Archive for May 2014
The ‘Rogation Days‘ are the days before Ascension Thursday, which is forty days after Easter Sunday in the Christian calendar. The days get their name from the Latin word ’rogare’ meaning ’to ask for’. For a long time these were ’petitions’ to the almighty which were chanted in processions around the church. In A.D. 511 the Council of Orleans declared that the three days before Ascension Day, commemorating Christ’s going up to heaven, should be holidays for prayer and fasting. The processions moved outside the church and circled the parish, pausing at the edge of fields where prayers were said petitioning for a good harvest of the particular crop growing there. These sojourns included a ’Gospel Oak’. A modern survival of these folk-customs is ’beating the bounds’, possibly originating in pagan Roman festivals, Terminalia and Ambarvalia. The statue of Terminus was not int he form of a man, but a wooden post or boundary stone, marking the end of one estate and the beginning of another. From this, we get the idea of the end of a bus or rail route as a terminus. Ambarvalia, held at the same time of year, involved processions around the fields, with participants carrying sticks with which they beat the ground in order to drive away the winter frosts. Any grower will tell you that a late frost is very dangerous to the prospect of a good crop, especially if it comes after a prolonged spell of warm weather.
At ’Rogationtide’, a procession forms up at the church with the priest in charge at the front followed by someone bearing the ceremonial cross. The choir follows, dressed in their gowns and surplices, and a crowd of parishioners, including schoolboys with their masters. Most of them carry willow wands, topped with wild flowers. They stop at well-known ’landmarks’ around the route following the parish boundary, perhaps a gate, a tree, a bridge or a road crossing, so that the company can gather round for prayers asking for seasonable weather and a successful harvest. At some of these points refreshments will be waiting. At the ’Gospel Oak’, or some other prominent landmark, the wand bearers used to set about beating the landmark, then transferred their wand-action to one of the boys, who was rolled in the grass or ’gently bumped’ against a tree, receiving compensation in silver for his ’suffering’.
Since accurate mapping is a comparatively recent development, this was a sensible way of marking boundaries between parishes, especially before the early twentieth century, when the parishes played a vital role in the administration of the Poor Law and other local ’secular’services. In England and Wales, the Parish Council is still the basic unit of local government. If there was a dispute between parishes as to where the exact boundaries lay, somebody could be found who would remember a particular landmark from having received a beating there. In the late twentieth century the custom revived somewhat despite the national government taking over welfare services, and especially in urban areas where the boundaries might pass beside, or even through, a number of public houses, breweries and other places of interest forming ’recent’ additions to the townscape!
At St Clement Danes in London, the procession of clergy and choir follows the beadle, an officer from medieval times, featured in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, who was responsible for ratepayers’ meetings which were held in the ’vestry’ of the Church. The Beadle was also responsible for the relief and discipline of the Poor in the parish, especially the children in church. For this purpose, he carried a stick called a mace, and wore a blue uniform cloak. At the St Clement Danes procession, the choirboys follow his now ceremonial mace, themselves carrying willow wands topped with ribbons or flowers. With these, they beat the boundary stones, although the southern boundary lies along the bed of the Thames, for which the procession takes to boats.
Ascension Day, on the Thursday, is the day on which we think about Jesus being ’taken up’ to heaven from Bethany, as Luke describes in both his gospel (chapter 24) and in The Acts of the Apostles (chapter 1, vv 9-11). Having witnessed this, he tells us, they spent all their days in the Temple, worshipping and waiting for the gift of the Spirit to come to them before starting their ministry. In Acts, he tells us that, as they watched him, ’a cloud hid him from their sight’. They still had their eyes fixed on the sky when two ’men in white’ appeared beside them and asked them why, as practical Galilean fishermen and farmers, they were stood there ’star-gazing’. So, in addition to praying, they set about other practical preparations for ministry, together with the women and the family of Jesus. Already a hundred strong, the believers meet together and a successor to Judas is chosen. This was an important appointment, as Judas had been the group’s Treasurer. After that, Luke moves on quickly to the dramatic events of Pentecost. So, even during this quiet period of prayer and refection at Ascentiontide, like the disciples, we cannot afford to be ’so heavenly-minded’ that we are ’no earthly use’. Heaven may be a beautiful place, and we know that we too have a place there, but, for now, we need to focus on the here and now. We won’t need to strain our eyes, scanning the skies for signs of Jesus’ second coming, as with his first. It will be as clear and ’transparent’ an event as when he left. For this reason, Christianity has often been described as ’the most materialistic of all world religions’.
1953/54 turned out to be a great season for Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club and their captain Billy Wright. However, for the national football team it was not so great. Beaten 6-3 in the Match of the Century at Wembley by Ferenc Puskás’ Mighty Magyars (their first ever defeat on ‘home soil’), they faced a return match on 23 May at the Népstadion (People’s Stadium) in Budapest on 23 May.
Wolves improved on their previous highly placed League finishes to win the First Division Championship (now Premier League title) for the first time in an otherwise already illustrious history. The whole of The Black Country population was ecstatic; Wolves finished top, and their neighbours and rivals, West Bromwich Albion, finished second, four points (then two wins) behind. However, The Baggies also won the FA Cup, making it a double for the close-knit area. Wolves’ first championship success increased the club’s growing reputation as a fast attacking and well-disciplined outfit.
May 1954 also saw another sporting milestone, in middle-distance track athletics. At Iffley stadium in Oxford on 6 May, medical student Roger Bannister became the first man to break the barrier of the four-minute-mile, setting a new world record of 3:59.4.
If Bannister was the fastest and fittest runner of his time, Stan Cullis’ Wolves were the fittest footballers of their generation; he had them running up and down the steep banking of the Spion-Kop on the South Bank of their stadium, Molineux. Wolves players were expected to be tremendous all-round athletes, and they were.
In the summer of 1954, Switzerland was set to stage the World Cup Finals and, fittingly, the English champions provided a number of players for the national team squad, with Billy Wright set to lead them as team captain. Towards the end of May, the flew to Budapest for the second leg of their friendly exchange with Hungary. Puskás met Billy Wright at the old Ferihegy Airport, which has a photograph of the England captain being presented with a bouquet by his Hungarian counterpart. The custom must have seemed strange to the lad from Ironbridge. They spent a week in Budapest, no doubt taking in some of its many tourist attractions.
On 23 May, ninety-two thousand fans filled the People’s Stadium (now known as the Puskás Ferenc Stadion) in the Hungarian capital to see if their heroes could the repeat the performance which had led to the demise of the (then) greatest team in world football in the previous winter in London. Later in life, Puskás himself told of the competition for tickets:
You see, to beat an England team is always very important. If it were possible, we could have sold five hundred thousand tickets, so many people wanted to get into the stadium. You could sell a ticket for at least ten times its face value. Some people were even offering their prize pigs for a ticket! That’s how big this game was…
The Hungarian fans were not disappointed, as the English lions went down like lambs, receiving a 7-1 drubbing, with Puskás bagging a brace of goals and Kocsis also scoring twice. In 2002, Puskás recalled:
But nobody talks about it (now)… It could easily have been ten or twelve if we hadn’t had so much fun… The English came to Budapest to win; that’s what they said . At the end they said, “There was nothing we could do… “
This was England’s worst ever defeat, and has not been matched since. After the match, the Hungarian press had great fun playing with words, coining the expression, The English came for one ‘seven’ (days, a ‘week’ in Magyar) and went with (or ‘for’) seven-one! The match took place only a fortnight before the opening of the World Cup finals, so the sensational Hungarians arrived in Switzerland as clear favourites to add to their status as Olympic Champions by winning the Jules Rimet trophy. Under coach Gusztáv Sebes, the Aranycsapat (Golden Team) were playing a new brand of quick-passing football that was taking everyone by surprise.
The Magical Magyars continued their spell-binding form by beating the Korean Republic 9-0, followed by an even more impressive 8-3 victory against West Germany. Billy Wright captained England in both their group matches: against Belgium, which they won 4-3 after extra time, Billy being the only Wolves player in that team, and against the hosts Switzerland, which they won 2-0, with Jimmy Mullen and Dennis Wilshaw joining their club captain and scoring a goal each, Mullen standing in for the legendary Nat Lofthouse at centre-forward.
Their goals put England through to a quarter-final with Uruguay, which they lost 4-2 to Uruguay. The South Americans, the reigning World Champions who had never been beaten in a FIFA World Cup match, then met the Hungarians, who had already beaten Brazil 4-2 in their quarter-final. The semi-final went into extra time and finished 4-2 to the Magyars, a great match but another physically-draining encounter. Puskás’ team finally ran out of steam against West Germany in the final, losing (disastrously) 3-2, surrendering a 2-0 lead. It was their first defeat in six years, eventually earning them the dubious title of the best team never to win the World Cup. Two years later, the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, and many of the team defected, including Puskás, who went to Real Madrid.
The Other Hungary:
I recently found a copy of a book, published in 1986, by the Hungarian Institute in Melbourne, called The Other Hungary, by Anthony Endrey, obviously a Hungarian exile. Although aspects of Transylvania’s history have been dealt with in my various publications on Hungarian history, I had yet to see a complete history of the territory, once an important Principality, in Hungarian, let alone in English.
Given the important role it played in the fate of the Hungarian state and people before 1944, and its remaining resonance in Hungarian cultural and political life since (especially during and after the Romanian Revolution of 1989), I thought I would re-publish, in summary form, some extracts from Endrey’s book here, together with relevant documentary evidence from the diaries of Domokos Szent-Iványi, himself one of the group of Transylvanians, led by István Bethlen and Pál Teleki, who laboured (unsuccessfully) to re-unite the Hungarian peoples as well as to maintain Hungary’s independence from German Nazi control in the twenty-five years between the Paris Peace Conference and the Occupation of Hungary, 1919-44. Other factual details are drawn from László Kontler’s (2009) History of Hungary.
The Dual Monarchy and First World War, 1867-1918:
In the post-1867 period, Hungarian public opinion was preoccupied with questioning the Ausgleich, the ‘Compromise’ with the Habsburg Empire, and this went on until the outbreak of the First World War. The Dual Monarchy was a hybrid; it united Hungary, a country with a long history of constitutional government, with a collection of Habsburg territories with an autocratic structure under an absolutist dynasty. Austria was therefore almost pre-determined to become the senior partner in this artificial creation. The army, central banking and foreign affairs were largely in Austrian hands and the customs and economic policies of the monarchy were also geared to the interests of the Austrian provinces at the expense of Hungary.
In this situation, the majority of Hungarians felt imprisoned in an alien structure, which prevented them from attaining full national independence. They were therefore determined to change the basic features of the Compromise even if they lacked the will to take the logical step in bringing the Dual Monarchy to an end. For nearly half a century, the attention of Hungarians was diverted from other pressing problems, which threatened their very survival. These included the problems of the national minorities within the Hungarian half of the Empire. Those who protested against Budapest’s violation of the 1868 nationality law were discriminated against in public offices and courts. Nevertheless, they campaigned for national recognition and territorial autonomy. From 1881, a united Hungarian and Romanian National Party demanded the separation of Transylvania, with its former autonomous status, from Hungary, and in 1892, enjoying the support of the Romanian King Charles I, addressed a Memorandum to Franz Josef, listing its grievances and claims. The Emperor passed it directly to the Hungarian Government, and the fact that it had been made public by its authors led to their prosecution for subversive propaganda, resulting in harsh sentences. The Congress of the Nationalities that took place in Budapest in 1895 also rejected the idea of the Hungarian nation-state and demanded territorial autonomy. Many of the activists who attended were persecuted through the courts for doing so, and harassed by the police.
Transylvania itself drifted along in an era of great economic prosperity, although beset with grave social problems due to the neglect of its poorer classes, and without proper attention being given to its increasing internal conflicts between its constituent nationalities. When Count István Tisza became the Premier of Hungary in 1913, he opened negotiations with the national minorities and attempted a compromise with the Romanian National Party, but his efforts were frustrated by the manipulations of the Romanian Government which had close ties with the Romanian leaders in Transylvania, preventing a reconciliation with Hungary as a whole. Tisza then entered negotiations with the other nationalities, but time ran out in 1914, with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his Consort in Sarajevo on 28 June, leading to the outbreak of the Great War, which extinguished historic Hungary in its flames.
Although Romania was still bound by a military pact with Austria-Hungary and Germany, the Romanian Government declared its strict neutrality at the outbreak of hostilities and watched the bloody contest from the sidelines. Eventually, however, the prospect of acquiring Transylvania the easy way proved too strong for them, and the Entente powers promised them not only the whole of Transylvania, but also a substantial part of the Great Plain of Hungary. On 27 August 1916, when the Russian Army was on the offensive on the eastern front, Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary. The following day, the Romanian Army invaded Transylvania, occupying Brassó and Nagyszeben. Within a few weeks, however, hastily assembled Austro-Hungarian and German troops counter-attacked and not only evicted the invaders but also pushed deep into Romania, occupying Bucharest on 6 December. The following spring, the Revolution broke out in Russia and the Russian war effort collapsed. The Romanians sued for peace and, after concluding an armistice at the end of 1917, signed a definitive peace treaty with Austria-Hungary and Germany on 7 May 1918.
Besides the propaganda directed at the populations of hostile countries, which naturally affected the ethnic minorities of Austria-Hungary, the Entente countries also gave shelter to the national committees of émigré politicians and encouraged their campaign for the dismemberment of the Monarchy and the creation of ‘national’ states. The Romanians laid claim not just to Transylvania but also to other Hungarian lands east of the Tisza. However, it was only in the last weeks of the war that they founded the Council of Romanian National Unity in Paris.
The Balkanisation of Transylvania, 1918-1938:
By October 1918, the Habsburg Monarchy had disintegrated and a radical-socialist coalition took power in Budapest, with Mihály Károlyi as its figurehead. On 1 November, he ordered the return of all Hungarian troops, concluding an armistice with the Entente powers. This required Hungary to evacuate all her south-eastern territories in favour of the Romanian and Serbian armies. However, the Romanians launched an undeclared war on Hungary, mounting a second invasion of Transylvania, now in a completely defenceless state. On 1 December 1918, the Romanian National Council of Transylvania voted for union with Romania, supported by the Saxons, who had been bought off by huge concessions. The Hungarians and Szekely of Transylvania were not even invited to this convention. With this act, the Balkanisation of Transylvania began.
The only armed resistance to the advance of the Romanian Army in Transylvania came from a Szekely division which fought heroically against overwhelming odds, defending the northern part of the territory for nearly four months. These brave Szekels were, however, hopelessly isolated and outnumbered, and on 26 April 1919, their commanders agreed to surrender. The Hungarian Premier, Mihály Károlyi had already received an ultimatum from the Entente powers, requiring a withdrawal from Transylvania in favour of the Romanian Army, also indicating that the new demarcation line would represent the future political frontier. Károlyi and all the members of his cabinet immediately resigned. The Social Democrats then announced their fusion with the Communists led by Béla Kun.
Although Kun’s newly-raised Red Army did score some successes against the Czechs in northern Hungary, his ill-disciplined forces were no match for the Romanian Army which began its drive into the central plains on the pretext of ’saving’ Hungary from Soviet domination. The Kun government was forced to flee to Vienna on 1 August, leaving the capital without law and order or defence. When it entered Budapest, the Romanian Army carried out systematic looting of both state and private property. Not until 14 November was it forced to leave, with Admiral Horthy establishing his national government. The Romanians gradually withdrew from most of Hungary, but still occupied the whole of Transylvania together with the eastern parts of the Great Plain.
On 4 June 1920, Hungary was forced to sign the Treaty of Trianon, which partitioned the historic Hungarian Kingdom, annexing over a hundred thousand square kilometres of territory to Romania, and placing nearly two million Magyars and Szekels under a government dominated by 2.8 million Romanians, out of a total population of five and a quarter million. It was not simply a question of numbers, however. Due to the significance of Transylvania in historical and national consciousness, its loss was especially painful, which made amicable relations with Romania out of the question
From the outset of the Romanian occupation of Transylvania, the province was placed under martial law, giving the Romanian Army and gendarmerie the opportunity, which they took, to commit many atrocities against the Hungarian population, in order to terrorise it into submission. Thousands were interned without trial, many of whom were beaten to death. The military code of the Regat (the original state of Romania) was extended to civilians in Transylvania and a large number of Hungarians were tried and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of ’offences against the state’. Immediately following the signing of the Trianon Treaty, the Romanian Government subjected all public servants in Transylvania to a Romanian language test which was carried out with the deliberate aim of excluding and dismissing all Hungarians from public office.
As a result, 150,000 Hungarian public servants were displaced overnight. In 1922, elections were held for a unified Romanian Parliament which, according to the Transylvanian Romanian leader, Julius Maniu (who later became Romanian Premier), were carried out amidst the wildest corruption, bribery, arrests, incitement and imprisonment of candidates. Although the Hungarians formed a united Hungarian Party, thirty of their thirty-three candidates were disqualified by the Romanian authorities, and only one was eventually elected.
It was in this atmosphere of ethnic intimidation that the Romanian Government introduced ’land reform’ in 1923. This amounted to no more than a dispossession of the Hungarian minority, as 2.7 million acres of prime agricultural land were taken from their Hungarian owners, mostly smallholders with less than a hundred acres, and handed over to the Romanian population. The clear aim was to alter the ethnic character of whole regions. The compensation for this confiscation came in the form of valueless government bonds.
The ousting of Hungarian public servants was accompanied by an influx of large numbers of Romanian bureaucrats from the Regat. These brought with them the ingrained habit of Romanians in the Balkans of demanding a bakshish, or bribe, for virtually every function performed by them, resulting in the kind of widespread corruption unknown under Hungarian rule. Even the Romanians of Transylvania resented this degradation of the public affairs of their province, but, by then, it was too late for protest.
Although it had successfully rigged the 1922 elections, the Romanian Government maintained martial law in Transylvania, with a few brief interruptions, right through to the Second World War. Transylvanians were therefore subjected to rule by a police state, though Romania pretended to be a democracy to the outside world. The Hungarian minority continued to be oppressed, as the Romanian government also launched an offensive against the long-established Hungarian school system in Transylvania. Both Catholic and Protestant parish schools, some dating back to the fifteenth century, were closed down and the use of the Hungarian language was forbidden. Romanian teachers were appointed in monoglot Hungarian districts and children were beaten for using their native language even in break-times. Increasingly deprived of educational facilities in their mother-tongue, the Hungarian Transylvanians also saw their cultural associations, theatres and newspapers suppressed.
The situation for the Hungarian minority was made even worse by the rising influence of chauvinistic right-wing organisation called The Iron Guard in Romanian politics. This movement eventually rose to power after the outbreak of the Second World War. It was savagely anti-Hungarian and committed many atrocities against the Hungarian population, and, to a lesser degree, against the German minority.
The Vienna Awards, 1938-40:
By 1938, Hungary was strong enough to demand revision of the boundaries drawn at Trianon, and at the Munich Conference of 29 September 1938, Britain, France, Germany and Italy referred the Hungarian claims against Czechoslovakia to arbitration. This resulted in the First Vienna Award of 2 November 1938, which granted Hungary an area of twelve thousand square kilometres with a population of just over one million, mostly Hungarian. When Czechoslovakia was broken up by the Nazi German invasion of March 1939, the Hungarian Army annexed Sub-Carpathia with a further substantial population, partly Hungarian.
Encouraged by these gains, the Hungarian Government now demanded the return of the Hungarian-inhabited areas of Transylvania. Since Hungary was not involved in the first two years of the hostilities of World War II, she was able to support her claims against Romania with substantial armed forces. In June 1940, she was ready to go to war with Romania over Transylvania. The Soviets, anxious to make their subjugation of Bessarabia more palatable to Hungary, gave notice that they fully recognised Hungary’s historic rights to Transylvania; on 4 July Molotov informed the Hungarian Minister in Moscow that he regarded Hungary’s claims as just and well-founded. He made it clear that he was ready to support such claims at a peace conference. He also stated that he was uninterested in any territorial questions beyond the Carpathians.
The Hungarian public, however, was vehemently opposed to any co-operation with the ’Red Monster’ and began demanding swift, independent military action lest the Romanians, having capitulated to Russia, refused to return Hungary’s former territories. Despite Molotov’s assurances to the contrary, Teleki did not exclude the possibility of Russia turning her attention westwards, towards Transylvania, once Bessarabia and parts of Bukovina had been acquired. Macartney put it like this:
The Hungarian diplomatic writers say that Hungary ’refused the Russian offer’, and although no details of the refusal are available, it is certain that no such co-operation took place. In the negotiations which followed, Teleki… addressed himself exclusively to the Axis Powers, and throughout treated Russia’s moves as those of a potentially hostile Power, the value of his own proposed action lying in the defence which it provided against these moves. But, in direct contradiction to Germany and Italy’s point of view, he felt that Russia’s activity made a counter-move by Hungary essential, for it was not safe to assume that Russia would content herself with the acquisition of the two provinces. If Hungary did not move, the Soviet troops might cross the Carpathians and themselves occupy Transylvania; or, alternatively, might foment a revolution, resulting in Romania’s turning herself into a Soviet Republic and placing herself under the protection of the USSR. Rumours to both effects were… reaching Hungary, and seem genuinely to have impressed and frightened him…
… Géza Teleki informs (me) that what really determined his father to act was the belief that if he did not do so ’he would find the Russians on the Tisza’. . The scare of a Soviet Republic may sound fantastic, but when, in 1942, a monster trial of some 130 Transylvanian Communists took place, nearly all of them Magyar-speaking Jews, many of the defendants stated that they had been ordered to organise the proclamation of a Soviet Republic in Transylvania simultaneously with the Russian advance into Bessarabia.’
However, Berlin and the Axis Powers insisted that Hungary restrain her desire for a quick settlement of the Romanian question. Romania was marshaling its forces and the Hungarians also began to mobilise. The main worry in Hungary was that, if the Government prevaricated, Teleki and his cabinet might be forced to resign, leaving the way open for a pro-Nazi government to take power.
By the end of June, the Romanian Government found itself in a very precarious predicament. The Soviet Union was laying claim to Bessarabia as well as Bukovina; in the south Bulgaria was eyeing up the Dobrudja, while in the west, Hungary continued to threaten Transylvania. On 26 June Molotov had presented a note to Davidescu, Romanian envoy to Moscow, in which he summoned Romania to transfer Bessarabia and Bukovina. Since, in view of an imminent invasion of Britain, maintaining peace in South-eastern Europe and ensuring oil supplies from Romania were of strategic importance, Hitler called upon the Romanian King Charles to comply with the Soviet demands. At the same time, Hungary and Bulgaria declared their claims for the territories annexed after World War I.
Given the course of the war in the West, the guarantee given by Britain and France to support Romania seemed ineffectual at this juncture. In this grave situation Bucharest decided upon a volte-face such as the one successfully performed in 1917-20. Judging that she could not expect any support from her guarantors, she renounced the Anglo-French guarantee on 1 July and began hastily to seek rapprochement and collaboration with Nazi Germany. She now decided to follow a pro-German policy so long as her former guarantors were powerless and the Hungarian threat remained. In a letter dated 2 July, King Charles assured Hitler of undisturbed continuance of oil supplies (140,000 tonnes per month), informed him of the termination of the guarantee agreement with Britain, requested an agreement of alliance with Germany, agreed to reshuffle his cabinet to give it a pro-German orientation and asked Hitler to send a German military mission to Romania.
By attaching Romania to the Axis camp, Germany attained its goal of securing Romania’s oil supplies and strengthening the Berlin-Bucharest military alliance. In keeping with this strategy, the Nazi leadership did its utmost to avert a conflict between Hungary and Romania. In order to dissuade the Hungarians from embarking on a military adventure in Transylvania, they warned Teleki’s Government that all guarantees made by Berlin concerning Hungarian territorial claims would be withdrawn if any such action were taken. However, the pressure of public opinion in Hungary was such that the Teleki Government remained ready to take some form of armed action against Romania. In turn, Berlin increased its menaces, including Sztójay’s report of 6 July, according to which, in the event of military action by Hungary, Germany would adopt a policy of ethnic frontiers in connection with the final settlement of Hungary’s claims. This meant that Hungary could only expect to regain those parts of Transylvania where Magyars were the predominant part of the population. Since many Magyars had been displaced from their lands in the previous twenty years, this would not guarantee a return to pre-Trianon borders.
While both Germany and Romania wanted to avoid an armed conflict, it was in the interests of the weakened Western Allies, and of Hungary, that a clash should occur. In order to appease Berlin still further, Romania left the League of Nations on 10 July. When the Romanian Government appealed to Germany and Italy for arbitration over the territorial claims of Hungary and Bulgaria, the Second Vienna Award of 30 August 1940 took place. The Hungarians were, on the whole, less than willing to pursue this course of action. Premier Teleki came under immense pressure from Berlin, as well as in Budapest. In addition, Downing Street wanted any Hungarian advance to be undertaken with a view to safeguarding both Romania and Yugoslavia, the latter also occupying on ancient Hungarian territories given to it in the Trianon Treaty.
The Hungarian public entertained high hopes of the meeting, and even in political circles it was considered that an agreement on the issue of Transylvania was, at long last, a distinct possibility. The Conference was held on 10 July at the Führerhaus in Munich, with Hitler, Ribbentrop, Ciano, Teleki and Csáky, Foreign Minister, present. The Hungarian delegation aimed to secure Germany’s approval of a Hungarian military action against Romania, but Hitler categorically ruled this out. The Hungarian Government had no doubt that they would win a war with Romania. Commenting on the Munich conference of 10 July, Macartney observed:
Hitler seems to have admitted Teleki’s legal argument to be valid, so long as no attempt was made to found a policy on it. He agreed that Hungary had just claims on Romania, but went straight on to ask whether this was an appropriate time to try to enforce them; reiterating… his old formula. If Hungary wanted to march, that was of course her own business, but Germany would not help her… if she got into trouble… Hitler tried vainly to make them realise that the Romanian Army was much stronger and much better armed than their own; they simply replied that they possessed so much moral superiority that nothing else mattered.
Nevertheless,the Hungarian government was compelled to conduct negotiations of uncertain outcome, without the option of armed pressure and support from the Axis Powers. The Romanians, facing an armed conflict with Hungary, did their best to win over the Germans and Italians to their cause. Despite their overwhelming superiority in terms of area, population and military strength, Romania wanted to avoid a conflict with Hungary. Ciano’s comments on the Romanian style of negotiating, made in his diary on 27 July, are typical:
They are simply disgusting. They open their mouths only to exude honeyed compliments. They have become anti-French, anti-British and anti-League of Nations.
By the middle of August, Bucharest had come to the conclusion that it could not resist the Russian demans, and that it was therefore better to cede Bessarabia to the Soviets than enter a hopeless war without external assistance. Since the claims of Bulgaria were relatively modest, Bucharest also decided to comply with them. After much discussion, Hungary and Romania agreed to enter into negotiations, and a delegation headed for Turn-Severin from Budapest. The negotiations opened on 16 August and ended without agreement on 24th of the same month. After the failure of these negotiations, the atmosphere in Hungary became grave and tense.
There seemed to be no resort left, except force. But then the situation was completely transformed by the intervention of the USSR. On 25th, Kristóffy telegraphed that Molotov had that day repeated to him that the Soviet Union,
… regarded Hungary’s territorial claims as well-founded. The attitude of the Soviets on this question will be favourable to Hungary. The Hungarian Government may rest assured that the Soviet Government never regarded Romania of Versailles and Trianon as realistic, and that it was equally objectionable to Russia, Bulgaria and Hungary.
Teleki was careful not to seek arbitration from the Axis powers because, on the one hand, it would have entailed previous consent to any solution, and on the other hand he wished to emphasise as an imminent danger that a potential military attack was not out of the question. On 26 August, the Hungarian Government adopted the resolution on preparations for a campaign against Romania. Forty thousand soldiers were mobilised, and the attack was set to 28 August. While Premier Teleki was seriously considering the consequences of an isolated Hungarian-Romanian clash, Csáky considered this episode as a means to force Germany and Romania to consent to a revision of the Hungaro-Romanian frontier, i.e. the transfer of Transylvania to Hungary. With the threat of war over Transylvania, the Romanian Government finally urged Hitler to call a conference of the Axis, and Hitler acquiesced.
The Second Vienna Award returned the northern part of those territories which had been ceded to Romania by the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920. This gave Hungary two-fifths of Transylvania, mainly in the north and east, with a population of 2.5 million, about 1.5 million of which was Hungarian, the rest made up of Romanians and Saxons. Nevertheless, over 600,000 Magyars and many historic Hungarian towns and cities remained under Romanian rule. This second (Belvedere) Conference was called for the benefit of Romania and Germany, and Romania got ample support from Germany. As Macartney wrote:
... Romania’s policy had been 99 per cent favourable to Germany long before the crisis. The Germans were throughout on her side, against Hungary. They feared that any interruption of the services which Romania was rendering might have fatal consequences for them, and did their utmost to prevent Hungary from moving. The whole initiative was taken by the Hungarians, who held a pistol point to the Germans’ heads…
The British, while not accepting the award, adopted a policy of wait and see. The Foreign Office in London told Barcza, the Hungarian minister in London, that Great Britain could not recognise any territorial changes which took place after 1 September 1939. This attitude contributed greatly to the weakening of Teleki’s position. Those in Hungary who had been actively urging closer cooperation with Nazi Germany were now in the ascendancy while those who advocated closer ties with the Western Powers lost much of their status and influence in Hungarian political life. From this point on, Teleki was never really respected in the same way. Nevertheless, the Second Vienna Award was completed on 30 August and on 14 September the re-occupation and re-annexation of the former Hungarian territories by the Hungarian military and civil administration began.
Hungary refused to abandon its claim to the rest of Transylvania and, in reality, a great part of Hungarian public opinion remained disappointed with the Award. The Romanians did not even pretend to be accepting of the new situation. In September, they organised a huge demonstration in Alba Julia against the Award, and both politicians and the press were tireless in their assertions that the territories lost to Hungary would be recovered at the earliest opportunity. Their anti-Magyar statements revealed a determination not simply to recover the Trianon frontier, but to go beyond it, at least as far as the frontier along the Tisza promised by the Entente Powers by the secret Treaty of Bucharest of 1916.
It was therefore Nazi Germany, not the Soviet Union and its subsequent Western Allies, which ended Hungarian hopes of regaining the whole of Transylvania. After the Second Vienna Award, Hitler deliberately used the Transylvanian question as a convenient means of blackmailing both Hungary and Romania into collaboration. He threatened both countries with a revision of the new boundaries if they did not make greater efforts in support of the Axis Powers. Teleki argued that the goodwill of Great Britain was, in the long run, more important than that of Germany. However, it was not easy at that point to believe that Britain would end the war in a position to enforce her will in eastern Europe, and, even if she did, it would not be for a long time. For some years, at least, Germany was the only power whose writ ran on the Danube. Besides, there was an evident contrast between the Axis had given to Hungary to realise, at least in part, her national ambitions, and the chilly reception given to the Award by Britain, coupled with her recognition of the Czechoslovak Government in-exile.
Division and Return to Romania, 1940-47:
Transylvania therefore remained divided until the end of the war. After the partition, the Hungarian Government allowed the Romanians under its rule to retain their religious and cultural organisations as well as their educational system. Neither did they attempt to reverse the land reform of the early twenties. The new Romanian Government engaged in a fresh campaign of intimidation against Hungarians in southern Transylvania, in revenge for the loss of the northern and eastern areas of the province. The Iron Guard and the gendarmerie committed many more atrocities against the Hungarians remaining under Romanian administration. This, in turn, strengthened the Right in Hungary, who argued for an appropriate change of regime in Budapest, pointing to what was happening across the frontier in Romania. The whole Award had thrown Teleki into a state of extreme nervous irritation and despondency, as Macartney observed:
He had never truly lost his conviction that northern Transylvania would prove a Danaida gift, and had displayed his feeling openly enough. He had refused to attend the Belvedere meeting except as an ’observer’, to show himself to the crowds which flocked to see the delegates’ train return , or to sign the Proclamation which announced the terms of the Award. He said to one friend that the whole thing would be wasted labour, as after the war, Hungary would have to leave Transylvania again, having merely embittered relations with her neighbours. To another he said that the price would be very high.
On 23 August 1944, Romania switched sides again and surrendered to the Soviet Union overnight. Occupied by Germany, Hungary had no prospect of doing the same. Hungarian troops moved quickly into southern Transylvania to take up defensive positions but the Red Army divisions were already occupying the passes of the Southern Carpathians. Savage battles were raging all over Transylvania and southern Hungary as Hungarians fought to defend their homeland, but they were no match for the overwhelming superiority of the Soviet forces. By the end of September 1944, most of Transylvania had fallen, and the invading Russians reached the River Tisza on the Great Hungarian Plain. Teleki’s nightmare had become a reality for the Hungary he had left.
Under the terms of the armistice reached between the Soviet Union and Romania, the Second Vienna Award was annulled and northern Transylvania was restored to Romania. The advancing Red Army was followed by the Romanian Army, which again terrorised the Hungarian population of the province, engaging in the wholesale murder of civilians. The Hungarians of the Szekely area in Transylvania were treated with particular vengeance by the returning Romanian forces. Over 200,000 Hungarians escaped to Hungary from the neighbouring countries. Many atrocities were also committed against the German minority in Transylvania, as in Hungary itself, large numbers of whom were deported to the Soviet Union.
In March 1945, the Soviet High Command handed over the administration of northern Transylvania to the Romanian Government. The Hungarian-Romanian border drawn at Trianon was re-established by the Allied powers, although both countries were still under Soviet military control. The Soviets, who did not intend to cede Bessarabia, found it important to appease Romania with the whole of Transylvania. The fate of Transylvania was finally sealed by the conclusion of a formal Peace Treaty in Paris on 10 February 1947, which formalised the Hungarian frontiers along the lines drawn at Trianon. At the peace conference, the Australian Foreign Minister, Dr. H. V. Evatt, proposed the re-partition of Transylvania between Hungary and Romania, but he was quickly outvoted by the Soviet delegation, with the connivance of the western allies.
Transylvania was now once more embedded in the Romanian state which came increasingly under the control of the Communist Party. Hungary was once more confined within the Trianon borders. This outcome, which showed that not only the historic frontiers, but also an equitable settlement was unattainable, caused much bitterness, but one of a resigned, sobering kind, nothing like the hysteria of twenty-five years earlier.
Anthony Endrey (1986), The Other Hungary. Melbourne: The Hungarian Institute.
László Kontler (2009), A History of Hungary. Budapest: Atlantisz.
Domokos Szent-Iványi (2013), The Hungarian Independence Movement . Budapest: Hungarian Review.
All is bright and cheerful round us;
All above is soft and blue;
Spring at last hath come and found us,
Sping and all its pleasures too.
Every flower is full of gladness;
Dew is bright, and buds are gay;
Earth, with all its sin and sadness,
Seems a happy place to-day.
If the flowers that fade so quickly,
If a day that ends in night,
If the skies that clouds so thickly
Often cover from our sight –
If they all have so much beauty,
What must be God’s land of rest,
Where His sons that do their duty,
After many toils are blest?
There are leaves that never wither;
There are flowers that ne’er decay;
Nothing evil goeth thither;
Nothing good is kept away.
They that came from tribulation,
Washed their robes and made them white,
Out of every tongue and nation,
Now have rest, and peace, and light.
JOHN MASON NEALE, 1818-66
Just as the disciples hearts were now on fire, ready to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, so too the ruling priesthood of the Sanhedrin were possessed by an evil, brooding passion for vengeance. Their plan to blame the disappearance on the disciples, sneaking into the tomb while the soldiers slept had not worked. Who would believe that trained guards could sleep through the massive rumbling which the rolling and removal of such a huge stone would have caused? The disciples would have had to murder them as they slept in order to get away with the body. And, if the Sanhedrin themselves had removed the body and dumped it in the pit reserved for common criminals, why not reveal this now, and even produce the body now that the festival was over. The consequences of not doing so were too great for them to try to cover a plan which had backfired, as rumours were now spreading like wildfire throughout Judea about the Galilean carpenter’s disappearance and appearances.
In secret conclave, they therefore plotted and planned a campaign of unremitting persecution against the followers of ‘The Way’. They determined to exterminate all those who could not, or would not, escape their bloody hands. The chief ‘persecutor’ was Saul who wasted no time in striking down the followers of ‘The Way’ he found in Jerusalem, be they Greek, Roman or Judean. No mercy was shown and the records of that time show that the prisons were overcrowded with his victims. His first notable victim was Stephen, who had courageously led the brilliant defence of Jesus on the night of his appearance in the court of the Sanhedrin. Stephen had taken up the preaching of the Word throughout the holy city, together with Peter, John and the other disciples. Thousands were being converted every day and later, according to Luke’s account in The Acts of the Apostles, the numbers reached between three to five thousand daily. This goes against the age-old lie that the ordinary Jews were unresponsive to the gospel. The citizens of Jerusalem were the first converts, further infuriating the Sadducean Priesthood. The Sanhedrin’s ‘shock troops’ caught up with Stephen as he preached at the gate still bearing his name, and stoned him to death with Saul looking on.
So fierce was Saul’s vindictive purge that he wrought havoc within the Church at Jerusalem and throughout Judea. Neither was it contained within the boundaries of the semi-autonomous province. Illegally, he hounded out the devotees of ‘The Way’ in the other Jewish territories under direct Roman rule. Coming from Tarsus, Saul had Roman citizenship and, as Pilate had done, the Romans continued to wash their hands of the Sanhedrin’s hatred, no doubt because they felt Saul was doing them a service too, ridding them of an undesirable virulent new religion which was spreading throughout the Jewish enclaves and communities within their Empire. Throughout this reign of terror Joseph of Arimathea remained a fearless protector of the disciples, both men and women. His position on the Sanhedrin and his status as a Roman official meant that Saul’s fury, which otherwise knew no bounds, could not touch him personally or those whom he defended with his person. However, within four years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians were scattered out of Jerusalem and Judea. There is little doubt that Joseph’s ships carried numerous of them, as refugees, to safety in other lands. Joseph used his wealth to create an underground network which could evade Saul’s men. He was probably helped in this by converts in the Roman Army in Palestine, like Cornelius, an officer in the Italian Regiment stationed in Caesarea in the North, the first recorded foreigner, or ‘gentile’ to become a Christian. Peter was at Joppa, the port to the south of Caesarea, where there was a strong Christian community, possibly helped by Joseph, who had ships there, and the port from which many of the Judean Christians could make their escape on one of them. It was in Caesarea that Peter began his mission to the gentiles, converting and baptising Captain Cornelius, his relatives and friends, to the amazement of the Judean Christians accompanying him from Joppa (Acts 10 vv 1-48).
Even the hardened Roman soldiers in Palestine were shocked by the atrocities carried out in the name of the Sanhedrin. The Romans later followed the example set by these ‘state’ terrorists, not only persecuting Christians, but also turning their attention to the Jews themselves. Saul himself, after he was converted on the road to Damascus, eventually met a cruel death at the hands of his Roman captors, despite the protection he had enjoyed as a citizen of Rome, and which had allowed him to continue to lead the scattered Christian communities from his prison cell with the power of his pen. From his imprisonment, Paul reflected on what the love of Jesus had driven him to do:
‘Let me tell you what I’ve had to face. I know it’s silly for me to talk like this, but here’s the list. I’ve been beaten up more times than I can remember, been in more than one prison, and faced death more than once. Five times I’ve been thrashed by a Jewish court to within an inch of my life; three times I’ve been beaten with rods by city magistrates; and I once was nearly stoned to death. I’ve been shipwrecked three times; and once, I was adrift, out of sight of land, for twenty-four hours. I don’t know how many roads I’ve tramped. I’ve faced bandits; I’ve been attacked by fellow-countrymen and by foreigners. I’ve met danger in city streets and on lonely country roads and out in the open sea.’ (2 Corinthians 11 vv 23-26)
We know something of what happened to Peter, Paul, Andrew, and the gospel-writers, but very little about the other apostles. They are ‘the lost disciples’, including two of the most outstanding characters, Joseph of Arimathea and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The pages close on them in 36 A.D., the year when many of the Palestinian Christians were driven into permanent exile. Thirty-five years later the iron-clad fist of the Roman Empire destroyed the holy city and dispersed the remaining Christians in Judea, together with the Judeans as a whole. The temple was reduced to rubble, so that while Christianity had its birth in the Holy Land, it did not continue to grow to convert the world from that root, but, as Jesus had promised the Greeks on Palm Sunday, from the scattered seeds around their world. It flourished in far-flung lands to which the apostles were sent as missionaries by Paul, Barnabas and Timothy, and not just in the centre of the Empire which it took another three centuries to convert. In the meantime, the Roman rulers remained the greatest persecutors of the Christian Gospel. How did the Church continue to grow in the face of such oppression? This question deepens the mystery that revolves around ‘the Lost Disciples’, though they were not, of course, lost to their leader.
Part One: Chronology And Narrative:
There has been a lot of historical, even hysterical (!) hype about the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, or The Great War as it was known until the 1940’s. However, this has come mainly from Britain and western Europe, for although the war began with Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in July 1914, from a central European perspective there are far more significant anniversaries coming up this year.
One of them, in Hungary, is the German occupation of March 1944, which led not only to the Hungarian Holocaust, but also to the loss of Hungarian independence for the next forty-five years as the country was consecutively occupied by first the Nazis and then the Soviets. Undoubtedly, the dismemberment of the country by the western European powers as a result of the 1914-18 War was a major contributing factor to Hungary’s plight and dilemma in the second world war, but there is also a great deal of debate over the relative responsibilities of Hungarian politicians and diplomats in the events of 1936-44.
The last edition of The Hungarian Review (November 2013) contained a series of important articles on this period and these issues, which I wish to summarise here, together with re-iterating some of my own recent research, in attempt to shed light onto them, rather than the heat which has been generated in recent months over the attempts to rehabilitate and exonerate the Regent, Admiral Horthy, and others. In a recent edition of The Budapest Times, an eminent Hungarian historian made the erroneous claim that had Horthy resigned following the occupation of Hungary, the Jews of Budapest would not have survived the Holocaust.
James C Bennett and Michael J Lotus have argued that there was a strong liberal streak in pre-World War One Hungary, as the Dual Monarchy felt its way towards a less authoritarian solution to its complex multi-ethnic composition. Vienna, Budapest and Prague were important centres of art, music, theatre, science and technology during the Belle Époque. Many of the brilliant minds generated were forced into exile, enriching America. Had the 1914-18 War not intervened, Budapest might well have become the centre of atomic physics research, rather than Chicago. They point out that rather than following an ‘Atlantic’ model of development, ‘the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe must probe their own historical roots, to determine which “continuities” should be cultivated, and which need to be overcome. A dense web of cooperative institutions along the Danube might grow up along the Danube, returning central Europe to its more natural community of the Dual Monarchy, but without the subordination of slavic ethnic groups which led to its demise in 1918-20, confirmed by the Paris Peace Treaties. They envisage the reconstruction of a Central Europe that is ‘free and stable… orderly and prosperous, in accordance with its inherited culture.’
In the first part of her writing on the book of the Hungarian inter-war diplomat, Domokos Szent-Iványi, Nóra Szekér argues that modern European history has largely been written by the victors, to the exclusion of the ‘what ifs’ raised by, for example, Bennett and Lotus. The two world wars were won by the West, not by the central-Eastern powers, a view strengthened by its victory against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. So, if we seek to evaluate the period of Hungarian history in which Szent-Iványi was operating and writing about, we see it as part of the most tragic years experienced by Hungary even in the course of a thousand-year narrative which is a liturgy of tragedy. Burdened by these events, people tried to make a stand while at the same time adapting to historical necessities. Judging lives lived in these conditions, within ‘morally corrupt dictatorships’, from the viewpoint of the victor is therefore misleading.
So, she asks, what can sympathetic foreign observers learn from these decades, the thirties and forties in Hungary? To go beyond sympathy seems to be her answer, since that perspective divides our vision between respect for sacrifice on the one hand and condemnation on the other. The lessons need to go deeper and to begin with the tragedies within the Soviet occupation which should lead western historians to question whether the victorious powers used the full potential of their victory. Szekér refers back almost a century to Oswald Spengler’s famous book, The Decline of the West, in which he criticised the European way of thinking about history. He argued that Eurocentric historical thinking saw Western Europe as the steady pole around which all Cultures, existing over the millenia, both far and near, were made to revolve ‘in all modesty’. All global history is therefore made to revolve around the ideal measure of the West, and all events and stories are judged in ‘the real light’ of this axis. Even the history of western Europe itself is therefore obscured by its own distorted centrality.
The history of the era of the two world wars prove that East Central Europe’s history is organically connected to the history of the continent as a whole. The extent to which the Entente powers misunderstood the region is shown by the peace treaties meant to end the conflicts. Domokos Szent-Iványi was consciously trying to educate his western European and American readers, writing from the perspective of the social and political traditions of Hungary. He was born in Budapest in 1898, the fourth child of a Transylvanian gentry family who were able to live comfortably on the income from their estates. After studying economic and political geography and literature at the Sorbonne and the University of Vienna, he became a Hungarian diplomat in North America, studying international law as well as English language and literature there. When he became a legal clerk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1926 he already spoke seven languages. He saw clearly, at first hand, the increasingly definitive role of the United States as a great power. On his return to Hungary, István Bethlen, PM, wanted to make him his advisor, but Bethlen then resigned in 1931, and it wasn’t until 1935 that he was able to fulfill this role.
The continuing rancour felt by most Hungarians over the failure of the western powers to address the injustices of Trianon, combined with the Depression, led to the rise of a radical right wing in Hungary, and in 1932, Regent Horthy named one of their leaders, General Gömbös, as PM, with the restrictions that he could not dissolve Parliament or enact anti-Semitic legislation. However, Gömbös took Hungary into an alliance with Italy, and sought support from Germany. Gömbös died in 1936, and was replaced by Kálmán Darányi, an ultra-conservative. Despite the obvious gulf in their views, Darányi needed Szent-Iványi’s linguistic abilities and he therefore became his personal secretary. By then, he had already become part of Count Pál Teleki’s circle of young men whom the geographer felt capable of building a sovereign, modern post-Trianon Hungary, able to resist German influence in the region.
In the Spring of 1938, following the German annexation of Austria, Darányi legalised the right-wing, anti-Semitic, violent Arrow Cross, and introduced anti-Semitic legislation. The Darányi government in Hungary passed a series of anti-Jewish laws based on Germany’s Nürnberg Laws. The first, passed on May 29th, 1938, restricted the number of Jews in each commercial enterprise, in the press, among physicians, engineers and lawyers to twenty percent.
It is worth remembering, though not in order to absolve Darányi or any of the other ministers who were responsible for these fateful decisions, that casual anti-Semitism was still widespread throughout Europe at this time, not just confined to those countries falling increasingly under the shadow of Nazism, like Hungary. Harold Nicolson had supported Balfour’s pro-Zionist Declaration as a young diplomat in 1917, and in April 1919 he found himself travelling to Budapest with General Smuts, the South African member of the British War Cabinet. At the end of March a communist revolution had taken place in Hungary, led by Béla Kun. For the world’s leaders gathered in Paris, the spectre of Bolshevism was haunting their efforts to achieve lasting peace settlements. For them it threatened widespread starvation, social chaos, economic ruin, anarchy and a violent, shocking end to their old order. In particular, there were real and justified fears that Germany would also go Bolshevist, one of Lloyd George’s main themes. In this atmosphere, Béla Kun’s strike for communism in one of the most populous and prestigious capitals of central Europe had alarmed the Supreme Council. When the train stopped in Vienna, Harold was sent to the Hungarian ‘headquarters’ to warn the Kun’s Bolshevik government of Smuts’ imminent arrival. He found the ’embassy’ crowded with ‘men, women and children scrambling for passports’. He observed that ‘nearly all are Jews, struggling to get to Buda Pesth and the hope of loot’. The commissar-in-charge, ‘a Chicago-educated Galician Jew’ was brought along to Budapest to translate, since Kun spoke only Hungarian. Smuts, unwilling to show any sign of recognising the new regime, conducted negotiations from the wagon. ‘The Jew Bolshevik’, as Nicolson called him, was called for and Harold was sent to meet him. He saw him as ‘a little man of about thirty: puffy white face and loose wet lips: shaven head: impression of red hair: shifty suspicious eyes: he has the face of a sulky uncertain criminal.’ Nicolson viewed the Foreign Minister accompanying Béla Kun with equally hostile eyes: ‘a little oily Jew – fur-coat rather moth-eaten – stringy green tie – dirty collar’.
In the interval in negotiations, Nicolson decided to visit Budapest, a city he had last visited during his father’s diplomatic posting there before the War. ‘The whole place was wretched’ he wrote, ‘sad, unkempt.’ He took tea at the Hungaria, Budapest’s leading hotel. Although it had been ‘communised’, it flew ‘a huge Union Jack and Tricoleur’, a gesture of goodwill. Red Guards with fixed bayonets patrolled the hall, but in the foyer what remained of Budapest society ‘huddled sadly together with anxious eyes and in complete, ghastly silence.’ Smuts concluded that ‘Béla Kun is just an incident not worth taking seriously.’ On 10th April, the day after Harold wrote this letter to Vita Sackville-West, a provisional government was set up in Budapest reflecting the old Hungarian cliques, consisting of Count Julius Károlyi, Count Stephen Bethlen, and Admiral Horthy de Nagybanya, Nicholas (‘Miklos’). Béla Kun fled the capital on 1 August in the face of invading Romanian armies. In February 1920, after the Romanians retreated, Horthy was appointed Regent and head of state. Kun went into exile in the USSR where he became a victim of one of Stalin’s purges in 1936. By then, the spectre of this ‘incident’ had haunted Hungary’s inter-war policies, and the casual association between Bolshevism and the Jews of Hungary was aided by, ironically, their integration into Hungarian society as well as by the determination of the ruling, aristocratic élite not to let the Bosheviks back. If Harold Nicolson, educated at Oxford, was capable of making such associations so casually in his letters home, how much more commonplace should we expect to find such associations to be made in communications between Hungarian members of this old order in Europe.
Nevertheless, the pro-German, pro-Nazi groups in Hungary were relatively weak until the autumn of 1938. The turning point seems to have arrived with the Bled-Kiel incident of August 1938. The Bled Agreement was signed on 29 August, under which the ‘Little Entente’ powers of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia agreed to recognise Hungary’s equal right to armament and guaranteed observation of the rights of Hungarian ethnic minorities in their own territories, while Hungary renounced the use of force to re-annex territories ceded at Trianon. Simultaneously, on the invitation of Hitler, Regent Horthy visited him in Kiel. Hitler considered Hungary’s agreement with the Little Entente as a ‘stab in the back’ By then he was preparing to carve up Czechoslovakia, in which he counted on Hungary’s active participation, including military action. As part of this process he hoped to bring about the collapse of the Little Entente, whereas Hungary seemed to be strengthening it. The Kiel negotiations collapsed with Horthy and the delegation returning home with German reproaches still ringing in their ears. Following the Munich Agreement later that year, Hungary urgently needed a rapprochement with Hitler.
The most important of these groups, according to Domokos Szent-Iványi, was the General Staff of the Hungarian Honvédség (Army) which, especially during the tenure of the Chief of Staff Henrik Werth (October 1938-September 1941) became ‘a state within a state’. Of course, it was the Regent who was solely responsible for his appointment, before Darányi’s resignation as PM. Although loyal to Horthy as Head of State, he was clearly pro-German, partly as a result of his Swabian origins, which he shared with many Hungarians at this time. Indeed, despite the deportations which followed the War, Hungary still has significant bilingual Swabian minority populations. Werth was also clearly political, believing that the revision of the post-Trianon borders could only be achieved through co-operation with Germany, especially given Germany’s growing military strength. In one of his situation reports of 1939, Werth went so far as to say that Hungary “had to stick to Germany, durch Dick und Dünn…” (under all circumstances) even in the incoceivable case of Germany losing the war.
Werth had been recommended for the post of Chief of Staff by General Lajos Keresztes-Fischer, who with his brother Ferenc was a great favourite of Horthy. That this appointment was a blunder of the first order on the part of the Regent was later proved by the activities of Wert and his inner circle of collaborators. Their activities helped lead Hungary into the Second World War and put her last manpower reserves at Hitler’s disposal in 1944 when its outcome was no longer in doubt. Werth had acquired his office through his own propaganda campaign against General Jenő Rátz who, according to Szent-Iványi and his numerous sources, was ‘an excellent and capable soldier and in addition, extremely popular within the Army’. Had he been left in post, he would never have allowed the Army to enter the war on the side of Germany. Werth and his clique formed the power behind the curtain that caused Hungary to do so, also contributing indirectly to Premier Teleki’s death. Even after Werth was removed from his post, his political and military views were maintained by a group of staff officers, including General Dezső László, who had been brought up on his principles.
An overlapping pro-German group consisted of Hungarians of German origin who viewed the successes of Germany under Hitler from 1933-40 as clear evidence that the Germans were indeed ‘the master race’. They played an increasingly important role in the Volksbund, the pro-German federation in Hungary, set up under the auspices of Berlin. Alongside the German-Hungarians were the anti-Bolsheviks, who, like many among the European political élite, regarded the threat from the East (and from within) as the greatest menace to Hungary’s independence and integrity. The dictatorship of Béla Kun was undertaken by men who embraced communism and its ideas, following the model of the Soviet Union. They were nearly all of Jewish descent, too. The anti-Soviets believed that, since little Hungary would be no match for the Soviet Union in the event of war, so unconditional co-operation with Germany was, at least, the lesser of two evils. In addition, there were a number of careerist politicians and diplomats who looked to further their own personal ambitions by supporting the German ’cause’. Others took a more principled stance, blaming France and her satellite states (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania) for the dismemberment of Royal Hungary by the Trianon Treaty. England had supported France and so could not be relied upon, neither could Italy, which had played its own role in Hungary’s dismemberment after changing sides. From each of these countries, they argued, the architects of the peace treaties were “free-masons of Jewish descent”, part of an international conspiracy against the Hungarians and the Germans, who therefore had a common cause. There were also anti-Semites who became pro-German because they saw the Jews as public enemy number one.
On Darányi’s resignation in November 1938, Teleki, then Minister of Culture, asked Szent-Iványi to produce a report on the likely position of North America in case of war. Under the premiership of Béla Imrédy, from May 1938, Hungary acquired southern Slovakia in November 1938. The region had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary and the majority of the inhabitants were Hungarian. Imrédy was essentially pro-western and did not want to jeopardise Hungary’s future by co-operating too closely with Germany. As a brilliant economist, he promoted the cause of the revisionist movement as an economic one. However, he was vulnerable to his political opponents, who claimed that they had discovered he had Jewish ancestry. In order to deflect attention from this accusation, Imrédy crossed over to the extreme right and became the main promoter of anti-Semetic legislation. Therefore, the main legacy of his premiership was the second anti-Jewish law (May 5th, 1939), which defined Jews as a racial group for the first time. It was not a definition based on religious observance and was a harbinger of the Holocaust. People with two or more Jewish-born grandparents were declared Jewish. Private companies were forbidden to employ more than 12% Jews. 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their income. Most of them lost their right to vote as well.
Szennt-Irányi’s eighty-page report, completed in February 1939, revealed his insight, vision and sophisticated knowledge of the subject. He predicted that war would break out within six months, that the USA would enter the conflict in 1942, and that Germany would be defeated. The only real victors, he suggested, would be the USA and the USSR, as Europe would be ruined and the British Empire would be ‘put on a leash’ by the Americans. On the eve of war, this was not only an astonishingly accurate analysis but also a daring political programme. Early in 1939, Hungary had joined the Anti-Comintern Pact, allying it with Germany, Italy and Japan.
Following the dissemination of his report, Szent-Iványi became a leading light and confidant in anti-Nazi circles. When Teleki became PM in February 1939, he hoped to create a Central European and Balkan bloc with the support of France, Great Britain and the United States. First, he hoped to regain the Carpatho-Ukraine region of eastern Czechoslovakia, known as Ruthenia. US Minister Montgomery reported that Regent Horthy had secretly told him that Hungary was pursuing only its own interests, and that while he and the Hungarian people sided with Great Britain rather than Germany, “the democratic powers since the war had remained inattentive to the pleas of Hungary who had achieved something only with the aid of Germany and Italy.” Horthy hoped that Hungary could remain neutral, and later expressed his belief that Italy would come to Hungary’s aid if Germany attacked. Nonetheless, later that year, Hungary withdrew from the League of Nations.
In the elections of May 28th–29th, Nazi and Arrow Cross parties received one-quarter of the votes and 52 out of 262 seats. Their support was even larger, usually between a third and a half of the votes, where they were on the ballot at all, since they were not listed in large parts of the country.
In this atmosphere, Teleki had entrusted Domokos Szent-Iványi with a confidential project, working with an alternative secret cabinet on an anti-German foreign policy and intelligence-gathering centre, which would have been unrealistic if it had been pursued openly in the shadow of the Third Reich. He became head of this Information Department, the ‘Fourth Section of the Premier’s Office, ME-IV’, and a key figure in this anti-Nazi conspiracy. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Hungarian Government allowed a large number of Polish soldiers to enter the country through Ruthenia, many of whom were therefore enabled to join the Western forces. Nevertheless, Hungary’s official alliance with Germany and Italy helped it to further reverse the Treaty of Trianon, most notably through the Vienna Conference, at which the axis powers forced Romania to cede Northern Transylvania to Hungary. Together with its gains from Czechoslovakia, these gains meant that Hungary almost doubled its territory.
Despite these successes in achieving revisions of the borders by ‘peaceful’ means, the pro-German lobby continued pushing for ever-closer alliance with Germany. Szent-Iványi recalled a conversation he had in 1940 with Kálmán Breslmayer, son of the owner of one of Hungary’s famous banks. Breslmayer, of German stock and strong pro-German sentiments, was alo a forme swimming champion. Following the invasions of Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and France, Breslmayer delivered a forty-minute speech in which he declared that Germany had already conquered Europe: In a short time both Britain and the USSR would be forced to submit to Hitler. A great reshaping of the European map would follow with a new geopolitical “Order”, so that Hungary would need to ally herself fully to Germany without reservation.
The census of January 31st, 1941 found that 6.2% of the population of 13,643,620, i.e. 846,000 people, were considered Jewish according to the racial laws of that time. In addition, in April 1941, Hungary annexed the regions of Yugoslavia it had occupied, adding over a million people to its population, including a further 15,000 Jews. This means that inside the May 1941 borders of Hungary, there were 861,000 people who were considered to be Jewish. From this number, 725,000, nearly 5% of the total population were Jewish by religion. The ‘Third Jewish Law’ (August 8th, 1941) prohibited intermarriage and penalized sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.
In April 1941, Hungary participated in Hitler’s attack on Yugoslavia, which further changed the international borders, despite earlier entering into a pact with the Yugoslavs, which Teleki had hoped would develop passive resistance to Nazi pressure. That same month, the British began to bomb Hungarian cities, and broke off diplomatic relations. When Hitler demanded that Nazi troops be allowed to pass through Hungary to Yugoslavia, Teleki committed suicide. His successor, László Bárdossy, believed that Germany would be a useful ally in regaining former Hungarian territory in Yugoslavia. Although ME-IV was dispersed by Bárdossy, Szent-Iványi carried on the work in its clandestine successor, the Hungarian Independence Movement, the MFM (Magyar Függetlenségi Mozgalom). Through this, he was able to play a key role in the anti-Nazi Resistance in Hungary, far beyond the constraints of a secret foreign policy cabinet.
The return of the Hungarian Army’s standards removed as war trophies in 1849 was a Soviet gesture aimed at keeping Hungary out of the second world war. On 23rd June, 1941, the day before the beginning of the German attack on the Soviet Union, Soviet Foreign Secretary Molotov told the Hungarian Ambassador in Moscow that the Soviet Union had no territorial demands on Hungary, and would support it over Transylvania. He simply requested that Hungary remained neutral. Instead, Hungary’s decision to side with Germany led to the severing of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Budapest.
On 27th June, just days after the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany, the Hungarian government declared war on the USSR and sent troops to fight on the Eastern Front, alongside the Germans and other Axis forces. Hungary’s entry into the war came about as an illegal act of the Prime Minister, Lászlo Bárdossy, who had not consulted Parliament. In fact, the Hungarian army had already been preparing for a blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union for some days. A considerable part of the army was relying on horse-drawn equipment and was composed of ‘fast-moving detachments’ mounted on bicycles! Bárdossy claimed his decision was made in response to the bombing of Kassa which he also claimed was a Soviet provocation. However, the Soviet Union had no reason to provoke Hungary, and had been trying everything to keep Hungary out of the war, and rumours spread immediately that the bombs dropped on the Slovak towns acquired by Hungary were in fact dropped in a casual way by the Luftwaffe in order to give the Hungarian government the excuse it needed to declare war. To the present day there is no authoritative data connected to this event, not even the obligatory log book. Despite the efforts of US diplomats, the British declared war on Hungary in late 1941. A full week after Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941, Hungary was forced by the other Axis powers to declare war on the US, which reluctantly reciprocated in June 1942.
The leading light of the Hungarian Independence Movement was Pál Teleki, the world-famous geographer and twice PM, the second time from 1939 to 1941. He was one of the most influential Hungarian politicians of the inter-war period. Although he originally agreed with the objective of restoring all the lands lost by the Trianon Treaty, in the 1930’s he argued for a partial readjustment of the borders, based on ethnic composition. In this, he followed the epithet of László Nemeth, an influential contemporary philosopher, that “Nation is not land, but a historic reality.” It was the anti-Habsburg tradition in the best Hungarian political minds which made them so sensitive to the new German threat of the thirties in the fever of Drang nach Osten. Zoltán Szabo, the brilliant essayist who was exiled in London after 1948, pointed out that, in the thirties, there were only two paths which the nations of East Central Europe could follow. Either they could find guarantees of their independence against the Great Powers in each other, or they could seek patronage from those powers for their own individual independence.
However, a foreign policy that saw Hungary in the historic role of forging an alliance with the nations of the region against the ambitions of the Great Powers faced difficult geopolitical realities. To begin with, the Trianon Treaty assignd a completely different role to Hungary. Despite this, Teleki, Bethlen and Bánffy were among many others who believed that Hungary did have a calling to integrate the diverse interests of the region. Their decisions indicated that, despite the harsh realities of geopolitics, they believed that the goals of independence and interdependence were achievable. The trade negotiations of István Bethlen with Czechoslovakia and Miklós Banffy’s many attempts to bring about a rapprochement with Romania demonstrated this belief. Bánffy even went as far as moving back to his own estate in Transylvania, symbolically taking Romanian citizenship from the king. They tried to separate territorial revision for Hungary from German policies and interests. They tried build links with Italy, to ease relations within French and English political circles, to build a horizontal axis with Poland and to establish friendly contacts with Yugoslavia. All these efforts were designed to avoid a one-sided German orientation.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Teleki’s policy continued to concentrate on preserving Hungarian sovereignty within the Axis alliance, and avoiding confrontation with the western Allied powers, even to the extent of jeopordising future territorial revisions. Apart from his goal of Hungarian independence, he found the politics and ideology of the Third Reich unacceptable. German victory, he felt, would spell the end of the best moral and spiritual values in Europe. When he finally ran out of room for manoevre and realised that Hungary had become a subordinate state to Nazi imperial goals, he chose suicide rather than resignation, sending a clear message which was understood everywhere across Europe, about the grave results of appeasing Hitler. Szekér suggests, interestingly, that it was his Transylvanian wisdom, virtue and “genius” for genuine compromise, which eventually convinced him that neither he, nor Hungary, could survive as a slave of Nazi policy, and that the only way out was suicide.
This subtle Transylvanian policy was, and continues to be, much misunderstood from western perspectives. Szent-Iványi, concluding his book in 1977, with the benefit of considerable hindsight on these events, developed the foresight to suggest that European union could only be brought about through the ‘spiritualisation’ of borders, allowing for free communication and cooperation across them. Even at the time he was writing, this was regarded as a daydream rather than pragmatic, strategic thinking. However, both Teleki and his protogé deserve at least a minor stardom in the constellation of Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and other early architects of the European Union. Like Churchill, Teleki was not just interested in the history and geography of his own territories, but also drew much of his inspiration from the variety and complexity of the United States of America.
In this context, the translated exerpts from Domokos Szent-Ivanyi’s book dealing with the period 1936-41 make fascinating reading. He makes it clear that the decision to appoint Darányi as Gömbös’ successor was made by the Regent, who would not appoint the widely-preferred Tihámer Fabinyi, the Minister for Finance, because of his involvement in ‘Socialist-Communist’ activities in 1918-19. Horthy was reluctant to replace Gömbös, whose pro-Nazi policies had alarmed Bethlen and others, with anyone except an ultra-conservative establishment figure. Whilst this may have helped Hungary to develop a more rounded foreign policy, it was Darányi who introduced the anti-Jewish legislation which foreshadowed the Holocaust.
At the beginning of the war with the Soviet Union, the illusion that the war on the eastern front would be of a short duration, and that the troops would return victorious after a few weeks. However, in the spring of 1942 the Second Hungarian Army of 200,000 was despatched to the front, of whom only 150,000 survived the Russian counter-offensive on the Don in January 1943. Many of those who fell were not carrying weapons, but were members of forced labour units, including many Jews, labouring under armed guards. These were really portable slaughter-houses, because some commanders were more interesting in exterminating the conscripts rather than working them. However, a greater proportion of the Jewish males survived in these units than those later hauled off with their families to the death camps.
After the annihilation of the Second Hungarian Army, Hungary had a new Prime Minister, Miklós Kállay, who again tried to follow a dual course. While the Nazis called for an intensification of the war effort, the Hungarians tried to diminish it and to make overtures to the Allies. However, their cautious and secretive diplomacy was closely followed by the Germans, who did not permit the Hungarians to reach a separate deal. Kállay had no alternative but to continue the military co-operation with Germany, though he protected the Jews living in Hungary, including the refugees from the Third Reich. He also permitted anti-Nazi groups to re-emerge and operate more openly. Above all, he hoped to be able to surrender to Western troops, avoiding a Soviet invasion. The US sent the Hungarian-American Francis Deák to Lisbon with instructions to talk to the Hungarians with the objective of keeping Hungary out of Soviet control. On 1 October Roosevelt met the Habsburg Otto von Habsburg, who had remained as his guest in the US during the war and assured him that if Romania remained with the Axis and Hungary joined the Allies, the US would support a continued Hungarian occupation and retention of southern Transylvania. The Hungarian government was willing and sent a message to Lisbon to that effect. In January 1944, the Hungarian Government authorised the Archduke to act on its behalf. An American military mission was dropped into Western Hungary on 14 March, calling for Horthy’s surrender. Twenty thousand Allied troops were then set to parachute into the country and the Hungarian Army would then join the fight against the Germans. However, these moves became known to German intelligence, which had cracked the communications code. By the time Horthy came to believe that his government could reach an agreement with the Soviets to end their involvement on the eastern front, it was again too late.
On March 18th, 1944, Hitler summoned Horthy to a conference in Austria, where he demanded greater collaboration from the Hungarian state in his ‘final solution’ of his Jewish problem. Horthy resisted, but while he was still at the conference, German tanks rolled into Budapest on 19th March. Italy managed to pull out of the war, but while Horthy was conferring at Hitler’s headquarters, a small German army had completed its occupation of Hungary by 22 March. By this time Horthy possessed neither moral nor physical strength to resist, and simply settled for keeping up appearances, with a severely limited sovereignty. On March 23rd, 1944, the government of Döme Sztójay was installed. Among his other first moves, Sztójay legalized the overtly Fascist Arrow Cross Party, which quickly began organizing throughout the country. During the four-day interregnum following the German occupation, the Ministry of the Interior was put in the hands of right-wing politicians well-known for their hostility to Jews. On April 9th, Prime Minister Sztójay agreed to place at the disposal of the Reich 300,000 Jewish labourers. Five days later, on April 14th, Adolf Eichmann decided to deport all the Jews of Hungary. With a small SS staff, he immediately set to work, making use of the lists of members of the Jewish community drawn up under the anti-Jewish Laws to organise one of the swiftest and most efficient episodes of the Holocaust. With the ready assistance of Hungarian officials and the Gendarmerie 440,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz within a few weeks, 90% to their almost immediate deaths on arrival. On some days the gas chambers and crematoria processed more than a thousand people an hour. A Jew living in the Hungarian countryside in March 1944 had a chance of less than one in ten of surviving the following twelve months.In Budapest, a Jew’s chance of survival of the same twelve months was fifty/fifty.
SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, whose duties included supervising the extermination of Jews, set up his staff in the Majestic Hotel and proceeded rapidly in rounding up Jews from the Hungarian provinces outside Budapest and its suburbs. The Yellow Star and Ghettoization laws, and deportation, were accomplished in less than 8 weeks with the enthusiastic help of the Hungarian authorities, particularly the gendarmerie (csendőrség). The plan was to use forty-five cattle cars per train, four trains a day, to deport 12,000 Jews to Auschwitz every day from the countryside, starting in mid-May; this was to be followed by the deportation of Jews of Budapest from about 15 July. Jewish leaders in Budapest, together with Hungarian leaders of the Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Lutheran Churches, and a number of Horthy’s aides, all received copies of the detailed Vrba-Weztler report on the deportations to Auschwitz on or just after 28 April, but kept their silence. By doing so, they chose to keep the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and their Christian neighbours in ignorance, thereby enabling the success of Eichmann’s timetable. The reality that no one in the villages knew anything about the plan in advance of it being carried out is borne out by the testimony of villagers themselves, which I have collected in the case of Apostag (about 30 km south of Budapest on the Danube). The published testimonies of Hungarian survivors from around the world further confirms this.
The first transports to Auschwitz began in early May 1944 and continued even as Soviet troops approached. The Hungarian government was solely in charge of the Jews’ transportation up to the northern border. The Hungarian commander of the Kassa railroad station meticulously recorded the trains heading to Auschwitz with their place of departure and the number of people inside them. The first train went through Kassa on May 14th. On a typical day, there were three or four trains, with ten to fourteen thousand people on each. There were 109 trains during these 33 days through to June 16th, as many as six trains each day. Between June 25th and 29th, there were a further 10 trains, then an additional 18 trains between July 5th and 9th. By then, nearly 440,000 victims had been deported from the Hungarian towns and countryside, according to official German reports. Another 10 trains were sent to Auschwitz via other routes from Budapest, while seven trains containing over twenty thousand people went to Strasshof at the end of June, including two from Baja, which may well have picked up the Jews from Apostag at Kalocsa.
In total, one hundred and forty-seven trains were sent to Auschwitz, where 90% of the people were exterminated on arrival. Because the crematoria couldn’t cope with the number of corpses, special pits were dug near them, where bodies were simply burned. It has been estimated that one-third of the murdered victims at Auschwitz were Hungarian.For most of this time period, 12,000 Jews were delivered to Auschwitz in a typical day. Photographs taken at Auschwitz were found after the war showing the arrival of Jews from Hungary at the camp.
The devotion to the cause of the ‘final solution’ of the Hungarian Gendarmerie surprised even Eichmann himself, who supervised the operation with only twenty officers and a staff of a hundred, including drivers, cooks, etc. Very few members of the Catholic or Protestant clergy raised their voices against sending the Jews to their death. A notable exception was Bishop Áron Márton, in his sermon in Kolozsvár on 18 May. But the Catholic Primate of Hungary, Serédi, decided not to issue a pastoral letter condemning the deportation of the Jews.
When news of the deportations reached British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he wrote in a letter to his Foreign Secretary dated July 11, 1944:
“There is no doubt that this persecution of Jews in Hungary and their expulsion from enemy territory is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world….”
Therefore, the idea that any member of the Hungarian government, including the President, or Regent, was unaware of the scale and nature of the deportations is fanciful, to say the least, as is the idea that Horthy was responsible for stopping the deportations from the countryside and/ or the capital. It is true that Admiral Horthy ordered the suspension of all deportations on July 6, but by then the Regent was virtually powerless. This is demonstrated by the fact that another 45,000 Jews were deported from the Trans-Danubian region and the outskirts of Budapest to Auschwitz after this day. The Sztójay government continued to ignore the Regent and rescheduled the date of deportation of the Jews of Budapest to Auschwitz to August 27th. What prevented this was that the Romanians switched sides on 23 August, 1944, causing huge problems for the German military, and it was on Himmler’s orders that the cancellation of further deportations from Hungary was enacted on 25 August. With the German high command preoccupied elsewhere, Horthy regained sufficient authority to finally dismiss Prime Minister Sztójay on 29 August. By then the war aims of the Horthy régime, the restoration of Hungary to its pre-Trianon status, were in tatters. The First and Second Awards and the acquisitions by force of arms would mean nothing after the defeat which now seemed inevitable. The fate of Transylvania was still in the balance in the summer of 1944, with everything depending on who would liberate the contested territories from the Germans. When Royal Romania succeeded in pulling out, the Soviet and Romanian forces combined forces began a joint attack and the weakened Hungarian Army was unable to contain them.
However, in spite of the change of government, Hungarian troops occupied parts of Southern Transylvania, Romania, and massacred hundreds of Jews, starting on 4 September. Soviet units then reached the borders established by Trianon later that month and then moved across these into Szeged, where Horthy had begun his journey to power in 1919. His failure was now complete as a gigantic tank battle took place around Debrecen in early October. By mid-October, the Soviet Red Army entered the outskirts of Pest as Horthy tried desperately to agree an armistice, declaring an armistice on the radio on 15th October. However, he had not prepared either the political or military ground for this and the pull-out collapsed within hours. The Regent was taken hostage by the SS in Budapest and was then forced by the Nazis to transfer power to Ferenc Szalási and the Arrow Cross. Horthy and his family were then interned in Germany. Although the Hungarian People’s tribunal later condemned several ministers and generals who carried out Horthy’s policies for war crimes, most captured by the Americans, Horthy himself avoided this fate. He was therefore never made to answer for his actions, and sought asylum in Portugal, where he died in 1957.
After the Arrow Cross coup d’état on October 15th, tens of thousands of Jews of Budapest were sent on foot to the Austrian border in death marches, and most of the remaining forced labourers under Hungarian Army command were deported to Bergen-Belsen. Two ghettos were set up in Budapest. The big Budapest ghetto was set up and walled in the Erzsébetváros part of Budapest on 29 November. Arrow Cross raids and mass executions occurred in both ghettos regularly. In addition, in the two months between November 1944 and February 1945, the Arrow Cross shot between ten and fifteen thousand Jews on the banks of the Danube. Soviet troops liberated the big Budapest ghetto on 18 January, 1945. On the Buda side of the town, the encircled Arrow Cross continued their murders until the Soviets took Buda on 13 February.
The names of some foreign diplomats, perhaps most notably Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz, are regularly referred to among those ‘righteous among the nations’. Wallenburg, a Swedish diplomat, was arrested by Soviet security agents in Budapest in January 1945 and disappeared. Although some questions remain regarding his diappearance and death, there is no doubt that his activities in Budapest were instrumental in preventing further deportations and deaths among the capital’s Jews. Carl Lutz, Switzerland’s Vice-Consul, worked from the US Legation, declaring seventy-two buildings in Budapest as annexes of the Swiss Legation, saving over sixty thousand Jews. In the countryside, the role of as has that of the Hungarian actress Vali Rácz has also been recognised. She hid many families in her home in the countryside after the initial deportations, but was denounced to the invading Red Army for fraternising with German soldiers (in order to protect her ‘guests’) and almost shot as a collaborator.A Red Army Colonel intervened to stop this and she was exonerated.
There were also some members of the army and police who saved people (Pál Szalai, Károly Szabó, and other officers who took Jews out from camps with fake papers) as well as some local church institutions and personalities. Rudolph Kastner also deserves special attention because of his enduring negotiations with Eichmann to prevent deportations to Auschwitz, succeeding only minimally, by sending Jews to still horrific labour battalions in Austria and ultimately saving 1,680 Jews in Kastner’s train.
An estimated 119,000 Jewish people were liberated in Budapest (25,000 in the small, ‘international’ ghetto, 69,000 in the big ghetto and 25,000 hiding with false papers) and 20,000 forced labourers in the countryside. Almost all of the surviving deportees returned between May and December 1945, at least to check out the fate of their families. Their number was 116,000.
It is estimated that from an original population of 861,000 people considered Jewish inside the borders of 1941–44, only about 255,000 survived. This gives a 30% survival rate overall under Hungarian rule, but only because the projected deportations from Budapest did not take place. As has already been stated, the survival rates for Jews from the Hungarian countryside were far lower. This number was even worse in Slovakia. On the other hand, the Hungarian-speaking Jewish population fared much better in the Romanian-controlled Southern Transylvania, since Romania did not deport Jews to Auschwitz. According to another calculation, Hungary’s pre-war Jewish population was 800,000, of which only 180,000 survived
Andrew J Chandler (2012), As the Land Remembers Them. Kecskemét: Unpublished
Nóra Szekér, Domokos Szent-Iványi and His Book, Part I, in Hungarian Review, Volume IV, No. 6. Budapest, November 2013
Domokos Szent-Iványi, The Hungarian Independence Movement, Excerpts, Descent into the Maelstrom, Hungarian Review, loc.cit.
James C Bennett & Michael J Lotus, America, England, Europe – Why do we differ? Hungarian Review, loc.cit.
Marc J Susser (ed.) (2007), The United States & Hungary; Paths of Diplomacy, 1848-2006. Washington: US Department of State.
István Lázár, (1989), The History of Hungary. Budapest: Corvina.
Szabolcs Szita (2012), The Power of Humanity. Budapest: Corvina.
The Jewish Laws, Anti-Semitism and the Nazi Occupation of 1944
A. From Domokos Szent-Iványi, The Hungarian Independence Movement (Hungarian Review Books, 2013);
On Political Trends and Public Opinion in Hungary, from Autumn, 1937:
There was a group in Hungary dominated by the fear of an eventual Nazi take-over in Austria, followed by another take-over, i.e. that of Hungary. The majority of that group was composed of Jews: Hungarian Jews and Jews who had fled from Germany and Austria to Hungary; Hungary was considered by the British, American and other international newspapers as the ’last islet of liberty’ in Nazi-dominated Central-Europe. Their idea of resistance was quite one-sided: for them, there was just one danger, that of Nazi expansion… fear and passion are poor counsellors, and particularly so in political matters… That particular attitude, anti-German and even pro-Communist, of the Hungarian Jewry served to speed up the Russian take-over of Hungary in 1944-47.
On the Győr Programme:
Darányi tried out his ideas on the general public in a long speech at Győr… he indicated that some diminution of Jewish influence would be necessary, ’as the best guarantee against anti-Semitism and intolerance’…
… At the same time, the President of the Hungarian National Bank, Imrédy, arrived at the same conclusion… as big industry was in its great part under Jewish control, Hungary’s rearmament seemed to be being held up by the Jewish directors of the great industrial enterprises; fuel was now added to pre-existing anti-Semitism., which had intensified in consequence of the atrocities of the Jewish leaders of Béla Kun’s dictatorship like Szamuely, Corvin, Kerekes and others.
’The author of the Győr Programme, Imrédy, when outlining his views as to the problems of rearmament and how to solve them, believed that the funds could be raised from one source: there was a lot of tax not being paid to the state, either because the income it was due from was not known to the exchequer or because it was hidden in complex financial schemes… It so happened that the people behind such huge and opaque incomes were in their bulk of Jewish descent, so what had started as merely a way to raise funds for the army became something of a racial question. Imrédy was supported in his new policy by the army. It is characteristic of the atmosphere in military circles that there were rumours circling that… ’the leaders of the political parties were under Jewish influence and therefore refusing to grant armament credits’.
As Imrédy produced the necessary funds for the rearmament of the army while also reining in the tycoons of finance and industry, he became something of a hero to the military and anti-Semitic leaders.
On the effects of the Austrian Anschluss, 11-13 March 1938:
Instead of Hungary’s old partner, it was now Nazi Germany that would keep frontier guards along the old boundary and the Hungarian guards had to be furnished with instructions as soon as possible. The urgency of the measures to be taken was also motivated by the fact that large numbers of refugees were arriving at the frontier (mainly of Jewish stock) trying to escape Nazi rule… outbursts of joy came from… sections of the middle classes and petite bourgeoisie that were now so besotted with anti-Semitism as to be unable to see any other aspect of the situation. For them Hitler was practically a God, precisely because he was tough with the Jews, and all they saw now was that the influence of the God would penetrate Hungary and deal with the Jews there also.
On The First Jewish Law
’The first weeks of Imrédy’s Premiership were characterised by a vigorous drive against all Right-wing activities and organisations. One of the first steps of Imrédy was to forbid all employees of the State to belong to political parties… The second step of the Cabinet was directed against Szálasi’s person; for it had now become an idée fixe in Hungary that his Party was the most dangerous party, and he himself the most formidable individual, in all Hungary… The pretext for the new move was the fact that the streets of Pest had been whitened by another shower of leaflets, one of which bore on one side the familiar ’Long live Szálasi’ and on the other the text ’Out with Rebecca from the Palace’, an allusion to the Regent’s wife, of whom rumours had it that she had in her veins a strain of Jewish blood. The latter was in fact what Szálasi himself describes in his diary, a ’filthy forgery’ (… it seems possible that Imrédy was party to this manoeuvre), with the purpose of discrediting Szálasi; in which it was highly successful, for the effect was to send the Regent, who was devoted to his wife, into an extreme of fury against Szálasi. A new indictment was prepared against him. In July he was tried again on another charge of issuing subversive leaflets and condemned… to three years’ hard labour and five years’ loss of civil rights. On 27 August he was arrested and taken to Szeged Prison.’
In connection with the poorly controlled Press, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky has written…:
‘Nazi-German officials… were… simply boycotted while at the same time British, French and Americans… were greatly favoured in social intercourse. I remember a passage published in one of the Jewish periodicals beseeching Hungarian Jewry not to provoke the Germans with public ostentatious behaviour… One should not forget that most of the Germans passing through Hungarian territory had already been on either of the battlefronts and thus, having seen endless misery and human suffering they were now watching luxury shown off by Jewish people. And in consequence such men were making bitter remarks about the peaceful conditions in Hungary and Jewish extravagancy.’
The First Jewish Law ’on a more efficient safeguarding of the balance of social and economic life’ (1938: XV.), drafted under the Darányi government and passed by the National Assembly under the Imrédy government, came into force on 29 May 1938. It restricted the proportion of Jews in the professions and the economy to twenty per cent, which was to be executed in five years. It defined Jews by religion, but those who had Christianised after 1 August 1919 were also classified as Jews. Exemption was granted to Jews who had gained distinction in the First World War and the counter-revolution, and to widows and childrenof the War dead. Fifty-nine non-Jewish Hungarian artists, among them composers Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and writers Lajos Zilahy, Zsigmond Móricz lodged a petition against the law.
’… The Jewish Law had an extremely mixed reception in Parliament, Speakers of almost all parties outside the Government – Conservatives, Christians, Liberals, Socialists – opposed it on grounds of principle as being un-Christian and contrary to Hungarian tradition; some also on grounds of expediency. Others descibed it frankly as an unworthy concession to foreign pressure. Most of the Government spokesmen themselves were almost apologetic; but argued that – whatever the remote causes – Jewish influence had now become so powerful in the national life as to make a measure a pragmatic necessity…
… it was moderate in practice. Briefly, it limited the numbers of persons of Jewish religion to be admitted to the professions of the Press, the Theatre (including films), the Law, Medicine, and Engineering, and to black-coated employment both in these professions and in financial, commercial or industrial enterprises employing more than ten persons to twenty per cent. A ’Jew’ was defined as a person holding the Jewish faith, or converted… at a date subsequent to 31 July 1919, or born after that date if his father and mother had at that time been of the Jewish faith. War invalids, persons who had seen active service, etc., were exempted.
These provisions did not touch the Jewish capital in any form, and still left the Jews a quota in the employment affected amounting to over three times their numerical proportion in the country, although lower in most cases than the quota occupied by them at the time.
According to a work issued at the time, based on the 1930 Census… the percentage of Jewish lawyers… was 49.2…; of doctors in private practice, 54.5;…’.
Imrédy was supported by Jews in business and the media… in the Summer of 1938, Imrédy was feted and praised by men of Jewish stock… he was referred to as ’the superman’… ’the super politician’ and so on… those same people who had lionised Imrédy… in January 1939… detested Imrédy, even going so far as to produce snapshots showing the mysterious and legendary Hun-Magyar stag in the form of a donkey with antlers attached to its head, being fastened to a lamp-post in front of Budapest’s Piarist Church.
On The Second Jewish Law
… Imrédy was vulnerable… his political opponents suggested that they had discovered he had Jewish ancestry. Imrédy, in order to deflect attention from this, went almost completely over to the Right-wing and became the main promoter of anti-Semitic legislature… Many of those who were hit by his new tax regime were of Jewish origin and so began a feud between them and Imrédy, which was to ultimately end up in the latter’s trial before the People’s Court and his subsequent execution. As a consequence of this feud, Imrédy began to develop strong anti-Semitic views which, naturally, resulted in his being admired by those on the Right… The failure to secure closer cooperation with Germany was considered by the Revisionists as a near mortal blow to their hopes. As a result they now turned their attention to those they believed had thwarted them: the Government, the liberals and the Jews. Thus Revisionism now ’usurped’ Resistance in the consciousness of the Hungarian public; Imrédy did not fail to notice this and in consequence made his infamous volte-farce.
Imrédy… hinted at a Second Jewish Law… As the Kiel affair had damaged Germano-Hungarian relations, Imrédy’s government now attempted to win back the confidence and good will of Berlin… Hungary was willing to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, and to continue with anti-Jewish legislation… The (Anglophone) Group, becoming increasingly alarmed at the acceleration of Hungarian-German rapprochement as well as with the Second Jewish Law, had decided to act in the hope of forcing Imrédy out… With the passing of Hungary’s anti-Semitic legislation, anyone with Jewish ancestry found it an obstacle to their career, and that included politicians; thus, Imrédy’s background began to be probed. The investigation started by political opponents… brought to light documentary evidence showing that among Imrédy’s ancestors there was a Jewish woman, and that fact alone, because of the new Law – his own making – was enough to bring about Imrédy’s fall… he resigned when the Regent informed him that according to certain information,he, Imrédy, had Jewish ancestry, but in fact the Regent forced him to resign for going too far with his anti-Semitic legislation.
The Second Jewish Law, ’on the restriction of the Jews gaining ground in public life and economy’ (1939), drafted under the Imrédy government and passed under the Teleki government, came into force on 5 May 1939. It defined Jews predominantly on racial grounds, but religious affiliation remained a point for consideration. Persons with one parent or two grandparents of Israelite denomination were qualified as Jews. Exemption was granted to Jewish families who had been Christianised for three generations. The ratio of Jews in intellectual professions was limited to six per cent, they were banned from state and industrial organs. Acquisition of agricultural property by Jews was restricted. They were excluded from industrial and commercial professions that required a license, and their existing licenses were gradually revoked. (It led to the emergence of the concept of the ’stróman’, from the German ’Strohmann’, the nominal partner who lent his name to a Jewish-owned enterprise for a share of the profit).
On the Premierships of Teleki, Bárdossy and ’The Third Jewish Law’, 1939-41
Teleki … had… sympathy with some of Imrédy’s objectives… In particular, he was not against appreciable restrictions on the Jews in so far as these constituted, in his eyes, a measure of protection for non-Jews (and he was prepared to regard the Second Jewish Law in that light), although not to the point where they developed into persecution of Jews.
… Teleki instructed me to prepare a book in German, for the consumption of the Nazi Party and the Army, dealing with the Jewish question. The main theme of this book was the idea that a full and complete solution to the Jewish question should be postponed until the end of the Second World War; once again Teleki was attempting to buy time… ’Die Judenfrage in Ungarn’ by Professor István Barta… (was) a sketch of a book on the Jewish question purportedly reflecting the views espoused by Teleki. His belief was that if the Germans won the war, which he did not believe, the Hungarian Jewry could not be saved. On the other hand, if Germany were defeated, the same Jewry would be saved from destruction without risking Hungary’s existence.
The Third Jewish Law ’on the extension and amendment of marital law (1894) and pertaining necessary race protection measures’ (1941), introduced and passed by the National Assembly under the Bárdossy government, came into force on 8 August 1941. Modelled onthe Nuremberg Laws, it defined the term ’Jewish’ as a person descending from two grandparents of Israelite denomination. It prohibited intermarriage and penalised sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews. The Hungarian Christian Churches protested against the law.
On The First Klessheim Entrevue, Horthy-Hitler, 17-18 April 1943; Kállay and ’The Jewish Question’:
In the following I am giving some quotations from the… Aide Mémoire:…
‘THE JEWISH QUESTION
Hungary is well aware of the all-European nature of the Jewish Question. It is of the opinion, however, this question should be addressed by each country in their sovereignty. With the measures introduced in 1920, Hungary has proved its readiness, even in the face of the international climate, to restrict the gaining of ground of Jews. However, neither legal, nor technical conditions exist for the deportation of Jews from Hungary. At the same time, while eliciting considerable satisfaction, such move is bound to create serious difficulties in the operation of the war industry.’
…It was this particular issue which formed one of the most important points in the list of ’Hungarian offences against Germany’ since, according to the Germans, this important question was, and was to remain as late as 1944, still unresolved in consequence of the stalling methods of the Hungarian Government.
… the Germans began making accusations against the person and policy of Premier Kállay, accusations which they presented in writing to the Hungarians.
An outline of the German Memorandum;
’It has come to the attention of the German government that under Kállay’s premiership negotiations were conducted in a defeatist way with the hostile British-American powers on Hungary’s withdrawal from the Tripartite Pact… the Hungarian government initiated these negotiations. At the same time it evades its economic duties and supports Jews’.
In order to refute the accusations brought up against the Kállay regime, the Foreign Ministry prepared a reply of several pages which then was sent to Hitler in the form of a personal letter signed by Regent Horthy…:
An outline of the letter;
Horthy objects to Hitler’s reprimands as regards the heroism of Hungarian soldiers… A stronger initiative to take measures against Jews would jeopardise economic functionality. He refuses to relieve Miklós Kállay, as per his ’defeatism’, he stresses his prime minister enjoys his full confidence both in foreign and interior questions.
As secrets could not be kept very well in Hungary, not only Kállay, but also other individuals were frightened by the aspect of the victorious Western Powers eliminating and destroying everything of past and present Hungary, and handing power to the Extreme Left, including all persecuted persons, first of all to the Hungarian Jews inside Hungary or those working in foreign countries against Nazism as well as against ’Quislingism’.
There was a difference in the tenor of the communications going through serious individuals, like Barcza, Bessenyey… and of those handled by young, politically inexperienced agents, the messages of the latter being more threatening… the responsibility… for this trouble rests on the shoulders of Kállay, Szentmiklósy,… Ullein, etc., for they selected these young overconfident representatives, mainly of Jewish origin. Quite naturally, such individuals were thinking and acting under the shadow of the terrible nightmare of what had happened and what still could happen to European Jews, and in particular in Hungary which had come to be a safe haven not only for Hungarian Jews, but all Jews who could safely reach the country. Regrettably, their actions and behaviour were making the situation of the Hungarian Jews more critical, instead of alleviating it. Of course, living outside the frontiers of the countries under Nazi domination… made… Hungarian agents of Jewish stock hasty and heedless, being ignorant of the circumstances faced by Jews at home. Those Jews in Hungary were constantly asking the Government not to break off with Berlin as it could lead to the total destruction of all Jews in Hungary. I remember reading quite a few articles written by eminent Jewish leaders in Hungary, including rabbis, imploring the Hungarian Jews not to provoke the Germans with anti-German activities or attitudes.
The Governments of the Western Powers, too, were responsible for employing Hungarians of Jewish stock as ’experts’ or as speakers on their broadcasting stations, supposedly to increase sympathy for the Allies, yet such strategies had the opposite effect…
… the Germans… were not satisfied with the outcome of the reshuffle in the Foreign Ministry… the Right-wing and even some MPs of the Government party began expressing their dissatisfaction with the changes… they were also alarmed by the news that key advisers… of the Foreign Ministry… were men of Jewish origin.
On Kállay’s Dual Strategy, September 1943 – February 1944:
… Kállay’s strategy was to prepare for the defence of the Carpathians and arrive at an agreement with the British and American military leaders for an Anglo-Saxon landing in Hungary. Such a policy, thought Kállay, would be supported by the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian nation
’It is certain that most of the Jewish population of Hungary and a perceptible number of non-Jews did not regard the Germans as a lesser evil than the Russians’.
On The Nazi-German Occupation of Hungary, 19 March 1944:
The Regent’s idea was not to abdicate since that would end in the destruction of the lives of many thousands of people, first of all Hungarian Jews. His old thesis was that he was still captain of the ship of State and that his duty was to remain on the bridge until the ship was saved or went down, of course with him, the Commander of the ship…
‘Even the Jews have reason to be thankful that he decided as he did. He did not save the Jews outside Budapest (and it may well be that a more subtle politician or one less easily influenced, could have done more than Horthy did in this direction). But he saved the Jews of Budapest, and no other man could have done it…
The Jews of Budapest itself, numbering about 230,000, had not yet been touched except that they had been required to move into Jewish Houses. The negotiations between the Jewish leaders and the Germans were still going on… although at one time Eichmann offered to suspend the deportations, or at least the gassings, pending the conclusion of a bargain, his price was far higher than anything which the Hungarian Jews could pay. Most of the negotiations concerned relatively small numbers – in the first place, only 750 emigrants for Palestine. Later… larger numbers were mentioned, partly in connection with a remarkable offer made by the Germans to trade the Jews for war material. The Allies rejected this; and in the end the Kastner-Brand negotiations brought release of only a few thousand Jews. A few Jews bought their way out privately, and these included one group whose fate involved issues of nation-wide importance. These were the inter-linked families of the Weiss, the Kornfelds, the Chorins and the Mauthners, who between them owned not only the Weiss Manfred Works on Csepel, by far the biggest heavy industrial plant in Hungary, which alone employed over forty thousand workers, but also a very large number of other assets…
In the 1930s the vast holdings of these gentlemen had been converted into a company known as the Labour Trust Limited, in which fifty-one per cent of the shares were held by persons ranking as non-Jews. The wives of Baron Weiss’ two sons, the Baronesses Jenő and Alfred Weiss, Baroness György Kornfeld, Dr Borbély (grandson-in-law), and one or two others. Thanks to this device, the Labour Trust as a whole could claim to be an ’Aryan’ concern under the Hungarian Jewish laws, although the private fortunes of many members of the group were, under the same law, indisputably Jewish. Throughout the war the Labour Trust turned out large quantities of arms and munitions for the Axis, including some special engine parts, etc., which it made in Budapest for the German Army.’
B. Some Comments from other contributors to Szent-Iványi’s book and The Hungarian Review (March, 2014):
János Horváth (1921, Cece, Hungary), economist, MP 1945-7, imprisoned in a show trial in 1947, participated in the 1956 Revolution, emigrated to the US, founder-President of the Kossuth Foundation in New York, returned to Hungary in 1997 and became an MP again after 1998;
How can I, as a modern democrat, an anti-Nazi and an anti-Communist , account for apparent blemishes and weaknesses in the image of my hero, a statesman who in very difficult conditions had to steer a ravaged country through the lethally dangerous waters of the inter-war years? Today, an occasional allegation against Pál Teleki is that he was an anti-Semite. This charge was rarely raised against Teleki while prominent Jewish contemporaries were alive… In our debating circle, I never heard an abusive sentence or even an ambiguous slur about Jews from him. Anti-Semitism was simply not present in the Teleki family. Teleki1s only son, his loyal political heir, Géza, had a Jewish wife. And it is a telling argument that the single Hungarian official who did most to save the Jews from deportation and death in 1944, namely Géza Soos, was Szent-Iványi’s deputy both in their office and in the secret Hungarian Independence Movement…
It was Soos who got hold of the Auschwitz testimonies written by two Slovakian Jews, who had been able to escape from the death camp in early 1944. He had it translated and sent to diplomats and Jewish leaders abroad and in Hungary, as well as to Regent Horthy’s daughter-in-law, Ilona. This was the first time… as late as spring 1944, when political leaders in Europe and America read authentic personal testimony about systematic Nazi extermination going on in Auschwitz. The saving of most of the Budapest Jews was made possible by Horthy’s reserve corps, the elite armoured battalion of Esztergom marching on Budapest on 5 July under the command of Colonel Ferenc Koszorús, dispersing and disarming pro-Nazi ’gendarmerie’ units. This was a direct result of Horthy’s stunned reading of the testimonies…
But two unsettling questions remain: the first is the two sets of ’Jewish Laws’, one passed in 1938 under Imrédy’s Premiership, the other in 1939 when Teleki was Premier… in both cases, especially the Second Law, was a surrender to German Pressure. It disappointed German expectations at a time when risking a German invasion from Austria was a possible consequence of displeasing Hitler. The anti-Jewish laws were not meticulously executed in Hungary… the expectation of Horthy’s circle and most Hungarian patriots in the democratic opposition as well as Jewish leaders in Hungary was that Hitler would meet his end by late 1943, and the nightmare would be over…
The Second question concerns the ’numerus clausus’ Pál Teleki enacted during his first premiership in 1921, which set a quota for Jewish students in the universities equal to the proportion of Jews in the Hungarian population. This law was clearly born during the violent backlash against the Hungarian Commune where intellectuals of Jewish background had a dominant role… such laws curtailing the academic and economic opportunities of Jews… must be seen in a different light before and after Auschwitz. Auschwitz is a political, moral and metaphysical dividing line in history…
… From our post-Auschwitz perspective, the so-called Second Jewish Law Teleki approved was a moral error… But this should not negate the man’s fundamentally moral character and his otherwise liberal statecraft…
(Recorded from conversations and translated by the editors)
Nóra Szekér (1976, Budapest), historian, Óbuda University;
We have to note that when… Szent-Iványi talks in terms of rebuke about the strong Jewish element in these diplomatic and other contacts of the Kállay government, we should not suspect anti-Semitism on his part. It is the pragmatic analysis of a man of realpolitik, who had, at the same time, given evidence of high moral and political standards. In the multi-ethnic Hungary of that time mentioning ethnic background was a regular theme of everyday conversation, which from the liberal mid-1800s on did not necessarily carry negative overtones. It was with the emergence of Nazism that ethnic and racial connections took on ominous connotations – not as a matter of political discourse but of life and death.In the 1930s Jews began to feel threatened by the rhetoric and violence of Nazis not only in Germany but in the whole of East-Central Europe. The threat was all the more real because, since, as Szent-Iványi discusses in several more passages… the Nazis recruited a fifth column from among ethnic Germans and middle class people of German family background in Hungary, and planted agents and sympathisers to all spheres and levels of social and political life.
Under the circumstances of war, prominent Jews became special targets of German intelligence gathering and surveillance. At the same time, many ethnic Germans (whom Szent-Iványi calls Swabians, again in accordance with common Hungarian usage) became a liability and serious threat at high levels of Hungarian administration, especially the armed forces… Szent-Iványi cannot be labelled as an anti-German racist on this account either…
With the German military occupation… on 19 March 1944, Hungary lost her sovereignty, and both Hungarian foreign and internal affairs fell under German control. Arrests of many members of the anti-Nazi circles followed immediately, and Eichmann was sent to Budapest by Hitler in order to organise the ’final solution’ for Jews in Hungary… In this situation the Hungarian Independence Movement pursued two main goals; on the one hand to save people’s lives, from which of course saving Hungarian Jews was the greater task. On the other hand, the preparations for the break-off from the Axis continued in Horthy’s circle… MFM’s life-saving efforts were co-ordinated by Szent-Iványi’s deputy Géza Soos…
Gyula Kodolányi (1942, Budapest), poet and essayist, Member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, taught at ELTE in Budapest, and in the US, Senior Advisor on Foreign Policy to Hungarian PM’s, 1990-94, editor of the Hungarian Review since 2010;
… in the aftermath of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the most acute social inequalities had to be addressed, while the preponderence of Jewish intellectuals in the leadership of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 contributed to a backlash in some parts of society.
C. Reflections on 19 March and its Aftermath: A Perfect Storm of Tragedy and Folly
Frank Koszurus, Jr., practises law in Washington DC, founder of the Hungarian American Coaltion and President of the American Hungarian Federation of Wahington DC; in the March edition of The Hungarian Review, he writes;
The American Hungarian Federation, representing a cross-section of the Hungarian American community, strongly supports historical accuracy, completeness and integrity… Considering the extent of the catastrophe of the Holocaust, great care should be taken to avoid actions that serve no purpose other than to open old wounds and needlessly exacerbate controversies. Care should also be taken to objectively discuss all aspects of a period and not abuse history for political purposes.
Considering these general principles, the Federation believes:
First, that any attempt to whitewash the catastrophe of 19 March 1944 – when Hitler occupied Hungary – and the ensuing deportation and murder of 550,000 Hungarian Jews or the involvement of Hungarian authorities cannot be tolerated.
… The great majority of knowledgeable commentators and historians agree… that Nazi Germany ’occupied’ Hungary on 19 March 1944… As… noted by historian Randolph Braham, a specialist of that period, ’the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, the last surviving large bloc of European Jewry, was to a large extent concomitant of ths German Military decision’. Tragically, the lack of adequate predisposition of several officers of the General Staff and senior officers in key positions and a fear of Bolshevism were among the factors that precluded any military opposition to the German invasion…
Ignác Romsics observed that ’… although Horthy formally appointed the government (under duress)… the cabinet did not usually clear its actions with him but with Edmund Veesenmayer, whom Hitler had sent a Reich Plenipotentiary to replace the German ambassador in Budapest. Lucy Dawidowicz (1975) also argued that, after 19 March, ’the real rulers of Hungary were the SS and… Veesenmayer. … Under these circumstances Horthy perhaps should have resigned, to avoid the semblance of legitimacy, as Kállay implored. A Jewish delegation, headed by Ferenc Chorin and Móric Kornfeld, on the other hand, urged Horthy not to resign because, they believed, if he failed to appease the Germans the Jews would face extermination… ’His decision to remain as Regent has been one of the most intensely debated among Hungarians ever since’.
Since Horthy did not abdicate, could he have done more than to protect just the 250,000 Jews of Budapest? According to Fenyvesi (2003), ’Horthy as head of state did not have enough power to protect its Jewish citizens. … Horthy overestimated his freedom of action and underestimated the force of the great power facing him.’ Veesenmayer’s cable to Berlin on 13 July (confirms this): ’He has no personal influence left whatsoever, which is apparent from his inability even to have Undersecretaries of the Ministry of the Interior, Baky and Endre, removed.’
During his five months in office, Sztójay set about doing all the things that the Germans and the Hungarian right-wing had been demanding but which so far had been more or less successfully blocked by the conservative regime. On 28 March he dissolved all parties of the left-wing and bourgeois democratic opposition, including the Independent Smallholders and Social Democrats. During March and April over three thousand people were taken into custody by the Gestapo and the Hungarian police and gendarmerie… In order to preserve a semblance of legal continuity, the Parliament was allowed to carry on functioning but there was a massive clear-out of officials in key positions of the state administration and army command, including twenty-nine of the forty-one high sheriffs and two-thirds of the country’s burgomasters.’
The ’clear-out’ was successful. Deborah Cornelius (2011) has written of how the German’s goal of eradicating the Hungarian Jews ’was facilitated by the fact that they had destroyed the traditional Hungarian political leadership; the anti-German groups… had been removed from positions of influence. The conservative-liberals, left-liberals and social democrats who had protested against the Jewish laws had either been taken into German prison or concentration camps or had gone into hiding’.
The roles of German and Hungarians in the Holocaust are summarised by Braham as follows, ’while the Germans were eager to solve the Jewish question, they could not have proceeded without the consent of the newly established (Stójáy) puppet government and the cooperation of the Hungarian instrumentalities of power…’
… And in examining the events, it is important to recall the anti-Jewish laws, Kamenets-Podolsk (halted by Interior Minister Keresztes-Fischer), the Novi Sad massacres… and the labour battalions.
Both the German and the Hungarian roles must be acknowledged (as Hungary’s ambassador to the United Nations, Csaba Körösi, did recently), remembered and taught objectively not only for the sake of accuracy, but also to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.
… the Federation further believes that rescue efforts by non-Jewish Hungarians who stood up against evil, such as Col. Ferenc Kozorús who intervened with his loyal troops to prevent the deportation of the Jews of Budapest in July 1944, must not be omitted, denied, forgotten or minimised. Such rescue efforts must also be acknowledged, taught and remembered for the sake of historical accuracy and to serve as examples for this and future generations of how one should behave in the face of barbarism that characterised the Nazis and their collaborators…
On the fiftieth anniversary of the Holocaust, Congressman Tom Lantos, a survivor of the Holocaust himself and a liberal Democrat who served as Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, recognised Colonel Ferenc Koszorús:
‘Colonel Koszurús’ unparalleled action (in July 1944) was the only case in which Axis powers used military force for the purpose of preventing the deportation of the Jews. As a result of his extraordinarily brave efforts, taken at great risk in an extremely volatile situation, the eventual takeover of Budapest by the Nazis was delayed by three and a half months. This hiatus allowed thousands of Jews to seek safety in Budapest, thus sparing them from certain execution. It also permitted the famous Raoul Wallenberg , who arrived in Budapest on 9 July 1944, to coordinate his successful and effective rescue mission…’
(Hon. Tom Lantos, ’Ferenc Koszurús: A Hero of the Hungarian Holocaust’, Congressional Record, 26 May 1994.)
Other Hungarian heroes include … General Vilmos Nagybaczoni-Nagy (who upon being appointed Minister of Defence by the Kállay government took measures to end the gross abuses threatening the lives of Jews in the auxiliary labour force); Tibor Baránszky (who as secretary to Monsegneur Angelo Rotta, the Vatican’s ambassador to Budapest, distributed protective letters to Jews on forced marches and elsewhere); Roman Catholic priest Ferenc Kálló (who gave Jews certificates of baptism and was killed by the Arrow Cross on 29 October 1944); József Antall, Sr (who as a commissioner of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for civilian refugees gave refuge to Jews and Poles); Prince-Primate Jusztinian Serédi, Bishop László Ravasz of the Reformed Church and István Bethlen (who communicated protests to Regent Horthy in 1944 against deportations).
In sum, 19 March and its consequences are interconnected historical facts relating to one of the most tragic periods of Hungarian history. It can be hoped that politics is not injected into what should be a serious and honest historical debate…