Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron

Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron

Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron

Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron

Synopsis

The story of Hungary's participation in World War II is part of a much larger narrative - one that has never before been fully recounted for a non-Hungarian readership. As told by Deborah Cornelius, it is a fascinating tale of rise and fall, of hopes dashed and dreams in tatters. Using previously untapped sources and interviews she conducted for this book, Cornelius provides a clear account of Hungary's attempt to regain the glory of the Hungarian Kingdom by joining forces with Nazi Germany - a decision that today seems doomed to fail from the start. For scholars and history buff's alike,Hungary in World War IIis a riveting read. Cornelius begins her study with the Treaty of Trianon, which in 1920 spelled out the terms of defeat for the former kingdom. The new country of Hungary lost more than 70 percent of the kingdom's territory, saw its population reduced by nearly the same percentage, and was stripped of fi ve of its ten most populous cities. As Cornelius makes vividly clear, nearly all of the actions of Hungarian leaders during the succeeding decades can be traced back to this incalculable defeat. In the early years of World War II, Hungary enjoyed boom times and the dream of restoring the Hungarian Kingdom began to rise again. Caught in the middle as the war engulfed Europe, Hungary was drawn into an alliance with Nazi Germany. When the Germans appeared to give Hungary much of its pre-World War I territory, Hungarians began to delude themselves into believing they had won their long-sought objective. Instead, the final year of the world war brought widespread destruction and a genocidal war against Hungarian Jews. Caught between two warring behemoths, the country became a battleground for German and Soviet forces. In the wake of the war, Hungary suffered further devastation under Soviet occupation and forty-five years of communist rule. The author first became interested in Hungary in 1957 and has visited the country numerous times, beginning in the 1970s. Over the years she has talked with many Hungarians, both scholars and everyday people. Hungary in World War IIdraws skillfully on these personal tales to narrate events before, during, and after World War II. It provides a comprehensive and highly readable history of Hungarian participation in the war, along with an explanation of Hungarian motivation: the attempt of a defeated nation to relive its former triumphs.

Excerpt

Public interest in Hungary’s role in World War II has perhaps never been greater than in the years since the change of regime in 1989–90. The full story of Hungary in World War II could not be told until the collapse of the Communist system, forty-five years after the end of the war. Hungary was occupied by the Red Army in 1945, and since the Soviets considered Hungary’s participation in the war a crime against the Soviet Union the war was not commemorated. Memorials were raised to the heroic Soviet dead, with memorial speeches and parades, but there were no Hungarian war memorials, no tributes to the fallen Hungarian soldiers. During the following forty years of Communist rule, history was presented from the Soviet point of view. As historian Domokos Kosáry explained: “The situation that facts are just now coming to light is not just that the detailed research was missing, but—much more—that in the service of the Stalinist type of history, the tendency was to select the data which supported that viewpoint, and to pass over or omit other data which did not…”

After forty years of censorship, most people knew only the version of history they had learned in school; that the disastrous war had been brought on by the “fascist reactionary” wartime regime; that all political and military leaders of the period were war criminals, and that Hungary had been liberated by the Soviet Army on April 4, 1945—celebrated every year as Liberation Day. Other key elements of the official version included the assertion that only Communists had been participants in the resistance against the German occupation and the profascist Arrow Cross rule, and that all families that had fled to the West before the Russian invasion had been tainted with fascism. Even prisoners of war who returned from Soviet labor camps were sworn to silence, treated as second-class citizens, and prevented from speaking about their experiences.

It is only in recent years that historians in Hungary have been free to examine and reevaluate their country’s role in the war. One by one former taboo questions have been addressed and a new generation of historians . . .

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