Miklós Horthy

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The native form of this personal name is nagybányai Horthy Miklós. This article uses the Western name order.
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya

In office
1 March 1920 – 15 October 1944
Preceded by Károly Huszár
Succeeded by Ferenc Szálasi

Born 18 June 1868(1868-06-18)
Kenderes, Austria-Hungary
Died 9 February 1957 (aged 88)
Estoril, Portugal
Political party None
Spouse(s) Magdolna Purgly de Jószáshely
Religion Calvinist

Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya (Vitéz[1], English: Nicholas Horthy; German: Nikolaus Horthy Ritter von Nagybánya) (18 June 1868 – 9 February 1957) was the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1 March 1920 to 15 October 1944. Horthy was styled "His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary".

Horthy was an officer of the Austro-Hungarian Navy rising to full Admiral by the end of 1918. He led the warships into the Battle of the Otranto Straits in 1917, and was its Commander-in-chief in the last year of the First World War.

Hungarian communists under the Jewish Bolshevik Béla Kun seized power in Hungary in 1919 and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic, commencing Hungary's Red Terror. A counter-revolutionary government was then formed which asked Horthy to take command of its forces, those army units which had survived WWI. In late 1918, Romanian anti-communist forces invaded Hungary and Kun's government fled. The Romanians evacuated Budapest in November 1919 when Horthy entered at the head of the still loyal Royal Hungarian Army. The Hungarian Communist Party was banned, and in 1920 Horthy was invited by Parliament to be the Regent (in place of the absent King) and Head of State, a position he held until his deposition in October 1944. When the legitimate King of Hungary, Karl IV, attempted to return to Hungary in order to regain his throne, on two occasions, the Western Allies threatened Horthy that they would recommence hostilites, and Czecho-Slovakia and Yugoslavia also mobilised.

A land-owning conservative, he successfully guided Hungary through the years between the two world wars. He negotiated with Germany for their support as guarantors in the recovery of certain of the Hungarian provinces seized from them by the Treaty of Trianon and awarded to Romania.

In April 1941, Hungary entered World War II on the Eastern Front as an ally of Germany, Finland, and Romania. As these allied forces were relentlessly driven back by the Soviet Union Horthy realised that Hungary needed to leave the war. Upon hearing this Germany felt obliged to occupy the country during Operation Margarethe in March 1944 to try and halt the Red Army's advance. However, Horthy remained in situ. By October he felt he had to act and announced that Hungary would withdraw from the war and all allegiances which she had entered regarding it. He was placed under arrest, forced to resign, and taken to Bavaria by German Special Forces. At the end of the war he found himself in the custody of U.S.A. troops.

After being forced to appear as a witness at the Nuremberg show trials, in 1948 Horthy settled and lived out his remaining years in Portugal. His memoirs, Ein Leben für Ungarn (A Life for Hungary), were published in German in 1953, and an English translation appeared three years later.

Early life and naval career

Naval officer Miklós Horthy during World War I with various war decorations, among them the Iron Cross First Class. In WWII he would receive the clasps to the Iron Cross and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 10 September 1940. He was also awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle in Gold with Star (awarded only sixteen times).

Miklós Horthy was born at Kenderes, into an old Calvinist noble family. Horthy entered the Austro-Hungarian naval academy at Fiume at age 14.[2] The naval academy's official language was German. As a result, for the rest of his life Horthy spoke Hungarian with a slight, but noticeable German accent. He was also fluent in Serbo-Croat, French and Italian.

As a young man, Horthy traveled around the world and served as a diplomat for Austria-Hungary in Turkey and other countries. From 1911 until 1914 he was a naval aide-de-camp to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria,[3] for whom he had a great respect.

At the beginning of the war Horthy was commanding the battleship S.M.S.Habsburg. In 1915 he earned a reputation for boldness while commanding the new light cruiser S.M.S. Novara. He planned and executed the 1917 attack on the Otranto Barrage, which resulted in the largest naval engagement (as opposed to bombardments) of the war in the Adriatic; although Austro-Hungarian warships emerged from the battle relatively unscathed, Horthy was wounded by shrapnel. After the February 1918 Cattaro mutiny, the Emperor Karl selected Horthy as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Fleet. In June, Horthy planned another attack on Otranto, this time with more powerful warships, and in a departure from the cautious "fleet-in-being" strategy of his predecessors, he committed the empire's dreadnought battleships to the mission. While sailing through the night, the dreadnought S.M.S. Szent István was by chance sighted by an Italian MAS torpedo boat, which fired its two torpedoes at the battleship. Despite major efforts to save it, and tow it to port, after several hours it eventually sank, causing Horthy to abort the mission. He managed however to preserve the rest of the empire's fleet until he was ordered by Emperor Karl to hand it over to the new fledgling State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on October 31st (to avoid it being given to the Italians).[3]

The end of the war saw a massively reduced Hungary turned into a landlocked nation under the Treaty of Trianon, and hence the new government had little need for Horthy's services. He retired with his family to his private estate at Kenderes, but his role as a Hungarian leader was far from over.

Dates of rank and assignments

The SMS Novara after the 1917 battle of Otranto. A major steam pipe was severed in the battle.
The wounded Horthy, who commanded the fleet at Otranto, rests on deck.

Interwar period, 1919–1939

Communist terror

During the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, the Heroes Square of Budapest was completely covered by red textiles and at the basement of the obelisk a new statue was erected: Karl Marx with a worker and a peasant. The statues of Hungarian national heroes were toppled by the communists.[4] The Hungarian national symbols were banned and many Hungarian historic monuments were destroyed in the name of internationalism.

Two national traumas immediately following the First World War profoundly shaped the spirit and future of the Hungarian nation. The first was the loss, as dictated by the Western plutocratic Allies of huge portions of Hungarian territory that had bordered other countries. These were lands which had been Hungary for centuries and also as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They ceded to the nations of Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and a tiny bit to Austria. The excisions were ratified in the Treaty of Trianon at Versailles and cost Hungary two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its native Hungarian speakers, and dealt the population a terrible psychological blow. The second trauma in some sense sprang from the first: in March 1919, after the first proto-democratic efforts at government in Hungary faltered, Communist Béla Kun seized power in the capital, Budapest.[5]

Kun and his colleagues proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic, and promised the restoration of Hungary's former grandeur. Instead, his efforts at reconquest failed, and Hungarians were treated to a Soviet-style repression in the form of armed gangs who intimidated or murdered all suspected enemies of the regime. This period of violence came to be known as the Red Terror. Tibor Szamuely, a close collaborator of Bela Kun, even boasted that, "Terror is the principal weapon of our regime." Figures vary, but one generally accepted number of victims of the Red Terror is around 500 killed.[6] Within weeks of his coup, Kun's popularity plummeted.


On 30 May 1919, anti-Communist politicians formed a counter-revolutionary government in the southern city of Szeged, occupied by French forces at the time. There, Gyula Károlyi invited Admiral Horthy, still considered a war hero, to be the Minister of War in the new government and take command of a counter-revolutionary force which would be named the National Army. Horthy consented, and arrived in Szeged on 6 June. Soon after, because of orders from the Western Allies, the cabinet was reformed, and Horthy was excluded. Undaunted, he managed to retain control of the National Army by detaching the Army command from the War Ministry.

On 6 August French-supported Romanian forces entered Budapest. The Communist government collapsed and its leaders fled. In retaliation for the Red Terror, reactionary bands now exacted revenge in a two-year wave of violent repression called by the Bolsheviks propaganda as the White Terror. These reprisals – which were far below the Red Terror in scope and cruelty – were organized and carried out by officers of Horthy's National Army.[7] Their victims were primarily Communists, Social Democrats and Jews. Most Hungarian Jews were supporters of, or at least not hostile to the Bolsheviks, and much of the leadership of the Hungarian Soviet regime had been Jewish intellectuals and criminals, and anger about the Communist revolution easily translated into anti-Semitic hostility.<ref.name="Patai, Raphael pp. 468-469"/>

One of the leaders of the anti-communist reprisals, Prónay, reported that Horthy:

...reproached me for the many Jewish corpses found in the various parts of the country, especially in the Transdanubia. This, he emphasized, gave the foreign press extra ammunition against us. He told me that we should stop harassing small Jews; instead, we should kill some big (Kun government) Jews such as Somogyi or Vazsonyi – these people deserve punishment much more… in vain, I tried to convince him that the liberal papers would be against us anyway, and it did not matter that we killed only one Jew or we killed them all...[8]

Horthy's liability for Prónays actions is in fact difficult to measure. On several occasions, Horthy reached out to stop Prónay from a particularly excessive burst of activities. And the Jews of Pest went on record absolving Horthy of the White actions as early as the fall of 1919, when they released a statement disavowing the Béla Kun revolution, and blaming the terror on a few units within the National Army. Horthy has never been found to have personally engaged in White actions. But his American unofficial biographer, Thomas Sakmyster, concluded that he "tacitly supported the right wing officer detachments" who carried out the actions.[9] The admiral also had practical reasons for turning a blind eye to the actions his officers wrought: he needed the dedicated White Guard officers to stabilize and reclaim Hungary. Nevertheless, it was at least another year before the activity died down. In the summer of 1920, Horthy’s government took measures to rein in and eventually disperse the reactionary battalions. Prónay managed to undermine these anti-White Guard measures, but only for a short time.[7] Pronay was put on trial for extorting a wealthy Jewish politician, and for “insulting the President of the Parliament” by trying to cover up the extortion. Found guilty on both charges, Prónay was now a liability and an embarrassment. His command was revoked, and he was denounced as a common criminal on the floor of the Hungarian parliament.[7]

After serving short jail sentences, Prónay tried to convince Horthy to restore his battalion command. The Prónay Battalion lingered for a few months more under the command of a junior officer, but the government officially dissolved the unit in January 1922 and expelled its members from the army.[7] Prónay entered politics as a member of the government's right-wing opposition. In the 1930s, he sought and failed to emulate the National Socialists by generating a Hungarian fascist mass movement. In 1932, he was charged with incitement, sentenced to six months in prison and stripped of his rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Prónay would later support the pro-National Socialist Arrow Cross and lead attacks on Bolshevik Jews before being killed by Soviet troops sometime during or after the siege of Budapest.[7]

Precisely how much Horthy knew or approved of the White actions is not known. Horthy himself declined to apologize for the actions of his officer detachments, writing later: "I have no reason to gloss over deeds of injustice and atrocities committed when an iron broom alone could sweep the country clean."[10] And he endorsed Edgar von Schmidt-Pauli's poetic justification of the White reprisals ("Hell let loose on earth cannot be subdued by the beating of angels' wings") remarking, "the Communists in Hungary, willing disciples of the Russian Bolshviks, had indeed let hell loose."[10]

This deep hostility and fear of Communism would be the more lasting legacy of Kun's abortive revolution: a conviction shared by Horthy and his country's ruling elites.

Admiral Horthy enters Budapest at the head of the National Army on 16 November 1919. He is greeted by city officials in front of the Gellert Hotel.

The Romanian army retreated from Budapest on 14 November (finally evacuating Hungary on 25 February 1920) leaving Horthy to enter the city, where in a fiery speech he accused the capital's citizens of betraying Hungary by supporting Bolshevism.

... The nation of the Hungarians loved and admired Budapest, which became its polluter in the last years. Here, on the banks of the Danube, I arraign her. This city has disowned her thousand years of tradition, she has dragged the Crown of St. Stephen and the national colours in the dust, she has clothed herself in red rags. The finest of the nation she threw into dungeons or drove into exile. She laid in ruin our property and wasted our wealth. Yet the nearer we approached to this city, the more rapidly did the ice in our hearts melt. We are now ready to forgive her."[11]

The Regent

Horthy in Budapest, August 1931

On 1 March 1920, the National Assembly of Hungary re-established the Kingdom of Hungary, but chose not to recall King Charles IV (Karoly IV of Hungary) from exile as the return of the Habsburgs to the Hungarian throne was unacceptable to the Allies of World War I. Instead, Parliament voted to install Horthy as Regent for the absent monarch; he defeated Count Albert Apponyi by a vote of 131 to 7.

Bishop Ottokár Prohászka then led a small delegation to meet Horthy, announcing, “Hungary’s Parliament has elected you Regent! Would it please you to accept the office of Regent of Hungary?” To their astonishment, Horthy declined unless his powers were expanded. As Horthy stalled, the politicians folded, and granted him "the general prerogatives of the King, with the exception of the right to name titles of nobility and of the patronage of the Church."[10] Those prerogatives included the power to appoint and dismiss Prime Ministers, to convene and dissolve Parliament, and to command the armed forces. With those sweeping powers guaranteed, Horthy took the oath of office.[12]

Among 20th-century heads of state, Horthy’s role was unique. His official position is usually translated into English as “Regent,” but is better translated from Hungarian as "Royal Governor" or "Protector." The Hungarian State was legally a kingdom, but it had no resident king. Horthy was a constitutional figurehead, but he was by no means a toothless one.[13] He reigned, but for the most part did not rule; he personally wrote no laws, but had the veto, as well as a powerful influence over his country’s destiny by means of his constitutional powers, his prestige and the loyalty of his ministers to the Crown. His regal bearing, military reputation and devotion to Hungary lent him Royal authority as the country edged out of its Imperial past towards a modern democracy.

A Hungarian joke sums it up: for the next 24 years, Hungary would be a kingdom without a king, ruled by an admiral without a fleet, in a country without a coastline.

Stabilisation of the country

Miklós Horthy with King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy in Rome on 25 November 1936, during a military parade in via dell'Impero
Regent Miklós Horthy greets papal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli upon his arrival for a Catholic congress in Budapest in 1938. Later, as Pope Pius XII, Pacelli would support the deposed regent in his Bavarian exile.

The first decade of Horthy’s reign was primarily consumed by stabilizing the Hungarian political system and economy. Horthy’s chief partner in these efforts was his prime minister, István Bethlen.

Bethlen sought to stabilize the economy while building alliances with weaker nations which could advance Hungary’s cause. That cause was, primarily, reversing the losses of the Treaty of Trianon. The humiliations of Trianon continued to occupy the central place in Hungarian foreign policy, and in the popular imagination; the indignant anti-Trianon slogan “Nem, nem soha!” (“No, no never!”) became a ubiquitous motto of Hungarian outrage. When in 1927 the British newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere denounced, in the pages of his Daily Mail, the partitions ratified at Trianon, an official letter of gratitude was eagerly signed by 1.2 million Hungarians.[10]

But Hungary’s stability was precarious, and the Great Depression derailed much of Bethlen’s economic balance. Horthy replaced him with an old reactionary confederate from his Szeged days: Gyula Gömbös. Gömbös was an outspoken anti-Semite and a budding national socialist. And although he agreed to Horthy’s demands that he temper his anti-Jewish rhetoric and work amicably with Hungary’s large Jewish professional class, Gömbös’s tenure began swinging Hungary’s political mood powerfully rightward. He strengthened Hungary’s ties to Benito Mussolini’s Italian fascist state. And most fatefully, when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, he found in Gömbös a friendly colleague.

Gömbös rescued the failing economy by securing trade guarantees from Germany – a strategy which positioned Germany as Hungary’s primary trading partner and tied Hungary’s future even more tightly to Hitler’s. He also assured Hitler that Hungary would quickly become a one-party state modeled on the National Socialist party control of Germany. Gömbös died in 1936, before he realized his goals, but he left his nation headed into firm partnership with the German leader.


Horthy wrote to twenty-three heads of state in October 1932, on the possibilities of joining forces against the Soviet Union, which he described as "a dangerous purulent abscess on the body of mankind". In his letter he said that "for fifteen years Soviet Russia has been conducting a war of extermination", clear evidence that European leaders knew the full nature of Bolshevism.[14]

World War II and the so called Holocaust

Uneasy Alliance

Admiral Miklós Horthy with Adolf Hitler during a State visit to Germany. The two men sparred often, and eventually Hitler arranged Horthy's overthrow.

Hungary now entered into an intricate dance of influence with Hitler's regime, and Horthy began to play a greater and more public role in navigating Hungary along this dangerous path.

German and Hungarian flags on the old Chancellery in Berlin during Horthy's State visit.

For Horthy, Hitler served as a bulwark against Soviet encroachment or invasion. Horthy was, in the eyes of observers, obsessed with the Communist threat. One American diplomat remarked that Horthy's anti-Communist tirades were so common and ferocious that diplomats "discounted it as a phobia."[15]

Horthy clearly saw his country as trapped between two stronger powers, both of them dangerous; evidently he considered Hitler to be the more manageable of the two. Hitler was also able to wield great influence over Hungary not only as the country’s major trading partner; he also fed several of Horthy’s key ambitions: Maintaining Hungarian sovereignty and satisfying the nationwide will to reclaim former Hungarian lands (revanchism). Horthy’s strategy was one of cautious, sometimes even grudging, alliance. How the Regent granted or resisted Hitler's demands, especially with regard to Hungarian military action and the treatment of Hungary's Jews, remains the central topic by which his career has been judged.

Horthy's relationship with Hitler was, by his own account, a tense one – largely due, he said, to his unwillingness to bend his nation's policies to the German dictator's desires. On a state visit by Horthy to Germany in August 1938, Hitler asked Horthy for troops and materiel to participate in Germany's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia. In exchange, Horthy later reported, "He gave me to understand that as a reward we should be allowed to keep the territory we had invaded."[10] Horthy said he declined, insisting to Hitler that Hungary's claims on the disputed lands should be settled by peaceful means.

Three months later, after the Munich Agreement, Hitler agreed to Hungary's annexing nearly one-fourth of Slovakia. Horthy enthusiastically rode his famous white horse into the recovered territories (which were predominantly populated by Hungarians about 88%) at the head of his troops, greeted emotionally by ethnic Hungarians: "As I passed along the roads, people embraced one another, fell upon their knees, and wept with joy because liberation had come to them at last, without war, without bloodshed."[10].

Hungary was now committed to the Axis agenda: on 24 February 1939, it joined the Anti-Comintern pact, and on 11 April withdrew from the League of Nations. Hungary seemed to move closer to a client state of National Socialist Germany[16].

The First Vienna Award (Treaty) separated largely Magyar populated territories in southern Slovakia and southern Czecho-Slovakia and returned them to Hungary, who thus regained some of the territories taken from them in the Treaty of Trianon after World War I. In 1934 there were 691,923 Magyars (Hungarians), and 549,169 Ruthenians, Russians, and Jews in these areas (includes Carpathian Ruthenia). In March 1939, following the agreed cession of the Sudetenland and then Slovakia's declaration of independence from Czecho-Slovakia, Germany annexed the rump of the former Czechoslovakian State, according to them by agreement with the Czech Government. Hungary was allowed to recover Carpathian Ruthenia from the new Slovakian State. During this invasion, minor conflicts occurred between Ruthenian groups and the Hungarian military before it was secured. In August 1940, Germany intervened on Hungary's behalf once again, removing Northern Transylvania from Romania, and awarding it back to Hungary under the Second Vienna Award.

Despite their cooperation with Germany, Horthy and his government would be better described as "conservative authoritarian" than "fascist". Certainly Horthy was as hostile to the home-grown fascist and ultra-nationalist movements which emerged in Hungary between the wars (particularly the Arrow Cross Party) as he was to Communism. The Arrow Cross leader, Ferenc Szálasi, was repeatedly imprisoned at Horthy's command.

John F. Montgomery, who served in Budapest as U.S. ambassador from 1933 to 1941, openly admired this side of Horthy’s character and reported the following incident in his memoir: in March 1939, Arrow Cross supporters disrupted a performance at Budapest's Hungarian State Opera House by chanting “Justice for Szálasi!” loud enough for the Regent, who was present, to hear. A fight broke out, and when Montgomery went to take a closer look, he discovered that

...two or three men were on the floor and he [Horthy] had another by the throat, slapping his face and shouting what I learned afterward was: "So you would betray your country, would you?" The Regent was alone, but he had the situation in hand.... The whole incident was typical not only of the Regent's deep hatred of alien doctrine, but of the kind of man he is. Although he was around seventy two years of age, it did not occur to him to ask for help; he went right ahead like a skipper with a mutiny on his hands.[17]

And yet, by the time of this episode, Horthy failed to interfere with his government giving in to National Socialist demands that the Hungarians enact laws restricting the lives of the country's Jews similar to Germany and Poland. The first Hungarian anti-Jewish Law, in 1938, limited the number of Jews in the professions, the government and commerce to twenty percent, and the second reduced it to five percent the following year; 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their jobs as a result. A "Third Jewish Law" of August 1941 prohibited Jews from marrying non-Jews, and defined anyone having two Jewish grandparents as "racially Jewish." A Jewish man who had non-marital sex with a "decent non-Jewish woman resident in Hungary" could be sentenced to three years in prison.[18]

Horthy's personal views on Jews and their role in Hungarian society are the subject of some debate. In an October 1940 letter to Prime Minister Pál Teleki, Horthy echoed a widespread popular national sentiment: that Jews enjoyed too much success in commerce, the professions, and industry – success which needed to be curtailed:

As regards the Jewish problem, I have been an anti-Semite throughout my life. I have never had contact with Jews. I have considered it intolerable that here in Hungary everything, every factory, bank, large fortune, business, theater, press, commerce, etc. should be in Jewish hands, and that the Jew should be the image reflected of Hungary, especially abroad. Since, however, one of the most important tasks of the government is to raise the standard of living, i.e., we have to acquire wealth, it is impossible, in a year or two, to eliminate the Jews, who have everything in their hands, and to replace them with incompetent, unworthy, mostly big-mouthed elements, for we should become bankrupt. This requires a generation at least.[19]

Nevertheless, as the war years progressed, Horthy proved to be more protective of Hungary's Jews than many of his political colleagues, and much more so than his political rivals. In this light, his note that he was an "anti-Semite" may have been an effort to give himself political cover against the attacks from the more anti-semitic elements of Hungarian politics.


The Kingdom of Hungary was gradually drawn into the war itself. In 1939 and 1940, volunteer units fought in Finland's Winter War. In April 1941, Hungary became, in effect, a member of the Axis. Hungary permitted Germany to transit troops across Hungarian territory for the unplanned and unexpected invasion of Yugoslavia, and ultimately also sent in its own troops to recover lands stolen from Hungary in Trianon.

In June 1941, the Hungarian government finally yielded to Germany's request that the nation contribute further to the Axis war effort. On 27 June, Hungary became part of Operation Barbarossa and declared war on the Soviet Union. Eighteen months later, more poorly equipped and less motivated than their German allies, the 200,000 troops of the Hungarian Second Army ended up holding the front on the river Don west of Stalingrad.[20]

The first deportation of Jewish people from Hungarian territory is said to have taken place in August 1941, when government officials ordered the deportation of Jews without Hungarian citizenship (principally refugees from other National Socialist-occupied countries).

By early 1942, Horthy was already seeking to put some distance between himself and Germany. In March, he dismissed the new pro-German Prime Minister László Bárdossy, and replaced him with Miklós Kállay, a Jew-friendly politician whom Horthy expected to loosen Hungary's ties to Germany.[21]

In September 1942, personal tragedy struck the Hungarian Regent. 37-year-old István Horthy, Horthy's eldest son, was killed. István was the Deputy Regent of Hungary and a Flight Lieutenant in the reserve 1/1 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Hungarian Air Force. He was killed when his Hawk (Héja) fighter crashed at an air field near Ilovskoye.

Then, in January 1943, Hungary's enthusiasm for the war effort, never especially high, suffered a tremendous blow. The Soviet army, in the full momentum of its triumphant turnaround after the Battle of Stalingrad, broke through Romanian troops at a bend in the river Don and virtually obliterated the Second Hungarian Army in a few days' fighting. In this single action, Hungarian combat fatalities jumped by 80,000. Jew and non-Jew suffered together in this defeat, as Hungary's troops were accompanied by an estimated 40,000 Jews and political undesirables in forced-labor units.[22]

Germany blamed Hungary's Jews for the nation's "defeatist attitude". In the wake of the Don Bend disaster, Hitler demanded at an April 1943 meeting that Horthy take sterner measures against the Jews still living in Hungary[23]. Horthy's government supplied 10,000 Jewish deportees for labor battalions, but otherwise failed to comply. Cautiously, the Hungarian government now began to explore contacts with the Western Allies in hopes of negotiating a surrender.[24]


Main article: Operation Margarethe

By 1944, the Axis was losing the war, and the Red Army stood at Hungary's borders. Fearing that the Soviets would overrun the country, Kállay, with Horthy's approval, put out numerous feelers to the Western Allies, even going as far as to promise to surrender unconditionally to them once they reached Hungarian territory. This didn't sit well with Hitler, and he summoned Horthy to a conference in Klessheim (today in Austria). He pressured Horthy to make greater contributions to the war effort, and again commanded him to deal more harshly with Hungary's Jews. Horthy conceded that Germany could deport a large number of Jewish laborers (the generally accepted figure is 100,000) to German factories, but refused to give further ground.[25]

The conference was a ruse. As Horthy was returning home on 19 March the Wehrmacht invaded and occupied Hungary. Horthy was told he could only stay in office if he fired Kállay and appointed a new government that would fully cooperate with Hitler and his plenipotentiary in Budapest, Edmund Veesenmayer. Knowing the alternative was a Gauleiter who would treat Hungary in the same manner as the other countries under National Socialist occupation, Horthy acquiesced and appointed his ambassador to Germany, General Döme Sztójay, as prime minister. The Germans originally wanted Imrédy, but Horthy had enough influence to get Veesenmayer to accept Sztójay instead. Contrary to Horthy's hopes, Sztójay's government eagerly proceeded to participate in the war.

The chief agents of this collaboration were Andor Jaross, the Minister of the Interior, and his two rabidly anti-Semitic state secretaries, László Endre and László Baky (later to be known as the "Deportation Trio"). On 9 April, Prime Minister Sztójay and the Germans obligated Hungary to place 300,000 Jewish laborers at the disposal of the Reich. Five days later, on 14 April Endre, Baky, and SS Colonel Adolf Eichmann began to deport all Hungarian Jews. The Yellow Star and Ghettoization laws, and deportation were accomplished in less than 8 weeks with the help of the new Hungarian government and the authorities, particularly the gendarmerie (csendőrség). The deportation of Hungarian speaking Jews to Auschwitz began on 15 May 1944 and continued at a rate of 12,000 a day until 9 July.reference required

Just before the deportations began, two Slovakian Jewish prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz and passed allegiations of what was happening inside the camps to officials in Slovakia. This document, known as the Vrba-Wetzler Report, was quickly translated into German and passed among Jewish groups and then to Allied officials. Details from the report were broadcast by the BBC on 15 June and printed in The New York Times on 20 June.[26] World leaders, including Pope Pius XII (25 June), President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 26 June, and King Gustaf V of Sweden on 30 June,[27] subsequently pleaded with Horthy to use his influence to stop the deportations. Roosevelt specifically threatened military retaliation if the transports were not ceased. On 2 July, Allied bombers executed the heaviest bombings inflicted on Hungary during the war. Hungarian radio accused Jews of guiding the bombers to their targets with radio transmissions and light signals, but on 7 July Horthy at last ordered the transports halted.[28] By that time, 437,000 Jews had been sent to Auschwitz, most of them to their deaths.[26] Horthy was informed about the number of the deported Jews some days later: "approximately 400,000".[29] By many estimates, one of every three people murdered at Auschwitz was a Hungarian Jew killed between May and July 1944.[30]

There remains some uncertainty over how much Horthy could have known about the number of Hungarian Jews being deported, their destination, and their intended fate – and when he knew it as well as what he could have done about it. Some historians have argued that Horthy believed that the Jews were being sent to the camps to work, and that they would be returned to Hungary after the war.[29] Horthy himself could not have been clearer in his memoirs: "Not before August," he wrote, "did secret information reach me of the horrible truth about the extermination camps."[10] But the Vrba-Wetzler statement is believed to have been passed to Hungarian Zionist Rudolf Kasztner no later than 28 April 1944, and according to Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, Kasztner passed it on to contacts who gave it to both Horthy's son and daughter-in-law by mid-May, when the deportations were about to begin.[31]

It is often argued that Hungary's "relatively mild" anti-Jewish Laws, which were passed under German pressure, appeased the National Socialists enough to create a relatively safe environment for the Jews before the 1944 German invasion.[32] It seems certain that the survival of 124,000[33] Hungarian Jews in Budapest until the arrival of the Soviets would have been impossible without Horthy’s years of foot-dragging reluctance to implement German orders.[34][Need quotation to verify] On 15 July 1944 Anne McCormick, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times wrote in defense of Hungary as the last refuge of Jews in Europe, declaring that “as long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews.”[35]

Deposition and arrest

In August 1944, Germany was worried by its failing war effort, and Romania withdrew from the Axis. In Budapest, Horthy moved to reconsolidate his influence. He ousted Sztójay and the other National Socialist-friendly ministers installed in the Spring, replacing them with a new government under Géza Lakatos. He then began considering strategies for surrendering to the Allied force he deeply distrusted: the Red Army. As bitterly anti-Communist as Horthy was, his dealings with the National Socialists led him to falsely conclude that the Communists were the lesser evil.

Working through his trustworthy General Béla Miklós, who was in contact with Soviet forces in eastern Hungary, Regent Horthy sought to surrender to the Soviets while preserving Hungarian independence. The Soviets willingly promised this, and on October 11th Horthy and the Soviets finally agreed to surrender terms. On October 15th, Horthy told his government ministers that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. "It is clear today that Germany has lost the war.... Hungary has accordingly concluded a preliminary armistice with Russia, and will cease all hostilities against her."[36] Horthy "…informed a representative of the German Reich that we were about to conclude a military armistice with our former enemies and to cease all hostilities against them."[10]

Germany had anticipated Horthy's move. After Horthy announced the armistice in a nationwide radio address, Hitler initiated Operation Panzerfaust (Unternehmen „Panzerfaust“), sending commando Otto Skorzeny to Budapest with instructions to remove Horthy from power. Horthy's son Miklós Horthy, Jr., was meeting with Soviet representatives to finalize the surrender when Skorzeny and his troops forced their way into the meeting and kidnapped the younger Horthy at gunpoint. Trussed up in a carpet, Miklós Jr. was immediately driven to the airport and flown to Germany to serve as a hostage. Skorzeny then brazenly led a convoy of German troops and four Tiger II tanks to the Vienna Gates of Castle Hill, where the Hungarians had been ordered not to resist. Though one unit had not received the order, the Germans quickly captured Castle Hill with minimal bloodshed: only seven soldiers were killed and twenty-six wounded.[36]

Horthy was captured by Veesenmayer and his staff and taken to the Waffen SS office, where he was held overnight. With his son's life in the balance, the Regent consented to sign a document officially abdicating his office and naming Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the fascist Arrow Cross, as his successor. He later explained his capitulation: "I neither resigned nor appointed Szálasi Premier. I merely exchanged my signature for my son’s life. A signature wrung from a man at machine-gun point can have little legality."[10]

Horthy met Skorzeny three days later at Pfeffer-Wildenbruch's apartment and was told he would be transported to Germany in his own special train. Skorzeny told Horthy that he would be a "guest-of-honor" in a secure Bavarian castle. On October 17th, Horthy was personally escorted by Skorzeny into captivity[36] at Schloss Hirschberg in Bavaria, where he was closely guarded, but allowed to live in comfort.[10]

By December 1944, Budapest was under siege by Soviet forces. The Arrow Cross leadership retreated across the Danube into the hills above Buda in late January, and by February the city had surrendered to the Soviet forces.

Horthy remained under house arrest in Bavaria until the war in Europe ended. On 29 April, his SS guards moved on to avoid the Allied advance. On 1 May 1945, Horthy was arrested by elements of the U.S. 7th Army.[10]

Post-war life

Horthy writing his memoirs.

After his arrest, Horthy was moved between a variety of detention locations before finally arriving at the prison facility at Nuremberg in late September 1945. There he was asked to provide evidence to the International Military Tribunal in preparation for the trial of the National Socialist leadership. Although he was interviewed repeatedly about his contacts with some of the defendants, he did not testify in person. In Nuremberg he was reunited with his son, Miklos.

Horthy went out of his way to record in his memoirs every indignity suffered at American hands, but gradually he came to believe that his arrest had been arranged and choreographed by the Americans in order to protect him from Communist retributive urges. Indeed, the former regent reported being told that Josip Tito, the new ruler of Yugoslavia, asked that Horthy be charged with complicity with the 1942 massacre of Serbian and Jewish civilians by Hungarian troops in the Bačka region of Vojvodina.[10] Serbian historian Zvonimir Golubović has claimed that Horthy was aware of these raids, and approved their being carried out.[37] But American trial officials declined to present charges against Horthy, a kindness that may have been the result of the influence in Washington of Horthy's admirer, the former ambassador John Montgomery.

According to the memoirs of Ferenc Nagy, who served for a year as prime minister in post-war Hungary, the Hungarian Communist leadership was also interested in extraditing Horthy for trial. Nagy said that Joseph Stalin was more forgiving: that Stalin told Nagy during a diplomatic meeting in April 1945, not to judge Horthy, because he was old and had offered armistice in 1944.[38]

On 17 December 1945, Horthy was released from Nuremberg prison and allowed to rejoin his family in the German town of Weilheim, in Bavaria. The Horthys lived there for four years, supported financially Pope Pius XII, whom he knew personally.

In March 1948, Horthy returned to testify at the Ministries Show Trials, the last of the twelve U.S.A.-run Nuremberg Trials; he testified against Edmund Veesenmayer, the National Socialist administrator who had controlled Hungary during the deportations to Auschwitz in the Spring of 1944.[10] Veesenmayer was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but was released in 1951.

For Horthy, returning to Hungary was impossible; it was now firmly in the hands of a Soviet Union's puppet Communist government. In an extraordinary twist of fate, the chief of Hungary's post-war Communist apparatus was Mátyás Rákosi, one of Béla Kun's colleagues from the ill-fated Communist coup of 1919. Kun had been executed during Stalin's purges of the late 1930s, but Rákosi had survived in a Hungarian prison cell; in 1940 Horthy had permitted Rákosi to emigrate to the Soviet Union in exchange for a series of highly-symbolic Hungarian battle-flags from the 19th century, which were in Russian hands. Thus, after allying his nation with Germany in part to keep Communism at bay, Horthy had to watch helplessly from abroad as Moscow installed one of the 1919 revolutionaries to run Hungary.

In 1949, the Horthy family secured permission to emigrate to Portugal, thanks to Miklós Jr.’s contacts with Portuguese diplomats in Switzerland. Horthy and members of his family were relocated to the seaside town of Estoril. A small group of wealthy Hungarians banded together to support the Horthy family's life in exile. According to Horthy's daughter-in-law, this group included Jewish industrialist Ferenc Chorin and lawyer László Pathy, also Jewish, who had negotiated their exile from Hungary with the SS.[39]

In exile, Horthy wrote his memoirs, Ein Leben für Ungarn (English: A Life for Hungary), published under the name of Nikolaus von Horthy, in which he narrated many personal experiences from his youth until the end of World War II. He claimed that he had distrusted Hitler for much of the time he knew him and tried to perform the best actions and appoint the best officials in his country. He also highlighted Hungary's alleged mistreatment by many other countries since the end of World War I. Horthy was one of the few Axis heads of state to survive the war, and thus to write post-war memoirs.

He never lost his hatred for Communism, and in his memoirs he blamed Hungary's alliance with the Axis on the threat posed by the "Asiatic barbarians" of the Soviet Union. He railed against the influence that the Allies' victory had given to Stalin's totalitarian state. "I feel no urge to say 'I told you so'," Horthy wrote, "nor to express bitterness at the experiences that have been forced upon me. Rather, I feel wonder and amazement at the vagaries of humanity."[10]


Horthy died in 1957 at Estoril, Portugal. In 1993 his body was returned to his hometown in Hungary and interred in the family's crypt. Tens of thousands of people, including several members of the Hungarian Government Cabinet, turned out in a show of admiration for him.


Horthy was married once, to Magdolna Purgly de Jószáshely. He had two sons, Miklós Horthy, Jr. (often rendered in English as "Nicholas" or "Nikolaus") and István Horthy, who served as his political assistants; and two daughters, Magda and Paula. Of his four children, only Miklós outlived him.

According to footnotes in his memoirs, Horthy was very distraught about the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In his will, Horthy asked that his body not be returned to Hungary "until the last Russian soldier has left." His heirs honored the request. In 1993, two years after the Soviet troops left Hungary, Horthy's body was returned to Hungary and he was buried in his home town of Kenderes. The reburial in Hungary was the subject of some controversy in the country.[40]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Monarchical styles of
Miklós Horthy
Coat of Arms of Hungary.svg
Reference style His Serene Highness
Spoken style Your Serene Highness
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles

  • 1 March 1920–15 October 1944: His Serene Highness the Regent of Hungary

Full title as Regent

His Serene Highness Miklós Horthy, Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Further reading

  • Thomas Sakmyster, Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback. East European Monographs, Boulder, CO 1994. ISBN 0-88033-293-X
  • Bodó, Béla, Paramilitary Violence in Hungary After the First World War. East European Quarterly, No. 2, Vol. 38, June 22, 2004
  • John Flournoy Montgomery, The Unwilling Satellite, New York, The Devin-Adair Company 1947, ISBN 1931313571
  • Owen Rutter, Regent of Hungary: The Authorized Life of Admiral Nicholas Horthy London, Rich and Cowan, 1938
  • Aleksandar Veljic, Miklós Horthy: Unpunished Villain (sr: Milkoš Horti: Nekažnjeni zločinac), 2009.

External links


  1. "Vitéz" refers to a Hungarian knightly order founded by Miklós Horthy ("Vitézi Rend"); literally, "vitéz" means "knight" or "valiant".
  2. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/272477/Miklos-Nagybanyai-Horthy
  3. 3.0 3.1 (1996) The European powers in the First World War: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis US, 348. ISBN 978-0-8153-0399-2. 
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9smq580awFg&feature=related
  5. Lázár, István, Hungary: A Brief History, Budapest: Corvina, 1993 (English edition) Translated by Albert Tezla; Chapter 13
  6. Deak, Istvan, "A Hungarian Admiral on Horseback," from Essays on Hitler's Europe, University of Nebraska Press, 2001, p. 150-151
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Bodó, Béla: Paramilitary Violence in Hungary After the First World War, East European Quarterly, No. 2, Vol. 38, June 22, 2004
  8. Szabo and Pamlenyi: A hatarban a halal kaszal, pp.160 and 131
  9. Sakmyster, T.: Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback: Miklós Horthy, 1918-1944, Columbia Univ. Press, 1993.
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 Horthy:, Admiral Nicholas (2000). Admiral Nicholas Horthy Memoirs, Nicholas Horthy, Miklós Horthy, Andrew L. Simon, Nicholas Roosevelt, illustrated, Simon Publications LLC, 348. ISBN 0966573439. 
  11. 1919 speech of Horthy
  12. Sakmyster, p. 56
  13. Deak, Istvan, "A Fatal Compromise? The Debate Over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary," in The Politics of Retribution: World War II and Its Aftermath, edited by Deak, Gross, and Judt, Princeton University Press, pp. 39–52
  14. Szinai, Miklos, & Szucs, Laszlo, editors, The Confidential Papers of Admiral Horthy, Corvina Press, Budapest, 1965, pps:54-58.
  15. The comments of U.S. Minister to Hungary Nicholas Roosevelt, quoted in Frank, Tibor, Discussing Hitler: Advisors of U.S. Diplomacy in Central Europe, 1934–1941, Central European University press, 2003, pp. 14–16
  16. John Flournoy Montgomery, Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite, Part Two: "An Oasis in Hitler's Desert"
  17. Montgomery, John F. Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite, Part One: What Price Independence?
  18. Patai, Raphael, The Jews of Hungary, Wayne State University Press, p.548.
  19. Patai, p. 546
  20. Deak, István, Endgame in Budapest, Hungarian Quarterly, Autumn 2005
  21. Borhi, László, Hungary in the Cold War 1945–1956: Between the United States and the Soviet Union, Central European University Press, New York 2004
  22. Lázár, István, Hungary: A Brief History, Chapter 14
  23. At the end of 1937 it was estimated that there were 440,000 Jews in Hungary, a decrease of 4,567 from the last census: Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year 1938, London, 1938, p.354.
  24. Deak, Endgame in Budapest
  25. Braham, Randolph, The Politics of Genocide, Wayne State University Press, pp. 59–62
  26. 26.0 26.1 Rees, Laurence. Auschwitz: A New History. Public Affairs, 2005. ISBN 1-58648-357-9
  27. A holokauszt Magyarországon: A deportálások leállítása (in Hungarian; retrieved 11 September 2006)
  28. Szita, Szabolcs, Trading in Lives? Central European University Press, Budapest, 2005, pp. 50–54
  29. 29.0 29.1 Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai, Becsület és kötelesség, part I, page 264. Európa press, Budapest, 2001. ISBN 963-07-6544-6
  30. Wilkinson, Alec, Picturing Auschwitz, New Yorker Magazine, 17 March 2008. pp. 49–51
  31. Bauer, Yehuda. Jews for Sale? National Socialist–Jewish Negotiations 1933–1945 Yale University Press, 1994, p. 157
  32. John Flournoy Montgomery, Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite.8: A Refuge for One Million Jews
  33. Tschuy, Theo. Dangerous Diplomacy: The Story of Carl Lutz. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2000. p11.
  34. http://www.holokausztmagyarorszagon.hu/index.php?section=2&type=content&chapter=11_2_4
  35. Mrs. Anne O'Hare McCormick, The New York Times of 15 July 1944. Original context: "It must count in the score of Hungary that until the Germans took control it was the last refuge in Central Europe for the Jews able to escape from Germany, Austria, Poland and Rumania. Now these hopeless people are exposed to the same ruthless policy of deportation and extermination that was carried out in Poland. But as long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews. " See: http://historicaltextarchive.com/books.php?op=viewbook&bookid=7&cid=8
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Williamson, Mitch. War and Game: Operation Panzerfaust. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved on 16 April 2009.
  37. Zvonimir Golubović, Racija u Južnoj Bačkoj, 1942. godine, Novi Sad, 1991. (page 194)
  38. Nagy's 1948 memoirs, The Struggle Behind the Iron Curtain, are quoted in Andrew Simon's annotations to Horthy's Memoirs, in this case for Chapter 22
  39. From the Annotated Memoirs of Admiral Miklós Horthy.
  40. Perlez, Jane, '"Reburial is Both a Ceremony and a Test for Today's Hungary," New York Times, 5 September 1993