This week (1-7 December) seventy years ago (1944)… in Hungary & Moscow.   Leave a comment

At the beginning of December in 1944, the envoys that the Regent, István Horthy, had sent to Moscow at the beginning of October to negotiate an armistice with the Soviet Union, now found themselves negotiating for the establishment of a Hungarian government-in-exile with the Soviets and exiled Magyar Marxists in Moscow such as Ernő Gerő and Imre Nagy.

In mid-November, Molotov had sent Gerő to on a fact-finding Hungary to look for appropriate candidates for ministerial posts in the Provisional Government which was to be established in Debrecen in opposition to the quisling Szalási regime in Budapest, which had come to power in a Nazi putsch of mid-October. Molotov had agreed with Domokos Szent-Iványi, the young diplomat effectively leading the peace delegation whose memoirs have recently been published, that there should be no question of Jews being included on this list, though the somewhat anti-Semitic Szent-Iványi complained that Gerő himself as a Caviar Boy’, of Jewish stock, like Rákosi, Vas, etc. It soon became clear to him, by 3 December, that Gerő, with the agreement of the Russians was going to run the show.  He also met Imre Nagy with Gerő on that day; both men would, of course, go on to play an important and tragic role over the next twelve years in Hungary’s post-war history. When Gerő announced the list of ministers which would be proposed to the Provisional National Assembly, it included a member of the National Peasant Party, and two each from the Smallholders’ Party, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party. It also included three other members of the peace delegation, General János Vörös, Géza Teleki and Gábor Faragho, with Szent-Iványi himself to stay as envoy in Moscow.  Mulling over the future from his sick-bed, Szent-Iványi had little doubt as to the forthcoming events, but found support only from Teleki:

Full power would be exercised by the Russians and the Muscovite Hungarian Communists, first of all by Gerő and Rákosi. Many injustices would happen. There would be plenty of vengeful acts, executions, confiscations, not to say prescriptions in the form used by the two Triumvirates in Roman history. And what with the Red Army troops taking possession of the country, of Budapest? Rapes would be followed by killings and the destruction property, whether public or private…

Szent-Iványi was not very impressed with the Muscovite Magyar Communists. Imre Nagy appeared to him to be a very simple man, who did not say a word when Gerő was presenting his programme.  The latter did not like to be contradicted, not even by Mátyás Rákosi.  As far as Szent-Iványi was concerned, Hungary had been sacrificed by the West: during her role defending Western Civilisation as well as in both world wars. In addition, he felt that:

  • The dismemberment of Central, and in particular East Central Europe, made possible the extension of Nazi and later of Soviet domination of Europe;

  • It was vitally important to make friends with the Russians while at the same time eliminating the Rákosi-Gerő clique.  

Domokos Szent-Iványi stayed on in Moscow until 13 January, by which time the Provisional Government, and especially Gerő and Rákosi were, apparently, becoming nervous that he might be trying to undermine their position and influence in Moscow, However, both governments had come to the conclusion that his presence was needed in Debrecen, so he arrived there on 18 January.

The day before, the German and Hungarian troops had withdrawn from Pest to Buda, the Germans blowing up the five bridges, including Adam Clark’s iconic Chain Bridge, which linked the two halves of the city. The Red Army had not been able to take control of the city in a few days at the end of October as Stalin had ordered. In fact, it wasn’t until Christmas that the Soviets were able to launch their final assault on the city. On Christmas Eve, they had it surrounded. Even then, it wasn’t until the 13 February that the Germans finally surrendered the city.

In the late summer of 1945, the Raoul Wallenberg Assistance Committee (RWAC) for Hungarian Deportees conducted a survey of the survivors of the concentration camps. The majority of these, nearly four out of every five recorded their final place of imprisonment as Bergen-Belsen, because, as the Front had moved closer across Poland in 1944, the SS had been forced to move those who were still alive from Auschwitz (55% of the survivors) as useful muscle.  Whereas fewer than one in ten of those deported from the provincial towns with the compliance of the Hungarian gendarmerie earlier in the year survived, thirty per cent of the survivors were from Budapest. This number includes those deported under the Szálasi regime, some on forced marches to Hegyeshalom, some by the Arrow-Cross at Józsefváros station.  These hungarists, obsessed with racial purification and persecution, had endeavoured to dispose of every last Jew in the capital. As late as 22 November, 753 Jewish women and girls from Budapest arrived in Ravensbruck on Sondertransport 123, having lost everything without any personal documents. Six days later, a further train arrived at the camp with 1,036 Hungarian Jewish and Gipsy women from the Csillagerőd at Komárom. The SS was working at the accomplishment of the final solution even when the Battle for Budapest was at its most intense.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Sources:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         001Szabolcs Szita (2012), The Power of Humanity. Budapest: Corvina.

Laurence Rees (2008), World War Two Behind Closed Doors. London: BBC Books.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Posted December 2, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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