Tragic Blunders or Destiny?

Hungary in the Second World War: Tragic Blunders or Destiny?[1]

by Géza Jeszenszky

Many historians have written fair and balanced accounts on Hungary’s conduct in the Second World War, but there are also one-sided, prejudiced, or apologetic works on the subject. Public perception (both in Hungary and outside it) is dominated by two equally fallacious tendencies: whitewashing or blackening. Though flawed, it is understandable that many Hungarians believe that their country was basically innocent in becoming an ally, a satellite of Nazi Germany, because it was a kind of set course, doom, inevitable destiny, caused by the 1920 Peace Treaty signed at the Greater Trianon Palace at Versailles. The summary of this version is the following:  the Paris Peace Conference reduced the historic kingdom to one third of its territory and transferred close to 3.5 million Hungarians (including those of Jewish origin), against their will, to Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia respectively.[2] Those Hungarians became ill-treated minorities, longing to be returned to Hungary. It was only Mussolini and later Hitler who gave (at first only verbal) support to the unanimous wish and claim of the Hungarians for revising the borders in line with ethnic realities, honoring the principle of self-determination. In addition, having experienced 133 days of Bolshevik misrule in 1919, Hungary could not but welcome a “crusade” against the Soviet Union, especially as unidentified airplanes, assumed to have been Soviet, bombarded a Hungarian town on 26 June, 1941. Despite becoming a formal ally of Germany in 1940, Hungary tried to limit its participation in the war effort to the minimum. The multi-party political system, a free press and opposition parties were preserved; about a hundred thousand Polish refugees were warmly welcomed, and many were helped to join the Allied forces. Hungary gave asylum to escaped allied P.O.W.-s, and the life of its large Jewish population was not in danger. Finally from March 1942 the Hungarian Government did its best to prepare leaving the German camp, and in September 1943 even concluded a secret armistice with the British to surrender as soon as Allied (Anglo-American forces) reached the border of Hungary. In order to prevent Hungary’s defection Hitler ordered the invasion of Hungary in March 1944 and imposed upon it a puppet government. Adolf Eichmann arrived in Hungary and directed the deportation and murder of over half a million Hungarian Jews. In this interpretation it is Nazi Germany to blame for all the crimes committed during the occupation. The above story was first presented in English by the former U.S. Minister to Hungary.[3]

The alternative version of the story differs mainly in the conclusion. Although Hungary had a large, assimilated and highly patriotic Jewish community, the first law restricting Jews (limiting their admission to universities) was passed in 1920. Anti-Semitism grew in the 1930s and after 1939 it culminated in several laws limiting the rights and livelihood of those who were at least half Jewish by origin. Admiral Horthy, the Head of State (Regent) from 1920 to 1944, introduced and maintained an authoritarian political system, had anti-Semitic prejudices, was ready to pay any price for border changes and thus became an ally of Nazi Germany. With Hitler’s help, Hungary annexed territories from the neighbors, and, following the German occupation, the Hungarian civil service and the gendarmerie collected and deported more than half a million Jewish Hungarians to be transported to the German-run death camps. So the Hungarians themselves were responsible for the calamities of the early 1940s.[4] The controversy about Hungary’s role in World War II is much more than an academic debate. It is a moral issue and seeks an explanation for what probably is the greatest human tragedy of Hungary’s thousand-year old history, the decimation of the nation.[5] Is it true that Hungary was an eager and effective ally of Nazi Germany?

It is beyond doubt that Hungary, or more properly its legal governments, had to make very hard decisions in the 20th century, and many were bad ones with tragic consequences. But what were the alternatives for the decision-makers? Nothing is further from my intentions than to exonerate those Hungarians, politicians, civil servants and opportunists, who accepted and endorsed the Nazi ideology (or just Nazi Germany’s foreign policy), and committed terrible crimes against their fellow Hungarians. The guilty ones were duly punished by Hungarian courts after the war. What is needed, however, is a dispassionate analysis of the causes, the precursors of the fateful decisions that brought Hungary into the Second World War. Then one must also ponder whether there was any way to break with Germany before 19 March 1944, the occupation of the nominal ally?  What would have been the consequences of defying Hitler? By showing more loyalty to Nazi Germany and meeting its political demands, including harsher measures against the Jews, could the German occupation have been avoided? Was Hungary’s liaison with Germany indeed “a Faustian Pact” with a glowing prize (territorial readjustment in Hungary’s favor) first, and a terrible price to be paid after?[6]

* * *

Eighteen years after Hungary lost its war for independence from Austrian Habsburg rule (due to the intervention of the Russian Czar) a Compromise or Settlement was reached with Emperor Francis Joseph in 1867 and the dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was established. It entered into a defensive alliance with Germany in 1879, and 35 years later the latter’s rivalry with the Entente Powers led into a world war, ending in the break-up of the Monarchy and the partition of Hungary. The exodus or expulsion of half a million Hungarians from the territories detached by the peace treaty did not eliminate the tensions between Hungary and its neighbors, it rather added to them. “In each of the new states there prevailed a narrow official nationalism,” and the oppressive policy pursued against the national, religious and political minorities led to internal and external tensions and conflicts.[7]

In the 1920s Hungarians, from Communists to Conservatives and Right Radicals, were unanimous in denouncing “Trianon” as an unfair deal. “No, no, never” (shall we accept the unjust borders) was a catchword practically all Hungarians agreed upon. The answer of  “the successor States” was that “not a furrow” will be given back. Given the harshness of the terms of the Trianon Treaty (in addition to the unfair borders a high amount of war reparation was imposed upon Hungary, and very serious restrictions on the size of its army and its armaments) it is unreasonable to blame Hungary for advocating peaceful territorial revision throughout the inter-war period. A number of prominent European politicians, from Lloyd George and Churchill to former Italian Prime Minister Nitti, and many journalists agreed that Hungary’s borders were unfair and should be changed. The craving to revise the treaty peacefully was the leitmotif of Hungary’s foreign policy. The Covenant of the League of Nations made that theoretically possible. But Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, now with millions of unhappy national minorities (not only Hungarians, but also a large numbers of Germans, Ukrainians, Albanians, Bulgarians, etc.) formed the so-called “Little Entente” with the aim of preventing Hungary from gaining back any territory. That dashed the hopes that the League would be instrumental in convincing or compelling Hungary’s neighbors to cede back their overwhelmingly Hungarian-inhabited regions. “This state of generalized and mutual hostility provided opportunities for any great power intent on disturbing the peace,” was the conclusion of the sons of the British historian who was one of the makers of the Trianon Treaty.[8] The only hope left for Hungary was that one or more Great Powers might endorse Hungary’s claims. The memories of the brief Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 meant that Hungary was also on bad terms with the Soviet Union, the other opponent of the post-war borders. Britain was instrumental in Hungary’s admission to the League of Nations in 1922, but stood by the borders drawn in 1919/20. So did France.  It was only ambitious Italy under Mussolini who supported the Hungarian claims. Having come to power in Germany Hitler started to expand eastward, first swallowing Austria. The desire not to have another world war, also their limited resources and lack of direct interests in Central Europe induced Britain and France to pursue a policy of appeasing Hitler.  At the Munich Conference (September, 1938) they gave up Czechoslovakia by consenting to the transfer of its German-inhabited western rim to Germany and proposing bilateral negotiations over the territorial claims of Poland and Hungary. The message sent to Central Europe was that each state was left to the mercy of Germany.

Admiral Horthy (a rank earned and well deserved in the First World War in the Adriatic) as Regent, and his governments were not unaware of the danger presented by Nazism, and were not enthusiastic supporters of Hitler. The sentiments of the Hungarians were divided. The upper class was largely Anglophile, and so were most of the professionals and the artists. (The also strong Francophile tradition almost disappeared, due to the French role at the Paris Peace Conference.) In the army and among the civil servants sympathy was strong for Germany, but not necessarily for Nazism. The majority of the diplomatic service was conservative leaning and feared Germany. The Third Reich, however, was rather popular in the lower middle class, and in general among those who were ignorant of world affairs. The annexation of Austria set some alarm bells in Hungary, too, and it increased the importance of Hungary’s behavior in the eyes of the West. That was reflected in the increased attention Britain paid to Hungary.[9] The Regent, “the ancient Mariner,” was equally convinced about the invincibility of the maritime powers and the might of the German Army. Count Pál Teleki, appointed Prime Minister in February 1939, based his foreign policy on keeping Hungary out of a new world war at all costs, so that at the next peacemaking an intact army would give weight to Hungary’s  territorial claims. He sent the following message to London: “although Hungary’s geographical and political situation compelled her to co-operate loyally with Germany up to a point, he was already determined that such co-operation should never go so far as to impair, much less sacrifice, Hungary’s sovereignty, independence or honour. The Government attached great importance to the understanding and support of the British Government, and would never do anything to injure the interests of Great Britain.”[10] That line was known and appreciated by such experts as Arnold Toynbee, the Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, while in the Foreign Office Lord Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary (1930-1938) and Sir Orme Sargent, the Assistant Under-Secretary, rather sympathized with the Little Entente. Sargent thought that in Hungary the game was already lost and there was no point in wasting money and energy trying to change it.[11]

At the end of the 1930s there were some attempts to put up a common Central European front against Hitler. In August 1938 Hungary normalized its relations with the Little Entente, and (to Hitler’s fury) Horthy rejected Hitler’s proposal that Hungary, backed by Germany, should attack Czechoslovakia. With that Hungary “prevented Hitler from starting his adventurous plan.”[12] That and other Hungarian diplomatic attempts at the end of the 1930s to keep a distance from Germany received little recognition and no assistance whatever from the Western governments. They did not give real support even to their actual friends and allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia. To be more exact, verbal exhortations and encouragements were plenty. But when Hitler broke his promise to respect the post-Munich borders of Czechoslovakia, occupied the Czech lands and made Slovakia a Nazi puppet state, no action was taken. Finally, however, when the German attack on Poland was imminent, Britain concluded an alliance with the Poles, in the hope that it would be sufficient to dissuade Germany from starting a war. It did not deter Hitler from invading his eastern neighbor, so on 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany as an act of solidarity with Poland, without giving military help whatsoever. Hungary, an old and staunch friend of the Poles, feared a similar fate.

Hungary did receive a few encouraging words in the summer of 1939 from the British side. “Please take note, if you persist in defending your independence, if you resist German pressure and in case of war you strive with Poland and the small nations around you to prevent Germany from bringing Central and Eastern Europe under its control, Hungary’s claims for border adjustment will be met generously. When the time comes, please remind me of my statement.  But if Hungary fights again on the side of Germany, don’t be surprised if the consequences will be the worst.” These were the words of Winston Churchill, uttered on 9 July 1939 to Tibor Eckhardt, then leader of the opposition Smallholders’ Party, and Pál Auer, a Hungarian expert in international law.[13] Throughout the 1930s Churchill was seen as a Tory die-hard, a relentless critic of appeasing Germany, but after the destruction of Czechoslovakia his star was again rising. Churchill accepted that Hungary could not join an anti-German coalition but thought that she should stick to neutrality. He spoke in the same vein to Gy. Barcza, Hungary’s Minister at the Court of St. James: “the time will come … when the endangered small nations in Central-Eastern Europe will have to make their choice. After Allied victory, their wartime stand will be the only criterion by which they will be judged.”[14] Unfortunately Hungary did not follow Churchill’s advice. Is she had, the price would have been very high, but worth its while.

All the governments of Central Europe tried to avoid conflict with Germany; it was Hitler who decided whom to destroy and whom to make a satellite. O’Malley, the last British Minister to Hungary before the war, hit the point: Hungary had the „sombre […] choice between being victim or accomplice of Germany.”[15] Austria, Czechoslovakia, and then Poland became victims, but their conduct was far from similar. Most Austrians were elated with the Anschluss, the Czechs shook their fists and then worked hard manufacturing weapons for the Wehrmacht, while the Poles created an underground state and an army (Armija Krajowa) to fight the aggressor until it was crushed. There was also a tremendous difference in the degree of collaboration with Germany between Finland, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.[16]

Albeit for his own selfish interests, Hitler was instrumental in Hungary getting back some of the territories lost in 1920, which had an overwhelmingly Hungarian population. In the so-called First Vienna Award on 2 November 1938 the Hungarian-inhabited region of Slovakia was ceded back to Hungary by way of German-Italian arbitration. (Hungary’s grave mistake was not to insist upon a four-power conference involving Britain and France, too, envisaged at the Munich Conference.) On March 14, 1939, one day before Germany marched into Prague, the Slovak parliament passed a declaration of independence and set up a typical pro-German puppet state with a Catholic priest as Head of State. Seeing a good opportunity Hungary occupied Ruthenia, the sub-Carpathian region of historic Hungary. Hitler, who had categorically rejected Hungary’s claim earlier, now accepted that, while both the United States and Britain preferred this re-annexation to German (or Soviet) control.[17]

It has become customary to say that becoming a satellite of Nazi Germany was Hungary’s inevitable destiny, it was a course predetermined by the Trianon Peace, and the desire to revise its terms. If Hungary had defied Hitler it is certain that sooner or later Germany would have managed to replace its leaders with a pro-German Quisling government. The Anglophile wing of Hungary’s political and economic elite hoped to avoid what happened at the end of the First World War, when the country lay prostrate at the mercy of the victorious Great Powers and they treated it very harshly. It was thought that by engaging in limited collaboration with Germany Hungary could remain outside of the looming war. The conundrum faced by Hungary in this dreadful period was what George Kennan described as “one of humanity's oldest and most recalcitrant dilemmas: the dilemma of a limited collaboration with evil, in the interests of its ultimate mitigation, as opposed to an uncompromising, heroic but suicidal resistance to it, at the expense of the ultimate weakening of the forces capable of acting against it.”[18]

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939 made the Soviet Union a partner in the partition of Central Europe. It was a courageous step from Hungary under Teleki to refuse participation in the rape of Poland. (Unlike Slovakia and, of course, the Soviet Union.) Hungary accepted well over a hundred thousand Polish (including Jewish) refugees, many of whom eventually left Hungary to continue fighting Germany on the side of the British. The Soviet annexation of Eastern Poland did not make it more attractive to get close to the Soviet Union, although an opportunity for that soon presented itself. Following Poland’s fall the Soviet Union became Hungary’s neighbor, and the two countries restored their diplomatic relations, broken after Hungary joined the Anti-Comintern Pact in March 1939. Now it was the Soviet Union which seemed to be keener on improving relations with Hungary. When Stalin annexed Moldavia (Bessarabia), the easternmost part of Romania in June, Hungary did not move. On 3 July 1940 Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov told Kristóffy, Hungary’s Minister in Moscow, that in the view of the Soviet Union Hungary’s territorial claims against Romania were well-founded and in case of a war between Hungary and Romania it would behave accordingly. Rather than involving the Soviet Union in its subsequent diplomatic efforts to get back at least part of Transylvania from Romania, Hungary sought the support only of Germany and Italy, finally accepting their arbitration, and the smaller, northern part of Transylvania (having a slight majority of Hungarians over Romanians) was ceded back to Hungary on 30 August 1940. That was called the Second Vienna Award.

The return of parts of the lost territories was received most enthusiastically in Hungary and by the returned Hungarian population. The circumstances of the long hoped-for border revisions were, however, most unfortunate. Britain and France declined to participate in the arbitration over the borders of Hungary, so the changes were linked to Germany’s aggressive schemes. Thus the Hungarian claims for fairer borders became compromised in the eyes of Germany’s adversaries. Hungary as well as its neighbors became economically and politically ever more dependent on Germany - which was exactly Hitler’s aim. Those affected most closely, the Hungarians of the re-attached territories, did not realize how questionable the future of the new borders were, and could not foresee how high a price they were to pay for the few happy years. (In fact they were not so happy, due to the narrow-minded and haughty behavior of many Hungarian carpet-bagger officials.  The Jews in those territories also rejoiced, only to be gravely disappointed by the anti-Jewish laws of Hungary, which were immediately introduced.)

It is easy to pass judgment over Hungary’s ill-advised steps leading to the war by hindsight. But as my brilliant one-time tutor, Péter Hanák warned: we must play an honest game with the dead. The leaders of the past could not see the outcome of their decisions. While in 1939 Germany’s victory in a World War was far from certain, in 1941, following Hitler’s victories and before the entry of the United States into the war, it was not at all unrealistic to believe that the Neue Ordnung would be the fate of Europe.[19] Nevertheless it was most unwise and it was not due to any German pressure that Hungary (together with Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria) joined the Tripartite Pact Germany, Italy and Japan concluded on 20 November 1940. Although the Pact did not oblige the signatories to join in a war involving the other members of the alliance, it was an inexcusable mistake to adhere to it. True, when most of Europe was conquered by Germany and the Soviets went out of their way to please Hitler and to share the spoils, most Hungarians, not only the pro-Nazis, thought that the only course for a small nation was to go along with the new master of the continent.[20]

The treaty of “eternal friendship” Hungary signed with Yugoslavia in December 1940 could be interpreted (and was really meant by Prime Minister Teleki) as an alliance between two neutrals facing German pressure, while Hitler welcomed it as bringing another state closer to the German camp. When in March 1941 Yugoslavia, too, signed the Tripartite Pact, its government was immediately overthrown in a military coup. That led to Hitler’s decision to attack and destroy the Southern Slav state. Hungary’s position became impossible: Germany needed Hungary’s roads and railway lines for the attack and offered the return of the formerly Hungarian regions of Yugoslavia. Teleki thought up an ingeniously looking plan: not to join in the German military action until Yugoslavia disintegrates (with the likely separation of Croatia), and then to occupy only the territory which used to be part of Hungary. It did not work. Barcza, the Hungarian Minister in London cabled the British position on 2 April: if Hungary allowed German troops to use Hungarian territory for the attack Her Majesty’s Government would break off diplomatic relations, while Hungarian participation in the invasion would be met by a declaration of war. That was the end of the road for Teleki. His policy of staying out of the war by all means became impossible. Now came the time to realize his contingency plan, setting up a Hungarian government-in-exile if Germany’s pressure became unbearable. The Prime Minister had even deposited five million US dollars in a Swiss bank to be used by that government, but after the defeat of France he gave up the idea.[21] By this time the Czechoslovak government-in-exile led by E. Beneš had been recognized by the British, and the Czech nationalist did all in his power to denounce Hungary as a hopelessly reactionary pro-Nazi state. Nevertheless given Teleki’s high reputation in London he or former Prime Minister Bethlen most probably would have been accepted as the true representative of the Hungarian nation. Teleki, however, did not want to deliver Hungary to the mercy of Germany through the pro-German Rightist Hungarian politicians, who would have certainly been installed if he had fled, and they would have put all Hungary’s resources at the disposal of Germany, while eliminating the “Anglophile” section of the traditional elite. The fate of the Jewish Hungarians would have also been in jeopardy.

The Regent ultimately could not resist the temptation of marching into another part of historical Hungary detached in the Trianon Treaty, and most Hungarians were of the same mind. There was also the very real danger that if Hungary refrained from joining in the attack all the formerly Hungarian Bánát and Bácska (today’s Vojvodina) would be given to Romania. Or a small German puppet state might be set up, based on the considerable number of Germans who had moved into the southern region of Hungary, depopulated in the wars again the Ottomans, in the 18th century. Teleki thought that if Hungary refrained from moving into Yugoslavia until it fell apart as Croatia declared its independence, that would save the face of Hungary, who would be seen as acting only to protect the half million Hungarians of the Yugoslav State. However, neither Britain nor posterity fell for that legal loophole. When Hungary’s Minister in London made that clear in a dispatch, Teleki saw no way out. With the prevailing mood in Hungary and lacking the support of Horthy, also with his wife fatally ill, he felt he could not just leave as head of a government-in-exile. On the night of 3 April he shot himself, assuming responsibility for Hungary’s breach of faith. In his farewell letter addressed to Horthy he wrote: “We have broken our word, - out of cowardice [...] The nation feels it, and we have thrown away its honor. We have placed ourselves at the side of the scoundrels [...] We shall be corpse snatchers! the most abominable nation. I did not keep you back. I am guilty."[22] Churchill was moved to say: "His suicide was a sacrifice to absolve himself and his people from guilt in the German attack on Yugoslavia. It clears his name before history."[23]

A break with Hitler then and having a government-in-exile recognized by the Allies would have certainly served Hungary well at the end of the war, and given Slovakia’s and Romania’s whole-hearted support of Nazi Germany Hungary would have had a good chance to retain the Hungarian-inhabited territories gained with Hitler’s help, but in March 1941 Germany was at the height of its power, and it would have required a prophet to accept the certain costs of resisting Hitler, whose total defeat then looked most unlikely. Teleki’s successor, former Foreign Minister Bárdossy, was certainly not a prophet, neither a good choice for leading the country in such difficult times. He, too, did not sympathize with the Nazi system, but thought that only the victory of Germany, of which he was almost certain, would give Hungary advantageous peace terms.

On 6 April Germany attacked Yugoslavia, with the collaboration of Bulgaria and Romania, using also Hungary’s territory. On 10 April Zagreb fell and the leader of the pro-Nazi Right, the Ustashi, proclaimed the independence of Croatia. Interpreting that as the termination of the Yugoslav state, next morning Hungary’s army invaded and occupied the formerly Hungarian region, north of Belgrade. Until that move Hungary had already made several inopportune foreign political steps, but joining the German war against Yugoslavia was not only morally reprehensible, it was undoubtedly a blunder. Thanks to Teleki’s sacrifice and Churchill appreciating it Britain refrained from declaring war on Hungary, only broke diplomatic relations. Nevertheless with that step Hungary – to use the words of Teleki – joined the scoundrels, eventually the losers.

A sequence of the plan to establish a Hungarian government-in-exile was the mission of Tibor Eckhardt to the United States. The leader of the opposition Smallholders’ Party, with the approval of Teleki, left Hungary to arrive in the U.S. in August, 1941, where he established a Movement for Independent Hungary, relying heavily on the former Minister of Hungary to the U.S.A., János Pelényi, and the American Hungarian Federation, an umbrella organization of Hungarian American created in 1906. After initial success Eckhardt came under vicious attacks from the Czecho-Slovak emigration and leftist Hungarian exiles led by Rusztem Vámbéry. They recalled Eckhardt’s rightist past in the 1920s and charged that he stood for a feudal and reactionary Hungary. Eckhardt was compelled to resign, but the movement could not be effective even when the world-renown composer, Béla Bartók became its head. A similar fate awaited the Free Hungarians of England, organized by the diplomat Antal Zsilinszky, which was denounced by the exiled President of Hungary in 1918, Mihály Károlyi, in association with the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile, led by Eduard Beneš.[24]

In March 1941, with a clever gesture, the Soviets returned the flags of the Hungarian Homeland Defense Army, captured in 1849, when Czar Nicholas intervened to suppress Hungary’s War for Independence against the Habsburgs. It was not enough to keep Hungary out of the war. With signs that a German-Russian war was imminent, the Chief of the General Staff, General Werth, submitted several memoranda arguing that  Germany would obtain victory very quickly, and by joining in that war Hungary would get back all its lost territories. On 15 June the council of ministers turned down Werth’s proposal. When on 22 June Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and Romania and Slovakia (as well as Italy and Finland) joined, Hungary did not follow suit. Immediately after the German attack Molotov summoned Kristóffy, the Hungarian Minister, enquiring if Hungary planned to remained neutral. He said that the Soviet Union had found the realization of Hungary’s territorial claims against Romania justified and would not object to such claims in the future. Hungary did not even bother to give an answer. Another blunder. The silence was taken as an affront and most probably it contributed to the Soviet decision at the end of the war to refuse considering even the modest rectification of Hungary’s borders, as proposed by the United States and Britain. Although at first Hungary tried to convince Germany about the usefulness of keeping the Hungarian Legation in Moscow open, but having received a strongly negative German reaction to the proposal, Bárdossy duly broke diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.[25] Once more a blunder. But of course the biggest blunder was joining the war against the Soviet Union. Originally Germany did not request Hungary’s participation, but General Bartha, the Minister of Defense as well as General Werth, urged that, considering that Germany would defeat the Soviets in six weeks.[26]  On 26 June three unidentified planes dropped several bombs on the north-eastern Hungarian town Kassa (Košice in today’s Slovakia). The identity of the attackers has remained a mystery to this very day, but the Hungarian military authorities assumed and declared that the planes were Soviet. (Not very likely under the circumstances, unless it was a mistake due to bad navigation.)[27] Horthy, the Regent, was appalled and welcomed the opportunity to participate in the crushing of his old enemy, Bolshevism. He ordered immediate retaliation, which couldn’t but mean war. His Prime Minister accepted that, and a hastily summoned cabinet meeting gave its assent with one dissent. (According to another source four ministers – the majority of those present - did not agree with declaring a state of war, but Bárdossy avoided taking a vote.) Next day the Prime Minister announced in Parliament that in view of the Soviet attack “the Royal Hungarian Government concluded that a state of war has come to exist between Hungary and the Soviet Union.”[28]

One cannot but condemn Hungary’s decision to join the war against the Soviet Union – ostensibly in retaliation.  But one should consider that in 1941 Germany was in effective control of the European continent from the Atlantic to the Soviet border, and Stalin’s army made a very poor showing in 1938 in attacking Finland. Most people in Hungary, including the Regent, thought that Soviet Russia would not be able to resist the power of the Wehrmacht. Hungarians feared that after a German victory Hitler would reward its faithful satellites, Romania and Slovakia, by rescinding the two Vienna Awards and would return them the coveted territories, the Hungarian-inhabited region of the former Czechoslovakia and Northern Transylvania. Whoever committed the bombing of Kassa, it was used as a justification for entering what promised to be a quick and successful war against the evil Bolshevik Empire. Regent Horthy was always proud to have been the first to stand up to Bolshevism in 1919. Only a relatively small number of sensible people – some members of the cabinet, opposition MPs like Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, and government officials like Domokos Szent-Iványi – opposed the precipitate step. Bárdossy banked on German victory in the new World War, or at the very least a stalemate. (A negotiated peace was found unacceptable in the First World War; in the Second, given the ideological differences and the brutality of Germany, it was inconceivable.)  According to Prime Minister Bárdossy Hungary had “no real choice; for she was not master of her own will. Sooner or later she would have to yield, and the wisest and cheapest policy for her was to give the minimum; not to arouse suspicion and mistrust, not to provoke [Germany] to trample us down, destroy us, crush everything dear to us, reshape us irretrievably in her own image.”[29]

The first weeks following the German attack appeared to justify Hungary’s decision. Horthy thought that the Soviets were practically beaten and Germany unbeatable, so the hoped for negotiated peace would be difficult to reach, but assumed that because of their arrogance Germany would not be able to control Europe for long.[30] Upon the urgings of Moscow Britain demanded Finland, Hungary and Romania to leave the war or face a declaration of war. Neither country felt it possible to comply. The Head of the Press Section, Ullein-Reviczky, the husband of an Englishwoman who was the daughter of a British diplomat, tried to avoid war with a country so many Hungarians admired, through the good offices of the Pope. Naturally it did not work.[31] U.S. Minister Pell, representing British interests since the rupture of diplomatic relations in April, visited Bárdossy on 7 December informing him that from 6 December a state of war existed between Britain and Hungary. That announcement communicated by the Prime Minister to the Chamber of Deputies in that very evening was received “in deathly silence,” followed by the singing of the National Anthem.[32]  At war with the Soviet Union and Great Britain, Hungary stood completely alone, as “was  now actually near-surrounded by a double ring of ill-wishers: the one consisting of the existing Slovak, Roumanian, Serb and Croat States – not mutually allied, and indeed, often mutually hostile, but all anti-Hungarian; the other composed of the former Little Entente Governments, now established in London. From the latter the Roumanian link was still technically missing, but her friends represented Roumania so effectively that her absence was hardly noticed.” By now Italy, the former supporter was also totally dependent on Germany, and showed indifference to the plight of Hungary.[33]

The next blunder followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December. Three days later Germany entered the war against the U.S. The Tripartite Pact was theoretically a defensive alliance and it did not oblige Hungary to join in that war. Bárdossy first tried to avoid such a step by expressing only solidarity with the Axis powers, called back Hungary’s Minister from Washington, and advised the latter’s counterpart to leave. When Pell asked Bárdossy if that was meant as a declaration of war, the answer was “No”. Next day, however, Germany and Italy made strong representations demanding that Hungary declare war, and Bárdossy, overruling the advice of his colleagues in his Ministry, complied. He did not have the courage to face Pell, so he told him on the phone that, contrary to his previous statement, solidarity meant a state of war. The American, a good friend of Hungary, helpfully remarked “You must have been subjected to the most terrible German pressure to end up like this.” The Prime Minister, who also held the portfolio of foreign affairs, retorted, very unwisely and undiplomatically that “Hungary is an independent State, who will allow itself to be commanded by no one.”[34] The U.S. did not immediately answer by a declaration of war, because considered Hitler’s allies as mere puppets,[35] but on 5 June, 1942 President Roosevelt signed the war declarations on Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. On his visit to Washington in May Molotov already indicated that such a declaration was desirable.[36] Notwithstanding the American decision one can see a slight but not insignificant difference between the attitudes of the two western allies towards Hungary. Whereas the British held Hungary unequivocally responsible for siding with Germany, the United States considered that Hitler’s ruthless policies made his satellites mere puppets, not expressing the will of the (whole) population.

Exactly by the time of the entry of the United States into the war it could already be seen that a quick German victory over Russia was not going to happen.[37] If only Hungary had held out as a non-belligerent until Pearl Harbor, it would have been much easier to reckon with the eventual defeat of Germany, and thus to stiffen resistance to German demands. But Bárdossy, with his frail health and weak nerves, and basically a civil servant and not a politician, was not the man to stand up to such a task. True, Germany might not have acquiesced in Hungary’s abstention from the war effort, especially when the war began to go badly, but an overt German intervention (military or political) would have placed Hungary in a different light at the end of the World War.

In January 1946, still before the Communist takeover, Bárdossy was tried for his role in taking Hungary into the war, even overriding some of the stipulations of the laws of the country. In his trial he maintained that he had believed that Hungary’s future hinged upon a German victory, otherwise it would lose its independence, and fall under Soviet domination. But as we have seen, in the critical days in June 1941 he was aware that a German victory would lead to total control over Hungary by Nazi Germany. Today we know what Hitler thought about Hungary, and that a German victory would have resulted in the loss of more than some territories, most likely in the total disappearance of independence, including the mass deportation of Hungarians to former Soviet territories.[38] Bárdossy was sentenced to death and was shot. Today there is a debate whether he really deserved that penalty.

Not questioning the responsibility of Horthy, Bárdossy and many others in taking Hungary into the war, one must note that before 1941 Hungary received very little encouragement from the West to move away from the Axis and there was no indication that more fair borders could be expected as a return for the sacrifices. After the entry of the Soviet Union (and Hungary) into the war the prospects for Hungary became alarming. The Times of London - the same paper that was notorious for advocating an accommodation with Nazi Germany in the 1930s - on 1 August 1941 called for the appeasing of Stalin and admitted that in Central and Eastern Europe the Soviet Union had special interests.  It was undoubtedly right for Britain and later for the United States to make an alliance with Stalin: the West had a strong interest in helping the Soviet Union to survive and to fight Nazi Germany. In my opinion, however, it was a grave mistake to give Stalin a kind of unconditional support, to acquiesce in the annexation of the Baltic States and eastern Poland as early as December 1941, during British Foreign Secretary Eden's talks in Moscow.[39] The entire tenor of the British–American–Soviet discussions from 1941 on led Stalin to believe that he had a free hand at least to retain the Soviet borders he agreed with Hitler before 1941. But whereas Britain and the U.S. did not assume that Soviet “special interests” would mean turning all of Central Europe communist, Hungary (as well as Poland and Romania) was increasingly afraid of such a fate. Then (as today) it was beyond the grasp of Central Europeans why the British and the Americans, having resisted the totalitarian and inhuman Nazi system, did not foresee that the similarly aggressive, expansionist and inhuman Soviet great power was about to subjugate the eastern half of Europe. It was within the reach of the Western democracies, with their economic and strategic strength and deliveries of essential war material for the Soviet Union (certainly until the battle of Stalingrad) to prevent that and to make sure that the Atlantic Charter, with its high-sounding phrases, did not become a dead letter.

After the German Blitzkrieg was halted before Moscow and America entered the war, Horthy realized that the western Allies were more likely to become victorious.[40] He and the strong “Anglophile” wing of the Hungarian middle and upper classes started their efforts to take Hungary out of the war. On 12 February Horthy managed to have his son István, an upright and sensible man and a well-know Anglophile (strongly disliked by the Nazis), elected Deputy Regent by the Parliament. The hope was not only to have a strong man beside the ageing Regent, but also to move away from Germany. In March 1942 Horthy told Bárdossy that he no longer enjoyed his confidence, and upon the latter’s resignation appointed Miklós Kállay Prime Minister. It was indeed “a superhuman task” to “convince the leaders of great powers allied against Germany that Hungary was sincere in its efforts to leave the war and to take the side where it ought to belong to by its culture and historical traditions.”[41] The task was more than superhuman; it was unattainable. Having joined the war Hungary was indeed on a set course, no longer master of its fate. That was, however, not obvious to Horthy and Kállay. The latter, the calm, phlegmatic, robust scion of one of the oldest Hungarian noble families started a subtle game, named after a dance the “Kállay double”. In his public speeches he paid lip-service to the common anti-Bolshevik cause, and could not avoid sending a large part of Hungary’s army to the Eastern Front, as agreed (under very strong German pressure) by his predecessor. At the same time he tried to reduce Hungary’s contribution to the war effort and soon started sending out peace-feelers towards the British and the Americans.[42]

“Kállay wasted no time in launching peace feelers. His secret emissaries ventured out in the early summer of 1942 and targeted Britain, the one great power with which Hungary’s leaders – most of them upper-class men with English manners – felt an affinity. But the emissaries could gain access only to junior officials who proved unresponsive, sloughing off the plea that British rather than Russian soldiers occupy Hungary. They hectored the Hungarians, who requested a reconsideration of the borders drawn by the post-World War I peace treaties, which often ignored large ethnic Hungarian populations. After each secret meeting in neutral Turkey, Portugal, and Sweden, the British informed the Soviets who demurred, demanding Hungary’s immediate unconditional surrender first, and then negotiations. Shrugging off Hungarian fears of Joseph Stalin’s Red Army, British representatives clung to their high imperial ground: as long as Hungary had soldiers fighting any member of the Grand Alliance, it could expect ’neither sympathy nor mercy’.”[43] Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, used that harsh expression in a cable to Ambassador Sir Knatchbull-Hugessen in Ankara, and that became the official line of H.M.’s Government.[44]

The debacle of the Hungarian army’s annihilation at the River Don in January 1943 led to the doubling of the Hungarian efforts. New, hitherto unknown details of the Hungarian efforts to leave the war, using unclassified American documents, reinforce the documents published by Gyula Juhász and show how earnest and serious were the peace feelers of Kállay. Eventually they found some echo in London. Following a conference convened in the Foreign Office by Deputy Under-Secretary Sir Orme Sargent on 24 February 1943, which assessed the behavior of Hitler’s satellites, it was admitted that “Hungary has succeeded in preserving a greater degree of independence than any other satellite in South Eastern Europe. […] There have been not unsuccessful efforts in Hungary to moderate the persecution of the Jews… Although His Majesty’s Government do not consider that any early and decisive change in Hungarian policy is likely, the general background seems favourable for some slight modification of the rigid attitude which His Majesty’s Government have hitherto adopted towards Hungary.”[45] The conclusion was to welcome the promising tendencies and to judge the country by the practical measures it adopts in order to disentangle itself from the domination of the Axis. An aide-mémoire along those lines was sent to Washington and Moscow, and its attachment listed the various Hungarian attempts in Stockholm, Lisbon and Ankara to start talks about leaving the war and to achieve fair post-war borders. While dismissing the efforts of the regime which allied with Germany and attacked Great Britain’s allies, the Foreign Office saw more hope in following up the contacts with Professor Szent-Györgyi, a 1937 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, who represented circles independent from the government.[46]

Kállay was eager to coordinate his efforts with Italy. Visiting Mussolini in early April 1943 he predicted that Hitler would lose the war and proposed that Hungary and Italy together bolt from the German camp and co-ordinate their approaches to the Western Allies. Kállay thought that if the Allies could ally themselves with a Bolshevik dictator they could also collaborate with the much milder Italian one. Mussolini answered that he still believed in Hitler’s assurances that he would achieve victory over Russia in 1943. But at least he did not denounce Kállay by revealing the plan to Hitler.[47]

It did not take long for the Germans to see through Kállay’s rhetoric, his sham loyalty to the Axis. Hitler invited, or rather summoned Horthy to his Klessheim castle near Salzburg, and on 17-18 April 1943 vehemently confronted his guest with accusations on account of Hungary’s many contacts with the enemy. The German Chancellor spoke very critically about the Hungarian Army’s performance at the Don-Voronezh catastrophe, then heatedly complained that Hungary’s Prime Minister sent Professor Szent-Györgyi to Istanbul in order to inform the Allies of his country’s intention to break with Germany. A large number of Hungarians were on probably similar missions at the neutral countries, Switzerland[48], Portugal and Sweden, he added.[49] In his encounters with Hitler Horthy never shared the servile admiration the leaders of Hungary’s neighbors showed towards the Führer. He refuted the charges that the Hungarian soldiers did not fight valiantly; it was Germany who failed to keep its promises to provide the weapons and other equipment needed. He dismissed the accusations about Kállay saying that those were merely gossips collected by the German Legation in Budapest. Then Hitler presented the Regent with intercepted and decoded telegrams from Allied missions, proving the charges. His conclusion was, repeated several times, that he lost all confidence in Kállay, but still believed in the loyalty of the Regent.[50] In the communiqué published after the meeting Hungary refused to include a reference to continue the war against Bolshevism’s “Anglo-Saxon allies,” a phrase accepted by the Romanian leader Antonescu after his meeting with Hitler.[51] It is painful to observe that while Hitler was fully aware of the real feelings of the Hungarian government about the likely outcome of the war and their intention to quit the German alliance, Britain and the United States were reluctant to take the secret approaches seriously; not appreciating that the Hungarian government deliberately kept contribution to the war effort much lower than Hitler’s other allies, they demanded actions rather than words, without promising any reward for what would have involved very serious sacrifices on behalf of Hungary. The Foreign Office swallowed the charges of émigré politicians Beneš and Károlyi that Horthy and Kállay only wanted “reinsurance” for the survival of a reactionary, feudal regime in Hungary.[52] Were those in London not aware of the fact that the Hungarian Opposition, the Smallholders and the Social Democrats gave full support for the peace feelers?[53] One must admit, however, that practically all the Hungarian anti-Nazis were mistaken to think that London and Washington would be receptive to the Hungarian fears about Soviet expansion, would understand and accept that Hungary could not disengage from Germany until the Allies re-entered Europe, and that the Anglo-Americans would be ready to discuss conditions for Hungary’s defection from the Axis. Two detailed Hungarian memoranda, one presented in April 1943 to the British Ambassador to Turkey by Károly Schreker, a banker,[54] the other by Szegedy-Maszák written in the summer of 1943, drew rather negative reactions from the British. The latter was a long explanation how and why Hungary could not avoid having ended up in the Axis camp, what was its present predicament, and what were its ideas about a just and lasting peace in Central Europe. Ethnic-based borders, retaining Sub-Carpathia and Transylvania as a Hungarian-Romanian condominium did not appeal to the Foreign Office.[55]

Today most historians admit that the demand for unconditional surrender was a most serious mistake which considerably extended the duration of the war. It did not make it easier for Hungary to carry out an open break with Germany while the troops of the Allies were only in Africa and the end of the war, the defeat of Germany was still not in sight. What would have brought it closer, perhaps already in 1943, was the overthrow of Hitler by his generals. Many Prussian officers, including the head of Germany’s military intelligence, Admiral Canaris, were ready, and may have been able to do that, were it not for the unfortunate formula of “unconditional surrender” and the refusal of President Roosevelt to pursue any secret talks with the anti-Hitler German officers.[56]

It was the unexpected overthrow of Mussolini in August and the surrender of Italy which, at least for a few days in September 1943, held out the hope for Hungary to be able to leave the war immediately and even to join the Allies. Having sent a number of unofficial emissaries abroad with the task of making contact with British and American diplomats and agents, and trying to obtain acceptable terms (mainly on Hungary’s post-war borders), on 9 September 1943 the Hungarian government’s official representative (the foreign service officer László Veress) signed a secret preliminary agreement on unconditional surrender with the British Ambassador to Turkey (or his deputy) in Istanbul, more exactly on a ship in the Sea of Marmara. According to the agreement Hungary would reduce military and economic co-operation with Germany, including withdrawing her troops from the Soviet Union, would allow allied aircraft flying over Hungary, and would resist Germany’s attempt to occupy her. At a given moment would “place all her resources at the disposal of the Allies for the continuation of the fight against Germany.” It was to be announced “at a suitable moment,” i.e. when Allied forces reached or approached the borders of Hungary so that the government were capable to honor it.[57] It was still hoped that Italy’s surrender (signed on 3 September) would soon bring the Anglo-American forces into Central Europe, reaching Hungary. The plan was thwarted by the clumsy American military and the Italian political leadership, which allowed German forces to overrun Italy and to check the advance of the Allies.

But there is an interesting sub-chapter to the blunder committed by the Allies in (mis)handling the great opportunity presented by the Italian switch.  Parallel with Kállay’s diplomatic efforts  for a “jump-out” the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Szombathelyi came close to an agreement, which could have led to Hungary’s defection from the German alliance and to the military occupation of the country by Anglo-American forces. In mid-summer, with Horthy’s approval (probably encouraged by Canaris), Kállay called upon the Chief of Staff, General Ferenc Szombathelyi, to turn to the Americans and seek a military and political agreement. Szombathelyi assigned the task to his director of intelligence, Colonel Gyula Kádár. Otto Hatz, the military attaché in Sofia, managed to get into contact with agents of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Smyrna and Istanbul, who came up with a “Proposed Agreement with Representatives of Hungarian General Staff Concerning Cooperation in the Sphere of Intelligence”. The document began with a reference to Hungary’s repeated “unofficial overtures” to the British and the “failure” of its attempts to secure political assurances as to the future borders and on the occupying power. It recognized “the effort of the supreme military authorities in Hungary to enter into contact with the Allies” as evidence of “a firm and sincere determination to collaborate.” Hungary’s delegate promised “detailed military intelligence concerning the German Army and German operations” and pledged “active military aid” to an Allied landing on Hungarian territory. Alas with the hopes about Italy coming under the control of Anglo-American forces dashed, and because of the futile efforts of the Hungarian negotiators (using coded messages transmitted in ordinary radio programs)  to receive some encouragement about Hungary’s future borders and assurance of a three-power occupation, no more action was taken than Szombathelyi sending information. As Fenyvesi wrote: „Much of the intelligence the Hungarians sent to OSS-Istanbul was accurate and important, including the locations and the production figures of Hungarian military industries working for the Germans, assessments of German morale on the Russian front, and the details of German plans to send planes to Bulgaria. Regardless of the failure to prepare military units for a resolute stand for independence and the tragic helplessness in face of the German invasion, official Hungarian resistance to German power was sincere. […] Had there been a quick accord following the September 1943 meeting in Istanbul, events might have taken a different turn. Momentum might have gathered for closer cooperation, and Donovan [Director of the OSS] might have found support in the US Army and the White House for his proposal to land an airborne division or two in Hungary at a time when Wehrmacht troops in the country numbered only a few thousand. Another step would have been to line up Hungarian military units loyal to Horthy and Szombathelyi to receive and protect the Americans. The arrival of additional US forces from nearby Italy could have turned a token presence into a bridgehead.” And the conclusion: „The agreement launched in September 1943 constituted the only accord of its kind that the United States is known to have reached with a government formally allied with Nazi Germany.”[58] One may add that in Hungary the most effective acts of resistance to Nazi Germany were performed by some officials of the Government, initiated by the Prime Minister, often even with the connivance of the Head of the State.

The position of Hungary in late 1943 was worse than its leaders thought. The Hungarian leaders and the anti-Nazi opposition could not believe that the Anglo-American leaders would not be opposed to the Soviet domination of Central Europe. Hungarians remembered the anti-communist stance of pre-war Britain, but they overlooked the radical change of mood, the “sudden and, in retrospect, exaggeratedly sentimental admiration for the Russians,” whipped up by the press.[59] Exactly the same phenomenon occurred in the U.S.[60] People in Hungary regarded the Anglo-American alliance with the Soviet Union only a marriage of convenience, and certainly not a vehicle of Soviet expansion.[61] In London and Washington, however, the majority of the establishment and the opinion-makers had illusions about the Soviet Union, forgot the past, the dictatorship, the persecution of the old upper and middle class, the purges, they only planned post-war co-operation with the reborn Great Power. Stalin, “Uncle Joe” duped Roosevelt, and to a lesser degree even Churchill. All other considerations were subordinated to victory, in the case of the U.S. also to Stalin joining the war against Japan. The Allied governments as well as the public and the press understandably favored the governments-in-exile of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (from 1943 the communist Tito) to the Hungarian enemy. Many felt a moral obligation to support Czechoslovakia, just because it was abandoned at Munich , and also to reward those Yugoslavs who carried on a guerilla war against the Germans.[62] (On the other hand the heroic Poles were let down in their conflict with Stalin, although their escaped soldiers formed the fourth largest allied military force, while the underground Home Army carried out very effective resistance at home.[63]) The Foreign Office considered Horthy and his system reactionary. That is how the leaders of the Allies came to support the restoration of the unfair pre-1938 Trianon borders. But the idea of making Transylvania an independent state was not unrealistic, the British were ready to support it; it was Stalin who vetoed that. On the level of the British and American experts, however, proposals were made for modifying those borders in favor of Hungary, in line with the ethnic principle. Some of those advisers naively thought that after the War the governments of Hungary’s neighbors would be ready to do that.[64] The most thought out plan was drawn up by the British scholar C.A. Macartney, who worked for the Foreign Research and Press Service section of the Foreign Office as well for the Political Warfare Executive of British intelligence. Rather than punishing some and rewarding others he proposed the equal and just treatment of all the peoples of Central Europe, with borders based on the ethnic principle, preferably within a confederation.[65] Otto von Habsburg, the son of the last King of Hungary, also did his best to win F.D. Roosevelt over to the idea of a democratic Central European federation, but Stalin’s veto destined all federation plans to be discarded. [66]

The Teheran Conference – unwittingly for Churchill and Roosevelt – settled the fate of Central Europe for half a century. For political and (questionable) military reasons a landing in the Balkans was abandoned in favor of the invasion of France, thus making it almost inevitable that the Soviet Red Army would eventually liberate Central Europe. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill imagined that liberation everywhere, even in their heroic ally, Poland, would become a cruel invasion leading to the imposition of Soviet communist imperialism. Stalin’s promise to enter the War against Japan once Germany was defeated also compelled the U.S. to be even more accommodating to the Soviets, to swallow the annexation of Eastern Poland (and pushing the entire country westward) and of the Baltic States.

The main lines of the decisions made at the Teheran conference became known or at least suspected in Budapest, thanks to the Hungarian diplomats stationed in the neutral countries. It was devastating news for the Anglophiles, while giving an additional argument for the pro-Germans that Hungary had no choice but sticking with Germany through thick and thin. The anti-Nazi wing of the governing circles, supported by the leftist opposition (the Smallholders and the Social Democrats, joined also by the “Legitimists” who were hoping for the restoration of the Habsburg dynasty) increased their pressure on Kállay to bring the Hungarian troops home from the eastern war theatre in preparation for a “jump-out,” a break with Germany. It was easier said than done. The more the Hungarians insisted on withdrawing their forces (claiming a military threat from Romania) the more suspicious Hitler became of Hungary’s intentions and the more determined he was to prevent such a defection. Hungarians still hoped that the advance of the Allies in Italy would bring them to the southern border of Hungary before the Red Army reached the Carpathians. In early 1944 that still looked possible.

Nobody feared a “too early” break with Germany more than the close to a million Jews in Hungary as well as the international Jewish associations, because Hungary’s occupation by Germany, however temporary it would be, was likely to put their life in grave danger.[67] It is a mistake to think that the fate of the Jews of Hungary was an important consideration for the leaders of the Western democracies. Professor Lewis Namier of the Jewish Agency told a British Foreign Office official “that his people were most seriously concerned at the possible consequences to the 800,000 Jews, who now enjoy comparative security in Hungary, of any premature desertion of Germany by the Hungarian Government. […] the only hope, as far as the Jews are concerned, was that the Hungarians would choose not to move until it was practically certain that the Germans would not be able to react.”[68]  So Kállay’s options were extremely narrow: an early breakaway from Germany, most likely at a very high cost (the anti- Nazi elements and particularly the Jews would have to pay dearly), or to continue the “wait and see” attitude to the displeasure of the Allies, while even the modest “good points” earned by Hungary’s limited cooperation with Germany (being “the unwilling satellite”) and preserving a parliamentary system would fade away. Hungary’s leaders would have been ready even to suffer the consequences of the break with Germany if acceptable terms had been offered, mainly on the issue of the future borders. But – as we have seen – the Western democracies were bound by their morally unavoidable support to Czechoslovakia and to Yugoslavia, while the Soviet Union was determined to dominate its Polish and Romanian neighbors. For the latter the most obvious way to befriend those two traditionally anti-Russian nations was to take their side against their respective old adversaries, Germany and Hungary. Most probably Stalin decided to give the whole of Transylvania to Romania already in December 1941 (during his talks with Eden), and after Teheran it was in his power to carry that out.

The offensive of the Soviet Red Army in January 1944 and the snail-pace advance of the Allies in Italy shattered all the hopes that the Anglo-American forces would forestall the Russians in Hungary. It was now inevitable to heed the long-time advice of London and Washington to turn to Moscow. Earlier schemes like defending the Eastern Carpathian passes and the Soviets bypassing rather than forcing them were irrational, and Kállay understood that. Early in 1944 he instructed Minister Ullein-Reviczky in Stockholm to approach Madame Kollontay, his Soviet colleague. She was accommodating,[69] but winning over Romania, much closer to the frontline, was more important for Moscow. For the very same reason, keeping Hungary in the German orbit was essential for Hitler, so on 12 March he ordered that the Margarethe-Plan, the military invasion and occupation of Hungary should be implemented, starting on Sunday, 19 March. That was exactly what the Allies wanted. The British and the American intelligence services managed to make the Germans think that an invasion of the Balkans was in the offing, thus misleading them about the preparations for Overlord, the invasion of France at Normandy. So it was not only Kállay’s many steps for the “jump-out” but also the covert action of the Allies which practically provoked the German invasion of Hungary on 19 March 1944.

Hungary’s policy (which was in fact Kállay’s) in 1942–44 has seldom been given much understanding let alone credit in the many writings which appeared on that subject, with the exception of C. A. Macartney’s seminal work, and recently by Cornelius. Based on Macartney and on Joó, who used new material from Hungarian archives,[70] my conclusion on those efforts is the following.

Kállay was not a double dealer stepping once to the Right, once to the Left, he was carefully but seriously moving towards extricating Hungary from the German bond. He was the opposite of an anti-Semitic and was strongly opposed to the Nazi ideology. His statements about loyalty to Germany or on the Jewish issue were meant only to dispel suspicions. His diplomatic efforts to break away from Germany were not amateurish, and the Germans were far from knowing all about them. Kállay was sincere in his determination to protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary, and he succeeded while several hundred thousand Jews were persecuted, deported and murdered in Romania and Slovakia. He did his best to improve relations with Hungary’s neighbors, too.[71] Miklós Bánffy, the great Transylvanian author and successful foreign minister in 1921-22, with the approival of Kállay, went to Bucharest in June 1943 with the offer to break with Germany simultaneously. He was turned down even by the pro-Allies circles. Kállay brought the high-ranking Hungarian officers, who were responsible for the massacre in Újvidék/Novi Sad in January 1942, to court. He refused the German proposal to use Hungarian troops for occupation and peace-keeping in the Balkans. His Army Chief of Staff General Szombathelyi (executed as a “war criminal” by Yugoslavia in 1946) made a serious attempt in November 1943 to call back all the Hungarian forces from the Soviet theatre of war; the German answer was that in case of such a step they would attack those units.

I think that the facts as well as an impartial analysis of the conduct of Hungary after March 1942 substantiate the epithet that Hungary was the unwilling satellite of Nazi Germany. The distinguished Hungarian historian György Ránki, himself a Holocaust survivor, came to support that view in his later writings, particularly in his essay in the present volume, and in more details in his introduction to Hitler’s talks with the leaders of Central and Eastern Europe.[72]

Notwithstanding the short-sightedness of the western leaders about the danger presented by Stalin’s ambitions it would be a mistake to think that they lacked any understanding for Hungary, and that the tragic fate of Hungary was due to their ill-will, while Hungary was an innocent victim. Churchill felt a kind of personal sympathy for the Hungarians,[73] and more superficially even Roosevelt was not unsympathetic, but their subordinates and even more the historical-political setup determined the unfavorable decisions about Hungary. In his often misinterpreted “percentage agreement” with Stalin in October 1944 Churchill tried to save some western influence in the countries threatened by Soviet domination. If 50 per cent British influence (as it was first agreed) had really been the fate of Hungary, the coming decades would have become very different. Alas Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden immediately gave in to Molotov’s pressure and agreed to change the percentage to 75 per cent influence for the Russians over Hungary.[74]

Is there then nothing to blame in the conduct of Kállay and the Anglophile Hungarian circles prior to the German occupation? Certainly there is. Although the opposition, in effect the agrarian Smallholders’ Party led by Bajcsy-Zsilinszky and Peyer’s Social Democrats came closer together, they were thinking more of the future, when they would run the country, than preparing for a confrontation with Germany in the last phase of the War. Following the arrest of Mussolini and Italy’s invasion by Germany Hungary might have surrendered and was open to an airborne Allied occupation. That, in combination with the Greek and the Yugoslav partisans, could have led to the collapse of German control in South-Eastern Europe, as Romania would have surely turned against Germany. But responsibility must be shared. As I see the biggest mistake committed after the blunders of 1941 was that early in 1944 Kállay and the leaders of the Army made no preparations for resisting a potential German invasion, although they received much information about suspicious military movements close to the western border of Hungary, and even direct information about an impending invasion.[75] By accepting Hitler’s invitation to visit him at Klessheim castle in March 1944 Horthy walked into a trap which should have been avoided at all costs. Horthy in his Memoirs wrote that when Hitler told him that Germany would occupy Hungary, he should have shot the dictator. Why did he not do that? A pistol was part of his Admiral’s uniform, but he deliberately left it in his train when he dressed for his tête-à-tête talk with Hitler.[76] He did have a dagger on him, but it was politely taken from him before that meeting.[77] Although in the absence of the Regent and the Chief of the General Staff Kállay was not entitled to give an order for military resistance to the German invasion, but as Horthy was cut off from all communications the Prime Minister should have disregarded legal considerations. Military resistance could not have been effective and would have cost lives, but it would have turned Hungary from a German ally to a victim of German aggression. It would have awakened many in Hungary who was their enemy, and would have alerted the Jews. Morally it would have counted much internationally, and politically, too, since it was well before Romania’s break with Germany on 23 August and the Slovak uprising on 29 August.

It is beyond the scope of the present essay to discuss what happened after Hungary lost its sovereignty on 19 March 1944. It could not carry out any foreign policy of its own. Despite the most deplorable and disgraceful anti-Jewish laws passed by the Hungarian Parliament after 1938 the life and liberty of the close to 800,000 Hungarian citizens of Jewish background was not in danger until the occupation of the country by Germany. With the forceful removal of the legitimate Kállay Government and by Germany installing a puppet regime the new leaders of the country betrayed their Jewish compatriots and with the active participation of the authorities surrendered them to Nazi Germany, where most of them were murdered. The grave responsibility of the Nazis’ Hungarian collaborators is beyond doubt; their guilt blackened the reputation of Hungary. The most detailed account of that fateful period is by Randolph Braham,[78] and an insightful one is by Charles Fenyvesi.[79]


By the end of the summer Germany had lost the War beyond any doubt, and it needed the utmost credulousness to believe that with some miraculous weapons Hitler could turn the tide of the war. The bombardment of Hungary, which started only after the German occupation (before that there was an unwritten agreement that the Allies would not bomb the country but would be allowed to fly over it unhindered), brought that home even to the ignorant and uninformed, but not to the members and supporters of the extreme Right, the Arrow Cross Party. Their blindness is incomprehensible, but what was catastrophic was the conduct of so many officers of the Army. At the end of August, after the successful Allied landing in Normandy, Horthy recovered some of his mental and political strength, replaced Sztójay with one of his loyal (but as it turned out, overcautious) generals, Géza Lakatos, who released many of the political prisoners. By that time the Soviet Red Army, making use of the Romanian turnaround on 23 August, reached the Great Plain and in mid-September entered Hungary. Horthy decided to turn personally to Stalin, asking for an armistice, and sent a three-member team to Moscow to negotiate it. That had to be done in utmost secrecy, as the cabinet included at least two blindly pro-Germans, in effect spies of Hitler. The small staff of the “breakaway” group (its strongest member was the widow of Horthy’s son István, who in 1942 died in action on the Russian front) did not succeed in preparing for the showdown with Germany sufficiently, partly because the Regent, the commander of the Army, decided not to leave the Buda castle to join the Army at its headquarters at Huszt (in Subcarpathia, today in Ukraine) which was commanded by officers loyal to him. The (preliminary) armistice, with its very harsh terms, was signed in Moscow on 11 October. In that Hungary accepted the obligation to evacuate its civilian and military authorities from the territories gained since 1937, and to declare war on Germany. After some unnecessary delay, while the Germans prepared to arrest Horthy and to install the Hungarian Nazis, the Arrow Cross, and finally kidnapped Horthy’s surviving son Miklós, the Regent had his proclamation read on the radio on 15 October, announcing that he was asking for an armistice and ordered the Army to cease fighting. He did not announce that his representatives had already signed the preliminary armistice, and did not declare war on Germany. He hoped that the German Army would voluntarily evacuate Hungary without fighting, as it did in Finland. That was an unfounded and fateful delusion, which a soldier should not have held.

The story of how this half-blundered attempt was foiled by the Germans and their Hungarian accomplices, and of how so many military officers broke their oath given to the Regent, need not be told here. Nor how the war dragged on for half a year on the territory of Hungary, largely due to the traitorous behavior of the Arrow Cross, causing terrible suffering, and enormous damage in lives and property. In the Peace Treaty signed again in Paris in 1947 Hungary had to cede back all the territories it gained in 1938–41. Unlike after the First World War now there was not even the consolation of international guarantees for the protection of  the Hungarian minorities.

The gradual communist takeover was not the consequence of the conduct of Hungary during the war; the example of Poland shows it beyond doubt. There is, however, a very important lesson to be drawn from the final blunder of 15 October, which was rightly called by C. A. Macartney “the end of a world”, the death of traditional Hungary. How important it would have been in 1944 for the population of Hungary to be sufficiently aware of the real military, political and economic position of their country! In critical times, on essential issues, party, class and personal interests should all be set aside and the national interest should prevail. As to what is the national interest in a given situation should be obvious for all well-informed people, whatever their social and political position is. If that is not the case, the responsibility lies with the leaders of the country.

[Published in: July 1944. Deportation of the Jews of Budapest Foiled. Ed. Géza Jeszenszky. Reno, NV: Helena History Press LLC, 2018. Distributed by Central European University Press. 65-101.]


[1]  This is a modified and expanded version of my essay with the same title, which appeared in Hungarian Review, V., No.2. March 2014. 7-21. Until today the most thorough account of Hungary’s road to and conduct during World War II in any language is by the British scholar C.A. Macartney, October fifteenth: a history of modern Hungary, 1929-1945.  Edinburgh: University Press, 1956-1957.  Among the vast literature on the same subject in English Mario D. Fenyo’s Hitler, Horthy and Hungary. German-Hungarian Relations, 1941-1944. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972. is still a solid, reliable account. The newest, thorough work is Deborah S. Cornelius, Hungary in World War II. Caught in the Cauldron. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011. Three authors stand out among the scholarly publications in Hungarian. Antal Czettler, Teleki Pál és a magyar külpolitika 1939-1941 [Pál Teleki and Hungarian foreign policy]. Budapest: Kairosz, 1997., and  idem, A mi kis élethalál kérdéseink. A magyar külpolitika a hadba lépéstől a német megszállásig. [Our little life or death problems. Hungarian foreign policy from the entry into the war to occupation by Germany]. Budapest: Magvető, 2000.; András Joó, Kállay Miklós külpolitikája. Magyarország és a háborús diplomácia, 1942-1944 [The Foreign Policy of Miklós Kállay. Hungary and War-Time Diplomacy]. Budapest: Napvilág Kiadó, 2008., and several studies by Pál Pritz.

[2]  The first detailed and objective work on that treaty in any language is Deak, Francis, Hungary at the Paris Peace Conference. The Diplomatic History of the Treaty of Trianon.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1942. A good – and still not outdated - collection of essays: Kiraly, Bela K., Pastor, Peter, Sanders, Ivan (eds.), Essays on World War I: Total War and Peacemaking: A Case Study of Trianon. New York and Boulder, Colo.: Columbia University Press, 1982. East European Monographs. A succinct and balanced account is Ignác Romsics, The Dismantling of Historic Hungary: the Peace Treaty of Trianon, 1920. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. East European Monographs, No. DCVII.

[3]  John Flournoy Montgomery, Hungary, the Unwilling Satellite. New York: Devin Adair Co, 1947. Cf. Tibor Frank (ed.), Discussing Hitler. The Confidential Conversations of John F. Montgomery, U.S. Minister to Budapest 1933-1941. Bloomington-Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002. C.A. Macartney was not far from that interpretation.

[4]  That was the official Marxist version taught at school and propagated during the days of communism in Hungary. Labeled „a guilty nation” and „the last satellite” of Germany, the over-simplified and biased history of Hungary was happily abandoned after the collapse of communism, but it is still propagated by the nationalists of Hungary’s neighbors and it survived in much of the Western media.

[5]  Almost one tenth of the Hungarian nation perished during and due to the Second World War. In 1941 the number of Hungarians (those who identified themselves as such in and around Hungary) was about 12 million. Out of that around 160,000 died in action, on the Russian front. 280,000 perished in Soviet captivity, as P.O.W.-s in “the Gulag Archipelago.” The number of civilian casualties when Hungary became a war theatre ran to 130,000. More than 450,000 Jews, who were Hungarian speakers and considered themselves Hungarian, were killed in the Holocaust.  Tamás Stark, Magyarország második világháborús embervesztesége [Hungary’s Human Losses in the Second World War]. Budapest, 1989; Tamás Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után [Hungarian Jews in the Shoa and after Liberation]. Budapest, 1995. Cf. Stark’s essay in the present volume.

[6]  Byran Cartledge in his remarkable The Will to Survive. A History of Hungary. 2nd ed. London: Hurst & Company, 2011, Chapters 15-16.

[7]  Hugh and Christoper Seton-Watson, The Making of a New Europe: R.W. Seton-Watson and the Last Years of Austria-Hungary. London:  Methuen, 1981. 435.

[8]  Ibid., 435.

[9]  András D. Bán, Illúziók és csalódások : Nagy-Britannia és Magyarország, 1938-1941 [Illusions and disappointments]. Budapest: Osiris, 1998. 33-63. (The expanded English edition: Hungarian-British Diplomacy 1938-1941: The Attempt to Maintain Relations. London-Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2004.) Lajos Arday: „Magyarország és Nagy-Britannia diplomáciai kapcsolatai” [Diplomatic relations between Hungary and Great Britain] – 1931-1941] In Lajos Arday, Az Egyesült Királyság és Magyarország [The United Kingdom and Hungary]. Budapest: Mundus Magyar Egyetemi Kiadó, 2005. 47-148., esp. 123-127.

[10] Macartney, op. cit., 331-332. Barcza György: Diplomataemlékeim [Diplomatic Memoirs]. Budapest: Európa Kiadó, 1994. Vol. I. 403.

[11]  Magyarics Tamás: „Nagy-Britannia Közép-Európa-politikája 1918-tól napjainkig” [Great Britain’s policy on Central Europe since 1918]. Pro Minoritate, 2002. Nyár és Ősz [Summer and Fall], 29.

[12]  Pál Pritz, „Magyarország és a nagyhatalmak 1938-ban” [Hungary and the Great Powers in 1938]. In Az objektivitás mítosza? Hazánk és a nagyvilág. 20. századi metszetek [The Myth of Objectivness. Hungary and the World in 20th Century Sketches]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 2011. 104.

[13]  Bán, op.cit. 76-79. idem,Az összeköttetés megszakad. Brit–magyar kapcsolatok [The connection is broken. British-Hungarian relations] 1938–1941” Rubiconline, 1997/1. The quotation is from Auer’s memoirs, Fél évszázad [Half a century] Washington, D.C.: Occidental Press, 1971. A slightly different version of that important statement “Let me assure you … that if you succeed this time to defend your independence and collaborate in case of war with Poland and the other small nations friendly to us, Hungary’s claim for treaty revision will be fully satisfied. When the time comes for it, remind me of this statement.” Katalin Kadar Lynn (ed.), Tibor Eckhardt in His Own Words: An Autobiography. Boulder, Colo. : East European Monographs, 2005. 64.

[14]  Eckhardt, op.cit., 65.

[15]  O’Malley to Eden, 2 April 1941, FO 371/26603/3247/123/21., quoted by Miklós Lojkó in László Péter and Martin Rady (eds.): British-Hungarian Relations Since 1848. London: Hungarian Cultural Centre and School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, 2004. 223.

[16] This is corroborated by István Deák, Europe on Trial. The Story of Collaboration, Resistance and Retribution During World War II. Westview Press, 2015. Documentary evidence is to be found in György Ránki, (ed.): Hitler 68 tárgyalása kelet-európai államférfiakkal 1939–1944 [Hitler’s 68 talks with East European statesmen]. Budapest: Magvető, 1983. The original documents are to be found in Andreas Hillgruber (Hrsg.), Staatsmänner und Diplomaten bei Hitler. Frankfurt am Main, 1967–1970.

[17]  Macartney, op.cit., Vol. I: 329-332. Ablonczy Balázs: Teleki Pál. Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 2005. 397-398. Cf. Domokos Szent-Iványi, The Hungarian Independence Movement, 1936-1946. Budapest: Hungarian Review Books, 2013. 189-190. Cornelius, op. cit., 104.

[18]  George F. Kennan: From Prague after Munich. Diplomatic Papers, 1938-1940. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1968. x.

[19]  How close Germany was to defeat the Soviet Union is shown, among others, by John Lukacs, The Last European War, 151-153; 389.

[20]  How so many in Western and Northern Europe collaborated with Nazi Germany during „Europe’s Honeymoon with Hitler” is shown by István Deák, op. cit., esp. 41-66.

[21]  John Pelényi: „The Secret Plan for a Hungarian Government in the West at the Outbreak of World War II.” The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 36, No. 2 (June, 1964), pp. 170-177. Cf. Cornelius, op.cit., 122-123., Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 203-204. Teleki actually transferred the funds to the US with Pelenyi as the authorized user, Andor Teleki brought the bank transfer information to Pelenyi personally. Within a few days Pelenyi was instructed to transfer the funds back to the Hungarian National Bank account at the Federal reserve in the US.  ( That Pelenyi was in control of the funds was made clear by the request of the Hungarian government that he change his will to make certain that the legatee of those funds was the Hungarian nation. This information would use the same citation but the details of how the funds were disbursed are different. Pelenyi ’s article reproduces the bank transfer information and the originals are at Hoover in the Pelenyi Papers.

[22] Macartney, op.cit., I: 488-489., Cornelius, op.cit., 140-144. My own translation of Teleki’s letter.

[23] Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War. London: Cassel, 1948-1954. Vol. 5. 148.

[24]  Macartney, op.cit., II: 120-121; Fenyo, op.cit., 111-114.; Gyula Juhász (ed.), Magyar-brit titkos tárgyalások 1943-ban [The Secret Talks Between Hungary and Britain in 1943]. Budapest: Kossuth, 1987. 29.; Béla Várdy: Magyarok az Újvilágban [Hungarians in the New World]. Budapest: A Magyar Nyelv és Kultúra Nemzetközi Társasága, 2000. 376-382; Katalin Kadar Lynn, Tibor Eckhardt: His American Years 1941 – 1972. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

[25] The Head of the Government Press Section, Antal Ullein-Reviczky, tells in his memoirs how Bárdossy caved in to German pressure on maintaining diplomatic relations.  Antal Ullein-Reviczky,: German War Russian Peace. The Hungarian Tragedy. Reno, NV: Helena History Press, 2014. 73-75.

[26] Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 334-336.

[27] The mystery about the bombing is likely to remain unsolved for ever. A feasible explanation is that Soviet planes mistook Kassa for the nearby Slovak town Presov /Eperjes: Nandor F. Dreisziger, ''New Twist to an Old Riddle: The Bombing of Kassa (Košice) June 26, 1941,'' Journal of Modern History, 44, no. 2 (June 1972): 232–242. Another possibility is that on the 1941 Soviet maps the cession of Kassa to Hungary in 1938 was not indicated. Szakály Sándor: “Kassa bombázása és a hadba lépés” [The bombing of Kassa and Hungary’s entry into the war]. Rubicon, 2011. No. 6. 52-56. Cf. Tarján M. Tamás:

[28]  A good summary of the fateful decision: Cornelius, op. cit., 148-151., based on the researches of several noted historians.

[29]  Macartney, op.cit., Vol. II: 26-27., quoted and discussed by Szent-Iványi, op. cit., 337-339, 344-346. Szent-Iványi puts the blame for taking Hungary into the war mainly on the Head of the General Staff, General Werth and other officers of German descent, but also on Bárdossy. Pál Pritz, based on his painstaking researches, considers that the utmost responsibility rests with Horthy. Pál Pritz: Bárdossy László. Budapest: Elektra Kiadóház, 2001. 93-99.

[30]  Horthy’s talk with Herbert Pell, the U.S. Minister to Hungary on 22 August, 1941. Fenyo, op.cit., 48-50.

[31]  Ullein-Reviczky, op.cit., 81-82.

[32]  Ibid., 82.

[33]  Macartney, op.cit., II: 57-58.

[34]  Ullein-Reviczky, op.cit., 84-88. Macartney, op.cit., II: 63-65. differs only in the exact wording.

[35]  Fenyo, op.cit., 52-53.

[36]  Ibid., 55.

[37]  John Lukacs showed how close the Germans were in mid-October to take Moscow, and how by 7 December the attempt failed, and with that all chances for a German victory practically evaporated. Lukacs, op.cit., 151-160.

[38]  Pritz Pál, Pax Germanica. Német elképzelések Európa jövőjéről a második világháborúban [German ideas about the future of Europe in the Second World War]. Budapest: Osiris, 1999. For Hungary pp. 122-127. are most revealing. Evidence for some of the most extreme German Nazi ideas can be found in Stephen G. Fritz: Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

[39]  Sir Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War. London, 1962. Vol.3., 564-5. Anthony Eden, The Reckoning (Boston, 1965), 269; Bennet Kovrig, The Myth of Liberation.  East-Central Europe in U.S. Diplomacy and Politics since 1941 (Baltimore and London, 1973), 7.

[40]  The so far most authoritative biography of Horthy questions the Regent’s determination to abandon Germany, thinking that he was simply an opportunist bidding time to see which side would prevail. Thomas Sakmyster, , Hungary's Admiral on Horseback: Miklos Horthy, 1918-1944. Boulder, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

[41]  Czettler, op.cit., 602.

[42]  Nicholas [Miklós] Kállay, Hungarian Premier. A Personal Account of a Nation’s Struggle in the Second World War. Westport, Conn., 1954; Macartney, op.cit., II: 139-144. Juhász, op.cit. and its hundred documents bear testimony to the seriousness of the Hungarian efforts, but also to their undeservedly cold reception.

[43]  Charles Fenyvesi, “Official Enemies, Secret Allies,” Hungarian Review, Vol. II. (2011), No. 5. The author is an American journalist who escaped from his native Hungary after the suppression of Hungary’s uprising in 1956. The best summary of the peace feelers is Joó, op.cit., 50-65.

[44]  15 January 1943. Juhász, op.cit., 84.

[45]  Fenyo, op.cit., 121.; Juhász, op.cit., 36-38.

[46]  Juhász, op.cit., Document 14, dated 10 March, 1943. 100-107.

[47]  For a detailed analysis of Kállay’s initiatives, including his talks in Italy in April 1943, as well as the Klessheim meeting of Hitler with Horthy see Czettler, op.cit., Chapter 4. Cf. Kállay, op.cit., esp. 147-203.

[48]  György Barcza, the last Hungarian Minister to the Court of St. James, arrived in Bern in April, 1943, trying to catch the ears of British and American officials. Barcza, op.cit., II: 67-124. Barcza in his memoirs was very critical of the too many uncoordinated peace feelers carried out mainly by amateurs, as they only alerted the Germans. Szent-Iványi is even more critical, but mainly due to his personal animosities and antipathies towards both the amateurs and the professional diplomats. Neither does he give due credit to Kállay’s actions.

[49]  Aladár Szegedy-Maszák, Deputy Head of the Political Department at the Foreign Ministry travelled to Stockholm in March as a courier. Juhász, op.cit., 38-39. and Doc. 16.

[50]  Ránki, op.cit., Docs. 41-43. 67-113., esp. 77-87. Fenyo, op.cit., 125-130. The text of a memorandum prepared by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry for the meeting, the German written complaints and also Horthy’s written answer is published by Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 409-422.

[51]  Macartney, op.cit., II: 151-152.

[52]  Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 402.

[53]  Macartney, op.cit., II: 131-133…

[54]  Juhász, op.cit., 38-40. and Doc. 21.

[55]  Ibid., 50-51. and Doc. 46. Szegedy-Maszák published the text of his memorandum in his Memoirs, and gave explanation and an answer for the criticism it drew in the British Foreign Office and at the hands of later Hungarian historians. Aladár Szegedy-Maszák, Az ember ősszel visszanéz... [At Twilight-Time One Looks Back] Vols.1-2. Budapest: Európa, 1996, II: 230-282.

[56]  Charles Fenyvesi, Három összeesküvés. Rundstedt tábornagy, Canaris tengernagy és a zsidó mérnök, aki megmenthette volna Európát [Three conspiracies. General Rundstedt, Admiral Canaris and the Jewish engineer who could have saved Europe]. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 2007. For the events related to Hungary see the author’s three installments in the Hungarian Review, Vol. II. (2011), Nos. 5., 6., Vol. III (2011) No. 1.

[57]  For the text and the fate of the agreement Macartney, op.cit., 185-188. Cf. Fenyo, op.cit., 143-147. and Juhász, op. cit., 61-65. It is of little importance whether the agreement was signed by Ambassador Sir Hughe Knathbull-Hugessen or, as Juhász thought, by his deputy, J.C. Sterndale Bennet.

[58]  Fenyvesi, Hungarian Review, Vol. II. Nos. 5-6., Vol. III. (2012) No. 1. More details on the contacts of Hungarian and American intelligence are in Fenyvesi’s book, which has so far appeared only in a Hungarian translation: Három összeesküvés [Three conspiracies], Chapters 6-7. The account of this American-Hungarian secret collaboration is based on the recently declassified documents of the U.S. National Records and Archives Administration (NARA), RG 226, Entry 210.

[59]  Lukacs, op.cit., 411-413.

[60]  John Lukacs: Year Zero. The Shaping of the Modern Age. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978.

[61]  Kállay, op.cit., 11.

[62]  Hercegh Géza, A szarajevói merénylettől a potsdami konferenciáig. Magyarország a világháborús Európában 1914-1945 [From the Outrage at Sarajevo to the Potsdam Conference. Hungary in the Europe of the World Wars]. Budapest: Magyar Szemle Könyvek, 1999. 425-426.

[63]  One of the many testimonies to that is J.K. Zawadny: Nothing but Honour: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944. London: Macmillan, 1978.

[64]  Romsics, Ignác (ed), Wartime American Plans for a New Hungary. Boulder, Colo., Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York, 1992. East European Monographs, No. CCCLIV. Pax Britannica. Brit külügyi iratok a második világháború utáni Kelet-Közép-Európáról 1942-1943 [British foreign policy documents on post-Second World War East Central Europe]. Ed. by András D. Bán. Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 1996. Ágnes Beretzky, Scotus Viator és Macartney Elemér: Magyarország-kép változó előjelekkel (1905-1945) [Scotus Viator and Elemér Macartney. The Varying Image of Hungary]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2005. Chapter VI. Hercegh, op.cit., 426-429.

[65]  Beretzky, op.cit., 118-122. While Arnold Toynbee and other scholars agreed with Macartney, R.W. Seton-Watson in his Transylvania: a Key Problem (Oxford, 1943) argued for returning to the Trianon borders.

[66]  Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 398.; S. Bela Vardy: “Archduke Otto Von Habsburg and American Hungarian Emigrés during and after World War II.” East European Quarterly, Vol. 36. No. 4 (Winter 2002): 441-163. Cf. Juhász, op.cit, Doc. 76.

[67]  Juhász, op. cit., Doc. 82., Czettler, op.cit., 312-313.

[68]  Note by Sir A.W.G. Randall on 14 October 1943. Elizabeth Barker: British Policy in South-East Europe in the Second World War. London: Macmillan Press, 1976. 258. Cf. Juhász, op.cit., Doc. 82.

[69]  Joó, op.cit., 239-244. Ullein-Reviczky’s memoirs, written during the hottest period of the Cold War, are silent about those last minute attempts.

[70]  Joó, op.cit., esp. Ch. 1.

[71]  Joó, op.cit., Ch. 7.

[72]  Ránki, op.cit., 5-101.

[73]  John Lukacs, “Churchill és Magyarország” [Churchill and Hungary] and “Egy nagy államférfi érdeklődése Magyarország iránt” [A great statesman’s interest in Hungary], Magyar írások [Writings concerning Hungary]. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 2007. 29-36., 154-164.

[74]  Bán D. András: „A ’százalékegyezmény’. Európa megmentése vagy Kelet-Európa ’elárulása’?” [The percentage agreement. The saving of Europe or the betrayal of Eastern Europe?] Európai utas. 38. 2000. 38-42.


[75]  This is much emphasized by Szent-Iványi, op.cit., 473-476. Macartney pointed out that a decision to resist the Germans could have been taken until 15 March 1944 the latest.

[76]  Miklós Horthy, Emlékirataim [My memoirs]. Budapest: Európa, 1990. 281.

[77]  I am grateful for that information to Professor Pál Pritz.

[78]  Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981. 2 vols.

[79]  Charles Fenyvesi, When Angels Fooled The World: Rescuers Of Jews In Wartime Hungary. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.