[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] HUNGARY IN THE MIRROR OF THE WESTERN WORLD

The Policies of Prime Minister Kallay
and the
German Occupation of Hungary in March 1944

On March 9, 1942 Prime Minister Bardossy resigned and the Regent appointed Miklos Kallay as the new Prime Minister.

The Regent's decision to remove Bardossy, according to Macartney, was fueled by Horthy's anger against Bardossy because the plan to elevate Horthy's son to be a successor to the Regent was successfully opposed by Bardossy.

Miklos Kallay, in the 1930s, served as Minister of Agriculture and was an appointed member of the Upper House.

The American historian, Randolph Braham, in his book, The Politics of Genocide, The Holocaust in Hungary, describes the Kallay era and the German occupation of Hungary. According to Braham, during Prime Minister Kallay's first year in office he followed the pro-German line of his predecessor, Laszlo Bardossy. The advance of the allied forces in Africa and in Sicily and the Soviet offensive at Voronezh in December 1942 January 1943, which resulted in the death of 100,000 Hungarian soldiers and the destruction of the Hungarian Second Army, radically changed Kallay's course. After the above mentioned events he realized that Germany would lose the war. Therefore, he began his moves to extricate Hungary from the war.

The first move of Kallay was to resist the German demands in order to curb the activities of the anti-German groups. He maintained the freedom of the opposition press; refused to outlaw the activities of the leftist Parties; and by doing so, Hungary remained the only country in Europe which had a Social Democratic Party.

He also resisted the German demands towards "the solution of the Jewish question." In 1943-44, in spite of the "Jewish Laws," Hungary was the only country in which the Jewish people had the freedom to be a part of society. Hungary was the only country in which the movement of the Jewish people was not restricted nor were they forced into ghettos.

In an attempt to extricate Hungary from the war and to give signals to the western powers, Kallay recognized the anti-Mussolini government of General Badoglio as the true government of Italy. As a next step he dispatched the Nobel Prize winner, Professor Albert Szentgyorgy, to Turkey. Szentgyorgy's role was to contact the British and American ambassadors in Ankara to signal them Hungary's willingness to end the war and surrender the country to the western powers. Through the American ambassador Kallay's message was forwarded to President Roosevelt, who notified his cabinet of Kallay's offer.

Unfortunately, all these moves became known to the Germans and triggered Hitler's decision to occupy Hungary.

The German decision to occupy Hungary was a combination of factors, probably the most important was the military decision to keep Hungary on the German side in order to save the German armies in the southern flank of the Russian front and in the Balkans.

Definitely, another factor was the unresolved Jewish problem in Hungary.

Kallay requested the return of the Hungarian troops from the Russian front, tried to reduce the level of economic cooperation with Germany and resisted the German demand concerning the solution or the Jewish question.

The American Minister, Mr. Montgomery, in his book, Hungary, the Unwilling Satellite, describes the fact that from the standpoint of Germany, Hungary was within the limit of the "inner fortress" that Germany had to maintain. Romania and Bulgaria were outside of this fortress. The author also states that Hitler always made it a point to make his moves in a legal fashion whenever it was possible. Hitler went to Austria after he was invited by the leader of the Austrian National Socialist Party. He went to Czechoslovakia with the (forced) consent of President Hacha. In the case of Hungary, Hitler wanted to have the German occupation and, at the same time, keep Horthy in power to give some legality to the new status quo.

According to Braham, Hitler wanted to remove Kallay as early as 1943. He believes that Horthy's visit to Hitler in 1943 was designed to air the German feelings against Kallay. The author makes these statements based on the diaries of Goebbels, the German Propaganda Minister. Horthy resisted criticism of Kallay and denied the German request for his removal from office and Kallay continued his activity.

In December 1943 Dr. Edmund Veesenmayer was sent from Berlin to Budapest and his report about the political situation in Hungary really set in motion the plans for the occupation.

The critical few days prior to the occupation are reported in detail by the British historian, Macartney, in his book titled October Fifteenth. Hitler invited the Regent, Miklos Horthy, to a personal meeting in Schloss Klessheim. Horthy took with him the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the head of the Hungarian General Staff. Kallay remained in Budapest and Horthy did not leave any guidelines for Kallay to follow. Hitler met with the Regent on the morning of March 18th. After Hitler detailed to Horthy the "treacheries" of Kallay and rationalized that it was his duty toward the German people to prevent further actions by Kallay, he explained the necessity of the German occupation but impressed on the Regent that if he (the Regent) would stay in his position, then the occupation forces would not include Slovak, Romanian and Croatian units. Also, it was promised that if Horthy kept his position, the occupation would be a very temporary move.

Without any written agreement Horthy and his entourage returned to Hungary. His train was held back almost to the time when the German invasion began. The train was held again at Bicske and Edmund Veesenmayer was introduced to Horthy as the German Minister and Reich Plenipotentiary in Hungary.

The fact was that Horthy did not leave any order with Kallay or anyone else regarding the eventuality of the Germans moving into Hungary; therefore, no resistance materialized and the German occupation was concluded in an extremely short period of time without any military resistance.

In Budapest Veesenmayer had repeated discussions with Horthy, demanded the removal of Kallay and the formation of a new Hungarian government. He suggested the Germanophile, Bela Imredy, to head the new government. Horthy reeected that suggestion and they agreed upon the Hungarian Ambassador to Berlin, General Dome Sztojay.

Sztojay and his Cabinet executed all German wishes, including the solution of the Jewish question and deportations. That activity will be described in a separate chapter, based on Braham's book.

October 15, 1944

The events which led to Horthy's radio address on October 15th are discussed in detail by the British historian, Macartney, in the second volume of his book, titled, October Fifteenth. The following is a short summary of Macartney's discussions.

In the last week of August 1944 the Romanians executed, in secret, a successful armistice agreement with the Soviets. In accordance with the armistice agreement the Romanian Army stopped fighting the Soviets and turned their guns against the Germans. As a result, the war suddenly arrived in Hungarian territories. Horthy responded to the new developments, dismissed the pro-German Cabinet of Prime Minister Sztojay and replaced him with one of his confidants, General Geza Lakatos. At the same time, he outlawed all political party activities and reinstated his previous order concerning the cessation of the Hungarian Jewish deportation.

In the first days of September the leader of the Parliamentary bloc of the Transylvania deputies, Count Bela Teleki and his cousin, Geza Teleki, the son of the dead premier, had an audience with Horthy. They suggested that Horthy follow the Romanian example. Horthy refused to do so. Most of September went by with Horthy trying to arrange an unconditional surrender of Hungary to the Western Allies. His main contact man was G. Bakach-Bessenyey, a retired Hungarian diplomat who lived in Switzerland as a private citizen. Through him Horthy contacted the American and British ambassadors and subsequently learned that Hungary could not make a separate agreement with the Western Allies. As a matter of fact, she would have to conclude an armistice agreement with the Soviet Union itself. Horthy did not accept this as a final answer and sent a personal ambassador to the Allied headquarters in Italy. The answer was the same as described above.

On October 1st Horthy dispatched a two-man delegation, made up of General Faragho and of Count Geza Teleki, to Moscow. The emissaries crossed the front line successfully and were flown to Moscow. On the 9th of October Molotov granted an audience and told them the main point of the demanded armistice. The Hungarians were required to retreat immediately from all territories which, prior to 1937, had belonged to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. The Hungarian Government must declare war on Germany and the Hungarian Army must line up with the Soviets and fight the Germans.

Faragho reported all this to Horthy, who subsequently initialed a document containing the above listed three points.

Horthy believed that this was the beginning of a negotiation. The Soviets believed that this was the end of a negotiation and requested a military expert to report to the Soviet General Malinowski, with the detailed information of the German and Hungarian military forces.

Horthy, using a small circle of confidants, made the following moves: Ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Radical Right.

He entrusted General Szilard Bakay to work out the military plans for the surrender and invited to a meeting the leaders of the Far Left, who, by now, were in hiding. The head of the Social Democrats, Arpad Szakasits, and the Head of the Small Holders Party, Zoltan Tildy, subsequently met Horthy and agreed to start a general strike and armed rebellion of the workers at a time when Horthy would publish a request for armistice with the Soviets. Horthy planned his move for the l7th or 18th of October. His plan began to unravel when it turned out that the Head of the Radical Right, Ferenc Szalasi, could not be apprehended because he was already under German protection. The real blow came when General Szilard Bakay was kidnapped by unknown persons. Horthy decided to move the date of action to the 15th of October. On that day he called a meeting of the Crown Council, stated his decision, ordered Lakatos to call a Cabinet meeting and sent an invitation to the German Ambassador, Veesenmayer.

On the morning of the 15th Lakatos called a Cabinet meeting and told the ministers about the decision of the Regent. His presentation was completely misunderstood and the Ministers thought that a process would begin towards an armistice, never realizing that actually Horthy had accepted the Soviet demands. Because Lakatos had never told them the entire truth the Cabinet made the following suggestions: Just as the Finns had notified the Germans that they intended to accept the Soviet terms, giving the Germans a chance to withdraw their troops from Finland, the Hungarians should do the same. The occupation of Hungary should be done by troops of the Western Allies and the Soviets. Law and order should be kept by the Hungarian authorities and the police.

Horthy made an arrangement with his daughter-in-law, Ilona, to have her remain in an adjoining room during his discussion with Veesenmayer. Horthy's order to Ilona was that as soon as Veesenmayer had been told about the armistice request, she should notify another confidant who, in turn, should deliver the text of Horthy's proclamation to the studio of Radio Budapest.

Prior to the audience with Veesenmayer, Horthy received the news that his son, Nikki, against his father's orders, had left the Regent's living quarters in order to meet in secret with an emissary of Tito. It has never been clear whether the emissary was a double agent, but it is a fact that the Germans learned about the meeting and when Nikki arrived, he was apprehended and whisked out of Budapest.

Horthy verbally attacked Veesenmayer, told him about the abduction of his son and his decision to go with his proclamation to Radio Budapest. Veesenmayer pled in vain.

At 1:15 p.m., Radio Budapest stopped their regular program and the announcer read Horthy's proclamation. After the second reading the radio went off the air. The proclamation caught everyone off guard. Those who expected it thought that it would happen on the 18th and were unprepared to do anything. The radio announcement, through the open windows, was heard by all the people who were on the street and the result was a stupefying numbness. Macartney states that after the war the Communist press described the happiness and the loud cheers which supposedly took place when the communique was read over the radio but the truth is that perhaps there was an occasional "Hurrah!" but the absolute Majority was quiet and in a state of total shock. Prior to the radio address the public had been told constantly about the heroic struggle against the Soviets and only a day before the announcement large placards were posted throughout the City of Budapest, asking for volunteers to defend the capital.

In the total confusion the military nerve center of the Hungarian Army, the operational group of the General Staff, was engulfed with telegrams and telephone calls from the different military units, asking for instructions. The Day Officer, a certain Colonel L. Nadas, went to see the Chief of the General Staff, General Janos Voros, demanded an explanation and instructions of how to proceed. Voros was evidently an extremely cowardly person, who never revealed to Nadas all that he knew, but agreed to an order to be sent to the troops, in essence saying that the Regent's decision for an armistice had no effect on the Hungarian Army. Col. Nadas who, it turned out, was really a confidant of Szalasi, did relay Voros' order to the troops and subsequently the same order was read to the public over Radio Budapest.

In the meantime, a group of the Far Right Arrow-Cross Party occupied the building which housed Radio Budapest and made sure that the order of General Voros would be read to the public repeatedly. At this point Horthy's gamble failed. He believed that if he was the Supreme Commander of the Army, and called on the Army, his orders would be accepted and executed immediately. However, the Army failed to follow his orders and, by so doing, nullified all Horthy's efforts.

Prior to October 15th the leader of the Radical Right, Ferenc Szalasi, had prepared a document for Veesenmayer to present to Hitler. The document had the following three points:

1. Hitler must accept Szalasi as the only person who would speak for Hungary;

2. Hitler must accept Hungary as a Sovereign State;

3. Hitler must defend Hungary against the Soviets in the same way as he would defend Prussia.

Veesenmayer went to see Horthy on the afternoon of the 15th and tried to convince the Regent that his gamble had failed and that he should accept Szalasi's previously described demands which, in the meantime, had been accepted by Hitler. Horthy refused. In the early morning of the 16th, German troops, under the leadership of S.S. Colonel Otto Skorzeny, who had gained his fame by freeing Mussolini from jail after he had been overthrown and who had abducted Nikki Horthy the previous day, using the permission of the German High Command, moved against the palace. Horthy ordered resistance and a small group of Hungarian and German troops exchanged fire. After three Hungarians and two German soldiers had been killed, Horthy called off the military resistance. Veesenmayer arrived and took Horthy to another building in Buda, where he remained for two more days. Horthy declared himself a Prisoner of War and refused Hitler's demands. Horthy, who subsequently had many meetings with Veesenmayer, agreed to see Szalasi. An unsuccessful meeting took place between the two men. A sudden change of heart occurred in Horthy when Veesenmayer promised that his son would be able to join him in a safe place in Germany.

Then he signed documents in which he abdicated and gave the power to Szalasi. In a second document he retracted his radio address. In that minute the constitutional crisis was solved and the door was opened for Szalasi to take over Hungary's leadership.

Ferenc Szalasi

The Soviet Army arrived at the outskirts of the eastern part of Budapest by the end of October 1944. The capital was completely encircled by the night of December 24-25. On December 31 the Germans began a desperate attempt to break through the circle around Budapest but they failed. On February 12, 1945 the siege ended and the Russian forces occupied Budapest. On Easter Sunday 1945 the remaining Hungarian and German units were forced out of Hungarian territories. During those months the Head of the Hungarian State was Ferenc Szalasi.

The British historian, Macartney, in his book, October Fifteenth and the American historian, Randolph Braham, in his book, The Politics of Genocide, subtitled, The Holocaust in Hungary, wrote extensively about Szalasi. Because we used Macartney's book to describe Horthy, we will use Braham's book as a base for the description of Szalasi.

The material based on which this summary is described can be found in the first volume of Braham's book.

The embodiment of the right radical wing of the Hungarian political landscape was Ferenc Szalasi. Szalasi was born in 1897 in the Hungarian city of Kassa. His father was a professional soldier in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. His ancestors were Hungarians, Slovaks and Armenian immigrants. Szalasi served in the army in World War I and became a First Lieutenant in 1915. After the war Szalasi remained in the military, went through the proper schooling and became a member of the Hungarian General Staff.

He was very interested in military and political questions and became the most sought-after lecturer on those subjects. In 1933 he became a Major and the same year he published his first work, entitled, Plan for the Construction of the Hungarian State, (A Magyar Allam Felepitesenek Terve).

In his book he promotes the recreation of the historic Hungary surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, reaching down to the Adriatic Sea. In this "Greater Homeland" he envisioned a confederation of the Hungarians and all other nationalities living within this geographical unit. He suggested the creation of six autonomous regions, each of them representing a nationality. He believed that the Hungarians, as the largest of all those groups, would have a central role. Correspondingly, he believed that the language of administrative activities should be Hungarian.

Evidently, it never occurred to him that other nationalities might not welcome this solution.

In his second writing, titled, A Cel Es Kovetelesek" (Goals and Demands), in addition to the multinational state, he advocated agrarian reform, the improvement in the lives of the industrial workers, a change of the upper echelon of political leaders and the removal of the Jewish influence from Hungarian life.

During his military career he gained very influential friends in the Hungarian Military and they remained his friends after he had left the Army. In 1935 he resigned his commission and began his political activity. The first political party that he created bore the name, A Nation's Will Party" (A Nemzeti Akarat Partja). The Government outlawed that party.

In October 1937 Szalasi, together with other leaders of the Far Right, created a second party, the "Hungarian National Socialist Party" (A Magyar Nemzeti Szocialista Part), which also was outlawed.

He was a good organizer. At the beginning of his Movement he made considerable gains in the villages, followed by the organization of the industrial workers and finally attracting the lower middle class.

In February 1938 the Hungarian Secret Police had collected enough "evidence" against Szalasi to start proceedings against him and bring him into court. Subsequently, he was sentenced to three years in eail. "Martyrdom" helped him to be propelled into the leadership of the largest opposition party at that time, the "Arrow-Cross Party Hungarist Movement," which was formed during his incarceration. (Nyilaskeresztes Part Hungarista Mozgalom.)

According to Braham, Szalasi was not a pathological hater of the Jews, as was Hitler or Himmler, and he advocated a massive expatriation of the Hungarian Jews, in which process he would have allowed them to take all their movable property. There is evidence that he was against the mass deportation of the Jews to Germany, if for no other reason that this move would conflict with Hungarian sovereignty. The historical fact is that the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz took place before Szalasi came into power.

According to the author, Szalasi was a mystic. He believed that he was selected by a Higher Power to serve the Hungarian nation through his Hungaristic ideas.

The entire Far Right of Hungary, in distinction from the German and Italian movements, had no antireligion prejudices. Szalasi, himself, was a strong believer of Christian moral teachings. Braham states that many atrocities were committed by his followers and he, being Head of State, must bear full responsibility for them.

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