and is said and printed on this subject, that the conditions run the gamut of a unit doing make-believe work most of the time, to murderous inhuman punishments, guard units stealing the meager rations, laborers families being blackmailed, massacres being committed not only by Hungarian soldiers but by German and other Axis troops on completely defenseless Jewish Labor Service units.

It must be stressed that as the situation in Hungary worsened after the March 19 1944 occupation by Germany as servile Hungarian governments ruled the country, and specially after the putch of the Hungarian Arrow-Cross under Ferenc Szálasi the self appointed Leader, the conditions under which the Labor Service units found themselves got out of hand. As mentioned before, certain Labor Service Units have been put under direct German command, outside of Hungary's borders even before Szálasi. During the murderous rampage of the Arrow-Cross, individuals serving in the Labor Service units and whole units have been driven  by foot from the Budapest area to the Austrian border and there handed over to the Germans. The Ministry of Defense never instructed, to my knowledge, to deport Labor Service units for the specific reason to exterminate them. It was when such units fell into the hands of Hungarian civilian authorities, the gendarmerie, the Arrow-Cross, the  German occupation units, that Jews serving in the Labor Service fell victim to deportation, sometimes as a result of policy differences, territorial infighting and zealous anti-Semites trying to proof their loyalty by overdoing other anti-Semites and even the official government policy.

Quoting from The Politics of Genocide...[7]

Following the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, and the establishment of the pro-Nazi Sztójay government, the labor service system turned out to be a source of rescue for many Jewish men threatened by deportation. While the Jewish labor servicemen in the Ukraine and in Bor continued to suffer from the harsh and often cruel treatment of their superiors, those called up or volunteering for duty in the labor service companies stationed within the country fared comparatively well, at least until the Nyilas  era.

It is one of the ironies of history that the Ministry of Defense, which had been viewed as one of the chief causes of suffering among the Jews during the previous four to five years, suddenly emerged as the major governmental institution actively involved in the saving of Jewish lives. The motivations behind the Ministry's actions are not absolutely clear. It is safe to assume that many local commanders, aware of the realities of the ghettoization and deportation program and motivated by humanitarian instincts, did everything in their power to rescue as many Jews as possible...

Outstanding among these were men like...László Ocskay,[8] the commander of Company No. 101/359...




An interesting piece of information can be found in an article that appeared in a Hungarian daily[9] Világ (World) on June 17, 1945, five months after the liberation of Budapest, one month after the end of the war in Europe. The article was written by a much respected newsman and political commentator, Stella Adorján, who himself was a highly decorated Jewish veteran of the WW-I Austro-Hungarian army. He writes that on November 27, 1944, when the Arrow-Cross terror reigned and Hungary was virtually Juden-frei except for Jews in Budapest including a few Labor Service Units and Labor Service Units dispersed in the countryside, a command was received by all units stationed in Budapest to gather all members, because all the units, en-masse will be deported by rail early morning of November 29. Stella Adorján who had very good connections at the Ministry of Defense rushed there and to his greatest horror found a notice at the entrance announcing, that "According to the edict of the government all matters of the labor service are now handled by the Ministry of the Interior." This was a virtual death sentence for the Labor Service units, knowing that the most extreme anti-Semites  ruled that Ministry . Even so, Stella Adorján menaged to contact certain officers, or at least tried to contact them, who in their staff positions had helped in critical matters before. The article mentions by name Captain Ocskay.  As for Stella Adorján's last minute action: there was very little the officers of the Ministry of Defense could do as the authority over the Labor units where not anymore in their hands. A few units stationed in Budapest, including Captain Ocskay's  and two more units to my knowledge, managed to stay in Budapest, the rest have been deported to Austria under the murderous authority of the Ministry of Interior. A number of individuals from those units escaped from their units before being taken on the infamous death-marches and managed to hide in the main Budapest ghetto, in the Budapest international ghetto or at large.

Captain László Ocskay the Commanding Officer of the 101/359 Labor Service Company used the Labor Service as a vehicle for rescue and thus performed an extraordinary deed that resulted in the saving of approximately 2000 women, men and children during the most vicious murder rampage of the Nazis in Budapest. Commanding  the 101/359 Company, he.moved the unit under his command into large and guardable facilities outside of the city center in Budapest, enlarging the unit by accepting and ingathering Labor Service persons and their families from legitimate and illegitimate origins, providing identification documents and justifying to the authorities ever increasing lists of members, obtaining food, medicine and supplies for the 101/359, boosting their morale during the most catastrophic period of October 1944 to January 1945, actions that have been testified to by survivors.[10]

To insure physical security for the compound of the 101/359, Captain Ocskay utilized his friendship with German military persons, WW-I and business acquaintances  to bolster the guards with German sentries who made the unit practically impenetrable to the rampaging Hungarian Arrow-Cross.

 The author's interest in Ocskay's  rescue operation was aroused during a visit he made a few years ago to the Holocaust Memorial Exhibition in Budapest, where Ocskay's name could not be found among those listed as rescuers. The author, being a survivor due to Ocskay's deeds, felt obligated to inquire and research into what exactly happened and why the omission of the recognition. After Schindler's List received worldwide publicity, why Schindler and not Ocskay? Both saved about the same number of people, both used their German connections. But while Schindler was a somewhat questionable character, Ocskay was simply a humanitarian with no financial gain as his objective. Most of the facilitators and the survivors of Ocskay's drama are now dead; Ocskay lies buried in Kingston, NY while some of the Jewish  officers who took part in establishing the 101/359 Labor Company are buried side-by-side, according to their will, in the Kozma-utca Jewish Cemetery in Budapest. The author's father participated in the establishment of the 101/359 and did everything possible to capitalize on his military background and connections to survive the Holocaust and help others to survive. Belonging to a very small group of persons who belonged to the 101/359 and were 16 or under in January 1945, the author, in contrast to most of the survivors who where at that time in their forties or over, can still provide the research needed to shed light on Ocskay's extraordinary life saving activity.

During the most critical months of 1944-1945 a Jewish Labor Service Unit (munkásszázad), the number 101/359 was established in Budapest with the objective to collect and refurbish clothing for other Jewish forced labor units that did not receive anymore uniforms from the army and had to use their own civilian clothing which deteriorated very rapidly. Number 101/359 was commanded by Captain László Ocskay and it grew from a small unit into a large organization located on the premises of the Jewish highschool in the Abonyi street. The unit initially comprised a few hundred persons, subsequently it increased to about 2000 people, the large majority of which were family members, escaped members of other labor units, fugitives from the Nazis, all needing protection and shelter. They all survived, except cases of natural death and casualties of the bombardments and shelling during the siege of Budapest, but without a single loss to actions of the Nazis.

Captain Ocskay was born into an aristocratic Hungarian landowner family, descendants of the legendary Brigadier Ocskay from the anti-monarchist revolution of Rákóczy Ferenc. The family's land holdings were lost with time and they moved from the north of Hungary to the south.

Ocskay served as an officer of the Austro-Hungarian army in WW-I and was wounded in his leg making him unfit for further active service; he remained in the inactive reserve  of the post WW-I Hungarian army. During his service he made lasting and valuable connections with other officers, Jewish and gentile, Hungarian and Austrian (who after the Anschluss became German) , contacts he cultivated and of which some turned into friendships that served him well in later years.

 To profit from his connections to and knowledge of the Hungarian ruling class, the American oil company Socony-Vacuum  employed him and he rose to the position of the Budapest branch manager. Ocskay's family background, his WW-I military service and his employment were significant contributors to his later ability to act as the commanding officer of the 101/359 Labor Service Company in the capacity that led to the rescue of approximately 2000 Jewish men, women and children. 

 During the period prior to the establishment of the 101/359 unit the function of collecting, warehousing and refurbishing clothing for the various Labor Service units did exist under the management of Jewish community organizations, mainly organized and directed by the Jewish veterans organizations.[11] When this function was formalized and the 101/359 was established as one of the Labor Service Units under the Ministry of Defense, certain Jewish veterans who knew Ocskay as a humanist and a non anti-Semitic reserve officer, persuaded  him to seek reactivation into the army in 1944, with the specific objective to command this unit. With the help of high ranking officers in the ministry and Ocskay's agreement, this was accomplished and he was reactivated in spite of his supernumerary inactive status due to his WW-I injury. The 101/359 unit was first located in the Sip-utca 12 Jewish community building and it later moved to the Abonyi-utca Jewish High School campus to accommodate the growing number of members and to keep the non-designated activities of the unit away from official and public scrutiny.

Under Ocskay's command families of the 101/359 moved into the campus and the membership of the unit grew rapidly from October 1944 till the liberation. The influx consisted mostly of AWOL Labor Service people, stragglers and escapees from other units, survivors of atrocities of the Nazi rampages, family members, children saved and spirited away from orphanages and other victims of persecution. Ocskay and his staff issued I.D.-s to the new arrivals, updated the supposedly official lists, obtained food, medicine and other sustenance. The actual number of people on the campus was not and is not now clear; however the 101/359 was originally certified for a few hundred men; when liberated by the Soviet Army the campus held approximately 2000 men, women and children of all ages. In my research I could not find any absolutely reliable documentation to establish the exact number of people liberated, however testimonials by survivors point toward  2000 to 2500.[12]

The campus was initially guarded by the assigned military guard unit (keret legénység) of elderly  enlisted men and officers not fit for front line duty due to their age or physical problems, assigned to this duty by the Ministry of Defense. As the Hungarian Arrow-Cross increased it's power and the menace of the Final Solution hung over the remaining Jews of Budapest, Captain Ocskay managed to increase the guard unit's effectiveness with the addition of German military personnel. This was accomplished by using his connections with the German military  and the subterfuge of  repairing uniforms for the Wehrmacht in addition of repairing  clothing for the Labor Service units. One close to fatal intrusion by the Arrow-Cross was repulsed by displaying an aggressive German military force, that arrived in the last minute, led by Captain Ocskay's friend, a certain SS. Colonel Hans Weber.[13]

 The following is a concise description of the activities of the 101/359 Company, under the command of Captain Ocskay:[14]

The lot of the labor service companies left in Budapest was just a shade better than that of those in Western Hungary. One of them, Company No. 101/359, the so called Clothes-Collecting Company  (RuhagyüjtŒ Munkásszázad)  was under the command of  László Ocskay,  a very decent and humane officer. The company was originally assigned to work under the jurisdiction of the Jewish Veterans' Committee with headquarters at 12 Sip Street, the seat of the Jewish Council. After the establishment of the ghetto in Budapest early in December 1944, the company was designated to provide police protection within the ghetto. After the Nyilas rejected the plan, the company was transferred to the facilities of a high school on Abonyi Street, outside the ghetto, where the men worked for, and ironically enjoyed the protection of the SS. With the aid of  Adorján Stella, a highly decorated reserve officer, about 25 of these labor servicemen led by  GyörgyWilhelm organized themselves into a special service unit acting for and in cooperation with the International Red Cross. This unit, known as Section-T of the International Red Cross was engaged in the relief and rescue of the persecuted Jews and also took part in some resistance activities...

 Other significant life saving activities took place under Ocskay's command using the manpower and resources of the101/359 Company obviously illegally, not according to the tasks designated  by the Ministry of Defense. It is not known if Ocskay personally participated in such activities, however this is irrelevant: the fact that he consented to delegate his men to such activities, outside of the framework of the 101/359 was in itself an act of heroism and defiance of the official authorities.

As noted before, Ocskay delegated a number of persons from his unit to the International Red Cross's Budapest operation,  as the so called  "Section-T"  to extricate children from endangered orphanages, to supply food and medicine to various Red Cross homes.  This Section-T  cooperated with and helped Raoul Wallenberg  to accomplish some of his legendary rescue operations.

Section-T was headquartered (when outside of the Abonyi-street campus) in the Benczur street home of Ocskay.[15] In this home, in the cellar, he hid a small group of Jews who themselves had no connection to the 101/359 and here was the last refuge of Raoul Wallenberg from January 11 to January 13 1945  when Wallenberg feared that the rampaging Arrow-Cross will locate and murder him. Wallenberg was picked up by the Soviets from this hiding and from here did he depart on his last trip from which he never returned and disappeared forever.



The completely defeated German and Hungarian armies melted away before the Soviet onslaught on Budapest in January 1945. The guards, both Hungarian and German, disappeared one night after a fierce aerial and artillery shelling and Captain Ocskay was not seen again on the 101/359 campus. He was not taken prisoner of war but was arrested, released and re-arrested several times by the communists and accused of being an American spy. His misfortune can probably be attributed  to his civilian employment by Socony-Vacuum, to his close cooperation with Wallenberg and with the Red Cross, or maybe to his contacts with the German military. After recurring harassment Ocskay fled to Austria; later he followed his son George  to the USA. After a lengthy fight with burocracy, Socony-Vacuum and its reincarnation Mobil Oil granted Ocskay a symbolic pension of $100 per month. He worked for a time as a night watchman and died in poverty in Kingston, NY, USA on March 27, 1966.

In order to view Captain Ocskay's activities in the correct context of the time frame in which he saved about 2000 Jews a few additional details must be illuminated. A careful reading of all the available data and testimonials leads to a clear picture of the motives for Captain Ocskay's humanitarian  actions and at the same time opens a small window into the role of some military officers who had a part in saving not only the 101/359 but who somewhat managed to soften the impact of the official government policy. The specific role Captain Ocskay played in this respect was acknowledged and documented shortly after the end of the war not only by Stella Adorján [16] but by the respected historian Eugene Levai[17]

As for his family's origins, Ocskay  came from a class that was historically and traditionally Monarchist, fiercely anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, and pro German. Ocskay was an exception in one respect. His class profile did not predestine him for liberalism or humanitarianism but he has proven himself by his acts. He was an unswerving anti-Communist, he cherished and cultivated his Austrian and German friends, but used these friendships to save persecuted Jews while putting his life in constant jeopardy. There is not a single testimonial that I became aware of that indicates that in order to  get into the 101/359's sanctuary anything of value had to be paid to anybody. To the contrary, it was stated repeatedly that no payments had been requested or have been made.

Although there is no proof for or against, logic dictates that the organization and upkeep required for the ever increasing size of the 101/359, consumed assets far in access of what the authorities provided for this semi-clandestine Labor Company. There could have been only a very limited number of sources to obtain the logistics: to pay off persons who had authority to provide it, or to obtain it on the black-market. Both sources required money or valuables to be exchanged. Such resources could have been provided by some well- to- do members of the 101/359, but this is only the author's assumption.

The question can be asked: should the Labor Service in Hungary  be considered a venue of rescue or a malevolent arm of the fascists, bent on exterminating Jews. This author's answer to this question is that it was never a venue for the rescue of Jews. It was set up to separate Jews from the army as undesirables who can not be trusted with arms or secrets, whose influence on gentiles within the army had to be eliminated, and whose labor had to be exploited to the benefit of the army, at the absolute minimum cost. It was not set up to exterminate Jews or to deport them to extermination camps, however it's organizational profile changed as the Hungarian governments changed in cycles from mildly oppressive to oppressive, to rabidly anti-Semitic, to murderous. Apart from the several Hungarian-German agreements providing the German war effort with Labor Units, there was a policy to keep Jewish labor within the Hungarian borders or within the Hungarian army's area of fighting on the eastern front, not in order to save them, but to exploit their labor potential to the Hungarian army's benefit. The main problem was, that the chain of command within the army either did not operate as intended or it did not represent official policy. Viciously anti-Semitic officers and soldiers treated the Jewish labor with murderous disregard and in many cases with the single minded objective to exterminate them. Orders from above requiring humane treatment was more often disregarded than not, but differences in treatment have been clearly present between one unit to the other due to the individual officers and soldiers who were in charge, within the same time period of the various political cycles. Thus it can be stated, that murder was not a policy of the Ministry of Defense, but neither did it consider the Labor Service a way to save Jews. It was the individual officers and soldiers who were in command of the Jewish Labor Service units who decided over life and death, over murder or humane treatment and all variations in between. In this context the life saving activities of Captain Ocskay have to be viewed as exceptional heroism and skillful use of possibilities that may have been available to other commanding officers but have been utilized in a very few cases only.

Captain Ocskay and the story of the 101/359 are  an example, albeit a unique example of what was possible to do in the most chaotic period of the war. There were others, on much smaller scale who saved individuals and even whole units from deportation and from murder, by using the ambivalence of the organization, personal connections and simply determination and conviction that persecuted people needed their help to survive.

 Certain questions  have been asked repeatedly concerning Captain Ocskay and the 101/359:

The first question concerns cooperation  received in  researching  the 101/359 Labor Company. The answer must be divided into two distinct parts: first, during the research - and second, after the research was completed and the attempts to obtain recognition for Captain Ocskay's deeds.

In order to locate survivors of the unit  a research request was sent to 91 different newspapers and periodicals, all over  the world, into known areas of concentration of Hungarian Jews, a research request  similar to the ones published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review every week, asking for survivors to come forward. The overwhelming majority published the research  request and 30 survivor testimonials have been received  from different parts of the world. The only glaring lack of cooperation to be mentioned was the Los Angeles The Jewish Journal, the Budapest Mult és Jövö and the Uj Kelet in Tel Aviv. Institutions involved in the documentation or research of the Holocaust have been contacted for available information. The only institute that completely ignored the request to this day is the Jewish Museum in Budapest.

Going to the post- research period: the research was published at the end of 1995, a second printing in May 1996 and a third printing in May 1998. It was registered with the US Library of Congress and copyrighted by the author. A copy was sent to all major Holocaust research institutes and museums, to relevant Hungarian government officials and to the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. All institutes acknowledged the receipt and the monograph can be found today in the libraries of the US Holocaust Museum, the Library of Congress, the Hungarian National (Széchényi) Library, the New York Holocaust Museum, and the Yale University's Fortunoff Library among others.



A copy of the research was sent to the Ambassador of the Hungarian Republic, Dr. György Bánlaki, who acknowledged it's receipt, although belatedly, and who in his letter[18] stated that the study is being sent via the Foreign Ministry to the "appropriate Hungarian authorities" with a request to honor posthumously the late Captain Ocskay. An other copy of the study was sent to the President of the Hungarian Republic, Göncz Árpád. No response was received from him, several follow-ups notwithstanding. In September 1996 when the author was in Budapest, a personal contact to the President's Office was established and the research was located on the desk of the President's Liaison to the Military, who "did not know what to do with it". This time, the personal contact in the President's office, a very knowledgeable, interested and involved person, Dr. Sára Éliás,  who occupied the office next to the President, brought the research and the recommendation to the President's attention. Dr. Éliás, who knew some details about Ocskay from her father who was a prominent person in church circles during WWII and was himself  deeply involved in various rescue operations, obtained a prompt  decision and response. Within a few weeks the author was advised[19] that the President's Gold Medal has been awarded to Captain Ocskay and it will be presented to his son who lives in the US. The official presentation was on November 18, 1996 by the Consul General of the Republic of Hungary István Kovács in New York, at a festive luncheon.20]

Representative Tom Lantos of the US Congress recognized the extraordinary deeds of Ocskay[21] and after reading the research was instrumental in having published a  tribute in the Congressional Record on June 5, 1996 honoring Captain Ocskay[22].

The Governor of the State of New York George E. Pataki received a copy of the research and issued a letter of appreciation.23]

On October 3, 1997 a memorial plaque was inaugurated in Budapest, on the wall of the building where Captain Ocskay saved 2000 Jews. The plaque was financed by the municipality of Budapest that organized the festivities with full military honors and in the presence of various dignitaries. [24] The media, both in Hungary and in the USA took notice of the occasion and a number of articles have been published.[25] This author was interviewed in Budapest during the week of Oct.3, 1997 by the BBC Hungarian program and by the Hungarian Radio Calypso channel about Ocskay and his rescue operation.



In November 1995 the research monograph was sent to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Department of the Righteous assigned a file number and several letters have been exchanged. In September 1996 this author visited Yad Vashem and it became obvious that no actual work was done on this case. The recommendation to award Captain Ocskay the title of Righteous Among the Nations was subsequently rejected by Yad Vashem

Captain Ocskay saved 2000 Jews in Budapest, women, men and children during the most critical months of Oct. 1944 to Jan. 1945. His actions have been documented in depth and presented to Yad Vashem in Nov. 1995 in an extensive research monograph.

 Yad Vashem's letters dated June 29, 1997 and Sept. 1, 1997 pertaining to this subject stated that an "...appreciation and thanks to Mr. Ocskay's next-of-kin,..." and "... an act which deserves citation, and therefore the commission for the Righteous decided that a letter of appreciation is in order in this matter."

Yad Vashem's arguments for refusing the Righteous title were point by point rebutted by this author's letters dated Nov. 9, 1997, Dec. 11, 1997, April 20, 1998 and August 6, 1998.

In view of the initial  refusal of granting the Righteous title to Ocskay the question must be asked: Why is Wallenberg or Schindler Righteous, when they have been protected by diplomatic immunity and German connections respectively? Is there a record of even one diplomat who saved Jews and lost his life as a result of his activities? The question is not being raised to diminish Wallenberg's or Schindler's deeds, but to demand the evaluation of Ocskay's deeds on an equal level of historical objectivity.

As the Yad Vashem representative declared in a different[26] case: "...the Righteous program...to honor non-Jews who specifically addressed themselves to the Jewish issue, and risked their lives in the attempt to aid Jews." He could not have said it better referring to Ocskay: Ocskay volunteered to become the C.O. of a Jewish Labor Company and by illegally enlarging the authorized framework of the unit to 2000 men, women and children he risked his life 24 hours a day, until Budapest was liberated by the Soviet army.

 It looked that Yad Vashem's feeling of superior knowledge and infallibility in the case of those who saved Jews can not be shaken even when others recognized the merits, like in the case of Ocskay's bravery: based on the exact same research presented to Yad Vashem, the US Congress proclaimed a tribute to Ocskay in a Congressional Record; the President of the Republic of Hungary awarded Ocskay posthumously a Golden Medal for Humanitarian Activity, and the Municipality of Budapest dedicated a memorial plaque in his honor on the wall of the building where he saved 2000 Jews.



After much correspondence and formal appeals, Yad Vashem reconsidered their own research and decided in 2002 to award Captain Ocskay the title of "Righteous Among the Nations[27]." A ceremony to honor Ocskay and others was organized by the Embassy of Israel in Budapeston July 2, 2002.[28] On September 2, 2002 an additional memorial plaque was placed on the building in Budapest where Ocskay's labor battalion was located.[29] The formal award is being presented to Captain Ocskay's son George Ocskay and George's wife Helen at a ceremony organized by the Jewish Federation of Ulster County, NY and The Consul general of Israel in New York, on April 27, 2003 in Kingston, NYUSA.[30]



A question that has to be asked:

Why did nobody research this extraordinary episode of rescue before and why was there no earlier effort to honor Captain Ocskay for what he did?

The  efforts on behalf of Ocskay in the US, before this author's research and according to Ocskay's family were few and sporadic.

When he died in March 1966, a collection by a few survivors residing in New York, members of the 101/359, resulted in $361.00 that was presented to the family as a contribution to the hospital and burial expenses.

On September 9, 1970 the Keren Kayemeth Leisrael in Jerusalem issued a certificate [31]showing the planting of  "44 trees in the name of Captain László Ocskay who stood up for the Jews sentenced to forced labor in 1944 in Budapest, he sheltered and rescued them when state and society were seeking their life. Planted by those he saved in memory of his deeds in their homeland - Israel" Unfortunately the KKL does not keep the donors name on file, thus this author was unable to trace who the planters were.

 The post-war communist political terror in Hungary made it impossible for any organized effort to arise to honor and recognize Ocskay's deeds. His aristocratic family background, the fact that he reactivated into the army (regardless of why he did it) against the Soviets, his being an employee of an American "arch enemy" corporation, (Socony-Vacuum), his German military contacts all made him a pariah in the eyes of the new rulers of Hungary and a subject to immediate and recurring harassment by the Hungarian communists and by the Soviets. He left Hungary for Austria and was harassed even there by the Soviets. It is self evident that under those circumstances the survivors of the 101/359 in Hungary did not dare to associate with Ocskay as such association would have been detrimental, to say the least, to one's own carrier and even to one's life during the Rákosy area. Thus no attempt was made in Hungary to honor or even to acknowledge Ocskay. Among the survivors outside of Hungary a few feeble efforts have been made to honor him, but as the number of survivors dwindled with age and fading memories, no organized effort came into being. Captain Ocskay's name and his deeds have been mentioned fleetingly in various sources pertaining to the Hungarian Holocaust, but this is all history remembered him, until the first in-depth report was published[32]

In post-communist Hungary there is, to this author's knowledge, no organized survivors' group of the 101/359 that ever acted or intended to act on the subject of granting recognition to Captain Ocskay. The elapsed time of over fifty years from the end of the war in itself does not constitute the largest impediment to collection of data pertaining to the 101/359 and its unique role in saving so many Jews within the organizational setup of the Labor Service, although obviously time must be considered a serious stumbling block. Several factors have to be identified as contributors to the relative paucity of documentation available about the 101/359 Labor Company and its Commanding Officer:

The majority of the members of the 101/359 were in the 35-40 age group in 1944-1945, lawyers, doctors, engineers, writers, artists and other professionals and WW-1 veterans. Thus, the majority of the members who survived the Holocaust in this unit would be over 80 and probably closer to 90, with relatively few still alive, except those who were younger dependents at that time.

Due to the nature of the operation that created the 101/359 and the subsequent semi-clandestine existence  that turned into a large organization with the  objective to assure the survival of its members, made it absolutely imperative for the unit to keep the lowest possible profile with a minimum of paper trail, and with the knowledge of it's existence restricted only to those who had to know.

The Jewish reserve officers who constituted the organizational backbone of the 101/359 had to use their WW-1 connections to senior officers in the Ministry of Defense. However, that part of the military establishment itself was in frequent conflict with the younger generation of mostly strongly anti-Semitic officers. Thus these connections and the choice of Ocskay as the commander of the 101/359 had to be kept and hidden as much as this was possible.

Ocskay's WWI connections and even friendships with German military personnel had to be used but at the same time kept a secret in order not to arouse questions.

The mentioned factors had profound implications pertaining to the difficulty of collecting data. The very small number of survivors involved in this episode, over fifty years after the end of the war who are dispersed all over the world, have little knowledge, or have only the knowledge that pertained to their own survival within this clandestine low profile operation. The internal operational details and the modus operandi of the 101/359 were mostly kept  secret by the staff even from their closest family members.

The tragic events in post-war Hungary must be added to the reasons for the paucity of publicly available data. The large scale destruction in Budapest during the Soviet siege, the communist takeover, the anti-Communist 1956 uprising and the subsequent Soviet reprisals, the change of the regime at the end of the 1980-s and again in 1990 all brought radical shifts in the governments, "cleansing" of employees and archives, mass destruction of documents and data. The non-availability of two sources which probably could shed further light on the activities of Captain Ocskay and on the history of the 101/359 unit are additional reasons for lack of source material: the previously mentioned total non-responsiveness of the Budapest Jewish Museum whose director was asked repeatedly to grant access to their archives, and the reportedly close to complete destruction of the Hungarian Ministry of Defense archives during the siege of Budapest and the 1956 uprising[33].


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Film Documentary on Captain László Ocskay


[1]Randolph L. Braham, The Politics Of Genocide, The Holocaust in Hungary, Volumes 1 and 2, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994 (Cited hereafter as Braham, Politics)

[2]The Wartime System of Labor Service In Hungary, edited by Randolph L. Braham, Columbia University Press, 1995 (Cited thereafter as Braham, Wartime)

[3]Captain Ocskay, a Righteous Man... edited by Dan Danieli, published by the editor, first edition in 1996, and second enlarged edition in 1998. (Cited thereafter as Danieli, Ocskay)

[4] Braham, Wartime, p. vi

[5]For a detailed evolution of  The Labor Service System , see Braham: Politics, Vol. 1, Chapter 10, p. 294-380

[6]Braham: Politics, Vol. 1, p. 341

[7] Braham: Politics, Vol. 1, p.352

[8] Braham refers repeatedly to the decency and humanity of  Captain László Ocskay; see Braham: Politics, Vol. 1, p. 359, 372, and Vol. 2, p. 954-955

[9] Stella Adorján: Hajnalban Mindenkit Be Kell Vagonírozni... Világ (napilap). (At daybreak everyone must be in the wagons...) World, (daily newspaper), Budapest, June 17, 1945

[10] Testimonials of 27 persons can be found in Danieli, Ocskay, p. 14  to 109. The originals are in the author's archive.

[11]An interesting example of this rather peculiar ambiguity are the two ID documents issued to a certain R. Altman who was a member of the precursor of the 101/359 Company. The documents are signed by Ripper Frigyes a Jewish reserve captain and by someone on behalf of the Ministry of Defense. One rubber stamp is from the Jewish Veterans Organization and the other from the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Defense. See Danieli, Ocskay, p.152.

[12] Danieli, Ocskay p.154

[13] The  intrusion and its repulsion were described by several of the survivors in their testimonies and by  Kati Marton, Wallenberg, Ballantine Books, New York 1982, pp.143-144. Marton erroneously identified Ocskay as Colonel, (his rank was Captain) and describes Weber as having arrived from Berchtesgaden for this rescue mission, an obvious error as only a few hours elapsed between the intrusion and the arrival of the Germans. The fact remains, Weber did arrive and ejected the Arrow Cross at the request of Ocskay who himself was at home delirious with typhoid fever. 

[14] Braham, Politics pp.359-360 and p.1211

[15]Frederick E. Werbell and Thurston Clarke, Lost Hero: The Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York  1982, p.p. 149 and 151

[16] Previously referred to in footnote no. 9.

[17] Eugene Levai, Black Book on the Martyrdom of Hungarian Jewry, The Central European Times Publishing Co. Ltd., Zurich, in conjunction with The Panorama Publishing Co. Ltd., Vienna, Austria, 1948  p. 389.  

[18] Ambassador Dr. Bánlaki's letter dated January 25, 1996

[19] Letter from the Office of the President of the Republic of Hungary, signed by Dr. Éliás Sára, dated October 12, 1996

[20] Letter from Consul general István Kovács, dated December 2, 1996 and a copy of the Award Document dated October 23, 1996

[21] Letter from the Hon. Tom Lantos dated June 5, 1996

[22] CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, 104th Congress, Second Session, Wednesday June 5, 1996

[23] Letter from Governor George E. Pataki, dated June 11, 1996

[24] A formal invitation with Captain Ocskay's photo was issued by the Budapest Municipality, dated September 10, 1997

[25] Copies of all the articles are in the author's possession: Emléktábla Ocskay századosnak (Memorial Plaque for Captain Ocskay) Zuglói Újság, Budapest, March 18, 1997. Captain László Ocskay of The Hungarian Army, Tájékoztató, A Magyarok Világszövetsége Amerikai Tanácsa, April 1, 1997. Olvasói levelekböl, Emlékezés  Ocskay László századosra (From readers letters: Remembering Captain László Ocskay) Taglicht Béla, Új Élet, Budapest June 15, 1997. Sajtóközlemény (Press release) Menora Egyenlöség  , North York, Ontario, Canada, June 20, 1997. Ocskay László százados (Captain László Ocskay) Erec, Budapest Sept. 1997. Emléktábla Avatás (Inauguration of a Memorial Plaque ) Zuglói Lapok, Budapest Sept. 16, 1997. Ocskay László, Amerikai Magyar Szó, New York, NY. Oct. 9, 1997. Ocskay László helytállása ( What László Ocskay stood up for), Szita Szabolcs, Új Élet, Budapest Nov.1, 1997. A Tribute to Captain László Ocskay, West Coast Jewish News, Santa Ana, CA. Nov. 1997. Budapest Remembers Captain Ocskay, Lifestyles Magazine 5758, Buffalo, NY. Pre-Spring 1998, vol. 26, no. 154.

[26] The case of the German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as detailed in the article written by Stephen A. Wise, Why isn't Bonhoeffer honored at Yad Vashem, The Christian Century, Detroit, Feb. 25, 1998

[27] Letter from Yad Vashem dated May 5, 2002

[28] Letter from the Embassy of Israel in Budapest, dated July 9, 2002

[29] Invitation to the ceremony issued by the survivors representative in Budapest in collaboration with the local Jewish community

[30] Invitation issued by the organizers

[31] A copy of the KKL certificate is in the author's possession.

[32] Danieli, Ocskay

[33] Correspondence to this effect with the Hungarian Ministry of Defense is in this author's possession. 

2008 Copyright © by Dan Danieli. All rights reseved.