May 2, 2019, marks the United States’ Days of Remembrance, the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Today the National Air and Space Museum remembers Dezsö Becker, a Hungarian aviator who served in World War I and died in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in January 1945.
Dezsö Becker was born in 1896 in Bisztra, Hungary (now Bistra, Romania). A skilled amateur photographer, he served as a Lieutenant with the FliegerKompanie (FliK) 44 in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. Activated as a reconnaissance unit in April 1917, Becker and FLiK 44 served on the Romanian front from May to December 1917 and the Piave front in Italy from January 1918 until October 1918. The National Air and Space Museum Archives collections include photographs and albums from Becker’s World War I experiences.
Becker flew a Bradenburg C.I(U), 2-seater armed single-engine reconnaissance biplane. He created a photo album of aircraft, clouds, and aerial views taken by FLik 44 and sent it home, dated October 15, 1917.
Throughout the collection, Becker made little notes for his future wife Kato (Katoka Irsai), back in Budapast. He signed the back of one of his uniformed photos, “the most affectionate love.” He ends a quick postcard describing a stop at the Pragerhof Station in Romania: “Kisses your hands, Dezsö.”
After World War I, Becker married Kato and settled down to life as a bookkeeper in Budapest. Their son Ivan was born in 1929. But in 1940, as a Hungarian Jew, Becker was conscripted into an army labor battalion, first as an officer, then as a forced laborer. He was shipped to the provinces of Hungary and later to Germany.
On December 25, 1944, Dezsö Becker entered Buchenwald concentration camp. The reason: “Polit. Ungar-Jude” (Political, Hungarian Jew). He died twelve days later on January 6, 1945, of peritonitis.
Dezsö Becker’s documents and memory survived the Holocaust with his son, Ivan, who attended school in Budapest until the German occupation. Ivan and Kato were separated at the Hegyeshalom railroad station in December 1944 and he never saw either of his parents again. Ivan was rescued by Raoul Wallenberg or one of his associates and sent back to the Budapest Ghetto, where he survived the duration of the war in a Swedish-protected safe house.
After Budapest was liberated in January 1945, Ivan returned to his family’s apartment. After time in a displaced persons camp, he immigrated to the United States and served on the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While Dezsö Becker’s WWI experiences are memorialized at the National Air and Space Museum, the Becker Family Papers, documenting their Holocaust-era experiences, can be found in the collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.