A trove of Holocaust documents dating back to 1944 have been uncovered from the walls of an apartment in Budapest. The documents turned out to be 6,300 forms used to register the Jewish population in the city and dated from just before the confinement of Hungarian Jews to the Budapest ghetto.
"The content and scale of the finding is unprecedented. Most wartime papers are more faded or rotten than medieval documents, on bad quality paper due to the rationing. But this helps to fill a huge gap in the history of the Holocaust in Budapest," said Istvan Kenyeres, head of the city archives department in Budapest to local media outlet Krone.
In August, while getting her apartment, which overlooks Hungary's parliament, renovated, Brigitte Berdefy received an alert from a worker who said he discovered some kind of paper after accidentally making a crack in the wall. She called her husband to have a look and on further examination bundles of papers were found stashed inside the wall.
Each brick had to be removed to ease out close to 135 pounds of dusty papers, many with bits of plaster caked on, but more or less intact. The ink was surprisingly well readable due a lack of air in the cavity and nicotine from the heavy smoking of the former owner. The papers were eventually handed over to the city archives by the couple.
The forms contain names of each building's inhabitants, and whether they are Jewish or not, with total numbers of Christians and Jews marked in the corners. These date back to the May 1944 Budapest census that was to identify houses to serve as holding locations for Jews before moving them to a ghetto in the city.
On June 21, 1944, the Jewish inhabitants of Budapest were forced to leave their homes. Around 200,000 Jews were moved into 2,000 selected buildings. Shortly afterwards, they were crammed into the ghetto, where some died of starvation or were shot.
The Russian army in January 1945, however, saved the rest. Unlike the Jews from outside the city, most of Budapest's Jewish population managed to survive. About 600,000 Hungarian Jews were reportedly murdered during the Holocaust, a majority of whom were sent to Auschwitz.
Kenyeres said an estimated 23,000 more documents may still be out there which would give valuable insight into what happened in 1944 and would also be digitised and made available to the public if they turned up. "People should look behind their walls, you never know in Budapest what could be there."