Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hungary and Axis: 70 years ago

The Chain Bridge of Budapest, built by Georgios Sinas / © François Guerraz
20 November 1940: Hungary joins the Axis Powers.
In the 1930s, the Kingdom of Hungary relied on increased trade with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to pull itself out of the Great Depression. By 1938, Hungarian politics and foreign policy had become increasingly pro-Fascist Italian and pro-Nazi German. Hungary benefitted territorially from its relationship with the Axis. Settlements were negotiated regarding territorial disputes with the Czecho-Slovak Republic, the Slovak Republic, and the Kingdom of Romania. In 1940, under pressure from Germany, Hungary joined the Axis. Although initially hoping to avoid direct involvement in the war, Hungary's participation soon became inevitable. In 1941, Hungarian forces participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the invasion of the Soviet Union.
While waging war against the Soviet Union, Hungary engaged in secret peace negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom. Hitler discovered this betrayal and, in 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. When Soviet forces began threatening Hungary, an armistice was signed between Hungary and Russia by Regent Miklós Horthy. Soon after, Horthy's son was kidnapped by German commandos and Horthy was forced to revoke the armistice. The regent was then deposed from power, while Hungarian fascist leader Ferenc Szálasi established a new government with German backing. In 1945 Hungarian and German forces in Hungary were defeated by invading Soviet armies.
Approximately 300,000 Hungarian soldiers and 80,000 civilians died during World War II and many cities were damaged, most notably the capital of Budapest. Most Jews in Hungary were protected from the Holocaust for the first few years of the war. However from the start of German occupation in 1944, Jews and Romas were deported and over 450,000 of them were exterminated in concentration camps.

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