A recent documentary program aired on the BBC delves into whether the British Broadcasting Company’s Hungarian service could have done more to save the country’s Jews during the Holocaust, and instead chose to turn a blind eye.
In 1942 the BBC European Service was on the front line of the propaganda war, broadcasting throughout the continent in an effort to help the Allied war effort.
“The BBC broadcast every day, giving updates on the war, general news and opinion pieces on Hungarian politics. But among all these broadcasts, there were crucial things that were not being said, things that might have warned thousands of Hungarian Jews of the horrors to come in the event of a German occupation,” explains Professor and historian Ladislaus Lob, who is himself a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp, in an article published on the BBC website.
According to the report, a memo setting out policy for the BBC Hungarian Service in 1942 clearly stated: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all."
The memo was written by Carlile Macartney, the Foreign Office’s top adviser on Hungary at the time.
“Macartney believed that to champion the Jews would alienate the majority of the Hungarian population who at that time, he argued, were anti-Semitic,” writes Lob. “Given that British propaganda directors wanted to draw German troops into Hungary as an occupying force, the argument was that anti-Semitic Hungarians wouldn’t help the Allies if they seemed too pro-Jewish.”
“From December 1942 the British government, the PWE and the BBC Hungarian Service knew what was happening to European Jews beyond Hungary, and the very likely fate of the Hungarian Jews if the Germans invaded,” he continues.
“No one could have expected the staff at the Hungarian Service to predict the Germans’ March 1944 invasion of Hungary. But PWE documents do show that it was the aim of some of its broadcasts to provoke such an invasion,” adds Lob.
The Hungarian Service continued following Macartney's advice and did not broadcast information about the exterminations taking place throughout Europe.
Eventually, Macartney became so controversial that he was temporarily taken off air.
“And yet his policy of silence on the Jews was followed right up until the German invasion in March 1944. After the tanks rolled in, the Hungarian Service did then broadcast warnings. But by then it was too late,” he concludes.