July 2

This Day in History

World War II

Jul 2, 1944:

American bombers deluge Budapest, in more ways than one

On this day in 1944, as part of Operation Gardening, the British and American strategy to lay mines in the Danube River by dropping them from the air, American aircraft also drop bombs and leaflets on German-occupied Budapest.

Hungarian oil refineries and storage tanks, important to the German war machine, were destroyed by the American air raid. Along with this fire from the sky, leaflets threatening "punishment" for those responsible for the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers at Auschwitz were also dropped on Budapest. The U.S. government wanted the SS and Hitler to know it was watching. Admiral Miklas Horthy, regent and virtual dictator of Hungary, vehemently anticommunist and afraid of Russian domination, had aligned his country with Hitler, despite the fact that he little admired him. But he, too, demanded that the deportations cease, especially since special pleas had begun pouring in from around the world upon the testimonies of four escaped Auschwitz prisoners about the atrocities there. Hitler, fearing a Hungarian rebellion, stopped the deportations on July 8. Horthy would eventually try to extricate himself from the war altogether—only to be kidnapped by Hitler's agents and consequently forced to abdicate.

One day after the deportations stopped, a Swedish businessman, Raoul Wallenberg, having convinced the Swedish Foreign Ministry to send him to the Hungarian capital on a diplomatic passport, arrived in Budapest with 630 visas for Hungarian Jews, prepared to take them to Sweden to save them from further deportations.

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