20: The Occupation of Hungary
<< 19: The Search for the Way Out || 21: Appealing for Armistice, My Imprisonment >>
The Occupation of Hungary
I sent von Jagow away without giving him a definite answer. Whether to accept Hitler's
invitation or not was a question needing careful consideration. I therefore summoned the
Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of War and the Chief of the General
Staff. Kállay and Csatay(1), the Minister of War, advised
me not to go. Szombathelyi, the Chief of the General Staff, and the Foreign Minister
disagreed with them, the latter pointing out that Hitler had just received Tiso and
Antonescu and that a refusal on my part could only acerbate the tension. As I learned
later, Ghyczy the Foreign Minister, was cautious enough to draw up the text of a telegram
to be sent to his deputy in warning if Hungary were to be occupied. This telegram was
actually received in Budapest. If the Foreign Minister was in favour of the visit in spite
of his fears, it was because he, realizing that resistance was impossible, was prepared to
approve any step that might lead to a compromise.
I could see little use in undertaking the journey to Klessheim but could not deny the
cogency of the arguments in favour. The determining factor in my decision to see Hitler
was the thought that in a personal interview I could press for the return of the Hungarian
troops which were now stationed abroad. I set out for Klessheim, therefore, on March 17th,
1944, accompanied by Ghyczy, Csatay and Szombathelyi.
March 17th was a Friday, and it is an old superstition of the sea that one should never
set out on a Friday. And, indeed, in my sea days, I had never done so. I had always waited
until eight bells had heralded a new day. On March 17th, I was untrue to my old custom. I
set out with an uneasy feeling that was soon to be justified. Details may have slipped my
mind, but I still clearly remember twice putting my revolver in my pocket and twice taking
it out again before leaving the train. I knew that I would not be searched as Hitler's
Generals were; but justice was to be meted out to him by a higher tribunal. I left my
revolver in my coach(2).
For the time being, events followed the usual procedure. As my train drew in on
Saturday morning, Hitler, Ribbentrop, Keitel and others were at the station. I had the
impression that Hitler stooped more and looked much older than when I had last seen him.
As we were driven to Schloss Klessheim, an estate belonging to Archduke Louis Victor, the
brother of the late Emperor, I asked Hitler if he desired our Foreign Minister and the
Generals to be present at our discussion. He replied that he did not.
We went straight to his study, followed by Paul Schmidt(3),
Hitler's interpreter. I had nothing against Herr Schmidt, whom I considered an intelligent
and kindly man, and to whom we now owe the account of the exceedingly dramatic events of
my stay at Klessheim which he has recorded in his book, (Paul Schmidt: Statist auf
diplomatischer Bühne 1923 - 1945.). However, as none of my people were present and as no
interpreter was needed between myself and Hitler, I queried his presence, and he withdrew.
Later I regretted this, for, had I not protested, there would have been a witness to our
Hitler was very ill at ease and seemed to find it difficult to begin. Instead of
broaching the subject of the repatriation of our troops, he began with the Italian
'betrayal', which had put Germany in a difficult position. Since, according to his
information, Hungary also was contemplating a change of sides, he felt he was obliged to
take precautionary measures(4) in order to avoid being
caught unawares a second time.
Upon my dry request for 'proofs', he repeated his accusations against Premier Kállay
and our Legations in neutral countries. I countered sharply with the reply that Magyars
had never been traitors. "Without my consent, there can never be the change of sides
that you have described," I declared. "Should events force my hand one day so
that, to safeguard our very existence, I have to ask the enemy for an armistice, I assure
you that I shall openly and honestly inform the German Government of such negotiations
beforehand. We would, in any case, never be the first to take up arms against our German
The conversation continued for some time and we both grew heated. "I do not know
what you mean by 'taking precautionary measures'," I said to Hitler. "If by that
phrase you mean military measures, or in other words the occupation of an independent and
sovereign state which has made many sacrifices on Germany's behalf, that would be an
unspeakable crime. I can only warn you against the execution of so injudicious a step,
which would cause unparalleled hatred for your regime to flare up."
From his excited answers, I realized that intelligent discussion was impossible. I
interrupted him with the vehement words: "If everything has been decided upon
already, there is no point in prolonging this discussion. I am leaving." Saying this,
I walked quickly to the door with the intention of going to the rooms allocated to me on a
higher floor. Hitler ran after me.
I sent for my fellow countrymen and told them what had happened. We decided to leave
Klessheim forthwith. I requested Baron Dörnberg, who was in charge of arrangements, to
see to the immediate departure of our special train. Today I know what I did not know
then: that Hitler's 'precautionary measures' had already been set on foot and that orders
had been given, should I prove 'stubborn', for my arrest in Vienna on my way home.
Hitler's immediate move, however, no doubt on the advice of his entourage, was an
attempt to prevent our departure. To this end, an air alarm was sounded. The castle was
put under a smoke screen and we were informed that bombs had severed the telephone
communications. Together with that message, I received an invitation from Hitler to lunch
and a request that we should continue our discussions in the afternoon. In the hope that
he would have reconsidered his attitude, I agreed. The atmosphere during lunch could not
be described as cordial. Hitler picked nervously at his vegetarian food. I felt little
inclined to make conversation, nor apparently did the eight others assembled around the
oval table in the handsome dining-hall.
After the meal, several separate discussions sprang up. Hitler endeavoured to give
Szombathelyi the impression that he regretted his project(5).
That was probably all part of the game. He even went so far as to summon Field Marshal
Keitel to ask him whether the occupation of Hungary could not be countermanded. Keitel
replied that it could not as the troops were already on the march.
Having heard this from Szombathelyi, I said to Hitler during our second interview,
"Then I shall, of course, lay down my office." Hitler thereupon began to plead
with me. He had, he declared, always loved Hungary. He would not dream of interfering with
Hungary's sovereignty. We know now that it was not only to the Rumanians that he had often
said the contrary. He knew that Hungary had always been a sovereign state, "unlike
Bohemia," he added, "which used to belong to the Holy Roman Empire, that is to
say, Germany." His military measures were intended only to safeguard Hungary. "I
give you my word that the German troops shall be withdrawn as soon as a new Hungarian
Government that has my confidence has been formed." I replied that I had to reserve
judgment on that point, and withdrew once more to my own apartments.
What was I to do? It was plain that my resignation would not prevent the military
occupation, would indeed merely give Hitler and opportunity to introduce a hundred per
cent Nazi Arrow-Cross regime. The precedent of the Italian debacle with its horrible
attendant circumstances constituted a timely warning. So long as I continued head of the
state, the Germans would have to show a certain circumspection. They would have to leave
the Hungarian Army under my orders, and would therefore be unable to incorporate it into
the German Army. While I was in charge, they could not attempt putting the Arrow-Cross
Party into office to do their deadly work of murdering Hungarian patriots, of
exterminating the 800,000 Hungarian Jews and the tens of thousands of refugees who had
sought sanctuary in Hungary. It would have been easier for me to make the great gesture of
abdication. I would have been spared many a denunciation. But to leave a sinking ship,
especially one that needed her captain more than ever, was a step I could not bring myself
to take. At the time it was more important to me that Hitler promised to withdraw his
troops from Hungary as soon as a government acceptable to him had been appointed.
One thing was clear to me: whatever 'proofs' Hitler may have had of our negotiations
with the enemy, his treachery in overrunning our country after having lured me and my
Ministers away from Budapest was so wicked that henceforward we should be entirely
released from any obligations to Nazi Germany.
The cup of Klessheim, however, had not yet been drained to the last dreg. As nothing
more had been said about the time of departure of my train, I asked whether I was to
consider myself a prisoner. Baron Dörnberg hastened to tell me that, the air alarm being
over, my train would be ready to leave at eight o'clock that night. As I was preparing to
go, the Foreign Minister of the Reich, Ribbentrop, came to read me the text of the
communiqué covering my 'visit'. This document stated that the entry of German troops into
Hungary was by 'mutual consent'. I protested angrily against this new lie. "You might
as well have added," I fulminated, "that I begged Hitler to have Hungary
occupied by Slovak and Rumanian troops, which was another of the threats he made."
Ribbentrop wriggled desperately, putting forward the plea that in life minor untruths were
often necessary. Phrased as it was, the communiqué made the occupation appear less
hostile. I had been aware that this was the intention from the outset. I therefore
insisted on the deletion of that particular lie. Ribbentrop at last agreed. But in the
German press, the communiqué was published in its original form.
At eight o'clock that night we left. On the platform at Klessheim I saw Hitler for the
last time before he committed suicide in the bunker of the Reich Chancellery, escaping by
this act the justice of his earthly judges. A death which was announced to the world as
death in action.
Our train was held up for a long time at Salzburg and at Linz. I was not intended to
return to Budapest until the occupation had been accomplished. On the morning following
our departure, during our journey, the Minister, von Jagow, came with the news that he had
been recalled and that his successor, who was also on the train, wished to be introduced
to me. This successor was none other than Dr. Edmund Veesenmayer, who had recently been in
Budapest for some months. He was not only to be Minister but also bear the title of
Plenipotentiary of the Reich. I gave Herr Veesenmayer my views on the occupation of our
country. He assured me that it was his aim to carry out his assignment in complete accord
with me. In how far he carried out his instructions in the months to come, or in how far
the many inexorable measures taken were due to his own initiative, I cannot judge. To me
he was the final arbiter representing the Nazi Government, as I declared later at
Even while we were still travelling to Hungary, Dr. Veesenmayer began to discuss the
formation of a new government, at the head of which he wished to see the former Premier,
Béla Imrédy. That was out of the question.
The occupation of Hungary by eleven divisions, including several armoured divisions,
had gone forward without giving rise to serious incidents. The general public, even our
officers and soldiers, had little idea of the hollowness of the much-vaunted
"friendship and comradeship of arms". For the rest, the main body of our troops
were at the eastern and south-eastern frontiers and there had been no one present to give
The Prime Minister, Kállay met me at the railway station and as we drove to the Palace
he rapidly told me what had been happening in Budapest. The Gestapo had arrested nine
members of the Upper House and thirteen of the Lower House. They had seized the police
headquarters and had requisitioned the Hotel Astoria for their use. Upon arrival, we found
German sentries on guard outside the Palace gates.
At the meeting of the Crown Council, which I convened immediately, I gave the
government a resumé of events at Klessheim. This was followed by the reports of the men
who had accompanied me. Csatay, who had talked with Keitel, declared that the Germans had
insisted that the Regent should not resign. Were he to do so, they would give the Slovaks,
Croats and Rumanians a free hand in Hungary. Ghyczy, who had talked with Ribbentrop, and
Szombathelyi, who had also talked with Hitler, confirmed this(6).
Kállay thanked me in the name of the government and of the nation for having saved the
Supreme Command of our National Army. He expressly urged me not to relinquish my office,
however much pressure was brought to bear on me. It gave me immense satisfaction to hear
him, of all people, confirming the arguments I had put forward at Klessheim. When Kállay
went on to ask me to accept his government's resignation, I assured him that I would be
prepared to do so only under extreme pressure, as he had always enjoyed my unlimited
confidence. We all knew full well that difficult times lay ahead. Kállay and his family
escaped arrest only by slipping away through underground passages, dating from the time of
Turkish occupation, to our apartments in the Palace, whence he alone was driven away by
the Turkish Minister in his car(7). Count Stephen Bethlen
also managed to elude the secret police who had been sent to arrest him. The Minister for
Home Affairs, Keresztes-Fischer, and his brother(8), the
former Chief of the Military Chancellery, were arrested on March 20th(9).
I had been able to reject Dr. Veesenmayer's proposal that Imrédy should be appointed
to the Premiership on the grounds that this leader of a small extreme-right-wing
opposition had no backing in the country. A more difficult task was to find a man of whom
Hitler would approve and who at the same time would be acceptable to us. We thought of
creating a government of civil servants, but the Germans refused to accept this plan and
insisted that a parliamentary government be formed. My choice finally fell on our Berlin
Ambassador, General Döme Sztójay(10). He had been
present at the Klessheim discussions, had spent years in Berlin and was persona grata
with Hitler. On March 23rd, he and the new members of the Cabinet were sworn in by me.
Sztójay took the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as well as the Premiership. His deputy was
Jenô Rácz(11). Andor Jaross(12)
became the new Minister for Home Affairs; Lajos Reményi-Schneller(13),
Minister of Finance; Lajos Szász(14), Minister of
Industry; Antal Kunder(15), Minister of Commerce and
Transport; Béla Jurcsek(16), Minister of Agriculture;
István Antal(17), Minister of Justice and Education;
Lajos Csatay, Minister of War. Rácz, Jaross and Kunder belonged to the Imrédy Party.
Reményi-Schneller, Szász, Jurcsek and Antal were members of the right wing of the
The next few months constituted a depressing chapter in Hungarian history. I need
hardly say that Hitler's promises to withdraw his troops as soon as a government which met
with his approval had been formed, and to cease his interference in Hungarian Government
matters, were not kept. The Balkan Army, under the command of Field Marshal Baron Weichs(18), which had behaved with exemplary discipline, did indeed
leave the country, but only to make room for new formations of the Waffen-SS and the
On April 2nd, Dr. Veesenmayer had been instructed by the German Foreign Office that I
should be excluded from all political activity. Sztójay and his government thenceforth
carried out as promptly as they could the orders given them by Dr. Veesenmayer and the
German occupation authorities.
I found it very gratifying that our Ministers accredited in neutral countries, and
their diplomatic staffs, refused to accept instructions from the Sztójay Government, as a
protest against the occupation of Hungary. A few of the Ministers resigned, and remained
in touch with me. That Hungary's position was rightly summed up became clear when the
governments of these neutral countries refused to accredit Ministers appointed by the
Sztójay Government. Sztójay had to content himself with sending out charge's d'affaires
to replace the Ministers who had resigned.
I have said that, while writing these memoirs, I have not had at hand the relevant
official documents. I have in my possession, however, copies of the minutes of some of the
Cabinet meetings held during the period of German occupation, though I cannot guarantee
that they are complete. On reading them, the sentences "The Germans demand, The
Cabinet agrees" occur with monotonous regularity. Sztójay began by proposing that
Parliament should not discuss the arrest of the members of the two Houses; the Minister
for Home Affairs supported this proposal by letting it be known that anyone broaching the
subject would be arrested.
Obviously, all German demands concerning the availability of labour, food supplies and
war materials were fulfilled. Demands for more troops were frequent. In 1943, we had
created a highly trained elite cavalry corps, equipped with armoured vehicles and
motorized heavy artillery. I had considered it vital to keep these reliable troops in
Hungary, and I had repeatedly refused German requests to send them to the Eastern front.
The Germans had then invited our Chief of the General Staff, Szombathelyi, to call at the
Fuehrer's headquarters. He returned with the impression that a continued refusal would
lead to serious reprisals of a violent nature. Only then, in May 1944, with great
reluctance, did I permit this corps to be moved to our frontiers after both Hitler and
Keitel had agreed to my proviso that it was to remain on the left wing of our Army. That
proviso was, of course, not honoured. Hardly had the corps reached the frontier before it
was sent further north. On its way through the Pripet Marshes it lost a considerable part
of its armoured vehicles and motorized artillery, besides being attacked by Soviet
armoured divisions and suffering heavy losses. The German front was already wavering and
the Hungarian regiments had, in accordance with the orders of the German High Command,
been given the task of covering a withdrawal under orders to hold out to the last man.
Lieutenant Field Marshal Vattay(19) did not obey these
orders but followed the retreating German regiments. Our cavalry corps finally found
itself in the Warsaw sector.
The Nazis now imposed a sharply anti-Semitic policy. The Sztójay Government was forced
to compel all Jews to wear a clearly displayed Star of David and to degrade them to
second-class citizenship. It was certainly no fault of this government that their
persecution and deportations still did not reach the pitch that Berlin prescribed. A
protest made by the Prince-Primate Cardinal Serédi against the anti-Semitic measures was
rejected(20). The Minister of Commerce ordered all Jewish
firms to be closed. The technical execution of the deportations was entrusted to the
parliamentary secretaries, Baky(21) , and Endre(22), two notorious anti-Semites who, at Cabinet meetings,
were often heard to declare that "humanitarian considerations were immaterial"(23). On July 7th, Hitler summoned Sztójay, complimented him
on certain of the measures taken against the Jews but, maintaining that much was still to
be done, said that the Gestapo would remain in Hungary "until the Jewish problem had
been completely settled". Only the courageous and loyal Minister of War, Csatay,
tried repeatedly to resist the inhumanity of the measures taken against the Jews(24). After the events of October 15th, Csatay and his wife
took their own lives.
For a long time I was helpless before German influence, for, in Budapest and its
vicinity, I lacked the means to check or thwart the joint action of the Germans and the
Ministry for Home Affairs. As the defeat of Germany drew nearer, I regained, though slowly
and imperfectly, a certain freedom of action. In the summer, I succeeded at last in having
the possibility of freeing the Jews from the prohibitions and restrictions imposed on them
by law. Of the innumerable requests that poured in, I rejected none. The deportations were
supposed to be made to labour camps. Not before August did secret information reach me of
the horrible truth about the extermination camps. It was Csatay, the Minister of War, who
raised the matter at a Cabinet meeting and demanded that our government should insist on
the Germans clarifying the situation. This demand was not met by the Cabinet. The
Churches, I must here add, did what they could for those in distress by providing them
with certificates of baptism. In this, they acted in accordance with the true wishes of
The next step taken by the Germans deliberately flouted the elementary sense of justice
of our nation and added much to the odium in which the Germans came to be held. My son
Nicholas had established a special chancellery(25) which
was in constant communication with the Hungarian Jewish Committee, so that I was kept
informed of events and was able to intervene when the opportunity offered. Up until June,
more than 400,000 persons had been deported. In August, Budapest was to be 'cleaned up'.
170,000 Jews were registered in the capital and another 110,000 were in hiding at their
Magyar friends'. The Deputy Secretaries, Baky and Endre, had planned a surprise action to
arrest and deport the Budapest Jews. As soon as news of this reached my ears, I ordered
the armoured division which was stationed near Esztergom to be transferred to Budapest(26). Furthermore, I instructed the Chief of the Budapest
gendarmerie to assist in preventing the forceful removal of Jews. The fact that this
action saved the Jews of Budapest has been confirmed by the members of the Jewish
Committees in Hungary, Samu Stern(27), Dr. Ernô Petô and
Dr. Károly Wilhelm, in written statements they made under oath on February 3rd, 1946. I
still have photocopies and an English translation of these statements, endorsed by the
Swedish Embassy in Rome.(28)
The Red Cross and, at the request of King Gustav(29) of
Sweden, the Wallenberg(30) Mission tried to persuade the
Germans to agree to grant the Jews unmolested passage to Palestine. Through my Cabinet, I
gave full support to this attempt, but in vain. Dr. Veesenmayer entered a protest to the
Sztójay Government against my interfering in the Jewish question. Nevertheless, in August
I duly informed the Government of the Reich that I would do my utmost to prevent a removal
of Jews from Budapest. As the Germans were still striving to keep up the pretence of
Hungarian sovereignty, they decided to forgo taking further measures.
Action similar to that taken against the Jews had also been taken against the Polish,
Italian and other refugees who had sought in Hungary asylum from the Nazis. The Polish
schools and the only Polish University outside Poland, other than the one in England, were
closed. I gave whatever help I could to these victims also. I was not always as successful
in my attempts as I was on one occasion when I was able to prevent a hundred prisoners
from being taken from Budapest for deportation. The news had been smuggled out of the
prison by a prisoner's wife who carried it to my wife. I had the prison surrounded by
troops and the transportation party failed to arrive. I heard later that those prisoners
lived to see the end of the war.
As a result of German pressure, Imrédy had been taken into the Government in May,
albeit as Minister without portfolio. The uncertainty of Imrédy's ancestry, however, had
not been cleared up, and in spite of the issue of a German statement that the documents in
question had been forged. The Arrow-Cross Party insisted that he had Jewish blood and
refused to collaborate with him. Imrédy and his political friends Kunder and Jaross left
the Cabinet on August 7th.
The Allied invasion of France was successful. Hitler's last hope of a military victory
had faded. In June, Sztójay had still been able to return from the Fuehrer's headquarters
with the news that the Germans were looking forward to the invasion, which could only end
in a fiasco for the British and Americans. Simultaneously, the Russians were pressing
forward. Early in August, in an interview with Dr. Veesenmayer, I had advised the
occupation of the Transylvanian Carpathians. Veesenmayer had replied that it was
impossible to raise the necessary forces.
"You do not need extra forces," I told him. "The German troops within
and around Budapest alone would suffice." Our experience in the First World War had
shown that the passes could be held by relatively weak forces.
I am not in a position to say whether, had my advice been taken, the advance of the
Russian forces into the Hungarian plains could have been prevented after Rumania had
changed sides. According to General Guderian's(31)
published memoirs (Guderian: Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, Heidelberg, 1951) Marshal
Antonescu declared himself willing, after a visit to the Fuehrer's headquarters, to
evacuate Moldavia and fall back on a front from Galatz via Focsani to the ridge of the
Carpathians. The Chief of the Southern Ukraine Army, Major-General Friessner(32), who had been appointed in July, agreed with Antonescu's
plan. But Hitler listened to neither the one nor the other. He believed he had time enough
to make up his mind and he was no doubt strengthened in this belief by incorrect reports
from Bucharest. The military and civilian bodies which had hitherto given an invariably
favourable account of the state of affairs in Rumania now hesitated to confess their
mistakes and their over-optimism. The surprise of the Germans was therefore all the
greater when, after a dramatic interview, young King Michael(33)
dismissed Marshal Antonescu on August 23rd. As a result, twenty-one German divisions were
cut off and taken prisoner. The Plan Margarete II, prepared for just such an emergency,
could no longer be put into operation, as the troops needed for it were out of action(34).
This gave me the long-sought opportunity to act(35).
Events abroad and at home coincided to make it impossible for Sztójay to continue in
office. On August 24th, I sent the Premier's Parliamentary Secretary, István Bárczy(36), and the Chief of my Cabinet Chancellery, Gyula Ambrózy(37), to call on Sztójay, who was at that time in a
sanatorium, with my request for his resignation. Sztójay resigned. To my surprise and
also to the surprise of others, the German Plenipotentiary raised no objection. If Dr.
Veesenmayer is to be believed, this was due to the fact that he wished to work with me and
not against me. He was prepared to call on the Arrow-Cross men only in an extreme
emergency. I myself think that the general political and military situation was the
deciding factor. The Germans influence in Hungary has weakened. But the time for a
forceful action had not yet arrived(38).
All that the new government could do was to save what could be saved. I could not agree
under any condition to the German proposal that Hungary should be declared an operational
area, regardless of the future. We had every reason to fear that if we entered voluntarily
a joint Hungarian-German 'fight to the bitter end', the victors would wipe Hungary out
permanently. Before the Rumanians changed sides, I had already sent General Béla
Dálnoky-Miklós with a special message to Hitler. He was received on July 21st(39). He informed the Germans, in accordance with what I had
said at Klessheim, that if Hungary were not given the aid that had been promised her, she
would have to withdraw from the war. Towards the end of August, with the Russians at the
gates of Bucharest(40), Hitler sent General Guderian to
me. As Guderian has himself stated, I gave him no assurances. He seemed even to sympathize
with our point of view, for he agreed to the recall of the Hungarian cavalry division
which was still fighting in the Warsaw sector.
On August 29th, at eleven o'clock at night, the new government was sworn in at the
Palace. I had appointed Major-General Géza Lakatos(41)
Prime Minister and General Gustáv Hennyey(42) Foreign
Minister. At the request of the Germans, I agreed to the inclusion of Reményi-Schneller
and Jurcsek in the Cabinet. They were henceforth Veesenmayer's informers, keeping him
apprised with all that happened at the meetings of the Cabinet and of the Crown Council.
On that August 29th, immediately after the Cabinet had been sworn in, it was convened
and the decision was taken to carry on the war against Russia. We were swayed by our wish
to prevent Hungary from becoming a battlefield and to this end it was necessary that the
southern area round Belgrade and the Dukla Pass in the north should be held. The weak
Hungarian Army, for the bulk of the Hungarian troops were abroad, was to be strengthened
by the German troops in Hungary, about 500,000 men, who had been taken out of the line to
be re-established there. The German High Command agreed, but nothing was done before
mid-October, by which time it was too late. On the occasion of an earlier visit I had paid
to Hitler's headquarters, the 'Wolfschanze', near Rastenberg in East Prussia,
Hitler told me that the war would be lost should the Russians overrun the Hungarian
plains. This eventuality was now at hand. After the way that Hitler had behaved to me
personally and after all he had done to Hungary, I need not have felt myself bound to
adhere to the promise I had made at Klessheim, that I would inform him when I sued for an
armistice. Yet I did, because of my friendship with the German people, who had finally
fallen victims to Hitler, and were also, like ourselves, in danger of being overwhelmed by
the Communist flood.
The Rumanians had turned their arms against us. In his first proclamation King Michael
had called for the 'liberation of Transylvania'. On August 26th, the day after Paris had
been retaken by the Allies, Sofia announced that Bulgaria was withdrawing from the war.
However, the Bulgarian attempt to secure an armistice with Britain and the United States
of America, failed. The Soviet Union, with which Bulgaria had not hitherto been at war,
frustrated the attempt by declaring war on Bulgaria(43).
It was to us a bitter demonstration of the power relations between the Allies.
On September 7th, we received the news that five Soviet armoured divisions were
approaching. I called the members of the government together, and summoned János Vörös(44), who had succeeded Szombathelyi as Chief of the General
Staff in April. Together we decided that Hungary was no longer able to resist without
immediate and considerable assistance. Rumania had declared war on us. A Finnish
delegation had travelled to Moscow to negotiate for an armistice. At my request, Premier
Lakatos called on the German Plenipotentiary and on the German military attaché, General
von Greifenberg(45), that same evening after the Cabinet
meeting, and informed them of our Cabinet's decision. The situation demanded that five
motorized divisions should at once be thrown in. Otherwise Hungary would be unable to
Even in this solemn hour, as always, I sought the advice of those men who, throughout
the years of my Regency, had shown themselves true servants of the Fatherland and had
thereby won my confidence. I made arrangements for Count Stephen Bethlen to be brought
safely from his place of hiding outside Budapest to the Palace. There he presided at the
meeting held on September 10th, to which, as well as the members of the government,
Lakatos and Hennyey, I had invited the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament, Kánya,
the former Foreign Minister, Major-General Rôder, the Counts Maurice Esterházy and Gyula
Károlyi, Bánffy, the former Minister of Agriculture, and Count Béla Teleki(46), the leader of the Magyars in Transylvania. After
listening to a military report read by General Vörös, Count Bethlen declared that any
further bloodshed would be senseless, and that an attempt should therefore be made to end
the war forthwith. All who were present were in full agreement(47).
These grave moments were relieved by one tragicomic incident. It had been relatively
easy to smuggle Count Bethlen into the Palace. But it was not so simple to secure his safe
return to his hiding-place. His characteristic moustache was too recognizable. Bethlen was
talked into shaving it off; and did so on the spot; his white upper lip stood out like a
beacon in his sunburnt face. My daughter-in-law had the brilliant idea of using a sunray
lamp and with its help the colour of his upper lip was darkened to match the rest of his
face. In uniform, his cap pulled down over his eyes, Count Bethlen left the town as he had
An extraordinary Cabinet meeting held on September 21th caused a certain delay.
According to the minutes, of which I have only an unauthenticated copy, Premier Lakatos
made the following statement:
"The Regent conferred on September 7th with the Government, on September 10th
with his twelve secret counsellors, and has assured himself of the gravity of the war
situation and political events abroad. He has reached the conclusion that further
expenditure of blood would be useless, and that the great superiority of the Red Army
makes the continuation of the war impossible. The Regent has asked me to call on him
tomorrow and has instructed me to inform the Government that he will wait no longer. He is
firmly determined to ask the enemy today for the terms of an armistice. The Regent desires
to learn only one thing from the Government, which members of the Government are prepared
to bear their share in the political responsibility for this step, and which are not. The
decision of the Regent will in no way be influenced by the answer I shall give him."
The Premier than called upon those present to speak; in order not to influence their
decisions, he offered to speak last. A variety of arguments was put forward at the meeting
to decline the assumption of political responsibility; only Lakatos, Csatay and Hennyey
pronounced in favour of an armistice. Therefore the Cabinet decided to offer me their
Even taking into account the fact that Lakatos and his Ministers had to bear in mind
that their colleagues Reményi-Schneller and Jurcsek would immediately make their report
to Veesenmayer, their decision came as a surprise to me. I did not hide my feelings from
Lakatos and repeated that my determination remained fixed. I noted their resignation but
asked the government to remain in office for the time being.
Soon after, the government sent the Chief of the General Staff, Vörös, to Hitler to
enquire what help Hitler was prepared to give Hungary. Hitler, it seemed, was fully
informed concerning the meetings of September 7th and 10th, but mistrusted the declared
intention of the Lakatos Government to carry on the war. Vörös was given no definite
assurances of military aid.
On September 22nd, I despatched General Náday(49) and
the British Colonel Howie(50) by plane to the Allied
Headquarters at Caserta, near Naples. Colonel Howie, who had escaped to Hungary from a
German prison camp, had been taken by Polish intermediaries to my son, who had had him
smuggled into the Palace. He had hidden in the apartments of my aide-de-camp, Tost(51) until the time came for him to fly to Caserta.
At Caserta, General Náday talked with General Maitland Wilson(52)
and Sir John Slessor(53), the Commander-in-Chief and Air
Forces Chief of the Eighth Army respectively, who told him that Hungary must find a way of
communicating with the Russians, as their own hands were tied. Radio communications being
much disturbed, this message reached us in a mutilated form, but we were able to guess at
the missing part as a similar message already reached us via Berne. The Germans soon
learned of the departure of Náday. The pilot(54) had
taken his wife with him, which had attracted attention, though they failed to discover in
whose company he had gone.
While, on the one hand, the Arrow-Cross Party, seeing the approach of their great
chance, were preparing to seize power(55), the political
resistance movement, on the other, was becoming more active and was trying to establish
contact with me through my son Nicholas(56). The political
activities of the opposition parties, the Smallholders' Party, the Social Democrats and
the Communists, lacked unity of leadership. The Social Democrats had been weakened, in
March, by the arrest of their leader, Károly Peyer(57),
and his successor, Árpád Szakasits(58), had relatively
little authority among his fellow members. The Smallholders' Party was in much the same
position, having lost its real leader, Tibor Eckhardt(59),
while his successor, Zoltán Tildy(60), a former clergyman
of the Reformed Church, had played a more than questionable role. There were also a few
legitimist elements who were in contact with the political underground movement, while the
Communists, led by László Rajk(61), were waiting for the
Russians and retained but a nominal contact with it. The Chief of the State Security
Police, General Ujszászy(62), was chosen as contact man,
for he was known to be a keen opponent of Communism and was therefore unlikely to rouse
the suspicions of the Germans. A number of discussions were held between General Ujszászy
and the representatives of the different groups. Among the subjects discussed was the
arming of the workers to enable them to guard factories, bridges, roads and railways.
Major-General Bakay(63), the Commander of the Budapest
Army Corps, was to supervise the distribution of arms. On October 11th, I received Tildy
and Szakasits, who had come to see me at my request. Our discussion had no practical
1. General Lajos Csatay (1886-1944), minister of war from June 12 to
October 16, 1944. He committed suicide in a German prison.
2. Later Horthy mentioned his fleeting intent to kill Hitler to the
commander of his gendarme guard detachment at Gödöllô, Colonel István Balló (personal
communication, Ed.) While, if successfully carried out, killing Hitler would have
shortened the war by a year, but it would have been catastrophic for Hungary.
3. Paul Otto Schmidt (1899-1970) chief interpreter of the German
4. "March 15, 1944: German troops massed along the Hungarian
border, preparing to occupy the territory of their shaky ally" - page 309 of
Goralski, R. : World War II Almanac, 1931-1945, New York: Putnam, 1981.
5. While together in a Nazi prison in 1944, Szombathelyi told
General Vilmos Nagybaconi Nagy, former Minister of War, that he has talked Hitler out of
arresting Horthy on the spot. (Nagy, V. N.: Years of Destiny, Budapest: Gondolat, 1986. p.
244. In Hung.)
6. According to a Nuremberg trial document (D-679), a memorandum
addressed to Hitler by Colonel Wilhelm Höttl of the S.S. Secret Service, the original
plan was to occupy Hungary with the aid of Slovak and Romanian troops. Höttl's warned
Hitler not to do this. Ultimately Hitler followed the Höttl recommendation rather than
the original army headquarters plan.
7. He stayed at the Turkish Legation until the Fall of 1944 when he
gave himself up to the Germans. He survived imprisonment in the Mauthausen concentration
camp. His memoirs, written in New York, were published quite early after the war.
8. General Lajos Keresztes-Fisher (1884-1948). Both he and his
brother Ferenc survived their imprisonment in the Buchtenwald concentration camp.
9. SS Lt. Gen. Alfred Trenker came to Hungary on March 19 as Gestapo
Chief of Budapest. He had a list of 150 prominent anti-Nazi Hungarians to be arrested
immediately. Another 310 were to be detained later. (Gosztonyi, Peter: Storm over Eastern
Europe, Budapest: Népszava, 1990. In Hung.) The fact that the Germans has planned
Hungary's occupation for a long time is further proven by the fact that their list was so
outdated that some persons listed were dead for years or out of the country for a long
time, as recounted by Swedish diplomat Per Anger who was in Hungary at the time. (Letters
and Dispatches 1924-1944, Raoul Wallenberg, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.)
10. Major General Döme Sztójay (1883-1946), former head of
intelligence, diplomat, personal friend of Veesenmayer.
11. General Jenô Rátz (1882-1952) resigned his position on July
20 in protest when Horthy refused to sign into law some anti-Semitic measures. Later he
became Speaker in the Pairlament during the Nazi regime. Convicted to life, he died in
12. Andor Jaross (1896-1946).
13. Dr. Lajos Reményi-Schneller (1892-1946) was an economist. He
was a member of the cabinet, on and off, in varous capacities from 1938. He was Minister
of Finance in the Szálasi government. His coupled Hungarian German name, one of the many
in this book, shows that a large number of Hungary's bureaucrats were of German origin. An
even greater number of these were among the professional officer corps. Many of these were
in sympathy with the Nazis.
14. Dr. Lajos Szász (1888-1946), lawyer, banker, politician.
Occupied various cabinet positions during the war.
15. Antal Kunder (1900-1968).
16. Béla Jurcsek (1903-1945).
17. István Antal (1896-1975), lawyer, politician. Held several
cabinet positions such as propaganda, justice, religion minister.
18. General Baron Maximilian von Weichs (1881-1954) wrote in his
diary that the German Army Headquarters insisted on a 'strong arm policy': disarming the
Hungarian armed forces, and plundering the economy. He and Veesenmayer disagreed with the
O.K.W., Weich called the plan "sheer madness". Finally, Weichs and Veesenmayer
has prevailed. (Gosztonyi, P.: Air Raid, Budapest!, Budapest: Népszava, 1958, in Hung.)
19. General Antal Vattay (1891-1966). On October, 1944, he was
imprisoned by the Nazis. Having survived that, he was imprisoned the the Communist secret
police on false charges in 1949 and was not released until the 1956 revolution.
20. Upon learning truth about the deportations, Horthy wrote the
following letter to the Prime Minister:
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 infored 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. Furthermore, László Baky's assignment to
the management of the police forces should be terminated as soon as possible."
Horthy's demand was disregarded. (P. 31, Bokor, Peter: Deadend, Budapest: RTV-Minerva,
1985. In Hung.)
21. László Baky (1898-1946) a retired officer of the gendarmes.
He prepared the list of those to be arrested by the Gestapo. (Bokor, P.: Endplay ... op.
cit., p. 134.) Executed in 1946.
22. László Endre (1895-1946), deputy minister of the interior.
Executed after the war.
23. General Antal Náray, in his 1945 memoirs (op. cit.) that were
hidden for 38 years, described an audience with Horthy on June 18, on Horthy's 76-th
birthday. Horthy related to him his experiences with Hitler at Klessheim that fully agrees
with Horthy's description. Another interesting quote: "What they do to the Jews
exceeds inhumanity" said Horthy, upon which he turned quiet, looked away at length,
and cried, wrote Náray.
24. According to General Faragho, Horthy related to him in a
confidential conversation that German officials in Switzerland screened a film, staged by
the Gestapo, that depicted the barbarian treatment of Jews by Hungarian gendarmes,
followed by humanitarian scenes by German nurses, upon transfer of the Jews into German
custody. No copy of this film is known to exist. It is, however, a fact, that treatment of
the Jews by Hungarian gendarmes was generally despicable.
26. This is confirmed by Swedish Diplomat Per Anger who was in
Budapest at the time. Anger also states that a colonel of the gendarmes, Ferenczy,
together with Endre and Baky planned to depose Horthy at that time. (Letters and
Dispatches 1924-1944, Raoul Wallenberg, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.) Baky's
putsch was planned for July 6. He moved armed Arrow Cross thugs to Budapest, dressed as
gendarmes. On Horthy's command, Colonel Ferenc Koszorus (1899-1974), chief of staff of the
battle-hardened First Armored Division, occupied strategic positions with his tanks in and
around Budapest in a surprise move. Baky backed down; Eichmann, who directed the
deportations, left Hungary. (P. 38, Bokor, P.: Deadend, Budapest: RTV-Minerva, 1985.)
27. Samu Stern (1874-1946).
28. On July 29, 1944, in a report to his government Raoul
Wallenberg wrote: "His (Horthy's) position is illustrated by the very real fact that
the deportations were canceled per his order, but also by a number of smaller
interventions. Among them, two verified instances of trains loaded with prisoners being
ordered to turn back just before reaching the border. That Horthy's power is a factor to
be reckoned with is shown by the fact that while the above- mentioned trainload of
intellectuals was sent across the border, the entire Jewish Council was detained by the
Gestapo, so that they would not be able to report the matter to the head of state, who was
judged to have enough power to order the train to turn back." (U.S. Holocaust Museum:
Raoul Wallenberg: Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944; New York: Arcade, 1995, p. 241.)
29. On June 30, 1944, King Gustav of Sweden (1858-1950) wrote
Horthy the following telegram: "Having received word of the extraordinarily harsh
methods your government has applied against the Jewish population of Hungary, I permit
myself to turn to Your Highness personally, to beg in the name of humanity, that you take
measures to save those who still remain to be saved of the unfortunate people. This plea
has been evoked by my long-standing feelings of friendship for your country and my sincere
concern for Hungary's good name and reputation in the community of nations." On July
12 Horthy replied as follows: "I have received the telegraphic appeal sent me by Your
Majesty. With feelings of the deepest understanding, I ask Your Majesty to be persuaded
that I am doing everything that, in the present situation, lies in my power to ensure that
the principles of humanity and justice are respected. I esteem to a high degree the
feelings of friendship for my country that animate Your Majesty and I ask that Your
Majesty preserve these feelings toward the Hungarian people in these times of severe
trial." (U.S. Holocaust Museum, op. cit.; pp. 218-219.)
30. Raoul Wallenberg (1912- ?) Swedish diplomat noted for his
extraordinary heroism in saving Hungarian Jews from Nazi deportation. He was arrested by
the Soviet army in 1945 for no discernible reason and died in Soviet prison. News stories
in 1996 revealed that the Soviets suspected him to be an OSS spy.
31. Gen. Heinz Wilhelm von Guderian (1888-1954).
32. General Hans Friessner (1892-1971). His experiences as German
commander in the Hungarian front are described in his book: Verratene Schlachten; Hamburg:
Holsten Verlag. He met Horthy on September 9, 1944. Horthy's personality impressed him,
but he commented on the "medieval pomp" in the Palace. Horthy's request to spare
Hungary and her people puzzled him, "how does one fight a humane war, particularly
against the Soviets?"
33. King Michael of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1921- ) exiled to
Switzerland after the Communist takeover in 1949. In the early 1990's he made repeated
attempts to return to Romania.
34. Hungary's military attaché to Bucharest learned about the
putsch beforehand and advised the Germans. They, however, dismissed this information as a
typical example of Hungarian mischief against the Rumanians. (Gosztonyi, P.: Storm over
Eastern Europe, Budapest: Népszava, 1990, p. 170; in Hung.)
35. On August 28 Horthy sent a cable to György Bakách-Bessenyey,
former minister to Berne, to initiate negotiations for an armistice. He was advised by
representatives of the Western Powers to seek contact with Moscow. As Berne had no
diplomatic relations with the Soviets this approach was unsuccessful. (Vigh, K.: Jump into
the Dark, op. cit., p.65.)
36. István Bárczy (1882-1952), Chief of Protocol of the Prime
Minister's office. On June 28, 1944, murderers hired by Baky attempted to kill him at his
home. Instead they killed one of their own before fleeing.
37. Gyula Ambrózy (1884-1954), chief Cabinet Office, Horthy's
right hand. He was a major player in feeling out the Western Powers about an armistice.
38. This was a clear miscalculation by Horthy. There were far more
Hungarian forces than German in Hungary at the time. This was the last occasion the
bailout may have succeeded. (Vigh: Jump...; op. cit.; p. 101.)
39. One day after the assassination attempt by Col. Stauffenberg
and other officers.
40. The Red Army entered Bucharest on August 8.
41. General Géza Lakatos (1890-1967). Seeing the recent losses of
the Germans, Horthy felt that with Lakatos the foreign policy of Kállay could again be
pursued: seeking an armistice. His memoirs are published in English: "As I Saw It
(The Tragedy of Hungary)", Englewood, NJ: Universe Publishing, 1996. Lakatos stated
that Horthy attempted to appoint him prime minister twice before, on July 8, and on July
18, but the Germans thwarted both of these attempts.
42. General Gusztáv Hennyey (1888-1977). He lived in Switzerland
after the war, and conducted an extensive and systematic correspondence on the matters of
the war. This valuable collection is now held by the Institute Military History in
43. September 5, 1944.
44. General János Vörös (1891-1968). Most of his contemporaries
describe him as a vacillating careerist, who bore most of the responsibility for the
failed armistice attempts.
45. General Hans von Greiffenberg (1893-1951)
46. Count Béla Teleki (1888-1979) was the leader of the Hungarian
Party of Transylvania. He was closely associated with the anti-Nazi underground that
included friends of the imprisoned Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, such as Endre Fall, leader of the
Revisionist League, Baron Ede Atzél, Transylvanian activist who first crossed over to the
Soviets to discuss an armistice, and others.
47. On this meeting the Transylvanian leaders insisted that if
Horthy does not ask for an armistice than they will act on their own. (Bokor: Endplay, op.
cit.; p. 235.)
48. The reason was that Lakatos, in his maiden speech in
parliament, promised to continue the war while in office.
49. General István Náday (1888-1954) was an openly pro-British
officer, convinced from the beginning of the final victory of the Allies. He had the habit
of writing his personal notes in English. Gen. Vattay's memoirs claim that upon Náday's
visit, the Americans arranged for Msgr. Gyula Magyary, a Vatican theologian, to fly the
Slovakian partizans by a U.S. plane, from where he traveled to Budapest, bringing
communication codes for future radio contacts personally to Horthy. Magyary was sent by
Gábor Apor, Hungary's minister to the Vatican, who was in close contact with American
authorities in Italy.
50. South African Artillery Colonel Charles Telfer Howie (1905 -
51. Lt. Colonel Gyula Tost (1903-1944).
52. British General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson (1881-1964).
53. Air Marshal Sir John Cotesworth Slessor (1897-1979).
54. János Majoros, an official of the Hungarian Airlines.
55. On September 1, Horthy ordered the arrest of all Arrow Cross
leaders but it was disregarded by pro-Nazi officials in the Ministry of Interior.Instead,
they were placed into the protection of the Gestapo. (Vigh: Jump..; op. cit.; p. 200.)
56. Nicholas Horthy, Jr. (1907-1982), oldest son of the Regent,
former Hungarian envoy to Brazil. Gen. Antal Náray (op. cit.), director of the Hungarian
Radio and Newsbureau MTI was a personal friend of both of Horthy's sons. In his 1945
memoirs, hidden for 38 years, Náray states that among alternatives of "bailing
out" one was the possibility of Horthy and his cabinet flying to exile, while general
Szombathelyi was to establish a military dictatorship in covert contact with Horthy.
Alternatively, Horthy was to move into the protection of the 300,000 strong army in the
Carpathians before his declaration of armistice. Horthy Jr. supposedly told his father:
"Father, if we don't do something soon, we will have to leave the palace with a
shopping bag in hand." (Vigh: Jump...; op. cit.; p. 103.)
57. Károly Peyer (1881-1956), Social Democrat politician.
58. Árpád Szakasits (1888-1965) leader of the Social Democrats
who has later fully embraced the post-war Communist government. He offered Horthy to
organize a general strike in support of his armistice, and asked for 5,000 weapons to arm
the workers of Budapest. The weapons in question ended up in the hand of the Arrow Cross.
(Vigh: Jump...; op. cit.; p. 255.) According to Mrs Ilona Bowden, Horthy's
daughter-in-law, the distribution of arms was planned for between October 17 and 20, the
planned day for the proclamation. Political prisoners were prepared to be released at the
same time. (Pers. inf. Ed.)
59. He spent the war years in Washington lobbying for Hungary under
instructions from Horthy and Teleki. His trip was financed by the Hungarian National Bank,
and one of his extensive reports sent from Washington is still extant.
60. Zoltán Tildy (1889-1961) left leaning reformed minister who
became the first post-war president of Hungary. His Smallholders' party gained absolute
majority on the first election, yet he still entered into coalition and gave most powerful
cabinet posts to the Communists.
61. László Rajk (1909-1949) participated in the Spanish civil war
in the Communist International Brigade. He was one of the leaders on the underground
Communist Party in Hungary, and became a minister during the Communist Reign of Terror
(1949-56). The Communist secret police charged him with pro-American spying, and after a
show trial he was hanged. Supposedly, Frank Wiesner of the CIA, under Allan Dulles, had
framed him. (Mosley, Leonard: Dulles, New York: Dial Press, 1978.) His rehabilitation and
ceremonial re-burial in October, 1956, signaled the end of the reign of terror.
62. Lt. General István Újszászy (1894- ?). His incompetence in
covert tradecraft earned him worldwide notoriety among intelligence services. At the end
of 1943 Kállay established contact with Allen Dulles, OSS representative in Switzerland.
On Dulles' suggestion a three men military delegation, led by Col. Florimond Duke
successfully parachuted into S.W. Hungary on March 18 and were taken to Budapest.
Ujszászy, after arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, caused the capture of the
63. Major General Szilárd Bakay (1892-1946). In the days before
the Nazi occupation, as the commander of the western military district, he is credited
with sending the following cable to headquarters: "Russians are in front, Germans
behind, British above, send instructions." He was kidnapped by Germans on October 8,
1944, and was taken to Mauthausen. After the war he returned to Hungary on his own will.
In 1946 he was arrested, and executed as a war criminal by the Soviets.
<< 19: The Search for the Way Out || 21: Appealing for Armistice, My Imprisonment >>