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Hungary in World War II

Caught in the Cauldron

Deborah S. Cornelius

Publication Year: 2011

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 II is 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 succeedingdecades 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 II draws 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.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I am indebted to many people who have helped me over the years to research and write this manuscript. Although I could not begin to name them all, there are a few I would like to thank personally: first of all, my friend and editor, G. Kurt Piehler, who persuaded me to embark on this project and maintained his support throughout. From the beginning Attila and Andrea...

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pp. 1-6

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...

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1. The Legacy of World War I

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pp. 7-29

To understand Hungary’s role in World War II, one must go back to World War I and the defeat of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria- Hungary, and Bulgaria) by the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, and Russia), the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and the tumultuous years between 1918 and 1920. During this brief period, the thousand- year-old Kingdom of Hungary disintegrated,...

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2. Hungary Between the Wars

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pp. 30-63

The psychological impact of the Treaty of Trianon was so pervasive that it produced a syndrome akin to a national disease. The loss of the territories was ‘‘tantamount to the death of the nation,’’ only to be prevented by the return of Greater Hungary.1 The trauma of defeat shook the nation’s foundations and made it almost impossible...

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3. The Last Year of European Peace

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pp. 64-99

The last year of European peace, 1938, was a year of turmoil for the Hungarians, ranging from panic over the German Anschluss (annexation) of Austria and pride in hosting the International Eucharistic Congress to jubilation with the recovery of part of northern Hungary, the Felvidék. On March 12–13 Hitler’s troops marched into Austria, incorporating the country into the German Reich. The rapid...

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4. Clinging to Neutrality

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pp. 100-145

During the two years of the ministry of Count Pa´l Teleki, from February 1939 to April 1941, the government faced increasing pressure, both external and internal, to join forces with Germany. Hungary was already beholden to Germany and Italy for the return of southern Slovakia. In the winter of 1939, the population was in...

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5. Hungary Enters the War

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pp. 146-181

Less than three months after Teleki’s suicide, Hungary entered into a state of war with the Soviet Union. With the declaration of a state of war by the new prime minister, László Bárdossy, Hungary took the fateful step, deviating from the policy of neutrality under Teleki and the early Bárdossy ministry. At the time everyone expected that it would be another short war with Germany emerging...

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6. Disaster at the Don

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pp. 182-225

In October 1941 Hitler was jubilant; he believed the war was over! He had planned on wiping Moscow from the face of the earth and replacing it with an artificial lake. In a routine speech at the Berlin Sportpalast on October 4 he announced the ‘‘greatest battle in the history of the world; that the Soviet enemy had been beaten and would never rise again.’’1 He still believed that the Soviet Union was...

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7. Efforts to Exit the War

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pp. 226-276

Despite the catastrophic loss of the Second Army, 1943 became a year of cautious optimism for Hungarians. For the first time it seemed that there might be another choice between the German alliance or the much-dreaded Soviet Union and Bolshevism. It even seemed possible that the war might end by giving the Anglo-Saxons a predominant voice in the peace settlement. The North Africa landing...

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8. German Occupation

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pp. 277-333

German troops occupied Hungary on Sunday morning, March 19, 1944, virtually without resistance. The occupation took the inhabitants of Budapest completely by surprise. It was a beautiful early spring day, and the cafe´s, beer gardens, and terraces of Budapest were crowded. The occupation troops entered Hungary ceremonially as if on parade, with bands playing—they were the cream of the German army, the elite, good looking and well educated. As they drove...

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9. From Arrow Cross Rule to Soviet Occupation

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pp. 334-383

The failure of Horthy’s attempted armistice with the Soviets and the ensuing Szálasi putsch was a catastrophe for Hungary, prolonging the war for five agonizing months. Instead of an armistice the country was subjected to the ‘‘most destructive fighting ever to take place on Hungarian soil.’’1 On October 16 the Arrow Cross government began its efforts to establish Szálasi’s vision of the Hungarista...

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10. Postwar Hungary

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pp. 384-417

Those making plans for Hungary’s future in the fall of 1944 could hardly have foreseen a collapse so complete as that which Hungary suffered in 1945. Hungary—in proportion to its population—suffered one of the greatest military losses of life in the war—about one million people from a total population of less than ten million. According to historian Gyula Juhász, the combined effect of the German...


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pp. 419-481


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pp. 483-499


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pp. 501-519

World War II: The Global, Human, and Ethical Dimension

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823248827
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823233434
Print-ISBN-10: 082323343X

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2011