German-Hungarian cooperation in the destruction of the Hungarian Jewry

Yesterday I wrote about the Orbán government’s bizarre plan to erect a statue to commemorate the occupation of Hungary by the German army. Since then a flash mob was organized on Szabadság tér where the memorial will be placed and several more people expressed their misgivings about the very idea.

Magyar Nemzet was content to republish the official explanation, according to which the monument will pay homage to the spirit of the new constitution’s preamble which points to Hungary’s loss of sovereignty on March 19, 1944. It seems, however, that even this pro-government paper found the explanation meaningless and hence came up with an imaginative headline: “The government honors every Hungarian victim.” That is, if we are to believe Magyar Nemzet, this monument is a gesture to the victims of the Holocaust.

Magyar Hírlap, a paper to the right of Magyar Nemzet, ran a fairly lengthy op/ed piece by Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, a poet and writer of far-right political views. He, as opposed to historians specializing in the period, is certain that “the German occupation eliminated even the appearance of Hungarian independence, made it impossible to sign a separate peace and made the territory of the country a battleground.” According to Szentmihályi Szabó, placing the new memorial on the same square as the monument to the Soviet liberation of Hungary is an excellent idea because it emphasizes the geopolitical impossibility of a good decision on the part of the Hungarian government.

Even without a detailed knowledge of German-Hungarian relations during the 1930s and 1940s it is obvious that Szentmihályi Szabó doesn’t know what he is talking about. We can’t really speak of “occupation” in the classical meaning of the word because, after all, sending German troops to Hungary came about with Miklós Horthy’s consent. No notes were taken of the conversation between Hitler and Horthy in Klessheim, but it can be reconstructed fairly well. Horthy wasn’t threatened as one recent article claimed. And the main topic wasn’t the deportation of Hungary’s Jewry, although Hitler demanded 50,000 men to work in Germany, which Horthy agreed to. As for making a separate peace with the Russians, Szentmihályi should know that this idea was abhorrent to Horthy, who was a fierce anti-communist. He didn’t entertain the idea until the Soviets were on Hungarian soil. As for the German occupation being the reason that Hungary became a battleground, this is also a patent misinterpretation of history. As the Soviet Union moved westward it engaged the remaining members of the Axis powers, which included the Hungarian army.

Hitler and Horthy

Horthy instructed the Hungarian military and public officials to cooperate with the German forces. The Germans couldn’t complain about the Hungarian attitude. Or, if they had any complaint it was about the Hungarian eagerness to get rid of as many Hungarian Jews as possible. Auschwitz wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that Hungarian officials sent. They were ready for one transport of 3,000 a day, but the undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior which handled the deportation sent six transports a day. The Germans eventually managed to convince their Hungarian friends to send no more than four transports daily. And the old story that Horthy was so despondent and so discouraged that he completely withdrew from the affairs of state is also inaccurate. There are documents that attest to the fact that on April 13, 1944 he approved sending the 50,000 Jewish workers to Germany as he promised in Klessheim.

The op/ed piece that appeared in HVG yesterday (“Monument to the Hungarian Collaborators”) is pretty close to the truth. Adolf Eichmann’s staff, including even the drivers, was no larger than 60-80 men. They had to rely exclusively on Hungarian cooperation. In fact, Hungary was so well organized that the Germans themselves were surprised. Given the well-oiled machine, the consensus is that the deportation of Hungarian Jews had been worked out in detail ahead of time. The Germans in occupied countries let the local forces do the dirty work, and “solutions” varied from country to country. In Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and France the local authorities chose paths that enabled most of their Jewish population to survive. If the Hungarian authorities had been less eager to get rid of their Jewish compatriots the result might have been very different. Just as in July when Horthy halted the deportation of Budapest’s Jewish population, he could have forbidden it in April with the possible exception of the 50,000 workers he promised to Hitler. Or, if the local authorities had sabotaged or slowed down the process, the number of victims could have been much smaller. But about 200,000 people were obediently working to fulfill the Hungarian plan. Krisztián Ungváry figured out that if the Hungarian authorities had stuck to the quota the Germans wanted (3,000 a day) 267,000 people would have survived the ordeal.

Historians studying the period find that the deportation was welcomed by the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people. Yes, there were a few people who tried to save lives, but the majority approved the segregation and eventual removal of the Jewish population. In Veszprém the Catholic Church even organized a Te Deum mass to celebrate the deportation. There was wide consensus on the “Jewish question,” especially when it became clear that it was the Hungarian state that was the main beneficiary of the destruction of the Hungarian Jewry. Mind you, eventually some of the confiscated material was destroyed, lost, or stolen.

Hungarian historians have done an incredible amount of research on the subject in the last thirty-forty years, and I’m sure that thousands more articles and books will appear on seemingly every aspect of the question in the future. So, the problem is not a lack of knowledge. The trouble is that that information simply doesn’t penetrate the consciousness of the wider public, most likely because they don’t want to hear about all the horrors that took place in their country with Hungarian complicity. It is easier to say that the Hungarian government and the Hungarian people could do nothing to prevent the German atrocities.

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117 comments

  1. Correction: “I am not knew to controversies”. Of course, should be:
    “I am not new to controversies”

  2. @Eliezer

    You should read the German documents from 1944. Horthy ordered the suspension of the deportation in July without ANY force. Veesenmayer was chatting with him amicably in the evening of July 6. I quoted from the conversation relayed to Ribbentropp on the same day.

    It is also true that the Hungarian gendarmerie finished the deportation of the Jews from the Budapest suburbs that lasted through July 9.

    Do not confuse the bloodiness of the capturing of the Crimea from Wrangel in 1920 and the subsequent terror there with the 1919 Hungarian Commune.

    It was indeed the Romanians and NOT Horthy who overthrew the Commune.

    If you are from the Soviet Union you might not understand the fact that the Hungarian Communistic regimes of 1919 and 1963-1989 were much better than the Soviet regime.

    When I went to Moscow in the 1970s, I was stunned by the differences of the two “socialist” countries.

    I think, and many of you might flame me, the primitiveness and arbitrariness of Brezhnev’s, Horthy’s and Orban’s regimes make them cognate, the different slogans notwithstanding.

  3. Eliezer :

    Maybe Professor of Hungarian history Dr. Balogh will check in Wikipedia to learn that Horthy stopped deportation in July by using the military force and that he made a armistice with the Russians on October 15?

    But that armistice never went into effect. One of the Soviet demands was that the Hungarian troops turn around and attack the Germans. However, Horthy violated the agreement when he promised the Germans that the Hungarian troops will not attack the German forces. The whole scheme failed. Before he and his family were taken to Germany he appointed Ferenc Szálasi prime minister of Hungary.

  4. “…he made a armistice with the Russians on October 15?

    But that armistice never went into effect. ”

    It is very difficult to talk if you are so unable to admit a mistake. You wrote:

    “As for making a separate peace with the Russians, Szentmihályi should know that this idea was abhorrent to Horthy, who was a fierce anti-communist. ”

    It is completely wrong. Horthy broadcast his proclamation even knowing about abduction of his son. Than it did not work has nothing to do with your accusation that somebody named “Szentmihályi Szabó doesn’t know what he is talking about. ” I am afraid it is vice versa.

    Eva, you wrote interesting and informative papers. What did happen? Is ideology has become so prevailing? Cannot the history be true?

    Excerpt from Horthy radio proclamation (I think it was not read by him personally):

    “The Premier himself evaded detention only by taking refuge in a neutral embassy. After having received a firm promise from the Fuehrer of the German Reich that he would cancel acts that violated and restricted Hungary’s sovereignty, in case I appointed a government enjoying the confidence of the Germans, I appointed the Sztojay government.

    Yet the Germans did not keep their promise. In the shelter of German occupation the Gestapo tackled the Jewish question in a manner incompatible with the demands of humanity, applying methods it had already employed elsewhere. When war drew near the frontiers, and even passed them, the Germans repeatedly promised assistance, yet again they failed to honor their promise…

    …I decided to safeguard Hungary’s honor even in relation to her former ally, although this ally, instead of supplying the military help he had promised, meant to rob the Hungarian nation finally of its greatest treasure- – its freedom and independence.

    I informed a representative of the German Reich that we were about to conclude a military armistice with our previous enemies and to cease all hostilities against them.

    Trusting your love of truth, I hope to secure in accord with you the continuity of our nation’s life in the future and the realization of our peaceful aims.

    Commanders of the Hungarian army have received corresponding orders from me. Accordingly, the troops, loyal to their oath and following an order of the day issued simultaneously, must obey the commanders appointed by me. I appeal to every honest Hungarian to follow me on the path beset by sacrifices that will lead to Hungary’s salvation.”

  5. tappanch:
    “You should read the German documents from 1944. Horthy ordered the suspension of the deportation in July without ANY force. Veesenmayer was chatting with him amicably in the evening of July 6. I quoted from the conversation relayed to Ribbentropp on the same day.”

    Wrong. He used force, and you better the reliable sources. Yes, on July 7th Veesenmayer reported that the Regent had concerns so they took gendarme troops back to the barracks to quell his concerns. Something like this: An old fool has become hysterical, so we gave him his Jews? How do you expect him to report? And to chat not amicably when he knows he lost?

    Military confrontation took 2 days without shooting, and Baku surrended. Horthy did not permit his arrest.

    All the rest in you postings are communist propaganda. It is wrong, but I am not to discuss every of your words.

  6. @tappanch, Éva: I think Eliezer can’t be helped. This man has visions and sees anti-communism as a holy mission – regardless. He thinks he knows it all and has foam at his mouth. His aggressive language is impolite and embarrassing. He is not a troll as I first thought. He is obsessed and not open to reason.

  7. @Steve. I was thinking long if I should reply at all. But Eliezer took an inordinate amount of time and energy from all of us. He did not really folllow or enlarge the discussion on this blog. He seemed rather to try and ram his own agenda through, repeatedly. In this he made quite personal attacks especially, but not restricted to, the Blog writer, Prof. Éva Balogh. THIS is rude. As I don’t know him personally, I can only judge according to how he acts. And that is more than slightly erratic to me.

  8. Minusio :
    @tappanch, Éva: I think Eliezer can’t be helped. This man has visions and sees anti-communism as a holy mission – regardless. He thinks he knows it all and has foam at his mouth. His aggressive language is impolite and embarrassing. He is not a troll as I first thought. He is obsessed and not open to reason.

    Eliezer can’t be helped. He is repeating ad nauseam the Fidesz-Jobbik line on Hungarian History taking his “wisdom” from Wikipeadia and without having a clue trying to teach a University Prof who is a specialist in Hungarian History. What is funny, he does not know or pretends not to know that 3 Ministers in Orbans gov. are former communist and that Orbán never had a problem with former communist who rallied to his “national Liberation movement” or with former informers of the communist political Police like István Csurka, also after Csurka became the leader of an antisemitic Party.

  9. Eliezer,. Ýou will not convince here anyone that Horthy had no responsibility for the Deportation of half a Million Hungarian Citizens in spring 1944.
    Since I read Hungarian and finiszed just now to read Györi Nemzeti Hirlap of 1944, a daily which called itsel “Christian”. I can tell you, that the Hungarian Government Party MEP and the paper were proudly and violently demanding the final solution for the Jews.
    Horthy nominated László Endre and László Baky as responsible to perpetrate the final solution in Hungary. Horthy nominated Döme Sztójay as prime Minister on March 23, 1944 and 3 months later when each day thousands of Hungarian citizens were driven by the now rehabilitated Gendarms to the cattle cars as “vitéz”. An order which was created now by Fidesz ilk.
    So stop it and do not wast our time. You are as far as Hungarian History is concerned an ignoramus,

  10. @Eliezer

    1) The October 15. radio address only mentioned a “ceasing of hostilities… with our former enemies” . The Italian proclamation of 1943 hinted at the Italian Armed Forces possibly engaging the Germans (however defensively), and of course the Romanian armistice in August 1944 was a complete reversal of alliance. Too little, too late.

    Now, you seem to suggest Stalin’s clemency towards Horthy validates the idea that Horthy’s move was worth something. I beg to differ entirely: Stalin’s advocacy of Horthy by the Western Allies only served his own planning of the post-war phase. Obviously Horthy himself couldn’t be enrolled in an ‘anti-fascist front’, yet refraining from trashing entirely the Regent’s legacy was instrumental in securing at least some cooperation from Hungarian conservative elements until the takeover.

    2) Now about the Holocaust. As I perhaps mentioned before, in a highly administered country it was only made possible by an gradual and ‘orderly’ process, and we cannot focus only on the last phase in trying to assess a regime’s responsibilities.

    One must remember that Heydrich’s first plan (Jan. 41) was the expulsion of European Jews – which meant going through the same steps of definition, registration, segregation and spoliation that would prove essential when the goal later switched to extermination. In that light, it doesn’t really matter much whether Horthy and Kállay actually intended to ‘only’ expell a vast majority of Hungarian Jews ‘after the war’ – they alas took all the preliminary steps.

    Moreover, historians now have made sufficiently clear that the very perpetration of the genocide involved a multi-level decision process, made of regional directives, but also heavily relying on a contest of local ‘initiatives’ by either Germans or Foreign organized forces (and often Foreign private citizens or militias). Of course, this deadly mechanic fared better once the authority of the former State had crumbled, but there again Horthy’s Hungary was a very fertile ground for the emergence of the kind of ’emulation’ the Nazis were so apt at using.

    The political plays by which Horthy had ensured his power since the 1930s, constantly brokering beetween conservatives, reactionaries and proto-fascists; ‘moderate’, ‘resolute’ and ‘fanatic’ antisemites, within the Government as well as the armed and security forces, proved to be an almost ideal, albeit late, ecosystem for the implementation of the Final solution. In my view, it is one of the reasons why Hitler kept Horthy in power for so long…

  11. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
    @The real Truth, Walkstone etc.
    Shouldn’t you first admit that the sentence you pasted: “[From 1870] They banned the usage of minority languages in offices , public administration, and judiciary procedures.” was just BS?
    Then, and only then, could we eventually discuss the rise of Public education in France from the 1860s against the Catholic Church private schools network (a large part of which used regional languages in elementary classes). I’m ready to acknowledge the mistakes and excesses of the French 3rd Republic, particularly when it comes to its jacobinism or colonialism… but I won’t do it with a troll.
    By the way and to get back on topic, in France those days are over and nobody wants them back. Why should any Hungarian keep looking back by attempting to whitewash Horthy’s record?

    1.
    “but I won’t do it with a troll”
    It is a very “intelligent” type of argument.

    2.

    Horthy was not in power in Austria-ŰHungary, he was just a sailor and not politician.

  12. Historian Ungvary gives a detailed analysis of the Orban cabinet’s reasons to erect an occupation monument.

    The government wants to lie and claim that there was mass resistance to the German occupation and help to the persecuted Jews. In reality, General Weichs complained in his diary that he had nothing to do in Hungary but to go to wine-tasting programs and to the Opera.

    Jobbik and Fidesz play the bad cop, good cop in propaganda. [ very wise observation!!]

    http://www.komment.hu/tartalom/20140108-ungvary-krisztian-publicisztikaja-a-kormany-tortenelemkeperol-holokauszt-masodik-vilaghaboru.html

  13. The present Hungarian Government and some radio commentators are lying even ‘though there are some survivors of those days alive and not suffering from Alzheimer. What fabulous days for some of my erstwhile fellow Hungarians, when we are all dead and gone and there are no witnesses to what really happened between 1920 and 1945.

  14. To Ms. Hanto & Messrs. Orban and Domokos. Indeed the Jews are not very grateful for the many thousands of Hungarians who helped them After all there are only 806 Hungarians who were awarded the Righteous of Nations title out of a total of 24,356. Allowing for 13 million Hungarians in 1944 those rescuers add up to 0.000062 % of the population. Admittedly some rescued more than one, although my Mother’s rescuers happened to be Mother and Daughter, i.e. two awardees for just one Jewess..

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