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Komoly, Ottó

(1892–1945), architect and Zionist leader. Ottó Komoly was born as Ottó (Nathan) Kohn into a middle-class family in Budapest. His father participated in the First Zionist World Congress in Basel in 1897, and Ottó followed his example by becoming a Zionist. Komoly served in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. Because he earned medals for bravery and was a reserve captain, he was exempted from discriminatory anti-Jewish laws. Komoly became deputy chairman of the Hungarian Zionist Association in 1940, and in 1941 was chairman of the organization. He wrote two books on Zionism: A zsidó nép jövője (The Future of the Jewish People; 1919), and Cionista életszemlélet (Zionist View of Life; 1942).

During the Holocaust, Komoly was among the most prominent Hungarian Jewish leaders to participate in rescuing the Jews of Hungary. Zionist organizations established the so-called Rescue Committee of Budapest (Budapesti Mentőbizottság) in January 1943. Komoly, as president of this organization, smuggled Jews across the border, assisted refugees in Hungary, and made preparations for the self-defense of the Jewish community. After the Germans occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944, members of the committee initiated and carried on negotiations with both German and Hungarian authorities. Komoly negotiated with the Hungarians, carrying on discussions with members of the government and with associates of the political and ecclesiastic elite.

Komoly’s rescue action of children was his most successful achievement. He worked in this area with Friedrich Born, the representative of the International Red Cross in Hungary from May 1944. On 7 September 1944, the International Red Cross established a department, the so-called A Office, and Komoly directed this office, buying several buildings to create children’s homes. The International Red Cross and the Central Council of Hungarian Jews, which received money from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, covered the costs.

After the Arrow Cross Party took control of the government on 15 October 1944, there were times when the A Office maintained some 35 children’s homes in which 550 Jewish adults took care of 5,000–6,000 Jewish children. Members of Zionist youth organizations brought food and other provisions to the homes. The A Office also maintained soup kitchens and 24 temporary Jewish hospitals both in and out of the Pest ghetto.

Beginning on 22 October 1944, Komoly was a member of the Central Council of Hungarian Jews. On 28 December of that year, he moved into the Hotel Ritz where Hans Weyermann, the representative of the International Red Cross, lived, thereby enabling Komoly to maintain continual contact with the organization. On 1 January 1945, Komoly was abducted from the hotel by members of the Arrow Cross Party and most probably shot in the Danube on the same day.

Komoly’s diary survived (Yad Vashem Archives, P 31/44), and parts of it have appeared in English translation. A moshav, Yad Natan, was named after him in Israel.

Suggested Reading

Friedrich Born, Bericht an des Internationale Komitee vom Roten Kreuz in Genf (Geneva, 1945); Randolph L. Braham, ed., “The Diary of Ottó Komoly, August 21–September 16, 1944,” Hungarian Jewish Studies 3 (1973): 147–250; Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide:The Holocaust in Hungary, rev. and enl. ed. (New York, 1994); Rezső Rudolf Kasztner, Der Bericht des jüdischen Rettungskomitees aus Budapest, 1942–1945 (Basel, 1946).