On 18 January 1945, Soviet troops completed the liberation of the Budapest Ghetto, saving approximately 50,000 Jews.
Prior to World War II, Budapest was home to approximately 200,000 Jews and served as the centerpiece of Jewish life and culture. When the war started—despite the Hungarian government initially being allied with Germany—Budapest was a safe haven for Jewish refugees. However, in March 1944, the alliance between Hungary and Germany ended and Germany occupied Hungary .
Between May and July 1944, Germany sent about 565,000 Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers. By July, Jews in Budapest were essentially the only remaining Jews in Hungary and were ordered into 2,000 designated buildings scattered throughout the city marked with Stars of David. Around 25,000 Jews from the suburbs of Budapest were transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.
In November 1944, the Hungarians forced thousands of Jews to march on a death march to Austria, during which thousands were shot and killed. Those who survived were taken to concentration camps.
Secretary of the Swedish Legation Raoul Wallenberg followed the marchers, and medications. Despite the threat from the Arrow Cross guards, he was able to extricate some Jews, claiming that they were his "protected" Jews. Wallenberg also issued thousands of certificates of protection and established safe houses under the Swedish flag where Jews could take refuge, saving in total approximately 100,000.
Towards the end of the war, Wallenberg was arrested and imprisoned by the Soviets, who claimed that he was engaging in espionage. They first claimed that Wallenberg—a healthy thirty-two-year-old man at the time he was abducted—died in prison of a heart attack. The exact circumstances of his disappearance remain uncertain with many unanswered questions.
In December, the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement ordered the remaining 70,000 Jews in Budapest into a ghetto. From December 1944 until the ghetto’s liberation, as many as 20,000 Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube by the Arrow Cross.
The ghetto was completely cut off from the outside world, as no food was allowed in; garbage was not collected, and dead bodies were often piled up on the streets. Thousands died of cold, disease, and starvation. Medical care was virtually non-existent. Authorities guarded the perimeters of the ghetto, not allowing any Jews to leave.
Soviet forces fully liberated Budapest on 13 February 1945. More than 100,000 Jews remained in the city at the time of liberation.