Translated by Henry A. Fischer
The source of the information found in this article is taken from Henry’s translation and summarization of major portions of Die Ungardeutshen in Der Waffen-SS by Johann Böhm
published by the Verlag des Arbeitskreises für Geschichte und Kultur der deutschen Siedlungsgebiete im Südosten Europas e.V. in Ippesheim 1990.
As a result of the Treaty of Trianon which went into effect on June 4, 1920 the territory of Hungary was reduce from 325,500 square kilometres to only 93,000. Large Hungarian minorities were left in Transylvania, the Banat and Slovakia. The revision of this Treaty became the platform of all of the political powers and parties of Hungary. During the time of the Bethlen government (1921-1931) after putting down the Communist uprising the old social order was restored and Hungary allied itself with Italy to further its revisionist policies and objectives. In the midst of the Great Depression from 1932-1936, Gömbös, who then was Prime Minister instituted vigorous and authoritarian reforms to further the revisionist agenda. In his foreign policy he allied Hungary with Italy and Austria by co-signing the Roman Protocols and then began a similar approach with the new National Socialist government of Germany in order to regain the “lost territories.”
Gyula Gömbös was a fanatic Hungarian racist (Translator’s note: This was despite the fact that his mother was a Danube Swabian from Murga in the Tolna who never learned to speak Hungarian.) and as early as 1923 he was in touch wit the fledgling Nazi movement in Bavaria. After Hitler’s takeover of the NSDAP, Gömbös became interested in a close economic and political relationship between Germany and Hungary.
For a start in establishing this new relationship, Hitler and Gömbös began with bilateral trade and customs agreements in which the two nations were given preference in terms of their exports and imports. But such cooperation at that level left little hope for Hungary’s revisionist policies because it was not related to their foreign policy and the territorial expansion that Hitler was envisioning, especially in terms of Czechoslovakia. As a result a Hungarian offer of a Consultation Pact with the Reich Foreign Ministry was turned down as outside of Germany’s primary interests. The Reich Minister of Foreign Affairs, von Neurath, assured the Hungarians that the Reich supported their revisionist aspirations but that Germany would have to deal with various states in Central Europe on their own to further their own more pressing objectives.
One clear indication of that was Hermann Göring’s attendance at the coronation of King Alexander in Belgrade in 1934 that was a sign that the Reich’s best interests would be served through a good relationship with Yugoslavia. Since he was in the vicinity he also called on King Carol II of Romania assuring him that the Nazi government would support him in the face of any Hungarian revisionist aspirations in reclaiming territory lost after the war. These official pronouncements of Göring were critical of Hungary’s minorities’ policies and alarmed and infuriated the Hungarian Foreign Ministry but did not lead to any kind of action. This simply re-enforced the mistrust felt towards Nazi Germany by both the Hungarian Foreign Minister Kalman Kanyá and the Regent Nicolas Horthy. This led to a serious dispute between Hungary and Germany in mid November 1934 that culminated in a rift between the Hungarian ambassador Maiservich in Berlin and the Reich Foreign Minister von Neurath. As a result the Hungarian government was forced to recall their ambassador and replaced him with the pro-German Sztojáy.
Even though Germany was interested in better relations with Romania they declined to sign an economic treaty at the end of March in 1935 due to what they called a lack of a positive political climate. But Titulescu mistrusted the plan put forward by the Reich government because of its similarity to the pact between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union of 1935 that was intended to include Romania but was declined because Romania was not prepared to have any agreements with the USSR. This led the Nazi leadership to look elsewhere to further its foreign policy ambitions and attempted to warm up its cool relationship with Hungary. At the same, Regent Horthy and his Prime Minister Gömbös, were looking towards Germany as a possible ally to meet their own objectives. Hitler welcomed their overtures at a time when Britain, France and Italy united to oppose Nazi policies in Europe. This diplomatic manoeuvring followed Hitler’s rescinding of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles by increasing the size of his army in March 1935. In the face of this attempt to isolate Germany, Hitler wrote a personal letter to Horthy on May 13, 1935 emphasizing the independence and integrity of both states and the common interests that they shared. Shortly after, Göring visited Budapest and in September the Prime Minister Gömbös made a state visit to Germany. There is no record of the discussions that took place on September 29, 1935 between him and Hitler at his lair at Berechtsgarden in the Bavarian Alps.
One of the results of the discussions was an arms deal which was to the benefit of Hungary. This arms deal revived the revisionist hopes of Hungary, while on the part of Germany it was simply a “cautious” attempt at an alliance at this point.
When Italy invaded Ethiopia 1935-1936 an open conflict between Mussolini and France broke out which at the same time was a serious blow to the League of Nations. Germany’s support of Italy led to a bettering of relationships between the two Dictators. With laying down the groundwork for the Rome/Berlin Axis there was little room for Hungary to play its revisionist games if they were not in cinque with the Axis Powers. Horthy called for discussions to determine and be informed of German political plans and foreign policies for the future. He wrote Hitler a memorandum outlining a proposed “Little Entente” for his consideration. Horthy inferred that he could just as easily achieve military preparedness to achieve his revisionist goals with the help of the Western Powers although he preferred to carry out his policies in concert with Germany. The Regent’s memorandum outlined the possibility of a surprise invasion of Czechoslovakia. He asked for Hitler’s commitment to the plan. There is no record of the discussions that took place between Horthy and Hitler at Berechtsgarden, nor the decision that was made. It is obvious Hitler held back from backing Horthy’s plan while Horthy ordered that in the future Hungary would now concentrate all of its efforts on the issues related to Czechoslovakia and would not retreat from Hungary’s revisionist statements and declarations. Meanwhile, Germany focussed on developing closer relationships with Romania and Yugoslavia. Official relations between Hungary and Germany cooled throughout 1937.
Gömbös died in October 1936 and Kalman Daranyi became the new Prime Minister, a much weaker politician than his predecessor so that foreign policy was in the hands of the Foreign Minister Kanyá. No less upsetting were the increasing activities of the Nazi group working among the Germans of Hungary under the leadership of Franz Basch as well as the foreign affairs division of the NSDAP. Kanyá sought to make a stronger case for Hungary’s position with the Western Powers while seeking a compromise with the Little Entente. This was only possible with the support of the government in Prague which was not feasible, nor was a separate treaty with Yugoslavia and Romania. This political poker game caught the attention of von Neurath in Germany who came to Budapest in June 1936 as Hungary prepared to sign a non-aggression pact with the three states that was not really to their liking but all they could achieve.
Daranyi and Kanyá had journeyed to Germany for talks with Göring, Hitler and von Neurath on November 22-25 in 1935 who were suspicious and mistrusted the discussions Hungary was having with the members of the Little Entente. The Hungarians learned unofficially about the coming annexation of Austria to the Reich and the intensive actions the Nazis planned to take against Czechoslovakia. In return for their support in what they planned to do in Czechoslovakia the Hungarians asked for a free hand in dealing with Yugoslavia in attempt at regaining their lost territories. They refused to grant it because of their own plans for Yugoslavia.
On March 12, 1938 when Göring informed the Hungarian ambassador, Sztojáy, of the imminent annexation of Austria by German troops he is reported to have said, “But when will it be Czechoslovakia’s turn?” With the occupation of Austria, Hungary and Germany had become next door neighbours. Now it would be possible for the Nazis to exert more influence throughout south-eastern Europe. In the past the relationships between Hungary and Germany hinged on their political interactions, with the annexation of Austria that would now change. The former uncoordinated efforts of various levels of the Nazi Party towards the German minority in Hungary would now have a different focus and dimension. The Reich Foreign Minister Frick spoke to the Hungarian ambassador Sztojáy about Germany’s concerns about “the problem” of the German minority on May 5, 1938. He asked the rhetorical question it if it would not be better to recognize the Volks Bund established by Gratz, Basch and Huss the official representative and spokesmen for the German minority in Hungary. This was the same basic tactic that would be used by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in terms of the Sudeten Germans. The German minorities were simply to be used as an instrument of Nazi foreign policy and from the outset the Hungarian government officials saw the danger of them being used as a Fifth Column to carry out Hitler’s objectives.
In a discussion in Budapest between the German ambassador to Hungary, Erdmannsdorf and Bela Imrédy the future Prime Minister on May 13, 1938 the Hungarian asserted that there were parameters set with regard to the question of the German minority that Professor Huss had overreached so that the idea that Frick had proposed was not possible. These talks became very heated. Through the growing strength of the right wing parties, foreign and domestic policies were all under pressure and resulted in Imrédy replacing Daranyi. The resignation of Darnayi is closely related to the activity of the Führer of the fanatically anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szalasi who Horthy saw as a dangerous opponent who would be hard to control. These responses to growing German power show the effects on both the foreign and domestic policies of Hungary as well as all of south-eastern Europe. Despite that, Hungary was able to maintain an independent foreign policy in the face of Nazi hegemony in Central Europe up until the Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938. It is also important to recognize and note that Imrédy attempted to remove Gustav Gratz from the leadership of the German minority in Hungary. Nor was he prepared to call or rely upon the factional group headed by Basch and Huss who were waiting in the wings.
Although Hungary had long been in the anti-Prague camp, Budapest was not prepared to proceed without some guarantees from Hitler. In the months and weeks before the Munich Pact the Nazi leadership pushed the Hungarian government to make active preparations against Czechoslovakia. Hungary would have preferred to accomplish their revisionist aims diplomatically. Hitler assured Hungarian representatives he was sceptical of such an outcome in September 1938. Hungary wanted to avoid the risk of war. Munich gave Hitler a green light to infiltrate all of south-eastern Europe. Winston Churchill predicted that the Munich Pact left the way open for Hitler to take Danubia all the way to the Black Sea in the British Parliament on October 5, 1938. No one in Central Europe could now stand in Hitler’s way.
The political situation in south-eastern Europe changed overnight. Hungary no longer saw chance for territorial expansion. With the annexation of the Sudeten territories to the Reich in 1938, German designs on the rest of Czechoslovakia became obvious. With the assistance of Hungary, Germany would whittle Czechoslovakia down to size. German diplomacy was based on the fact that Hungary was interested in absorbing the Carpatho-Urkaine now part of Czechoslovakia. Hungary would share a common frontier with Poland with whom Hungary had friendly relations even to the extent of sharing a common strategy of containment in terms of Germany. Germany declined to take over the area in October 1938 so that its future was left open. The tactic of holding back or occupying the area on the part of the Reich had its desired effect. Representatives from Czechoslovakia met with the Hungarians at Komárom later in October 1938 and rejected Hungarian claims to the area which led to highly emotional reaction on the part of the government in Budapest. The discussions at Komárom were broken off by Imrédy and Horthy and Horthy ordered the mobilization of the army. At the same time, the former Prime Minister Daranyi was dispatched to Munich to confer with Hitler. He was castigated by Hitler for Hungary’s reluctance to comply shortly before the Munich Pact was signed. Hitler counselled the Hungarians to hold back from military intervention in “rump” Czechoslovakia and be satisfied to pursue their other revisionist claims. Hitler, however, took up the matter of the Hungarian offer to join the anti-Commitern Pact but bypass it and leave the League of Nations. During these talks the idea of a German-Polish-Hungarian Bloc was spoken of by Hitler for the first time. This idea of forming such a Bloc played an important role in the relationship between Germany and Poland in the winter of 1938-1939. That was Hitler’s way of saying that without German political support Hungary’s territorial expansion was impossible.
The First of the Vienna Accords of November 2, 1938 that the Axis Powers imposed granted Hungary only southern Slovakia even though they clambered for the Carpatho-Ukraine. In spite of this only partial fulfillment of Hungary’s territorial ambitions, Darnayi committed Hungary to closer relationships with the Axis Powers and offered them Hungary’s support on instructions from Imrédy. At this point the Hungarian cabinet had to rely more and more on the support of the right wing political parties. Horthy was unable to hold back the power of the right wing groups and the Nazi extremists among them. Imrédy continued to attempt to reach the goal of the annexation of the Carpatho-Ukraine with the support of the Axis Powers. Hungary planned such a move with full Polish support which Germany, however, opposed. Berlin’s prevention of carrying out the goal led to a deep political crisis in Hungarian government circles. The Hungarians finally faced the fact that without German support they were impotent.
During talks on January 16, 1939 with Hitler and Ribbentrop, the new Hungarian Foreign Minister, Csáky who replaced Kanyá, was confronted by Hitler who upbraided him and threw Hungary’s ungratefulness and lack of reliability into his face. Csáky concurred that Hungary could only achieve its goals in concert with Germany and that without the Reich they were unable to do so. He assured the Nazi leaders that Hungary would quit the League of Nations and was prepared to reconsider its relationship with the German minority in Hungary. In addition they agreed upon an ideological common approach to the Jewish question. These machinations on the part of Hungary were the result of Versailles and the Western Powers need to acknowledge their own responsibility for setting the scene for the Second World War. Each successive Hungarian government after 1920 was compelled by the electorate to win back the lost territories and from their perspective any method would do.
Shortly after the Munich Pact, Horthy acknowledged his dependence on Germany would also lead to some rather slippery domestic politics. His room for action became narrower and narrower while German interests became more and more paramount. The Western Powers saw the fascist, anti-Semitic and Nazi tendencies of the groups around Horthy gain ascendancy. The government had to deal with these new political developments. Imrédy from the time he took office recognized that it was no longer possible to hold these forces back. As a result he formed an autocratic-half-fascist course for his government. By including, the anti-Semite Jaross into the cabinet signalled Hitler that Hungary was prepared to accept the new political order in Europe. Hitler could build on Budapest’s ongoing support. At the insistence of Jaross the government instituted a repressive Jewish law in January 1939 and the creation of a uniformed fascist movement. This was opposed by Horthy and the opposition parties. Horthy had failed to realize how much the influence of Nazi Germany affected the affairs of Hungary. He gave evidence of his naivety when he removed the autocratic Imrédy from office in February 1939. His successor Pal Teleki in whom Horthy set his hopes to develop new polices and stances with the powers that be in Berlin proved fruitless. Instead, the right wing became more radical in Hungary and much stronger.
The annexation of Austria (1938); the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia (1939); and the establishment of a satellite state of Slovakia were all signs of Nazi ambitions in south-eastern Europe. The south-east was Hitler’s field of action and there was no doubt of that in London, Paris and Rome.
As a result of gathering German strength, Mussolini sought to intensify Italian and Hungarian relations. He informed representatives from Hungary, Csáky and Teleki during discussions on April 18-20 1939 that every German power play directed against Hungary would mean the end of the Axis Pact. Mussolini did not trust Hitler and relations between them cooled. The joint efforts of Hungary and Italy were centred on strengthening their ties with Yugoslavia in order to create a balance of power against Germany. This would also put a check on Romania’s aspirations. Mussolini, however, would switch sides when it was to his better advantage and sided with Hitler.
Hungary still had its eye on Transylvania which was the basic point of tension with Romania. In April 1939 Teleki let it be understood that if there was a Polish-German military conflict Hungary would be neutral. Despite bribes and pressures Hungary retained its neutrality. At the time that Hungary occupied the Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939 Horthy personally thanked Hitler for his consent to Hungary’s action. This had the effect of strengthening Budapest’s resolve to retake the territories lost to Romania.
Teleki took Hungary out of the League of Nations on April 11, 1939 and sided with the Axis Powers even though the Western Powers had approached Hungary offering a treaty to protect and defend south-eastern Europe. Romania feared the loss of Transylvania and accepted the British-French guarantees to preserve the integrity of its Trianon frontiers. In an attempt to keep Romania out of the orbit of the Western Alliance Hitler re-approached Romania while letting Hungary know that their aspirations with regard to Transylvania would not be forgotten.
In talks with Hitler in April of 1939, Teleki and Csáky indicated that they were aware that Romania was of only of economic interest on the part of Germany but for Hungary it was a political matter. Teleki was not just content to have German support for its proposed territorial expansion at the expense of Romania but also sought diplomatic support from Italy and England, Yugoslavia and Turkey. As the crisis escalated in south-eastern Europe Teleki was involved in discussing neutrality and non-aggression pacts between Hungary and Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Hungary then sought a separate agreement with the government of Yugoslavia in order to isolate Romania but the Yugoslavs refused to be part of it. Hungarian threats directed against Romania intensified in the second half of August 1939. Teleki was convinced there would not be war over Poland but that the Great Powers would call for a European Conference at which time Hungary would lay claim to Transylvania. Romania engaged in partial mobilization and sent troops along the Hungarian frontier while offering a non-aggression pact which Hungary of course turned down. At a world forum and gathering Hungary undertook discussions with Romania with regard to the protection of minority rights. It was obvious that the Hungarians wanted the talks to fail and they did. With the outbreak of World War II over Poland, Teleki’s plan came crashing down around his ears in terms of an independent policy for Hungary and its “special” interests.
Hungary was without support for its revisionist policy and was now the next door neighbour to the soon victorious Germans. With the occupation of Poland and the apparent lack of power on the part of France and Britain, Horthy and Teleki were taken totally surprise by the Hitler-Stalin Non Aggression Pact. Hungary had allowed the passage of German troops through Hungary in September 1935 in the Polish campaign. By providing this support Hungary hoped to be able to deal with Romania with Nazi support. Now they thought these plans were in jeopardy.
All of this came to a crisis in June 1940 after the Western Front had fallen and the USSR presented an ultimatum to Romania and demanded the annexation of Bessarabia and the northern part of Bukovina. When France fell in June 1940 Hitler held power all across Europe. His attention was now directed to south-eastern Europe. Hungary was now fully drawn into the orbit of the Nazi ideology and Hitler’s policies from the period of 1938 to 1941 that resulted in the invasion of the USSR. In the interim Hungary had “won back” southern Slovakia (1938); Carpatho-Ukraine (1939); northern Transylvania (1940); and the areas incorporated from Yugoslavia (1941).
After 1941 Hungary no longer had a foreign policy apart from that of Germany. Hungary joined the Axis Pact of Germany, Italy and Japan on November 20, 1940. Teleki committed suicide in protest after Hungary’s occupation of “its” Yugoslavian territories in April 1941 and then formally entered the war on June 27, 1941 on the side of Germany in the invasion of the USSR. This step led to the intensification of the economic relations with the Reich and an acceptance of the Nazi ideology especially with regard to anti-Semitism.
Horthy was an Anglophile and was not personally in sympathy with Hitler or in favour of friendly relations with Germany when he joined the Axis. Of greater significance to Horthy was the overwhelming power Hitler had all over Europe. He wanted to march with the winners in the new world order under Hitler.
With the fall of France, Horthy’s anti-German stance up to 1938 changed. His regency emerged out the Counter Revolution and terror he led, which destroyed Bela Kun’s Communist Republic and had allowed no Communist activity in Hungary or any diplomatic relations with the USSR up until 1938. Earlier in 1936 Horthy warned Hitler about Stalin’s worldwide ambitions and goals and encouraged him to destroy the Bolsheviks after he settled matters in the West. He wrote, “So long as the Soviets are not defeated all of mankind is in great danger.” The establishment of diplomatic relations with Russia in the fall of 1939 made little or no difference to Horthy’s views. In the face of German ascendancy throughout all of south-eastern Europe, Werth, the General Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Army became very opposed to what he saw was happening. He devised a plan that was in line with the Nazi ideology but with his own special twist. All non-Magyar populations living in the territory of Greater Hungary would be resettled in the “liberated territories” of the former Soviet Union and provide living space for the Magyar people exclusively in his vision of Greater Hungary. A racially pure Magyar nation: the hope and dream of Magyar nationalists for centuries.
The native grown Fascist movements in the south-eastern European States had the support and co-operation of the Nazi Party officials and the SS. Of special importance were the Iron Guards in Romania and the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary. Hitler’s attitude toward them differed from that of his underlings. As an example, when the Iron Guards attempted to overthrow Marshal Antonescu in January 1941 it was Hitler who sided with the Marshal even though the SS supported the Iron Guards’ political ambitions. This led to confrontations between Himmler and Ribbentrop and Hitler’s recall of the secret service units in Romania. It was a further example of the way Hitler played off his subordinates against each other.
The more the Horthy government found itself in the vortex of German power the greater were the changes in terms of the political and ideological conditions in which they found themselves. There was a mass defection to the radical right wing parties. This led to the militarization of life in Hungary. The military took on more and more power under Werth and challenged the government. Despite Horthy’s banning of the Arrow Cross Party and instituting police actions against them they still had plenty of room to spread their hatred of the Jewish population and the other minorities. They were chiefly responsible for the expulsion of several thousand Jews in the Carpatho-Ukraine in August 1941 and June 1942 drove out three thousand Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad killing many sadistically until they were restrained by the local German army officials.
Hungary became more and more attached to Germany even though Horthy resisted it. This dependence came to the fore during the first publicity campaign carried out by the SS to recruit young men from the German minority into their ranks at the beginning of 1942. Even though the government in Budapest was at first unwilling to allow the Germans of Hungary serve in German units, they gave in as the Nazi leadership insisted upon it. Because of the strong military support Romania provided in the war against the Soviet Union, Hungary was also called upon for military assistance even though Hungary had no territorial aspirations in the USSR as Romania did in winning back its lost territories. Through his massive troop commitment, Antonescu hoped to take back Bessarabia, the northern Bukovina and northern Transylvania after a German victory. Werth criticized the Hungarian regime for its reluctance to fight on the Soviet front. He affirmed Antonescu’s viewpoint that the Axis Powers and their allies would share in the spoils of the war on the basis of their involvement in the military campaign.
Despite the criticism from their own military the Hungarian government now under Kállay backed out of active involvement in leading in the military campaign against Russia in 1942, while on the other hand, Romania despite tremendous losses in the winter of 1942-1943 fought alongside of the Germans until August 23, 1944. As a result Hungary was in greater danger, as Antonescu could easily begin a war with Hungary to regain Transylvania.
When Horthy sought to make peace with the advancing Red Army on March 19, 1944 he was taken into custody and brought to Klessheim in Germany. Hitler told him not to oppose the occupation of Hungary by German troops, otherwise it was possible that Antonescu’s troops would invade Hungary and the nation’s territorial integrity would be put into question.
As the German military reverses got worse, Horthy called for an armistice ceasefire on October 15, 1944 and German troops occupied Hungary. Ferenz Szalasi, the leader of the radical right wing Arrow Cross Party now headed the government with the support of Germany but was unable to prevent the takeover and occupation by the Red Army in the winter of.1944-1945.
All of this is but the political prelude that would affect the fate of the German minority in Hungary in what will follow.