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AHF Book Review: Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron
AHF Book Review: Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron
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8/24/2011 - Interest in the "good war," World War II, remains unabated as shown by the large number of books dealing with the subject... Lately, events on the 'Eastern Front,' have also gained some interest, such as Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder.  Following the earlier book by Cecil D. Eby, Hungary at War, Civilians and Soldiers in World War II (Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA 1998), Deborah Cornelius’ Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron (Fordham University Press, New York 2011) gives an excellent overview of the events leading up to and the horrendous events of World War II in Hungary.

The effect of the Treaty of Trianon, that without plebiscites, truncated Hungary and deprived it of its natural resources and forced a sizeable portion of its population to live under alien jurisdiction, set the political and sociological climate in Hungary from the 1920's on.  Cornelius gives an excellent overview of the readjustment that expressed itself in the politics and led to the belief that revision of the treaty was only possible through German intervention.  The reviewer understands the limitations of space, but impoverishment, joblessness, forced short working hours, early retirement and the huge discrepancy between the well-to-do and the majority of the population could have merited more discussion.

AHF Book Review: Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron, by Deborah Cornelius, Fordham University Press, New York, 2011
AHF Book Review by Csaba K. Zoltani: Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron, by Deborah Cornelius, Fordham University Press, New York, 2011 [download]

To overcome the sociological difficulties, participation in the upcoming war preparations offered a possible solution. Several impediments for an enthusiastic participation included the fact that the average Hungarian felt no enmity toward Russians and also Hungary lacked the resources and equipment for its armed forces.  Hungarian workers did not have the technical background needed for modern industrial production, and Germany was reluctant to share its knowledge, stating that "Hungary was an agricultural country" and should stick to it.

The Hungarian government spent 60 B pengő, a sizeable financial investment, for the development of the infrastructure and equipping the military.  The rapid industrial expansion quickly led to full employment and increased consumer spending.  The negotiated Vienna Awards, yielding the return of some of the Hungarian territories, improved the access to raw materials and increased the available work force. Yielding to German pressure, anti-Jewish laws were passed by Parliament in 1938-39, affecting the lives of primarily lower class Jews and depriving professionals of their livelihood, and of educational opportunities. Until the German occupation in 1944, Hungarian Jews were not physically harmed.

Despite reluctance on the part of the Hungarian leadership, Hitler pushed for Hungarian participation in the war against the Soviet Union.  The 'Kassa bombing,' where three aircraft of unknown origin dropped bombs allegedly of Soviet make resulting in casualties and damage in the Hungarian town,  convinced the Hungarian leadership that Hungary was under attack.  War was declared on June 27, 1941.  The initial Hungarian military move was the deployment of the Carpathian Group, consisting of 90,000 ill equipped troops, to the Soviet Union.  Later, under the German Army Group South, it participated in the occupation of Ukraine. Also, the Second Hungarian Army was sent to the Don, flanked by the Romanian and Italian armies, to support the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hungarian Jews were drafted, as were men of the general population, but sometimes served under severe conditions, in labor battalions.  When captured, the Soviets treated them as regular prisoners of war. 

The army was ill equipped and ill trained.  Many of its soldiers could not drive, and never had fired large caliber weapons.  In January 1943, the Soviet counterattack resulted in the destruction of the whole Second Army, with the estimated loss of over 120,000 soldiers. The Hungarian leadership failed to acknowledge publicly the loss, but eventually Hungarian units were withdrawn from Soviet territory.

Operation Margarethe, the German military occupation of Hungary, began on March 19, 1944 and brought profound changes. Nazi Germany sought to reorganize and thus harvest the Hungarian economy and raw materials, including bauxite and manganese, to further the German war effort.  To add insult to injury, Hungary was required to pay for the German occupation. Secondarily, the occupation was to initiate the deportation of Jewish citizens of Hungary.

The notorious Eichmann set the wheels in motion.  As done in other occupied countries, this was to be accomplished in six steps: at first Jews were to be identified and required to wear yellow 6 cornered stars of a certain size, workers removed from their jobs, businesses turned over to Christians, travel was forbidden, Jewish assets (estimated to be over 20% of Hungary's) impounded, establishment of ghettos in all town larger than 10,000 in population, and finally deportation.  Initially the German request was for 100,000 workers to be sent to Germany that Eichmann offered to transport.  In rural areas, the constabulary was tasked with carrying out the order, with deportations from Budapest to be accomplished last. 

The established Jewish Councils were instrumental in ghettoizing the Jewish communities.  However, after the initial deportations, two escapees from Auschwitz wrote, in German, a report now called the Auschwitz Protocols that described the horrendous conditions in the camp.  The Jewish Councils did not share this information with their communities, but based on this information, Hungarian church leaders, Protestants and Catholic alike, and later the Vatican and others wrote to Regent Horthy to stop the deportations.  Horthy instructed Lt. Gen. Károly Lázár, commander of his personal bodyguard, to assume command and prevent a coup d'état by the constabulary that threatened to take over the government and carry out Eichmann's plans.

By pure chance, on July 2, 1944, Lt. Gen. Lázár met Colonel Ferenc Koszorus, commander of the First Armored Division stationed north of Budapest, and became aware of the presence of these unpublicized military resources.  Regent Horthy ordered the military to remove the illegally assembled gendarmes from Budapest. This order was efficiently carried out, saving from deportation most of the 170,000 Jews registered there at that time.  This was the only instance where Axis military forces were used to save the lives of Jews from deportation.

Near the end of the war, in August 1944, Romania abandoned its alliance with Nazi Germany, despite the fact that it fielded the second largest land army against the Soviets, and joined its erstwhile enemy.  The Russians pushed west but were unable to breach the Hungarian Carpathian defenses, the Arpad line.  With their new allies they attacked from the south. In the fall, they broke through and advanced along the Hungarian Plain.  In the tank battle near Debrecen they suffered an unexpected defeat, losing 500 tanks to the 133 that the Germans lost.  This reversal prevented the advance and quick capture of Budapest. 

The battle for Budapest turned out to be the bitterest engagement on the Eastern Front post-Stalingrad.  The city was defended by 33,000 German and 37,000 Hungarian troops.  An estimated 30,000 horses were brought by the cavalry and artillery troops into the city, consumption of which by the defenders and civilians later saved the lives of many.  The city was encircled by the Soviet and Romanian troops on December 24, 1944 and the siege lasted until February 13, 1945.  23, 624 civilians were killed and 12, 588 homes completely destroyed.  Military losses, killed, wounded and captured, were more than twice as high on the Soviet and Romanian side than of the Hungarian and German forces.  The reviewer notes that there are some differences in the statistics cited by different authors describing these events.  German attempts at recapturing Budapest were unsuccessful, and the Soviets continued their march toward Vienna. The Soviet commander-in-chief, Marshall Malinovsky on February 13 gave the 'liberators' of Budapest three days of free looting to celebrate.

The 'liberator' Red Army and Romanian soldiers raped an estimated 50,000 women in Budapest, 20% of whom became pregnant.  Since Marshall Malinovsky was unable to produce the 110,000 prisoners of war he was expected to capture, some 50,000 men were picked up on the street and deported to concentration camps in the Soviet Union.  Though precise figures are unavailable, an estimated one-third of the deportees never returned.

Cornelius devotes the concluding chapter of her book to postwar Hungary:  People's Courts, land reform, reparations, nationalization of industry and agriculture. Alleged war criminals were all who served the former government, even civil servants.  Included were also those who fled or were forced to go to Austria or Germany.  The chapter also discussed the expulsion of Germans who had lived for centuries in Hungary. What the war left unscathed and what was not taken by the Germans, now the 'liberators' took as reparations. Missing from the book is a discussion of how the media and the schools treated recent history, the fate of Hungarians who, without their concurrence suddenly became second-class citizens of another country without physically moving, and the huge resources that the country and individuals lost.  Transylvania, for example, was not even mentioned in school curricula.

The anti-fascist politicians, who survived the transformation, were systematically eliminated from the public sphere and the communists, after a short interregnum, in 1947 seized power. The war deprived Hungary of its middle and upper classes. The new ruling elite, supported by the 'temporarily' stationed Soviet forces, took charge of the radical transformation of society.

Cornelius' excellent book is a must read for anyone wishing to gain insight into Hungary's recent past and understand the events that continue to cast their shadow on current events of East-Central Europe. - Review by Csaba K. Zoltani, AHF International Affars Committee

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Related Articles

March 19, 1944 - Nazi Germany Invades Hungary. The American Hungarian Federation's statement regarding the occupation of Hungary by Hitler on March 19, 1944 and its horrific consequences has been published by Hungarian Review.Volume V, No. 2: Frank Koszorus
"Reflections on March 19, 1944 and Its Aftermath:
A Perfect Storm of Tragedy and Folly"

The American Hungarian Federation's statement regarding the occupation of Hungary by Hitler on March 19, 1944 and its horrific consequences: "We are concerned that a political agenda has replaced a debate based on historical facts relating to the Hungarian Holocaust and Nazi Germany's invasion and occupation of Hungary," said Frank Koszorus, Jr., the Federation's president.  "We condemn not only whitewashing but the blackening of this historical record as well.  Both forms of revisionism does a great disservice to the memory of the victims of evil and those who opposed it at a treacherous time in Hungary's history.  These considerations prompted us to issue our statement," he added. [read more]

Why so many Hungarians across the Border?
It is the result of World War I and French and Western desires for hegemony in Europe. Developing Central European power and a large Hungary did not further these goals. The Treaty of Trianon, cost hungary 2/3 of her territory, 1/2 of her population (1/3 of which were ethnic Hungarian) and 90% of her natural resources, railroads and infrastructure. At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon brought to the innocent.We are sad to report that they were right.

Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)

Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)
[download extra large image 4962x3509]
[download large image 1000x707]

Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.

Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.

  • In Upper Hungary (awarded to Slovakia, Czechoslovakia): 1,687,977 Slovaks and 1,233,454 others (mostly Hungarians - 886,044, Germans, Ruthenians and Roma) [according to the 1921 census, however, there were 1,941,942 Slovaks and 1,058,928 others]
  • In Carpathian Ruthenia (awarded to Czechoslovakia): 330,010 Ruthenians and 275,932 others (mostly Hungarians, Germans, Romanians, and Slovaks)
  • In Transylvania (awarded to Romania): 2,831,222 Romanians (53.8%) and 2,431,273 others (mostly Hungarians - 1,662,948 (31.6%) and Germans - 563,087 (10.7%)). The 1919 and 1920 Transylvanian censuses indicate a greater percentage of Romanians (57.1%/57.3%) and a smaller Hungarian minority (26.5%/25.5%)
  • In Vojvodina 510,754 Serbs and 1,002,229 others (mostly Hungarians 425,672 and Germans 324,017)
  • In Vojvodina and Croatia-Slavonia combined (awarded to Yugoslavia): 2,756,000 Croats and Serbs and 1,366,000 others (mostly Hungarians and Germans)
  • In Burgenland (awarded to Austria): 217,072 Germans and 69,858 others (mainly Croatian and Hungarian)

Hungarians in Slovakia

AHF Statements on Trianon:


Related Articles

By Any Other Name: Hungary, Apartheid, and the Benes Decrees
by Christopher Szabó,
April 3, 2002

The Benes decrees sent millions of people, who had lived in the region for many centuries, off in sealed wagons, away from their homes, their families - not to mention the odd ones who died on the trip.


One may be forgiven for suspecting, by the casual way the Benes Decrees are often disparaged by commentators, that many of those who write about the Decrees have never taken the trouble to [read them].

Living as I have for over 20 years in South Africa, I know this language well. It is the language of Apartheid.

There is no moral difference, to my mind, in withdrawing civil rights, confiscating private property and deporting people, whether they be Black South Africans sent to some "Homeland/Bantustan," or Armenians, or deported Chechens, or Germans and Hungarians.

The Hungarians who lived in what is now Slovakia and Trans-Carpathian Ukraine (which was given to Stalin by a grateful Benes in 1945) were more than one million strong in 1910. By 1930, thanks to the above-mentioned "administrative" cleansing, their numbers had been reduced to 585,434. After Hungary reclaimed its lands in 1939, people began moving back to their homes. In 1941-45, there were about 761,000 in what is today Slovakia alone. [read more]

Allied Omertá:
Shattering the Code of Silence About the Benes Decrees

by Christopher Szabó,
April 3, 2002

The "Benes Decrees" began in the mind of Czech statesman Edvard Benes sometime in 1940. He made some quite clear statements about his plans by 1941. The plans? To kill and/or expel all people of German or Hungarian ethnicity/language from a reunited Czechoslovakia, which had fallen apart at the start of the war. This is the sort of thing you would expect from a Himmler or a Beria, not a guy who is lionised in Western history books, and generally books about Central Europe, as the only true "democrat" in the region. But Czechoslovakia was never a complete democracy. Just as interwar Hungary, or Poland, or Yugoslavia, were not. Not quite. In Czechoslovakia, designed as a "national homeland" for Slavs, the Slavic Rusyns had to have two votes to equal one Czech vote! Democracy? [read more]

Courtesy of the Corvinus Online Library

The first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) was recreated in 1945 at the end of World War II and existed until the end of 1992. In both cases, Czechoslovakia utterly failed to form a governmental structure that secured freedom, prosperity, peace, and equal rights for all citizens of the state.

In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious entente powers. The dictated peace treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Trianon were not an outcome of a true peace conference at which the defeated would also have been given the opportunity to enunciate the limits of acceptable conditions for peace. Such a peace conference was never assembled.

The Versailles peace treaty with Germany was condemned by non-interested parties. In fact, the US Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had declared that "the Versailles treaty menaces the existence of civilization," and two popes had stigmatized the instrument. Benedict XV condemned it for "the lack of an elevated sense of justice, the absence of dignity, morality or Christian nobility," and Pius XI, in his 1922 encyclical "Ubi arcam Dei," deplored an artificial peace set down on paper "which instead of arousing noble sentiments increases and legitimizes the spirit of vengeance and rancour."

The peace treaty of Trianon (1920) with Hungary resulted in the dismemberment of the thousand- year- old Hungarian Kingdom, as a result of an unbelievably inimical attitude of the allied representatives toward the Magyars. The consequence to Hungary was a loss of 71.5% of its territory and 63.6% of its population. The extreme tragedy of Hungary can be illustrated by comparing the smaller losses in 1871 of France to Germany, in which France gave up 2.6% of its territory and 4.1% of its population to Germany. The Trianon treaty forced three and a half million Magyars to live, without their consent, in Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians and Rumania, with the stroke of a pen. The right of self-determination of nations, solemnly promised in the 14 points of US President Woodrow Wilson, was apparently forgotten. [more] - Czech and Slovak Affairs Page
Also see the Hungarian Forum in Australia

The Hungarian Problem
Or, the Hungarians are the Problem
Christopher Szabó,
Autumn, 1998

Newly Elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it well: "The borders of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian State do not coincide." This is true, as witness the fact that fully one-third of all Hungarians are minorities in neighbouring countries, most just on the far side of the border.

This is, naturally, a problem for Hungarians. It is also a problem for all the states who got Hungarian lands. Many in neighbouring countries, and politicians in many more, have said in the past, and no doubt will say in the future: "Why don't they just go home?!!" But they are home!

How Hungary Shrank, stranding millions across artificial bordersThey are home in the sense that they, as communities, haven't moved anywhere. They just woke up one morning to be told: "You are now a Czechoslovak, you are a Romanian, you are a Yugoslav." This first happened in 1918-20, when Hungary was partitioned by the infamous Trianon Treaty, which was not a treaty at all, but a diktat enforced by occupying Entente Armies. In the late 1930's, Hungary got some portions of its territories back, but after losing yet another war, the borders were tightened even more in 1947.

The key weakness of these treaties was that neither ever asked - or cared - what the local population wanted. Did they want to join a new state (e.g., Czechoslovakia) did they want to stay with Hungary, or did they want independence or autonomy or what?

The fact that these questions have never even been asked, let alone answered, in a supposedly democratic age, remains the central problem of the Hungarian minorities in the countries immediately surrounding Hungary. [read more]
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A Case Study on Trianon
The Corvinus Library

How Hungary Shrank, stranding millions across artificial borders..."the American government accepts, against its better judgment, the decision not to announce a plebiscite in the matter of the final drafting of frontiers. He believes that in many respects the frontiers do not correspond to the ethnic requisite, nor to economic necessity, and that significant modifications would be in order, particularly in the Ruthenian area." Later on Wallace submitted for the consideration of the Great Powers proposals with regard to a restoration of the economic unity of the Danubian states. The American initiative, however, came too late ... The only thing left was the Millerand cover letter, which did not oblige anyone to do anything!

The Hungarian peace delegation signed the peace treaty consisting of 14 points at the so-called Great Trianon palace, near Paris, on June 4, 1920. Hungary's fate was determined for an unforeseeable future by the second part of the treaty which defined the new borders. According to this section Hungary's area (without Croatia) would be reduced from 282,000 km2 to 93,000 km2, whereas its population decreased from 18 million to 7.6 million. This meant that Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, whereas Germany lost but 10 percent and Bulgaria but 8 percent to the benefit of their victorious neighbors.

As regards population, Hungary lost more than 60 percent of its inhabitants as opposed to the 10 percent lost by Germany. In the lands taken away from Hungary there lived approximately 10 million persons. Persons of Hungarian nationality constituted 3,424,000 in the areas taken away from Hungary. Of these 1,084,000 were attached to Czechoslovakia, 1,705,000 to Romania, 564,000 to Yugoslavia, and 65,000 to Austria. Thus 33.5 percent of all Hungarians came under foreign rule, i.e., every third Hungarian. For the sake of comparison. while the treaties of Versailles and Neuilly placed only one German or one Bulgarian out of every twenty under foreign rule, the Trianon treaty placed seven out of twenty Hungarians in the same position.

Furthermore about one half of the Hungarian minority attached to the neighboring states was ethnically directly next to the main body of Hungarians on the other side of the borders. Had the peace treaties signed in the Paris suburbs really tried to bring about, however incidentally, nation-states, then it would have had to leave at least 11/4 to 2 million more Hungarians inside Hungary. In contrast the 42 million inhabitants of the successor states there were about 16 million minorities, as a consequence of which Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia became multinational states much like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had been. What is more, according to the census of 1910 the percentage of Hungarians in Hungary had reached 54.4 percent, whereas in the nations that came about as a result of the peace treaties, in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the leading Czech and Serbian elements constituted but a minority as compared to the other ethnic groups.

The Treaty of Trianon was a great blow to Hungary in economic terms as well. Hungary was deprived of 62.2 percent of its railroad network, 73.8 percent of its public roads, 64.6 percent of its canals, 88 percent of its forests, 83 percent of its iron ore mines and of all its salt mines.

At the Peace Conference the Entente powers, in order to satisfy the imperialist greed of their allies in central Europe, cut across roads, canals, railroad lines, split cities and villages in two, deprived mines of their entrances, etc.

There was but one modification of the frontier: thanks to Italian intercession and the stand taken by patriotic forces in Western Hungary, a plebiscite was obtained in Sopron and its environs. At the plebiscite of December 4, 1921, 65 percent of the population opted for Hungary

[go to Corvinus Trianon Index]
[more from above excerpt]

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