From Neighbors to Killers – The 1942 South Bácska Massacres. A Case Study of Civilian and Military Perpetrators

November 3, 2018

Adam Gellert presented his paper "From Neighbors to Killers – The 1942 South Bácska Massacres A Case Study of Civilian and Military Perpetrators" at the Lessons and Legacies XV Conference at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

 Hungarian soldiers in Novi Sad, 23 January 1942.

 

The abstract of the paper

             

            The “anti-partisan cleansing operation” of January 1942 – with more than 3300 Serb and Jewish victims, including hundreds of women, elderly and children – was the single most devastating war crime committed by the Hungarian Army during the Second World War. The massacres in Csurog, Zsablya, Újvidék (Novi Sad) and other smaller localities were committed under the pretext of quelling an large scale – imaginary – Jewish-Communist partisan uprising, which, according to the perpetrators, aimed at obliterating entire Hungarian communities.

 

In the wake of the Second World War scores of former members of the Hungarian Royal Army and Gendarmerie, as well as civilians were brought to justice for war crimes perpetrated in Vojvodina annexed by Hungary in 1941. The events have been the subject of a sprawling web of war crime trials. First scrutinized by a military court during the Horthy-period (1943-1944), then by various chambers of the People’s Courts (1945-1949), by military and civilian criminal courts in communist Hungary (1950-1972) and finally in 2011-2012 by a military tribunal in Budapest under the rule of law (Képíró trial). These cases paint a disquieting picture of savagery by local inhabitants organized into self-defense units and members of reserve military units, who within days massacred their neighbors. These cases provide unique insights into the mentality of situational perpetrators, their induction into committing violence and the various defenses and justifications they employed to eschew responsibility for committing or ordering atrocities.

 

            In this paper, the author offers a case study of how neighbors and reserve military men with no prior evidence of violence became perpetrators. What are the avenues of peer pressure in a close-knit society? How one becomes a perpetrator, remains bystander or becomes victim, and what are the situational, societal and geographical factors thereof?

 

            His inquiry is an addition to recent perpetrator and Holocaust studies by introducing a largely unknown chapter of the Holocaust.

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