Tag Archives: Arrow Cross Party

Russian military intelligence and the Hungarian National Front

I’d wager to say that not too many people are familiar with a far-right paramilitary organization called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front or MNA), although it is perhaps the most important group of its kind today. It espouses the tenets of Hungarism, the brainchild of Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrowcross party which, in the late 1930s, had, for a short while, one million followers. The current leader of MNA, István Györkös, who just killed a Hungarian policeman, is the anointed successor of Szálasi.

Szálasi was captured in Germany by the Americans and was sent back to Hungary, where he was executed in 1946. While still in Germany, he passed his mantle to Árpád Henney, a military officer who was a member of his cabinet. Henney served as head of the Hungarist movement abroad until his death in 1980, when he appointed Imre Tatár, a former member of the Koronatanács (Crown Council). Tatár was singularly unsuccessful in holding together the warring Hungarists. He went to Hungary in 1989, hoping to revive the movement on Hungarian soil. It was here that he found István Györkös.

Despite the fact that a whole institute was created to study extremist organizations in Hungary, we still know relatively little about the 76-year-old Györkös. It seems that he was arrested and jailed after the 1956 revolution. In jail he became acquainted with the Hungarist movement through former leaders of the Arrowcross party who were serving time. Until about ten years ago he lived in Győr. He then moved to Bőny, a small village about 20 km from the city. This is where he killed one of the two policemen who came looking for illegal weapons. In the shoot-out he was injured.

Györkös had to be well known to the Hungarian authorities. He was arrested several times in the last 25 years. At one point he even received a suspended jail sentence. The Hungarian police force and the national security establishment had to know that every year Györkös and his group hold a military camp for youngsters in a secluded area, apparently owned by Györkös himself. It is enough to look at a list of their activities between January 2012 and June 2014 compiled by the now defunct Athena Institute. They also had to know that the man might be dangerous. To send two lightly armed policemen against somebody who, as it turned out, was waiting for them with a machine gun shows recklessness on the part of the Hungarian national security forces.

István Györkös in his usual attire

István Györkös in his usual attire

Several small extremist groups are active in Hungary, but MNA is unique in that it has extensive ties with Russian military intelligence. I dealt with this extremist group only once, in September 2014. It was in connection with a lesser-known right-wing portal called Hídfő (Bridgehead), which broke the story that Hungary was secretly supplying tanks to the Ukrainian army. Soon enough the Russian foreign ministry published an official statement stating that “weapons supplied to Ukraine by the EU-member countries … violate legally binding obligations—the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Russian foreign ministry was well-informed on the details: “Hungary’s Defense Ministry is supplying Ukraine with armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks, through a ‘proxy agency.’” It turned out that Hídfő was the official website of Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal. For some time it has served as a vehicle of Russian disinformation, a growing concern in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, by now, at least according to national security officials, Hídfő is entirely under Russian direction, either directly or indirectly. The best summary of the history of MNA and its activities can be found in an investigative piece written by András Dezső and Veronika Munk of Index.

The news site also published an article by András Dezső and Szabolcs Panyi which claims that officials of the Russian military intelligence, Glavnoe Razvedivatelnoe Upravlenie or GRU, established contact with MNA and other right-wing groups in the last few years. Apparently Russian diplomats often come in contact with these extremists at shows of military relics. According to information received by Index, the youngsters recruited by Györkös often play airsoft, which is similar to paintball. The weapons they use look and feel real, so real that they are used for military training. Apparently Russian diplomats have been attending some of these games. As for Hídfő, by now it carries practically no news on MNA but only serves Russian political interests.

Index also reported back in February 2015 that the reason for a split between the Hungarist groups was Györkös’s overly friendly relations with Gyula Thürmer’s Munkáspárt (Labor party; actually the tiny Hungarian Communist party), something that Thürmer didn’t want to talk about. But at least one photo exists showing that already in 2012 the Communist party and Györkös were on a common platform. I may add here that Gyula Thürmer’s son, who calls himself Gyula T. Máthé, is one of the important columnists at Magyar Hírlap. Here is his latest. What grows together belongs together, as the Hungarian saying goes.

And let’s return to the village of Bőny. HVG’s reporter visited the village and asked inhabitants their opinion of Györkös and what was going on in their village. They didn’t know the head of MNA well because he wasn’t the outgoing type, they said, but he looked “normal and respectful.” The military camps he organized for youngsters didn’t bother them. Since it was forbidden to drink in the camp, there were no signs of drunken marching militarists. According to one woman, “they were 20-25 years old and behaved very well. They looked like young commandos.”

A reporter from the pro-government Magyar Idők also paid a visit to Bőny. He gained an entirely different impression of the mood of the inhabitants, who are “relieved” because they have been “living in dread.” His informants agreed that Györkös was unsociable, so “everybody thought he was strange and many were afraid of him.” Everybody knew that he had guns. Apparently one could occasionally hear gunshots coming from his place. Magyar Ik’s reporter learned from a woman living in the village that several times a year Györkös organized military camps, which on occasion several hundred extremists attended. Their presence raised fear in the locals. But if that was the case, how is it possible that no one went to the police to report that Györkös had illegal weapons and that the youngsters carried flags with forbidden symbols?

Origo, which in the last few months has become just another mouthpiece of the government, published an article about MNA with the title: “Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal: Several ties to Jobbik.” The title is misleading. There is no question that Jobbik had connections to some of the extremist groups, but MNA was not among them. I guess Fidesz wants to drown out all the information that is coming from independent sources about the connection between Putin’s Russia and István Györkös’s MNA.

October 27, 2016

Orbán’s Veritas Institute looks at anti-Semitism in the Horthy era

It’s time to take a break from Hungarian party politics and the mess the Brexit referendum has created and talk about history. Specifically I would like say something about the recent activities of two historians working for the generously endowed Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government. The absurdity of an “Institute of Truth” serving a government doesn’t need to be spelled out, and I do hope that one day, in the not too distant future, the Institute of Truth will be thrown onto the garbage heap with the other debris Fidesz left behind.

The Veritas Institute is a large organization with 26 historians and administrative personnel who are doing research in three different areas: (1) the era of the dual monarchy (1867-1918); (2) the Miklós Horthy era (1919-1944); and (3) the post-1945 era. The two historians whom we meet most often in the pages of the daily press are Sándor Szakály, director, and Gábor Ujváry, senior research fellow.

Gábor Ujváry’s goal in life seems to be the rehabilitation of Bálint Hóman, the controversial minister of education in the 1930s. I had hoped that the Hóman case was finally closed when, in December 2015, Viktor Orbán gave up the fight for a statue of Hóman, caving under international pressure. Reluctantly he announced that no one who collaborated with the German occupying forces after March 19, 1944 can have a statue in Hungary. But, as I pointed out in my post of December 16, 2015, the idea of having a Hóman statue initially came from Viktor Orbán himself. Thus, his parliamentary announcement was a personal defeat.

Has he given up the plan to completely rehabilitate Bálint Hóman? I’m not at all sure. Ujváry’s efforts at whitewashing Hóman’s role indicate that Hóman may yet be portrayed as a hero. Ujváry is writing a book on Hóman’s life and political career, a project for which he as a member of the Miklós Horthy Era Team needed the approval of Director Sándor Szakály. The director of the Institute, as we learned recently, also finds Hóman innocent of most of the charges leveled against him.

Ujváry is a man with a mission. Instead of quietly toiling in libraries and archives, he grabs every opportunity to publicize his interpretation of Hóman’s political career–in popular magazines, in interviews, and at conferences. One of his latest salvos was a short article in the popular historical magazine Rubicon, in which he argued against the interpretations of those historians who “attack Bálint Hóman.” Among other things, he tried to justify the introduction of the numerus clausus of 1920. Since Ujváry’s targets were Mária M. Kovács and Krisztián Ungváry, the two historians answered him in Mozgó Világ in a joint article titled “Bálint Hóman in the captivity of the Truth Institute.” But Ujváry will press on, explaining to the Hungarian people what a great guy the former minister of education was. The Orbán regime’s efforts to rehabilitate Hóman unfortunately seem to be continuing with full force.

The other politically active historian of the Veritas Institute is the director himself, Sándor Szakály. About two years ago I wrote a post titled “Sándor Szakály: portrait of a historian” when Szakály in an interview called the deportation of approximately 23,000 Jews in July 1941 to German-held Soviet territories, most of whom were subsequently killed by the Germans, merely “a police action against aliens.”

Szakály burned himself pretty badly with that interview, but he is persistent. He wants to debunk mainstream historical thinking about the Horthy era and replace it with a more sympathetic interpretation. And so he decided to give another interview, this time to The Budapest Beacon. The interview is very long and covers a range of topics. I will look at only two issues, which are also part of the Hóman narrative of Gábor Ujváry. One is the assessment of Hóman as a historical figure and the second is the meaning of the numerus clausus of 1920, which restricted the number of Jews who could enter Hungarian universities.

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Szakály’s limitations as a historian once again became evident when the reporter asked him about Hóman’s role as a historical figure. He either can’t or doesn’t want to go beyond a strict interpretation of the written word. Here is an example of what I mean. Historians point out that Hóman, along with many far-right politicians, remained a member of parliament even after the Szálasi takeover on October 15, 1944. Here is Szakály’s rebuttal. Hóman was not a member of the Arrow Cross parliament “because such a parliament simply didn’t exist.” It is true, he continued, that “after the Arrow Cross takeover a truncated national assembly (országgyűlés) remained in session and Hóman was a member of that body, but that doesn’t mean that he was a member of the Arrow Cross party.” Or another example of his inability to think either contextually or causally. When asked about Hóman’s attitude toward Germany and his views on the German-Hungarian alliance, Szakály announced that he doesn’t think that Hóman was in any way “a harbinger” of the German occupation because “at the time he had no political role to play.” So, the possibility that Hóman’s actions influenced events leading up to the German occupation simply doesn’t enter his mind.

The director of the Institute of Truth further manifested his astute historical thinking in responding to questions on the meaning of the numerus clausus law of 1920, which most Hungarian historians consider to be the first anti-Jewish law, not just in Hungary but in the western world. Admittedly, the law didn’t contain the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” but it was clear to everybody which group was being targeted. No other “nationality” or “ethnic group” was over-represented in Hungarian higher education. The aim of the government was to restrict the number of Jewish students to 6%, the same as the percentage of Jews in the population at large.

Szakály said that he doesn’t consider the law to be discriminatory. And why not? “Because the law stated that only those will be admitted to the universities who are absolutely dependable as far as their national loyalty and morality are concerned.” In addition to morality and patriotism, “intellectual abilities” were also considered, as well as ethnic quotas. As to whether the law was designed to restrict the number of Jews in universities, Szakály responded that “not only was the word ‘Jew’ not mentioned in the law, but at that time [Hungarian law] didn’t yet stipulate exactly  what ‘Jewish’ meant.” Perhaps, he added, they meant “people who belonged to the Mosaic denomination.” It is beyond me to make sense of this gibberish.

In Szakály’s estimate, the introduction of the numerus clausus was in hindsight “unfortunate” because it violated the concept of equality before the law, but from another point of view it was “a case of positive discrimination in favor of those youngsters who had less of a chance when it came to entering an institution of higher education.” So, said the reporter, “on the one hand and on the other?” Yes, in Szakály’s mind it is that simple and thus justified.

June 26, 2016

The afterlife of György Donáth’s bust

I would like to return to the topic of the György Donáth case I wrote about a couple of days ago in a post titled “Another attempt to erect a statue honoring an anti-Semitic racist.” There are at least three reasons for doing so. First, because since the scuffle and the aborted unveiling of the bust there have been new developments that is worth discussing. Second, right-wing publications have been filled with articles full of indignation that a small minority “dictates” the rest of the nation whom it should honor. Third, Ádám Gellért, a legal scholar and a student of history, has taken the trouble and has done some research on Donáth’s political past.

First, the bust of Donáth has been removed. Apparently, Péter Boross, former prime minster (1993-1994) and the man who is an active promoter of the rehabilitation of the “progressive elements” of the Horthy regime, decided that the bust was in danger. Two days ago I expressed my suspicion that, just as in case of Bálint Hóman’s statue, it was likely that the government contributed money for the memorial. My feeling about the source of money was correct, a fund, established by the Orbán government, contributed 15 million forints toward the cost of the bust. Boross thinks that the Donáth bust on the building where Donáth once lived at the corner of Páva utca and Üllői út is not a safe place because it would be defaced. They will erect is somewhere else considered safer.


Only the pedestal is left

Compare that reaction to the government’s response to the erection of the memorial for the victims of the German occupation of March 19, 1944 when Viktor Orbán, ignoring the domestic and international protest, insisted its erection even if it had to be done in secret in the middle of the night. Perhaps because of the lessons learned from the Hóman controversy, the government decided on an early retreat. The other possibility is that in the Donáth case Viktor Orbán was not personally involved and therefore Boross and others could make independent decisions. In any case, it was the right step in the right direction although it would have been much smarter to forget about György Donáth’s bust altogether.

Second, quite a few opinion pieces appeared in the far-right press that expressed the authors’ outrage at the Hungarian left’s and the Jewish community’s condemnation of a man who was “the first victim of the Stalinist-type show trials” and who at his trial testified that his name in no way can be connected to anti-Semitism. Moreover, again quoting from Donáth’s last plea, he disapproved of both national socialism and fascism. According to the author, Sándor Faggyas, a right-wing journalist currently working at Magyar Hírlap, “Donáth’s cardinal sin,” according to the ignorant and hysterical left, “was that he had been a Christian politician who defended the Hungarian people and who participated in the secret organization called Magyar Közösség.” We will see later that Faggyas was mistaken on both accounts.

Naturally, Zsolt Bayer, the professional anti-Semite and old friend of Orbán with a long Fidesz past from the very beginnings of the party, couldn’t have remained quiet when a good Christian is being maligned by “the descendants of the rubble of 1919 and 1945, who if they could would kill again with pleasure just as their predecessors did,” furtively pointing the finger at Hungarian Jewry. It is intolerable that Hungarians are forced to view history through the “annals of Jewish sufferings.” Bayer promised us a second installment of his opinion piece titled “Intolerable.” I assume he will continue to quote from Donáth’s last plea that indeed showed great bravery.

I indicated in my first piece on Donáth that we know very little about the man aside from his involvement in Magyar Közösség. Several books or chapters of books were devoted to that secret organization but no one has searched through documents looking for Donáth’s political views prior to 1945. Because of the favorable impression his plea made on those who studied the story of the Közösség drew a favorable portrait of him. However, even on the basis of these available secondary sources I had an uneasy feeling that Donáth’s life most likely has a very dark side. I suggested that someone close to the available sources should do some serious research and write at least a longish scholarly article on the man’s past. Well, the first step was taken by Ádám Gellért yesterday when he published an article full of quotations from Donáth’s speeches delivered in parliament. Clearly, this is just a first stab at learning more about Donáth because in addition being a member of parliament, he was also the publisher of an extreme right-wing magazine, Egyedül Vagyunk (We are alone) and therefore he must have written scores of opinion pieces for the magazine. Egyedül Vagyunk was a notorious anti-Semitic publication whose editorial board included such war criminals as Béla Imrédy, Andor Jaross, and Ferenc Rajniss, who all were condemned to death in 1946. Andor Jaross was in charge of the deportation of Hungary’s Jewish citizens to Auschwitz where most of them were murdered. These were the people Donáth kept company with. After the fall of the Szálasi regime Donáth was arrested but after a few months was let go.

On the basis of the quotes Gellért unearthed we can safely say that despite Donáth’s protestation he was both an anti-Semite and a follower of the Hungarian version of national socialism or fascism, Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party. He imagined the establishment of a “Hungarian Empire” (birodalom) which would “in its size” equal Hungary before 1918 but in contents it would be very different. It would be built on truly Hungarian traditions. He considered “national socialism or fascism” vastly superior to democracy because the former ones are better suited for the creation of “a healthy hierarchy.” What did he mean by “healthy hierarchy”? It seems that what he actually had in mind was the exclusion of all Jews which the first anti-Jewish law in his opinion didn’t ensure. Stricter laws were necessary which were already under preparation and which “will perhaps achieve better results.” He was thinking about the second anti-Jewish law

When Béla Varga of the Smallholders Party spoke against an amendment to the marriage law that forbade marriage between Jews and Gentiles Donáth became truly animated. Varga thought that “50% of Hungarian blood, plus the sacrament of baptism surely can balance the 50% Jewish blood” Donáth exclaimed: “The Negro will not become white either.” Or when liberal Károly Rassay argued against the second anti-Jewish law, pointing out that it is against the interests of the nation and that “it is impossible to speak of a pure Magyar race” Donáth interjected: “Unfortunately! Not pure. We must purify it! We will purify it!” Or, Donáth didn’t consider the ban on mixed marriages quite satisfactory because it didn’t specifically cover children born out of wedlock. This omission, he argued, “on the one hand, gives encouragement to sexual intercourse outside of marriage and, on the other doesn’t punish its evasion.”

During the debate on the third anti-Jewish law he made a fairly long speech out of which I will quote some of the most important sentences. Donáth was describing the difficulties the Imrédy government had to face when hundreds of laws had to be enacted during a very short time, “making up for the omissions of 20-50 or even 100 years.” All that has to be done in the middle of the war and during the building a new Hungarian empire. “We must bring up a new generation of the intelligentsia … now that a large segment of the present intellectual elite is being excluded as in our opinion, these people should have no place among Hungarian intellectuals.” Let’s face it, György Donáth was a maniacal anti-Semite. Not what Zsolt Bayer tried to make him at the end of his article. “Was György Donáth an anti-Semite? Yes, he was. Just as other innumerable great and talented men without whom no Hungarian culture and history would exist: Sándor Petőfi, Ferenc Herczeg, Dezső Kosztolányi, Sándor Márai, László Németh, Gyula Illyés, and Zsigmond Móricz.” How Petőfi could be listed here is beyond me because Petőfi in fact raised his voice against German citizens of Pest who refused to accept Jews into the national guard.

According to Bayer, the accusation of anti-Semitism is often unfounded. Surely, in case of György Donáth it wasn’t. But as far as Bayer is concerned “the Jews who were unfortunately overrepresented in the revolt of the rats and the mass murderers in 1919—against the will and the wishes of the majority of Jews–themselves ‘succeeded’ to gain the deep antipathy and anger of the majority.” In this all these outstanding Hungarians’ anti-Semitism is perfectly understandable.

February 27, 2016

László Eörsi: The Red Cross Informant

Years ago Robin W. Winks, a professor of history at Yale University, edited a book titled The Historian As Detective: Essays on Evidence. And indeed, historians often comb through information from a variety of sources until they experience their aha moment. Something like that happened to László Eörsi, the historian whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is legendary. I’m convinced that Eörsi knows exactly happened at every street corner during those thirteen days, in Budapest as well as other cities and towns in Hungary. But his research this time led him far afield: to 1944-45 and the Swedish Red Cross’s efforts at saving the lives of Hungarian Jews. It is a fascinating story with a twist at the end.

* * * 

I stumbled upon Zoltán Harangi’s name as a researcher of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Harangi had joined one of the rebel groups in Budapest, but during the struggle for freedom, he contacted the organizations of state security and ended up informing on his fellow fighters. Following this, he served as an informant for 15 years during the Kádár regime, causing numerous tragedies.

There are few sources detailing certain parts of Zoltán Harangi’s life journey. One of these mysteries is how he was able to become an employee of the Swedish embassy, especially considering that he was trained as a collier, completed a college degree in landscaping and had a criminal record with 11 counts of theft and two charges of receiving stolen goods.

At age 31, in June 1944, he became a founding member of the Swedish Red Cross and was given several confidential assignments. He directed the Red Cross’ investigations unit, thus it was up to him to oversee the screening of employees and he also addressed complaints relating to the organization. In June 1944, the Swedish Red Cross took under its protection the Körönd Rehabilitation Centre in Budapest, where Jews under the protection of the Sweden were housed. According to several victim testimonies, some doctors – especially Aurél Stürmer Lovassy – consistently blackmailed the persecuted, demanding money from them, in exchange for extending their stay in the building.

Zoltán Harangi's picture from his Swedish I.D.

Zoltán Harangi’s picture from his Swedish I.D.

On November 25, 1944, Harangi reported the rehabilitation centre to the Arrow Cross party secretary in Budapest’s third district, Zoltán Nagyiványi. Nagyiványi in turn assigned János Traum, a master painter, who also served in the party’s district association, with the investigation of the situation. On the same night, the Arrow Cross removed 40 Jews, taking them to district party headquarters (171 Bécsi Road). They deemed the letters indicating that they were protected by Sweden as invalid. A total of 12 or 13 Jews were executed and others were tortured. The next day, Harangi was essentially forced to change his tune, as alongside the leader of the Swedish Red Cross, Langlet Waldermár, he visited the director of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Press Department, Ferenc Fiala, where he advocated on behalf of the deported. Based on Fiala’s decision, they transported back the deported Jews to the rehabilitation centre.

Harangi, however, provided the Arrow Cross with further information. On December 13th, they entered the headquarters of the Swedish Red Cross, right into the areas of the building where those escaping forced labour were hiding. Only three people, including Harangi, knew of this hiding place, thus the Red Cross became suspicious and Harangi was moved to a different department. As of this point, the Arrow Cross did not receive any further information.

During the German occupation Harangi blackmailed, robbed and reported on a woman, who in the end was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. “I met with Zoltán Harangi about three weeks prior,” noted Pál Rákosi, the husband of the woman who fell victim to such a tragic fate, in a June 1945 police report. “I did not dare to confront him, because he was in the company of a Russian officer, and you as well told me that he was serving with the GPU, as a detective,” he added. After the war, Harangi was on the hunt for Arrow Cross members and Volkbundists, in areas of Budapest controlled by the Soviets. While he searched apartments in the city, he also went about robbing them. In fact, he took the 3rd district, Darázs Street apartment of a Hungarian Jew who fled to Palestine. On April 19, 1945, Harangi was taken into custody, but he continued to make use of his skills. “I worked as a notetaker in the correctional facility and I could move freely and I was able to decide who, in addition to myself, could serve as notetakers”—wrote Harangi in a report from 1961. At the time, it was suggested that Harangi may also know of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish ambassador in Budapest, or that he may have been “actively involved in this.” Based on 15 eyewitness testimonies, the Tutsek Council decided to confiscate all of Harangi’s property in June 1949, and also sentenced him to 10 years of forced labour. According to the sentencing document, Harangi “deported the persecuted, several dozen people fell victim to his deeds, and he was driven by malicious intent.” Half a year later, István Aradi reduced his sentence by half, whilst noting that the war crimes conviction still stands.

Harangi was released in February 1952, but before the end of the year, he committed a break and entry, which resulted in a sentence of 12 years. But on October 30th, 1956, he was released from the correctional facility by the revolutionaries. We have data showing that until 1972, he collaborated with the Kádár regime. He lived until 1998.

My Hungarian-language study of Harangi appeared in March 2012, months before Harangi received from Yad Vashem the Righteous Among the Nations award. It is all but impossible that someone else would bear the same name, as the listed profession and date of birth is identical. We find it implausible that Haragi would have saved anyone’s life, as he would have referred to this in his defence, during his trial. But there is no mention of this anywhere during the proceedings. In fact, he never made made mention of saving lives in any of his later reports. Consequently, I ask Yad Vashem to review its decision.

A critique of a political analysis on Hungary by Stratfor’s George Friedman

In the last few months I have been getting a daily newsletter from Stratfor, a private intelligence and forecasting company. No, I’m not a subscriber, and I doubt that Stratfor has many individual subscribers. Its clients are mostly institutions that feel the need for economic, military, or political analyses and forecasting.

Stratfor’s daily newsletter offers one free analysis chosen by the company. Most of the topics lie outside my field of interest, but today’s “special” aroused my curiosity: “Borderlands: Hungary Maneuvers.” The article was written by George Friedman, founder and chairman of Stratfor. Friedman received his B.A. from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. For almost twenty years he was a professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Then in 1996 he decided to quit academe and become a strategic analyst.

Friedman was born in Budapest to Holocaust survivors, but his parents left the country when he was a small child. What he learned from his parents sitting around the kitchen table was that “except for the Germans, the vastness of evil could not have existed.” In his parents’ lessons Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian regent between 1920 and 1944, pretty much got a pass. Friedman continues to believe the history his parents taught him. To his mind, Horthy was a wily geopolitical strategist who maneuvered between Germany and the Soviet Union for quite a while. Only brute German force, blackmail, and threats against Horthy himself opened the door to mass destruction of the Hungarian Jewry.

The first half of the article tries to convince the reader that his vision of Horthy is the correct one while the second draws parallels between the Hungary of today and the times of Horthy. As he says, Horthy’s “experience is the one that Hungary’s current leadership appears to have studied.”

I will not be able to cover the whole article in this post and therefore will concentrate on Friedman’s account of the Horthy era. The appearance of this “revisionist” appraisal of Horthy is especially ill-timed because it was only a few days ago that historians of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences unanimously declared at a conference that the monument Orbán is erecting, which is supposed to make Germany alone responsible for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, is a falsification of history. Nothing like lending a helping hand to Viktor Orbán’s project.

Friedman’s Hungary was a small, weak country that helplessly floundered between the Soviet Union and Germany, all the while trying to remain independent. “Horthy’s goal was to preserve its sovereignty in the face of the rising power of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.” Friedman seems to think that Horthy viewed both great powers with equal contempt. But that was not the case. In fact, until the very last moment he refused to turn to the Soviets to declare his willingness to negotiate a separate peace, whereas he was indebted to the Germans for helping Hungary regain sizable territories in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia between November 1938 and April 1941. (These territories are shown in the Wikipedia map below.)


As for the Jewish issue, Friedman claims that “Horthy was no more anti-Semitic than any member of his class had to be.” First of all, I’m not sure why Friedman believes there was a social imperative to be anti-Semitic. Members of Horthy’s social class may have been anti-Semitic, but they didn’t have to be anti-Semitic.

Horthy as well as the majority of Hungarian politicians and high officials wanted to rid the country of its Jewish population. Horthy didn’t want an immediate “cleansing” because without Jewish capital and know-how the Hungarian economy would have collapsed. But eventually the Hungarian anti-Semites stripped the Jews of all their worldly possessions and deported them. These Hungarians, including high officials, didn’t particularly care what happened to the Jews once they were deported. There simply had to be “a changing of the guard” (őrségváltás). Non-Jews were to take over positions held by Jews in the professions, business, and manufacturing. None of this seems to have penetrated Friedman’s consciousness.

It is at this point that we reach the crucial date of March 19, 1944, which is described this way: “Horthy fell from his tightrope on March 19, 1944. Realizing that Germany was losing the war, Horthy made overtures to the Soviets.” Let me state right here that Horthy did not make overtures to the Soviets. A small delegation talked to American and British officials in Turkey. They were told to talk to the Russians, something Horthy was reluctant to do.

Friedman’s inadequate knowledge of history is evident in practically all the sentences he writes in this article. According to him, “Hitler forced the Hungarian leader to form a new government consisting of Hungary’s homegrown Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party.” Or, a few sentences later, he writes: “He [Horthy] did not crush the Hungarian Nazis, but he kept them at bay. He did not turn on Hitler, but he kept him at bay. What Horthy did was the dirty work of decency. He made deals with devils to keep the worst things from happening. By March 1944, Horthy could no longer play the game. Hitler had ended it. His choice was between dead sons and the horror of the following year, or living sons and that same horror.” Friedman’s “parents believed that Horthy’s critics were unable to comprehend the choices he had.”

We who are more familiar with the real story realize that the account Friedman heard from his parents in addition to bits and pieces he remembers from Horthy’s memoirs have nothing to do with reality. But Friedman cannot be deterred from his preconceived notions of German-Hungarian relations and the Hungarian Holocaust. He keeps going: “Once the Wehrmacht, the SS and Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, were in Budapest, they found the Arrow Cross Party to be populated by eager collaborators.” Of course, this isn’t true either. The eager collaborators were in fact members of the Hungarian government appointed by Horthy.

The point of this hopelessly inaccurate history is to reframe the present debate about Viktor Orbán’s governance. On the one hand are people like his parents, who blamed the Germans “for unleashing the brutishness in the Hungarians.” On the other hand are nameless people who were harsher on Horthy. This debate, he writes, “has re-entered history through Hungarian politics. Some have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of trying to emulate … Miklós Horthy…. This is meant as an indictment. If so, at the university of our kitchen table, the lesson of Horthy is more complex and may have some bearing on present-day Hungary.”

I suggest that George Friedman take a refresher course.