This Week in Hungarian History: 26th-31st January 1945   1 comment


On 27 January 1945, two days after KGB Deputy-Commissioner received a report that his orders for the arrest of Raoul Wallenberg had been carried out, a temporary executive committee made an announcement in Budapest on behalf of the Royal Swedish Embassy. It addressed all holders of Swedish passports: “Seeing that all persons of Jewish origin are now citizens enjoying equal rights, activity has come to a natural end.” It wished those previously protected much good fortune and success for the future. However, although the fifty-one day battle for Budapest was at an end, the SS had still not surrendered and Vilmos Bondor drew an accurate picture of the chaos which reigned in the capital:

In the capital chaos reigned. Russian deserters formed gangs of bandits and plundered. The pockets of SS did the same. The newly-appointed Hungarian authorities looked on helplessly. They lacked manpower and experience. Police appointments were made from among the comrades, and those with any expertise were soon in prison.

In any case, the police were not allowed to touch the Russian soldiers, who were therefore allowed to continue to do as they pleased. The German and Arrow Cross terror had been ended, but the survivors were soon experiencing the beginnings of a new tyranny, the first waves of Stalinist dictatorship.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most momentous event in twentieth century Hungarian history was taking place in occupied, and now liberated Poland – the liberation of Auschwitz. However, the liberation of Auschwitz was not given much attention in the international press at the time, as we might expect from a perspective of seventy years later. As Laurence Rees has pointed out in this month’s BBC History Magazine, both Pravda and The Jewish Chronicle reported the story at the beginning of February, but the use of Zykon B was already known about from the Majdanek camp six months before. For many Soviet troops, Auschwitz was just another of the countless examples of Nazi brutality. Pravda ‘explained’ what had happened there asthe logical conclusion of capitalism – a giant factory for murdering the workers themselves when they were no longer useful. From this point onwards, there was an ideological line drawn between the communist and capitalist worlds over the historical significance of Auschwitz. The Soviets sought to reduce the emphasis on Jewish suffering, often referring to the six million murdered only as “victims of fascism”.

In Hungary, it was impossible to research, write about, or even commemorate the Holocaust for the next forty years. I was astounded to discover that when our bilingual team went to interview the villagers of Apostag in 1990, this was the first time the villagers had spoken about the events of April 1944, when sixty Jewish families had been removed and then deported. Even in post-Communist Hungary they were somewhat reticent to denounce neighbours and local police chiefs who played the major role in this (they didn’t see a single German soldier or SS man). This evidence has now been supported many times over by the Steven Spielberg Voices of the Shoah project and in the detailed testimonies published for Holocaust Memorial Day, and in newspapers like The Guardian this year, the seventieth anniversary of the liberation. Three of the five ‘witnesses’ quoted extensively there were Hungarian, one from rural Hungary itself and the other two from territories occupied by Hungary in Czechoslovakia and Romania. All three testify to the fact that persecution of the Jewish communities by the Hungarian authorities began long before the Germans occupied Hungary on 19 March, leading to the mass deportations to Auschwitz. They also support the earlier evidence that the deportations, carried out by the use of cattle trucks, the conditions of which led to many deaths before the victims left Hungary, were almost exclusively the work of the Hungarian Gendarmerie.

Perhaps this is why the current Hungarian government is not as keen to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 as it is to commemorate the occupation of Hungary on 19 March 1944. In fact, the ‘occupation’ was small-scale, as agreed the previous day between Hitler and Regent Horthy, who remained in power for a further seven months, making his government legally responsible for the deportations of over half a million Hungarian Jews. The choice of the 19 March for Hungary’s ‘Commemoration of the Victims of German Occupation’ allows the current state to avoid making an apology for the war crimes of the Horthy regime, and to argue that the Hungarian nation as a whole was the victim of Nazi aggression, thus re-writing history for a second time, substituting a nationalist hyper-text for a communist one.

Posted January 28, 2015 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

One response to “This Week in Hungarian History: 26th-31st January 1945

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  1. Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

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