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Hungary, officially the Kingdom of Hungary (Hungarian: Magyar Királyság) was a sovereign state in Central Europe, established in 1920 after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. It is a landlocked country situated in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe, sharing borders with Nazi Germany to the west and north, Romania to the east and Croatia and the Military Administration in Serbia to the south. Hungary is a member of the Anti-Comintern Pact, and one of the closest allies of Nazi Germany.
It was a de facto regency state under Regent Miklós Horthy officially representing the abdicated Hungarian monarchy. Attempts by Charles IV King of Hungary to return to the throne were prevented by threats of war from neighbouring countries, and by lack of support from Horthy. Hungary participated in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in October 1938 on the side of Nazi Germany, and following the conquest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Hungary annexed the territories of Slovakia and Carpatho Ruthenia. In 1941 they demanded the concession of Transylvanian territory from Romania. German Führer Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime helped Hungary receive significant portions of Transylvania while avoiding a war with Romania. However, Hitler demanded that the Hungarian government follow Germany’s military and racial agenda in order to avoid potential conflict in the future. Anti-Semitism was already an established political cause by the far-right in Hungary and the Hungarian government aided Nazi Germany in the deportation of Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Hungary joined Germany, Italy and Bulgaria in their invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. Hungary was allowed to annex the Bačka (Bácska) region in Vojvodina with Hungarian relative majority, as well as the regions of Prekmurje and Medjimurje that had a large Slovenian and Croatian majority respectively. Other ambitions such as those on Croatia were halted by the creation of the Independent State of Croatia and Nazi Germany’s alliance with Romania against the Soviet Union. In 1942 the Hungarians participated in the Invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) as part of the Anti-Comintern Pact's invasion force. The participating units totalled the third largest contingent, only behind Nazi Germany and Romania.
Following a Celtic (after c. 450 BC) and a Roman (9 BC - c. 4th century) period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late Ninth Century by the Magyar chieftain Árpád, whose great grandson István ascended to the throne with a crown sent from Rome in 1000. The Kingdom of Hungary existed with minor interruptions for 946 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centers of the Western world.
In First World War Austria-Hungary was fighting on the side of Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. With great difficulty, the Central Powers, as they were called, conquered Serbia and Romania but could not make significant progress against Italy. By 1918, the economic situation had deteriorated, uprisings in the army had become commonplace, and Entente troops had landed in Greece. In October 1918, the personal union with Austria was dissolved.
In 1918, as a result of defeat in World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy collapsed. On October 31, 1918, the success of the Aster Revolution in Budapest brought the liberal count Mihály Károlyi to power as Prime-Minister. By February 1919 the government had lost all popular support, having failed on domestic and military fronts. On March 21, after the Entente military representative demanded more territorial concessions from Hungary, Károlyi resigned. The Communist Party of Hungary, led by Béla Kun, came to power and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
Still, the popular support of the Communists proved to be short lived. In the aftermath of a coup attempt, the government took a series of actions called the Red Terror, murdering several hundred people, which alienated much of the population. Although it did not lose any battles, the Hungarian Red Army gave up land under pressure from the Entente. In the face of domestic backlash and an advancing Romanian force, Béla Kun and most of his comrades fled to Austria, while Budapest was occupied on August 6.
Formation of the Kingdom
All these events, and in particular the final military defeat, led to a deep feeling of dislike among the general population against the Soviet Union (which had not kept its promise to offer military assistance) and the Jews (since many members of Kun's government were Jewish, making it easy to blame the Jews for the government's mistakes). The new fighting force in Hungary were the Conservative counter-revolutionaries – the "Whites". These, who had been organizing in Vienna and established a counter-government in Szeged, assumed power, led by István Bethlen, a Transylvanian aristocrat, and Miklós Horthy, the former commander in chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Starting in Western Hungary and spreading throughout the country, a White Terror began by other half-regular and half-militarist detachments (as the police power crashed, there were no serious national regular forces and authorities), and many Communists and other leftists were executed without trial. Radical Whites launched pogroms against the Jews, displayed as the cause of all the difficulties of Hungary. The leaving Romanian army pillaged the country: livestock, machinery and agricultural products were carried to Romania in hundreds of freight cars. The estimated property damage of their activity was so much that the international peace conference in 1919 did not require Hungary to pay war redemption to Romania. On November 16, with the consent of Romanian forces, Horthy's army marched into Budapest. His government gradually restored security, stopped terror, and set up authorities, but thousands of sympathizers of the Károlyi and Kun regimes were imprisoned. Radical political movements were suppressed. In March, the parliament restored the Hungarian monarchy but postponed electing a king until civil disorder had subsided. Instead, Miklos Horthy was elected Regent and was empowered, among other things, to appoint Hungary's Prime Minister, veto legislation, convene or dissolve the parliament, and command the armed forces.
Hungary's signing of the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920, ratified the country's dismemberment. The territorial provisions of the treaty, which ensured continued discord between Hungary and its neighbors, required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war lands, along ethnic lines. However, nearly one-third of the 10 million ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside the diminished homeland. The country's ethnic composition was left almost homogeneous, Hungarians constituting about 90% of the population, Germans made up about 6%, and Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Jews and Gypsies accounted for the remainder. New international borders separated Hungary's industrial base from its sources of raw materials and its former markets for agricultural and industrial products. Hungary lost 84% of its timber resources, 43% of its arable land, and 83% of its iron ore. Because most of the country's pre-war industry was concentrated near Budapest, Hungary retained about 51% of its industrial population, 56% of its industry, 82% of its heavy industry, and 70% of its banks. Horthy appointed Count Pál Teleki as Prime Minister in July 1920. His right-wing government issued a numerus clausus law, limiting admission of "political insecure elements" (these were often Jews) to universities and, in order to quiet rural discontent, took initial steps toward fulfilling a promise of major land reform by dividing about 3,850 km² from the largest estates into smallholdings. Teleki's government resigned, however, after, Charles IV, unsuccessfully attempted to retake Hungary's throne in March 1921. King Charles's return produced split parties between conservatives who favored a Habsburg restoration and nationalist right-wing radicals who supported election of a Hungarian king. Count István Bethlen, a non-affiliated right-wing member of the parliament, took advantage of this rift forming a new Party of Unity under his leadership. Horthy then appointed Bethlen prime minister. Charles IV died soon after he failed a second time to reclaim the throne in October 1921.
The first ten years of the reinstated kingdom saw increased repression of Hungarian minorities. Limits on the number of Jews permitted to go to university were placed, corporal punishment was legalized. Under the leadership of Prime Minister István Bethlen, democracy dissipated as Bethelen manipulated elections in rural areas which allowed his political party, the Party of Unity to win repeated elections. Bethlen pushed for the revision of the Treaty of Trianon. After the collapse of the Hungarian economy from 1929 to 1931, national turmoil pushed Bethlen to resign as Prime Minister.
Social conditions in the kingdom did not improve as time passed, with extremely small percentages of the population controlling much of the country’s wealth. Jews were continually pressured to assimilate into Hungarian mainstream culture.
The desperate situation forced Regent Horthy to accept far-right politician Gyula Gömbös to become Prime Minister on the condition that he pledged to retain the existing political system. Gömbös agreed to abandon his extreme anti-Semitism and allow some Jews into the government.
In power, Gömbös pursued moving Hungary into being a one-party government like that of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. However pressure by Nazi Germany for extreme anti-Semitism forced Gömbös out and afterwards Hungary pursued intense anti-Semitism with its “Jewish Laws”. Initially, laws were passed limiting the number of Jews to 20 percent in a number of professions. Later Jews were scapegoated for the country’s failing economy and were deported to concentration camps.
Economy of Hungary
The land losses of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 caused Hungary to lose agricultural and industrial areas making it dependent on exporting what agricultural land it had left to maintain its economy.
The situation worsened after the Stock Market Crash in 1929, when grain prices fell drastically. Farmers in Hungary were forced to return to subsistence farming to survive. Unemployment increased rapidly and living standards dropped as pay cuts and job cuts were administered.
From the mid-1930s to the 1940s, with relations improved with Germany, Hungary’s economy benefited from trade with Germany, though the Hungarian economy became dependent on the German economy to sustain itself.
Foreign policy of Hungary
Initially, despite a move back towards nationalism, the new state under Regent Horthy agreed to ending the chance for further immediate conflicts and signed the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920. Trianon reduced Hungary’s size substantially from its size in Austria-Hungary. Transylvania was taken by Romania; Slovakia became part of Czechoslovakia; Croatia, Slavonia, and Vojvodina joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia after 1929).
With the succession of increasingly nationalist and far-right Prime Ministers, Hungary steadily moved to opposing the Treaty of Trianon and established ties with the dictatorships of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Relations with Germany
Of the countries bordering the ČSR, Hungary had particular interests in parts of their territory. For years they had wanted a revision of the Treaty of Trianon, which included the unification of the Hungarian-populated parts of the ČSR, if not the whole of Slovakia, with Hungary.
But the attitude of its neighbours decisively influenced Hungary's attitudes towards an action against the ČSR. The ČSR, Yugoslavia and Romania formed the "Little Entente" in 1920 and 1921, an alliance with the purpose of common defense against Hungarian irredentism and the prevention of a Habsburg restoration. France supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country. Even in peacetime status the superiority of the Yugoslav army with 148,000 men in 16 divisions and the Romanian army with 225000 men in 24 divisions oppressive, although the Hungarian army in the summer of 1938 had achieved a peace strength of 85,000 men.
One could not exclude that an Hungarian aggression against ČSR would enable the contracts of the "Little Entente" and would lead the two countries into war against Hungary. Since 1937 Hungary had wished at least to reach the level of neutrality of Yugoslavia, for then to waiver of a border revision and thus be entitled to the Hungarian minorities living there. But for this Yugoslavia was not ready.
The first contacts for joint operations against the ČSR arose during the visit of Göring to the Hungarian Regent Horthy and Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös de Jákfa in Budapest in June 1935. A few days later the Hungarian Chief of the General Staff, General Somkuthy, visited the German War Minister von Blomberg and the Chief of the Staff Ludwig Beck. Even then the continuation of the discussion between the interests of Hungary's revision of its neighbors and Germany's economic interests with the same states were clear. And so the Hungarians Blomberg recommended waiving revisions, only Hungary was an action against the ČSR. Amazingly the Hungarian General described Czechoslovakia, the most well-equipped and well-trained nation of the "Little Entente", as "our most vulnerable enemy." Despite intensive Hungarian wishes they came no closer to a agreement on German-Hungarian military cooperation. However the OKH included in the 1936 war games that Hungary would participate in an attack on ČSR with a strength of 12 brigades and two cavalry divisions.
In September 1937, War Minister v. Blomberg took up discussions with the Hungarian Minister of Defence during his visit of the German Autumn Manouevres about the prospects of their common war goals against ČSR. The following spring the Hungarian envoy v. Stojay said that these talks were "somewhat dull." Ribbentrop knew the intentions of Hitler and behaved cautiously. On March 31 the Hungarian envoy asked the the Foreign Office, when "the general staff meetings for possible joint actions" against the ČSR would begin. Although the Germans wanted not to be specific on the matter, Göring recommended in early June the Hungarian envoy for Hungary's early participation in a war between Germany and the ČSR. The chief of OKW Gen. D. Art Keitel, who visited Budapest on June 14, would clarify things further.
When the Chief of the Yugoslav General Staff in the spring of 1938 met with his with his Czechoslovak colleagues in Brno, the Hungarian Chief of General Staff v. Rácz saw this as proof of the effectiveness of the alliance between the two countries. And in early May, the heads of operational departments of the "Little Entente" gathered to discuss possible reactions against Hungary. The Yugoslavs did not wish to enter a conflict against Germany, because they expected that Italy would enter the war on the side of Germany. On August 23 a conference between the "Little Entente" and Hungary took place in the Yugoslav town of Bled. Here Hungary and the "Little Entente" (including the ČSR) aknowledged each other's armed forces and renounced the use of armed force on the condition that the questions of each ethnic minorities would be satisfactorily resolved. Hungary were very demanding towards Czechoslovakia. The result of the conference in Bled had unsettled the German Foreign Office there. Such a stance would make Hungary neutralize against ČSR, and they meant that "a relaxation in favor of Czechoslovakia would be undesirable for us (Germany)."
At the same time the Hungarian Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy visited Berlin and Kiel. There were several partial parallel meetings. In an interview with Hitler Horthy presented the idea of "restoring the old Hungary in a big war in a few years with the help of German troops". Hitler was not interested, saying "that neither wishes nor claims (of Hungary)," and "whether it wants to participate (in the action against ČSR) or not lies with them." Finally Horthy concluded that Hungary would be prepared to intervene two weeks after a war had begun - provided by the unrealistic condition that the powers of the "Little Entente" were not active and prepared to intervene in the conflict on the side of Czechoslovakia.
However, despite the discussions between Horthy and Hitler, the Hungarian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister remained cautious. They were unsure whether Yugoslavia would remain neutral in case of Hungarian aggression against Czechoslovakia, and they knew the Hungarian rearmament program needed at least a period of 1-2 years to prepare for war. Therefore the Hungarian General Staff returned to discussions over the military readiness and the military stockpiles of the armed forces. In meetings between the German and Hungarian ministers there was no clarity about the timing of a Hungarian intervention in a German-Czech conflict.
The talks requested by the General Staff were finally initiated on 6 September between the new Chief of the General Staff Halder and the Hungarian General Staff. Halder was doing at the express wish of Hitler no hints about the timing of the action. The attitude to win allies was strange, and the Hungarians were not better than Mussolini, who claimed they were not ready for a major European war. No wonder that Jodl already two days later noted that Hungary was "was at least in a good mood." In any event, the Hungarians were on the Reich Party Congress in "a angry mood, ...because the previous talks in Berlin had ended with no results."
When the Hungarian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visited Hitler again on September 20, Hitler criticized Hungary for their "indecisive attitude." The Hungarians then mobilised between 200,000 and 350,000 ill-trained and ill-equipped men on the Slovak and Ruthenian borders, ready to invade Czechoslovakia in case of war between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Their relations improeved when Hungary began their military operations against Czechoslovakia on October 20, 1938.
Relations with Romania
See also Hungarian-Romanian War
Hungary benefited from its close ties with Germany and was allowed to annex parts of former Slovak territories and Carpatho-Ukraine from Czechoslovakia.
The Hungarians mobilised between 200,000 and 350,000 ill-trained and ill-equipped men on the Slovak and Ruthenian borders, ready to invade Czechoslovakia in case of war between Germany and Czechoslovakia. After Munich, the Hungarians had remained poised threateningly on the Slovak border. The Hungarians had in total mobilised 21 brigades. In the north of the country they had dispositioned the 1st Corps northwest of Budapest, the 2nd Corps northeast of Budapest and the 3rd Corps Moskolc in space. The 6th Corps, positioned around Debrecen, opposed Romania and the 5th Corps north of Szeged.