Rolf Ackmann

March 14, 1910 - February 12, 1945

Rolf Ackmann, born on 14 March 1910 in Klein-Mimmelage, Lower Saxony, and died on 12 February 1945 in Hungary, was in military service, but little knowledge of him survives. All that is known is that as a medical doctor, he was serving in 1943 as a warrant officer of the 8th SS cavalry battalion. By November 1944 he was a lieutenant heading a health-service captaincy in the same unit. In mid-January 1945, he moved his first-aid unit to the stock rooms of the National Archives and was using Hungarian medieval charters to ensure the seriously injured did not lie on the bare stones. So irreplaceable source materials of Hungarian history were rendered illegible by splashings of blood and pus. Many major documents on the Hungarian middle ages were ruined in this way in Ackmann’s military hospital.

Ackmann’s life was lost in the Breakout. On 26 November 1946, Dr Béla Weszter, departmental audit officer, in whose villa at Hidász utca 7 Ackmann was buried, sent a letter to his parents:

“I have a sad duty. I promised your son back in early 1945 to send you the enclosed label and photo. Regrettably I had no way of doing so. Even now I don’t know if my package can take the right paths to you. Even so I don’t want to wait any further because I can imagine strongly how hard it must be for you to wait without any news. Wait, sadly, to no avail."

“Little can be added to this farewell letter – it is all inside.” (The letter itself has sadly not survived, only a copy of it.) “Only my wife and I and two or three living in the house tried to make the last hours bearable. Sadly there was no aid and the crushed leg flared up, and your own son explained there was no hope, as he knew as a doctor what state he was in. Immediate amputation might have helped, but there was no doctor or hospital to do it, as the siege and street fighting from 24 December ruled it all out. Our street suffered heavy clashes even on 12 February, Breakout day. During these, your son received a ghastly wound and dragged himself into our house with great difficulty. I tried to persuade Russians entering to bring a doctor and take him to hospital – we would have helped – but the constant shooting ruled it out. There were no painkilling medicines; some boys wanted to end his life with a hand grenade. After a long talk we dissuaded them. We buried your Rolf in the garden of our house and there he still lies.”

A plain description of the streets appears in the diary of Fanni Gyarmati, Mrs Miklós Radnóti. She took refuge in Iván Boldizsár’s apartment at Hidász utca 1, just 100 metres from where Ackmann died. She hid until the beginning of January in the area under the Arrow-Cross and could fear for her life each day. Nor was her case simple during the Soviet occupation. Early on 12 February, when she returned from a next-door house to the cellar of the journalist Iván Boldizsár’s, she found there 25 exhausted German soldiers: “It turned out they had no idea where they were. They’d come from the Castle, probably following some fantastic S-shape towards Marczibányi tér, then up Rózsadom and down from there, several thousand of them, breaking up into small groups. They asked what village they’d reached. They should have been in Zsámbék about then, they said despairingly…. They threw their weapons and ammunition out into the yard amidst the yawning women of the house. One of those was a cook at the Ludovika opposite, with the SS, and kept going amongst them to cut off the SS signs from their jackets. [The soldiers wrote out] the family addresses [of the civilians standing about there] to inform on them, then began giving away their belongings. Iván [Boldizsár] received a fountain pen, gloves and a string of pearls, and others in the house rings and other items. They warned that the Russians would take away their watches anyway, but they wouldn’t part with them. The stripping of their bodies was shameful and disgusting, I couldn’t stand looking. Most were under twenty, hardly more than children, and here they were staring death in the face. The mood was stifling…. Among the German ‘morituri’ it struck me for a moment that these SS people had butchered most of the forced labourers arriving from Serbia at the Hungarian border. Remember! There was such deep gloom in them now that I couldn’t feel glad, just managed to keep back my tears of sadness and regret over them.”

Fanni Gyarmati expressed sorrow not only for forced labourers, who included her own husband, but also for German soldiers, whom she saw too as human, though she had good reason to feel hatred, as she would have heard how SS men had killed over a thousand forced labourers near Chrvenka, Vojvodina. Her feelings were clear from a diary entry for 14 February, which notably records a mass killing: “When I went for water this morning, the bodies by the roadside had clearly increased again. They’d obviously stood them up against a wall, wearing civilian clothes or German military uniforms alike. One very young blond boy leaned half-seated against the wall, his fair hair spilt over his face and suddenly came a shocking thought: how he like Miklós he looks from a distance.” Next day she witnessed how a short Soviet soldier in Hungarian general’s dress laughed as he shot a young German prisoner-of-war, whom they’d been using to clean their weapons.

The Last Letter by Rolf Ackmann