Captain Ocskay, The Lost Hero Of The Darkest Days

2013. január 28. 16:38

A few years ago, the State of Israel honored Captain László Ocskay, a former officer of the Hungarian Army, for his courage and bravery during World War II. "Captain Ocskay risked his own life and that of his family’s to save more than 2,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps,” according to the official announcement honoring the captain and declaring him Righteous Among the Nations. On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we take a look back at Captain Ocskay.

Captain László Ocskay (1893) was born into a Hungarian noble family in what is today's Bratislava, Slovakia, at the time known as Pozsony. He was wounded in battle in World War One serving as a gunner in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In 1919, he joined the National Army of Rear Admiral Miklós Horthy as a volunteer (check out our previous post on Miklós Horthy). Later, between the two World Wars, Ocskay worked as a representative of the Hungarian-American Oil Company.

Instead of remaining a civilian, Captain Ocskay again entered military service in 1943 as a volunteer and became commander of a Jewish labor batallion, number 101/359, officially collecting and making uniforms for the German army. Starting with 200 members, the battalion eventually numbered 2,500 people, including escaped and runaway Jews, "survivors of anti-Semitic rampages, AWOL members of labor camps, children rescued from orphanages and other victims of Nazi persecution,” according to the text of the official invitation to the event honoring Ocskay.

The battalion took up quarters and worked at the Jewish secondary school, later named after Miklós Radnóti (a Hungarian poet of Jewish origin and convert to Catholicism who died during a forced march in November 1944). Captain Ocskay and his staff obtained food, medicine and, taking advantage of his personal contacts, was able to obtain official papers for many of the Jews under his protection. Several accounts have him taking an armed stand against members of the Arrow Cross Party, the Hungarian national socialist party that collaborated with Hitler and ruled from October 15, 1944 until March 28, 1945. In one such case in particular, he supposedly defended his battalion from 'Arrow Crossers', who were set on killing members of his group, by co-opting with free-wheeling diplomatic skill a local corps of Waffen SS that was made up of Hungarians of German origin who were opposed to the Arrow Cross. The violence and insanity of the times made for some strange alliances. In this rare case, apparently, it bore fortunate results.

Underlining the absurdity of those times the "liberating" Soviet Red Army nearly deported all male members of Ocskay's battalion (supposedly to Siberia, as collaborators), but all of them were able to escape deportation. From a communist perspective, Ocskay was a reactionary, capitalist and fascist nobleman with a military past on the wrong side and "imperialist" German-American relationships, so he was in danger at the close of the war when the Soviets occupied the country. He emigrated to the United States in 1947 with his family, worked as a night watchman in Kingston, New York, and died nearly forgotten in 1966.

After the collapse of communism a monument was erected to remember him in the City Park of Budapest, and Hungarian film director Gergely Fonyó made a documentary on him in 2007.

On the first of January this year, the Hungarian government established the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Committee to prepare for 2014, the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. We are grateful for the heroism of Captain Ocskay as a bright spot in an otherwise dark period of our history.
 

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