2 years, 12 question groups, 4 000 testimonies, 5 000 interviewees – how did the corpus of the DEGOB protocols come to be?
As one of the committee’s leading figures writes in his diary, the history of the National Committee for Attending Deportees: „ it starts on a cold winter morning when man could return to the light of the day and inhale the air of freedom …, and simultaneously witness the extent of horrific devastation. […] the first thoughts were turned to taking stock of the survivors and the missing.”
An organization to attend to deportees was set up in 1945 in Budapest from below, with the clearly distinct aims to repatriate the survivors stranded in foreign countries, to provide aid work and relief, and to carry out documenting activities. The latter resulted in a registration system for the data on survivors and victims, and so-called DEGOB protocols were typed to document survivors’ testimonies of the events they had endured.
Immediately after liberation, several other aiding groups were set up with similar aims, however, until 31st August 1945 there wasn’t any central, coordinating organization in place to facilitate the rehabilitation of Hungarian Jews, or to arrange the distribution of aid resources. The National Jewish Aid Committee (Országos Zsidó Segítő Bizottság – OZSSB) was established to serve as an umbrella organization, integrating other groups often plagued by rivalry. DEGOB was also absorbed into this institutional framework supported the JOINT Distribution Committee and continued to provide vital relief activity, while its documenting efforts remained independent from OZSDB.
Our research focuses on the DEGOB protocols, the collection of survivor testimonies with an invaluable significance: in these, deportees testify to their torments right after returning to Budapest. All memories of deportation are vivid and fresh: the survivors remember the concentration and labor camps, routes of travel, perpetrators, the moments of liberation and the journey back home. The earliest protocol was recorded in late 1944 (predating the founding of DEGOB), while the latest in spring 1946, and these are now part of the collection stored in the archives of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives in Budapest.
The collection contains 4,000 testimonies of approximately 5,000 Hungarian Holocaust-survivors, as it was widely accepted that groups of survivors testified in a single interview. The interviewees volunteered to talk about their experiences after having returned from labor and death camps liberated by the Allied Forces. For many survivors this act of testifying came almost instinctively at the offices of DEGOB, as they hoped to find their loved ones and relatives, or wished to record the crimes they had witnessed, so they could be used later in court.
To speed up and streamline the interview process, the workers of DEGOB created an interview guideline, which consisted of 12 question groups, encompassing all major data points, from demographic data of the Jewish population, i.e. the original place of residence, to stages of the homeward journey. Different interviewers focused on different areas, and they often omitted entire question groups. The actual structure of the interviews, however, depend more on the interest clusters of the interviewers, what they asked, and possibly what the given circumstance and context allowed.
One thing is certain: the protocols recorded by DEGOB present us with a wealth of information about the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust, and it is imperative to research and analyze them. Our research group, Digital Lens (Revisiting Early Testimonies of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust Survivors Through A Digital Lens) aims to achieve this through automated textual analyses, thus uncovering valuable and relevant insights.
The digitized protocols can be accessed in Hungarian and English on the DEGOB website.