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Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya
|Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary|
1 March 1920 – 15 October 1944
|Deputy||István Horthy (1942)|
|Preceded by||Károly Huszár (acting)|
|Succeeded by||Ferenc Szálasia|
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya
(1868-06-18)18 June 1868
|Died||9 February 1957(1957-02-09) (aged 88)
|Years of service||1896–1918|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
a. As "Leader of the Nation".
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya (Hungarian: Vitéz nagybányai Horthy Miklós; Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈviteːz ˈnɒɟbaːɲɒi ˈhorti ˈmikloːʃ]; English: Nicholas Horthy; German: Nikolaus Horthy Ritter von Nagybánya; 18 June 1868 – 9 February 1957) was a Hungarian admiral and statesman, who became the regent of Hungary. He served as regent of the Kingdom of Hungary between World Wars I and II and throughout most of World War II, from 1 March 1920 to 15 October 1944. He was styled His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, Hungarian: Ő Főméltósága a Magyar Királyság Kormányzója.
Horthy started his career as a sub-lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1896 and attained the rank of rear-admiral in 1918. He saw action in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto and became commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the last year of the First World War; he was promoted to vice-admiral and commander of the Fleet when the previous admiral was dismissed from his post by Emperor-King Charles following mutinies. In 1919, following a series of revolutions and external interventions in Hungary from Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, Horthy returned to Budapest with the National Army and was subsequently invited to become regent of the kingdom by parliament. Horthy led a national conservative government through the interwar period, banning the Hungarian Communist Party as well as the Arrow Cross Party, and pursuing an irredentist foreign policy in the face of the Treaty of Trianon. The former king, Charles, unsuccessfully attempted twice to return to Hungary until, in 1921, the Hungarian Government caved in to Allied threats to renew hostilities. Charles was escorted out of Hungary into exile.
In the late 1930s, Horthy's foreign policy led him into a reluctant alliance with Germany against the Soviet Union. With the begrudging support of Adolf Hitler, Hungary was able to redeem certain areas ceded to neighbouring countries by the Treaty of Trianon. Under Horthy's leadership, Hungary gave support to Polish refugees in 1939 and participated in a supportive (as opposed to front-line) role in the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Horthy's reluctance to contribute to the German war effort and the Holocaust in Hungary, as well as refusing to hand over more than 600,000 of the 825,000 Hungarian Jews to German authorities, coupled with several attempts to strike a secret deal with the Allies of World War II after it had become obvious that the Axis would lose the war, eventually led the Germans to invade and take control of the country in March 1944 in Operation Margarethe. In October 1944, Horthy announced that Hungary had declared an armistice with the Allies and withdrawn from the Axis. He was forced to resign, placed under arrest by the Germans and taken to Bavaria. At the end of the war, he came under the custody of American troops.
After appearing as a witness at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials in 1948, Horthy settled and lived out his remaining years in exile in Portugal. His memoirs, Ein Leben für Ungarn (A Life for Hungary), were first published in 1953. He is perceived as a controversial historical figure in contemporary Hungary.
Early life and naval career
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was born at Kenderes to an untitled lower nobility (regarded as equivalent to the British gentry), descended from István Horti, ennobled by King Ferdinand II in 1635. His father, István Horthy de Nagybánya, was a member of the House of Magnates, the upper chamber of the Diet of Hungary, and lord of a 1,500 acre estate. He married Hungarian noblewoman Paula Halassy de Dévaványa in 1857. Miklós was the fourth of their eight children.
Horthy entered the Austro-Hungarian "Imperial and Royal Naval Academy" (k.u.k. Marine-Akademie) at Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia) at age 14. Because the official language of the naval academy was German, Horthy spoke Hungarian with a slight, but noticeable, Austro-German accent for the rest of his life. He also spoke Italian, Croatian, English, and French.
As a young man, Horthy travelled around the world and served as a diplomat for Austria-Hungary in the Ottoman Empire and other countries. Horthy married Magdolna Purgly de Jószáshely in Arad in 1901. They had 4 children: Magdolna (1902), Paula (1903), István (1904) and Miklós (1907). From 1911 until 1914, he was a naval aide-de-camp to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, for whom he had a great respect.
At the beginning of World War I, Horthy was commander of the pre-dreadnought battleship SMS Habsburg. In 1915, he earned a reputation for boldness while commanding the new light cruiser SMS Novara. He planned the 1917 attack on the Otranto Barrage, which resulted in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto, the largest naval engagement of the war in the Adriatic Sea. A consolidated British, French and Italian fleet met the Austro-Hungarian force. Despite the numerical superiority of the Allied fleet, the Austrian force emerged from the battle victorious. The Austrian fleet remained relatively unscathed, however Horthy was wounded. After the Cattaro mutiny of February 1918, Emperor Charles I of Austria selected Horthy over many more senior commanders as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Fleet in March 1918. In June, Horthy planned another attack on Otranto, and in a departure from the cautious strategy of his predecessors, he committed the empire's battleships to the mission. While sailing through the night, the dreadnought SMS Szent István met Italian MAS torpedo boats and was sunk, causing Horthy to abort the mission. He managed to preserve the rest of the empire's fleet until he was ordered by Emperor Charles to surrender it to the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (the predecessor of Yugoslavia) on 31 October.
The end of the war saw Hungary turned into a landlocked nation, and with that, the new government had little need for Horthy's naval expertise. He retired with his family to his private estate at Kenderes.
Dates of rank and assignments
- 1896 Fregattenleutnant (Frigate Lieutenant) (fregatthadnagy – Sub-Lieutenant)
- 1900 Linienschiffleutnant (Ship-of-the-Line Lieutenant) (sorhajóhadnagy – Lieutenant)
- January 1901 SMS Sperber (commander of the vessel)
- 1902 SMS Kranich (commander of the vessel)
- June 1908 SMS Taurus (commander of the vessel)
- August 1908 SMS Kaiser Karl VI (GDO-Gesamtdetailoffizier-First Officer, temporary)
- 1 January 1909 Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain) (korvettkapitány – Lieutenant-Commander)
- 1 November 1909 aide-de-camp to Emperor Franz Josef
- 1 November 1911 Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain) (fregattkapitány – Commander)
- December 1912 March 1913 SMS Budapest (commander of the vessel)
- 20 January 1914 Linienschiffskapitän (Ship-of-the-Line Captain) (sorhajókapitány – Captain)
- August 1914 SMS Habsburg (commander of the vessel)
- December 1914 SMS Novara (commander of the vessel)
- 1 February 1918 SMS Prinz Eugen (1912) (commander of the vessel)
- 27 February 1918 Konteradmiral (ellentengernagy – Rear Admiral)
- 27 February 1918 appointed (last) Commander in Chief of the fleet (over 11 admirals and 24 senior Linienschiffskapitän) by Emperor Karl I
- 30 October 1918 Vizeadmiral (altengernagy – Vice Admiral)
Interwar period, 1919–1939
Historians agree on the conservatism of interwar Hungary, Historian István Deák states:
- Between 1919 and 1944 Hungary was a rightist country. Forged out of a counter-revolutionary heritage, its governments advocated a “nationalist Christian” policy; they extolled heroism, faith, and unity; they despised the French Revolution, and they spurned the liberal and socialist ideologies of the 19th century. The governments saw Hungary as a bulwark against bolshevism and bolshevism’s instruments: socialism, cosmopolitanism, and Freemasonry. They perpetrated the rule of a small clique of aristocrats, civil servants, and army officers, and surrounded with adulation the head of the state, the counterrevolutionary Admiral Horthy. 
Commander of the National Army
Two national traumas that followed the First World War profoundly shaped the spirit and future of the Hungarian nation. The first was the loss, as dictated by the Allies of World War I, of large portions of Hungarian territory that had bordered other countries. These were lands that had belonged to Hungary (then part of Austria-Hungary) but were now ceded mainly to Czechoslovakia, Romania, Austria and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The excisions, eventually ratified in the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, cost Hungary two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its native Hungarian speakers; this dealt the population a terrible psychological blow. The second trauma began in March 1919, when the Communist leader Béla Kun seized power in the capital, Budapest, after the first proto-democratic government in Hungary faltered.
Kun and his colleagues proclaimed a Hungarian Soviet Republic and promised the restoration of Hungary's former grandeur. Instead, his efforts at reconquest failed, and Hungarians were treated to a Soviet-style repression in the form of armed gangs who intimidated or murdered enemies of the regime. This period of violence came to be known as the Red Terror.
Within weeks of his coup, Kun's popularity plummeted. On 30 May 1919, anti-Communist politicians formed a counter-revolutionary government in the southern city of Szeged, which was occupied by French forces at the time. There, Gyula Károlyi, the prime minister of the counter-revolutionary government, asked former admiral Horthy, still considered a war hero, to be the Minister of War in the new government and take command of a counter-revolutionary force that would be named the National Army (Hungarian: Nemzeti Hadsereg). Horthy consented, and he arrived in Szeged on 6 June. Soon afterwards, because of orders from the Allied powers, a cabinet was reformed, and Horthy was not given a seat in it. Undaunted, Horthy managed to retain control of the National Army by detaching the army command from the War Ministry.
After the Communist government collapsed and its leaders fled, French-supported Romanian forces entered Budapest on 6 August 1919. In retaliation for the Red Terror, reactionary crews now exacted revenge in a two-year wave of violent repression known today as the White Terror. These reprisals were organized and carried out by officers of Horthy's National Army, particularly Pál Prónay, Gyula Ostenburg-Moravek and Iván Héjjas. Their victims were primarily Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews. Most Hungarian Jews were not supporters of the Bolsheviks, but much of the leadership of the Hungarian Soviet Republic had been young Jewish intellectuals, and anger about the Communist revolution easily translated into anti-Semitic hostility.
In Budapest, Prónay installed his unit in the Hotel Britannia, where the group swelled to battalion size. Their program of vicious attacks continued; they planned a citywide pogrom against the Jews until Horthy found out and put a stop to it. In his diary, Prónay reported that Horthy:
reproached me for the many Jewish corpses found in the various parts of the country, especially in the Transdanubia. This, he emphasized, gave the foreign press extra ammunitions against us. He told me that we should stop harassing small Jews; instead, we should kill some big (Kun government) Jews such as Somogyi or Vázsonyi – these people deserve punishment much more... in vain, I tried to convince him that the liberal papers would be against us anyway, and it did not matter that we killed only one Jew or we killed them all
The degree of Horthy's responsibility for the excesses of Prónay is disputed. On several occasions, Horthy reached out to stop Prónay from a particularly excessive burst of anti-Jewish cruelty, and the Jews of Pest went on record absolving Horthy of the White Terror as early as the fall of 1919, when they released a statement disavowing the Kun revolution and blaming the terror on a few units within the National Army. Horthy has never been found to have personally engaged in White Terror atrocities. But his American biographer Thomas L. Sakmyster concluded that he "tacitly supported the right wing officer detachments" who carried out the terror; Horthy called them "my best men". The admiral also had practical reasons for overlooking the terror his officers wrought, since he needed the dedicated officers to help stabilize the country. Nevertheless, it was at least another year before the terror died down. In the summer of 1920, Horthy's government took measures to rein in and eventually disperse the reactionary battalions. Prónay managed to undermine these measures, but only for a short time. Prónay was put on trial for extorting a wealthy Jewish politician, and for "insulting the President of the Parliament" by trying to cover up the extortion. Found guilty on both charges, Prónay was now a liability and an embarrassment. His command was revoked, and he was denounced as a common criminal on the floor of the Hungarian parliament.
After serving short jail sentences, Prónay tried to convince Horthy to restore his battalion command. The Prónay Battalion lingered for a few months more under the command of a junior officer, but the government officially dissolved the unit in January 1922 and expelled its members from the army. Prónay entered politics as a member of the government's right-wing opposition. In the 1930s, he sought and failed to emulate the Nazis by generating a Hungarian fascist mass movement. In 1932, he was charged with incitement, sentenced to six months in prison and stripped of his rank of lieutenant colonel. Prónay would support the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross and lead attacks on Jews before being captured by Soviet troops sometime during or after the Battle of Budapest of 1944–45, dying in captivity in 1947/48.
Precisely how much Horthy knew about the excesses of the White Terror is not known. Horthy himself declined to apologize for the savagery of his officer detachments, writing later, "I have no reason to gloss over deeds of injustice and atrocities committed when an iron broom alone could sweep the country clean." He endorsed Edgar von Schmidt-Pauli's poetic justification of the White reprisals ("Hell let loose on earth cannot be subdued by the beating of angels' wings") remarking, "the Communists in Hungary, willing disciples of the Russian Bolshevists, had indeed let hell loose."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in an internal report by delegate George Burnier, stated the following in April 1920:
There are two distinct military organizations in Hungary: the national army and a kind of civil guard which was formed when the communist régime fell. It is the latter which has been responsible for all the reprehensible acts committed. The Government managed to regain control of these organizations only a few weeks ago. They are now well-disciplined and collaborate with the municipal police forces.
This deep hostility toward Communism would be the more lasting legacy of Kun's abortive revolution. It was a conviction shared by Horthy and his country's ruling class that would help drive Hungary into a fateful alliance with Adolf Hitler.
The nation of the Hungarians loved and admired Budapest, which became its polluter in the last years. Here, on the banks of the Danube, I arraign her. This city has disowned her thousand years of tradition, she has dragged the Holy Crown and the national colours in the dust, she has clothed herself in red rags. The finest of the nation she threw into dungeons or drove into exile. She laid in ruin our property and wasted our wealth. Yet the nearer we approached to this city, the more rapidly did the ice in our hearts melt. We are now ready to forgive her.
Following the pressure of the Allied powers, Romanian troops finally evacuated Hungary on 25 February 1920.
On 1 March 1920, the National Assembly of Hungary re-established the Kingdom of Hungary. It was apparent that the Allies of World War I would not accept any return of King Charles IV (the former Austro-Hungarian emperor) from exile. Instead, with National Army officers controlling the parliament building, the assembly voted to install Horthy as Regent; he defeated Count Albert Apponyi by a vote of 131 to 7.
Bishop Ottokár Prohászka then led a small delegation to meet Horthy, announcing, "Hungary's Parliament has elected you Regent! Would it please you to accept the office of Regent of Hungary?" To their astonishment, Horthy declined, unless the powers of the office were expanded. As Horthy stalled, the politicians gave in to his demands and granted him "the general prerogatives of the king, with the exception of the right to name titles of nobility and of the patronage of the Church." The prerogatives he was given included the power to appoint and dismiss prime ministers, to convene and dissolve parliament, and to command the armed forces. With those sweeping powers guaranteed, Horthy took the oath of office. (Charles I did try to regain his throne twice; see Charles I of Austria's attempts to retake the throne of Hungary for more details.)
The Hungarian state was legally a kingdom, but it had no king, as the Allied powers would not have tolerated any re-instatement of the Habsburg dynasty. The country retained its parliamentary system following the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, with a prime minister appointed as head of government. As head of state, Horthy retained significant influence through his constitutional powers and the loyalty of his ministers to the crown. Although his involvement in drafting legislation was minuscule, he nevertheless had the ability to ensure that laws passed by the Hungarian parliament conformed to his political preferences.
Seeking redress for the Treaty of Trianon
The first decade of Horthy's reign was primarily consumed by stabilizing the Hungarian economy and political system. Horthy's chief partner in these efforts was his prime minister István Bethlen. It was commonly known that Horthy was an Anglophile, and British political and economic support played a significant role in the stabilization and consolidation of the early Horthy era in the Kingdom of Hungary.
Bethlen sought to stabilize the economy while building alliances with weaker nations that could advance Hungary's cause. That cause was, primarily, reversing the losses of the Treaty of Trianon. The humiliations of the Trianon treaty continued to occupy a central place in Hungarian foreign policy and the popular imagination. The indignant anti-Trianon slogan "Nem, nem soha!" ("No, no never!") became a ubiquitous motto of Hungarian outrage. When in 1927 the British newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere denounced the partitions ratified at Trianon in the pages of his Daily Mail, an official letter of gratitude was eagerly signed by 1.2 million Hungarians.
But Hungary's stability was precarious, and the Great Depression derailed much of Bethlen's economic balance. Horthy replaced him with an old reactionary confederate from his Szeged days: Gyula Gömbös. Gömbös was an outspoken anti-Semite and a budding fascist. Although he agreed to Horthy's demands that he temper his anti-Jewish rhetoric and work amicably with Hungary's large Jewish professional class, Gömbös's tenure began swinging Hungary's political mood powerfully rightward. He strengthened Hungary's ties to Benito Mussolini's Italian fascist state. Fatefully, when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, he found in Gömbös an admiring and obliging colleague. John Gunther stated that Horthy,
though reactionary as far as social or economic ideas are concerned, is in effect the guardian of constitutionalism and what vestigial democracy remains in the country, because it is largely his influence that prevents any prime minister from abolishing parliament and setting up dictatorial rule.
Gömbös rescued the failing economy by securing trade guarantees from Germany – a strategy that positioned Germany as Hungary's primary trading partner and tied Hungary's future even more tightly to Hitler's. He also assured Hitler that Hungary would quickly become a one-party state modelled on the Nazi party control of Germany. Gömbös died in 1936, before he realized his most extreme goals, but he left his nation headed into firm partnership with the German dictator.
World War II and the Holocaust
Hungary now entered into intricate political maneuvers with the regime of Adolf Hitler, and Horthy began to play a greater and more public role in navigating Hungary along this dangerous path.
For Horthy, Hitler served as a bulwark against Soviet encroachment or invasion. Horthy was, in the eyes of observers,[who?] obsessed with the Communist threat. One American diplomat remarked that Horthy's anti-Communist tirades were so common and ferocious that diplomats "discounted it as a phobia".
Horthy clearly saw his country as trapped between two stronger powers, both of them dangerous; evidently he considered Hitler to be the more manageable of the two, at least at first. Hitler was able to wield greater influence over Hungary than the Soviet Union could – not only as the country's major trading partner, but also because he could assist with two of Horthy's key ambitions: maintaining Hungarian sovereignty and satisfying the nationwide yearning to recover former Hungarian lands. Horthy's strategy was one of cautious, sometimes even grudging, alliance. The means by which the regent granted or resisted Hitler's demands, especially with regard to Hungarian military action and the treatment of Hungary's Jews, remain the central criteria by which his career has been judged. Horthy's relationship with Hitler was, by his own account, a tense one – largely due, he said, to his unwillingness to bend his nation's policies to the German leader's desires.
Horthy's attitude to Hitler was ambivalent. On one hand, Hungary was a revisionist state that refused to accept the frontiers imposed by the Treaty of Trianon. Furthermore, the three states with which Hungary had territorial disputes, namely Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania, were all allies of France, so a German-Hungarian alliance seemed logical. On the other hand, Admiral Horthy was a good navalist who believed that sea power was the most important factor in war. He felt that Britain, as the world's greatest sea power, would inevitably defeat Germany should another war begin. During a meeting with Hitler in 1935, Horthy was well pleased that Hitler informed him that he wanted Germany and Hungary to partition Czechoslovakia, but Horthy went on to tell Hitler that he must be careful not to do anything that might cause an Anglo–German war, because British sea power would sooner or later cause the defeat of the Reich. Horthy was always torn between his belief that an alliance with Germany was the only means that could enable him to revise Trianon and his belief that war against the international order could only end in defeat.
In August 1938, when Horthy, his wife, and some Hungarian politicians took a special train from Budapest to Germany, SA and other National Socialist formations ceremonially welcomed the delegation at the Passau train station. The train then continued to Kiel for the christening of the German cruiser Prinz Eugen.
During his ensuing state visit, Hitler asked Horthy for troops and matériel to participate in Germany's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia. In exchange, Horthy later reported, "He gave me to understand that as a reward we should be allowed to keep the territory we had invaded." Horthy said he declined, insisting to Hitler that Hungary's claims on the disputed lands should be settled by peaceful means.
Three months later, after the Munich Agreement put control of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in Hitler's hands, by the First Vienna Award Hungary annexed some of the south-eastern parts of Czechoslovakia. Horthy enthusiastically rode into the re-acquired territories at the head of his troops, greeted by emotional ethnic Hungarians: "As I passed along the roads, people embraced one another, fell upon their knees, and wept with joy because liberation had come to them at last, without war, without bloodshed." But as "peaceful" as this annexation was, and as just as it may have seemed to many Hungarians, it was a dividend of Hitler's brinksmanship and threats of war, in which Hungary was now inextricably complicit.
Hungary was now committed to the Axis agenda: on 24 February 1939, it joined the Anti-Comintern Pact, and on 11 April, it withdrew from the League of Nations. American journalists began to refer to Hungary as "the jackal of Europe".
This combination of menace and reward drifted Hungary closer to the status of a Nazi client state. In March 1939, when Hitler took what remained of Czechoslovakia by force, Hungary was allowed to annex Carpathian Ruthenia. After a conflict with the First Slovak Republic during the Slovak–Hungarian War of 1939, Hungary gained further territories. In August 1940, Hitler intervened on Hungary's behalf once again. After the failed Hungarian-Romanian negotiations, Hungary annexed Northern Transylvania from Romania by the Second Vienna Award.
But despite their cooperation with the Nazi regime, Horthy and his government would be better described as "conservative authoritarian" than "fascist". Certainly Horthy was as hostile to the home-grown fascist and ultra-nationalist movements that emerged in Hungary between the wars (particularly the Arrow Cross Party) as he was to Communism. The Arrow Cross leader, Ferenc Szálasi, was repeatedly imprisoned at Horthy's command.
John F. Montgomery, who served in Budapest as U.S. ambassador from 1933 to 1941, openly admired this side of Horthy's character and reported the following incident in his memoir: in March 1939, Arrow Cross supporters disrupted a performance at the Budapest opera house by chanting "Justice for Szálasi!" loud enough for the regent to hear. A fight broke out, and when Montgomery went to take a closer look, he discovered that:
two or three men were on the floor and he [Horthy] had another by the throat, slapping his face and shouting what I learned afterward was: "So you would betray your country, would you?" The Regent was alone, but he had the situation in hand.... The whole incident was typical not only of the Regent's deep hatred of alien doctrine, but of the kind of man he is. Although he was around seventy two years of age, it did not occur to him to ask for help; he went right ahead like a skipper with a mutiny on his hands.
And yet, by the time of this episode, Horthy had allowed his government to give in to Nazi demands that the Hungarians enact laws restricting the lives of the country's Jews. The first Hungarian anti-Jewish Law, in 1938, limited the number of Jews in the professions, the government and commerce to twenty percent, and the second reduced it to five percent the following year; 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their jobs as a result. A "Third Jewish Law" of August 1941 prohibited Jews from marrying non-Jews and defined anyone having two Jewish grandparents as "racially Jewish". A Jewish man who had non-marital sex with a "decent non-Jewish woman resident in Hungary" could be sentenced to three years in prison.
Horthy's personal views on Jews and their role in Hungarian society are the subject of some debate. In an October 1940 letter to Prime Minister Pál Teleki, Horthy echoed a widespread national sentiment: that Jews enjoyed too much success in commerce, the professions, and industry – success that needed to be curtailed:
As regards the Jewish problem, I have been an anti-Semite throughout my life. I have never had contact with Jews. I have considered it intolerable that here in Hungary everything, every factory, bank, large fortune, business, theatre, press, commerce, etc. should be in Jewish hands, and that the Jew should be the image reflected of Hungary, especially abroad. Since, however, one of the most important tasks of the government is to raise the standard of living, i.e., we have to acquire wealth, it is impossible, in a year or two, to replace the Jews, who have everything in their hands, and to replace them with incompetent, unworthy, mostly big-mouthed elements, for we should become bankrupt. This requires a generation at least.
The Kingdom of Hungary was gradually drawn into the war itself. In 1939 and 1940, Hungarian volunteers were sent to Finland's Winter War, but did not have time to partake in the fighting before the end of the war. In April 1941, Hungary became, in effect, a member of the Axis. Hungary permitted Hitler to send troops across Hungarian territory for the invasion of Yugoslavia and ultimately sent its own troops to claim its share of the dismembered Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Pál Teleki, horrified that he had failed to prevent this collusion with the Nazis against a former ally, committed suicide.
In June 1941, the Hungarian government finally yielded to Hitler's demands that the nation contribute to the Axis war effort. On 27 June, Hungary became part of Operation Barbarossa and declared war on the Soviet Union. The Hungarians sent in troops and material only four days after Hitler began his invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
The first massacre of Jewish people from Hungarian territory took place in August 1941, when government officials ordered the deportation of Jews without Hungarian citizenship (principally refugees from other Nazi-occupied countries) to Ukraine. Roughly 18,000–20,000 of these deportees were slaughtered by Friedrich Jeckeln and his SS troops; only 2,000–3,000 survived. These killings are known as the Kamianets-Podilskyi Massacre. This event, in which the slaughter of Jews for the first time numbered in the tens of thousands, is considered to be among the first large-scale massacre of the Holocaust. Because of the objections of Hungary's leadership, the deportations were halted.
By early 1942, Horthy was already seeking to put some distance between himself and Hitler's regime. That March, he dismissed the pro-German prime minister László Bárdossy, and replaced him with Miklós Kállay, a moderate whom Horthy expected to loosen Hungary's ties to Germany. Kállay successfully sabotaged economic cooperation with Nazi Germany, protected refugees and prisoners, resisted Nazi pressure regarding Jews, established contact with the Allies and negotiated conditions under which Hungary would switch sides against Germany. However the Allies were not close enough. When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944 Kállay went into hiding. He was finally captured by the Nazis, but was liberated when the war ended.
In September 1942, personal tragedy struck the Hungarian Regent. 37-year-old István Horthy, Horthy's eldest son, was killed. István Horthy was the Deputy Regent of Hungary and a Flight Lieutenant in the reserves, 1/1 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Hungarian Air Force. He was killed when his Hawk (Héja) fighter crashed at an air field near Ilovskoye.
In January 1943, Hungary's enthusiasm for the war effort, never especially high, suffered a tremendous blow. The Soviet army, in the full momentum of its triumphant turnaround after the Battle of Stalingrad, punched through Romanian troops at a bend in the Don River and virtually obliterated the Second Hungarian Army in a few days' fighting. In this single action, Hungarian combat fatalities jumped by 80,000. Jew and non-Jew suffered together in this defeat, as the Hungarian troops had been accompanied by some 40,000 Jews and political prisoners in forced-labour units whose job had been to clear minefields.
German officials blamed Hungary's Jews for the nation's "defeatist attitude." In the wake of the Don bend disaster, Hitler demanded at an April 1943 meeting that Horthy punish the 800,000 Jews still living in Hungary, who according to Hitler were responsible for this defeat. In response, Horthy and his government supplied 10,000 Jewish deportees for labour battalions. With the growing awareness the Allies might well win the war, it became more expedient not to comply with further German requests. Cautiously, the Hungarian government began to explore contacts with the Allies in hopes of negotiating a surrender.
By 1944, the Axis was losing the war, and the Red Army was at Hungary's borders. Fearing that the Soviets would overrun the country, Kállay, with Horthy's approval, put out numerous feelers to the Allies. He even promised to surrender unconditionally to them once they reached Hungarian territory. An enraged Hitler summoned Horthy to a conference in Klessheim Castle near Salzburg. He pressured Horthy to make greater contributions to the war effort and again commanded him to assist in the killing of more of Hungary's Jews. Horthy now permitted the deportation of a large number of Jews (the generally accepted figure is 100,000), but would not go further.
The conference was a ruse. As Horthy was returning home on 19 March, the Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Hungary. Horthy was told he could only stay in office if he dismissed Kállay and appointed a new government that would fully cooperate with Hitler and his plenipotentiary in Budapest, Edmund Veesenmayer. Knowing the likely alternative was a gauleiter who would treat Hungary in the same manner as the other countries under Nazi occupation, Horthy acquiesced and appointed his ambassador to Germany, General Döme Sztójay, as prime minister. The Germans originally wanted Horthy to reappoint Béla Imrédy (who had been prime minister from 1938 to 1939), but Horthy had enough influence to get Veesenmayer to accept Sztójay instead. Contrary to Horthy's hopes, Sztójay's government eagerly proceeded to participate in the Holocaust.
The chief agents of this collaboration were Andor Jaross, the Minister of the Interior, and his two rabidly anti-Semitic state secretaries, László Endre and László Baky (later to be known as the "Deportation Trio"). On 9 April, Prime Minister Sztójay and the Germans obligated Hungary to place 300,000 Jewish people at the "disposal" of the Reich, in effect, sentencing most of Hungary's remaining Jews to death. Five days later, on 14 April, Endre, Baky, and SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann commenced the deportation of the remaining Hungarian Jews. The Yellow Star, Ghettoization laws, and deportation were accomplished in less than 8 weeks with the help of the new Hungarian government and authorities. The deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz began on 14 May 1944 and continued at a rate of 12–14,000 a day until 24 July.
Upon learning about the deportations, Horthy wrote the following letter to the prime minister:
Dear Sztójay: I was aware that the Government in the given forced situation has to take many steps that I do not consider correct, and for which I can not take responsibility. Among these matters is the handling of the Jewish question in a manner that does not correspond to the Hungarian mentality, Hungarian conditions, and, for the matter, Hungarian interests. It is clear to everyone that what among these were done by Germans or by the insistence of the Germans was not in my power to prevent, so in these matters I was forced into passivity. As such, I was not informed in advance, or I am not fully informed now, however, I have heard recently that in many cases in inhumaneness and brutality we exceeded the Germans. I demand that the handling of the Jewish affairs in the Ministry of Interior be taken out of the hands of Deputy Minister László Endre. Further more, László Baky's assignment to the management of the police forces should be terminated as soon as possible.
Just before the deportations began, two Slovak Jewish prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and passed details of what was happening inside the camps to officials in Slovakia. This document, known as the Vrba-Wetzler Report, was quickly translated into German and passed among Jewish groups and then to Allied officials. Details from the report were broadcast by the BBC on 15 June and printed in The New York Times on 20 June. World leaders, including Pope Pius XII (25 June), President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 26 June, and King Gustaf V of Sweden on 30 June, subsequently pleaded with Horthy to use his influence to stop the deportations. Roosevelt specifically threatened military retaliation if the transports were not ceased. On 2 July 1944 Horthy put down a coup attempt by Hungarists by using loyal forces. Thereby he temporarily neutralized the men who planned to deport Jews. This enabled Horthy to issue the order halting deportations on 7 July. The transports halted. By that time, 437,000 Jews had been sent to Auschwitz, most of them to their deaths. Horthy was informed about the number of the deported Jews some days later: "approximately 400,000". By many estimates, one of every three people murdered at Auschwitz during its operation was a Hungarian Jew killed between May and July 1944.
There remains some uncertainty over how much Horthy knew about the number of Hungarian Jews being deported, their destination, and their intended fate – and when he knew it as well as what he could have done about it. According to historian Péter Sipos, the Hungarian government had already known about the Jewish genocide since 1943. Some historians[who?] have argued that Horthy believed that the Jews were being sent to the camps to work, and that they would be returned to Hungary after the war. Horthy himself wrote in his memoirs: "Not before August," he wrote, "did secret information reach me of the horrible truth about the extermination camps." The Vrba-Wetzler statement is believed to have been passed to Hungarian Zionist leader Rudolf Kastner no later than 28 April 1944, Kastner did not make it public. He made an agreement with the SS to remain silent in order to save the Jews who escaped on the Kastner train. The "Kastner train", a convoy that enabled Hungarian Jews to escape to Switzerland, left Budapest on 30 June 1944.
Deposition and arrest
In August 1944, Romania withdrew from the Axis and turned on Hitler and his allies. This development, a sign of the failing German war effort, led Horthy in Budapest to reconsolidate his political position. He ousted Sztójay and the other Nazi-friendly ministers installed the preceding spring, replacing them with a new government under Géza Lakatos. He stopped the mass deportations of Jews and ordered the police to use deadly force if the Germans attempted to resume them. While some smaller groups continued to be deported by train, the Germans did not press Horthy to ramp the pace back up to pre-August levels. Indeed, when Horthy turned down Eichmann's request to restart the deportations, Heinrich Himmler ordered Eichmann to return to Germany.
Realizing that Hungary's position was untenable, Horthy also renewed peace feelers to the Allies and began considering strategies for surrendering to the Allied force he distrusted the most: the Red Army. Although Horthy was still bitterly anti-Communist, his dealings with the Nazis led him to conclude that the Soviets were the far lesser evil. Working through his trustworthy General Béla Miklós, who was in contact with Soviet forces in eastern Hungary, Horthy sought to surrender to the Soviets while preserving the Hungarian government's autonomy. The Soviets willingly promised this, and on 11 October Horthy and the Soviets finally agreed to surrender terms. On 15 October 1944, Horthy told his government ministers that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. He said, "It is clear today that Germany has lost the war... Hungary has accordingly concluded a preliminary armistice with Russia, and will cease all hostilities against her." Horthy "...informed a representative of the German Reich that we were about to conclude a military armistice with our former enemies and to cease all hostilities against them."
The Nazis had anticipated Horthy's move. On 15 October, after Horthy announced the armistice in a nationwide radio address, Hitler initiated Operation Panzerfaust, sending commando Otto Skorzeny to Budapest with instructions to remove Horthy from power. Horthy's son Miklós Horthy, Jr., was meeting with Soviet representatives to finalize the surrender when Skorzeny and his troops forced their way into the meeting and kidnapped the younger Horthy at gunpoint. Trussed up in a carpet, Miklós Jr. was immediately driven to the airport and flown to Germany to serve as a hostage. Skorzeny then brazenly led a convoy of German troops and four Tiger II tanks to the Vienna Gates of Castle Hill, where the Hungarians had been ordered not to resist. Though one unit had not received the order, the Germans quickly captured Castle Hill with minimal bloodshed; seven soldiers were killed and twenty-six wounded.
Horthy was captured by Veesenmayer and his staff later on the 15th and taken to the Waffen SS office, where he was held overnight. Vessenmayer told Horthy that unless he recanted the armistice and abdicated, his son would be killed the next morning. The fascist Arrow Cross Party swiftly took over Budapest. With his son's life in the balance, Horthy consented to sign a document officially abdicating his office and naming Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrow Cross, as both head of state and prime minister. Horthy understood that the Germans merely wanted the stamp of his prestige on a Nazi-sponsored Arrow Cross coup, but he signed anyway. As he later explained his capitulation: "I neither resigned nor appointed Szálasi Premier. I merely exchanged my signature for my son's life. A signature wrung from a man at machine-gun point can have little legality."
Horthy met Skorzeny three days later at Pfeffer-Wildenbruch's apartment and was told he would be transported to Germany in his own special train. Skorzeny told Horthy that he would be a "guest of honour" in a secure Bavarian castle. On 17 October, Horthy was personally escorted by Skorzeny into captivity at Schloss Hirschberg in Bavaria, where he was guarded closely, but allowed to live in comfort.
With the help of the SS, the Arrow Cross leadership moved swiftly to take command of the Hungarian armed forces, and to prevent the surrender that Horthy had arranged, even though Soviet troops were now deep inside the country. Szálasi resumed persecution of Jews and other "undesirables". In the three months between November 1944 and January 1945, Arrow Cross death squads shot 10,000 to 15,000 Jews on the banks of the Danube. The Arrow Cross also welcomed Adolf Eichmann back to Budapest, where he began the deportation of the city's surviving Jews. Eichmann never successfully completed this phase of his plans, thwarted in large measure by the efforts of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Out of a pre-war Hungarian Jewish population estimated at 825,000, only 260,000 survived.
By December 1944, Budapest was under siege by Soviet forces. The Arrow Cross leadership retreated across the Danube into the hills of Buda in late January, and by February the city surrendered to the Soviet forces.
Horthy remained under house arrest in Bavaria until the war in Europe ended. On 29 April, his SS guardians fled in the face of the Allied advance. On 1 May, Horthy was first liberated, and then arrested, by elements of the U.S. 7th Army.
After his arrest, Horthy was moved through a variety of detention locations before finally arriving at the prison facility at Nuremberg in late September 1945. There he was asked to provide evidence to the International Military Tribunal in preparation for the trial of the Nazi leadership. Although he was interviewed repeatedly about his contacts with some of the defendants, he did not testify in person. In Nuremberg he was reunited with his son, Miklós.
Horthy gradually came to believe that his arrest had been arranged and choreographed by the Americans in order to protect him from the Russians. Indeed, the former regent reported being told that Josip Broz Tito, the new ruler of Yugoslavia, asked that Horthy be charged with complicity with the 1942 Novi Sad raid by Hungarian troops in the Bačka region of Vojvodina. Serbian historian Zvonimir Golubović has claimed that not only was Horthy aware of these genocidal massacres, but had approved of them. American trial officials did not indict Horthy for war crimes. The former ambassador John Montgomery, who had some influence in Washington, also contributed to Horthy's release in Nuremberg.
According to the memoirs of Ferenc Nagy, who served for a year as prime minister in post-war Hungary, the Hungarian Communist leadership was also interested in extraditing Horthy for trial. Nagy said that Joseph Stalin was more forgiving: that Stalin told Nagy during a diplomatic meeting in April 1945 not to judge Horthy, because he was old and had offered an armistice in 1944.
On 17 December 1945, Horthy was released from Nuremberg prison and allowed to rejoin his family in the German town of Weilheim, Bavaria. The Horthys lived there for four years, supported financially by ambassador John Montgomery, his successor, Herbert Pell, and by Pope Pius XII, whom he knew personally.
In March 1948, Horthy returned to testify at the Ministries Trial, the last of the twelve U.S.-run Nuremberg Trials; he testified against Edmund Veesenmayer, the Nazi administrator who had controlled Hungary during the deportations to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944. Veesenmayer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but was released in 1951.
For Horthy, returning to Hungary was impossible; it was now firmly in the hands of a Soviet-sponsored Communist government. In an extraordinary twist of fate, the chief of Hungary's post-war Communist apparatus was Mátyás Rákosi, one of Béla Kun's colleagues from the ill-fated Communist coup of 1919. Kun had been executed during Stalin's purges of the late 1930s, but Rákosi had survived in a Hungarian prison cell; in 1940 Horthy had permitted Rákosi to emigrate to the Soviet Union in exchange for a series of highly symbolic Hungarian battle-flags from the 19th century that were in Russian hands.
In 1950, the Horthy family managed to find a home in Portugal, thanks to Miklós Jr.'s contacts with Portuguese diplomats in Switzerland. Horthy and members of his family were relocated to the seaside town of Estoril, in the house address Rua Dom Afonso Henriques, 1937 2765.573 Estoril. His American supporter, John Montgomery, recruited a small group of wealthy Hungarians to raise funds for their upkeep in exile. According to Horthy's daughter-in-law, Countess Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai, Hungarian Jews also supported Horthy's family in exile, including industrialist Ferenc Chorin and lawyer László Pathy.
In exile, Horthy wrote his memoirs, Ein Leben für Ungarn (English: A Life for Hungary), published under the name of Nikolaus von Horthy, in which he narrated many personal experiences from his youth until the end of World War II. He claimed that he had distrusted Hitler for much of the time he knew him and tried to perform the best actions and appoint the best officials in his country. He also highlighted Hungary's mistreatment by many other countries since the end of World War I. Horthy was one of the few Axis heads of state to survive the war, and thus to write post-war memoirs.
Horthy never lost his deep contempt for communism, and in his memoirs he blamed Hungary's alliance with the Axis on the threat posed by the "Asiatic barbarians" of the Soviet Union. He railed against the influence that the Allies' victory had given to Stalin's totalitarian state. "I feel no urge to say 'I told you so,' " Horthy wrote, "nor to express bitterness at the experiences that have been forced upon me. Rather, I feel wonder and amazement at the vagaries of humanity."
He died in 1957 in Estoril.
Horthy married Magdolna Purgly de Jószáshely in 1901; they were married for just over 56 years, until his death. He had two sons, Miklós Horthy, Jr. (often rendered in English as "Nicholas" or "Nikolaus") and István Horthy, who served as his political assistants; and two daughters, Magda and Paula. Of his four children, only Miklós outlived him.
According to footnotes in his memoirs, Horthy was very distraught about the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In his will, Horthy asked that his body not be returned to Hungary "until the last Russian soldier has left." His heirs honoured the request. In 1993, two years after the Soviet troops left Hungary, Horthy's body was returned to Hungary and he was buried in his home town of Kenderes. The reburial in Hungary was the subject of some controversy on part of the left.
Titles, styles, honours and arms
Titles and styles
- 1 March 1920 – 15 October 1944: His Serene Highness the Prince Regent of Hungary
Full title as Regent
Orders, decorations and honours
- Military Order of Maria Theresa Grand Cross
- Military Order of Maria Theresa Knight's Cross
- Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen Grand Cross
- Cross of Merit of the Kingdom of Hungary Grand Cross
- Order of Merit of the Kingdom of Hungary Grand Cross
- Order of Merit of the Kingdom of Hungary imposed with the Holy Crown of Hungary Grand Cross
- Hungarian Red Cross Decoration Star
- Military Merit Cross 2nd Class with war decoration
- Order of Leopold Knight's Cross with war decoration
- Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with war decoration
- Military Merit Cross 1st Class with war decoration and crossed swords
- Bronze Military Merit Medal "Signum Laudis" with war ribbon and crossed swords
- Bronze Military Merit Medal "Signum Laudis" on red civil ribbon
- Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with war decoration and crossed swords
- Hungarian Bronze Military Merit Medal "Signum Laudis"
- Hungarian Bronze Military Merit Medal "Signum Laudis" on war ribbon
- Franz Joseph Commemorative Badge 1st Class
- Karl Troop Cross
- Wound Medal
- Hungarian War Memorial Medal with Swords
- Military Service Cross 1st Class for 50 years of continuous service
- Military Service Cross 2nd Class for 30 years of continuous service
- Military Service Cross 3rd Class for 25 years of continuous service
- 1898 Jubilee Medal (Signum Memoriae)
- 1908 Jubilee Cross
- Mobilization Cross 1912/13
- Order of Vitéz
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta 1st Class
- Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (Italy)
- Order of the Elephant (Denmark)
- Order of the Golden Spur Cross (Vatican)
- Royal Order of the Seraphim (Sweden)
- Order of the Holy Sepulchre Grand Cross (Vatican)
- Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius Grand Cross (Bulgaria)
- Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg)
- Order of the German Eagle Grand Cross (Nazi Germany)
- Order of Charles III Collar and Grand Cross of Collar (Spain)
- Order of the Chrysanthemum Grand Cross (Japanese Empire)
- Order of Besa, Grand Cross (Albania)
- Order of Merit, Grand Cross (Austria)
- Order of Leopold, Grand Cordon (Belgium)
- Grand Order of King Dmitar Zvonimir (Croatia)
- Order of Muhamed Ali Grand Cross
- Collar of the Order of the White Star (Poland)
- Order of the White Rose, Grand Cross (Finland)
- Order of the Redeemer, Grand Cross (Greece)
- Order of the Three Stars Commander, Grand Cross with Chain (Latvia)
- Order of St. Olav, Grand Cross (Norway)
- Order of the Netherlands Lion, Grand Cross
- Order of the White Eagle, Grand Cross (Poland)
- Order of the White Elephant, Grand Cross (Thailand)
- Order of the Star of Karađorđe, Grand Cross (Serbia)
- Order of the Cross of the Eagle, 1st Class (Estonia)
- Cross of Liberty (Estonia)
- Order of the Estonian Red Cross, 1st Class
- Order of the Red Eagle, 2nd Class with Swords
- Order of St. Michael, 2nd Class (Bavaria)
- Order of the Crown of Italy, Grand Officer
- Order of Prince Danilo I, 2nd Class
- Order of Osmanieh, 2nd Class (Ottoman Empire)
- Iron Crescent (Ottoman Empire)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Nazi Germany)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross 1st Class (Nazi Germany)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross 2nd Class (Nazi Germany)
- Iron Cross 1st Class (1914) (German Empire)
- Iron Cross 2nd Class (1914) (German Empire)
- Imtiyaz Medal (Ottoman Empire)
- Order of the Crown, 3rd Class (Prussia)
- Jubilee Medal 1908 (Montenegro)
- Order of Merit of Chile Collar of the Grand Cross (Chile)
- Bulgarian Memorial Medal of the European War 1915-1918
- The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (Nazi Germany)
- Austrian War Memorial Medal
- Memorial Medal of the Winter War (Finland 1939-1940)
- Horthy was honored by issuance of many postage stamps by Hungary. Some of them issued: on 1 March 1930, on 1 January 1938, on 1 March 1940, on 18 June 1941 and on 18 June 1941.
The historiography and reception of Horthy has changed throughout the course of modern Hungarian history. He was officially denounced by the state during the Communist era, while during his own time and in the 21st century, his reception has been more nuanced.
Horthy was generally condemned by historians after World War II, but more moderate assessments became possible during the 1970s and 1980s. Historian József Antall, the country's first democratically elected prime minister after the end of Communism, stated in 1993 that Horthy was a "Hungarian patriot" who "should be placed into the community of the nation and the awareness of the people." Peter Gosztony's 1973 biography portrayed him as conscientious, traditional, and conservative. He did not seek a dictatorship and during the 1920s he was mostly a figurehead. However he became much more important during the 1930s. Hungary was too weak to deny German passage for the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. Horthy blamed his Prime Minister Bárdossy for Hungary's declaration of war on the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1942 Horthy replaced Bárdossy with Miklós Kállay, who accepted parliamentary government, freedom of the press, human rights, and protection for refugees. Thomas Sakmyster was also sympathetic, yet he acknowledged that Horthy was narrow minded. István Deák regards Horthy as typical of other strong men of the time, especially dictators Francisco Franco of Spain and Philippe Pétain of Vichy France. Deák says that during the war, Horthy, "alternatively promoted and opposed German influence in his country, depending on how he judged the probable outcome of the war....Similarly, Horthy both persecuted and protected his Jewish subjects, depending on the turn of military events and the social status and degree of assimilation of the Jews under his reign. In the end, he was neither tried nor imprisoned but at the urging of Stalin was allowed to go into exile in Portugal." Historian Mária Ormos asks:
What did the average Hungarian learn in the good old days? He learned that the Horthy regime was restorationist, fascist, fascistoid, half-fascist, dictatorial, militaristic, nationalist, selfish, exploitative, power-hungry, servile, and so on. And primarily: counterrevolutionary. Now he hears and reads: conservative, autocratic, authoritarian, undemocratic, patriotic, self-interested, dynamic, reformist, abandoned, deceived, etc. Now I think that here and now a new, considered synthesis has not yet seen the light of day, even if it has in most of the world. For the Hungarian obviously does not wish to surrender his own history when he finally, and rightly, believes it could be his.— historian Mária Ormos
I consider Miklós Horthy a patriot, who also must be found a respected place in the national memory.
The interwar period dominated by Horthy's government is known in Hungarian as the Horthy-kor ("Horthy age") or Horthy-rendszer ("Horthy system"). Its legacy, and that of Horthy himself, remain among the most controversial political topics in Hungary today, tied inseparably to the Treaty of Trianon and the Holocaust. According to one school of thought, Horthy was a strong, conservative, but not undemocratic leader and patriot who only entered into an alliance with Hitler's Germany in order to restore lands Hungary lost after the First World War and was reluctant, or even defiant, in the face of Germany's demands to deport the Hungarian Jewry. Others see Horthy's alliance with Germany as foolhardy, or think that a positive view of Horthy serves a revisionist historical agenda, pointing to Horthy's passage of various anti-Jewish laws – the earliest in Europe, in 1920 – as a sign of his anti-Semitism and the prelude for the collaboration in the Holocaust.
During the Horthy era
During his own reign, Horthy's reception was fairly positive, though by no means monolithic. Opponents of the short-lived Soviet Republic saw him as a "national saviour," in contrast to the communist "losers of the nation." Because Horthy distanced himself from everyday politics, he was able to cultivate the image of the nationally governing admiral. The peaceful re-acquisition of Hungarian-majority lands lost after Trianon greatly bolstered this image. The regime's efforts at economic development and modernization also improved contemporaries' opinions, and although the Great Depression initially hurt his image, Horthy's wide-ranging social programs saved face for the most part.
On the other hand, Horthy's right-wing tendencies were not without their critics even in his time. Bourgeois liberals, among them Sándor Márai, criticized Horthy's authoritarian style as much as they disdained the violent tendencies of the far-left. He was also criticized by monarchists and elements of the aristocracy and clergy. While the harshest opposition to Horthy initially came from the communist parties he had overthrown and outlawed, the later 1930s saw him come under increasing criticism from the far-right. After the Arrow Cross took control of the country in 1945, Horthy was denounced as a "traitor" and "Jew-lover".
Horthy's reception in the West was positive until the outbreak of the Second World War, and while Hitler initially backed Horthy, relations between the two leaders were soured by Horthy's denial of involvement in the invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Horthy likewise viewed the Nazis as "brigands and clowns." The Little Entente criticized Horthy, mainly for his irredentist policy goals.
During the communist era
Under the Marxism–Leninism mandated during the communist era, the Horthy era was depicted extremely negatively. Scholars agree that due to political pressure, Horthy's positive achievements were unmentioned while his negative aspects were exaggerated to the point of total distortion.
The communist takeover in 1945 saw the same powers that had denounced Horthy as an "executioner" and a "murdering monster" assume control of the state. The government systematically disseminated, through propaganda and state education, the idea that the Horthy era constituted the "lowest point in Hungarian history." Most of these views were supported by socialist or communist activists persecuted under the Horthy administration. Especially critical in this campaign was the 1950 publication of the textbook The Story of the Hungarian People, which denounced Horthy's military as a "genocidal band" consisting of "sociopathic officers, kulaks, and the dregs of society." It further characterized Horthy himself as a "slave of the Habsburgs," a "red-handed dictator" who "spoke broken Hungarian" and was known for his "hatred of workers and soviets." The Story of the Hungarian People was required reading in middle schools throughout the 1950s.
The situation only slowly improved. While the professionalization of Hungarian history and historiography coupled with the loosening of state ideological controls inevitably led to a fairer assessment of Horthy's life, popular volumes still painted him negatively. Influential biographies openly leveled ad hominem attacks at Horthy, accusing him of bastardy, lechery, sadism, greed, nepotism, bloodthirst, warmongering, and cowardice, among other vices.
Reburial and contemporary politics
The transition to a Western-style democracy allowed the privatization of media, which led to a shift in how Horthy was viewed in Hungary. In 1993, only a few years after the first democratic elections, Horthy's body was returned from Portugal to his hometown of Kenderes. Tens of thousands of people, as well as almost the entirety of József Antall's MDF cabinet, attended the ceremony. Antall had prefaced the burial with a series of interviews praising Horthy as a "patriot." The reburial was broadcast on state television and was accompanied by large-scale protests in Budapest.
In contemporary Hungary, hagiography of Horthy is associated with the far-right Jobbik and its allies. Since 2012, Horthy statues, squares, or memorials have been erected in numerous villages and cities including Csókakő, Kereki, Gyömrő, and Debrecen. In November 2013, a Horthy statue's unveiling at a Calvinist church in Budapest drew international attention and criticism.
Der Spiegel has written about the resurgence of what its writers call "the Horthy cult," claiming that Horthy's popularity indicates returning irredentist, reactionary, and ultranationalistic elements. Critics have more specifically connected Horthy's popularity to the Magyar Gárda, a paramilitary group that uses Árpád dynasty imagery and to recent incidents of antiziganist and antisemitic vandalism in Hungary. The ruling Fidesz party has, according to reporters, "hedged its bets" on the Horthy controversy, refusing to outright condemn Horthy statues and other commemorations for fear of losing far-right voters to Jobbik, although some Fidesz politicians have labeled Horthy memorials "provocative." This tension has led some to label Fidesz as "implicitly anti-semitic" and to accuse Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of a "revisionist" agenda.
Left-wing groups such as the Hungarian Socialist Party have condemned positive historiography of Horthy. Attila Mesterházy, the socialist leader, has condemned the Orbán government's position as "inexcusable", claiming that Fidesz was "openly associating itself with the ideology of the regime that collaborated with the fascists." Words have led to actions in some instances, for example when leftist activist Péter Dániel vandalized a rural bust of Horthy by dousing it in red paint and hanging a sign that read "Mass Murderer – War Criminal" around its neck. Right-wing activists responded by vandalizing a Jewish cemetery in Székesfehérvár.
In 2017, Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, made a speech in which he called Horthy an "exceptional statesman" and gave him the credit for the survival of Hungary. The U.S. Holocaust Museum then issued a statement denouncing Orbán and the Hungarian government for trying to "rehabilitate the reputation of Hungary’s wartime leader, Miklós Horthy, who was a vocal anti-Semite and complicit in the murder of the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust."
Film and television portrayals
In the 1985 NBC TV film Wallenberg: A Hero's Story, the role of Horthy was taken by Hungarian-born actor Guy Deghy, who appeared bearded although Horthy (as photographs bore out) appeared consistently clean-shaven throughout his life.
In the 2011 Spanish TV film series, El ángel de Budapest (The angel of Budapest), also set during Wallenberg's time in Hungary in 1944, he is portrayed by actor László Agárdi. In the 2014 American action drama film Walking with the Enemy, Regent Horthy is portrayed by Ben Kingsley. The movie depicts a story of a young man during the Arrow Cross Party takeover in Hungary.
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