The Arrow Cross Government (1944–1945)
IntroductionThe fascist Arrow Cross Party government of National Leader Ferenc Szálasi represented the main state authority in the progressively smaller portion of Hungary that had not yet come under control of the Red Army and its allies between October 16, 1944 and March 29, 1945. During its five and a half months in power, the Arrow Cross government focused almost entirely on repelling the advance of Soviet, Romanian and, eventually, Bulgarian troops through Hungary and therefore lacked the capacity to formulate and implement significant political and economic measures.
The Arrow Cross government organized and tolerated the persecution of Hungarian Jews who had avoided deportation to concentration and extermination camps in Germany during the spring and summer of 1944.
Formation of the Arrow Cross Government
On October 16, 1944, Regent Miklós Horthy resigned from his office as head of state and appointed Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi to serve as prime minister in exchange for German assurances that Miklós Horthy Jr., whom the Waffen-SS had kidnapped the previous day, would be released from captivity (see The Horthy Era 1920–1944). The functions of head of state automatically passed on to the seven-member National Council (Országtanács) composed of the highest-ranking government, parliamentary, judiciary, military and Roman Catholic Church leaders in Hungary. Later on this same date, Szálasi formed the 14-member Government of National Unity (Nemzeti Összefogás Kormánya), which included seven members of the Arrow Cross Party, two members of smaller fascist parties, three pro-fascist members of the previous governing party—the Party of Hungarian Life (Magyar Élet Pártja)—and two non-party Hungarian Royal Army officers.
On October 27, the National Council approved the temporary transfer of the powers of head of state to Szálasi under the title National Leader (Nemzetvezető). In early November, 55 of 372 members of the lower and upper houses of the National Assembly who were able and willing to participate in parliamentary proceedings following Horthy’s forced resignation approved Szálasi’s appointment as head of state via law X of 1944. On November 4, Szálasi took his oath of office as National Leader before the Holy Crown of Hungary at the Royal Palace in Budapest, thus consolidating the powers of both head of state and head of government under his authority.
Arrow Cross Government PolicyThe paramount objective of Szálasi’s Government of National Unity—known popularly as the Arrow Cross government—was to repel the Soviet-Romanian invasion of Hungary that had begun from the territory of Romania six weeks previously. In order to achieve this objective, the Arrow Cross government declared a state of total war, placing all citizens of Hungary between the ages of 12 and 70 under the obligation to perform non-combat military service and requiring all able-bodied men between the ages of 17 and 37 to engage in active military duty. National Leader Szálasi and the members of his government believed fervently in the capacity of German “wonder weapons” (Wunderwaffe) such as the V-2 rocket to propel the Axis powers to victory over the Allies and thus subordinated all of Hungary’s military and economic resources to the Third Reich’s war effort.
The Arrow Cross government planned to reorganize the Hungarian Royal Army, which was divided into three armies composed of 27 divisions, into eight divisions in addition to the Szent László (Saint Ladislaus) Division formed just a few days before Regent Horthy’s resignation. The government intended to incorporate four of the eight divisions directly into the German Waffen SS. Recruitment of these Waffen SS divisions began in Germany under the authority of Lieutenant General Ferenc Feketehalmy-Czeydner and other Hungarian Royal Army officers who had fled to the Third Reich from Hungary two years previously in order to evade court-martial proceedings launched against them as the result of their involvement in the Bácska Massacres in January 1942. These officers formed two of the planned Hungarian Waffen SS units—the Hungaria and Hunyadi divisions—though lacked the time and resources to raise the remaining two units—the Gömbös and Görgei divisions. The Arrow Cross government failed to establish any of the four planned Hungarian Royal Army divisions (source in Hungarian).
Arrow Cross government policy was based on radical authoritarian-nationalist ideology of Hungarism—the Hungarian adaptation of Hitler’s National Socialism. In addition to the anti-capitalism, anti-communism and anti-Semitism of Nazism, Hungarism proclaimed the concept of Turanism, the belief in the racial unity, greatness and unique historical mission of the Ural-Altaic peoples, including the Hungarians, Finnish, Estonians, Turks, Mongols and other peoples with proven or presumed origins in central Eurasia.
At its first cabinet meeting on October 17, the Arrow Cross government adopted a so-called Country Construction Plan (Országépítési Terv) aimed at initiating the process of building a Hungarist state by the end of 1944. As part of this plan, in early November the government established the Working Nation’s Occupational Order (Dolgozó Nemzet Hivatásrendje), which introduced 14 professional orders—including “workers,” “peasants,” “merchants,” “soldiers,” and “mothers”—under which all economically active citizens of Hungary would be categorized according to the Italian fascist model (source in Hungarian). However, the Arrow Cross government was unable to implement its Country Construction Plan due to the steady progress of the Soviet-Romanian invasion of Hungary.
On November 1, the Arrow Cross government established the National Calling to Account Detachment (Nemzeti Számonkérő Különítmény) in order to “monitor phenomena endangering the implementation of Hungarist objectives” and “participate in the exposure of anti-state and -community crimes.” This 400-member organization operated in cooperation with the German Gestapo to neutralize enemies of the Arrow Cross government, killing and executing hundreds of people in the process (source in Hungarian).
The Arrow Cross government planned to maintain the Kingdom of Hungary rather than adopt the republican form of state.
The unofficial motto of the Arrow Cross government was “Perseverence!” (Kitartás!).
Resistance: the Hungarian National Uprising Liberation Committee
On November 9, 1944, anti-Hungarist Hungarian Royal Army officers and political officials covertly founded the Hungarian National Uprising Liberation Committee (Magyar Nemzeti Felkelés Felszabadító Bizottsága) under leadership of Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party National Assembly representative and anti-Nazi newspaper editor Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, whom the Gestapo had wounded and imprisoned for six months following the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944. The objective of the Hungarian National Uprising Liberation Committee was to organize armed insurrection against the Arrow Cross government and German military forces based in Hungary.
However, the Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie arrested members of the Hungarian National Uprising Liberation Committee on November 22 and 23, 1944 after an informant exposed the organization’s activities to Arrow Cross authorities. An Arrow Cross-established court called the National Calling to Account Bench (Nemzeti Számonkérő Szék) condemned four members of the Hungarian National Uprising Committee, including Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, to death for their involvement in the organization. Bajcsy-Zsilinszky and eleven others found guilty of anti-Arrow Cross agitation were executed at Sopronkőhída Prison in the city of Sopron on December 24, 1944.
Jews under Arrow Cross Rule
There were approximately 300,000 Jews in Hungary when the Arrow Cross government came to power in the middle of October 1944—200,000 inhabiting so-called “star houses” in Budapest to which the Sztójay government had moved them in preparation for their subsequently cancelled deportation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and 100,000 performing duty in military labor battalions (source in Hungarian).
Of the remaining 425,000 Jews and 100,000 Christians classified as Jews as a result of the Second Jewish Law who lived in Hungary in 1941, 437,000—including nearly all of those living outside Budapest—had been transported to concentration camps in Germany, primarily Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the spring and summer of 1944, while tens of thousands of the others had either died as conscripts in military labor battalions, fled Hungary or been deported to German-occupied Ukraine in 1941 (source in Hungarian; see also The Horthy Era).
National Leader Szálasi and members of his Arrow Cross government proposed solving the “Jewish question” in Hungary through the expulsion of Jews from the country following the end of the war. In the meantime, they intended to enlist all able-bodied Jews to perform forced labor in Hungary and Germany as part of the government’s total war effort.
Forced Marches to Labor Camps in Germany
According to agreements concluded on October 18 between Interior Minister Gábor Vajna and SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann and shortly thereafter between National Leader Szálasi and Plenipotentiary of the Greater German Reich Edmund Veesenmayer, the Arrow Cross government agreed to send 50,000 Jews from Hungary to Germany to build military fortifications and dig trenches designed to impede the anticipated Soviet-led offensive toward Vienna (source A and B in Hungarian).
Because much of the railway infrastructure in Hungary had been destroyed in the course of an Allied bombing campaign earlier in 1944, the Arrow Cross government forced the 50,000 selected Jewish laborers, both men and women, to travel the 200-kilometer distance along the Danube River to Germany on foot during the month of November. Thousands of these people died during these eight-day “death marches” (halálmenetek), many of them executed after becoming too weak to continue the journey, while many others subsequently perished at the labor camps (source in Hungarian).
Noted poet Miklós Radnóti serves as the emblematic victim of these forced marches. In early November 1944, Hungarian Royal Army soldiers executed Radnóti and 21 other labor battalion conscripts who were en route to work camps in Germany via Hungary from copper mines near Bor in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia (source in Hungarian). Those exhuming the corpses of the 22 executed labor battalion conscripts from a mass grave near the village of Abda in north-central Hungary in June 1946 found a notebook in the breast pocket of Radnóti’s coat containing his last poems, including the fourth and final “Radzglednica” (Serbian for “postcard”), which describes the execution of a fellow labor battalion conscript during the march (source in Hungarian):
I fell next to him, his body rolled over
and it was tight as a string before it snaps.
Shot in the back of the head. —this is how you’ll end as well,—
I whispered to myself, —just lie quietly.
Patience flowers into death now.—
“Der springt noch auf,” I heard above me.
Dark filthy blood was drying on my ear.
Neutral State Protective Passes and the International Ghetto
In a futile attempt to gain official recognition from neutral countries operating embassies in Budapest at the time of the Second World War (Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal), the Arrow Cross government acknowledged the validity of protective passes (Schutzpass) that diplomats from these states—primarily Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Carl Lutz of Switzerland—issued to around 15,600 Jews in Budapest (sources A and B in Hungarian). In November 1944, the Arrow Cross government permitted those in possession of such Schutzpass to move into “protected houses” in the Újlipótváros district of Budapest that Swedish and Swiss diplomats had designated as extraterritorial institutions belonging to their legations. A total of between 30,000 and 35,000 Jews eventually moved into these protected houses, which became known collectively as the “international ghetto” (source in Hungarian). Soviet and Romanian forces liberated the international ghetto on January 16, 1945.
The Big GhettoOn November 29, 1944, the Arrow Cross ordered all Jews in Budapest who had not received refuge in the international ghetto to move into the so-called big ghetto established in the traditional Jewish quarter located in the center of Budapest. A total of 70,000 Jews eventually moved into this ghetto, which was sealed on December 10. Several thousand residents of the big ghetto were killed in Arrow Cross raids or died of starvation or disease in the little more than six weeks until Soviet and Romanian military forces liberated the ghetto on January 18, 1945 (source A and B in Hungarian). Most of the dead were buried in mass graves outside the Dohány Street Synagogue.
Arrow Cross and SS operatives killed an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Jews in Budapest from the time the Arrow Cross government came to power in the middle of October 1944 until Soviet and Romanian forces liberated the city’s two ghettos in the middle of January 1945 (source in Hungarian). Several thousand of these Jews, many of them residents of the international ghetto, were killed in summary executions along the Danube River known in Hungarian as “shooting into the Danube” (Dunába lövés). Arrow Cross-affiliated armed bands killed over 250 staff members and patients at Jewish hospitals located outside the ghettos on Maros and Városmajor streets on January 12 and January 14, 1945, respectively, in the most notorious instances of mass killings during the period of Arrow Cross rule (source in Hungarian).
Partisan Massacre of Hungarians
In October 1944, the Soviet Red Army and Josip Broz Tito-led Yugoslav Partisans occupied the regions of northern Yugoslavia that Hungary had invaded and (re)incorporated into the Hungarian state in 1941. Over the subsequent months, Partisans and affiliated armed civilians killed between 5,000 and 10,000 Hungarians in these regions, which Marshal Tito had placed under military administration (source in Hungarian). Tito neither ordered nor prevented these killings, which were carried out in large measure to avenge the massacre of nearly 4,000 Serbian and Jewish civilians that the Hungarian army and gendarmerie had perpetrated in the region in January 1942. Partisans and their civilian accomplices focused reprisals for these massacres on Hungarian political and administrative officials as well as those associated with the Hungarian military, gendarmerie and police. Moreover, the Partisan military administration initiated the permanent expulsion of 5,180 Hungarians from three villages—Csúrog (Čurug), Zsablya (Žabalj) and Mozsor (Mošorin)—in which the massacres of early 1941 had claimed a particularly large number of victims (source in Hungarian). These Partisan-orchestrated reprisals against Hungarians ended for the most part following Marshal Tito’s dissolution of the military administration in northern Yugoslavia in the middle of February 1945.
Formation of the Provisional National Government
Representatives from four main parties that opposed Hungary’s alliance with the Axis powers—the Independent Smallholders Party, the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, the Hungarian Communist Party and the National Peasant Party—formed the Provisional National Government (Ideiglenes Nemzeti Kormány) under Soviet supervision in the Red Army-occupied city of Debrecen on December 22, 1944.
Party-unaffiliated Hungarian Royal Army General Béla Dálnoki Miklós, who had defected to the Soviets following Regent Miklós Horthy’s unsuccessful attempt to withdraw from the war in mid-October, served as the prime minister of this anti-Arrow Cross provisional government. The 13-member government included noted sociographer Ferenc Erdei as interior minister and future communist head of government Imre Nagy as agriculture minister.
On December 28, 1944, the Interim National Government declared war on Germany.
Advance of Soviet-Romanian Military OffensiveSoviet and Romanian military forces advanced across the Great Hungarian Plain in eastern Hungary to a front extending along the Tisza River across to the Danube River in the course of the Battle of Debrecen—one of the largest armored engagements of the Second World War—ending on October 26, 1944. Soviet and Romanian forces lost 500–600 armored vehicles and suffered combined casualties of around 84,000 men during this three-week battle, while German and Hungarian forces lost around 270 armored vehicles and suffered combined casualties of around 35,000 men (source in Hungarian)
Soviet and Romanian troops occupied the following cities during the wide-ranging Battle of Debrecen following the resignation of Regent Horthy and the rise to power of the Arrow Cross on October 16: Máramarossziget (Sighetu Marmației ) on October 17; Debrecen on October 20; Baja on October 21; Munkács (Mukacheve) on October 23; and Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare) on October 25.
On October 29, Soviet and Romanian forces launched an attack from the Tisza-Danube front aimed at capturing Budapest, taking the cities of Nyíregyháza and Kecskemét on November 1 and Szolnok on November 4 before stalling at the Attila Line of defensive fortifications located about 15 kilometers to the southeast of the capital on November 6.
The Arrow Cross Administration Evacuates Budapest
With Soviet and Romanian military forces thus within immediate striking distance of Budapest, the Arrow Cross government moved to various locations in the relatively secure Hungarian-German (Austrian) border region of western Hungary—notably the cities of Sopron and Szombathely and the town of Kőszeg—during second half of November 1944 (source in Hungarian). On December 1, National Assembly representatives, including noted historian Bálint Hóman and author József Nyirő, who supported the Arrow Cross government established the National Alliance of Legislators (Törvényhozók Nemzeti Szövetsége) in Sopron to serve as a quasi-parliament.
On December 11, 1944, National Leader Szálasi left Budapest and rejoined the main body of the Arrow Cross government in western Hungary, taking up residence in bunkers located near Sopron and Kőszeg.
The Arrow Cross administration ceased to exercise a significant influence over the course of events in Hungary following its evacuation of Budapest.
The Siege of Budapest
On November 23, Hitler declared Budapest to be a “fortress” (festung) city—one of 25 cities in Germany and German-occupied territories to receive this designation in the final year of the Second World War indicating that the Wehrmacht and affiliated military forces would undertake their defense at any cost in civilian and military casualties and material damage (source in Hungarian).
On December 26, Soviet and Romanian military forces penetrated the Attila Line and encircled Budapest, nearly two months after they had launched an offensive from the Tisza River aimed at taking the city.
Over the next seven weeks, 177,000 Soviet and Romanian troops advanced gradually toward the center Budapest from the northwest, south and east, encountering fierce resistance from the 79,000 German Wehrmacht and Hungarian Royal Army forces defending the city. Soviet and Romanian forces captured all three airfields serving Budapest—Ferihegy, Budaörs and Mátyásföld—by the end of December, thus restricting the flow of supplies to the city’s defenders to that which could be accommodated at improvised landing fields or airdropped (source in Hungarian).
From January 1 to January 17, German and Hungarian forces launched three unsuccessful attacks on the rear of Soviet and Romanian armies surrounding Budapest as part of Operation Konrad aimed at relieving the besieged garrison defending the city.
During the siege, Wehrmacht combat-engineers destroyed the six remaining bridges that spanned the Danube River in Budapest in order to impede the westward advance of Soviet and Romanian forces from Pest to Buda (Margaret Bridge had been destroyed by accident as German sappers planted explosives under it, killing over 100 civilians, on November 4, 1944): the two railway bridges on December 29; Miklós Horthy Bridge (now Petőfi Bridge) on January 14; Franz Joseph Bridge (now Freedom Bridge) on January 16; and Elisabeth Bridge and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge on January 18.
On February 11, 1945, the 44,000 Wehrmacht and Hungarian Royal Army soldiers defending the interior section of Buda still under their control attempted to break out of the Soviet blockade from Castle Hill toward the northwest. Only 1,500 of these soldiers successfully reached friendly forces or went into hiding in western Hungary, while the remaining 42,500 were either killed or captured.
Soviet and Romanian forces occupied the entire city of Budapest on February 13, thus bringing the 50-day siege to an end. The intense urban combat that had occurred during the siege, which was comparable to that which took place during the Battle of Stalingrad two years previously, resulted in an estimated 171,000 deaths—70,000 Soviet and Romanian soldiers, 48,000 German and Hungarian soldiers and 53,000 civilians, including 15,000 Jews. Many of the most notorious instances of mass murder committed against Jews during the Arrow Cross period took place in Budapest at the time of the siege.
According to official data compiled in March 1945, a total of 74 percent of all the buildings in Budapest were damaged to some degree during the war, including 23 percent that were severely damaged and 4 percent that were totally destroyed (source in Hungarian).
The following book serves as the source of much of the above data: Krisztián Ungváry, The Siege of Budapest.
Malenki Robot: Deportations from Hungary to Labor Camps in the Soviet UnionThe Red Army deported between 200,000 and 240,000 civilians of Hungarian nationality to labor camps in the Soviet Union during its gradual advance through Hungary from September 1944 to April 1945 (source A in Hungarian and B in English).
An estimated 100,000 of these civilian deportees were from Budapest and nearby towns and villages, while around 44,000 were Hungarian citizens of German nationality (source A in Hungarian and B in English).
On December 22, 1944, the commanders of Red Army forces fighting in Hungary—Marshal Radion Malinovsky and Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin—ordered that troops operating under their authority to detain and deport to labor camps in the Soviet Union all men of German nationality between the ages of 17 and 45 and all women of German nationality between the ages of 18 and 30 found in territories that they occupied. Malinovsky and Tolbukhun issued this order in accordance with Soviet State Defense Committee Resolution No. 7161 of December 16, 1944 calling for the deportation of all able-bodied citizens of German nationality within the above-stated age groups living in the parts of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria that came under Red Army control to the Soviet Union to perform reconstruction labor (source in English).
Hungarians coined the term Malenki Robot, a non-standard phoneticized version of the Russian malenkaya rabota (“a little work”), to describe these deportations and the subsequent period of internment at labor camps in the Soviet Union based on the phrase that Red Army soldiers allegedly used in response to questions from deportees about where they were going.
The Red Army also deported between 360,000 and 400,000 Hungarian Royal Army prisoners of war to the Soviet Union to perform forced labor (source A in Hungarian and B in English). Moreover, the Soviet NKVD deported several prominent political figures from Hungary to the Soviet Union, many of whom—notably interwar Hungarian Prime Minister István Bethlen and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg—died in captivity.
Provisional National Government Armistice and the Allied Control Commission
On January 20, 1945, Provisional National Government Foreign Minister János Gyöngyösi and Defense Minister János Vörös signed an armistice agreement in Moscow with Red Army Marshal Kliment Voroshilov. According to this agreement—which Marshal Voroshilov signed in the name of the United Kingdom and the United States as well as the Soviet Union—the Provisional National Government agreed to nullify the First Vienna Award of 1938 and the Second Vienna Award of 1940, to withdraw all Hungarian troops and government officials from territories that Hungary had regained from neighboring states beginning in 1939 and to pay a total of 300 million U.S. dollars in war reparations over a period of six years to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (source in English).
The armistice also prescribed the establishment of an Allied Control Commission in Hungary to oversee the country’s compliance with the agreement—the third and final such commission to be established in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe after those in Romania and Bulgaria the previous autumn. The armistice stipulated that the Soviet Union would provide the chairman of the Allied Control Commission, which would also include members from the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union (source in English).
Acting under the chairmanship of Marshal Voroshilov, the Allied Control Commission served as the most powerful governing authority in Hungary and the primary vehicle for the imposition of Soviet political control over the country during the final months of the Second World War and the early post-war period.
Operation Spring Awakening
On March 6, 1945, Wehrmacht Panzer armies launched an offensive—the final German attack of the Second World War—from the north and south of Lake Balaton known as Operation Spring Awakening. This offensive was aimed at breaking through the Soviet front established in south-central Transdanubia to reach the Danube River located some 60 kilometers (in the north) to 120 kilometers (in the south) away. According to the Wehrmacht plan, forces participating in Operation Spring Awakening would then split in opposite directions along the west side of the Danube: northwards in order to retake Budapest, which Soviet and Romanian troops had occupied three weeks previously; and southwards in order to meet with a German army driving across the Drava River into Hungary from the Axis Independent State of Croatia.
The German offensive penetrated the Soviet front and advanced up to 45 kilometers in the north and 10–15 kilometers in the south before bogging down in the face of stiff Red Army resistance well short of the Danube River. Moreover, Soviet-backed Bulgarian and Yugoslav Partisan troops repelled the advance of German forces from the Independent State of Croatia into Hungary.
On March 16, the Red Army launched a counteroffensive that drove German forces back to their original positions to the east of Lake Balaton in just three days. Wehrmacht forces suffered over 12,300 casualties during Operation Spring Awakening, while Soviet forces lost nearly 8,500 soldiers in the course of the ten-day German offensive (source in Hungarian).
Expulsion of Axis Forces from Hungary and Flight of the Arrow Cross Government
After foiling Operation Spring Awakening, Soviet and Bulgarian troops launched an offensive aimed at driving Axis military forces out of Hungary and, subsequently, capturing the city of Vienna. The Soviet-Bulgarian offensive forced Wehrmacht and Hungarian Royal Army troops to retreat steadily westward toward Germany, taking Székesfehérvár on March 22, Veszprém on March 23 and Győr on March 28.
Members of the Arrow Cross government and the National Alliance of Legislators fled from western Hungary to the Third Reich (Austria) on March 28, while National Leader Szálasi waited until the next day to join them. Arrow Cross officials had the Holy Crown of Hungary taken to Austria as well, where it was buried inside a gas can near the village of Mattsee.
Soviet and Bulgarian troops captured Kőszeg, Szombathely and Zalaegerszeg on March 29 and Sopron on April 1 before officially “liberating” Hungary on April 4, though in fact expelled the last Wehrmacht forces from the country only ten days later.
Around 580,000 Hungarian Royal Army soldiers retreated with the Wehrmacht to Austria, where the western Allies eventually took 300,000 of them prisoner and the Soviet Red Army took the remaining 280,000 of them prisoner (source in Hungarian). An estimated 300,000 Hungarian civilians also fled to Austria during the final months of the Second World War (source in Hungarian).
The Gold Train
In April 1944, the Sztójay government issued a decree ordering the confiscation of property belonging to Jews in Hungary in preparation for their deportation to Germany. In early October, Hungarian officials decided to collect the most valuable items seized from the Jews and transport them to western Hungary in order to prevent advancing Soviet and Romanian military forces from gaining possession of them.
After coming to power on October 16, the Arrow Cross government established the Jewish Goods Management Commission (Zsidó Javakat Kezelő Kormánybiztosság) under the leadership of former Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie Colonel Árpád Toldy to oversee the collected Jewish property, which by this time had been loaded into a train and taken to the village of Zirc in north-central Hungary. With the beginning of the Siege of Budapest in late December, Toldy ordered these valuables—gold and silver watches, jewelry and coins, foreign currencies and paintings—to be transported to the village of Brennbergbánya near the border of the Third Reich (source in English).
As Soviet troops approached Brennbergbánya on March 30, 1945, Toldy took part of the estimated 6.5 million U.S. dollars (65 million U.S. dollars at current value) worth of confiscated Jewish property to Germany (Austria) in a convoy of trucks, while an associate took the rest by train (source in Hungarian). In May, French and U.S. occupying forces took control of both the truck convoy and train holding the impounded valuables, the large majority of which were never returned to their rightful owners or their heirs.
War Fatalities and Material Damage in Hungary
Approximately one million of the 14.7 million people living in Hungary in 1941 were killed during the Second World War, thus equaling around 6.8 percent of the total population. Hungary’s death toll included between 550,000 and 570,000 Jews, 340,000 and 360,000 soldiers and 80,000 to 100,000 non-Jewish civilians (source in Hungarian). Hungary suffered the fourth highest number of war fatalities among all the countries of Europe from 1939 to 1945 behind the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany.
Hungary also sustained immense material damage during the one year of bombings and combat in the country from April 1944 to April 1945. The estimated amount of damage to transportation, residential, industrial and agricultural infrastructure in Hungary during this year was equal to more than five times the country’s 1939 gross national income and around 40 percent of its gross national wealth (source in Hungarian).
National Leader Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross government maintained genuine authority in Hungary for only a few weeks after coming to power in the middle of October 1944. Following the withdrawal of Szálasi and the government from Budapest to the western borderlands of Hungary in late November and early December, they exercised little or no control over the war-dominated course of events in the country.
Szálasi and the Arrow Cross government ardently supported the strengthening of Hungary’s military and political alliance with Nazi Germany and espoused a fanatical Hungarian version of fascist/national-socialist ideology. Many of the most cruel and destructive episodes of Hungary’s Second World War history took place during the five-and-a-half-month period of largely nominal Arrow Cross rule: the “death marches” of Jewish forced laborers to Germany; the arbitrary murder of thousands of Hungarian Jews, notably their mass execution along the banks of the Danube River in Budapest; the devastation of the capital city during the six-week Siege of Budapest; the Red Army occupation of all of Hungary and its deportation of many hundred thousand Hungarian citizens to labor camps in the Soviet Union.
However, Szálasi and the Arrow Cross government bore significantly less responsibility for the human and material catastrophes that afflicted Hungary during the Second World War—including the Holocaust—than the conservative-nationalist governments that operated in the country under auspices of Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy from 1939 to 1944. These governments initiated the discriminatory Jewish Laws, joined the Axis alliance, invaded Czechoslovak Subcarpathia and Yugoslavia, voluntarily participated in the German-led attack of the Soviet Union and deported hundreds of thousands of Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration-extermination camp. Szálasi and the Arrow Cross government, murderous and destructive as they were, have served in great measure as scapegoats for the ruinous policies of their immediate predecessors. As the Hungarian conservative-liberal author Sándor Márai wrote in his journal after the Arrow Cross government came to power: “These Arrow Cross people are not the true culprits. They are Boy Scouts gone wild, deformed adolescents freebooting their way through a prolonged puberty” (source in Hungarian).
Readdressing the issue of war guilt in his journal later in 1945, Márai wrote (source in Hungarian):
It is not true that the Arrow Cross is the chief culprit. The Arrow Cross was simply the result of all that this society did over the past 25 years so that it could validate itself without culture, morality or ability. The Arrow Cross horde is only as guilty as the Hungarian leadership class, which under the cloak of constitutionality shamelessly fanned and encouraged reaction of every type during the 25 years of Horthy.