Days of Remembrance: World War I Aviator Dezsö Becker

Posted on Thu, April 25, 2019
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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.

  • Man in military uniform sits crosslegged on a chair

    Lt. Dezsö Becker, FliegerKompanie (FliK) 44, Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen), posed seated in a chair in military uniform.  Signed on the back: “The most affectionate love.” March 16, 1916.  NASM-9A06002.

  • Reverse of Postcard

    Lt. Dezsö Becker, FliegerKompanie (FliK) 44, Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops (Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen), posed seated in a chair in military uniform.  Signed on the back: “The most affectionate love.” March 16, 1916.  NASM-9A06002.

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.

Austro-Hungarian soldiers pose in uniform.  Dezsö Becker, in front row center, is holding a dog.  NASM-9A06017

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.  

  • Small Photograph of Airplane Mounted on Card

    Mounted photograph of Dezsö Becker’s Bradenburg C.I(U), the airplane he flew while a member of FliegerKompanie (FliK) 44.  On the reverse are autographs.  NASM-9A06001

  • Autographs on back of card

    Mounted photograph of Dezsö Becker’s Bradenburg C.I(U), the airplane he flew while a member of FliegerKompanie (FliK) 44.  On the reverse are autographs.  NASM-9A06001

Facing pages of Dezsö Becker’s World War I photo album.  (left) “My third flight,” Becker poses with his aircraft. (Right) “The Szenkatolnai is flying.”  NASM.2008.0004-M0000003-00020 

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.” 

  • Men in uniform

    “Fast ferry trip at the Pragerhof Station.”  A postcard to Dezsö Becker’s future wife Katoka Irsai in Budapest is signed “Kisses Your Hands.”  NASM-9A06015

  • handwritten postcard

    “Fast ferry trip at the Pragerhof Station.”  A postcard to Dezsö Becker’s future wife Katoka Irsai in Budapest is signed “Kisses Your Hands.”  NASM-9A06015

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.

Group of men, possibly organized labor brigade, Dezsö Becker (fourth in top row), 1940. (Photocopy in National Air and Space Museum Archives.) Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Becker family papers.  2018.359.2.

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.

Microfilm print of Inmate Personal Card for Dezsö Becker at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. NASM.2008.0004-M0000004-00010

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.

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