Military


1919-1921 - Horthy's White Terror

A militantly anticommunist authoritarian government composed of military officers entered Budapest on the heels of the Romanians. A "white terror" ensued that led to the imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial of communists, socialists, Jews, leftist intellectuals, sympathizers with the Karolyi and Kun regimes, and others who threatened the traditional Hungarian political order that the officers sought to reestablish.

After a lapse of almost eighty years suddenly the Magyar gentry was back in the seat of supreme power, unchallenged. It was a return with a vengeance - only too literally so. Their leader and standard bearer was Admiral Nicholas Horthy. A militantly anticommunist authoritarian government composed of military officers entered Budapest on the heels of the Romanians.

The serfs paid their tithes and their taxes, worshipped God and the landlord, and bred and died like cattle. The aristocrats were absentees, mostly at the Vienna court, in whose atmosphere they were slowly denationalized. In the seventeenth century most of the great noble houses were reclaimed from Protestantism by Hapsburg counter-reformation. This fact accentuated the cleavage between them and the gentry, which remained Calvinist to a large extent. In contrast to the Austrianized nobles, the squirearchy preserved intact the old national customs and traditions, including a thorough contempt for the national language.

These gentry lived in their manors a life of idleness tempered by a little husbandry, a good deal of hunting, eating and drinking, and peppered by occasional outbursts of rhetoric which they called politics. Upon culture they looked down as something alien and therefore detestable. They seduced pretty peasant girls and administered corporeal punishment to indignant peasant fathers. The gentry were in eternal opposition to the central government, which they denounced as alien oppression. This also was a convenient arrangement, as it afforded an excuse for dodging public service and for glorifying passive resistance and political ca'canny as patriotism. Even their "stiff-necked" Calvinism became by and by not so much a matter of religious fervor as a political tradition, a mode of teasing the Catholic court.

The "white terror" led to the imprisonment, torture, and execution without trial of communists, socialists, Jews, leftist intellectuals, sympathizers with the Karolyi and Kun regimes, and others who threatened the traditional Hungarian political order that the officers sought to reestablish. Estimates placed the number of executions at approximately 5,000. In addition, about 75,000 people were jailed. In particular, the Hungarian right wing and the Romanian forces targeted Jews for retribution.

Searching for and punishing Communists, the officers raided and plundered villages, outraged women, maltreated and killed Jews and whomever else incurred their displeasure. The brutality of the acts committed and the flimsiness of the excuses proffered surpasses belief. Old grudges were settled in a summary fashion. Years ago a distressed squire may have sold his harvest to a Jew for what he thought was a bad price. Now the squire came back, chief of a Communist-hunting squad ; he seized the Jew, hanged him and took his property. Or else an officer would see a Jew wearing a new suit of clothes. He would shoot the Jew and expropriate the suit. In several places the Catholic priests themselves tried to protect innocent Jews; they were hanged on the spot. Ultimately, the white terror forced nearly 100,000 people to leave the country, most of them socialists, intellectuals, and middle-class Jews.




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