Károlyi Mihály at the Helm
Although he was one of the largest landowners in the country, he advocated the breakup of large estates, and was the first (and only one) to distribute his holdings to the landless poor, which explains why there is a Károlyi Park in Fairfield, CT (as described in our very first issue of June-July 2007).
Károlyi’s other political aims included universal suffrage, the autonomy of nationalities, and a maximum of freedom in joint Austro-Hungarian institutions.
As described by Denis Sinor in his History of Hungary, ”None of Károlyi’s more distant aims was harmful or dishonest. But they were at that time inopportune and, in any case, he was the last man able to realize them. Weak and changeable, he lacked the true qualities of a leader...” (p. 283)
After Hungary was declared a People’s Republic, he was elected President by acclamation on January 11th, 1919, and he was described by Sinor as ”by then hardly more than a figure-head” (ibid.) The army having been foolishly disbanded, all he could do was to watch helplessly as the various nationalities sent their well-orgazined troops to invade Hungary. Here is a brief run-down:
After the November 3rd, 1918 ceasefire, the Serbs occupied Szerém County (in the South, between the Danube and the Száva Rivers), as well as Slavonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia on November 7th, and the city of Újvidék on the 9th.
On November 8th, Czech troops entered the Nagyszombat region of Upper Hungary.
On December 2nd, Romania began its occupation of Transylvania, and entered Kolozsvár on December 24th . All this was in violation of the Padua armistice agreement and of their own peace treaty with Hungary. When the Hungarians complained to the French ”guardian” of the armistice, Gen. Franchet D’Esperay, he said ”he did not ’give a damn’ about the armistice, and that ’Hungary would have to pay and atone’” (Stephen Sisa, The Spirit of Hungary, p. 221)
On December 3rd, the leader of the Entente’s Budapest Military Mission demanded that Hungary empty and withdraw from the Felvidék (Upper Hungary) and hand it over to the Czechoslovak republic that was going to be created. On December 26th and 29th, the Czech army marched into Eperjes and Kassa (Upper Hungary).
On December 25th, troops of the Serbian-Croatian-Slavonian Kingdom occupied the Muraköz area (between the Dráva and Mura Rivers in southwestern Hungary).
On December 30th, the French army of the Balkans occupied Szeged and drew a cordon in the Bánság between the Romanian Yugoslav armies.
As the original terms of the armistice were continually broken, they kept being redrafted. Hungarian protests were rudely brushed off, and even President Wilson’s objections were ignored. Károlyi was a dreamer and not a practical politician, and when the Entente Powers made even more demands, he resigned on March 21st, 1919, relinquishing his power, as stated by Sisa, ”to the social democrats and communists”, represented by a group of People’s Commissars.
Other foreign demands
On November 17th, 1918, the newly formed Austrian republic entered its claim to annex 5,800 square kilometers of Western Hungary (see MNO, June 2018 issue).
On February 6th, 1919, representatives of Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia sent a joint memorandum to the Paris Peace Conference, containing their demands of Hungarian territory, and objecting to the plebiscite proposed by Hungary.
Only the Ruthenian (southeastern Hungary) national assembly declared, on March 15th, 1919, that it did not want to be joined to the Czechs, but to belong to Hungary.
The First Hungarian Soviet Republic
With the resignation of Károlyi began the 133 days of Kun Béla’s ”dictatorship of the proletariat”. According to Oxford Professor C.A. Macartney, ”Kun turned the entire peasantry against him by announcing that the land was not to be distributed, but nationalized. He set the urban population, including the industrial workers, against him in innumerable ways, and inaugurated a red terror under the vile Szamuely” (quoted in Sisa, op. cit., p. 222).
In a speech at Győr (April 20th, 1919) Szamuely said ”Power must be utilized; the working class must totally suppress, annihilate, exterminate the bourgeoisie in the bud ...Now it will be necessary to spill blood... Blood will make us powerful, it will lead us to the real Communist world... Whoever raises a fist against the proletariat signs his own death sentence.” (Szamuely’s speech at Győr, April 20, 1919, quoted in Győri szalon)
According to Anthony Endrey’s Hungarian History, ”An armoured (sic) train, manned by ’Lenin Boys’ ... roamed the countryside, executing thousands of defenceless (sic) civilians, many of them small tradesmen and peasants, for alleged ’crimes agains the people” (p. 342). Any dissatisfaction with the Red regime, ”whether real or imaginary”, was ”pitilessly smothered in blood”, according to Professor Dominic Kosáry, in A History of Hungary. Although there were only a few thousand Communists in Hungary at the time, ”the power of Bolshevism, however, rested on its methods and not on the number of its followers” (p.389).
As Prof. Dominic Kosáry describes it in A History of Hungary, ”32 of the 45 ’people’s commissars’ were Jews, and these most sanguinary... In other high positions, their proportion was just as great, a fact which made anti-Semitism very strong and general. A great part of the assimilated Jewry however preserved its loyalty to the country, some of them falling victims to the Terror. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Hungary might more aptly be called the revolt of a mob composed of unassimilated, foreign, chiefly Galician elements” (pp. 388-389).
Kun’s purpose was not to preserve Hungary, but to prepare a revolution involving all of Central Europe. He organized a Red army. The Romanians used that as an excuse to advance as far as the Tisza. But Kun used the army to drive out the Czechs from northern Hungary, and stopped only on direct orders from French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. He next wanted to turn against the Romanians, but his own officers were unwilling to fight for the Communist ideal.
When the farmers had almost starved out Budapest, Kun’s stronghold, he handed over the government to the Socialists on July 31st, 1919. The days of the Red Terror finally came to an end.
Almost immediately, the Romanians occupied Budapest. In the course of one month, they took to Romania 1,302 locomotives and 34,160 railroad cars, cleared out the patients from from military hospitals, gutted the Central Sanitary Depot, dismantled telephones even in private residences. According to American General Harry H. Bandholtz of the Inter-Allied Military Mission in Budapest, the Romanians ”proceeded to clean the country out of private automobiles, farm implements, cattle, horses, clothing, sugar, coal, salt and, in fact, everything of value” (quoted from his book, An Undiplomatic Diary).
It was thanks to the energetic action of General Bandholtz that the permanent exhibits of the Hungarian National Museum were saved from looting, as the Romanian trucks intended to carry away those cultural items were already lined up in front of the Museum.
Through his own investigation, he came to the conclusion that ”not a single Hungarian complaint has been exaggerated” (Kosáry, p. 393) In a telegram the General sent to the Supreme Council, he quoted reports by the British Food Commission and representatives of the American Red Cross: ”(I)n all towns occupied by Rumanians (sic) we found an oppression so great as to make life unbearable. Murder is common; youths and women are flogged, imprisoned without trial, and arrested without reason, theft of personal property under the name of requisition...” (ibid., p. 394)
Estimated damage caused by the Romanian occupation was estimated at 3 billion gold korona, ”without counting indirect losses due to Romanian encroachments”.
The Supreme Council finally ordered the Romanians to leave Hungary, which they did on November 14th, 1919. Two days later, Horthy Miklós entered Budapest at the head of the national army. He was elected Regent on March 1st, 1920.
Reports differ about the aftermath. Quoting from Denis Sinor: ”The fall of the Communist regime was followed by a brief period of complete chaos, with ephemeral governments, negotiations with allied generals, and acts of savage terrorism. These, known as the ’White Terror’, were committed in most cases as simple acts of individual vengeance, and it would be futile to argue whether they were worse or not than the excesses of the Communist regime. They were strongly tainted by anti-Semitism. The strong proportion of Jews in the Communist venture (for example thirty-two of the forty-five Commissars) provides a partial explanation....” (p. 284).
Kosáry quotes an American Colonel Horowitz, who was Jewish himself, and a member of the American Committee on Army Organization, who had personally visited western Hungary. He declared that Horthy’s army ”had done everything within reason to prevent any such persecutions”. He added that ”as to there being a real White Terror, there was nothing of the kind.” (p. 395)
According to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ”altogether 587 people were murdered by the Red Terror groups ... White Terror’s victims numbered 1,000-1,200 people.”
And after all this came, what in Hungarian we call ”a fekete leves” (the ”black soup”) – the dictated Treaty of Trianon!