There are only a few people in Hungarian history who provoke such antagonistic feelings as Governor Miklós Horthy, who led Hungary between 1919 and 1944. Some say that he was a hero who saved Hungary while others state that he was a dictator who created an authoritarian regime and drove the country into a catastrophic situation.
And why do I write all this today? Because today is the 100th anniversary that Admiral Miklós Horthy led his troops into Budapest and took control over the remains of Hungary. After WWI, in Hungary, a democratic regime came into power led by Mihály Károlyi, but they could not deal with the many problems caused by the lost war, the economic crisis, the Romanian, Serbian, and Czech attack, and those groups who openly declared to destroy democracy and create the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, after the successful coup d’etat of March 21st, the Communists took control, but their horrific rule was crushed by the
Romanian troops that even captured Budapest.
At this point in Hungarian history, even the existence of the country was in danger, but in the end, the Great Powers decided not to eradicate Hungary from the map of Europe.
The last admiral of the Austro-Hungarian fleet, Miklós Horthy, was at this time in Siófok. The British found the man who can stabilise the situation in Hungary in him since he was the only one who had more or less organised armed forces. As a result, he could march into Budapest with his National Army on November 16th, 1919.
Some units of the National Army began to kill mostly Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews already before occupying Budapest. But after November 16th, their activities got stronger.
Many say that Horthy was responsible for those killings
while others state that the National Army was not so well-organised, so different units could act freely, and the moment Horthy got information about the massacres, he stopped them.
Anyway, those who are in favour of the former governor say that the Peace Treaty of Trianon in 1920 and the economic crisis of the first half of the 1920s would have ruined Hungary without Horthy. There is no doubt that Horthy re-established order, but at the same time, he did not fulfil essential reforms in agriculture (land distribution), social affairs, or economy, according to the other side. For sure, the political-economic-social system he created in 1920 remained mostly unchanged until 1944, which was bad and unjust for the millions of poor.
Some say that Horthy was a war criminal
because he joined WWII on the side of Germany instead of remaining neutral. Therefore, he is responsible for the hundreds of thousands who died in the war. However, in this regard, it should be taken into consideration that Hungary lost 1/3rd of its population. Therefore, no government could say no when there seemed to be a chance for reunification.
Unfortunately, the only chance was offered by Germany and Italy. So, as a result, Hungary became dependent on these countries. Even so, when the German attack began against the Soviet Union, Hungary tried to remain neutral. However, after, alleged Soviet planes bombed Kassa and attacked a Hungarian train, Horthy decided to join the war.
In 1920, the so-called Numerus Clausus law formally placed limits on the number of minority students at university and legalised corporal punishment. Though the text did not use the term Jew, it was nearly the only group overrepresented in Hungarian higher education at the time. Many say that this law was
the first Anti-Jewish Act of 20th-century Europe,
but to be frank, it was not applied too strictly. Furthermore, until 1944 – despite three anti-Jewish laws accepted after 1938 -, Jews found a safe haven in Hungary. The deportation and mass execution of them started only after German forces occupied Hungary.
However, Horthy remained in his office even after the occupation. He said in his memoirs that it was because he felt responsible for the fate of his people and wanted to help. For example,
he could stop the deportation of Jews from Budapest
in the summer of 1944. But others say that thanks to his decision, he legitimised governments established by the German occupation forces, so he should have resigned the day the Wehrmacht entered the country.
Furthermore, many say that he should have arranged the Hungarian jump-out of WWII better. But the truth is that
German spies were almost everywhere
in the country, so a secret operation was almost impossible. Germans regarded Horthy as a traitor, so they took him and his family to Germany. Meanwhile, his younger son became a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp.
All in all, disputes about Miklós Horthy will probably never end, like in the case of János Kádár, leader of the Hungarian Communist regime between 1956 and 1989, or Mihály Károlyi, PM and president of Hungary after WWI.