Horthy, Miklós (1868–1957)

views updated

HORTHY, MIKLÓS (1868–1957)


Hungarian statesman.

Regent of Hungary during the turbulent period from 1920 until his arrest by the Nazis in 1944, Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was born into a noble Protestant family in 1868. As a young man he served in the Austro-Hungarian navy, quickly ascending the ranks to become one of the navy's most valued officers. For most of World War I he served as captain of the Novara and the Prinz Eugen, and he was named vice admiral and made commander of the fleet in 1918.

When the postwar treaties left Hungary without access to the sea, Horthy retired to his family's estate in Kenderes, but in May 1919 he was drawn into the counterrevolutionary cabinet of Count Gyula Károlyi (1875–1955). The new government set out to replace the Republic of Soviets that had seized power a few months earlier, and as the only available high-ranking officer who had not taken an office during the revolution, Horthy was made Minister of War. As commander-in-chief of the minuscule National Army in Szeged, he—along with some of his fellow National Army officers—came to embody the so-called Szeged Idea, which was counterrevolutionary, right-leaning, and militant but also emphasized continuity and enjoyed the support of, among others, conservative aristocrats, the churches, and a part of the peasantry.

Despite their old-style conservative strain, the counterrevolutionary officers of the Szeged group were known for their arbitrary ruthlessness, particularly against Jews suspected of having collaborated with or participated in the revolution, or merely for the fact that they were Jews. The socalled White Terror initiated by the National Army was often shockingly violent, by the end claiming between one thousand and five thousand lives and resulting in tens of thousands of arrests.

After the Republic of Soviets had been crushed by the Romanian Army, Horthy had himself elected Regent of Hungary, weathering two attempts to restore the Habsburg King Charles (1887–1922) to the Hungarian throne. For much of the interwar period he remained under the influence of Count István Bethlen (1874–c. 1947), the conservative Prime Minister of Hungary from 1921 to 1931, who made every effort to steer him away from the Szeged right-wingers. But like all Hungarian statesmen of the time, Horthy was intent on reannexing at least some of the territory Hungary had lost to its neighbors as a result of the postwar treaties. This preoccupation brought him ever closer to the rising influence of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), who was developing plans to redraw the map of Europe by harnessing the power of disgruntled, revisionist states such as Hungary.

In the wake of the 1938 Munich agreement, Hitler shared the territorial spoils of Czechoslovakia, returning parts of southern Slovakia to Hungary. Horthy later paraded into the reannexed territory on a white horse and was received with overwhelming enthusiasm. The scene was repeated in Subcarpathian Rus, Northern Transylvania, and parts of northern Yugoslavia when they were reannexed from Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia respectively over the course of the following two and a half years. Nevertheless, it soon became clear that by taking gifts from Hitler, Horthy had tied Hungary's fate to that of the Axis. In June 1941 Hungary entered the war against the Soviet Union, in part to compensate for the multiple territorial gains it had received with Axis help.

An anti-Semite in principle and practice, Horthy nevertheless had a soft spot for the more assimilated, urban, upper-middle-class Jews of Budapest. Miklós Kállay (1887–1967), the Hungarian prime minister from 1942, who enjoyed Horthy's trust and support, stubbornly resisted German pressure to deport the Jews of Hungary. But when, in 1944, Hitler demanded Kállay's removal and Horthy was forced to appoint a pro-Nazi government, he agreed to the deportation of most of Hungary's Jewish population. As a result, Hungarian Jews were ghettoized and deported to Auschwitz starting in the late spring of 1944. When it came to deporting the two hundred thousand Jews of Budapest, however, Horthy refused consent.

On 15 October, Horthy announced Hungary's withdrawal from the war. The Germans promptly arrested him and his family, installing the leader of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross party, Ferenc Szálasi (1897–1946), in his place. After the war, in which an estimated near-million Hungarians were killed and much of the country was left in ruins, the Western Allies and Soviets agreed that Horthy should not be tried as a war criminal. He spent most of the rest of his life in exile in Portugal, where he died in 1957. In 1993 his body was reburied in Kenderes. The controversial reinterment was aired on Hungarian national television and attended by fifty thousand people.

See alsoHungary; World War II.


Primary Sources

Horthy, Miklós, nagyabányai. Admiral Nicholas Horthy: Memoirs. Annotated by Andrew L. Simon. Safety Harbor, Fla., 2000.

Secondary Sources

Braham, Randolph L. The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary. Rev. and enlarged edition. New York, 1994.

Sakmyster, Thomas. Hungary's Admiral on Horseback: Miklós Horthy, 1918–1944. Boulder, Colo., and New York, 1994.

Holly Case