Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Hungary's Relationship with Poland and Its Refugees during World War II

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Hungary's Relationship with Poland and Its Refugees during World War II

Article excerpt

For centuries Hungary and Poland have had a uniquely congenial relationship in spite of their distinctive ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The Magyars and Poles had a common monarch, Louis the Great (Nagy Lajos), ties through marriages, and then both were under Habsburg rule until World War I. This historical association persevered during World War Il, even though the two nations joined opposing camps--Poland with the Allies and Hungary with the Axis. In short, many Magyar political officials and the populous provided assistance and a safe-haven for the Polish military, civilians, and even some Jews during the war.

The Second World War proved extremely confusing and tempestuous for Hungary. Diplomatically, it corporeally took an active part in repossessing territory that it had lost in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon --a portion of Slovakia in 1939 and in 1940 the Bascka-Banat region in Yugoslavia--by collaborating with Germany which also sought to regain lands surrendered in the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. The Hungarian government, however, vehemently denied any official ties to the Axis prior to and during the first few years of the war. Although it provided agricultural and other products to Germany and troops on the campaign against Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Magyar officials still insisted that they were neutral. This bipolar behavior was evident throughout Hungary's involvement in World War II. Consequently, the government's policies concerning the Polish refugees--Christian and Jewish, and military and civilians-also epitomized its random and erratic positions and actions during the war. Though Regent Miklos Horthy once called the Germans "`buffoons and brigands'" according to Hungarian Minister Count Csaky and ultimately refused Hitler's requests to participate in any actions against Poland, his armies did control certain areas of Poland during the war. (1) Yet, at the same time the Hungarians voluntarily admitted Poles within their borders. The refugees either lived freely within the borders or found themselves running for their lives dependent upon the Magyars relationship with the Germans or which Hungarian controlled the political arena: e.g., both Dome Sztojay, a puppet of the Nazis, and Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of the Arrow Cross viciously attacked the Poles. The treatment of Jews proved even more enigmatic. The government provided hundreds of Polish Jews with false papers; however, it also deported many. Even more interesting is that while some politicians protected Polish Jews, they forced Hungarian Jews into labor camps, where thousands perished. Ironically, the only period when a definite policy emerged was following the German occupation in March 1944 and under the Arrow Cross: the collaborative governments deported all Jews, Polish and Magyar, to concentration camps or killed them, and even Christian Poles met an ominous fate. Thus, Hungary's relationship with Poland and its people during the Second World War further exemplifies the ups and the downs and the realities and the illusions that the nation experienced or even concocted during the war.

On September 1, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. According to one source, a Cracow radio station in secret code alerted the people: "Uwaga, uwaga, nadchodzi, nadchodzi, czekolada (Attention, attention, coming, coming, chocolate)." (2) Chocolate referred to bombs. Thus, the people were to take cover for the Germans were coming. The Polish army fought bravely against the invaders; however, on September 17 the Soviets attacked, thereby creating an impossible situation for the Polish military. On the 30th, Wladyslaw Rackiewicz, who had fled days earlier to the West, established a government-in-exile and General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who was retired at the time, wrote a memo to Marshal Smigly-Ridz stating that he "was entirely at the Marshal's disposal" and took the position of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense of the new government. …

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