Chronology of Rescue by Vatican Diplomats in Budapest, Hungary
Angelo Rotta is appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Budapest, Hungary.
November 20-24, 1940
Hungary, Romania and Slovakia join the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis.
Pope Pius XII receives repeated reports through diplomatic and private channels concerning the mass killing of Jews in Poland and the deportations to the murder camps in other parts of Nazi occupied Europe.
The Pope receives continued, detailed reports about anti-Jewish pogroms, and that deportees are destined for death. Various cardinals, bishops and papal nuncios stationed in Eastern Europe confirm reports. Vatican does not respond.
Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, as Papal Nuncio to Greece and Turkey, participates in the aid and rescue of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe. He works with other Nuncios, including Monsignor Angelo Rotta in Hungary. He also works with US Ambassador in Turkey Laurence A. Steinhardt and Raymond Courvoiser, International Red Cross Director in Turkey. Among the Jews saved by Roncalli are Slovakian Jews caught in Hungary and Slovakia, Jews trapped in Transnistra, a Romanian-administered territory, and Jews in Budapest. He distributes, by diplomatic pouch to Vatican representatives, various Vatican documents that place Jews under the protection of the Holy See. He also works with the Agency for Palestine and distributes their immigration certificates. After the war, Roncalli makes a statement that he was in part able to help 24,000 Jews.
March 13, 1942
Vatican Nuncio in Budapest, Angelo Rotta, forwards an appeal from the World Jewish Congress requesting the Pope to persuade Slovakian leader and Catholic Monsignor Tiso to cancel the deportation of Slovakian Jews. A subsequent note of protest to the Slovak government from the Vatican Secretary of State is ignored.
March 21, 1942
Rotta sends a second appeal to Tiso. The chief rabbi of Budapest asks Rotta to petition the Pope to intervene on behalf of Jews with the Slovakian government: “at least to alleviate as much as possible the sad lot of these unfortunate people, among whom there are many women and children, destined in large part to a certain death.”
April 17, 1942
Rotta sends a note to the Vatican. The note is from a woman expressing gratitude for the Vatican’s intervention in Slovakia.
The Vatican is reminded that its silence is “endangering its moral prestige and is undermining faith both in the church and in the Holy Father himself.”
Reports about the gassings at Belzec, near Lublin, are relayed to the Vatican. Jewish agencies send memoranda outlining the murder in Poland.
Several Vatican diplomats request that Pope Pius XII end his public silence on Nazi atrocities against Jews. The Pope declines to take direct action to help Jews who are being murdered. He states: “The Holy See has done, is doing, and will do all in its power to help.”
February 26, 1943
Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta in Budapest reports to the Vatican that there are 27,000 Jews remaining in Slovakia. Many of them are converts who are in danger of being deported.
March 6, 1943
Vatican Secretary of State Maglione orders Monsignor Burzio to check Rotta’s report and to make every effort to prevent the deportations of Jews.
April 17, 1943
Hitler summons Hungarian Regent Admiral Horthy to Salzburg, Austria, to urge him to allow the Jews of Hungary to be ‘resettled.’ Horthy refuses: “The Jews cannot be exterminated or beaten to death.”
April 19-30, 1943
Bermuda Conference: British and American representatives meet in Bermuda to discuss rescue options, but fail to come up with any significant possibilities.
January 22, 1944
President Roosevelt establishes the War Refugee Board (WRB) in response to the failure of the Allies to protect Jews from extermination. The WRB is charged with “taking all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death.” Raoul Wallenberg is later selected for a mission to protect Hungarian Jews from deportation.
February 14, 1944
Josef Winniger, an officer in the German intelligence, tells Jewish leaders in Budapest of a plan for German occupation of Hungary.
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. Consul Lutz challenges Eichmann and begins to issue thousands of additional Schutzpässe. Lutz appeals to the neutral legations of Sweden, Spain, Portugal and the Vatican for a united front against the deportations of the Hungarian Jews.
March 20, 1944
Eichmann orders the establishment of Judenrat (councils) for Hungarian Jews.
March 23-May 15, 1944
Monsignor Angelo Rotta, the Apostolic delegate of the Vatican (Dean of the diplomatic corps in Budapest) takes the leadership among the diplomatic corps in protesting the deportation and murders of the Jews to the newly established Sztójay government. Rotta urges the churches of Hungary to protest and intervene on behalf of Jews.
March 24, 1944
Roosevelt sends warning to Hungarian officials against mistreating the Jews.
US War Refugee Board urges the Pope to use influence to protect Hungarian Jews.
April 5, 1944
Jews of Hungary forced to wear the star; Jewish businesses and bank accounts confiscated; Jews placed in ghettoes.
April 7, 1944
The Auschwitz Protocols: Two Jewish prisoners, Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, escape Auschwitz and reach Slovakia with detailed information about the mass murder of Jews in the camp. Their report (supplemented by information brought by two more escapees) reaches the free world in June.
April 28, 1944
Deportations of Hungarian Jews from the ghettoes in the countryside to Auschwitz begin.
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 15, 1944
Dean of the diplomatic corps in Budapest and Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta sends note condemning actions of the Sztójay government. This note is the first note by the Vatican to officially protest the deportation of Jews presented by a representative of the Pope. In addition, Rotta sends a personal note to Sztójay, pleading on behalf of the Jews of Budapest.
May 27, 1944
Rotta receives responses from Nazi puppet government that deportations were “humane and for labor abroad.”
June 6, 1944
D-Day: Allied invasion at Normandy, France, opens second front.
June 19, 1944
The contents of the Auschwitz Protocols is widely publicized, revealing the murder of Jews in Auschwitz.
Late June 1944
In response to the release of the Auschwitz Protocols, President Roosevelt, the King of Sweden, the Pope and the ICRC decide to protest the persecution of Jews in Hungary.
June 24, 1944
Jews in Budapest ordered to wear the yellow Star of David.
June 25, 1944
Pope Pius XII sends telegram to Hungarian Regent Horthy to stop persecution of “a large segment of the Hungarian people because of their race.” The Pope does not specifically mention Jews.
June 27, 1944
US government issues warning to Hungarian government and people regarding treatment of Hungarian Jews.
The Pope refuses to intervene on behalf of the surviving Jews of Hungary.
The Archbishop of Canterbury in England appeals to Hungarian government to stop deportation of Jews.
July 6, 1944
Angelo Rotta confronts Sztojay regarding the treatment of Jews, which he calls “abominable.”
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; Lutz and other neutral diplomats place Jews under their diplomatic protection in over 100 safe houses; Nazi and Arrow Cross gangs continue to raid and murder in these areas.
July 13, 1944
Rotta intercedes on behalf of those interned for political, religious or racial reasons and demands that they be treated in accord with the Geneva conventions and have relief supplies sent through the Red Cross.
July 18, 1944
Horthy announces deportation of Jews will be halted in Hungary.
July 19, 1944
Cardinal Angelo Roncalli, Vatican Nuncio in Turkey, future Pope John XXIII, appeals to Hungarian Regent Horthy on behalf of 5,000 Hungarian Jews with Palestine visas. Roncalli provides Vatican certificates for Jews in hiding.
July 20, 1944
Attempted assassination of Hitler by opposition forces in Germany fails.
July 28, 1944
Rotta sends a protest to Prime Minister Stojay in which he questions the “good faith” of the Hungarian government in allowing “viciousness” toward the Jews.
August 21, 1944
Neutral diplomatic legations of the Vatican, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland in Budapest protest the resumption of deportations of Jews to Auschwitz. These legations begin to issue thousands of protective passes to Jews in danger of deportation.
Rotta and Verolino present a note to Lajos Reményi-Schneller, the deputy prime minister, stating: “It is the human duty of the representatives of the neutral countries to protest against these actions, which are opposed to all Christian and humane feelings. The representatives of the neutral powers herewith request the Hungarian Government to forbid these cruelties, which ought never to have started.”
August 22, 1944
Horthy tells Lajos Reményi-Schneller there will be no more deportations and if this is opposed, the Hungarian government will be in conflict with Germany.
August 23, 1944
Horthy informs Eichmann that he will not cooperate with the deportation of Hungarian Jews.
August 24, 1944
Eichmann forced to leave Budapest, takes refuge with Laszlo Endre at Velem.
October 6, 1944
Soviet Army enters Hungary.
October 15, 1944
Admiral Horthy tries to sue for peace with Soviet Union. Horthy is soon arrested by Nazi puppet government. Hungarian Arrow Cross and Nazis introduce new reign of terror and murder tens of thousands of Budapest Jews.
Death marches to Austria are instituted. Lutz, Wallenberg, Perlasca, Born and Rotta are largely successful in stopping death marches and protecting their safe houses.
Rotta and Verolino give permission to Sandor Ujváry, a volunteer with the International Red Cross, to distribute hundreds of blank Vatican protective papers and baptismal certificates to Jewish refugees. Ujváry is successful in helping hundreds of Jews escape from death marches. Rotta congratulates him, saying: “My son, your action pleases God…as you are rescuing innocent people. I grant you absolution n advance. Continue your work to the glory of God!”
The Vatican office works with young Budapest Zionists who disguise themselves as “envoys from the Vatican.” They dress up as clerics and nuns, giving food and medicine to the Jewish marchers.
A Lazarist priest, Father Köhler, distributes Vatican protective passes authorized by Rotta. Köhler demands that the Arrow Cross free Jewish marchers who are in bad condition. Father Köhler helps free 4,700 marchers, who return to Budapest. The Arrow Cross attacks and threatens Father Köhler for his efforts on behalf of Jews. He tells the Arrow Cross, “I am not afraid of you. Shoot if you dare!”
Rotta is authorized to issue 2,500 safe passes, but quickly issues more than 15,000. During this period, Rotta establishes Vatican-protected safe houses for Jews holding his safe pass in the international ghetto.
October 17, 1944
Eichmann returns to Budapest. His second deportation action from Budapest begins.
Mid October, 1944
Tibor Baranski, a 22-year old theology student, volunteers to operate under the Vatican to protect Jews. Baranski is named Executive Director of the Jewish Protection Movement under Rotta and Verolino’s supervision. He distributes hundreds of Vatican protective papers and is tireless in protecting Jews in the Vatican apartments. He is successful in saving hundreds of Jews. His work ends on December 30, 1944, when the Russians capture him. (He is later honored with the title Righteous Among the Nations.)
October 20, 1944
SS troops under Eichmann round up 22,000 Jews in Hungary for deportation.
October 21, 1944
Rotta meets separately with Szálasi. Szálasi promises that Jews will not be deported or murdered. Rotta also demands that forced labor for Jews should be only under the most humane conditions, and that Vatican protective papers should continue to be honored.
October 27, 1944
Hungarian Regent Horthy resigns.
October 30, 1944
Because of the continued protests of Rotta and Born, the Vatican and the other foreign legations’ protective passes are honored by the Hungarian government, and the safe houses are relatively protected.
November 8, 1944
Beginning of death marches of approximately 40,000 Jews from Budapest to Austria.
Rotta authorizes pre-signed blank safe conduct passes, used for rescuing Jews bound for deportation and death marches. Thousands of Jews are saved by the Vatican safe passes. Rotta extends Vatican protection to the Jewish children in the ghettoes.
Rotta supplies Jews with baptismal certificates and hides them in convents, monasteries and church buildings.
November 13, 1944
In Budapest, a ghetto is set up for Jews without international protection.
November 17, 1944
Rotta and Swedish Minister Danielsson, on behalf of the neutral states, request the Szàlasi government cease the deportations and death marches and observe the neutral status of protected Jews and their safe houses.
November 26-29, 1944
Pest ghetto, with 63,000 Jews, is established. The ghetto contains 293 houses and apartments, with up to 14 persons per room.
The Nazis and the Arrow Cross violate the Vatican safe houses eight times.
December 23, 1944
Eichmann flees Budapest.
January 5, 1945
Last deportation of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
January 16, 1945
Soviets liberate Budapest. House to house fighting and artillery severely damage Budapest. It takes nearly a month to fully liberate Budapest.
Archbishop Angelo Rotta is expelled from Budapest by the Soviet occupation force.
January 17, 1945
Auschwitz is closed and evacuated, 66,000 prisoners are taken away on a death march.
January 27, 1945
Soviet troops enter and liberate Auschwitz concentration camp. Seven thousand prisoners are free. Only a handful of them are Jewish.
April 30, 1945
Hitler commits suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
May 8, 1945
V-E Day: Germany surrenders; end of Third Reich.
November 16, 1945
Hungarian Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy asks for the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and the return of Angelo Rotta. Rotta never returns.
Tibor Báránszky says of Rotta: “The Nuncio performed with extraordinary dedication to the saving of Jews. He was not a young man [Rotta was past seventy] and he was not a healthy individual; yet, he never stopped working until late in the night.”
Angelo Rotta dies in retirement in Rome, Italy, at age 92.
Angelo Rotta, the Vatican Nuncio in Budapest, is awarded Righteous Among the Nations medal.
Ambassador Per Anger tells the Visas for Life staff of the heroic efforts of Father Gennaro Verolino, assistant to Angelo Rotta.
Archbishop Gennaro Verolino celebrates his 98th birthday. He is the last living diplomat who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
He is nominated for Righteous Among the Nations by the Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats Project.
Archbishop Verolino receives the Per Anger Award. The award is given by Elena Anger, wife of Per Anger.
Updated November 5, 2017