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Hungary during World War II was a generally opportunistic and reluctant member of the Axis powers. In the 1930s, the Kingdom of Hungary relied on increased trade with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to pull itself out of the Great Depression. By 1938, Hungarian politics had shifted to the right and its foreign policy had become increasingly pro-Fascist Italian and pro-Nazi German. Hungary benefitted territorially from its relationship with the Axis. Settlements were negotiated regarding territorial disputes with the Czecho-Slovak Republicmarker, the Slovak Republic, and the Kingdom of Romania. In 1940, under pressure from Germany, Hungary joined the Axis. Although initially hoping to avoid direct involvement in the war, Hungary's participation soon became inevitable. In 1941, Hungarian forces participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the invasion of the Soviet Union.

While waging war against the Soviet Unionmarker, Hungary engaged in secret peace negotiations with the United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker. Hitler discovered this betrayal and, in 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. When Soviet forces began threatening Hungary, an armistice was signed between Hungary and Russia by Regent Miklós Horthy. Soon after, Horthy's son was kidnapped by German commandos and Horthy was forced to revoke the armistice and was then deposed from power. In 1945 Hungarian and German forces in Hungary were defeated by invading Soviet armies.

Approximately 300,000 Hungarian soldiers and 80,000 civilians died during World War II and many cities were damaged, most notably the capital of Budapestmarker. Most Jews in Hungary were protected from the Holocaust for the first few years of the war. However from the start of German occupation in 1944, Jews and Roma were deported and over 200,000 of them were exterminated in concentration camps. Hungary's borders were returned to their pre-1938 status after its surrender.

Movement to the right

"Despite it all..!"
A propaganda poster for the fascist Arrow Cross party
In Hungarymarker, the Great Depression resulted in deterioration of the standard of living, and the political mood of the country shifted toward the far right. In 1932, the regent Miklós Horthy appointed a new Prime Minister, Gyula Gömbös. Gömbös was identified with the Hungarian National Defence Association (Magyar Országos Véderő Egylet, or MOVE) and the "White Terror." He led Hungarian international policy towards closer cooperation with Germany and started an effort to assimilate minorities in Hungary, which at the time totalled 5-7% of the population. Gömbös signed a trade agreement with Germany that led to fast expansion of the economy, drawing Hungary out of the Great Depression but making Hungary dependent on the German economy for both raw materials and export revenues.

Gömbös advocated a number of social reforms, one-party government, revision of the Treaty of Trianon, and Hungary's withdrawal from the League of Nations. Although he assembled a strong political machine, his efforts to achieve his vision and reforms were frustrated by a parliament composed mostly of István Bethlen's supporters and by Hungary's creditors, who forced Gömbös to follow conventional policies in dealing with the economic and financial crisis. The result of the 1935 elections gave Gömbös more solid support in parliament. He succeeded in gaining control of the ministries of finance, industry, and defense and in replacing several key military officers with his supporters. In October 1936, he died due to kidney problems without realizing his goals.

Hungary used its relationship with Germany to attempt to revise the Treaty of Trianon. In 1938, Hungary openly repudiated the treaty's restrictions on its armed forces. Adolf Hitler gave promises to return lost territories and threats of military intervention and economic pressure to encourage the Hungarian Government to support the policies and goals of Nazi Germany. In 1935, a Hungarian fascist party, the Arrow Cross Party, led by Ferenc Szálasi was founded. Gömbös' successor, Kálmán Darányi, attempted to appease both Nazis and Hungarian antisemites by passing the First Jewish Law, which set quotas limiting Jews to 20% of positions in several professions. The law satisfied neither the Nazis nor Hungary's own radicals, and when Darányi resigned in May 1938 Béla Imrédy was appointed Prime Minister.

Imrédy’s attempts to improve Hungary’s diplomatic relations with the United Kingdommarker initially made him very unpopular with Germany and Italy. Aware of Germany's Anschluss with Austria in March, he realized that he could not afford to alienate Germany and Italy on a long term basis: in the autumn of 1938 his foreign policy became very much pro-German and pro-Italian. Intent on amassing a powerbase in Hungarian right wing politics, Imrédy started to suppress political rivals, so the increasingly influential Arrow Cross Party was harassed, and eventually banned by Imrédy’s administration. As Imrédy drifted further to the right, he proposed that the government be reorganized along totalitarian lines and drafted a harsher Second Jewish Law. Imrédy's political opponents, however, forced his resignation in February 1939 by presenting documents showing that his grandfather was a Jew. Nevertheless, the new government of Count Pál Teleki approved the Second Jewish Law, which cut the quotas on Jews permitted in the professions and in business. Furthermore, the new law defined Jews by race instead of just religion, thus altering the status of those who had formerly converted from Judaism to Christianity.

By the June 1939 elections, Hungarian public opinion had shifted so far to the right that voters gave the Arrow Cross Party the second highest number of votes.

The Vienna Awards

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sought to enforce peacefully the claims of Hungarians on territories Hungary lost in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon. Two significant territorial awards were made. These awards were known as the First Vienna Award and the Second Vienna Award.

In October 1938, the Munich Agreement caused the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Republicmarker and the creation of the Czecho-Slovak Republicmarker (also known as the "Second Czechoslovak Republic"). Some autonomy was granted to Slovakiamarker and to Carpathian Rutheniamarker in the new republic. On 5 October, about 500 members of the Hungarian Ragged Guard infiltrated Slovakia and Ruthenia as "guerrillas". On 9 October, the Kingdom of Hungary started talks with the Czecho-Slovak Republic over Magyar-populated regions of southern Slovakia and southern Ruthenia. On 11 October, the Hungarians guards were defeated by Czecho-Slovak troops at Berehovomarker and Borzsava in Ruthenia. The Hungarians suffered approximately 350 casualties and, by 29 October, the talks were deadlocked.

First Vienna Award

On 2 November 1938, the First Vienna Award transferred to Hungary parts of Southern Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, an area amounting to 11,927 km² and a population of 869,299 (86.5% of which were Hungarians according to a 1941 census). Between 5 November and 10 November, Hungarian armed forces peacefully occupied the newly transferred territories. Hitler later promised to transfer all of Slovakia to Hungary in exchange for a military alliance, but his offer was rejected. Instead, Horthy chose to pursue a territorial revision to be decided along ethnic lines.

In March 1939, the Czecho-Slovak Republic was dissolved, Germany invaded it, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established. On 14 March, Slovakia declared itself to be an independent state. On 15 March, Carpatho-Ukraine declared itself to be an independent state. Hungary rejected the independence of Carpatho-Ukraine and, between 14 March and 18 March, Hungarian armed forces occupied the rest of Carpathian Ruthenia and ousted the government of Avgustyn Voloshyn. By contrast, Hungary recognized the German puppet state of Slovakia led by the Clerical Fascist Jozef Tiso. But, on 23 March 1939, disagreements with Slovakia over the new common eastern border led to a localized armed conflict between the two countries. The Slovak-Hungarian War,also known as the "Little War", ended with Hungary gaining only the easternmost strip of Slovakia.

Second Vienna Award

In September 1940, with troops massing on both sides of the Hungarian-Romanian border, war was averted by the Second Vienna Award. This award transferred to Hungary the northern half of Transylvania, with a total area of 43,492 km² and a total population of 2,578,100 divided more or less evenly between Hungarians and Romanians (depending on the census, cf. Second Vienna Award). By dividing Transylvania between Romania and Hungary, Hitler was able to ease tensions in Hungary. In October 1940, the Germans initiated a reciprocity policy between Romania and Hungary which was continued until the end of World War II.

Administrative Divisions

Kingdom of Hungary 1941-44
Following the two Vienna awards, a number of counties that had been lost in whole or part by the Treaty of Trianon were restored to Hungarian rule. As a result, some previously merged counties - in Hungarian közigazgatásilag egyelőre egyesített vármegye (k.e.e. vm.) - were de-merged and restored to their pre-1920 boundaries.

The region of Sub-Carpathiamarker was given special autonomous status with the intention that (eventually) it would be self governed by the Ruthenian minority.

World War II

On 20 November 1940, under pressure from Germany, Hungarian prime Minister Pál Teleki signed the Tripartite Pact.In December 1940, Teleki also signed an ephemeral "Treaty of Eternal Friendship" with the Kingdom of Yugoslaviamarker. At that time, Yugoslavia was under a Regent, Prince Paul who was also under German pressure.

On 25 March 1941, Prince Paul signed the Tripartite Pact on behalf of Yugoslavia. Two days later, a Yugoslavian coup d'état removed Prince Paul, replaced him with pro-Britishmarker King Peter, and threatened the success of the planned German invasion of Russia.

Hitler asked the Hungarians to support his invasion of Yugoslavia. He promised to return some territory to Hungary in exchange for military cooperation. On 3 April 1941, unable to prevent Hungary's participation in the war alongside Germany, Teleki committed suicide. The right-wing radical László Bárdossy succeeded him as Prime Minister.

Invasion of Yugoslavia

Days after Teleki's death, the Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade without warning. The German Army invaded Yugoslavia and quickly crushed Yugoslavian armed resistance. Horthy dispatched the Hungarian Third Army to occupy Vojvodina. Later, Hungary forcibly annexed sections of Baranja, Bačkamarker, Međimurjemarker, and Prekmurje.

Forced labor service

The forced labor service system was introduced in Hungary in 1939. This affected primarily the Jewish population, but many people belonging to minorities, sectarians, leftists and Roma were also inducted.

35-40 thousand forced laborers, mostly Jews or of Jewish origin, served in the Hungarian Second Army which fought in the USSR (see below). 80 percent of them - that is, 28-32 thousand people - never returned; they died either on the battle-field or in captivity.

Approximately half of the six thousand Jewish forced laborers working in the copper mines in Bor in Yugoslavia were executed during the German withdrawal from Yugoslavia (Cservenka,Abdamarker).

The war in the east

German troops in Budapest, October 1944.
Hungary did not immediately participate in the invasion of the Soviet Unionmarker. The invasion began on 22 June 1941, but Hitler did not directly ask for Hungarian assistance. Nonetheless, many Hungarian officials argued for participation in the war so as not to encourage Hitler into favouring Romania in the event of border revisions in Transylvania. On 26 June 1941, the Soviet air force bombed Košicemarker (Kassa). Some speculation exists that this was a "false-flag" attack instigated by Germany to give Hungary a casus belli for joining Operation Barbarossa and the war. Hungary declared war against the Soviets on 27 June 1941.

On 1 July 1941, under German instruction, the Hungarian "Carpathian Group" (Karpat Group) attacked the 12th Soviet Army. Attached to the German 17th Army, the Karpat Group advanced far into southern Russia. At the Battle of Uman, fought between 3 and 8 August, the Karpat Group's mechanized corps acted as one half of a pincer that encircled the 6th Soviet Army and the 12th Soviet Army. Twenty Soviet divisions were captured or destroyed in this action.

In July 1941, the Hungarian government transferred responsibility for 18,000 Jews from Carpato-Ruthenian Hungary to the German armed forces. These Jews, without Hungarian citizenship, were sent to a location near Kamenets-Podolskimarker, where in one of the first acts of mass killing during World War II, all but two thousand of these individuals were shot by Nazi mobile killing unitsmarker. Bardossy then passed the "Third Jewish Law" in August 1941, prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse of Hungarians with Jews.

Six months after the mass murder at Kamianets-Podilskyi, Hungarian troops killed 3,000 Serbian and Jewish hostages near Novi Sadmarker, Yugoslavia, in reprisal for resistance activities.

Worried about Hungary's increasing reliance on Germany, Admiral Horthy forced Bárdossy to resign and replaced him with Miklós Kállay, a veteran conservative of Bethlen's government. Kállay continued Bárdossy's policy of supporting Germany against the Red Army while also initiating negotiations with the Western Allies.

During the Battle of Stalingradmarker, the Hungarian Second Army suffered terrible losses. The heavy Soviet breakthrough at the Don River sliced directly through the Hungarian units. Shortly after the fall of Stalingrad in January 1943, the Hungarian Second Army nearly ceased to exist as a functioning military unit.

While Kállay was Prime Minister, the Jews endured increased economic and political repression, although many, particularly those in Budapest, were temporarily protected from the final solution.

Secret negotiations with the British and Americans continued. As per the request of the Western Allies, there were no connections made with the Soviets. Aware of Kállay's deceit and fearing that Hungary might conclude a separate peace, in March 1944, Hitler launched Operation Margarethe and ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary. Horthy was confined to a castle, in essence, placed under house arrest. Döme Sztójay, an avid supporter of the Nazis, became the new Prime Minister. Sztójay governed with the aid of a Nazi military governor, Edmund Veesenmayer.

After German troops occupied Hungary, mass deportations of Jews to German death camps in occupied Polandmarker began. Infamous SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann went to Hungary to oversee the large-scale deportations. Between 15 May and 9 July, Hungarian authorities deported 437,402 Jews, all but 15,000 of which went to Auschwitz-Birkenaumarker. One in three of all Jews killed at Auschwitz were Hungarian citizens.

In August 1944, Horthy replaced Sztójay with the anti-Fascist General Géza Lakatos. Under the Lakatos regime, acting Interior Minister Béla Horváth ordered Hungarian gendarmes to prevent any Hungarian citizens from being deported.

The war comes to Hungary

In September 1944, Soviet forces crossed the Hungarian border. On 15 October, Horthy announced that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. The Hungarian army ignored the armistice. The Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust and, by kidnapping his son Miklós Horthy, Jr., forced Horthy to abrogate the armistice, depose the Lakatos government, and name the leader of the Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szálasi, as Prime Minister. Horthy resigned and Szálasi became Prime Minister of a new "Hungarian State" (Magyar Állam) controlled by the Germans.

In cooperation with the Nazis, Szálasi restarted the deportations of Jews, particularly in Budapest. Thousands more Jews were killed by Arrow Cross members. Of the approximately 800,000 Jews residing within Hungary's expanded borders of 1941, only 200,000 (about 25%) survived the Holocaust. Several thousand Roma people were also killed as part of the Porajmos. Anne McCormick, a foreign correspondent for the The New York Times wrote in defense of Hungary as the last refuge of Jews in Europe, declaring that “as long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews.”Mrs. Anne O'Hare McCormick, The New York Times of July 15, 1944. Original context: "It must count in the score of Hungary that until the Germans took control it was the last refuge in Central Europe for the Jews able to escape from Germany, Austria, Poland and Rumania. Now these hopeless people are exposed to the same ruthless policy of deportation and extermination that was carried out in Poland. But as long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews." See:

Soon Hungary became a battlefield. Szálasi promised a Greater Hungary and prosperity for the peasants, but in reality Hungary was crumbling and its armies were slowly being destroyed. As an integral part of German General Maximilian Fretter-Pico's Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico, the re-formed Hungarian Second Army enjoyed a modest level of combat success. From 16 September to 24 October 1944, during the Battle of Debrecen, Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico managed to achieve a major win on the battle field. Avoiding encirclement itself, Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico encircled and destroyed three Soviet tank corps of Mobile Group Pliyev under the command of Issa Pliyev. Earlier in the same battle, Mobile Group Pliyev had easily sliced through the Hungarian Third Army. But success was costly and, unable to replace lost assets, the Hungarian Second Army was disbanded on 1 December 1944. The remnants of the Second Army were incorporated into the Third Army.

In October 1944, the Hungarian First Army was attached to the German 1st Panzer Army, participating defensively in the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive. On 28 December 1944, a provisional government was formed in Hungary under acting Prime Minister Béla Miklós. Miklós immediately ousted Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi's government. The Germans and pro-German Hungarians loyal to Szálasi fought on.

The Soviets and Romanians completed the encirclement of Budapest on 29 December 1944. The battle for the city turned into the Siege of Budapest. During the fight, most of what remained of the Hungarian First Army was destroyed about north of Budapest in a running battle from 1 January to 16 February 1945. On 20 January 1945, representatives of the Miklós provisional government signed an armistice in Moscow.

The remaining German and Hungarian units within Budapest surrendered on 13 February 1945. Although the German forces in Hungary were generally defeated, the Germans had one more surprise for the Soviets. On 6 March 1945, the Germans launched the Lake Balaton Offensive, attempting to hold on to the Axis' final source of oil. It was their final operation of the war and it quickly failed. By 19 March 1945, Soviet troops had recaptured all the territory lost during the 13-day German offensive.

After the failed offensive, the Germans in Hungary were eliminated. Most of what remained of the Hungarian Third Army was destroyed about west of Budapest between 16 March and 25 March 1945. From 26 March and 15 April, the Soviets and Bulgarians launched the Nagykanizsa–Kermend Offensive and more Hungarian remnants were destroyed as part of Army Group South fighting alongside the 2nd Panzer Army.

The end

Hungarian soldiers in Denmark, April 1945.
Officially, Soviet operations in Hungary ended on 4 April 1945, when the last German troops were expelled. Some pro-Fascist Hungarians like Szálasi escaped—for a time—with the Germans. A few pro-German Hungarian units fought on until the end of the war. Units like the Szent László Infantry Division ended the war in southern Austriamarker.

In the town of Landsbergmarker in Bavariamarker, a Hungarian garrison stood in parade formation to surrender as the Americans advanced through the area very late in the war. Hitler had written "My Struggle" (Mein Kampf) while incarcerated in the Landsberg Prisonmarker. A few Hungarians soldiers ended the war in Denmarkmarker in some of the last Nazi territory not yet occupied.


By 2 May 1945, Hitler was dead and Berlinmarker surrendered. On 7 May, General Alfred Jodl, the German Chief of Staff, signed the unconditional surrender of all German forces. On 23 May, the "Flensburg Government" was dissolved. On 11 June, the Allies agreed to make 9 May 1945 the official "Victory in Europe" day.

By signing the Peace Treaty of Paris, Hungary again lost all the territories that it gained between 1938 and 1941. Neither Western Allies nor the Soviet Union supported any change in Hungary's pre-1938 borders. The Soviet Union annexed Sub-Carpathia, which is now part of Ukrainemarker.

The Treaty of Peace with Hungary signed on 10 February 1947 declared that "The decisions of the Vienna Award of 2 November 1938 are declared null and void" and Hungarian boundaries were fixed along the former frontiers as they existed on 1 January 1938, except a minor loss of territory on the Czechoslovakian border. Half of the ethnic German minority (240,000 people) was deported to Germany in 1946-48, and there was a forced "exchange of population" between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

See also


  1. Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite John F. Montgomery, Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite. Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1947. Reprint: Simon Publications, 2002.
  2. World War II casualties#endnote Hungary - Wikipedia World War II Casualties
  3. Thomas, The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, pg. 11
  4. Thomas, The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, pg. 11
  5. Slovakia - US State Department
  6. Hungary - Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive
  7. The Holocaust in Hungary
  8. Holocaust in Hungary Holocaust Memorial Centre.
  9. Victims of Holocaust - Holocaust Memorial Centre.
  10. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
  11. Stafford, Endgame, 1945, pg. 242
  12. Treaty of Peace with Hungary


  • Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
  • Stafford, David. Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2007. ISBN 13-978-0-316-10980-2

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