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Dr. Eliezer M. Rabinovich: How “Anti-Semite” Miklós Horthy Saved The Jews Of Budapest – Part II

Eliezer M. Rabinovich was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1937. He graduated from the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology named after D.I. Mendeleev and now lives in the United States.  Besides articles in his technical profession, he has published more than 30 papers on literature, historic and philosophical issues. Visiting Hungary, he became interested in the details of the Hungarian Holocaust and several years ago wrote a small article on the topic in the Russia-language Internet magazine. A year ago he developed it into a fundamental 100-pages scientific work with 75 references titled: “Rescue of the Budapest Jews: Miklós Horthy, Diplomats, and Many Other Righteous Hungarians”.
Hungary Today is publishing the second – final – part of the summary of Dr. Eliezer M. Rabinovich’s 100-page article published in Russian by the magazine “Evrejskaya Starina” (“The Jewish Antics”), #1, 2014, to mark the 71th anniversary of the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany on 19 March 1944, which spelt an end to Hungary’s sovereignty and  opened the door to hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews being deported to concentration camps. The first part of Dr. Rabinovich’s article can be read here.

 

On July 3, Sándor Török found a reader who believed him instantly.

Horthy’s daughter-in-law, 26-year-old countess Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai (later Mrs. Ilona Bowden) recalled:

“…Fortunately, I wrote a diary, in which the memorable day is marked: on July 3, 1944,” Sándor Török “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.”

 

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 Török come to the countess 10 days earlier?

The countess could not refrain from indignation:

“Historians have tried to determine when this record was distributed and to find out the exact date on which the Hungarian translation of the record reached the Regent… I am the only person able to specify the date without having to rely on memory,” because she kept the diary.

Horthy tried to stop the deportations even earlier. On June 25-30, he received pleas from Pope Pius XII, President Franklin Roosevelt, and King Gustav V of Sweden to stop Jewish deportations, and on June 26 he shouted at the Crown Council meeting:

“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!” All was in vain. Nobody obeyed the Regent. On July 2 the Allies bombed Budapest, in vain.

But on July 3 the Admiral learned about the gas chambers.  Why the exact date is so important?  Because if the Regent learned sometime in June but took action only in July, while 12 thousand people were deported daily, then he is indecisive and not very attentive.  But if he learned in the late evening of July 3, and on July 6 the deportations were stopped, then he is a hero!

Why on June 26 he was not obeyed but after July 3 he was?  Because on June 26 he used words, but after July 3rd he used not words but tanks; because on June 26 he acted as the head of the state who expected to be obeyed, but on July 4-6 he used military force against his own government.

He could not trust his Chief of Staff, General János Vörös, but his security chief General Károly Lázár found a loyal tank unit commanded by Colonel Ferenc Koszorús.  The tanks entered Budapest on July 6, Koszorús confronted Baky and ordered to stop the deportations.  Jaross, Endre and Baky were sacked.

There were rumors that Baky prepared a coup to overthrow the Regent, so some people claim that this action by Horthy and Koszorús was aimed for preventing the coup and has nothing to do with stopping the deportations.  This idea is absurd: it would be much easier for the Regent to justify his actions to Veesenmayer and find his support, if he could explain them merely by a desire to keep his power.  Countess Ilona testified that “protests and threats came via Veesenmayer but the Regent flatly refused to reinstate” the fired officials.  Later it became known that Eichmann planned to deport all of the Budapest Jews on July 5-7.

The deportations were “suspended” immediately, and about quarter-million of the Budapest Jews were saved at that point.  With his iron will, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”, the Regent restored partial power and influence and saved the Budapest Jews. In Sakmyster’s words: “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.

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: 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.”

Trains – what is it about?  Let us read the minutes of Eichmann’s trial.  In the Budapest suburb of Kistarcsa, the Germans set up a camp for the Jewish intelligentsia whom they deported from there. The Hungarian commandant Vasdényei helped the Jews as much as he could. A witness, Dr. Bródy, testified:

“Vasdényei 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 … 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 … This was the sole deportation train in the eleven years of Nazi domination, ever to be turned back in its tracks.”  Similarly to the biographer’s opinion, this witness also testified about exclusivity of Regent’s actions.

The Germans demanded the resumption of the deportations and Horthy, conspiring with the Budapest Jewish council’s leader Samu Stern, seemingly agreed for a deportation on August 25. However, Regent again assembled loyal troops and cancelled the deportations for good. On August 24, Horthy executed a coup: he dismissed the Sztójay government.  An anti-Nazi general, Géza Lakatos, was sworn as his new Prime Minister on August 29.

On October 15, 1944, Horthy attempted capitulation to the Soviet Army but was overthrown and arrested. The fascist “Arrow Cross” party took power. They murdered 10-15 thousand Jews.  Eichmann came back but he already had no way to murder on the previous scale: on October 6, Auschwitz stopped gassing – Horthy had managed to save the Budapest Jewry up through that moment.

Summary

  1. No doubt that had Regent Horthy, Premier Kállay and Minister Keresztes-Fischer not remained in power between 1942 and March 18, 1944, Hungary would not have remained an island where “in March 1944, 95 percent of the Hungarian Jews and the thousands of Jewish refugees from abroad were still alive” (István Deák).  It was much easier for them to take a different course.  Kállay could have rejected the appointment; his predecessor, László Bárdossy, would have agreed to deport the Jews in 1942-43.
    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… And this was the basis of Horthy’s most important legacy to Hungarian history.”

  1. No doubt that had Regent Horthy not remained on his position in the period from March 19 to October 15, 1944, then about a quarter million of the Jews of Budapest would not have survived until October 15.  The actions of the diplomats during the Arrow Cross government’s time would have been useless.

Was it possible to avoid the occupation and in this way to continue saving the Jews?  History does not allow for “what ifs”. Nevertheless, even the leading historians sometimes engage in this exercise.  Several of them (Laszló Karsai, István Deák) 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 Kállay saw their duty in avoiding further active participation in the war.  Should we blame them for this?   Is it not the government’s duty to care about the well-being of all citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike?

How could the historians complimentarily compare the fascistic-military Romanian government with a relatively pluralistic Hungarian rule? Romania was a country that had refused to deport its Jews, but it killed about 300 thousand of the Jewish population under its control!  The so-called “Odessa massacre” claimed probably 100 thousand lives.  Did a Hungarian army ever commit a similar offence?  No, vice versa, the action by Horthy and Koszorús was the only instance in all of Hitler-occupied Europe in which a regular army was utilized to save Jews.

Somebody may wish to mention the January 1942 Újvidék (Novi Sad, Serbia) massacre where the Hungarian troops killed up to 2500 Serbians and 700 Jews, allegedly as a revenge for the actions of partisans.  When the story became known in Budapest, the Parliament and public became furious, and Horthy and Kállay ordered a military tribunal.   Did Antonescu ever censure the Romanian killings?

And after the occupation?  Again, let us read Thomas Sakmyster:

“Horthy might, of course, have taken Kállay’s advice in late March to retire to his estate. Had he done this, the Regent’s historical reputation might have been enhanced, but the only practical result in Hungary would likely have been a more rapid deportation and annihilation of the Jews, including those of Budapest… No other European leader caught in such a dilemma, with the military equation so heavily in Germany’s favor, had ever defied Hitler so directly.”

Still, was it possible to stop the deportations earlier than on July 3-7?  Probably yes, if the “Auschwitz Notebook” were delivered Horthy immediately when it had been received by the Jewish Council, apparently in the beginning of June.

We must recognize that the Regent did maximum that was in his power at that time. But some historians (Patai, for example) wrote that Horthy was only interested in saving of the Jewish financial elite with whom he had beneficial relations.  Is that mean that the entire 250,000-strong Budapest Jewish populations consisted of the elite?  What kind of the “beneficial relations”? Horthy died as a penniless refugee being supported by four of his friends; two of them were Jewish.

Admiral Miklós Horthy had his faults and errors (the invasion to Yugoslavia probably being the worst), still, in the opinion of the American prewar ambassador John Montgomery:

“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.”

American political scientist George Friedman wrote: “What Horthy did was the dirty work of decency.”

Long time has passed since the Admiral faced the Supreme Judge, and I believe God forgave many of his sins for the rescue of the Budapest Jewry.   I hope that the time will come when the lower court of his compatriots, Jewish and non-Jewish, in their mutual reconciliation, will judge him more kindly than they do it today.

photo: Admiral Miklós Horthy (mno.hu)