A short history lesson about 1918-1919 in Hungary

I’ve written several times about András Nyerges’s excellent column, “Color Separation,” that compares today’s right wing to their interwar counterparts. His articles–originally published in Magyar Hírlap when it was a liberal paper and, after Gábor Széles made it a mouthpiece of the far right, in Élet és Irodalom–were reprinted in a two-volume collection. Inspired by some recent topics of discussion, I went back to these books. Today I’ll focus on two articles that are especially on target. One deals with the Romanian occupation of Budapest in August 1919 and even mentions Cécile Tormay by name. The other, published in 2002, is about Fidesz’s “reinterpretation” of Mihály Károlyi and the First Republic.

First to Tormay and the Romanians. I took a look at the last few pages of Cécile Tormay’s second volume in which she discusses the events between August 1 and August 8, 1919. During this time Tormay was hiding from the Budapest terrorists in a border town between Slovakia and Hungary, Balassagyarmat. It turned out to be a bad choice: Balassagyarmat was swarming with local terrorists who planned to kill practically all the better-off people in town even after the fall of Béla Kun. At least according to Tormay.

It is here that Tormay learned that the Romanians had occupied Budapest. She immediately came up with a conspiracy theory. That’s why the Entente representative refused to negotiate with “us, Hungarians” and instead turned to “William Böhm, Kunfi and with Károlyi’s henchman, Garami.” I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that all three happened to be of Jewish origin. The Entente didn’t allow the Hungarian troops stationed in French-occupied Szeged to liberate Hungary because “the occupation of Budapest was reserved by the Great Powers for the Rumanians so that the city might become their prey and they might still act the role of deliverers.”

Well, it seems from Nyerges’s article that there were alternative theories about the arrival of the Romanian troops. One of the very few liberal members of parliament in 1922 inquired from István Bethlen, by then prime minister, whether he was planning to set up a committee to investigate “who those traitors were who, against the expressed wishes of the Entente, asked the Romanians to occupy the capital city.”  The committee was indeed set up and those members of parliament who in one way or the other were involved in the coup d’état against the social democratic government that took over after the fall of Béla Kun loudly protested, although no one accused them of anything. They all denied complicity. As usual with investigative committees in Hungary then or now, no one became any the wiser as a result of the hearings.

Outside the House, however, rumors didn’t die down. A Romanian politician, Ioan Erdeli (in Hungarian sources he is referred to as Erdélyi János) who was involved in the secret Hungarian-Romanian negotiations during September-October 1919, gave an interview in a Cluj (Kolozsvár) paper in 1922 in which he said that there were indeed several delegations to the Romanian army asking for the occupation of Budapest. He was not at liberty to disclose names, “but they were mostly aristocrats and important representatives of industry.” But a journalist close to government circles had already mentioned in late 1919 two important people who were allegedly involved: István Friedrich, prime minister in 1919, and General Ferenc Schnetzer, his minister of defense. There is no real proof of their complicity, but what we can say for sure is that the fall of Béla Kun and the arrival of the Romanians was greeted with relief. In fact, the Romanians’ reception in Budapest was more than cordial; the disillusioned Hungarians welcomed the soldiers with a shower of late summer flowers. Tormay was “longingly waiting for the arrival of the occupiers” because communism meant the death of the nation. Foreign occupation was only humiliating.

And since we were just talking about the White Terror, mostly conducted by Miklós Horthy’s officers stationed in Siófok at Lake Balaton, here is Tormay’s account. “In Western Hungary the peasants are arresting the hiding butchers of the dictatorship and delivering them up to the justice of the crowd. They are executed by those whose father, mother, husband or child they have murdered.” This is how people rewrite history according to their own political views. Surely, true Hungarian officers couldn’t possibly murder the Jews and riff-raff whom Tormay loathed; this task had to fall to the aggrieved peasant masses.

Róbert Berényi's famous poster for recruiting volunteers for the Red Army

Róbert Berény’s famous poster to recruit volunteers for the Red Army

Nyerges’s second article deals with the reevaluation of the 1918-1919 period. Nyerges wrote it in 2002 after reading a work by a historian of decidedly right-wing views. This work as well as many other studies of the period try to portray the period in black and white. All the good men were on the right; those who supported Mihály Károlyi, and especially the Hungarian Soviet Republic, were “the garbage of Hungarian society.” This is still the case, says the unnamed historian, “even if some well known intellectuals enthusiastically spoke of the communist system and the arrival of the Red God and for a while served the regime. That was only their error or rather their shame.”

But life is never that simple. Combing through the contemporary conservative press Nyerges found plenty from the other side who enthusiastically supported the Károlyi regime. Here is an editorial (December 24, 1918) from Alkotmány (Constitution), the official paper of the Katolikus Néppárt (Catholic People’s Party). “We can take it for granted, based on Mihály Károlyi’s political past, and he himself certainly has the right to claim that every word of his comes from inner conviction. We don’t believe that the ship of state would be heading in better direction than in his hands.” The militantly conservative Budapesti Hírlap on February 25, 1919 wrote in connection with the land reform that “regardless of how it will end, it is leading toward true democratization. …  As the Romans said: Quod bonum, faustum, felix fortunatumque sit (May the outcome be good, propitious, lucky and successful.)” But this very same newspaper on October 7, 1919 wrote: “Károlyi and his conniving accomplices killed Hungary!”  A few weeks later the Budapesti Hírlap thought that the stupefied people didn’t realize that the October 1918 revolution  “was not national but a Bolshevik revolution. Every thinking man in the very first week, at the time Barna Buza announced the land reform, should have seen that.”  But if that was the case, why did the same newspaper say on February 22, 1919 that Buza “clearly stated that the land reform means not only a right but a responsibility.” The conservative Élet (Life), a literary magazine, wrote: “Károlyi is a martyr. A well meaning man who is ready to negotiate with the enemy and who received real promises.” In another article, the literary weekly admitted that under the circumstances the socialists became the backbone of society. Moreover, they are real patriots because “the socialists fought for the integrity of Greater Hungary” at the meeting of the Bern International in February 1919.”We were reading their speeches with great excitement at home. We applauded and cheered.” And the very last example, which is really telling: the Alkotmány (Catholic People’s Party) wrote on March 23, two days after the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, that “when pacifism and the pro-Entente politics failed, the hand of the proletariat was raised. The Hungarian Soviet Republic was born in order to save the integrity of Hungary.”  “During the war years the enemy called the Hungarian soldier ‘the red devil.’ The enemy will certainly hear in the future about the Red Army.” So, not only duped, ill-informed, naive people were enthusiastic about the revolutionary events of 1918-1919.

After the arrival of the counterrevolutionaries the history of these years was rewritten.  And today the rewriting of history is again proceeding apace. Black (or red) and white, evil and good, non-Christian and Christian, international (and by implication treasonous) and national. But a binary history is a false history, whichever side writes it.

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kamilla1960
Guest

After the devastation of the First World War, masses of people in both the Old World and the New were inspired by the October revolution in Russia to try to somehow create a more just and democratic society. The various attempts were led by persons who were shaped by their education and environment, and who had varying levels of awareness and skill. There were powerful forces at work to thwart their efforts. Virtually all the original architects of the October Revolution were murdered by Stalin (of whom Kun also became a victim). Stalin, who had been barely the equivalent of a movie extra during the revolution, rewrote history in his own image. Historical falsification continues. One of my brothers not long ago attacked me for reading the autobiography of Countess Karolyi. He also participates in the renewed glorification of the Horthy era.

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Considerable information and many references on the Romanian occupation of Budapest in 1919 is given in the historical magazine, Nagy Magyarorszag, vol. 4, #3, 2012.

http://karpatiastudio.hu/tortenelemi-magazinok/nagy-magyarorszag/budapest-roman-megszallasa/

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
I’ve always been amazed at the dilemma facing Hungarian nationalists: surely, Kun Béla was a commie – but at the same time he was a fierce champion of Greater Hungary ! 🙂 These were certainly very complicated times. The British did not trust the French military (whom they suspected of wanting to wage another war against Germany and Russia), and the French were as often highly divided within themselves on the strategy to follow – which reflected on already fluctuating Romanian-French relations. In Paris the tenants of the League of Nations (Clémenceau) opposed the tenants of a full anti-bolshevik crusade (Foch), not to mention the divide in the regional military command itself (Franchet d’Espérey vs Berthelot). And yes, General Bétrix in Szeged didn’t trust the white Hungarian troops at all… Eventually the anti-bolshevik crusaders took over – in part because of the situation in Poland and fears about another communist uprising in Germany – and the Romanian Army was let loose in Budapest (only a handful of British and French officers came with them, the French participating in the repression). But as often in History, this was the result of multiple circumstances, and not the effect of a conspiracy. So… Read more »
Sandor
Guest

I realized what kind of intelligence I am faced with in the person of Cecil Tormay, when I read her ruminations about Mihaly Karolyi. (In Outlaw’s diary)
She was livid. She new Karolyi from social get togethers well before the discussed times, and had a venomous dislike for him. She described the awkward, gangly count in the most unflattering terms, practically burying him in venom. But what it actually was that she opposed in him, besides his strange appearance and cleft lip, I never found out reading her book. I had to conclude that the hate was inspired by the “treason” Karolyi committed against his class, but Tormay could never bring herself to admit this.

tappanch
Guest
The October 4, 1919 issue of “Népszava” had a long article based on the testimony of Istvan Hayden, the defected guard of the Siófok prison. He was first detained by the whites for a night before his wife brought his documents from Budapest. He saw 40 tortured, hanged and hacked people that night. Then he was made a guard of the prison. At the night of August 26, the whites took 42 prisoners from the prison, including 14 or 15 Jews. They were all robbed, tortured and murdered that night in a nearby forest. He described two other mass murders with 36 and 16 victims. Hayden testified to the newspaper that about 200 people were taken out and killed from the four Siófok prisons in August and September 1919. Hayden described his flight in a second article on October 30. The Ostenburg squad sent a group to Budapest to arrest the journalists. [Horthy occupied Budapest only on November 16] They could not find them, but they accidentally found Hayden and his wife on a ship on the Danube, going from Budapest to Dunaföldvár. They wanted to murder them in Dunaföldvár, but Horthy, who happened to be in the town ordered… Read more »
Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Another source worth considering is:

Lipcsey Ildiko, 103 nap Budapest roman megszallasa /1919. augusztus 4-1919. november 14./ Magyarok Vilagszovetsege, 2009.

The book is well referenced and contains considerable data on the damage caused by the occupiers.

tappanch
Guest

The Fidesz Law Factory works at full capacity. Today they voted for 10 bills. One of the bills modified 96 (!) laws. The bill’s number is the telling 11111.

http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/11111/11111.pdf

Louis Kovach
Guest

Dr Balogh” Kovach re British report. The Hungarian governments were always rather good at fooling people. Historians don’t take this document at all seriously”

So everybody who is not pushing Dr Balogh’s cart is irrelevant, incompetent or discountable. What an ego!

Do you still claim that the Katyn atrocities were committed by the Germans? The folks who claimd fiorst that the Soviet’s did it were nazis and fascists…so they can not be belived..
You are not a historian but an apologist for everything the communists ever did.

Member
Louis Kovach : Dr Balogh” Kovach re British report. The Hungarian governments were always rather good at fooling people. Historians don’t take this document at all seriously” So everybody who is not pushing Dr Balogh’s cart is irrelevant, incompetent or discountable. What an ego! Do you still claim that the Katyn atrocities were committed by the Germans? The folks who claimd fiorst that the Soviet’s did it were nazis and fascists…so they can not be belived.. You are not a historian but an apologist for everything the communists ever did. Kovach, did you read every single book that came out about the subject? I doubt. I believe what Ms. Balogh is saying that she is being selective about what she spends her time with. Extreme organizations, like World Federation of Hungarians became a joke, so why would anyone want to waste their time to read anything they publish? Let’s put it this way, if in 1980 you had the chance to buy a brand new West German Mercedes for USD 20,000 or an East German Trabant which one would you choose? Neither Mercedes or Trabant were designed by ballet dancers. You would go with the more reputable, and more reliable… Read more »
gardonista
Guest

Louis Kovach :
Dr Balogh” Kovach re British report. The Hungarian governments were always rather good at fooling people. Historians don’t take this document at all seriously”
So everybody who is not pushing Dr Balogh’s cart is irrelevant, incompetent or discountable. What an ego!
Do you still claim that the Katyn atrocities were committed by the Germans? The folks who claimd fiorst that the Soviet’s did it were nazis and fascists…so they can not be belived..
You are not a historian but an apologist for everything the communists ever did.

Nice! It’s glad to see Louis Kovach lose his cool.

To add that special level of academic credibility, he uses lots of misspellings.

Hey, Lajos, there are some more respectable publishers than others. I don’t know either you or Eva, but I find her preferences quite convincing. She has earned my respect. But I love reading your posts to see how weak the pro-Horthy crowd is. Thanks for adding a bit of humor to this site!

tappanch
Guest

Here is another incredible change in law, to be voted in today.

[Ingatlant kisajátítani lehetséges]
„az országgyűlési képviselők, valamint a Magyarország Alaptörvényében meghatározott, az Országgyűlés által választott közjogi megbízatást betöltő személyek és hivataluk elhelyezése

In other words, the government will be allowed to take away your house or apartment to accommodate high-level officials and their offices!

Let us remind what the US Constitution says
“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Here we are talking about not quartering, but taking away, in peacetime!

http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/11398/11398.pdf

tappanch
Guest

Courts deemed unlawful previous attempts to take away the property of the Politikatudományi Intézet, an institute of history Fidesz does not like.

If I remember well, they modified the “Basic Law” to take away and nationalize the library of the Institute and I guess this new law will take away their real estate.

Guest

Hungary under Orbán is getting more and more unbelievable, that mass production of laws is really crazy …

Re loonie liar Louis, he wrote:

“Do you still claim that the Katyn atrocities were committed by the Germans?”

Now when did Eva ever claim this ?

Another example of Louis’ Kindergarten logic, a loaded question …

Maybe I should also ask him:

Do you still torture your wife and children every day ? (That’s my favourite example)

Max
Guest

When discussing the Romanian occupation of Budapest, I think we should remember the intervention of a brave US general. His statue still stands in front of the US Embassy, Budapest:

http://hungary.usembassy.gov/statue_of_bandholtz.html

Joe Simon
Guest

Hungary and all Hungarians everywhere remember Trianon today. So should the Hungarian Spectrum! But such an event falls outside the purview of Eva. Rather sad.

Sandor
Guest
Joe Simon : Hungary and all Hungarians everywhere remember Trianon today. So should the Hungarian Spectrum! But such an event falls outside the purview of Eva. Rather sad. What an idiotic comment! Where is this guy think he is? In the Magyarok Vilagszovetsege? Probably. Well, Joe, for better, or for worse, all Hungarians remember Trianon at all times and have no need for your prompting to do so. It is not a phenomenon that would be easy to forget. What makes it particularly tragic is the attitude of your ilk, opportunistically making a gigantic national disaster out of it. You see, the Hungarian governments of the Habsburg Monarchic times made every effort to alienate the nationalities and when they found an escape route they took it. To them it was a kind of liberation and it was partially the fault of the Hungarian ruling elite that they desired it. Just as it is the sin of today’s ruling elite that it became a festering wound to every party, because without the constant meddling by the government, within the European Union borders all those old wounds could have healed gradually. But the petty, nationalistic Hungarians find justification for their existence and… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Remember the 661,000 Hungarian soldiers who died in the first world war.
My grandfather was at the Italian Front.
Remember.

In the war, 3,800,000 soldiers were mobilized in Hungary.

Dead: 17%
Injured: 20%
Taken Captive: 19%

Estimates by Ferenc Julier

[He was the chief of staff of the Hungarian Red Army who betrayed the Tisza attack plans to Gombos and the Romanians in July 1919, contributing to the collapse of the army]

Tyrker
Guest

The definitive source on the Rumanian occupation of Hungary is the “undiplomatic diary” of US Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz, available from Amazon, among others:

http://www.amazon.com/Undiplomatic-Diary-Harry-Hill-Bandholtz/dp/0966573463/ref=la_B001K8TVRE_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370340298&sr=1-1

One can also read it online, courtesy of the Hungarian Electronic Library:
http://mek.oszk.hu/08200/08202/08202.htm

Bowen
Guest

Joe Simon :
Hungary and all Hungarians everywhere remember Trianon today. So should the Hungarian Spectrum! But such an event falls outside the purview of Eva. Rather sad.

No, not all Hungarians.

Chris S.
Guest

For all the right-wing loathing of Mihály Károlyi, I have never heard a credible case made for how a different policy could have spared Hungary its post-WWI fate (particularly concerning Trianon). At best, one can argue it was a mistake to disband the army – but even then, one has to consider the consequences of *not* disbanding the army.

petofi
Guest

tappanch :
Here is another incredible change in law, to be voted in today.
[Ingatlant kisajátítani lehetséges]
„az országgyűlési képviselők, valamint a Magyarország Alaptörvényében meghatározott, az Országgyűlés által választott közjogi megbízatást betöltő személyek és hivataluk elhelyezése

In other words, the government will be allowed to take away your house or apartment to accommodate high-level officials and their offices!
Let us remind what the US Constitution says
“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
Here we are talking about not quartering, but taking away, in peacetime!
http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/11398/11398.pdf

LAW as ‘attack weaponry’. How can this possibly pass
EU standards?

Orban’s provocations…when will they end?

tappanch
Guest

Nathan Horowitz spent 2 days at the Balaton (September 24 and 25, 1919), then wrote his all is kosher report – Horthy sent him a “thank you” letter.

His biography is here:
http://apps.westpointaog.org/Memorials/Article/4406/

Guest

Thank you Sandor!

This is exactly how my wife feels and she grew up as the daughter of a “class enemy (he owned a small bakery) and had to endure the Kadar regime until she was over 40 years old …

But still she wouldn’t want a return to the “Glorious Old Times” of Horthy …

Tyrker
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
I already mentioned Bandholz’s Undiplomatic Diary yesterday. Didn’t you read the comment?

No, I must have missed it. I can see it now. (PS: there’s a ‘t’ in his name before the ‘z.’

Member

Joe Simon :
Hungary and all Hungarians everywhere remember Trianon today. So should the Hungarian Spectrum! But such an event falls outside the purview of Eva. Rather sad.

THanks Joe. How could we forget that Hungary willingly marched into war with the Germans, sacrificed thousands of Hungarian soldiers by sending them into the massacre without proper equipment, all for …exactly what? Was a TRianon before Trianon? So, because of them trying to take over Europe with others, Hungary got punished by loosing a good chunk of their territory. We should be thankful that Hungary still stands, and was not chopped up completely. How can we forget that Hungarian politicians did not learn. from the past, and went again for it with the Germans thirty years later, blaming Trianon. I wish Orban, Fidesz, Jobbik, and their blind followers did not gorget either what happened, and why, so they would be humble, and quite, and would not try to stir up things in the EU, but that is just to much to wish for.

Member

tappanch :
Remember the 661,000 Hungarian soldiers who died in the first world war.
My grandfather was at the Italian Front.

My great grandfather died at Isonzo.

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