Győr and Jewry

Who was Vilmos Apor?

The bishop and Jews in Győr

I reproduce these few lines from the Hungarian version of Wikipedia.

Why is that? Because Vilmos Apor was the only Hungarian Catholic prelate who, not without risk, openly stood up for the Jews in the most difficult times of the 1940s.

He was born in Segesvár in 1892 and died in Győr in 1945 as Bishop of Győr.

Scion of a prominent Transylvanian aristocratic family. He studied at the Jesuits. Enrolled in the seminary of the diocese of Győr, graduated from the University of Innsbruck. He was ordained a priest in 1915.

Vilmos Apor around 1930, Wikipedia

He began his ministry in Gyula as an assistant pastor and teacher, then as a parish priest. At the age of 26, he gained great prestige when, after a hostage-taking operation by Romanian soldiers, he and several others negotiated the release of the captured citizens of Gyula with the Romanian queen.

He focused on the social responsibility of the Church and ran a children’s charity kitchen. He set up several communities, visited prisoners, helped the poor and the sick, renovated churches and founded a Catholic newspaper. In 1919, when the Hungarian Council Republic abolished religious education in state schools, he succeeded in getting this measure revoked by mobilising parents in Gyula.

In 1941, at the age of 49, he was consecrated Bishop of Győr. At the beginning of 1941, the Cardinal appointed him president of the Hungarian Holy Cross Association, a body which was concerned with the cause of Jewish converts to Christianity throughout the country.

On 26 August 1943, Catholic public figures of the time gathered in the Bishop’s Palace in Győr to discuss the possibilities of Christian politics, in opposition to the cursus politics of the time.

„And whoever denies Christianity’s fundamental law of love and claims that there are people and groups and races to be hated and proclaims that people should be tortured, whether they be Negroes or Jews, no matter how much he may boast that he is a Christian, is like a pagan and a public sinner.” – Bishop Vilmos Apor’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday 1944 (excerpt)

After the German occupation and the takeover by the Arrow Cross, he stood up for the persecuted, regardless of their denomination or ethnicity. He strongly criticised and scourged the established order, personally defending the vulnerable against the German and Arrow Cross leaders (1945).

However, his protests, petitions and telegrams on behalf of the Jews remained ineffective. Some of those who approached him were hidden or sent on to Nuncio Angelo Rotta, who issued thousands of letters of protection, or to his sister, Gizella Apor, head of the Hungarian Red Cross. He also helped the civilian population of the city, working with the monastery leaders to house many refugees, especially after the bombing of Győr in April 1944.

On 28 March 1945, the siege of Győr began. The city was also shelled by the retreating Germans and the cathedral was hit. The Bishop took in all the refugees, and hundreds of people found shelter in the cellars of the Bishop’s Castle.

On 30 March, after refusing to extradite the women who had fled to his residence, a Soviet soldier mortally wounded him in a scuffle, and on 2 April, he died of his wounds.

Tomb of Vilmos Apor in Győr, Wikipedia

He was temporarily buried in the Carmelite church in Győr. His reburial took place in 1986, when he was laid to rest in the Héderváry Chapel of the Győr Cathedral.

In 1997 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Vilmos Apor’s lifesaving activities in 1944-45 and his actions to save the Hungarian Jewish community in Győr and nationwide are well known. In the 1980s, he was nominated for the title of Righteous Among the Nations, an honor awarded by the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute.

Several serious Hungarian sources mention that Vilmos Aport was honoured with this title. Reading these materials, I myself was under the same misapprehension. However, I recently learned from the Yad Vashem Institute that the title has not been awarded. The Institute informs me that they are of course aware of the bishop’s activities in saving human lives, but since no testimonies or authentic documents have been submitted so far, they have not been able to award him the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum at night, architect: Moshe Safdie,

Our readers are invited to contact us if anyone knows any specific details about Bishop Vilmos Apor’s concrete steps to save Jewish lives. If there were any testimony or irrefutable documentation that the Bishop provided concrete protection or assistance to even one Jewish person during the Holocaust, it would be a great step forward in the matter of granting him the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

„He who saves one life saves the whole world.” – the Talmud

Peter Krausz