Representatives from the four main parties that had opposed Hungary’s alliance with the Axis powers during the Second World War—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) in the Soviet-occupied city of Debrecen on December 22, 1944. The government moved to Budapest after Soviet and Romanian military forces captured the Hungarian capital in February 1945.
Party-unaffiliated Hungarian Royal Army General Béla Dálnoki Miklós, who had defected to the Soviets following Regent Miklós Horthy’s unsuccessful attempt to withdraw Hungary from the war in October 1944, served as the prime minister of the Provisional National Government (PNG). Of the 18 ministers who served in this government in all its configurations, five belonged to the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, four each to the Hungarian Communist Party and the Independent Smallholders Party and one to the National Peasant Party, while four were independents.
The Provisional National Government represented the supreme domestic political authority in Hungary from the collapse of the Arrow Cross government on March 28, 1945 until the formation of the Independent Smallholders Party-led coalition government on November 15, 1945 following the country’s first post-war National Assembly elections. However, the Provisional National Government acted under the supervision of the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission and therefore cannot be regarded as a fully independent executive body.
During its little over ten-and-a-half-month existence, the PNG conducted the following major actions and measures: declared war on Germany in December 1944; concluded an armistice with the Allied powers in January 1945 (see The Arrow Cross Government); established People’s Tribunals to try accused war criminals in January 1945; dissolved fascist and radical-nationalist parties and organizations in February 1945; implemented land reform in March 1945; signed a war-reparations agreement with the Soviet Union in June 1945; and staged National Assembly elections on November 4, 1945.
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 from 1939 to 1941 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 (ACC) 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 in the autumn of 1944. The armistice stipulated that the Soviet Union would provide the chairman of the ACC, 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 throughout the Provisional National Government interregnum.
The Provisional National Assembly
The Provisional National Assembly (Ideiglenes Nemzetgyűlés) operated as the nominal legislative authority in Hungary from December 21, 1944 to December 16, 1945. However, following its founding session, the Provisional National Assembly convened again only nine months later to approve the new suffrage law to be used in Hungary’s first post-war National Assembly elections. Law professor Béla Zsedényi served as the president of the legislature, which was originally composed of 231 appointed representatives, though later added 362 more deputies from Budapest and other parts of Hungary that were still under Arrow Cross-German control at the time of its formation in December 1944 (source in Hungarian).
Establishment of the People’s Tribunals
The Provisional National Government published a decree in February 1945 establishing People’s Tribunals (Népbíróság) to prosecute accused war criminals (see text of decree in Hungarian). Over the following months, 25 People’s Tribunals were established throughout Hungary according to this government decree.
The Budapest People’s Court of Justice (Budapesti Néptörvényszék) acting under the leadership of longtime military judge Colonel Ákos Major imposed the only capital punishments for war crimes carried out under the Provisional National Government, condemning four Hungarian Royal Army officers to death for the murder of 124 members of a Jewish labor battalion serving on the Eastern Front in 1942 (source A and B in Hungarian).
The first of these death sentences were carried out during the Siege of Budapest on February 4, 1945, when Corporal Sándor Szívos and Sergeant Péter Rotyis were hanged from lampposts in a grisly public execution before a large crowd of spectators on the Oktogon square in the center city.
Dissolving Fascist and Radical Nationalist Organizations
On March 17, 1945, the Provisional National Government issued a decree dissolving 25 radical-nationalist, fascist, Hungarist, anti-communist, anti-Semitic and revisionist parties and organizations that had operated in Hungary during the interwar and wartime periods. The parties and organizations dissolved via this government degree including the following: Arrow Cross Party; the Party of Hungarian Life (Magyar Élet Pártja); The Association of Awakening Hungarians (Ébredő Magyarok Egyesülete, or EME); the Hungarian National Defense Society (Magyar Országos Véderő Egylet, or MOVE); the Turul League, the National Order of Vitéz (Országos Vitézi Szék); and the Levente Federation (source in Hungarian).
On May 10, 1945, the PNG published a decree abolishing the Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie that had been responsible for the Bácska Massacres of 1942 and the ghettoization and deportation of Hungarian Jews in 1944 (source in Hungarian; see also The Horthy Era).
All four parties represented in the Provisional National Government advocated the redistribution of agricultural land that was part of large estates in Hungary to peasant smallholders.
On March 17, the PNG issued a decree stipulating the state confiscation of all agricultural land in estates of over 1,000 hold (575 hectares or 1,420 acres) as well as all such land under the ownership of former Arrow Cross Party officials and members of the Volksbund—the pro-Nazi organization established in 1938 to represent the German minority in Hungary. The decree furthermore called for the state seizure of agricultural land belonging to industrial and trade companies, banks and Churches.
The decree permitted owners of confiscated agricultural land to retain up to 200 hold of their former estates, or 300 hold in the case of those who had participated in anti-fascist activity during the Second World War.
Hungarian Communist Party Agricultural Affairs Minister Imre Nagy promptly implemented the Provisional National Government land reform, supervising the redistribution of 35 percent of the agricultural land in Hungary in a period of just a few weeks. The PNG retained 43 percent of the appropriated agricultural land for the state and redistributed the remaining 57 percent to 642,000 smallholders.
The state confiscated just under 90 percent of the Roman Catholic Church’s 862,000 hold (495,650 hectares or 1.22 million acres) of agricultural land with no compensation in accordance with the PNG land reform.
The Provisional National Government’s radical land reform reduced the number of smallholders cultivating under one hold (.58 hectares or 1.42 acres) of land from 46 percent of all smallholders to 17 percent of all smallholders. More significantly, the PNG land reform served to permanently eliminate the class of major landowners that had for centuries retained nearly exclusive political and economic power in Hungary.
Most of the above data regarding the Provisional National Government land reform is from the following book: Ignác Romsics, Magyarország története a XX. században [Hungary in the Twentieth Century]. See text of PNG land-reform decree in Hungarian.
The armistice agreement that the Provisional National Government concluded with the Allied powers on January 20, 1945 stipulated that Hungary would pay 200 million U.S. dollars in war reparations to Soviet Union and a combined 100 million U.S. dollars in war reparations to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. According to the armistice, Hungary would pay these reparations in the form of industrial and agricultural commodities over a six-year period beginning in 1945.
Among Hungary’s fellow European Axis-power affiliates and co-belligerents, Romania and Finland were obliged to pay an identical sum of 300 million U.S. dollars in reparations—all to the Soviet Union—in their armistice agreements with the Allied powers, while Bulgaria agreed to pay 75 million U.S. dollars in reparations—50 million U.S. dollars to Greece and 25 million U.S. dollars to Yugoslavia. The remaining two Axis power affiliates in Europe—the Republic of Slovakia and the Independent State of Croatia—were not required to pay war reparations because they reunited with Allied powers Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, respectively, following the Second World War.
The armistice agreement between the PNG and the Allied powers also required the government of Hungary to pay for the quartering and provision of the large number of Soviet troops garrisoned in Hungary following the Second World War. This expense alone amounted to an estimated ten percent of Hungary’s gross national income in the immediate post-war period.
On June 15, 1945, Prime Minister Dálnoki Miklós and Allied Control Commission Chairman Voroshilov signed a separate war-reparations agreement which stipulated that Hungary would pay 33.3 million U.S. dollars in war reparations per year to the Soviet Union from 1945 through 1951 and would pay a total of 70 million U.S. dollars in reparations to Yugoslavia and 30 million U.S. dollars in reparations to Czechoslovakia. Marshal Voroshilov rejected Prime Minister Dálnoki Miklós’s request that Hungary be permitted to delay the payment of war reparations in order to give the country’s economy time to recover from the devastation of the Second World War.
The agreement between Prime Minister Dálnoki Miklós and Marshal Voroshilov specified that Hungary would provide the Soviet Union with raw materials and industrial, transportation, and agricultural commodities of the following value in order to satisfy the country’s reparations obligation: metals, 70.3 million dollars; railway equipment, 46.4 million dollars; machinery, 36.1 million dollars; agricultural animals, 17.3 million dollars; ships and floating cranes, 12.9 million dollars; grain and seeds, 9 million dollars; and other goods, 8 million dollars.
Payment of the stipulated war reparations as well as the quartering and provision of Red Army troops amounted to an estimated one-third of Hungary’s gross national income in the years following the Second World War. However, the Provisional National Government lagged in payment of reparations, fulfilling only 4.8 percent of its 1945 obligations toward the Soviet Union by the time of the formation of the Independent Smallholders Party-led coalition government on November 15 (source in Hungarian for all information regarding war reparations).
The 1945 Suffrage Law
The Provisional National Assembly approved a new suffrage law on September 13, 1945 to be used in Hungary’s first post-war national elections later that autumn (source in Hungarian).
The law provided all Hungarian citizens over the age of 20 with the right to participate in national elections, thus lowering the minimum voting age stipulated in the previous, 1938 suffrage law from 30 years old in the case of women and 26 years old in the case of men.
The new suffrage law prohibited former officials from the 25 fascist and radical nationalist organizations that the Provisional National Government had banned a six months previously as well as all members of Hungary’s German minority from participating in national elections.
The law eliminated by omission the Upper House (felsőház) of the National Assembly that had functioned in various forms since the foundation of the Dual Monarchy in 1867 with the exception of an eight-year period following the First World War.
Extradition of Wartime Hungarian Government Officials to Hungary
During the first half of October 1945, the United States Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the CIA) extradited high-ranking officials from immediate pre-war and wartime Hungarian governments who had fallen into U.S. captivity in Austria and Germany at the end of the Second World War from a detention camp in Glasenbach, Austria to Hungary in compliance with the Provisional National Government’s request for the repatriation of accused war criminals in June (source in English).
These officials included former prime ministers Béla Imrédy, László Bárdossy and Döme Sztójay, Nation Leader (Nemzetvezető) Ferenc Szálasi, and most other members of the Arrow Cross Government.
Horthy in U.S. Captivity
On May 1, 1945, the U.S. Army took former Regent Miklós Horthy into custody at Hirschberg Castle in Weilheim, Germany, where he had been kept under heavy Waffen-SS guard since resigning as Hungary’s head of state the previous October.
Neither Allied officials—including Stalin—nor the Provisional National Government wanted to prosecute Horthy as a war criminal on the grounds that he had acted under German constraint during the Second World War and had made an unsuccessful attempt to unilaterally withdraw Hungary from the war in October 1944 (source in Hungarian). The Allies furthermore rejected Marshal Tito’s request that Horthy be extradited to Yugoslavia to be tried for war crimes connected to the January 1942 Hungarian Royal Army-Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie massacre of 3,800 Serbs and Jews in and around the city of Novi Sad (Újvidék). The Allies and the Provisional National Government agreed, moreover, that Horthy should not be permitted to return to Hungary.
U.S. officials nevertheless questioned Horthy on several occasions in late summer and autumn of 1945 about his role in the Novi Sad massacres, the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 and Hungary’s wartime alliance with Nazi Germany.
The U.S. army released the Horthy from captivity in December 1945, permitting the 77-year-old former regent of Hungary to rejoin his wife at Hirschberg Castle in Bavaria.
Hungarian Royal Army Prisoners of War
Between 550,000 and 580,000 Hungarian Royal Army troops who had withdrawn with their Wehrmacht allies to Germany before advancing Soviet and Bulgarian forces in March 1945 fell into Allied captivity over the subsequent two months. Around 300,000 of these Hungarian Royal Army soldiers succeeded in their effort to capitulate to U.S. and British forces, while the remaining 250,000 to 280,000 surrendered to the Red Army and were deported to the Soviet Union to perform forced labor (source A in Hungarian and B in English).
The Holy Crown in U.S. Possession
In March 1945, Crown Guards took the Holy Crown of Hungary to Nazi Germany and buried it in a gas can near the village of Mattsee, located about 20 kilometers northeast of Salzburg in former Austria, in order to prevent the Red Army from gaining possession of it.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Crown Guards divulged the location of the Holy Crown to U.S. Army officials, who had the crown unearthed on May 4 and placed in safekeeping at various locations in Germany for a period of several years before it was delivered to the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky for long-term preservation (source in English).
1945 National Assembly Elections
National Assembly elections were held in Hungary for the first time since the beginning of the Second World War on November 4, 1945.
Six parties qualified to participate in the elections: the four parties represented in the Provisional National Government—the Independent Smallholders Party, the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, the Hungarian Communist Party and the National Peasant Party—as well as the left-liberal Hungarian Radical Party (Magyar Radikális Párt) and Civic Democratic Party (Polgári Demokrata Párt). In accordance with the new Suffrage Law that the Provosional National Assembly adopted earlier that autumn, voters participating in the elections cast ballots for one of these parties, which received one National Assembly representative for every 12,000 votes (source in Hungarian).
The conservative agrarian Independent Smallholders Party (FKgP) posted an overwhelming victory in these elections, winning slightly under 60 percent of all National Assembly mandates. The Hungarian Communist Party suffered a crushing defeat in the elections, finishing in a virtual tie for second with Hungarian Social Democratic Party with just over 17 percent of all National Assembly mandates.
The final election results:
A total of 4.73 million people participated in 1945 National Assembly elections, or 91.6 percent of all eligible voters. As a result of the decrease in the minimum voting age for both women and men stipulated in the 1945 Suffrage Law, nearly 2.4 million more people had been eligible to vote in these elections than had been in Hungary’s previous National Assembly elections held in May 1939.
An additional 12 dignitaries and honored public figures were awarded automatic mandates in the new National Assembly, including First Hungarian Republic leader Count Mihály Károlyi, Provisional National Government Prime Minister Béla Dálnoki Miklós, 1937 Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi, composer Zoltán Kodály and author Áron Tamási.
Formation of the Tildy Government
Following the November 1945 National Assembly elections, the victorious FKgP authorized party co-founder and President Zoltán Tildy to form a new government.
The parties that had participated in the elections had agreed in advance to form an all-inclusive coalition government (source in Hungarian). Moreover, Allied Control Commission Chairman Kliment Voroshilov had notified Hungarian political officials that the ACC insisted upon the formation of such a broad coalition cabinet and, furthermore, that the interior ministry should remain under the control of the Hungarian Communist Party (source: Romsics, Magyarország története a XX. Században).
Therefore the 16-post government formed under Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy on November 15, 1945 was composed of seven members of the Independent Smallholders Party—including the foreign, defense and agricultural ministers—four members of the Hungarian Communist Party—including Imre Nagy as interior minister, Ernő Gerő as transportation minister and party General Secretary Mátyás Rákosi as minister without portfolio—four members of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party—including longtime party leader Árpád Szakasits as minister without portfolio—and one member of the National Peasant Party (source in Hungarian).