Home > Hungary > From Trianon to the Don River: Historical revisionism?

From Trianon to the Don River: Historical revisionism?

January 15, 2013

Csaba Hende, minister of defense, has been striving to reinvigorate (and laud) the Hungarian military tradition, and that unfortunately has led to a glorification of the Hungarian military between the two world wars as well. The Hungarian right in general rejects the standard academic view that Hungary’s political elite, because of its revisionist aims, committed the country to the German war effort and thus dragged it into a hopeless war against the Soviet Union and the Allies.

Until now those historians who were less critical of Hungarian foreign policy were usually content to point out the very difficult situation in which the country found itself. It was inevitable, they argued, that sooner or later Germany would occupy the country. The policies the Hungarian governments pursued managed to postpone an early occupation that would have had grave consequences, especially for the Hungarian Jewish population.  But now, it seems, some Hungarian politicians and historians are going further: they practically declare that Hungary’s pro-German orientation was logical and justified.

What prompted the articulation of these extremist views was the Ministry of Defense’s decision to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the tragic fate of the Second Hungarian Army near Voronezh, where the Don River takes an abrupt turn eastward.

In January 1942 the Germans demanded more troops from their Hungarian and Italian allies because the Soviet troops had pushed their armies back about 200 kilometers during the last months of 1941. The Hungarian government obliged and created a separate unit called the Second Army, drawing soldiers from all over the country. Their numbers reached about 200,000. Ten percent of them were unarmed Jews serving in labor battalions. The troops left the country on April 13, 1943.

The Orbán government’s commemoration of the Second Army began already on that day in 2012 when Csaba Hende and others visited the Hungarian Central Military Cemetery in Rudkino, near Voronezh, where the minister delivered a eulogy during the reburial of the fallen soldiers. This military cemetery, by the way, was erected between 1999 and 2002, that is, during the first Orbán government. One can read more about it here.

Just as in all other matters connected to Hungarian history, there is no consensus about the destruction of the Second Hungarian Army. Until recently the mainstream historical assessment of the event was that the Hungarians were simply not ready for the task because they were sent to Russia with inadequate supplies, clothing, and arms. The commander of the Army, Gusztáv Jány, torn between unquestioning obedience and his worries about the troops, became paralyzed and ordered withdrawal too late. By that time the Hungarian troops were almost encircled by the Soviets. The troops eventually fled in disarray, at which point Jány unequivocally condemned his soldiers. A few days later he withdrew his statement. Shortly after the calamity he resigned from the army. After the war he was executed, but the Military Tribunal of the Supreme Court rehabilitated him in 1993.

In Hungary the soldiers and their commander are pictured as innocent victims of German pressure. The fact remains, however, that they treated the local population very harshly. According to historian Krisztián Ungváry, during the occupation of the Soviet Union the Hungarians were second only to the Germans in civilian executions. The Hungarian troops also burned more than 1,000 villages in search of partisans.

According to  Sándor Szakály, a military historian, of the 200,000 Hungarians  at Voronezh, 42,000 were killed, 26,000 became prisoners of war, and 28,000 were wounded.  It is therefore surprising to hear him declare that it is a mistake to talk about the destruction of the Second Army. Well, I guess total destruction would have meant the death or capture of all 200,000, but I consider losing half the troops devastating enough. Other estimates talk about higher numbers. Szabolcs Szita, a historian of the Holocaust, at the same conference mentioned  235,000 officers and soldiers and 39,000 men serving in the labor battalions, most of whom were Jewish.

Despite all the accounts of the inadequate clothing and weaponry of the troops, Pál Fodor, who is the head of the Center for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy, claims that “the soldiers serving at the front received everything that the country could have given them.” Let me add parenthetically that Pál Fodor is a historian who studies the minorities of the Ottoman Empire. When he became an expert on the military history of World War II I have no idea.

In any case, there is just too much evidence that the soldiers suffered terribly because of the cold. The boots they got were not high enough, so during the summer they were filled with sand and during the winter with rain and snow. There were problems with the food supply; what they received from the Germans was both poor and insufficient.   I think that the following picture gives a fair idea about the state of affairs. I might add that the Second Army also had a unit of soldiers equipped with bicycles.

Don-kanyar

Szakály and Fodor agree: the Second Army “received everything they could have gotten.” This is naturally a meaningless statement. Whatever that “everything” was, it wasn’t enough. In addition, some sources reveal that neither the ordinary soldiers nor the officers were exactly eager to fight because they didn’t feel that war in the middle of the Ukraine was their own.

And here we come to the real dividing line between the differing interpretations of Hungary’s role in World War II. Csaba Hende in his eulogy talked about the soldiers “who carried out the duty that the fatherland demanded of them. In fact, they did more: everything that was possible.” The war was in defense of Hungary. Historians not committed to the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime see it differently. It was a war the Hungarian government willingly entered, mostly because of Miklós Horthy’s fierce anti-communism, and the consequences were tragic for the country and its people.

Perhaps the most outrageous statement came from Pál Fodor: the rectification of the Trianon borders could have been achieved only with the assistance of Germany and Italy. Therefore, the Hungarian political leadership couldn’t afford to refuse participation on the side of Germany in the war against the Soviet Union.

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  1. January 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm | #1

    Csaba K. Zoltani :

    No, that is not what he wrote. You will find the translation above.

    May I inquire what’s the great difference. You’re grabbing at straws.

  2. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm | #2

    Assets and budgets, based on the Hungarian translation of
    Christian Gerlach: Das letzte Kapitel (2002)

    In August 1944, Neue Zurcher Zeitung estimated the assets of the Hungarian Jews at
    17 billion Reichsmarks. In March 1944,

    Germany owed Hungary
    1.2 billion Reichsmarks in March 1944,

    the bloated war-time 1944 budget of Hungary was
    2.4 billion Reichsmarks and

    domestic government debt stood at
    0.9 billlion Reichsmarks in 1938
    4.2 billion in March 1944, and
    5.1 billion Reichsmarks in May of 1944.

  3. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm | #3

    Comparison with Greece. The Greek National Bank was forced to loan 0.5 billion Reichsmarks to Germany during the war. The Greeks claim this is the equivalent of 162 billion euros without interest.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/09/12/does-germany-really-owe-greece-a-etrillion-in-war-reparations-probably-not-no/

    So if Hungary was forced to loan Germany, say 2 billion RM during the war, that is equal to 648 billion euros without interest.

    Finally, if the exchange calculation above is correct, Hungary took away the equivalent of
    5,508 billion euros’ worth of assets from its Jewish population during the war (11 years of the revenue side of the 2013 budget, or 7 years of the 1944 war-time budget), interest not compounded.

  4. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm | #4

    There must be a made a 1:10 Greek error, since the Hungarian budget is 50 billion euros.

    Therefore the Greeks are owed 16.2 billion euros, the Hungarian government is owed 64.8 billion by Germany, and Hungary owes 550.8 billion euros to its Jewish people.

    I wonder how the recently appointed chief of negotiations, Mr Lazar of Hodmezovasarhely, will pay out this neat sum.

  5. Minusio
    January 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm | #5

    @ tappanch. These calculations are probably not leading anywhere.

    But what do you think about the fact that the complementary pension of Hungarian holocaust survivors was scrapped? There was talk about upping it by 50% this year and another 50% next year. Basis 2012. I’ll report how this is going to evolve.

  6. Csaba K. Zoltani
    January 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm | #6

    Again, this is not what he wrote. Look at my original translation.

  7. Lecso
    January 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm | #7

    tappanch :
    Comparison with Greece. The Greek National Bank was forced to loan 0.5 billion Reichsmarks to Germany during the war. The Greeks claim this is the equivalent of 162 billion euros without interest.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/09/12/does-germany-really-owe-greece-a-etrillion-in-war-reparations-probably-not-no/
    So if Hungary was forced to loan Germany, say 2 billion RM during the war, that is equal to 648 billion euros without interest.
    Finally, if the exchange calculation above is correct, Hungary took away the equivalent of
    5,508 billion euros’ worth of assets from its Jewish population during the war (11 years of the revenue side of the 2013 budget, or 7 years of the 1944 war-time budget), interest not compounded.

    Hungary could claim lots of money as compensation, from damages caused by Rumania to the money Germans owe us.
    If we were even 10% as eager as the Jewish people when they demanded justice, we would have justice by now.

  8. Karl Pfeifer
    January 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm | #8

    Csaba K. Zoltani :
    Again, this is not what he wrote. Look at my original translation.

    So a few hundred Russian villages burnt down by Hungarian soldiers is just a trivial offense?
    Have you ever heard about the activities of “Keretlegény” who were abusing those Jewish or leftwing or members of a national minority who were forced into labor battalions and sent to Russia?

  9. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 4:02 pm | #9

    Minusio :
    @ tappanch. These calculations are probably not leading anywhere.
    But what do you think about the fact that the complementary pension of Hungarian holocaust survivors was scrapped? There was talk about upping it by 50% this year and another 50% next year. Basis 2012. I’ll report how this is going to evolve.

    The facts. The Gyurcsany government started to pay 30,000 HUF ($135) a YEAR to the 9,000 survivors still living in 2007. Orban delayed paying for a year then relented last year. But now he cancelled the whole thing with a final lump sum of 20,000 HUF ($90).

    He made a huge PR campaign abroad a few weeks ago that he would raise the social security payments to Holocaust survivors by 50%. That was all smoke and mirrors.

    In reality, there is a small, 9,000 HUF ($40) a month part in the social security payments of Holocaust survivors for “restitution”. But this part was raised by 0%, while most other items in the social security payment were raised by 5.2% for 2013 (below the general inflation rate, and definitely below the officially 19% inflation on groceries).

    Now you know the facts, as they stand on January 16, 2013.

  10. Minusio
    January 16, 2013 at 4:08 pm | #10

    @ tappanch. Thank you for the details. I am waiting for some more information from my girlfriend’s father. He is 99 and was in Mauthausen. He used to get HUF 50 000 in addition to his monthly pension. That was canceled last month. But we haven’t seen his bank statement for January yet.

  11. Minusio
    January 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm | #11

    @ Lecso. Do you really believe this is a constructive approach? Do I hear some criticism about Jews claiming what is theirs or that what was owned by their murdered relatives?

    Does German direct investment in Hungary enter into your calculation? What about the fact that almost to the end of WW II Hungary was Germany’s ally?

  12. Lecso
    January 16, 2013 at 5:12 pm | #12

    Minusio :
    @ Lecso. Do you really believe this is a constructive approach? Do I hear some criticism about Jews claiming what is theirs or that what was owned by their murdered relatives?
    Does German direct investment in Hungary enter into your calculation? What about the fact that almost to the end of WW II Hungary was Germany’s ally?

    We are entitled to compensation, the Benes decrees for example.
    No complaining about Jews, more like stating the facts that they have gone out to get themselves justice, while we are still sitting on the hands, and occasionally “probing” the Benes decrees.

    Hungary was Germany’s unwilling ally, and in 1944 they invaded us, and this is when the vast majority of the destruction happened.

  13. Lecso
    January 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm | #13

    Also, I am not saying that we SHOULD, but I am saying that we hypothetically COULD. Hope that makes it clear.

  14. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm | #14

    @Lecso

    But even the Jews got back just a pittance of their assets.

    Look at the “gold train” case.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Gold_Train

    The value on the train was $2-$4 billion in 2007 US dollars.

    The US government paid $25.5 million as compensation, some 1% of the
    value of the stolen goods.

  15. tappanch
    January 16, 2013 at 5:53 pm | #15

    I did not have the chance to read the book
    “Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State” by
    Götz Aly.

    According to a review by a reader at Amazon,

    Aly claims that

    “In terms of wartime revenues, internal and external, low- and middle-income Germans, who together with their families numbered some 60 million, accounted for no more than 10 percent of the total sum. More affluent Germans bore 20 percent of the burden, while foreigners, forced laborers, and Jews were compelled to cover 70 percent of the funds consumed every day by Germany during the war.” (p. 292).

  16. Minusio
    January 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm | #16

    @ tappanch. Götz Aly is a very interesting author who unearthed a lot of facts which were ignored by others. But his causal argumentations are too monothematic to my mind.

  17. Some1
    January 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm | #17

    Eva S. Balogh :

    Karl Pfeifer :

    Minusio :
    @ Csaba K. Zoltani. Thanks very much for your contribution. Alas, it’s useless for me as I don’t speak or read Hungarian.
    Would it be asking too much to translate the few lines you quoted from Ungvary’s reply?

    Krisztián Ungváry wrote that he found in the records of the Hungarian army hundreds of Russian villages burnt by Hungarians. So not thousand villages but hundreds of villages, it does not make such a big difference.

    Slight difference, I’m afraid but if it makes Mr. Zoltani happy……

    I bet it was 998 and absolutely not 1000, so now we can absolve the troops. If it would be one thousand that would be a different story. Thank goodness we have people like Zoltani in times like this. I wish he would of been around Schmitt and Semjen, and do not let me start on the full page campaign against the EU which of course would needed some correction on its claims.

  18. Minusio
    January 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm | #18

    @ Some1. I would hate to start a whole programme: But try to find out where in your texts you could insert “have” for “of”. :-)

  19. Some1
    January 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm | #19

    Minusio :
    @ Some1. I would hate to start a whole programme: But try to find out where in your texts you could insert “have” for “of”.

    I know, I know… My older daughter laughs her head off about my English. Honestly it is not so bad, when I focus. OK, I will focus. (I texted a friend today, and started my text by introducing myself. She sent a text back: “I know it is you, you do not need to introduce yourself”. I texted back: “How would you know? I do not have an accent when I am texting?” The reply came right away: “Yes, you do!” Enough said. ;)

  20. gardonista
    January 16, 2013 at 11:46 pm | #20

    Anyone know if Gyula Gömbös was really the one who invented the term “National Socialism?”

  21. Minusio
    January 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm | #21

    @ Lecso. “We are entitled to compensation…” Who is we? Hungary, an unwilling ally? But ally, anyway, no? Just a little revisionism? Only a little, please? Come on!

    I don’t think the Benes decrees did any honour to Czechoslovakia. But it was Germany that started the war. I also think that the discussion in the Bundestag about the agreement with the Czech Republic in 1997 was much more dignified than the haggling in the Czech parliament a few days later. But look at what happened to their politics meanwhile. Quite small change, i.e. parochial, unimportant, partly despicable. Vaclav Klaus had a big part in this.

    Have you noticed that some minorities appear to grow by the laws of Gregor Mendel? Of 750 000 Palestinian refugees have become now about 4.5 million.

    According to Wikipedia, “an estimated 1.6 million ethnic Germans were deported to the American zone of what would become West Germany. An estimated 800,000 were deported to the Soviet zone (in what would become East Germany)”. – The official website of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft seems to be shy of presenting any number of members. We only know that their recent chairpersons were all born after WW II.

    How long do you think this should go on?

    The European house has a place for everybody. Just support it.

  22. January 21, 2013 at 10:20 am | #22

    I would like to call attention to two relatively recent items in the Hungarian media about the historical assessment of the Hungarian Second Army’s fate. One is an article by Krisztián Ungváry (http://index.hu/tudomany/tortenelem/2013/01/17/mitoszok_a_don-kanyarrol/) and the other is an interview with Tamás Krausz (http://atv.hu/videotar/20130121_mitoszok_a_don_kanyarrol)

    Two very different points of view.

  23. Andrea Horvath
    February 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm | #23

    For the people who still now wonder what happened to their loved ones during the war- I know the feeling. My Hungarian grandfather was 23 when he had to leave his two month old son (my father) in Nov. 1939. My grandmother did not know what happened to him for almost a year- until another soldier in his regime came back to tell her that they were forced to stripe in the harsh winter of Jan. 1940 (I believe that is the year on record as the coldest winter?). They were herded into the freezing river and if anyone dared to leave they were shot. My grandfather begged anyone who survived to go to his home and tell his wife what happend. I would love to find more on this event. Thank you.

  24. Andrea Horvath
    February 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm | #24

    P.S. I am sure she said that only 4 soliders out of that company/regimant survived. I wish I would have listened more closely when she spoke of this- which was only once- as I was always hesistant to question her on this- as did not want to open old wounds. She is passed now- so I have no one else to ask- and would love to hear more info. on this. My grandfather’s name was Rezno Trumer. Thank you.

  25. February 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm | #25

    Andrea, I once found an internet site where the names of Hungarian soldiers who died in the war were recorded. I actually found my cousin among them. Unfortunately, I didn’t bookmark the site and therefore it might take me a little time to find it again. I will try.

    I think that your date of January 1940 is wrong. Hungary didn’t enter the war until April 1941.

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