|G. Baross: Hungary and Hitler|
The expected Soviet Russian attack came in January 1943 on the Don front and, in spite of heroic resistance and fighting, they mowed down all resistance. The Third Hungarian Army Corps, after great sacrifices in side and rear protective actions, fell into captivity. The Fourth and Seventh Army Corps, having been filled up with the occupation army units and a cavalry corps, built up a defense line in the Valley of the River Oskol. There, the remnants of the German Army concentrated in the region of Charkov and prepared for a counterattack. The months to follow presented ups and downs in the chances of battle. Soon the Italian Army was withdrawn from the front. The Hungarian Army and her remaining battle groups were united in the so-called First Honved Army.
It was In July that the fighting armies beard about the down-
fall of Mussolini, the formation of the government of Italian General Badoglio, the laying down of arms by the Italians, and the landing of the Anglo-Saxon powers on Sicily. It was also about that time that our Chief of Staff General Szombathelyi reported and I quote: "The occupation of the vast territories and the overpowering numbers of the enemy made it impossible for the Germans to deliver a decisive blow to their adversaries. The continuation of strategic moves may be only aiming to gain time and postpone decisive action." The
Hungarian General Staff also reported the observation that the Germans were concentrating troops along the Hungarian border, in particular in the Burgenland. This was noteworthy because Hungary was the only so-called "Allied State" where there were no German army units garrisoned. This observation was reported to the Government by the General Staff.
At the beginning of the year 1944, the Soviet Russians launched an aggressive and immense attack from the direction of Krivograd-Tserkasky-Krivojrog and the Crimea. The Ukraine was soon given up and the entire front withdrew into the foreground of the Carpathian Mountains. The defense positions were taken north of Lemberg by the German Heeresgruppe Mitte (Middle Army Group). From Lemberg stretching to Stanislaw stood the First Hungarian Army and south from it the Heeresgruppe Sud-Ukraine, (South Ukrainian Army Group) consisting of German and Rumanian Army units. The First Hungarian Army was reinforced. In the Carpathians, from the Dukla Pass down to the Szekely Snow Mountain Chains, fortifications were constructed. Thus was the military situation on March 19 of the year 1944.
At the start of March, several friends and I decided to spend a few weeks in the resort area of Borszek, which is located in the snowy mountain chain of Gyergyo. We left the capital city of Budapest in the atmosphere of preparation for a grandiose celebration of the national holiday of March 15. We spent carefree days in the beautiful pine forest of Borszek. What could have been the cause of our cheerful mood? Maybe the fact that the Anglo-Saxon powers had landed in Italy and that their advance was very rapid. Perhaps because we had placed our confidence in the attack which the Allies had launched on the Balkan Peninsula, or were hopeful that the regrouping of the armies fighting on the eastern front would result in favorable developments. Today, if I look back to those beautiful days, all this seems to be incomprehensible. We heard through news-paper articles that Hitler had sent the Regent a renewed invitation for a personal visit. The Regent traveled on March 17 to meet "the Fuhrer" in KIessheim. We had great hopes, also, as to the outcome of these negotiations because we thought that the Regent would be able to persuade Hitler to let the Hungarian Armies that were fighting in the East return to their proper country in order to defend it.
In the early morning hours of March 19, my very good friend Representative Kalman Konkoly-Thege, who was together with us at Borszek, woke me up with the words "there must have been something terrible happening at Budapest." He also stated that it was impossible to obtain any news through the telephone. We made several attempts during the day to make connections with Budapest or with Kolozsvar. The telephone switchboards always answered with the stereotyped phrase: "Lines are busy." In the evening of the same day, the station master of the railroad station of Borszek, located in the town of Marosheviz, telephoned the managers of our hotel and communicated to them that the last train to Budapest would depart the next day, March 20, at six o'clock in the morning. He also suggested that any guests who wanted to return to the capital should prepare for their departure. Upon the surprised attitude and questions of the hotel director, the station master answered only by saying, "The Germans are in the country."
We all departed. At every important railroad station German military police were present. At the eastern station of Budapest we could see that all the installations were occupied by German soldiers.
What happened? Numerous German army units had entered into Hungary on foot, on motor vehicles, armored cars, tanks and airplanes coming from Rumania, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Slovakia. In general, the negligible Honved forces had let them through and at only a few places did skirmishes develop and these resulted in a few dead and wounded. The Wehrmacht and SS units swiftly occupied all important railroad and highway junctions, bridges, tunnels, and everything that could be considered tactically important. In Budapest the Gestapo set up their headquarters in the Hotel Astoria. When the Regent returned from Klessheim in the morning of March 19, the occupation of Hungary had already been completed. He was received at the Kelenfold Station by the three star German General Weichs and a German honor company. The members of the Cabinet and Kallay were also present. The population of Budapest saw only that much and knew only these events. Did the foregoing actions of the Germans invite the ire of the nation or did they merely surprise people? It could hardly be known for certain. The masses in the capital city and in the nation thought that all this had happened with the approval of the Hungarian Government, and that these measures were necessary and in the interest of an efficient defense by the country against the threatening proximity of the Soviet Russian Army.
But what had really happened? Political circles learned pretty soon that the Regent had traveled to KIessheim accompanied by the Chief of General Staff General Szomhathelyi, Deputy Foreign Minister Ghiczy, and Defense Minister Csatay. There in a private conversation between Hitler and the Regent, the
details of which were told to me at a later date, Hitler communicated that because the Hungarian political attitudes were in dire contradiction to the German interests, he had decided on and had ordered the occupation of Hungary. The Regent vehemently opposed all Hitler accusations and he threatened Hitler with armed resistance. Similar was the tone of the negotiations conducted between Szombathelyi and Keitel, and between Ghiczy and Ribbentropp. The Hungarians were forced to drop the idea of armed resistance quite soon because of the fact that Hungary's combatant troops were fighting the Soviet Russians on the eastern front and that they could not have been withdrawn easily from there. Also the Honved units bad not completed their mobilization in Hungary proper and thus, because they were only scantily armed, their resistance would have been very ineffectual. In the negotiations Hungary agreed to speed up the mobilization of the Army, to send new Honved units to the front, to turn over the use of the Hungarian railroad lines to the disposition of the German Army, and to increase the industrial production, in order to supply the Germans with needed equipment; but all these agreements were made under the condition that in turn the Germans would regard the occupation of the country as temporary and would eventually withdraw all their armies, leaving not more than two or three divisions. Political circles, which had access to more confidential Information, were under the impression that Hitler had probably also demanded from the Regent a more radical solution of the Jewish problem and also requested the immediate removal of Kallay; meanwhile making faint promises about the continuation of the Hungarian rule and supremacy. The press was silent about all these dark things and, if I am not mistaken, there were no press communiques of the Klessheim visit: all that was stated was that it had happened. Some newspapers abroad gave more or less detailed accounts about the occupation of Hungary.
After his arrival In Budapest, the Regent summoned the Crown Council, the members of the Government, and some other important personalities. Some well-informed persons maintain that the Regent relieved Kallay and his Government of their duties at this Crown Council; however, others state that the Government abdicated. A new Government had not yet been designated at that time.
The next day the Gestapo started its activities; it arrested hundreds of people, among them members of Parliament, and held them in custody in the cellars of the Hotel Astoria.
On March 22, as planned much earlier, the Houses of Parliament opened their sessions; but after the few opening words by the President of the Lower House Andras Tasnadi-Nagy, a motion was made to adjourn for an indefinite time, and this motion was accepted immediately without a single opposing comment from the entire House.
The new Government headed by Sztojai was sworn into office
on March 23. The Cabinet consisted of four members of the Government Party (MEP), three members of the Imredy party, two generals and the right wing of National Socialist Party, which was represented in the Ministry of the Interior through the appointment of Under Secretary Baky. The task of this Government was to unify all the national forces serving the nation and bring them into close, friendly relationship with the Germans. This fact was emphasized in a statement published in the official gazette about the formation of the new Government, in which they also hinted to the fact that the German Army units had "arrived" in agreement with the Hungarian Government.
There are many official and unofficial statements in circulation about the formation of this Government. Of these statements, the following are considered by the author as authentic. After the negotiations conducted at Klessheim, Hitler nominated Dr. Edmund Veesenmayer to be Ambassador and Minister Plenipotentiary to Budapest with the task to bring the Hungarian Government policies in unison with the interests of the Third Reich. Veesenmayer was a Himmler man and there is trustworthy information that he had traveled to Hungary several times under an alias in order to study the general situation and Kallay's political activities.
Veesenmayer arrived in Budapest on the same train as the Regent and replaced Jagow as German Ambassador; he immediately sought connections with various Hungarian political circles and even found his way to the Regent. Political activities were also developed under another German official SS staff officer Kaltenbrunner, who was commanding the SS troops which were occupying Hungary. Both Veesenmayer and Kaltenbrunner tried to influence the selection and formation of the new Government. Veesenmayer proposed that Imredy be the Minister President, but this was rigidly declined by the Regent. After that, Veesenmayer left the selection of the ministers to the Regent in order "to preserve the aspects of constitutional basis" and instead proposed that the Regent form a coalition government of right wing elements.
The Regent selected Sztojai because in Berlin he was a "Persona Grata," besides being a soldier whose loyal intentions he did not doubt. I knew all the members of the new Cabinet with the exception of Sztojai and Csatay. In those times I had very close relationships with many old timers in politics and with numerous members of the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it is easy for me to reconstruct the happenings on the basis of the talks that I had with them.
It remained unclear and subject to discussion whether the Kallay Government knew of the plans of the Germans to occupy Hungary, and if so, why they did not undertake any action to hinder them. All important friends of mine were of the opinion that Kallay knew about the German intentions against Hungary, or at least suspected them. It has been noted above
that our general staff submitted reports to the Government about the German troop concentrations along the Hungarian border, and the staff also reported observations about Rumanian, Yugoslavian, Croatian, and Slovakia Army movements. The Government definitely knew about the intrigues conducted by the Rumanians in Berlin and also was aware of the news which reached Hungary from abroad pertaining to the German intentions. But why were no measures undertaken?
From many sources I heard that Kallay did not believe that the Germans would dare use force against Hungary. Notably, force would not be used because it would have immediately invited the resistance of the entire Hungarian public opinion, and created armed resistance in the back of the German supply lines; many were also of the opinion that Kallay also considered the possibility that to have a German occupation of Hungary would be clear testimony before the Allies of Hungary's attitude and would have improved her situation and future possibilities. Thus, he firmly believed that the Third Reich was not going to take the risk. The military command of Hungary further stated that an armed resistance would be impossible because the combat-ready Honved Army units were fighting against the Soviet Russian armies in the east, and since they were far away from the mother country, their return would have been impossible without having been disarmed by the Germans. On the other hand, the units stationed in the country were not completely ready and did not possess modern arms either.
Soon after the Sztojai Government entered office, the "Coordinated" political methods became obvious. Minister of the Interior Jaross undertook measures to herd all Jews together, to Intern them and to ship them to Germany. The prisoners of the Gestapo numbered several thousands already. Among them 'were Cabinet ministers, generals, diplomats, and Anglophile aristocrats, and such personalities who came there because of denunciations. Former Minister President Kallay himself escaped arrest by taking refuge in the Turkish Embassy. These political prisoners were kept in the cellar of the Hotel Astoria, from there they were shipped to German concentration camps. The Honved army divisions were mobilized one after the other in a great hurry, and a Fortification Command was established to construct different lines in the Carpathian Mountains. It is true that the number of German Army units stationed in Hungary was reduced, but some tactically important points in the country were furnished with German command positions like, for instance, the Bacska, Carpatho-Ruthenia, and Transylvania. These German Army commands had to preserve a good relationship, so-called Hungarian "liaison commissioners" attached to them. Besides the German Army, there were many secret German organizations in the country. They all were studded with spies and denunciators. Their chief was a certain Winkelmann, also a Himmler man, and a former police officer who had his headquarters
in the confiscated English Embassy building; innumerable Hungarians became involved with these terrible figures of history who had a decisive influence in the formation of Hungarian fate.
The Anglo-Saxon air raids started in April. Besides the great and important industrial plants of military and civilian value, they also bombed the city of Budapest and other open cities, thereby causing great damages in life and material.
What was the attitude of the country itself as it observed all these happenings'? According to my own observations, the villages, country towns, and even the population of Budapest itself witnessed these events with a sort of inertia. Their attentions were attracted more to the happenings of the eastern front and to the difficulties of public maintenance of nutrition. Different, however, were the trends in the political scene.. There were innumerable opinions, contradictory evaluations, personal controversies; and the new groups split and fragmented the important and influential circles. Because the Houses of Parliament were indefinitely adjourned, there was no forum for exchange and clarification of ideas; a place where possibly relationships could have been reestablished. The Sztojai Government had neither prestige nor influence. The press, acceding to the pressure of personalities and political trends, lost its authoritativeness. In a few month, the well-balanced Hungarian political scene lost its fine atmosphere and instead presented the picture of anarchy. All this facilitated the strong organization of secret Marxist-Leninist elements in spite of the vigilance of the German and Hungarian police.
In June, I reported for active duty in the army. They called me and I was detailed to the Hungarian Fortification Command located in Budapest. This command had the task of constructing defense positions in the Carpathian Mountains. Before I reported to my position in the army, I requested an audience from the Regent. I intended to give him a report about my observations pertaining to the political situation in the country. He had previously received me many, many times in similar questions and aspects. In the course of the audience, after having made my report on my observations, he thanked me and then, in accordance with his usual phraseology, he said the following and I quote: ..... Now listen here, Baross...," and then without any further ado, with always increasing vehemence, jumping up from his seat and pacing up and down in the room, he started to complain about the meeting at Klessheim. He. told me in detail about Hitler's shouting and his obscene remarks, and I quote, ..... He is going to send the Slovaks, the Rumanians, and the Serbs, against me...," and also of Hitler's absolutely overpowering attitude against the Regent's person and against that of his entourage, and I quote, ... They kept me literally a prisoner...;" and then went on to tell me Hitler's denial of the return of the Honved Army
units to Hungary, and of Hitler's great hatred for Kallay and others, and his dejecting opinions about the Hungarian soldiers. My audience lasted one hour and fifteen minutes, and I took leave greatly disturbed and deeply moved. I was joined in the antechamber by General Karoly Lazar, the commander of the Royal Body Guard, and we left the Royal Palace together. He noted my exhausted condition and asked me, and I quote, "What happened?" And I told him that ..... he complained about the attitude of the Germans." Upon which Lazar answered, "One cannot complain enough." And then we took leave without any further words from each other.
I will now give some details about the happenings on the front as they were known to me and also based upon the writings of Colonel Adonyi.
I already mentioned above that in March, the front was pushed back to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. The command of the First Hungarian Army was taken over by General Naday. In the meantime, the. army was reinforced with new divisions brought into battle readiness and was detailed to the "Heeresgruppe Nord-Ukraine" under the command of General Mannstein, and later under that of General Model. The task of this army was to conduct an attack towards the Dnyester River, and in the course of this move General Naday proposed that the Hungarian units be placed in defense positions on the eastern slopes of the Carpathians. The "Heeresgruppe" attacks saw a few beginning successes, then came to a stop against the outnumbering Soviet Russian forces, and then they formed a rigid line along Kuty-Delatyn-Ottinia-Stanislaw. The First Hungarian Army received new reinforcements from the home country in this position, and its divisions were dispersed among other Wehrmacht divisions. Parallel with the landing of the Anglo-Saxon Armies in Normandy, the Russian Soviet Armies launched a major attack in June against this defense line aiming to thrust through this line and take the Polish oil fields defended by the Heeresgruppe Mitte. As a result of this major attack, the German divisions were drawn away from the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and sent to the fronts which were in immediate danger, and the Hungarian divisions were again united into the First Hungarian Army. The Soviet Russian attack developed during July along the front held by the First Hungarian Army.
This was the month when the Fortification Command and its headquarters were transferred from Budapest to the town of Beregszasz, located in Carpatho-Ruthenia. From there the Command was better able to supervise and to lead the fortification procedures and construction of the defense lines. As a member of his staff, I was able to observe the progress of these defense constructions. In the Carpatho-Ruthenian sector the concrete fortification systems were ready and they would
have been able to hold against all types of attacks. But in the Transylvanian sector of the Hungarian frontier, they were in the beginning stages, and the technical engineer battalions asigned to this duty were trying to advance the state of these by working day and night on the project. Also in the course of our inspection tours I was able to observe partisan activities in the northern sectors of the virgin forest of the Carpathians.
In this region everybody was fighting everybody. The Poles fought the Ukrainians, and both of them killed Germans. But, with us Hungarians, there was some kind of a secret sympathy and the partisans manifested their friendly feeling toward us in multifarious ways. Nevertheless, it was very, very dangerous to drive along the valleys of the Carpathian Mountains in a vehicle. I myself was also subject to several machinegun bursts, and in order to avoid such misunderstandings, we equipped our motor vehicles with huge red-white-green flags. The Soviet attack progressed slowly on the fronts held by the First Hungarian Army, but their immensely larger numbers finally pushed and forced the heroically fighting Honved back into the Hunyadi fortification lines constructed in the northern and eastern Carpathians. These tactical moves were directed by three star General Beregfi, who had replaced General Lakatos when he was called back to Budapest. Beregfi was of German origin and was a National Socialist with regard to his political opinions. He was rather negligent in sending reinforcements to the Carpathian Mountains; and therefore, the Hungarian Army Command substituted him quite soon with three star General Miklos, who established his headquarters at Huszt in Carpatho-Ruthenia. He immediately moved three Honved divisions to defense positions on the passes of Verecke and Uzsok.
August 23 was a very memorable day, for at the beadquarters of the Fortification Command at Beregszasz we received a very surprising telephone call which reported that some Rumanian troops had come up to the Hungarian border under white flags, had requested passage through the mountain pass and had been granted such because our control point had considered them soldiers who belonged to some mixed German and Rumanian units in retreat. Such occurrences were very frequent along the Hungarian-Rumanian border Thus, these Rumanians reached the next village without being disturbed and started to kill the civilian population. The engineer battalion, which was on defense constructions of the Bekas pass, immediately went into action against them and annihilated them. In the noon hours of the same day we learned that the entire Rumanian Army had deserted and had gone over to the Russians: The Rumanian Army who had been the pet child of the Third Reich and whose loyalty Hitler never doubted. They immediately attacked the rear of the "Heeresgruppe Sud-Ukraine" under the command of German three star General Friessner.
This treachery of the Rumanians opened the road through
Rumania to Southern Transylvania for the Soviet Russian Armies of Marshal Malinowsky. At the same time Marshal Tolbuchin occupied Bulgaria.
The First Hungarian Army defended all sectors of the northern and eastern Carpathians with rigid and undiminished resistance under the renewed and constant attacks by the Russians.
At the same time a Second Hungarian Army which had been formed under the command of General Lajos Veress and reinforced by several German units was trying to stop the onslaught of the Soviet Russian and Rumanian forces attacking the southern Carpathian chain along the Maros River. At this time the Germans disarmed the other outstanding "pride" of the Third Reich, the two Slovak divisions, before they were able to desert and put down their arms in front of their Slavic brothers.
The Fortification Command and its headquarters were transferred in the first days of September from Beregszasz to Budapest, and I was transferred with a few officers to the railroad junction of Csap to organize the shipment of the technical materials to the fortification works in the interior of the country. After Russian bombers raided and severely damaged Csap on September 17, I received orders to move into Budapest.
During September and October, the Second and Third Honved Armies, the latter having been organized in the meantime under the command of General Heszlenyi, fought major battles along the River Maros, and at the cities of Kolozsvar, Nagyvarad, Debrecen, and Arad. The Soviet Russian Army, outnumbering all resistance, was pushing back the Armee Gruppe-Sud under the command of three star General Friessner. This Armee-Grupp retreated towards the River Tisza as it was pushed back by Malinowsky's armies and by Tolbuchin's units which were pressing in from Bulgaria. The First Hungarian Army, defending firmly the Carpathian frontier line - to avoid an eventual attack from the rear - bent its strategic lines down towards the Tisza River. In the middle of October, the Soviet Russians more or less reached the line of Baja-Kecskemet-Szolnok-Tokaj-Eperjes.
On Sunday, October 15, 1944, while walking from my home at about 10 a.m. to attend holy Mass to meet with a few fellow officers in the church located at the Esku Place, I observed that there were Honved patrols walking up and down the streets with bayonets mounted. At the Esku Place I saw a platoon manning machine guns. There was a crowd of the civilian population also gazing at the happenings. I found my fellow officers after great difficulty and one of them, who lived at the Esku Place, related the following. Miklos Horthy Jr., the son of the Regent, had been arrested by the Germans in the offices of the Magyar Folyam es Tengerhajozasi Tarsasag ([Hungarian River and Sea Faring Association). There he was knocked out, wrapped in a blanket
and hurried away in a vehicle, upon which the garrison or Budapest was placed on the alert and around the Esku Place military patrols took over. We decided to return to our homes because of the obvious alert, and to wait there for further orders which would eventually be issued by the Fortification Command. At noon on the same day I heard over the radio the statement of the Regent concerning the armistice. I listened, greatly moved, and very bitter thoughts came over about the future of Hungary. In the early afternoon hours I received a phone call from the Fortification Command to go immediately to the headquarters. There, Colonel Harosi of the Engineer Corps delivered a speech to the officers, non-commissioned officers and personnel and stated that the armistice did not mean that the war was over, but that we had to fight still and everybody ought to comply with his military duties. We had to prepare for the event that the mob was going eventually to take over the rule of Budapest and was eventually going to attack the military installations. Thus, also the Fortification Command, which had its custody and possession some very important documents, was going to defend these by force of arms if necessary. His words were received with general approval and consent and everybody thought that to comply with them was a national duty.
On October 16, the news reached us that the Regent had retracted his orders about the armistice and had abdicated. Colonel Marosi was arrested and he was replaced temporarily by a young member of the general staff, Captain Bencsik. Nobody was excited and everybody worked with great zeal on the tasks to be carried out.
On November 6, General Ulaszlo Solymossy took over the command. On November 10, the headquarters were transferred to the village of Ajka, located in the Bakony Mountains. On November 21, I learned there that I was detailed to the German "Armee Pioneer Fuhrung" (Army Engineering Command) of the German Army as a liaison officer. I reported for duty on November 28 to Colonel Schiermeister, an elderly man who was In command at the village of Nezsa in the county of Nograd.
On Dacember 6, while on an inspection tour in the region of the town of Vac, we learned that our headquarters at Nezsa had been attacked and destroyed by Soviet Russian tanks. Since we could no longer return there, with some personnel of the Command we retreated with all motor vehicles towards the city of Ipolysag. For us, this move meant the start of the eternal wanderings.
On April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday, at four o'clock I stepped across the Hungarian-Austrian frontier with the German units, leaving Hungary and Hungarian villages in flames. This is the last terrible, heart-rending picture of my country which I will carry forever in my soul.
The Hungarian soldier did not know much about the political undercurrents and happenings of internal and foreign policy which concentrated around the fatal date of October 15, and he was not very much interested in them. The Hungarian soldier had fought with a deathly and terrible bitterness because he wanted to protect his country.
|G. Baross: Hungary and Hitler|