The execution of Ferenc Szalasi

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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The “Blood for Goods” deal

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On April 25, 1944, in his office at the Hotel Majestic in Budapest, Eichmann met with Joel Brand, a leading member of the Jewish Relief and Rescue Committee. Brand had already attended previous meetings with Eichmann and other SS officers in an attempt to bribe them to allow a number of Jews out of Hungary. Now Eichmann said to Brand, “I am prepared to sell one million Jews to you.

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The Nazis chose Joel Brand, a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee of Budapest (also known as the Va’ada) to assist them in negotiations with world Jewish leaders and the Allied governments. Also chosen to manage negotiations with the Allies was Andor Grosz, a minor intelligence agent and employee of both the Va’ada and the SS at different times. Grosz was supposed to lead a different set of discussions: A separate German truce with the Western allies. Brand was a decoy to distract the allies from Grosz’s more important mission.

Brand was approached in April 1944 by Adolf Eichmann, the German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in charge of the deportations.

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Eichmann proposed that Brand broker a deal between the SS and the United States or Britain, in which the Nazis would exchange one million Jews for 10,000 trucks for the Eastern front and large quantities of tea and other goods. It was the most ambitious of a series of such deals between Nazi and Jewish leaders. Eichmann called it “Blut gegen Waren” (“blood for goods”)

The offer was not seriously considered because the Allies believed it to be a trick and did not want to negotiate with the Nazis. The British press stirred up opposition to the proposal, calling the “monstrous offer” to exchange goods for Jews blackmail.

Several considerations factored into the decision of the Allies to dismiss the deal: Soviet opposition of the idea; British hesitancy to absorb that number of Jewish immigrants should the Nazis really permit them to emigrate; and the continuation of the Final Solution in Hungary.

After the Allies learned of the plan, Grosz was arrested and unable to complete his assignment. Brand left for Palestine but was arrested on June 5, 1944. Still under arrest, the British allowed him to speak with Moshe Shertok (Sharett) five days later, then head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department about the deal, and Shertok tried to promote support for it.

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After his meeting with Shertok in June, Brand was imprisoned in Cairo until October and then allowed into Palestine. For a long time he believed that the Allies were at fault for not allowing the exchange to take place, but toward the end of his life he decided that Himmler’s true intentions were to distract the Allies, and in the meantime, create a Nazi-western coalition against Moscow.

The Violent Water Polo Match

Water polo is not really known to be a violent sport .However today 60 years ago during the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games a Water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Unions nearly resembled a world was 2 sea battle.

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The “Blood in the Water” match was a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The match took place on 6 December 1956 against the background of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and saw Hungary defeat the USSR 4–0. The name was coined after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor emerged during the last two minutes with blood pouring from above his eye after being punched by Soviet player Valentin Prokopov

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In the morning before the start, the Hungarians had created a strategy to taunt the Russians, whose language they had studied in school. In the words of Ervin Zádor: “We had decided to try and make the Russians angry to distract them.”

From the beginning, kicks and punches were exchanged. At one point, a punch thrown by Hungarian captain Dezső Gyarmati was caught on film.Meanwhile, Zádor scored two goals to the crowd’s cheers of Hajrá Magyarok! (“Go Hungarians!”).

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By the final minutes of the match, Hungary was leading 4–0. Zádor was marking Valentin Prokopov, with whom he had already exchanged words. Prokopov struck him, causing a bleeding gash. Zádor left the pool and his bleeding was the final straw for a crowd already in frenzy. Many angry spectators jumped onto the concourse beside the water, shook their fists, shouted abuse and spat at the Russians.To avoid a riot, police entered the arena and shepherded the crowd away. One minute of the match remained.

Pictures of Zádor’s injuries were published around the world, leading to the “Blood in the Water” moniker. Reports that the water in the pool turned red were, however, an exaggeration. Zádor said his only thought was whether he would be able to play the next match.

Hungary was declared the winner since they had been leading and then beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final to win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Zádor’s injury would force him to miss the match. After the event was completed, he and some of his team-mates sought asylum in the West, rather than returning to live in a Hungary under a firmly pro-Soviet regimE

Arrow Cross Party

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It wasn’t only the Germans and Austrians who had Nazi parties. The Italians had the PNF, the Dutch had the NSB and even the UK and US had Nazi parties or equivalent to it.

The Hungarians had “the Arrow Cross Party” or “Nyilaskeresztes Párt – Hungarista Mozgalom”

The Arrow Cross Party was a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which led a government in Hungary known as the Government of National Unity from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945.

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During its short rule, ten to fifteen thousand civilians (many of whom were Jews, or Romani) were murdered outright, and 80,000 people were deported from Hungary to various camps in Austria. After the war, Szálasi and other Arrow Cross leaders were tried as war criminals by Hungarian courts.

The party’s ideology was similar to that of German National Socialism, although a more accurate comparison might be drawn between Austrofascism and Hungarian turanist fascism which was called Hungarism by Ferenc Szálasi – extreme nationalism, the promotion of agriculture, anti-capitalism, anticommunism and militant anti-Semitism. The party and its leader were originally anti-German, so it was a long and very difficult process for Hitler to compromise with Szálasi and his party. The Arrow Cross Party conceived Jews in racial as well as religious terms. Thus, although the Arrow Cross Party was certainly far more racist than the Horthy regime, it was still very different from the German Nazi Party.

With financial and moral support from Nazi Germany, the Arrow Cross won 16.2% of the votes in the 1939 elections. From 1941 it lost many of its supporters and in August 1944 was dissolved along with all other parties. However, it continued secretly, under German guidance, to prepare a coup d’état against the government of Admiral Horthy.

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The roots of Arrow Cross influence can be traced to the outburst of anti-Jewish feeling that followed the Communist putsch and brief rule in Hungary in the spring and summer of 1919. Some Communist leaders, like Tibor Szamuely, came from Jewish families, or like Béla Kun, its leader, who had a Jewish father and a Protestant Swabian mother, were considered to be Jews, and the failed and murderous policies of the Hungarian Soviet Republic came to be associated in the minds of many Hungarians with a ‘Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy’

 

After the communist regime was crushed in August 1919, conservatives under the leadership of Admiral Miklós Horthy took control of the nation. Many Hungarian military officers took part in the counter-reprisals known as the White Terror – some of that violence was directed at Jews, simply because they were Jewish.Although the White Guard was officially suppressed, many of its most prevalent members went underground and formed the core membership of a spreading nationalist and anti-Jewish movement.

During the 1930s, the Arrow Cross gradually began to dominate Budapest’s working class district, defeating the Social Democrats. It should be noted, however, that the Social Democrats did not really contest elections effectively; they had to make a pact with the conservative Horthy regime in order to prevent the abolition of their party.

The Arrow Cross subscribed to the Nazi ideology of “master races”which, in Szálasi’s view, included the Hungarians and Germans, and also supported the concept of an order based on the power of the strongest – what Szálasi called a “brutally realistic étatism”. But its espousal of territorial claims under the banner of a “Greater Hungary” and Hungarian values (which Szálasi labelled “Hungarizmus” or “Hungarianism”) clashed with Nazi ambitions in central Europe, delaying by several years Hitler’s endorsement of that party.

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The German Foreign Office instead endorsed the pro-German Hungarian National Socialist Party, which had some support among German minorities. Before World War II, the Arrow Cross were not proponents of the racial antisemitism of the Nazis, but utilized traditional stereotypes and prejudices to gain votes among voters both in Budapest and the countryside. Nonetheless the constant bickering among these diverse fascist groups prevented the Arrow Cross Party from gaining even more support and power.

The Arrow Cross obtained most of its support from a disparate coalition of military officers, soldiers, nationalists and agricultural workers. It was only one of a number of similar openly fascist factions in Hungary but was by far the most prominent, having developed an effective system of recruitment. When it contested the May 1939 elections – the only ones in which it participated – the party won 15% of the vote and 29 seats in the Hungarian Parliament. This was only a superficially impressive result; the majority of Hungarians were not permitted to vote. It did, however, become one of the most powerful parties in Hungary. But the Horthy leadership banned the Arrow Cross on the outbreak of World War II, forcing it to operate underground.

In 1944, the Arrow Cross Party’s fortunes were abruptly reversed after Hitler lost patience with the reluctance of Horthy and his moderate prime minister, Miklós Kállay, to toe the Nazi line fully.

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In March 1944, the Germans invaded and officially occupied Hungary; Kállay fled and was replaced by the Nazi proxy, Döme Sztójay. One of Sztójay’s first acts was to legalize the Arrow Cross.

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During the spring and summer of 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were herded into centralized ghettos and then deported from the Hungarian countryside to death camps by the Nazis, with the willing help of the Hungarian Interior Ministry and its gendarmerie (the csendőrség), both of whose members had close links to the Arrow Cross. The Jews of Budapest were concentrated into so-called Yellow Star Houses, approximately 2,000 single-building mini-ghettos identified by a yellow Star of David over the entrance.

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In August 1944, before deportations from Budapest began, Horthy used what influence he had to stop the deportations and force the radical antisemites out of the government. As the summer progressed, and the Allied and Soviet armies closed in on central Europe, the ability of the Nazis to devote themselves to Hungary’s “Jewish Solution” waned.

In October 1944, Horthy negotiated a cease-fire with the Soviets and ordered Hungarian troops to lay down their arms. In response, Nazi Germany launched Operation Panzerfaust, a covert operation which forced Horthy to abdicate in favour of Szálasi, after which he was taken into “protective custody” in Germany. This merely rubber-stamped an Arrow Cross takeover of Budapest on the same day. Szálasi was declared “Leader of the Nation” and prime minister of a “Government of National Unity”.

Soviet and Romanian forces were already fighting in Hungary even before Szálasi’s takeover, and by the time the Arrow Cross took power the Red Army was already far inside the country. As a result, its jurisdiction was effectively limited to an ever-narrowing band of territory in central Hungary, around Budapest. Nonetheless, the Arrow Cross rule, short-lived as it was, was brutal. In fewer than three months, death squads killed as many as 38,000 Hungarians. Arrow Cross officers helped Adolf Eichmann re-activate the deportation proceedings from which the Jews of Budapest had thus far been spared, sending some 80,000 Jews out of the city on slave labor details and many more straight to death camps. Many Jewish males of conscription age were already serving as slave labor for the Hungarian Army’s Forced Labor Battalions.

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Most of them died, including many who were murdered outright after the end of the fighting as they were returning home. Quickly formed battalions raided the Yellow Star Houses and combed the streets, hunting down Jews claimed to be partisans and saboteurs since Jews attacked Arrow Cross squads at least six to eight times with gunfire.These approximately 200 Jews were taken to the bridges crossing the Danube, where they were shot and their bodies borne away by the waters of the river because many were attached to weights while they were handcuffed to each other in pairs.

Red Army troops reached the outskirts of the city in December 1944, and the siege action known as the Battle of Budapest began, although it has often been claimed that there is no proof that the Arrow Cross members and the Germans conspired to destroy the Budapest ghetto. Days before he fled the city, Arrow Cross Interior Minister Gabor Vájna commanded that streets and squares named for Jews be renamed.

As control of the city’s institutions began to decay, the Arrow Cross trained their guns on the most helpless possible targets: patients in the beds of the city’s two Jewish hospitals on Maros Street and Bethlen Square, and residents in the Jewish poorhouse on Alma Road.

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As order collapsed, Arrow Cross members continually sought to raid the ghettos and Jewish concentration buildings; the majority of Budapest’s Jews were saved only by fearless and heroic efforts on the part of a handful of Jewish leaders and foreign diplomats, most famously the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Angelo Rotta, Swiss Consul Carl Lutz, Spanish Consul Ángel Sanz Briz and Giorgio Perlasca.Szálasi knew that the documents used by these diplomats to save Jews were invalid according to international law, but he allowed them to use those papers.

Charles Ardai, an American entrepreneur, novelist and book publisher, recounted in an Oct. 2008 National Public Radio interview an episode recalled by his mother, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary. Her family and other Budapest Jews were preparing to flee before the approach of Arrow Cross killers. They pleaded with two young boys who were family relatives to go with them, but they refused because their parents had told them to wait for them at home. As a result, the Arrow Cross men discovered the boys and killed them.

The atrocities committed during the Arrow Cross rule, especially the mass murders of Jewish citizens, are depicted at length in György Konrad’s largely autobiographical novel Feast in the Garden (1989).

The Arrow Cross government effectively fell at the end of January 1945, when the Soviet Army took Pest and the fascist forces retreated across the Danube to Buda. Szálasi had escaped from Budapest on December 11, 1944,taking with him the Hungarian royal crown, while Arrow Cross members and German forces continued to fight a rear-guard action in the far west of Hungary until the end of the war in April 1945.

After the war, many of the Arrow Cross leaders were captured and tried for war crimes. In the first months of postwar adjudication, no fewer than 6,200 indictments for murder were served against Arrow Cross men. Some Arrow Cross officials, including Szálasi himself, were executed.

A memorial created by Gyula Pauer, Hungarian sculptor, and Can Togay in 2005 on the bank of the river Danube in Budapest recalls the events when the Budapest Jews who were shot by Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945. The victims were lined up and shot into the river. They had to take their shoes off, since shoes were valuable belongings at the time.

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In 2006, a former high-ranking member of the Arrow Cross Party named Lajos Polgár was found to be living in Melbourne, Australia.He was accused of war crimes, but the case was later dropped and Polgár died of natural causes in July of that year.

The ideology of the Arrow Cross has resurfaced to some extent in recent years, with the neofascist Hungarian Welfare Association prominent in reviving Szálasi’s “Hungarizmus” through its monthly magazine, Magyartudat (“Hungarian Awareness“). But “Hungarism” is very much a fringe element of modern Hungarian politics, and the Hungarian Welfare Association has since dissolved