As mentioned yesterday, Szálasi’s obscure language and confused ideology were not conducive to the creation of a viable political party. However, Szálasi was determined. In 1935 his situation in the army became unbearable because of the pressures put on him to cease his political activities. So in March he resigned and immediately founded his first party, Nemzeti Akarat Pártja (Party of National Will), consisting of, in addition to himself, Sándor Csia, a typist, and two members. Csia eventually became Szálasi’s deputy and from 1939 on a member of parliament. After the war he was also sentenced to death and executed like Szálasi.
Szálasi wrote a new program, Cél és követelések (Aim and Demands) which had some curious items: for instance, there would be a moratorium on all personal debts, the state would pay off the creditors and would extend credit (financed by the state) to all in need. During the by-election in April 1936 Szálasi tried to get into parliament but polled only 942 votes out of 12,051 in Pomáz. However, he wasn’t discouraged; he merely became convinced that it was not through elections and parliament that he could succeed in reaching his goal.
Slowly the Party of National Will started growing. At the beginning of 1938, well after the party was banned, the police reported that the people most attracted to Szálasi’s party could be found among the civil servants. The police also managed to get a list of contributors with over five hundred names. Although there were three unskilled workers on the list, most were civil servants, doctors, lawyers, and retired military. At that time membership was still fairly small: between 1,000 and 2,000 people. Most of these people came from the provinces, Sopron and environs, and smaller towns around Budapest. Thus Szálasi’s party at the outset didn’t differ greatly from other smaller national socialist groups consisting of middle class adherents. In 1937, however, Szálasi and Csia visited Germany and what he saw in that country “made a deep impression on him.” Szálasi decided to turn his attention to the workers, and therefore the party’s slogans changed. The party demanded “justice, work, respect” for the “Hungarian worker” so he could “free himself from the shackles of the social democratic-communist trade unions and from the claws of feudal-capitalist, destructive monied Jewry.”
At this point, Horthy’s police had had enough. Szálasi was arrested and served three months in jail; his party was banned. After he was released, he tried to establish a mass movement by pulling together the different extreme right, nazi groups. The name of the party was Magyar Nemzeti Szocialista Párt–Hungarista Mozgalom (Hungarian National Socialist Party–Hungarist Movement). By this time his ideology was clearly antisemitic, consisting of demagogic rantings extolling extreme nationalism and totalitarianism. Horthy’s police were after him again, and this time he received three years in the infamous Csillag prison in Szeged where, by the way, Mátyás Rákosi spent sixteen years before his release to the Soviet Union.
Szálasi’s imprisonment actually helped the popularity of his movement. While he was in jail, his new deputy, Kálmán Hubay, established the Nyilaskeresztes Párt (Party of the Arrow Cross). The official date of its birth is March 8, 1939. It was the successor to the Magyar Nemzeti Párt–Hungarista Mozgalom. Under the leadership of Hubay (editor of Függetlenség, a far-right daily) the party achieved a sudden and unexpected success. By the end of the year, it had half a million members and at the 1939 elections, under the electoral law that basically made suffrage universal, they managed to get thirty-one members into parliament. Almost a million people voted for the Party of the Arrow Cross. By the way, here is the Arrow Cross next to a slightly different version of the so-called Árpád-striped flag, one of the flags used in medieval Hungary.
Szálasi managed to get out of jail earlier than expected because of the general amnesty (August 30, 1940) in celebration of the “spectacular” diplomatic success of the Second Viennese Award as a result of which Hungary received a fairly large portion of northern Transylvania. But as soon as Szálasi was out of jail and became the actual leader of his party, the Arrow Cross Party began to lose its popularity. It wasn’t only Szálasi’s ineptness and confused, incomprehensible ideas that caused the decline but because it had competition from a new extreme right party headed by former Prime Minister Béla Imrédy (Magyar Megújulás Pártja, Party of Hungarian Renewal). Moreover, internal disputes, mostly about the relationship betwen the party and Hitler’s Reich, began to fracture the Arrow Cross Party.
Szálasi thought his golden opportunity arrived when, on March 19, 1944, German troops invaded Hungary. But the Germans, deciding that he was not quite normal, paid no attention to him. The Germans agreed to make him the Leader of the Nation (nemzetvezető, vezető = Führer) only after October 15, 1944, when Horthy announced that Hungary was leaving the German side. At this point the Germans had no other choice but to rely on Szálasi to whom Miklós Horthy handed over power after Horthy’s son was kidnapped by the Germans. Szálasi then announced the “final solution” for the remaining Budapest Jews and allowed Eichman and his henchmen to begin driving Jews from Budapest on foot toward Austria. Meanwhile in Budapest the Arrow Cross men were drowning Jews in the Danube and killing anyone they didn’t particularly like. The Soviet troops eventually surrounded the Hungarian capital and the long siege began, but the killing inside the city continued. Szálasi and his government eventually left Budapest and moved to Kőszeg, close to the Austrian border. Seemingly oblivious to reality, Szálasi went on with his nation building plans. Meanwhile he and his government slavishly served the German military and were actually planning the removal of the Hungarian population from the territories still in German-Hungarian hands. On March 29, 1945, he and his government boarded a train and left for Germany, ending up in Augsburg. There he fell into American hands. On October 3, 1945, the Americans brought him to Budapest. On March 1, 1946, he was condemned to death by hanging as a war criminal.
Here is the best known picture of Ferenc Szálasi, but I remember him differently. Our family received a kalendárium (a kind of political and literary yearbook) for 1946. On the very first page there was a picture of Szálasi with a rope around his neck. The picture was obviously taken just before his execution. It made a huge impression on me.