Nicholas Eckert

(July 3, 1913, Villány - ?)

Miklós Eckert was born on 3 July 1913 in Villány, Hungary; his date and place of death are unknown. His farm-hand family held no property at all. They spoke German at home. Eckert completed four years of primary school, but then turned to working on farms, though often unemployed. He joined the Volksbund before the Second World War and volunteered for the German army in 1942, for several possible reasons: sympathy for Nazism, or despite his low education, at least to receive the better social provisions (family allowance) due to German soldiers. Nor was it immaterial that the treatment of minority troops in the Hungarian army was unsavoury. Eckert was placed initially in the 1st SS infantry brigade, then due to his age in the SS police. He was trained at the Debicza base in Poland.

Eckert’s specific military duties was tied to Poland until 1944, when he was shifted to the 18th SS Panzer Division. His unit took part in November 1944 in the first phase of the battle for Budapest. However, it was totally broken up early in December 1944 in the district of Aszód. The survivors were then withdrawn from the front, but returned to it in March 1945. Eckert luckily survived the manœvres and was made a Soviet prisoner at the end of the war. From there he was repatriated at the end of 1949 to Hungary, only to be interned then for his SS membership. The authorities drew no distinction between SS volunteers and those who’d been drafted in.

On 9 September 1951, it was reported of him at the Tiszalök internment camp that “he had arrived in Warsó [sic] on 20 April 1943 as a guard on the day the locals started their revolt. Then later in the conversation, he stated that one SS guard had been shot with a machine gun. The whole area had been destroyed as revenge. A couple of hours later the case was repeated, when the opposing SS guard saw back-fire at a road junction, where there was a water hole by the road, and in it lay a “sparrow” [Jew] with a weapon in its hands.

When I saw him lying there, I threw a hand grenade at his neck and he was buried right away. Many of us were injured, and many Jews too, but only their news has been told. Nobody much was able to flee if they fell into our hands.’

In the past he was a very keen member of the Wolksbund [sic] and even today he still mentions regularly the good old system. He makes statements about how they repaid those they caught.” According to another report on 27 October 1951, “Miklós Eckert tells how two cases of his valuables are buried in Thuringia, so that he will have no problem with living if he escapes from here. He was a guard on three Jewish trains from Warsaw and he managed on that occasion to acquire the cases of goods…. He cheated the Jews out of gold, released them in return, and then shot them dead. He took part in such guard duty on four occasions, and he says that the conditions were so poor they were throwing out 5─10 dead bodies a day.”

Interestingly, no special enquiry was made into Eckert despite the informers’ reports, whereas far less serious ones had led to people being beaten half dead. This all tied in with a total lack of interest shown by the ÁVH (state security) in resolving actual crimes. Criminal investigations were held basically on class grounds and those thought to be proletarians were often allowed to escape. Eckert was freed from internment on 13 January 1954 and left for Austria at his own request. That meant he disappeared from the Hungarian state security’s view. We have no means of telling how much of the reports on him was true, although it was shown that Eckert’s life had taken him to Warsaw in 1943. His life exemplified well the attempts and uncertainties that a 20th-century person might meet. Hungarian citizens could find themselves viewing concentration camps or scenes of mass slaughter without themselves doing anything active. How they behaved in such situations depended on their own decisions. How they latterly judged the scene in which they found themselves depended ultimately on their personal stance. It’s unlikely that Eckert made up his stories; it’s clear from how he told them that he had indeed behaved inhumanly.