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80 years ago, on September 1st, WWII began
80 years ago, on September 1st, WWII began

Prime Minister Dr. Kállay Miklós

Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor had a plan to take over Poland; the only reason he postponed it was that Great Britain and France promised to fight to save Poland.  Finally, on September 1st, 1939, at 4:40 in the morning, the German air force started to bomb the Polish city of Wielun.  A false provocation was used: German soldiers dressed in Polish uniforms took over the radio station in Gliwice, a small border city.

Prime Minister Count Teleki Pál let Hitler know that Hungary would remain neutral, and would not take part in the fight against Poland.  Indeed, he made it possible for tens of thousands of Polish citizens to enter Hungary. The thousand years’ friendship between Poland and Hungary was a major factor in his decision.

So how did Hungary get into the war?

Romania had agreed to the request of the Soviet Union, returning Bessarabia and giving up North Bukovina, which never belonged to Russia; but it refused Hungary’s request to give back Northern Transylvania, Partium and Székely land.

By the summer of 1940, Teleki had the Hungarian army lined up at the Romanian-Hungarian border.  Hitler didn’t want a conflict between two of his allies; and he needed Hungary’s rail line for his troops to reach the Soviet Union.  So on August 30th, by the Second Vienna Award, he gave back Northern Transylvania and Székely land to Hungary, which forced Teleki to become committed to the Germans.  

In December, Count Teleki signed a permanent friendship agreement with Yugoslavia.  A few months later, Hitler asked Hungary to take part in the attack on Yugoslavia. Teleki found himself in a dilemma, and on April 3rd, he allegedly committed suicide (an event which is still debated to this day). 

It was under Bárdossy László, the new Prime Minister, that the areas of Bácska, Muraköz and the so-called Baranya Triangle were reannexed from Yugoslavia.

On June 26th, 1941, “unidentified” airplanes bombed Kassa and Munkács, and Bárdossy declared war against the Soviet Union.

In 1942, the Germans ordered the Hungarian army, 207,000 soldiers and 45,000 people on forced labor (munkaszolgálatos) to the Don River.  In January of the next year, that army was destroyed at the Battle of Voronezh.  Regent Horthy Miklós appointed Kállay Miklós to replace Bárdossy.  Kállay’s main aim was to get the country out of the war, but his efforts were unsuccessful.  Hitler asked Horthy for a new army to send to the front, and also demanded that he replace Kállay, which Horthy refused to do.  Therefore, the Germans occupied Hungary on March 19th, 1944.

In October 1944, Regent Horthy tried again to get out of the war by announcing that he was making a separate peace treaty with the Soviet Union.  Hitler had Horthy’s son, ifj. Horthy Miklós kidnapped.  Seeing that his other son, István, had lost his life in a “military airplane accident”, Horthy gave in to the blackmail.  He named Szálasi Ferenc the new Prime Minister, and resigned.  Hitler immediately had Horthy interned in Germany.

With that, Hungary’s darkest period of history began, with the rounding up and deportation of the Jews and other anti-Nazi individuals by Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party.  This dark period continued after the war with the Rákosi era and up to 1990 when the Russians finally left Hungary.

The Soviet army entered Hungary by the Valley of the Úz and Csobányos River on August 26th, 1944.  They completed the country’s takeover on April 4th, 1945, when the last of the German army left Hungary by Nemesmedves.  (In 1985, it came to light that the actual date was April 13th, and they left by way of Pinkamindszent.)

In the history of the world, WW II was the most devastating.  About 55 million people died, including 6 million Jews, 2.6-3.1 million Japanese.  On both sides of the spectrum, the terrors civilians and prisoners suffered were unprecedented, inflicted by the Japanese in China and Manchuria and against the American prisoners; by the Soviets in Eastern Europe; by the Germans in the bombing of England, and in the occupied Soviet territory, and in the Holocaust. And by the Allies, who bombed Europe.

Considering the ratio of lives lost to the total population, after Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany, Hungary lost the most lives.  According to one source, approximate Hungarian losses amounted to 350,000 soldiers, 60,000-100,000 civilians, and 400,000 Jews.

After the war, the relationship between the Allies – the United Sates and the Soviet Union – fell apart, and the long Cold War began.

Karolina Tima Szabo is a retired Systems Analyst of the Connecticut Post newspaper and  Webmaster of Magyar News Online.  She is the proud grandmother of two.



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