Ferenc Szálasi was the leader and all-powerful head of the fascist Arrow Cross movement, the regime that came to power in Hungary with the armed assistance of the Nazi Germany on October 15-16, 1944. After that date, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews was in his hands. During his brief rule, Szálasi’s men murdered 10,000–15,000 Jews.
Szálasi’s Government of National Unity turned the Kingdom of Hungary into a client state of Nazi Germany formed on 16 October 1944 after RegentMiklós Horthy was removed from power during Operation Panzerfaust (Unternehmen Eisenfaust).
The Hungarian parliament approved the formation of a Council of Regency of three. On 4 November, Szálasi was sworn as Leader of the Nation He formed a government of sixteen ministers, half of which were members of the Arrow Cross Party. While the Horthy regency had come to an end, the Hungarian monarchy was not abolished by the Szálasi regime, as government newspapers kept referring to the country as the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság, also abbreviated as m.kir.), although Magyarország (Hungary) was frequently used as an alternative.
Szálasi’s hatred of the Jews was a pillar of his Weltanschauung. He seriously believed in the theory of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. In June 1943, he declared that the Jews, de facto and de jure, ruled the word: “Plutocracy, freemasonry, the liberal democracy, parliamentarism, and the Marxism are all but instruments in the hands of Jews so that they can hang onto their power and control over the world”. Firmly believing himself to be a good Christian and a Catholic, Szálasi argued that anti-Semitism was taught in the Bible itself. Unlike Hitler or Alfred Reosenberg, Szalasi was merely an anti-Semite. He knew no inferior and superior races; he merely hated the Jews.
On 19 November 1944, Szálasi was in the Hungarian capital when Soviet and Romanian forces began encircling Budapest. By the time the city was encircled he was gone. The “Leader of the Nation” (Nemzetvezető) fled to Szombathely on 9 December. By March 1945, Szálasi was in Vienna. Later, he fled to Munich.
The Arrow Cross Party’s cabinet, which had fled Hungary, was dissolved on 7 May 1945, a day before Germany’s surrender. Szálasi was captured by American troops in Mattsee on 6 May and returned to Hungary on 3 October. He was tried by the People’s Tribunal in Budapest in open sessions began in February 1946, and sentenced to death for war crimes and high treason. Szálasi was hanged on 12 March 1946 in Budapest, along with two of his former ministers, Gábor Vajna, Károly Beregfy and the party ideologist József Gera. Some photographs of the execution are on display in the Holocaust Room of the Budapest Jewish Museum.
On 13 March 1946, the day after Szálasi’s death, The National Council of People’s Tribunals discussed the convicted politicians’ plea for mercy and recommended its refusal to Justice Minister István Ries, when Szálasi and his ministers were already executed. Ries forwarded the decision to President Zoltán Tildy, who subsequently approved the death sentence and execution on 15 March 1946.