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Shoes on Danube. Part 2
How “Anti-Semite” Miklos Horthy Saved the Jews of Budapest [*]
By Eliezer M. Rabinovich

Continuation. See the beginning here

3.3.   Occupation, Deportations, Rescue
March 18-20, 1944.

Hitler summoned Horthy to his castle near Salzburg and told him that he had ordered the occupation with the purpose of dismissing Kallay and installing a friendly (read: obedient) government.   Horthy was not allowed any communication with Kallay.  He said that he was resigning, but Hitler requested him to reconsider.  Horthy understood that in case of his resignation the Arrow Cross party would be immediately put in charge.  Horthy refused to sign any communique about mutual consent for the occupation.  Germans occupied without resistance, and only then Horthy was allowed to depart, though his train was still delayed in Vienna for 4 hours to ensure the occupation had completed.   A new German ambassador Veesenmayer joined Horthy on the train.

On March 19 Kallay met the Regent at the station.  The leaders assembled the Crown Council where the Regent told them about his trip. According to Karsai, Horthy reported that Hitler gave him two reasons for the occupation: “reluctant, indeed sham military cooperation” and that “Hungary is not taking the necessary steps against the Jews. Our crime is, therefore, that I have not fulfilled Hitler’s wish, and have not allowed the Jews to be massacred.”

After that, having waited for couple hours for the Regent to rest, Kallay went to his office. 
The two exhausted men had a long talk – for the last time.  Their recollections of this conversation strongly differ.  Horthy wrote that Kallay “expressly urged me not to relinquish my office, however much pressure was brought to bear on me.”  It seems, however, that Kallay’s recollection of that evening is more correct.
The Premier was convinced that the Regent was making a grave error agreeing to stay in his post.  There was no Parliament, and Hungary had ceased to be a constitutional state; Kallay believed that Horthy had lost the constitutional basis for his rule, and all his decisions “would be taken on his own individual responsibility.”  Kallay “begged him to abdicate as a demonstration.”

«I cannot, - Horthy said striking his chair, - leave this chair empty. I cannot let a usurper sit in this place. I have sworn to this country not to forsake it.  I am still an admiral. The captain cannot leave his sinking ship; he must remain on the bridge to the last.  Whom will it serve if Imredy sits here?..   Who will defend the honorable men and women in this country who have trusted me blindly? Who will defend the Jews or our refugees if I leave my post?  I may not be able to defend everything, but I believe that I can still be of great, very great, help to our people. I can do more than anyone else could.” Kallay replied that “however honorable and heroic his attitude, whatever profit it might bring, despite all, both he and Hungary would be branded as criminals.”  Then Kallay suggested that Horthy, not abdicating formally, leave for his estate and refuse to sign any documents.

“No,” the Regent answered. “There would be resistance in Hungary…  The army would obey no one but him.  Then, what the people say if a possibility, a suitable moment, came for action and he was not at his post?” 

Had we been secretly present at this conversation, we would have thought that Kallay was absolutely right, and the vain old man simply didn’t understand the situation.  In two days Veesenmayer would convey to him Hitler’s wish that he would not interfere in policymaking and in the Jewish problem but remain a symbolic figure.  In the critical moment he would find that he could not rely even on his Chief of the General Staff.  Of course, he should have accepted the advice of his friend and used the opportunity to retire with honor at age 77!
But had he done so, an additional quarter million Jews would have become Holocaust victims and the majority of the Budapest Jews would not have survived the war.
But had he done so, the actions of the diplomats and the righteous people in the Arrow Cross government’s period would have been fruitless; there would have been no Jews left to save.
Thomas Jefferson said that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.”  I would say that virtues are more important than talents, and this is what we observe now in the figure of Miklos Horthy.

On March 20th Kallay avoided arrest by hiding in the Turkish Legation.  Keresztes-Fischer and his brother were arrested by the Gestapo.

Horthy had no choice but to appoint a pro-German government.  He still showed teeth: Hitler and Veesenmayer wanted to see Imredy as its head, but Horthy did not agree and insisted on appointing Sztojay.  That Horthy was very difficult for the Germans to deal with we see from Veesenmayer’s telegram to Ribbentrop of March 20 where he described the Regent as “a liar, physically incapable of discharging his responsibilities, constantly repeating and contradicting himself, and at times speaking haltingly.”

But he was mistaken: Sakmyster wrote that Horthy knew how to deceive and to create an impression described by Veesenmayer if he wanted to avoid a discussion; he could even bring up his poor hearing.  Yet the minutes of the Crown Council meeting of June 26 and October 15, 1944, show him in his full mental capacity, and able of clear, focused discussion.  But, of course, he lost power.  Braham was convinced that “the occupation virtually ended Hungary’s existence as a sovereign state…” It seemed that Kallay’s prediction found its confirmation.

March 21 – June, 1944.

It is unbelievable that Hitler, on the verge of defeat, saw no more pressing problem than killing as many Jews as possible and was ready to commit trains and other resources to this goal.  The speed of the process was amazing.  Eichmann arrived in Budapest the next day after the troops entered and immediately started organizing the deportations.  Sztojay appointed Andor Jarossas as his Minister of Interior and László Endre and László Baky as his two deputies; the latter also commanded the gendarmes.  These three became the major perpetrators of the Hungarian Holocaust.

The Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star.  Starting on May 14, four trains with 12,000 Jews on board departed daily from Hungary.  Upon arrival in Auschwitz 10-15% of them were selected for work, the rest were sent directly to the gas chambers.  Four hundred and thirty seven thousand were sent out of the country in 145 trains by July 6.  In June Eichmann allowed a Zionist leader Rudolph Kastner to assemble a train that took 1,684 Jews to Switzerland in exchange for 1000 dollars per person.

How was this speed of the deportations possible?  Who was to blame?  The Germans were, of course, because before the occupation there had been no deportations. But Eichmann had only a small group with him, and they could not have done the job if not for active help of the Hungarians under the command of Jarossas, Endre and Baky.  Istwan Deak stated that nearly 200,000 Hungarians helped deport the Jews.  Defending himself, Veesenmayer said during his after-war trial that the Germans at this late stage definitely were unable to round up a million people for deportation without active Hungarian participation.  He repeated this statement in 1961 in Germany when he was summoned to answer the prosecutor’s questions in connection with Eichmann’s trial.

Did the Hungarians help in the rescue?  Yes, very much so.  Horthy wrote that 170,000 Jews were registered in the capital, and 110,000 were hidden by their Magyar friends.  It is difficult to believe in 110,000 people in hiding, but Patai explained the numbers more realistically: Endre ordered the Jews to move to 1,900 buildings dispersed in the city – it was thought that such marking may save the city from bombing. These buildings accommodated 170,000 Jews.  The hidden 110,000 continued to live in their former houses, and, as a rule, they were not betrayed.  Deak wrote that:

"Considering, however, that in Budapest most everyone was capable of detecting a Jew and also that most of those in hiding were not denounced, it is likely that at least a hundred thousand Gentiles gave active assistance to the Jews, while many more simply looked the other way."

What was Horthy’s part in this process?  In the beginning, probably passivity and obedience to German order not to interfere.  But we must also ask what was known about the fate of the deported Jews.  Today we consider the deportations to be almost synonymous with murder and Holocaust, but it was not the case at the time.  If by the end of the war most of the deported Jews were found alive, it would still be considered a crime but definitely not so unique in the war that had displaced millions.  The utter stupidity of killing people instead of using them for labor in the war time was incomprehensible.  Hitler told Horthy that he needed the Jews for the building industry.  In the same 1961 testimony Veesenmyer said: “At the time, the concept of the "Final Solution" was completely unknown to me. I did not hear about this until Nuremberg.”

But in the beginning of April of 1944 Walter Rosenberg (a.k.a. Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and wrote a detailed thirty-five page report (“Auschwitz Notebook”) with drawings of the gas chambers.  

Here we encounter a terrifying detail that makes one’s hair stand on end: the Budapest Jewish Council headed by Samu Stern, with participation of Rudolf Kastner, received “Auschwitz Notebook” no later than beginning of June, and they hid it from Horthy and the Jews until the end of June!  Veesenmayer’s attorney at his trial asked Kastner, a witness, why.  Kastner had no convincing answer. The only explanation was common disbelief.  The testimony of a witness Elisheva Szenes at the trial of Eichmann (Session No. 53, 25 May 1961):

“State Attorney Bach: Mrs. Szenes, in those years, 1943 and 1944, did you already know what was happening to the Jews in Auschwitz?

Witness Szenes: Yes. I knew… I accompanied Klein-Klinowski to Dr. Georg Polgar, who was then in the social welfare department, and I informed him of it. I told him about it since danger again threatened the Jews of Slovakia, and I very much wanted them to be brought en masse to Hungary.

Q. Mrs. Szenes, what was the response to this story of yours?

A. He said simply: "You are a great poetess and possess a broad imagination."”

A Hungarian biologist
George Klein as a teenager in Budapest received the report in early June and showed it to his uncle, a well-known physician, who almost hit the youth for spreading such “non-sense”.  Author Sándor Török, a Christian member of the Jewish Council, said: "I visited various leading people with our documentary material… most had the opinion that they were not true, merely "Jewish exaggerations'."

Then on July 3 Sandor Torok found a reader who believed him instantly.

July, 1944

Countess Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai (Mrs. Ilona Bowden), Horthy’s daughter-in-law, recalled:

“…A small ‘conspiratory, news gathering’ group has formed, of which I was a member too. Often we met in my apartment in the Palace. This group brought to me the writer Sándor Török,… He brought all kinds of news with the purpose of informing the Regent.  Fortunately, I wrote a diary, in which the memorable day is marked: on July 3rd, 1944, he delivered the “Auschwitz Notebook” to me. I read this tremendously shocking description of the gas chamber-equipped extermination camp in his presence. One could feel that every word of it is true, as something like this could not be fabricated. I immediately brought this to my father-in-law’s chambers. Three days later, on July 6th, the Hungarian Government halted the deportation of the Jews.” (Emphasis mine - E.R.)

Countess Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai (Mrs. Ilona Bowden), Horthy’s daughter-in-law,
as a nurse during the war (1942) and as an honored citizen of Budapest (2011)

This is how it was: she believed immediately, and she brought it to the Regent’s attention immediately. How many more lives could have been saved had Torok come to the countess ten days earlier?  Here I should note a discrepancy in the dates: Horthy's biographer Thomas Sakmyster wrote that the writer came to the countess two weeks earlier, on June 19 or 20.  But if the countess herself stated that she wrote the date in her diary as July 3, why would we question her word?

Professor Sakmyster kindly agreed to discuss the issue with me and permitted me to use our correspondence for this article.  He wrote that his dating was based on Horthy’s strong words at the Crown Council meeting on June 26 (see below) and his announcement to general Voros on June 29 (July 5, according to Braham) that he intended to stop the deportations.  Therefore, it seems that the Regent already knew of the fate of these Jews. My point was that Horthy considered the deportations improper from the beginning because they were unjust and cruel even without killings.  So Horthy tried to stop them but nobody obeyed.  Then on July 3 Horthy learned about the gas chambers and decided to suppress the deportations by military force. Professor Sakmyster, while not completely accepting my version of the events, agreed that my “interpretation is certainly plausible and persuasive”.

Horthy shouted at the Crown Council meeting on June 26 (Randolph Braham):

“I shall not tolerate this any further! I shall not permit the deportations to bring further shame on the Hungarians! Let the Government take measures for the removal of Baky and Endre!  The deportation of the Jews of Budapest must cease! The Government must take the necessary steps!” He also confirmed that statement in writing to Sztojay (Andrew Simon).

All was in vain.  Nobody obeyed the Regent.  On June 25 and 26 Horthy received pleas from Pope Pius XII and President Roosevelt, and on July 2 the Allies bombed Budapest.  On June 30 Horthy received a telegram from King Gustav of Sweden:

“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.”

The reader should notice that at this stage everybody wrote about brutality of the deportations but nobody yet mentioned the gas chambers. What could prevent the Swedish King from mentioning them if he knew?

But on July 3 the 77-year-old Admiral knew.  He understood that without a military showdown nobody would listen to him.  Patai: “On July 6 Horthy ordered the preparation for deporting the Budapest Jews stopped, end emphasized his order by bringing into the capital loyal armored military units from Esztergom.”

Horthy did not trust his Chief of the General Staff, and on July 4 he found a loyal military unit commanded by colonel Koszorús, who confronted Baky and stopped the deportations on July 6.  A quarter million of the Budapest Jews were saved at that point.  Later it became known that Eichmann planned to deport all of them over just two days starting that day.  Sakmyster: “Horthy’s action was unprecedented in the history of the Holocaust: never before had a leader successfully used the threat of military force to halt the deportation of Jews to the death camps.” If Horthy had known at least a week earlier! 

Not Kallay but Horthy was absolutely right.  He made good on his “pathetic” reply to his friend.  With his iron will he restored partial power and influence, and we may say that nobody in the world saved as many Jews as he did.  And then, on July 12, His Serene Highness Admiral Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya sent his reply to the King of Sweden:

“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...”

Raoul Wallenberg arrived in the city on July 9.   If not for Horthy’s actions, he would have had nothing to do: all the Jews would have already been deported by that time.  He understood it well and on July 29, 1944 reported to his government:

“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…”

What trains?  What was it all about?  Let us turn again to the minutes of the Eichmann trial.  In the Budapest’s suburb Kistarcsa the Germans set up a camp for the Jewish intelligentsia whom they deported from there.  The Hungarian commandant Istvan Vasdenyei helped the Jews as much as he could.  We are reading Sessions 52-53, May 25, 1961, testimony of Dr. Brody (emphasis mine – E.R.); I will skip the prosecutor’s questions (Q.) after the first one:

“Q. Dr. Brody, please tell the Court what happened on 12 July 1944?

A. …We hoped that at the beginning of July there would be no more deportations. To my great surprise, Vasdenyei notified me on the evening of 12 July, in confidence, that on the 14th of the month the Germans were preparing to take an additional 1,500 persons from Kistarcsa, and that the Germans had ordered a special train to Kistarcsa.  When I got to know about it, I got in touch, that same evening, with the directors of the Jewish Council…

Presiding Judge: …What happened, in the end, to this train?

Witness Brody: The Regent gave an order that the train should not proceed. Since the train had already left, the Regent ordered a major of the gendarmerie, Lullay, to halt the train while it was still in Hungarian territory. And Lullay managed to reach the train at the town of Hatvan and gave orders for it to be sent back, and the train arrived back at Kistarcsa in the evening. This was the sole deportation train in the eleven years of Nazi domination, ever to be turned back in its tracks.”

What is very interesting in this story is how easy it was for the Jewish leadership to reach Horthy and how he managed to stop the train!

Thomas Sakmyster wrote that this train was really saved but unfortunately it contradicts the further testimony of Dr. Brody.  The Jews and Horthy lost that train because prestige had been much more important to Eichmann than human lives.  The next day his deputy said: "Did you think that Eichmann would agree that this old fool, Horthy, would bring back his train?" (Session 112/4) On July 19 the SS arrived in the camp to load the same people in trucks.  In vengeance, they also ordered Vasdenyei to arrest Brody, but the commandant quietly ordered his secretary to take Brody away, so he could run to Budapest again.  Brody continued:

I ran to the tram in order to inform the Jewish Council that people had again been seized…  When I reached Pest,… I was astonished at the fact that… I did not find any of the members of the Council…  Only at night was I able… to contact Samu Stern and Ernoe Petoe, and they told me that they had spent the entire day in the office [of Eichmann] - they were watched and were not even given an opportunity to use the telephone. They were allowed to go leave in the evening, almost certainly after the receipt of a telephone call to the effect that the train had left…

The important role of the Regent Horthy lay in the fact that, as from the month of July, he forbade all further deportations.”

August 1944.

Events of July 3-7 are well described by various sources, though the dates may be a little different.  It is strange, however, that Horthy himself did not mention July but wrote only about August. He wrote relying only on his memory, and made errors:

“In August, Budapest was to be ‘cleaned up’…  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… The fact that this action saved the Jews of Budapest has been confirmed by the members of the Jewish Committees in Hungary, Samu Stern, Dr. Ernô Petô and Dr. Károly Wilhelm, in written statements they made under oath on February 3rd, 1946…”

It seems that Horthy described the July events. But why did he mention the gendarmerie that, as we know, under Baky was the major culprit in July? Did something else occur in August?


From the Eichmann’s trial (Session 112/4, 9 August 1961): “The Hungarian Council of Ministers decided on 13 August 1944, that the lightning arrest [of the Budapest Jews] should be carried out on the 25th of that month… Suddenly Himmler, too, ordered that the operation be stopped… Eichmann did not give up, even in the face of the order from Himmler… Through the Jewish leaders, the existence of the order from Himmler became known to Horthy as well, and he became courageous and once again stopped the arrests…”

Chairman of the Jewish Council Samuel Stern in his 1945 account told that in August, before the date agreed upon with the Sztójay government, the German forces began surrounding the capital, where Horthy again had no loyal troops.  Stern proposed Horthy a plan, and the Regent accepted it; he would go along with the deportation plan for August 25, and would even offer to “help” by bringing additional troops from the countryside. As soon as these troops, loyal to Horthy, were in the city in sufficient numbers, he, as Attorney General said in the trial, “became courageous and once again stopped the arrests”.  “To create an excuse for Horthy’s apparent change of mind they mobilized the Vatican and other neutral embassies to issue a stern warning to Horthy,” – wrote Dr. Sandor Balogh referring to S. Stern. “Only seven people: three members of the Jewish Council, Horthy, his son, and the commander and deputy commander of the gendarmes knew of the plan.”   Capitulation of Romania and Himmler’s last minute order surely helped, but in the public mind Horthy remained a man who was ready to betray the Jews in August.  On August 24 Horthy executed a coup: he dismissed the Sztójay government and appointed anti-Nazi general Geza Lakatos as his new prime-minister.

Deak says that surprisingly “those in labor service were generally decently fed and could feel quite safe; at the time of the deportations to Auschwitz, many of the men of military age had been literally saved in the last minute by the military authorities…”

September – October 16, 1944.

On September 10 the Regent assembled the expanded cabinet, and they decided to start negotiations with the Soviet army about capitulation; Horthy wanted to save the capital from destruction.  On October 15 the agreement was ready.  In the morning the Germans under command of Otto Skorzeny lured Miklos Horthy Jr. (the younger son) out of the Palace and kidnapped him.  In spite of it the nation heard the long proclamation of its leader, including these words:

…After having received a firm promise from the Fuehrer of the German Reich that he would cancel acts that violated and restricted Hungary's sovereignty, in case I appointed a government enjoying the confidence of the Germans, I appointed the Sztojay government. Yet the Germans did not keep their promise. In the shelter of German occupation the Gestapo tackled the Jewish question in a manner incompatible with the demands of humanity, applying methods it had already employed elsewhere…”

The Arrow Cross aired a counter-proclamation through a German radio station, and part of the troops changed sides.  The Palace was surrounded, and Horthy was offered the Fuehrer’s protection in case of surrender and abdication.  The next day, under the threat that his son would be killed, he was forced to recant the armistice and to appoint the Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi as his successor.  Horthy and his family were sent to a castle in Bavaria.

Horthy’s treacherous Chief of the General Staff János Vörös broadcasted from Moscow on November 10, 1944:  “Long live the Hungarian Democratic Republic under the leadership of Regent Horthy!”

After October 16, 1944

The next day Eichmann came back.  The Budapest Jews had no government protection anymore, but Horthy managed to keep them alive until this time when transportation to Auschwitz was not feasible anymore.  So Eichmann organized a “death march” on foot to Austria for 50,000 people; it was nothing but shear cruelty, because these people were so weak on arrival that they were not fit to do any serious work.  Many died or were shot en route.  Himmler ordered to stop the marches and return the survivors by vehicle.

A ghetto near the central synagogue was established and walled off on November 29.  It was intended for 200,000 people, but during 50 days of its existence only 70,000 to 80,000 Jews moved there.  Bandits of Arrow Cross killed 10,000 to 15,000 Jews near this place, and most of them were buried in the cemetery next to the synagogue.

The Red Cross and the diplomats Carl Lutz, Raul Wallenberg, and many others tried to help, and many books have been written about it, so I will not touch this heroic part of the rescue.  The diplomats ran their cars along the death marches and gave out food and medicine.  How many people were really saved by the diplomats?  We will never know the exact number.  Istvan Deak wrote:

“The activities of Wallenberg, the Swiss Consul Carl Lutz, the Vatican Nuncio Angelo Rotta, the pseudo-Spanish Consul (in reality Italian anti-Nazi) Giorgio (Jorge) Perlasca, and the International Red Cross representative Friedrich Born constitute perhaps the best-known chapter of the Hungarian Holocaust… But before we accept the claims of the enthusiasts that Wallenberg, for instance, saved the lives of one hundred thousand Jews, we have to consider that were all the claims true, the consuls would have saved more lives than there were Jews left in Budapest…”

Carl Lutz (on the left) and Raoul Wallenberg

How many Jews survived in Budapest?  An accurate estimation is not possible. Patai believed that half of them survived.  When Wikipedia speaks about 119,000 freed in Budapest, it apparently does not take into account the 110,000 that had not gone to the “Jewish” houses and to the ghetto but stayed in hiding. We may try to approach this matter from the other side and ask how many were killed after Horthy stopped the deportations.

a) Train from Kistarcsa, 1500 people;
b) Ten to fifteen thousand killed by the Arrow Cross militants and during the siege of Budapest;
c) Unknown number of deaths during the march to Austria; let’s assume it was 10%, or 5,000 people.

Most people in the labor battalions of 1944 survived.  This gives us the maximum of 25,000 to 30,000.  If so, it means that 80-90% of the Budapest Jewry survived.  Had Horthy not stopped the deportations, all of them would have been in Auschwitz by the end of July.

4. Conclusions

Once upon a time there was a country named Hungary that in a certain period of its history became madly anti-Semitic. Hungary had a Parliament that used legal democratic procedures to prepare the country for a terrible crime. Germany provided strong outside encouragement. The pool of the Hungarian politicians fit to be Prime Minister consisted almost entirely of anti-Semites.

And there were THREE men who firmly said: No. We will not do it. This is against the Hungarian character. This is against humanism, against honor. This will be the annihilation of OUR nation. They were not particular Jew-lovers but they were God-lovers. They were not saints, and they did not succeed in everything; Kamenets-Podolsk and killings in Novi Sad were not noticed by them in time to stop the crimes. They failed to stay out of the war. They failed to avoid sending the troops to Russia to be destroyed. Being against the anti-Jewish laws, they could not stop them.

But it is breathtaking to see how much they did accomplish! Hungary remained an island where “in March 1944, 95 percent of the Hungarian Jews and the thousands of Jewish refugees from abroad were still alive” (Istvan Deak).

Just think how much easier it could have been for them to take a different course! Kallay could have rejected the appointment; Horthy had no firm necessity to replace Bardossy.  Bardossy would have agreed to deport the Jews in 1942-43.  Horthy could have responded respond by abdication or by public removal of himself from the governing position.  After the war, none of the three would have been tried, and Bardossy was executed anyway.  Almost none of the Jews would survive. But Horthy took a different course even after March 19, 1944, when he remained alone.

The following conclusions are obvious.  Had Regent Horthy not remained in his position in the period from March 19 to October 15, 1944:
1.     About a quarter million of the Jews of Budapest would not have survived until October 15. There is nobody else in the Holocaust history that saved so many Jews;
2.     The actions of the diplomats and the righteous people (Wallenberg and others) during the Arrow Cross government’s time would have been useless; there would not have been any Jews left to save.

All the leading historians agree on that.  Thomas Sakmyster wrote:

“So strong was pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic sentiment in the civil service, officer corps, and parliament that a decision by Horthy in 1942 or 1943 to accede to the German demand for deportation of the Jews would surely have meant the annihilation of the entire Hungarian Jewish community. But Horthy did not do this, for he believed that “inhumanity is alien to the Hungarian character.”… It was largely through his influence that in early 1944 Hungary was such an anomaly: an island in the heart of Hitler’s Europe where a semblance of the rule of law and a pluralistic society had been preserved in a sea of barbarism. And this was the basis of Horthy’s most important legacy to Hungarian history”.

Laszlo Karzai:

“Until 1944, the lives of the great majority of Hungarian Jews were not directly in danger… Until 1944, Horthy and his advisors, out of moral and humanitarian considerations, among others, would not hand over the Hungarian Jews to the Nazi mass murderers.”

“What Horthy did,” noted George Friedman, “was the dirty work of decency.” But perhaps American prewar ambassador John Montgomery best articulates Horthy’s true place in history: “This world would be a better, more decent place, if the leaders of the English-speaking nations developed a tiny part of the courage shown at that time by Admiral Horthy.”

Horthy preparing evidence for the Nuremberg Trials (1945)

In spite of this, the Jews evaluate Horthy predominantly negatively.  Are they puzzled by the fact that the Jews were not saved by left-wing politicians, but those on the right?  Is it hatred of the left intellectuals for a life-long anti-communist?

History does not allow for “what ifs”. Nevertheless, even the leading historians of the Hungarian Holocaust love this exercise.  Several of them think that Horthy needed to take Romania as an example and send more troops to the Eastern front and in this way to avoid occupation.  However, after a blistering defeat of the Hungarians in Russia Horthy and Kallay saw their duty in avoiding further active participation in the war.  Should we blame them for this?  And Horthy did try to switch the sides, but he was plainly unlucky.

After the war Horthy and his family lived in Bavaria for 4 years, and then they moved to Estoril, in Portugal.  They were penniless.  John Montgomery organized a group of four friends to help the Horthy family financially; two of the four were Jewish.  Patai wrote that “the Horthy clique was interested only in saving the members of the Jewish financial elite with whom they had advantageous relations…” How unjust!  What “advantageous” relations?  Living on “welfare” from two rich Jewish friends?!  Horthy as a regent had never thought about putting some money in a Swiss bank.

Horthy lived to see the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and he could not bear its defeat; he died four months later.  His wife followed him after two years.  They willed to be re-buried in Hungary when no Soviet soldier remains on its soil.  In 1993 they were buried in their estate in Kenderes.

Admiral Horthy was not a perfect ruler. But I believe that there will be a day when Hungary sees him as its national hero.  The rescue of a quarter million Jews will be recognized as his major service to the nation.  It will be a shame if the Hungarian Jews do not stand next to their Magyar compatriots in the demonstration of the national reconciliation.

[*] Это сокращённая версия статьи, опубликованной по-русски в альманахе "Еврейская старина", No. 1, 2014, стр. 4-102. Статья полностью доступна на: http://berkovich-zametki.com/2014/Starina/Nomer1/ERabinovich1.php
This is a greatly abridged version of my article published in Russian in “Evrejskaya Starina”, #1, 2014, pp. 4-102.  The major sources (among 75 references) are: 1) memoirs of: a) Miklos Horthy with 600 footnotes of professor Andrew Simon; b) Horthy’s daughter-in-law Ilona, Countess of Edelsheim-Gyulai (Mrs. Ilona Bowden); c) Nikolas Kallay, Hungarian Premier-Minister in 1942-1944; d) prewar ambassador of the USA to Hungary John F. Montgomery; e) the Chairman of the Jewish Council of Budapest Samuel Stern; f) a survivor Steven A. Colman; other recollections; 2) Records of interrogations and of trial of Adolph Eichmann; 3) A magisterial biography by Thomas Sakmyster - Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback – Miklos Horthy, 1918 – 1944; 4) Books and articles of major historians in the field: Randolph L. Braham, Istvan Deak, Mario D. Fenyo, Kinga Frojimovics, Raul Hilberg, Lévai Jenö, Laszlo Karsai, Istvan Lazar, Raphael Patai, T. Zane Reeves, Krisztian Ungvary and others.