Chronology of Rescue by Friedrich Born, International Committee for the Red Cross
Friedrich Born was the Chief Delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of Switzerland in Budapest, Hungary. He was sent to Budapest in May 1944. During the period from May 1944 to January 1945, Born issued thousands of Red Cross letters of protection to Jews of Budapest. He and his staff, along with numerous Jewish volunteers, are credited with retrieving thousands of Jews from deportation camps and death marches in and around Budapest. Born provided an additional 4,000 Jews with employment papers, preventing their deportation. He put over 60 Jewish institutions under Red Cross protection and housed over 7,000 Jewish children and orphans. He worked closely with the other neutral diplomatic legations, and set up dozens of Red Cross protected houses. Born’s Red Cross operation is credited with rescuing between 11,000 and 15,000 Jews in Budapest. After the war, he was criticized for overstepping his authority in his rescue activities. A postwar report completely vindicated Born’s actions and forced the Red Cross to reassess its wartime policies. Born died in Switzerland in 1963. Friedrich Born worked closely with Hans Weyermann. Friedrich Born was declared Righteous Among the Nations by Israel in 1987.
Geneva Convention restricts activities of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) primarily to matters relating to prisoners of war, not civil populations. No provision for protection of minority groups from their own governments.
ICRC made aware of the Nazi genocidal policy in Europe. Refused to intervene.
December 10, 1943
Letter from the World Jewish Congress to the ICRC suggests Jews held in ghettoes and concentration camps should receive the status of civilian internees--that would have allowed the Red Cross to carry out local inspections, send food parcels, provide medical aid, which could then save thousands of lives. ICRC refuses and declares Jews detainees, a penal rather than civil category.
February 18, 1944
Jean de Bavier, ICRC’s first delegate to Hungary, warned the ICRC of the danger to Hungarian Jews.
March 19, 1944
Germany occupies Hungary and immediately implements anti-Jewish decrees; places the Hungarian government at the disposal of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Final Solution.
March 27, 1944
A few days after the occupation, de Bavier again warns the ICRC headquarters in Geneva of the impending deportation of Hungarian Jews. He said, “You must instruct me how to assist and protect these people. We have to stop the catastrophe that is awaiting them.” He got the response not to interfere in the internal affairs of Hungary. De Bavier tells Director General of the ICRC, Max Huber, to see Hitler to stop the deportations. Nothing comes of this.
April 5, 1944
Jews of Hungary forced to wear the star; Jewish businesses and bank accounts confiscated; Jews placed in ghettoes.
May 15-July 9, 1944
More than 438,000 Hungarian Jews from the countryside are deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them are gassed. It takes 148 trains to carry them there.
May 10, 1944
Friedrich Born, director of the Swiss Hungarian Chamber of Commerce of Budapest, assumes the post of director of the ICRC in Budapest. The ICRC maintains a position of neutrality with regard to helping Jews. Born makes contact with Carl Lutz, the Swiss Consul in Budapest.
June 6, 1944
D-Day: Allied invasion at Normandy.
June 19, 1944
The contents of the Auschwitz Protocols is widely publicized, revealing the murder of Jews in Auschwitz.
Born writes letter to the president of the ICRC appealing for powers to help Jews.
June 23, 1944
ICRC inspects Theresienstadt concentration camp in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Late June 1944
President Roosevelt, the King of Sweden, the Pope and the ICRC decide to take an active role in saving the lives of Jews in Hungary. Born begins active campaign to rescue Jews.
July 7, 1944
Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy reassumes power, temporarily halts deportation of Jews; there are 200,000 Jews left in Budapest; they are concentrated into two ghettoes; Nazi and Arrow Cross gangs continue to raid and murder in these areas.
Max Huber approaches Hungarian Foreign Ministry asking for permission to visit the camps and distribute food and clothing.
July 27-28, 1944
ICRC delegation visits sanitized deportation camps.
ICRC consents to work with Sans Briz and acquires legal framework to expand its activities to protect Jews.
August 26, 1944
Hungarian government agrees to recognize the ICRC in the aid of Jewish refugees and immigrants.
The most important contribution of the ICRC in Budapest was the sheltering of Jewish children and the safeguarding and supplying of Jewish institutions, including within the ghetto.
The ICRC took over a large number of Jewish and non-Jewish hospitals, public kitchens, homes for the handicapped and aged, research institutes and shops. These institutions were marked with plaques stating, “under the protection of the International Committee of the Red Cross” in Hungarian, German, French, and Russian. During this period, Born and his Red Cross associates kept records of the depredations and protested these actions to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry.
October 15, 1944
Hungarian Arrow Cross and Nazis introduce new reign of terror and murder tens of thousands of Budapest Jews; death marches to Austria instituted.
October 30, 1944
It was because of the continued protests of the ICRC that the Vatican and the other foreign legations’ protective passes would be honored and their property would be protected as extra-territorial status.
November 8, 1944
Beginning of death marches of approximately 40,000 Jews from Budapest to Austria.
December 25, 1944
Due to the Soviet siege of Budapest, Born withdraws to his home in Buda where he continues to direct the ICRC. During this period, the ICRC cooperates closely with the papal nuncio, Rotta.
January 16, 1945
Soviets liberate Budapest. 124,000 Jews of Budapest survive the war as a result of the actions of the neutral diplomats. Friedrich Born is credited with saving the lives of more than 11,000 Jews. Other researchers put the figure at between 15,000 and 25, 000.
Born dies in Switzerland.
June 5, 1987
Born receives title of Righteous Among the Nations in Israel. His children accept the medal in his name and learn for the first time their father’s story.
Updated October 29, 2017