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A LESSON OF HUNGARIAN HISTORY


06.11.2011. /Strategic Culture Foundation

Dmitri BAKLIN

The Soviet Union and Hungary: the two countries used to be 'brothers-in-arms' and were sharing one political regime for some time. And Moscow rarely criticized Budapest for collaborating with Nazi Germany – after all, Hungary was not the only country which had joined Hitler`s army. And each country had its own reasons for doing so.

As they say, let bygones be bygones. Decades have passed since then. After WW II eight communist states in Eastern Europe (Hungary among them) signed the Warsaw Pact. After the USSR fell apart, they joined a pro-democratic NATO, feeling no remorse. And nothing seemed to have been prevented them from building their common European future. Nevertheless, the past is haunting Hungary.

On August 23d, 2011, justice ministers of the EU member states signed a declaration on the proclamation of 23 August as a European Remembrance Day Honoring Victims of Totalitarian Regimes. The text of the declaration contains the following phrase: “...their sufferings won`t be lost in obscurity, their rights will be recognized, and their executioners will face the trial”.

Well, if such regimes existed in the EU countries, and many people suffered from them, this should be investigated. But after the declaration was adopted, Hungarian politicians felt the urge to learn more about the “victims of the regime”: Matyas Rakosi, Erne Gere, Janos Kadar. An investigation into 'war crimes' committed by the Red Army at the end of WW II started in Hungary. The country`s National Investigation Office announced that they had launched a probe into the killing of 32 residents of the Olaszfalu village.

We can hardly treat this initiative as 'restoring historical justice', while signs proving that the case is politically motivated are all here.

While investigators – 70 years on- are collecting evidence from 'witnesses' and are trying to compare photofits of alleged criminals, let us turn back the pages of history.

Hungary was a reliable ally of Hitler`s Germany during WW II and fought on its side against the Soviet Union from June 27, 1941to April 12, 1945. The quantity of the Hungarian Army then stood a nearly 205,000 troops.

During the first month of the war Hungary sent more than 40,000 of its troops to the Eastern front. In fights with the Soviet army, Hungary lost 26,000 troops, almost all tanks and more than 1,000 vehicles. On December 6th the remaining part of the army returned to Budapest. But Germany insisted on a more active Hungarian presence, and very soon the Second Hungarian Army was dispatched to the front. By the middle of 1942, not only Hungarians and Romanians had joined the Hungarian Army, but also Slovaks, Ukrainians and Serbs.

On January 12th, 1943, the Soviet troops forced the frozen Don and broke through the defense of the enemy. The Hungarian army began the retreat, during which they lost 148,000 officers and men, not to mention almost all their weaponry. A son of the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary Miklós Horthy, Jr., was among the dead. This was the greatest defeat of the Hungarian army ever. There were almost nobody whom Germany could give land in Russia as it had been promised.

After the defeat, the remaining units of the Second Army returned to Budapest, some of them later were ordered to settle in Ukraine. This is how Hungary`s honved (which means 'army') tragically completed its fighting on the Don River.

It must be stressed, however, that some Hungarian media nowadays prefer to interpret the country`s participation in WW II on the German side as a 'heroic deed'. 1

In one of such reports, the author said: “Decades of dictatorship did not allow a thorough analysis of the way the Second Army fought at the time. We`ve made an attempt to provide all evidence that the army was facing many hardships – cold weather, the lack of uniform and weaponry; despite all this, our soldiers managed to endure them, although fighting on the enemy`s territory – what could have been worse? So, there was nothing for them to be ashamed of.” 2

I am not going to discuss the years of dictatorship in Hungary- this is the country`s national history. But I want to argue that Hungary has nothing to be ashamed of.

Hungarian officers took part in many punitive operations on the territory of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Russia has the archives featuring plenty of documents on crimes committed by the Hungarian Army on the occupied territory. They were very cruel to the local population, as well as to the Soviet prisoners of war.

On August 31st, 1942, Head of the Political Directorate Voronezh Front, Lieutenant-General Sergei Shatilov reported to the head of the political department of the Red Army in Moscow, Alexander Shcherbakov: “I am reporting on the cases of terrible torture carried out by German occupants and their Hungarian servants on Soviet citizens and captive Red Army officers. After the Schuchje village was liberated from the occupants, our medical assistants found many bodies with the signs of tortures. Lieutenant Vladimir Salogub was a wounded prisoner and he was tortured to death. There were at least 20 stab wounds on his body. Another heavily wounded officer, Feodor Bolshakov, was also stabbed to death. Medical assistant Vilensky was wounded during the fight and was rescued by a woman named Akulina.

When Hungarians learned about it, they came to her place and asked the man if he would join them. After he refused, they buried him alive. Another Soviet citizen, Mr. Kuzmenko, was shot dead after the Hungarian squad had found four cartridges at his place. As soon as the occupants entered the village, they took all men aged 13-80, in all -200 people, and drove them to a Nazi home front. Many girls and women were raped. Apart from this, the occupants took away people`s cattle and sheep.”3

And here is the evidence written by elderly man Anton Krutukhin, who lived in Sevsky district of the Bryansk region: “Hungarian Nazis entered our village on May 5th, 1942. We all ran to hide somewhere, and those who were not lucky to do this on time, were executed. Some women were raped. I...also had to hide in a cellar. Hungarians set our houses on fire and drove away our cattle.”4

Peasant woman Varvara Mazerkova said: “On May 20th, 1942, Hungarians entered our village and arrested all the men. They took my husband and son and tortured them. After that, they were burnt, their hands tied.”5

Yevdokia Vedeshina from the village Orliya Slobodka said: “It happened on May 28th, 1942. Together with other villagers, my children and I went to the forest to hide there. But occupants chased us and when came to us, executed 350 people, including all my four children aged 1-11. Covered with the bodies of my killed children, I survived the spree.” 6

Those who returned back to their homes, were in despair to find that their neighbours were executed by Nazis, their cattle driven away and their houses looted.7

It means that within 20 days Hungarian Nazis killed at least 420 people in Sevsky district alone. And it was not for the last time. In June-July, 1942, Units 102 and 108 of the Hungarian divisions together with the Nazis took part in operation 'Vogelsang' against guerrilla squads operating in Bryansk region. The operation resulted in the killing of 1193 guerrilla rebels, while 1400 were wounded and 498 more taken as captives. More than 12,000 people were displaced. 8

Hungarian subdivisions No. 102 (made up of regiments 42, 43, 44 and 51) and No.108 participated in punitive operations against the Nachbarhilfe guerrilla rebels (June, 1943) outside Bryansk, and against the Zigeunerbaron squad outside Kursk (May 16-June 6, 1942); the latter operation resulted in the death of 1584 people, while 1558 were taken captives. 9

M. Govorok, a teacher from the Novosergeyevka village outside Bryansk, wrote: “Nearly 100 guerrilla rebels led by Nikolai Popudrenko were fighting against Hungary`s infantry division No. 105 headed by A. Zoltan, who was notorious for his cruelty. In early July Hungarians encircled the guerrillas in Sofiyevsky forest. The fights lasted for a couple of days, when finally our guerrillas managed to break the blockade... The enemy was outraged. Hungarians came to Parasochki village and within minutes shot dead 83 people, mainly women, children and the elderly. Forty-two people were killed in Vazhitsa village. The exact death toll is unknown for many of the killed were refugees and did not have passports on them. Our villages repeated the fate of Belorussian Khatyn.”10

The Hungarian Nazis were known for their inhuman treatment of Soviet war prisoners. In 1943 Hungarians were driving away 200 war prisoners and 160 Soviet patriots from the Chernyansky district of Kursk region. On the way they forced all captives into a school building and set it on fire.

Those who attempted to flee, were shot dead.” 11

If Budapest is not convinced with the above mentioned documents, I am ready to quote the WW II archives provided by the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Israel. The details are heartbreaking.

“On July 12-15, 1942, soldiers of the Hungarian infantry division No.33 captured four Red Army soldiers. One of them, P. Danilov, had his eyes pierced, his jaw broken, and got 12 stabs into his back, after he was buried alive while unconscious. The rest soldiers (their names unknown) were shot dead.” 12

Maria Kaidannikova from the town Ostogozhsk saw Hungarian soldiers driving a group of Soviet war prisoners into a cellar on Medvedkovskaya street, on January 5, 1943. When she heard the shouting, she came up to a window to see how “two Hungarians were holding a captive above the fire. When the poor soldier lost his senses, they threw him down into the fire. Suddenly, the prisoner seemed to have moved and immediately got a stab into the back.”13

Most of war crimes committed by the Hungarian Army on the Soviet territory were documented by the Extraordinary State Commission, which was founded in 1942 to put down all evidence of crimes and damages the Soviets had suffered from occupants.

These are 'heroic deeds' Budapest believes the Hungarian army 'should not be ashamed of'. And I think it is high time to remind some Hungarian politicians that war crimes are not subject to statute of limitations, and those who took part in the atrocities (some of them are still alive) will face punishment.

I want this article to be viewed as an official appeal to Hungary's National Investigation Office, which deals with war crimes during WW II. I believe that Moscow can provide all documents Budapest might prefer to have as a proof…

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1Környei István. Katonasors 2. Egy honvéd naplója (1942. október 12. - 1943. április 23.) Kráter Műhely, 2008; http://karpatinfo.net/belfold/2010/02/21/hoseinket-nem-feledhetju

2 http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/hatter/egy_honved_naploja_a_donkanyarbol.html

3 http://istram.ucoz.ru/publ/voennyj_voronezh/zverstva_fashistov_na_voronezhskoj_zemle/52-1-0-488

4 State Archive of the Russian Federation (case 423)

5 State Archive of the Russian Federation (case 423)

6 State Archive of the Russian Federation (case 423)

7 State Archive of the Russian Federation (case 423)

8 K. Zalessky Commanders of national armed groups /Moscow, 2007/

9 http://bratishka.ru/archiv/2009/4/2009_4_10.php

10 N. Lebedev /Literaturnaya Gazeta/ №25(6229). June 17, 2009

 

 



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