Dávid Turbucz, Horthy Miklós: A book review

There is no question that a kind of restoration of the Horthy regime is under way in Hungary. That regime (1919-1945) considered itself “counterrevolutionary, Christian, and national”; Viktor Orbán made it eminently clear that his own regime, the result of a revolution in the voting booths, is “right-wing, Christian, and national.”  And when this regime wants to wipe out Hungarian history between March 19, 1944 and October 23, 1989, one cannot be terribly surprised that nostalgia for the “good old days” is growing. This is especially strange from people whose ancestors didn’t exactly prosper in those days. For example, Viktor Orbán’s grandfather was so poor that he couldn’t afford a train ticket to Budapest when as an unemployed youngster he was seeking employment in the capital. He walked. László Kövér’s grandfather and great grandfathers as old social democrats had a very hard time in Horthy’s Hungary.

We have already talked about the renaming of streets, the ball organized to raise funds for a Horthy statue, and the hideous life-size wooden Horthy statue erected in a small village. Lately a marble plaque from the Hungarian Reformed Gymnasium of Debrecen, which was removed in 1947, has now been returned to its original place. Because Miklós Horthy attended a naval academy in the Austrian part of the Dual Monarchy, he spent only two years at the gymnasium when he was 11 and 12.

I told the story of Gyömrő’s decision to change the name of the main square from Szabadság (Freedom) to Horthy. Because of the upheaval the city council decided to ask a historian, the highly regarded Ignác Romsics, to give a lecture for all those citizens of Gyömrő who were eager to learn something about the former governor of the Kingdom of Hungary. If the city fathers were hoping to get ammunition for their decision from Romsics, they had to be disappointed. Romsics painted a balanced picture of Horthy, including all the warts. The upshot of his talk was that viewing Horthy as a historical figure to be admired and revered is a mistake.

Given the growing Horthy cult it is not surprising that a biography of Horthy appeared written by Dávid Turbucz, a young Ph.D. candidate who had earlier written a number of articles dealing with Horthy. At least two of them are available on the Internet. One about the Horthy cult in the late 1920s and another on the media hype on the twentieth anniversary of his governorship.

In addition, I happen to have another article by Turbucz (“A Horthy-kultusz kezdetei”) in the 2009/4 issue of Múltunk. I found this article especially interesting because it deals with the Miklós Horthy of the 1919-1921 period. It describes the techniques by which Horthy’s closest supporters burnished Horthy’s image and thus laid the groundwork for the later full-blown Horthy cult.

Some right-wing journalists and politicians look upon Turbucz’s book as a revision of the Horthy portrait that was completely distorted by Marxist historians. But only people unfamiliar with Hungarian historiography would believe that assessment because by the early 1980s a fairly balanced portrait emerged. Turbucz’s professors and mentors were Ignác Romsics and Péter Sipos, both active prior to 1989.

 

Naturally, one can always find new details about Horthy’s role in the history of Hungary’s interwar period, but there is agreement on the overall assessment of the man. He started off as a right radical who agreed with the hot-heads around him and who shielded the murderers of approximately 1,000 people after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Not even his supporters tried to deny his responsibility in the white terror; they only attempted to minimize it. Although no one ever found an order written by Horthy to the counterrevolutionaries sweeping across Transdanubia, there is plenty of evidence that he knew about their activities. According to Pál Prónay, one of the terrorists, he even encouraged them.

But then after he became governor, especially after 1922, under the influence of the conservative István Bethlen, he abandoned his old friends. However, one has the suspicion after reading a few books and articles on the subject, including Turbucz’s, that his heart remained with the radicals. His anti-communist sentiments were so strong that he could completely lose his head and act against the interests of the country. When the news came from the military leaders that Soviet planes had attacked Kassa/Košice, it never occurred to him that “it was not in the Soviet Union’s interest to attack a Hungarian city.” He didn’t even discuss the matter with László Bárdossy, the prime minister. According to Bárdossy, he told Horthy about Molotov’s letter in which he even promised support of certain revisionist claims if Hungary didn’t join the German forces, but it didn’t impress Horthy. Most likely he didn’t believe promises made by communists.

Horthy’s role in Hungary’s entrance into the war without German request or pressure was one of the great mistakes of the final years of his governorship. The other was that he remained in office after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. On March 15, Horthy received an invitation from Hitler for a meeting in Kleissheim. Prime Minister Miklós Kállay didn’t want him to go, but the military so close to his heart advised him otherwise. First, he resisted Hitler’s demands but eventually he gave in to all of the Führer’s wishes, including his staying in office. He explained that he “cannot resign because he took an oath that he would not abandon his country in its difficult times. He is still a mariner who doesn’t leave the sinking ship.” Turbucz adds that the personality of Horthy didn’t get deformed as much as those of Hitler or Stalin, but the cult of personality left its mark on him.

By remaining in office he witnessed the deportation of about 600,000 Hungarian Jews and stopped the deportations only on July 6. By that time the Allies had landed in Normandy and the Russian troops were fairly close to the Hungarian borders. His later attempt to leave the German allies was a fiasco. It was poorly prepared and his beloved soldiers abandoned him.

Horthy and his family were taken to Germany where they were housed in an elegant baroque castle, albeit surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Eventually he was arrested by the Americans where he was interrogated by Andor Sziklay (A. C. Klay), a Hungarian working for the American secret service. In 1993 the notes of these conversations were published in Hungarian and they are telling. First and foremost, he was incapable of self-criticism and blamed everybody else. He kept repeating that events couldn’t have unfolded in any other way. He idealized the history of Hungary prior to 1918 and blamed Trianon for absolutely everything that happened afterward. He kept writing letters to Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Ernest Bevin and whomever he could think of in which he acted as if he were still the governor of Hungary. In one of these letters he even went so far as to claim that he did “everything in his power to save the country from the horrors of war.” Quite a bit of exaggeration, adds Turbucz.

Turbucz, echoing many other historians, is certain that it was Stalin who saved Horthy from ending up a war criminal. Mátyás Rákosi, secretary of the Hungarian Communist party, agreed with Stalin. They didn’t want to make a martyr out of him. As a result, he had to appear only as a witness at Nuremberg. During the questioning Horthy often claimed memory lapses, especially when it came to the so-called “Jewish laws” and an early 1941 deportation of about 15,000 Jews.

Finally, Turbucz spends a few pages on the anti-Horthy cult that took hold after 1945. In the 1950s the Horthy regime was described as fascist and Horthy as a dictator. Of course, this wasn’t the case, but the Horthy regime remains a system Viktor Orbán wants to establish in Hungary: a quasi-democracy where one party with overwhelming representation in parliament and without much interference from a very weak opposition runs the show. No wonder that Orbán feels a certain affinity to the regime and the man after whom it is named.

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Guest

London Calling!

Wow! – site looks good Eva -Thanks!
(If you allowed to make suggestions – then ‘bullet points’ would be good!)

The first law of technology is “All’s well that end’s”
Let’s hope it’s a painless transition.

I am amazed at the ‘Hagiographic’ view of Horthy by the present government.

Just from the one simple fact that he allowed 600,000 of his own people be removed from his country – by someone who was not invading his country; and who did not takes steps to ensure their safety – or even follow up on their well-being…

And who allowed them to go in the first place….

Is just a criminal neglect of duty and humanitarianism,

Simple

Regards

Charlie

Member

petofi wrote on the other site: “One should pay attention to what Orban does; but it is even more important to watch what he ALLOWS to be done.”
Exactly

Paul
Guest

“First and foremost, he was incapable of self-criticism and blamed everybody else. He kept repeating that events couldn’t have unfolded in any other way. He idealized the history of Hungary prior to 1918 and blamed Trianon for absolutely everything that happened afterward.”

Sounds familiar…

Paul
Guest

By the way – if for no other reason, I love WordPress because there is no ruddy captcha! I had so much trouble reading the awful one Typepad introduced a few month ago that I nearly gave up posting on HS.

dau
Guest

Even though I agree with most statements in the review, it only deals with the negative aspects of Horthy and his era. It perfectly conceals the positive ones, such as stabilizing a wrecked country: a perfect example what could have happened in Hungary between the two WWs is provided by Austria. For a more balanced opinion, I suggest regading e.g. the relevant chapters of Cartledge: The Will to Survive.

József Nádor
Guest

Dear Éva Balog! According to leading historians Horthy was forced to declare war against the Soviet Union. Hitler forced Horty to start war against Soviets. Watch the video!

The first part:

Watch from 6:00

József Nádor
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :

József Nádor :
Dear Éva Balog! According to leading historians Horthy was forced to declare war against the Soviet Union. Hitler forced Horty to start war against Soviets. Watch the video!

The circumstances of the declaration of war have been thoroughly researched and the Germans had nothing to with it.You bring up the words of a “szakaszvezető” (sergeant) for proof? You must be kidding.

Again, watch the video instead of writing such a nonsense! There aren’t any sergant on this video. He is just an old eyewitness from the 10 eyewitness on the video. Watch the talk of academic historians from the time: 6:00

József Nádor
Guest

They are academic historians and special experts of the era, they know all the details.

Member

József Nádor :
They are academic historians and special experts of the era, they know all the details.

Jozsef,

Would you mind quoting something about this? Thanks.

Kálmán József
Guest

It was a really interesting video with professional experts! Thank you József Nádor!

József Nádor
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :

József Nádor :
They are academic historians and special experts of the era, they know all the details.

Well, I took a look at your video. Your problem is that you don’t really understand what the two historians are talking about. The conversation is not about the Hungarian declaration of war that took place on June 1941 but about the decision to send the II. Hungarian Army to the Soviet Union. It was that decision that was not entirely Hungary’s own. How could it be? By that time Hungary was committed to war on Germany’s side. The historians clearly talk about January 1942 and not about June 1941.Big difference.

The second Hungarian army and the declaration of war against Soviets are strongly related. For those who can speak Hungarian it is obvious in the video. Eva, please watch it again! (carefully) Cheers! József

Guest

Mr Nador, wikipedia surely contains not necessarily the absolute truth, but it an indicator of what went on 70 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary_during_World_War_II

So maybe you would like to comment on this:

“Hungary did not immediately participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union. 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 in order not to encourage Hitler into favouring Romania in the event of border revisions in Transylvania. On 26 June 1941, the Soviet air force bombed Košice (Kassa). Some speculation exists that this was a “false-flag” attack instigated by Germany (possibly in cooperation with Romania) to give Hungary a casus belli for joining Operation Barbarossa and the war.[8][9] Hungary declared war against the Soviets on 27 June 1941.”

And maybe this too:

“Bardossy then passed the “Third Jewish Law” in August 1941, prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse of Hungarians with Jews.”

Guest

Or maybe this:

“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.”

So there were some decent politicians too in Hungary at that time – but not too many it seems.

Louis Kovach
Guest
Just as a theoretical (but likely) possibility. Hungary does not permit German troops to pass through Hungary due to the (then) recent treaty between Hungary and Yugoslavia. (Even though the treaty was signed before the British inspired coup d etat in Yugoslavia, which changed the regime!) The Germans would take over Hungary by direct or indirect means (a la Czechia, Slovakia, Denmark or a variation of those) immediately or shortly thereafter. Germany had internal allies within Hungary, perhaps more so from the German minority than from the Arrow Cross party, but any combination of the pro-German groups would have been adequate to achieve a Quisling type government. The Hungarian military (with a very large percentage of German descent officers inherited from the KuK), would not have resisted the German takeover efforts. Hungary then becomes an “occupied” country with Horthy replaced by some willing self-promoting person. There most likely would have been a call for volunteers (similar to Dutch, Belgian, Danish, Norwegian, etc. cases) to fight with the Germans, but not a formal Hungarian military participation in the war. The Hungarian losses from German contra Soviet campaign would have been significantly reduced. Hungary’s reputation in eyes of the Allies would have… Read more »
József Nádor
Guest

wolfi :
Mr Nador, wikipedia surely contains not necessarily the absolute truth, but it an indicator of what went on 70 years ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary_during_World_War_II
So maybe you would like to comment on this:
“Hungary did not immediately participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union. 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 in order not to encourage Hitler into favouring Romania in the event of border revisions in Transylvania. On 26 June 1941, the Soviet air force bombed Košice (Kassa). Some speculation exists that this was a “false-flag” attack instigated by Germany (possibly in cooperation with Romania) to give Hungary a casus belli for joining Operation Barbarossa and the war.[8][9] Hungary declared war against the Soviets on 27 June 1941.”
And maybe this too:
“Bardossy then passed the “Third Jewish Law” in August 1941, prohibiting marriage and sexual intercourse of Hungarians with Jews.”

The Losing of territory itself was a very serious intimidation/menace for Hungary! And don’t forget the bombing of Kassa!

József Nádor
Guest
http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kassa_bomb%C3%A1z%C3%A1sa_(1941) A bombázás idején aktív volt a légi forgalom Magyarország felett, a megfigyelők német, román, szovjet és ismeretlen gépeket jelentettek, amelyek közül több a magyar légtérbe repült, míg mások a határról visszafordultak.[3] A támadás után több más szovjet gépet is jelentettek a magyar légtérben, azok közül hármat 29-én Csapnál le is lőttek.[2] A bombázás napján, 12:40-kor Rahónál repülőgépről géppuskatámadás ért egy gyorsvonatot. A támadás eltérő források szerint két vagy három embert ölt meg, három súlyos és hat könnyebb sebesülést okozott. A gépeket ekkor a jól látható felségjelek alapján szovjetként azonosították.[2] 13 órakor a Heringes község szélén települt magyar légvédelmi figyelőpont észlelt három nagyméretű, gyors kétmotoros bombázógépből álló köteléket, de a repülőgépek típusát kézi távcsövön át nem tudták felismerni – a gépeken csak a magyar jelzésekhez hasonló sárga festésű szárny- és törzsjelzéseket figyeltek meg. Az esetről riasztást sem tudtak leadni, mivel tábori telefonvonaluk esőzés miatt beázott, elnémult. A bombázókötelék alacsony magasságban egyenesen átrepült Kassa városa felett és 13:08 órakor teljes bombaterhét ledobva, éles bal fordulóval távozott. A várost védő gépágyúk a támadás teljes váratlansága miatt csak néhány lövést tudtak leadni, a gépeken találatot nem figyeltek meg – az egyik bombázó azonban feltehetően műszaki probléma miatt rendszertelenül szórta le terhét, az egyik… Read more »
József Nádor
Guest

Német bombatámadás [szerkesztés]
Egyike annak a két elméletnek, amelyet az állampárti rendszer 40 éve alatt kutatni lehetett. A felvetés szerint Hitler rendelte el a provokatív bombázást, azért, hogy Magyarországot is bevonja a keleti hadjáratba. Az elmélet Krudy Ádám százados 1945 utáni elbeszélésein alapul, aki egyértelműen németként azonosította a gépeket, ám a történetet minden egyes alkalommal másként adta közre. Ez a változat főleg az 1960-as, 1970-es években volt népszerű a kutatók között, akik Krudy története alapján érveltek a német támadás mellett.[6]
A támadó repülőgépeket azonban a szemtanúk többsége (köztük képzett pilóták és légvédelmi tüzérek) nem tudta azonosítani, ami kizárja a német típusok alkalmazását. A magyar légierő kiképző akadémiája 1938 óta Kassán működött, a város repülőterén a német légierő géptípusai megszokott vendégnek számítottak, így azok hangját, sziluettjét nemcsak a katonák, hanem a helyi civil lakosság is jól ismerte.

Guest

Mr Nador, two things:

A link to wiki would have been enough …

Are you aware of the fact that this is an “English” site where many “bloody foreigners” (like me) read and comment, whose knowledge of Hungarian is just enough to read the Tesco adverts ?

There are surely enough Hungarian sites where you can continue the “Kassa discussion” …

And, btw, because of “Kassa” Hungary had to prohibit marriage and sexual intercourse of Hungarians with Jews ???

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