Bela Kiraly, a Hungarian soldier who saved hundreds of Jewish lives during the Holocaust, has died. Kiraly died in his sleep earlier this month. He was 92. Kiraly served on the Eastern front in the murderous 1943-44 campaign of the 2nd Hungarian Army that deployed tens of thousands of Hungarian slave laborers in inhuman, dangerous and humiliating circumstances. Most eventually perished.
Refusing orders and risking his own life, Kiraly issued regulation winter uniforms to a 400-member Jewish labor battalion under his command, and provided them with decent food and medical treatment. He was bestowed the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1993.
Historian Imre Lebovits, a Holocaust survivor, tells Kiraly’s story in the landmark study “The Rescuers of Jews.”
After the war, Kiraly was sentenced to death on trumped-up charges by the Communists, but he survived to serve as commander-in-chief of the ill-fated 1956 revolution against Soviet rule. He eventually pursued an academic career in the United States and returned to Hungary after the implosion of communism 20 years ago to serve as a parliamentary deputy.
Kiraly married Sarolta Gombos, the niece of an anti-Semitic Hungarian prime minister. He is survived by a son.