Pál Szalai

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Pál Szalai
Born (1915-09-03)September 3, 1915
Died January 16, 1994(1994-01-16) (aged 78)
Los Angeles
Occupation Police officer

Pál Szalai (September 3, 1915 – January 16, 1994) also spelled Pál Szalay and anglicized as Paul Sterling was a high-ranking member of the Budapest police force and the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party during World War II.

Honored as Righteous among the Nations on April 7, 2009.[1][2][3][4]


He was born in Budapest on September 3, 1915.

The Wallenberg-Szalai connection[edit]

In the Hungarian Boy Scouts in 1929 he became friends with Károly Szabó. This friendship continued in the critical months 1944 - 1945 while Pál Szalai, high-ranking member of the police force supported Raoul Wallenberg.

Szalai was from 1939 to 1942 an idealistic member of the Arrow Cross Party. He left the party in 1942 disillusioned, and returned to a high-ranking police force position in October 1944 to help people in mortal danger from the Holocaust.

Szalai's friend Károly Szabó was employee of the Swedish Embassy. Dr. Otto Fleischmann Doctor of Medicine and psychologist of the Swedish Embassy motivated Károly Szabó to play active role in the rescue actions of Raoul Wallenberg. Pál Szalai supported his friend with important personal documents, signed from the German command in the Battle of Budapest.[5] Szalai agreed to meet Raoul Wallenberg at the Swedish Embassy in the night of December 26, 1944.

The ghetto in Budapest[edit]

Szalai provided Raoul Wallenberg with special favors and government information. In the second week of January 1945, Raoul found out that Adolf Eichmann planned a massacre in the Budapest ghetto. The only one who could stop it was the man given the responsibility to carry the massacre out, the commander of the German troops in Hungary, Major General Gerhard Schmidhuber. Through Szalai, Wallenberg sent Schmidhuber a note promising that he, Raoul Wallenberg, would make sure the general was held personally responsible for the massacre and that he would be hanged as a war criminal when the war was over. The general knew that the war would be over soon and that the Germans were losing. The massacre never took place.[6]

According to Giorgio Perlasca, who posed as the Spanish consul-general to Hungary in the winter of 1944 and saved 5218 Jews, Pál Szalai lied to save his life during his criminal trial, and the history of the saving is different.[7][8][9][10] Raoul Wallenberg (who was already dead at the time of the Szalai's deposition) saved hundreds of people but was not directly involved in the plan to save the ghetto. While Perlasca was posing as the Spanish consul-general, he came to know about the intention to burn down the ghetto. Shocked and incredulous, he asked for a direct hearing with the Hungarian interior minister Gábor Vajna, in the basement of the Budapest City Hall where he had his headquarter, and threatened fictitious legal and economic measures against the "3000 Hungarian citizens" (in fact, a much smaller number) declared by Perlasca as residents of Spain, and the same treatment by two Latin American governments, to force the minister to withdraw the project. This actually happened in the following days.[8][10][7][9]

After the war[edit]

After the war, Szalai was one of few high-ranking members of the Arrow Cross Party not executed. He was set free in recognition of his cooperation with Wallenberg.

Show trial preparations 1953 in Hungary[edit]

Preparations for a show trial started 1953 in Budapest to "prove" that Wallenberg had never been in the Soviet Union, nobody had dragged off Wallenberg in 1945, least of all the Soviet Army. Everything was ready for a trial designed to prove that Wallenberg had been the victim of cosmopolitan Zionists. Three leaders of the Jewish community of Budapest Dr. László Benedek, Lajos Stöckler, and Miksa Domonkos, as well as two additional "eyewitnesses" Pál Szalai and Károly Szabó were arrested and tortured. The preparations for the show trial were initiated in Moscow, following Joseph Stalin's anti-Zionist campaign. After Stalin's death and as Lavrentiy Beria was killed, the trial was aborted and the arrestees released. Miksa Domonkos died shortly after being tortured in the hospital.[11]

Emigration and death[edit]

He emigrated 1956 to the United States and lived in New Jersey then moved to California. He died on January 16, 1994 in Los Angeles, California under the name "Paul Sterling".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-07. Retrieved 2017-10-24.  The Associated Press 07 Apr 2009
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2009-10-02.  MTI Magyar Távirati Iroda
  3. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=1077133&contrassID=0&subContrassID=0 Haaretz
  4. ^ Pál Szalai – his activity to save Jews' lives during the Holocaust, at Yad Vashem website
  5. ^ József Szekeres: Saving the Ghettos of Budapest in January 1945, Pál Szalai "the Hungarian Schindler" ISBN 978-963-7323-14-0, Budapest 1997, Publisher: Budapest Archives, Page 41
  6. ^ Incredible People: Wallenberg
  7. ^ a b United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oral history interview with Giorgio Perlasca, 5 September 1990
  8. ^ a b Interview by Enrico Deaglio to Giorgio Perlasca, from: Mixer, Giorgio Perlasca, Giovanni Minoli, Rai, 1990
  9. ^ a b VareseNews, Gli uomini giusti muoiono di sabato, 22 May 2010
  10. ^ a b Interview by Enrico Deaglio to Giorgio Perlasca, from: Fondazione Giorgio Perslasca, Giorgio Perlasca - il mixer israeliano in ebraico, 1990
  11. ^ Book: Mária Ember, They Wanted to Blame Us, 1992 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-02-27. Retrieved 2007-02-27. )
  12. ^ Social Security Death Index; 141-32-9949 some biographies incorrectly list January 18, 1994

Further reading[edit]

  • A Man for All Connections, The Wallenberg-Szalai connection, Andrew Handler, Praeger/Greenwood, 30 January 1996; ISBN 978-0-275-95214-3. Handler focuses on explaining the Hungarian political context that made the rescue possible.... Less well known is the fact that Wallenbergs mission was supported by various representatives of the Hungarian state apparatus.
  • József Szekeres: Saving the Ghettos of Budapest in January 1945, Pál Szalai "the Hungarian Schindler" ISBN 978-963-7323-14-0, Budapest 1997, Publisher: Budapest Archives

External links[edit]