Hungarian Ethnic Germans in Waffen SS, part-three

 Henry A. Fischer

The occupation of Denmark and Norway on June 17th and the French surrender on June 22nd led to reconciliation between the Bund and the Arrow Cross Party in light of the German victories.  Basch reported, “To all intents and purposes Hungary could easily be brought under the influence of Germany if a government came into place that could fulfill the interests of the Reich.”  The Arrow Cross member of parliament, P�l V�go speaking at the party national conference said that in light of the present political situation an unexpected and surprise takeover of Hungary was possible for their party.  With a change in the political situation, Szalasi, the leader of the Fascist Arrow Cross would form a new government with Nazi Germany’s assistance and as a result would develop a programme to regulate the autonomy of the German Folk Group and the other minorities, which is the proposal they presented to the Hungarian parliament on June 7, 1940.  The next day the Hungarian press unleashed a scathing criticism of the Arrow Cross proposals.  Among the provisions of the proposal were items including the non-interference of the Hungarian state in the affairs of the minority associations; the leadership of the groups would be determined by its members and not appointed by the state; the minorities would elect and send their own representatives to parliament; oversight of the minorities would be the responsibility of the Minister of Minorities; the mother tongue would be the language of instruction in the schools of the minorities.

The reaction of the Hungarian government was prompt:  a resounding repudiation of it.  The VOMI also distanced itself from the declaration of the Arrow Cross because they believed they could not be trusted and would still work towards the assimilation of the ethnic German minority nonetheless.  After all, they reasoned they were Hungarians.  In an attempt to pacify Basch and his cronies, Teleki removed “all anti-German officials at all levels of government.”  He also put a stop to the forced Magyarization of German family names.  He indicated that the status of the ethnic German minority had to be up-graded in light of the hope for revision of the territory of Transylvania to reflect the rights and social status of the Transylvania Saxon population that lived there.  This change on Teleki’s part was due to the Reich’s support for the return to Hungary of northern Transylvania from Romania.  Because Hitler assured the Hungarians of his support for their aspirations to reclaim their lost territories the Volksbundwas allowed to establish itself across the country in local chapters and village organizations.  On July 5th Basch was asked to make a presentation to the government Cabinet outlining the aspirations and wishes of the Volksbund.  He rhymed off a list of demands like:  the full independence of the Bund in the areas of the school question, its internal organization, Levente education, the military, the press and the churches.

At discussions in Munich on July 10th, Hitler informed Teleki and Csaky that Romania would cede northern Transylvania to Hungary.  He pointed out that he had faced much opposition from the Transylvania Saxons against the possible Hungarian takeover in which they were uninterested and just wanted to be left in peace.  For supporting the revisionist policy of Hungary he needed concessions from the Hungarians with regard to the status and rights of the Transylvania Saxons.  Teleki assured Hitler that it would be taken into active consideration.  After returning to Budapest Teleki took action to permit the publication of the German weekly “Deutsche Zeitung” as a daily newspaper in October of 1940 as a show of good faith.

Up until now, Hungarian politicians had basically ignored Basch but he now found himself courted by the right wing parties:  Bela Imredy, Count Imre Kalolyi and Andrew Tasnedy.  Basch and his associates gained greater freedom in carrying out their political and cultural activities.  In their official speeches they expressed a new tone so that the government was to understand that in the future they needed to be taken seriously and could not longer be “run over” as Basch put it.

At the general assembly of the Volksbund in Hidas, Baranya County on August 11, 1940 Basch was outspoken in the demands he made of the Hungarian government in an address he delivered that called for the replacement of all non-Germans serving as notaries and teachers in ethnic German communities and called for their prompt dismissal.  He further stated that all of the ethnic German settlement areas of Hungary be placed under the jurisdiction of the Volksbund.  Despite of the Bund’s attempt to create a division between the ethnic German minority and the Magyars, the vast majority of the Swabian population acknowledged Hungary as their fatherland and the wellbeing of all of its citizens was their ideal for the nation.  Basch’s claim that there was a strong movement within the Lutheran Church to separate on the basis of nationality and form new Seniorats (Church Districts) was false as were most of his attempts to divide the Churches.  But the divisions between the Hungarian government and the Volksbund and the German minority broadened and deteriorated with the ever-increasing rapidity as their Nazi ideology became more and more apparent.

Basch was now totally involved, engrossed and committed to the National Socialist ideology at this point and made a public breakthrough on the occasion of addressing the upper echelons of the Hungarian government at the dedicatory celebration opening the “German House” in Budapest on August 18, 1940 which would serve as the headquarters of the Volksbund.  He proceeded to ride his hobbyhorse of the suppression of the ethnic German minority in a scalding address that left no room for doubt about his Nazi orientation.

After the occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina by the Red Army in June 1940 and the concentration of Russian troops on the Romanian frontier in August, Hitler intervened personally in the Hungarian and Romanian discussions with regard to the territorial issue of Transylvania.  He let both parties understand they needed to work out an agreement with regard to the ethnic German minority and that the Reich would provide the guarantees for their rights and were prepared to defend them.  Hitler wanted peace and quiet in south-eastern Europe as soon as possible and called for the Foreign Ministers of Italy, Hungary and Romania to meet in Vienna on August 26, 1940.

An agreement was finalized on August 30th after Ribbentrop used pressure tactics against the Romanians and accepted some of their concessions.  Teleki and Cseky represented Hungary, Manoilescu represented Romania and Ciano represented Italy.  The Germans and the Italians called the shots.  On September 4, 1940 Teleki announced the agreement in parliament to the effect that Hungary had gained more than territory but were enriched by a larger population that needed to feel at home in “Greater Hungary.”  But not everyone was satisfied.  At the time of the signing of the Accord, during discussions with Basch on August 30th P�l V�go of the Arrow Cross vehemently gave expression to his discontent over the support of the Volksbund for the Teleki government.  He felt the Volksbund was hindering the growth of the Hungarian Nazis not strengthening the movement in any way.  Basch let him understand that he had no other real alternative than to support the official Reich policy towards the Hungarian government.  It was for that reason he told him that he was able to establish a local organization in Budapest which had not been possible up until now.  The Arrow Cross official was not impressed.

With the annexation of the new territories, between 43,000-61,000 Transylvania Saxons and 47,000-61,000 Sathmar Swabians were added to the ethnic German minority in Hungary.  The Saxons in northern Transylvania had their own economic and political organizations, their own home grown intelligentsia and their own German schools and high schools and they saw their task was to build up the ethnic German intelligentsia and the organizational acumen of the Folk Group in Hungary.

Teleki’s approval for the establishment and opening of a German high school in Budapest on August 25, 1940 hardly met the educational aspirations of the Volksbund.  The teacher’s colleges of the Saxons were to train a Swabian intelligentsia for all of   greater Hungary but most of the students came from the Batschka.

Nazi propaganda intensified throughout the ethnic German communities in Hungary after the Second Vienna Accord (August 1940).  The reason behind that was that the Hungarian government was obligated to allow the members of the Folk Group to fully express what they considered were their “national” rights.

During Basch’s visit to Berlin on September 12th he addressed several groups and organizations and spoke glowingly about the opportunity for the Volksbund to achieve its objectives in the light of the Accord.  At the time he also had talks with Heinrich Himmler.  He apparently gave him instructions to establish youth, women, cultural and economic associations among the ethnic German minority in Hungary based on the model of such organizations in the Reich.  In order for this to develop it would require the strongest pressure from the Reich on Hungarian officialdom and both Basch and Himmler were united in that opinion.  Himmler urged Basch to carry out these intensive activities among the Swabians to stabilize the position of the ethnic German minority even though both of them knew that Teleki had already forbidden such activities.

Even before the forty-eight new members of parliament from Northern Transylvania took their places in the Budapest parliament there were misunderstandings and sharp exchanges between Teleki and Basch over who the two ethnic German representatives would be.  Teleki wanted to appoint Robert Clemens and Michael Proll to parliament while Basch made a strong case for Dr. Eduard Keintzel as the representative of the Saxons and Sepp Schoenborn for the Szatmar Swabians.  All four of them had fallen for Nazism at the beginning of the 1930s.  Basch was able to get Clemens and Proll to decline and his two appointees entered parliament on October 10, 1940.

The diatribes and hate filled speeches of Basch after the Second Vienna Accord directed against the Hungarians lacked tact and diplomacy.   On November 6th when he spoke in Liptod in Baranya County he said, “From this day onwards if we are criticized by them in word or deed I will spring for their throats!”  Later on November 10th in Pecsvarad he is reported to have said, “For us, the ethnic German people come first and then comes a pile of manure, and then another pile of manure and only then come the Hungarian leaders.”  These rude and crude tactics only worsened relationships between the Volksbund and the Hungarian government.  But Basch believed that in this way he could win those who were committed to maintaining their ethnic German identity for his movement.  To a great degree it proved successful.

At a conference of teachers on the November 19th in which 112 teachers who were members of the ethnic German minority in Hungary participated at Bistritz to discuss the possibility of ethnic German schools in Hungary it became obvious that the Nazi ideology espoused by many indicated they formed the majority of the leading intellectuals.  Great emphasis was placed on history, physical education, biology (race) and music in order to create a new German people.

The desire to establish an independent political party like those of the ethnic German minorities in the neighbouring states was something Basch refused to give up.  He had a   stubborn streak in this regard   In his speeches he insisted emphatically on this point and left no doubt that such a party would be dependent upon the ideology of the NSDAP in Germany.  This was an excerpt from a speech he gave in Mosonmagyarever, November 24, 1940.

Following the Second Vienna Accords the leadership of the Volksbund energetically pushed the Hungarian government to meet the requirements of the minorities’ agreement that were part of the Accord.  Teleki indicated in response that he considered the matter simply an addendum to the Minutes and did not have the force of law.  However, when the Romanian government implemented the agreement related to the minorities on November 20, 1940 Teleki was forced to act.  He indicated that the matter was under study and he dragged his heels and tried to subvert the agreement as much as possible.

With the “return” of southern Slovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine and northern Transylvania Hungary inherited a ethnic German population that was conscious of its ethnic identity and had a German school system in place and the Hungarian A, B, C types of schools could not be implemented.  On February 1, 1941 a new Minorities School Regulation was put into effect and the Volksbund was successful in establishing some Type A schools.  (Up until 1944 the Volksbund ran seventeen such schools in the former territory of Trianon Hungary.  This included three high schools in Hidas, Deutschbol and Baja and two junior colleges in Budapest and Pecs.)  There was always a shortage of German speaking teachers and teachers had to be recruited in Germany.  But the Hungarian government stepped in to curtail the programme and did not allow for the importation of textbooks from Germany.

In the February 15, 1941 issue of the Deutsche Zeitung the Bund leadership claimed that the Vienna Accord required that German be the language of instruction in the schools of the ethnic German minority in Hungary.  The question of the German schools in Hungary could only be addressed under the terms of the Accord if the Volksbund had the autonomy to oversee and administer them.

In the propaganda speeches delivered by Bund activists in the ethnic German communities it was intoned over and over again that the people had to acknowledge their German race and nationality.  There was always an underlying threat in these speeches to the effect that those who denied or hid their ethnic German identity would suffer difficulties in the future.  On the other hand the Hungarian government and its supporters among the ethnic German minority indicated that anyone who acknowledged being ethnic German in the next government census would be resettled in Germany.  Whoever registered as a non-Hungarian would also have to be afraid of being looked upon as a traitor to the nation and would be treated as such.  It was also to have economic consequences and the loss of property.  The same threats were made to the assimilated Swabians as well.  There can be no talk of the freedom of choice in this matter, which was typical of all of the entire Magyarization legislation and pressures exerted on the ethnic German minority during this period.

The hostile attitude of the Hungarian government towards its minorities was not limited to their schools, language and culture but also had economic consequences.  It was no wonder that the minorities became radicalized and supported political parties and ideologies that promised an improvement in their situation.

How disinterested Teleki was in carrying out any talks with the ethnic German minority was exemplified in the discussions he held with Brandt, Keintzel and Mehl the German members of parliament on February 24, 1941.  As the parliamentarians indicated the issues that bothered the ethnic German minority about the way the census was being conducted he indicated, “I’m afraid I have my own complaints about you.  It appears that the ethnic German Folk Group has forgotten where their loyalty lies.”  When Keintzel brought up the matter of the pre-military training of the ethnic German youth and indicated that it should be turned over to the Volksbund and asked for permission to speak to the Minister of Education about it, Teleki brought the audience to an abrupt halt and left.

The radicalization and intensification of opposing positions became more and more obvious as the census approached.  Leading members of the Volksbund spewed forth all kinds of demagoguery in speaking to their membership.  Franz Jankovich was reported to have spoken in Szakad in Baranya County on February 2, 1941 and said:  “Our ethnic German children do not have to know who Kossuth and Petofi were.  We are ethnic German and ethnic German we will remain.”

It is no wonder that the two campaigns split the ethnic German minority into two opposing factions.  Membership in the Volksbund increased from 53,000 in October 1940 to 97,000 in the spring of 1941.  These figures indicate that the majority of the Swabians and other ethnic German minorities continued to support the Hungarian government.  In Tolna County a loyalty movement sprang up:  Treu ZurHeimat (Loyal to the Homeland).  It came into existence to thwart the spread and influence of the Volksbund.  The adverse policies of the Hungarian government against the ethnic German minority and the ongoing victories of the German Army led to an increase in the Volksbund membership.  The military power of Germany was overwhelming and the Hungarian government was in no position to take reprisals against its ethnic German population.  This hesitancy on their part only encouraged the Bund leadership in its Nazi policies and Basch and others became more combative in their speeches to their followers.

The objective of the Volksbund’s activities was to force Hungary to acknowledge that in terms of the minorities’ agreement in the Accord the ethnic German Folk Group was in effect, “a state within the state” which was totally untenable to the Hungarian government.  When Hungary joined the Axis Powers in the war against Russia the Hungarian government made some concessions to the situation of the ethnic German minority in Hungary.  But the Reich would see to making some changes it had in mind as well.

The Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Army, Henry Werth, was forced to resign on September 5, 1941 for his pro-German stance.  This was seen as an unfriendly act on the part of Hungary by the Volksbundand the Reich and antagonistic to Reich interests.  The Reich reacted by forming relationships with the right wing political parties to form an opposition to the new government of Bordossy who replaced Teleki.  It did not take long before the followers of Pollfys who “bought into” the whole Nazi bag along with the Imrody clique formed a new party:  The National Socialist Party of Hungary.  This was a union of the right wing extremists that were prepared to assist the Reich to pressure the Hungarian government to support their foreign policy objectives.  But even with all of these political machinations going on, Basch could not get beyond being the Fuehrer of an association that could not become a political party unlike his confreres in Romania, Slovakia and Croatia.

In discussions with Bardossy, the new Prime Minister, on September 26, 1941 Basch was unable to get approval for the formation of a youth organization under the auspices of the Volksbund because the same youth belonged to other state organizations that would exclude participation in a Bundorganization.  The only exceptions to the law were school and church groups.  He pointed out that the Accord had permitted such organizations on the part of the ethnic German Folk Group and Basch announced he would proceed with the formation of a youth group.  In light of the events in 1941, the Hungarian government had no choice but to allow Basch to proceed but introduced some conditions.  A youth could only join if his father was a Volksbund member.  All members of the Bund youth organization also had to participate fully in the local Levente unit and do four hours of training every week.

The ethnic German Youth Organization was founded at the National Youth Day celebration in Magacs on June 19, 1941.  In the next three months more than one hundred German youth went to Germany at the invitation of the Reich Youth Leader, Arthur Axmann for a three month visit which became a time for political indoctrination.  Bordossy became aware of it and was enraged.

On September 26, 1941 Basch once again had talks with Bordossy and raised the school issue again.  For Basch there were three important considerations:  the language of instruction, the “spirit” of education (by that he meant the Nazi ideology) and higher education.  He referred to Article I of the Vienna Accord in which Hungary had agreed not to curtail in any way the full expression of the ethnic German Folk Group’s efforts to maintain their ethnic identity.  In Section D of Article I, he pointed out that ethnic German children were assured of an education in their own language and under Section G Hungary had guaranteed not to force the assimilation of the ethnic German minority in any way.  In passing Basch also criticized the School Regulation of February 1, 1941.

After these discussions that were followed by some rather rash speeches on Basch’s part, Bodossy called in the German ambassador von Jagow on October 27, 1941 to inform him he was outraged by the tone and direction that Basch was taking.  As an ally of the Reich against the Bolsheviks he could not tolerate the anti-government agitation of Basch and his henchmen in the Bund because it was self defeating and detrimental to the war effort.  He informed the ambassador to convey his concerns to Ribbentrop that Basch was injuring German-Hungarian relations and he should desist from such practices in the future in order to safeguard their alliance.

An angry von Jagow called in Basch and laid down the law, which surprised both Basch and the Foreign Office in Berlin, since von Jagow himself had set the course for Basch in the first place.  The recent dismissal of General Werth was also having an effect on the Foreign Office at the time.  But Bordossy was taking other steps to curtail the activities of the Volksbund.  He informed the German Foreign Office he would not longer tolerate Basch’s incendiary speeches and the charges he made against the Hungarian State.  He would be forced to undertake serious reprisals to put a stop to these unseemly outbursts of Basch.  He also indicated he had been informed that the Volksbund leaders were planning to undertake economic warfare against the Hungarian economy.

In a letter of April 8, 9141 to the Foreign Office, the German ambassador von Jagow in Budapest shared his assessment of the situation and indicated that the Prime Minister of Hungary was a man of his word, they would have to wait to see if it would lead to deeds for the ethnic German question could only be solved politically.  He also indicated that the Bund leadership was of a different mind about the matter.

The heavy casualties suffered by the Waffen-SS caused Himmler to summon Basch to Berlin on November 18, 1941 to inform him of the current problems in his relationship with the Hungarian government.  Himmler informed him that the military situation demanded that there be a stable relationship and role for the Volksbund with the Hungarian government.  This was urgent because he had to compensate for the losses suffered by the Waffen-SS with volunteers from among the ethnic German minority in Hungary who he was to enlist.  The need of the hour was a secession of the conflict between the Volksbund and the Hungarian government and a stance of loyalty to Hungary on the part of the ethnic German minority, which would be crucial to win Bordossy’s confidence.

On November 25th Bordossy was in Berlin in order to extend the time frame for the continuation of the anti-Comitern Pact.  As the Hungarian Prime Minister met with Ribbentrop he brought up the matter of the leadership of the Volksbund for discussion.  In turn the German Foreign Minister sent him to Himmler.  In his meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Himmler assured him that in future the Basch led Bund would work harmoniously with the Hungarian government.  In addition, he indicated that it was in the best interests of the Hungarian government to allow the Volksbund to be in charge of the ethnic German youth organization in Hungary because it was reservoir of brave anti-Bolshevik soldiers of the future and should be allowed to carry out their programme of training the young men for this purpose unhindered by any policies or actions on the part of the Hungarian government.  In his discussions, Himmler neither mentioned specifically nor alluded to the planned SS action to recruit young men from among the ethnic German minority to serve in their forces.

Himmler’s assurances had the desired effect and a kind of truce went into effect when Bordossy returned to Budapest and made some minor concessions.  The Volksbund leaders now watched the relationship between Budapest and Berlin very closely to find political leverage and opportunities to meet their long-term goals.

The Reich government held back from instigating the recruitment for the Waffen-SS in Hungary up to the end of 1941.  All of this changed quickly in the New Year.  The Bund became fully engaged in the recruitment of volunteers to join the Waffen-SS as well as collect supplies for the frontline troops:  food and clothing as well as providing them with their weapons all in the best interests of Nazi Germany.  The Hungarian government was forced to respect the wishes of Himmler in order to maintain friendly relations with Hitler’s Germany.  On receiving instructions from Himmler on November 18, 1941 Basch had proceeded with the Youth Organization involving young men from 18 and older and young women from 15 years and older as the first step in preparation for the recruitment programme of volunteers for the Waffen-SS.  The school, church and parents had nothing to say about the participation of their youth.  The National Youth Fuerhrer, Mathias Huber, on the official founding of the youth organization in January 1942 declared:  “Every last one of our ethnic German youth must be committed to our cause.  To be a ethnic German is to be a soldier!”  The plan to surrender the able bodied youth of the ethnic German minority in Hungary to become canon fodder for the Nazi war machine was now set in motion.