Between the Devil & the Deep Red Sea:
Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s Admiral & Regent
A Life for Hungary: Memoirs
London: Hutchinson, 1956
Thomas L. Sakmyster
Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback: Miklós Horthy, 1918-1944
Boulder: East European Monographs, 1994
Historians of the Second World War and the events leading up to that catastrophe understandably focus on the “big powers”: Japan, Germany, Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their leaders. However, to ignore the role played by small nations and their rulers gives a distorted picture of the times, not only because the “small guys” played important roles in their own right, but also because the reshaping or even creation of small nations in the post-war settlement was a major cause of friction and resentment. This is particularly the case with Hungary.
The Treaty of Trianon, ratified in 1920, reduced the erstwhile Austro-Hungarian Empire to two tiny states, Austria and Hungary, so small that together they could fit into Kansas. What remained of Hungary in 1920 was that core part of the old Habsburg Empire which historically and linguistically was neither Slavic nor Germanic.
Miklós Horthy was regent of the Kingdom of Hungary during almost the entire inter-war period, from 1919 until the end of 1944. (His memoirs are published in English as the memoirs of “Nicholas” Horthy. Miklós is Hungarian for Nicholas, not for Michael. Michael in Hungarian is Mihály.) His full title as ruler of Hungary was Ő Főméltósága a Magyar Királyság Kormányzója; in English: “His Supreme Highness Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary.” Horthy’s power and function as regent was not dissimilar to that of a president in a republic. He was regent with — after 1922 — no king in waiting, and admiral — after 1918 — with no fleet. He presided over a nation speaking an Asiatic language whose population was nevertheless ethnically European.
His full name, Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya, refers to the small city of Nagybánya in Transylvania, which was ceded to Romania in 1920 and remains in Romania (its Romanian name is Baia Mare, and its German name is Neustadt; all towns and cities in Transylvania are required to have a Hungarian, Romanian, and German name after the three major ethnicities of the region) to this day. Horthy as regent ruled over an area reduced by the Treaty of Trianon to a rump state of about 36,000 square miles. The area which was ceded to Romania doubled Romania’s size. Parts of Hungary were given to Italy, Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, the latter three being integrated into a new kingdom of Southern Slavs called Yugoslavia. Yet another part of Hungary was given to a new state called Czechoslovakia. A small part of former Hungary was given to the newly-created Republic of Austria.
From both Horthy’s memoirs and Sakmyster’s biography, we learn that revoking the Treaty of Trianon and recovering lost Hungarian lands was the lodestar of Horthy’s political life.
The impression which the reader gains from the memoirs is of an earnest, psychologically unimaginative, fanatically patriotic and disciplined, very conservative man, whose life was focused on his family and fatherland and doing all that he could to recover Hungary’s lost territories.
Nationalist resentment in Hungary after 1918 took two different, ultimately irreconcilable forms. On the one hand there were the ethnic nationalists. They agitated on the principle that one ethnic group belongs to one nation. In Hungary’s case, that meant reclaiming those territories where Hungarians lived and Hungarian was spoken and which had been lost after the war. In the same way, nationalists in Germany demanded a return to Germany of those lands which were ethnically German. Ironically, Hungarian and German nationalists were applying President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, as laid down in his Fourteen Points, to their own case. The demand for restitution of former lands can be summed up in the word much used by the young National Socialist movement in Germany: Gleichberechtigung, meaning equal rights, in this case the equal rights of nations.
Such ethnic nationalism, resentful and deeply anti-Semitic, was espoused in Hungary, among many others, by Horthy’s personal friend, the former army officer and later politician, Gyula Göbös, and the National Socialist Ferenc Szálasi, the leader of the Nyilaskeresztes Párt (Arrow Cross Party), which liaised closely with Germany after Hitler came to power. They looked forward to an “ethnically cleansed” greater Hungary and scorned the old Hapsburg Empire.
The other nationalist grouping was that of the so-called “legitimists,” those who had not abandoned hope in the restoration of the King and the recovery of the Empire. They regarded Hungarian ethnic nationalists with distrust, even dislike, believing they were Hungarian variants of the same kind of nationalist subversion which had culminated in the Sarajevo assassination and the downfall of the Habsburgs, and they closely associated nationalism with republicanism. It is clear from reading both the memoirs and Sakmyster’s biography that Horthy belonged to the legitimist camp. The very title which he assumed – regent — was a public affirmation of his royalist conviction.
From 1919 Horthy became a ruler who embodied in his personality and in his beliefs the ancien régime, the pre-1914 order and balance of power. With the exception of Britain (a country which Horthy highly admired), the former belligerents of the First World War espoused the cause of national self-determination. Horthy’s allegiance was to another, formal constitutional and hierarchical order, one in which the fate of nations is determined by dynasties, an order of the kind which had prevailed in Europe since the Second Treaty of Paris in 1815 and was destroyed by the treaties of Versailles and Trianon.
The nostalgic opening paragraphs of Horthy’s memoirs underline his attachment to the memory of an aristocratic, privileged upbringing, a kind of life which the First World War and its aftermath had done much to destroy, especially in Central Europe. The memoirs are of a man who seeks not to revolutionize or overthrow, but to retrieve and restore:
I was born on June 18th 1868, on our family estate of Kenderes in the county (megye) of Szolnok in the heart of the Hungarian plains. The tall trees of the extensive park shaded the house in which my ancestry had dwelt since the end of Turkish rule. Before that time, my people had lived for centuries in Transylvania.
I was the fifth of nine children, seven boys and two girls. Our childhood was one of exuberant happiness, secure in the love of our parents. I adored my mother. Her sunny warm-hearted and gay temperament set the tone of our family life, and to this day gilds my youthful memories. My father I admired and revered.
Horthy’s account of his feeling towards his parents is similar to Adolf Hitler’s account in Mein Kampf, where he writes of his feelings towards his parents. The pragmatic and disciplined qualities of the father are compounded with the devotional and subjective qualities of the mother.
Already on the first page of his memoirs, the writer shifts from the personal to the public:
Those who are familiar with Hungarian history will know that, in the year before my birth, 1867, our great and wise statesman, Ferenc Deák, had concluded the Ausgleich, or Compromise, between Austria and Hungary, as the agreement between Vienna and Budapest was called. (p. 11)
Horthy writes that it had been “the dream of my boyhood” to enter the navy. His mother helped the young Horthy persuade a reluctant father to let his son fulfil his childhood ambition. Horthy writes,
I have never ceased to love that profession and my enthusiasm for it has never faded. As Regent of Hungary, I was proud to wear an admiral’s uniform even after the Austro-Hungarian fleet had, to my undying grief, ceased to exist. (p. 13)
Horthy is often depicted as a man in admiral’s uniform, which is how he would appear for public functions, albeit after 1919 Hungary had neither a navy nor even a coast. When war broke out in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had had access to the sea at the ports of Fiume and of Trieste. Italy seized Trieste and Fiume at the end of the First World War. Horthy deeply resented Italy’s breach of trust in unexpectedly entering the war on the side of the Allies.
Horthy was seen to be, and felt himself to be, a man of the world both socially and literally. He was widely travelled. He spoke Hungarian, English, French, and German fluently, and so far as one can infer from the memoirs and the biography, was fluent in Croatian and Italian as well. Sakmyster acknowledges Horthy’s gift for languages and Horthy himself alludes to the fact that in his third meeting with Hitler, he requested that no interpreter be present. Horthy travelled widely before the war, as far as India (“What we saw of India testified to the colonizing talents of the British,” p. 19) and the Dutch East Indies.
Horthy gives a short account of his naval training. He asserts, credibly enough, that he was “one of the more zealous” students and recounts how he nearly died during training when a yardarm was released by mistake and “the naval hospital had quite a task to put me together again.” “Our education,” notes Horthy, “was governed by the maxim which was inscribed in letters of gold on a marble plaque at the college: Above Life Stands Duty.” (p. 13)
The reader learns from the memoirs that Horthy was devoted to his family, his career, his country, and particularly devoted to his Emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph I. The Kaiser embodied everything Horthy admired, politically socially, and psychologically. Horthy became the Kaiser’s aide-de-camp. From his descriptions of his relationship with Franz Joseph and from later accounts, it is clear that Horthy sets great store by protocol:
“Which uniform should I wear on duty? Should I wear the adjutant’s lanyards? Were gloves de rigueur?”
“No, no gloves.”
“Why not? Gloves are worn on all other occasions when reporting for duty.”
Was the aide-de-camp to knock? To my great surprise, the answer was again no.
I was feeling extremely uncertain, when, on the evening of November 30th, a guardian came to inform me as to what hour His Majesty would rise that morning. He reported as follows: The hour is four. (p. 45)
The early part of the memoirs abound with anecdotes, a tribute to Horthy’s memory and observation, and the love of the diplomat for the idiosyncrasies of human life. Neither very informative, very funny, nor in any way shocking, they tell us much about the character of the man who recounts them, his memory for detail, his interest in facts and figures, and what people wore and what they said on which occasion. Some of the characters described in the anecdotes from Horthy’s early life call to the modern reader’s mind creations of romantic historical fiction:
When King Nikita of Montenegro came on a visit to the Court of Vienna, I was sent to meet him in Trieste, to which our torpedo boat depot ship, the Pelikan, often used as a yacht, had brought him. He was on that occasion presented with the command of an infantry regiment. The appropriate uniform, made for him by a skilled Viennese tailor in a day, was so much to his liking that he wore it constantly until he returned to the Pelikan at Trieste.
. . . In 1910, King Peter of Serbia had had an enquiry made to ascertain whether or not a visit from him would be welcome. The negotiations in this matter were protracted. Franz Joseph had no particular liking for the Karadjordjevich dynasty which had acceded to the throne as a result of the murder of King Alexander Orenovich in 1903. (p. 51)
Up until the assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne in 1914, Horthy’s memoirs are focused on travels to Asia and round Europe, including hunting expeditions (he was a keen hunter). Sakmyster notes that Horthy was capricious in his moods. Eyewitnesses recall that he could be passionate or hot-tempered, and very emotional; but Sakmyster notes another side to his character, that of the cool pragmatist, the distanced observer, the flexible diplomat. The impression of a man who was passionate and pragmatic, sometimes hot and sometimes icy cold, is borne out from reading the memoirs. A weighing up of political or diplomatic implications of an event is never far from his thoughts. Throughout a turbulent career, he keeps the “stiff upper lip” said to characterize the English ruling class which he admired. This is how Horthy describes, rather woodenly and dispassionately, that dire event which played a pivotal and terrible role in the history of the world:
On Sunday, June 28th 1914, we had taken our children in our car from Vienna to Székesfehérvár to visit my brother, who was the officer in command of the 13th Hussars in that town. We were met by my brother and his wife in the courtyard, both looking extremely preoccupied. On our enquiring what the matter was, they replied that friend of theirs, a journalist, had just told them that the heir to the throne and his wife had been assassinated at Sarajevo.
At first we refused to believe the news. We could not credit that on the occasion of the official entry of the heir to the throne into Sarajevo, the necessary security measures had not been taken to guard against any attempt at an assassination. I had admittedly wondered why Archduke Francis Ferdinand had chosen the Vidovan, St. Vitus’s day, the Serbian national day, on which the battle of Kosovo in 1389 was commemorated and on which national passions were always liable to flare up, for a visit to a town so near the border. (p. 66)
Horthy refers to the day of Serbia’s historical defeat by the Ottoman Turks. Nationalist feelings were running high not only in Serbia, but in all the Habsburg territories where there lived substantial numbers of the population not belonging to Hungarian- or German-speaking communities, a fact which boded ill for the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire, especially at a time of war. Despite his apparent emotional detachment however, Horthy is aware of the symbolic impact of the assassination and its implication: “Those two shots fired by the young fanatic ended an era of which we, who lived in it, can say, as Talleyrand said after the French Revolution, that those who have not known it have not known life.” (p. 67)
The reference to Talleyrand is revealing. Both in his memoirs and Sakmyster’s biography, the impression of Horthy as regent was that he modelled himself on the French eighteenth-century diplomat Talleyrand, someone who strove to adapt to changing circumstances and balance of power in Europe. With Horthy as with Talleyrand, the question may be asked: Were his actions those of a skilled diplomat always striving to make the best of a disastrous situation, or were they rather the duplicitous conniving of a turncoat determined to save his reputation and position? Talleyrand played a role in the drafting of the Second Treaty of Paris, which laid down the European settlement and balance of powers which prevailed when Miklós Horthy was born and to which he was so deeply attached.
Thomas Sakmyster’s well-researched biography is a competent if facile relation of events as they unfold and offers copious notes (some of which take the reader to Horthy’s memoirs). However, Sakmyster is sympathetic neither towards Horthy the man nor to the way of life or political beliefs which he represented, so the biography labors under a bias and is marked by a lack of empathy for its subject. Sakmyster is fluent in German, which gave him access to resources not available to a non-German speaker. Despite that, Sakmyster takes little trouble to clearly provide the background information which his readers need in order to gain a clear picture of events.
Despite copious footnotes, Sakmyster writes as a journalist, not a historian. It is not so much that he does not seek to understand what causes Horthy (or others in the drama) to behave as they did. It is rather that he offers only sketchy information about the background circumstances to which Horthy and others react. Sakmyster writes like an old-school foreign correspondent, giving an intelligent blow-by-blow account of events garnished with sundry observations of his own about the character of the major players, but not elucidating the key points about the social structures and historical relations in which these events unfold.
Another weakness of Sakmyster’s biography is the ill-concealed political hostility towards its subject. The reader is persistently made to feel that Horthy is undergoing some kind of moral or political assessment test, and that the biography will conclude with some kind of “teacher’s report” on Horthy’s performance as regent (and in a sense this is exactly what Sakmyster does).
Sakmyster does not show the emotional imagination necessary to grasp how people were compelled to act or felt themselves compelled to act, or would be likely to act, given the circumstances and emptions which prevailed at the time. He shows little idea of how people are driven by their faith or sense of mission or inherent loyalty.
To give an example: He speculates that Horthy’s hatred of Bolshevism, which evidently reached fever pitch during the days of the brief Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, is probably best explained by some unpleasant personal experience, implying, without openly stating, that Horthy’s anti-Communism was unnaturally excessive, perhaps the result of a psychological trauma. Sakmyster thus betrays a lack of engagement with the emotions of the time. Given what we know about Horthy — the devotion to the late Emperor, the admiration for discipline, the love of the armed forces and stability, the fierce patriotism, the deep attachment to the aristocracy and the old Habsburg order — it cannot be a surprise that Horthy loathed Bolshevism and was violently opposed to a Communist government in his own country. But for Sakmyster such extremism has to be “explained,” in accordance with the fashion of the early twenty-first century, in terms of a personal life-changing experience.
Following on from his search for the impact of personal experience, Sakmyster notes that Horthy’s time in Vienna as aide-de-camp to the Kaiser almost exactly corresponds to the time that Adolf Hitler spent in Vienna as a down-at-heel artist (viz. 1907-1913). Both men had the opportunity to witness at first hand the troubles and disturbances caused by what Sakmyster, quoting Horthy’s first biographer, Kálmán Csatho in 1942, describes as “the rebelliousness of the Slavs against the privilege enjoyed by everyone who spoke German.” Sakmyster also notes the influence in the Vienna of the time of what he calls the “demagogues” Georg von Schönerer and Karl Lueger, the mayor of Vienna, people whose political initiatives, so Sakmyster, “fed on widespread resentment against Jews.”
The impression of Horthy given in the biography is something of a backwoodsman or stuck-in-the-mud shocked by daring and progressive forces and ignorant of their deeper meaning, insensible to the difference between Communist extremism and progressivism. Sakmyster sees an example of this in Horthy’s reaction to new forms of art. Sakymyster’s description of the new art forms in question is implicitly favorable, preparing the reader to regard Horthy’s negative reaction from the standpoint of a more enlightened time: “Artists and philosophers, including Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud and Arnold Schönberg, were experimenting with radical new techniques and by doing so shocked the establishment in the entire Hapsburg Empire.”
Sakmyster speculates on the extent to which the upheavals in the city were known to Horthy, since “his life at the imperial court meant that he was isolated from the outside world,” and Sakmyster writes that the “amateur painter” Horthy “regarded the unconventional techniques and subjects of the Vienna Secession as repellent.” Sakmyster offers a footnote here as reference, which is to Horthy’s own memoirs. This reviewer took the trouble to look up the reference in question and did not find there the statement that Horthy found the works of the Vienna Secession “repellent.” Whether intentionally or by design, or through his own ignorance, Sakmyster omits to inform his readers that the Vienna Secession did not include Kokoschka, Schönberg, or Freud. But what did Horthy actually write about the Vienna Secession? This: “His Majesty . . . did not hide the fact that the then modern art, of which the Viennese Secession were the representatives, was not to his taste.” (p. 49)
The reader is left with the impression of Horthy as an artistic amateur incapable of grasping the profundities of modern artistic expression. This is Sakmyster’s way: to sow the kind of impression he seeks to give, without stating it in black and white, which would open up his interpretation to scrutiny. Sakmyster generally furnishes less evidence to confirm many impressions than his array of footnotes might lead the reader to believe.
Horthy writes that following the assassination of the heir to the throne in 1914, he was asked by the Archduke Charles (the murdered Archduke’s nephew and now heir apparent) what was going to happen next. Horthy simply replied “world war.” England’s neutrality was vital: “If only England would remain neutral, I said, we could deal with our other enemies.”
Horthy’s admiration of Britain, the British Empire, and the British parliamentary system are mentioned in his memoirs and noted in the biography (again, one is reminded of Hitler). Horthy admired and shared the English passion for sport, including blood sports. He, too, believed in a nation which could be integrated into an empire and he sympathized with a system of government in which different sections of society were represented in public and political life. He was impressed by the English system of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, which allowed large blocs of interests to operate within a patriotic consensus as “His Majesty’s Government” and “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”
Horthy served with distinction in the war as Captain of the battleship Novara. His writing reveals his attitude of sportsmanship even towards war:
Often I went “stalking” without any particular aim, and I generally had the luck to come upon game that showed fight or trawlers hunting U-boats with trailing nets. Before we sank them, we gave the crews warning to abandon ship. My gunners were so skilled that with a single shot they could explode the boiler, and down went the ship. (p. 73)
There have been many films and books dealing with the theme of the chivalry of the First World War and the fact that the First World War witnessed the end of those wars where the enemy was respected and where war was still seen, bizarrely, as some kind of game. The age which was coming was foreign to Horthy, where the Bolsheviks, as the passionate sportsman writes with sadness and revulsion, mowed down deer with machine guns, and where enemies were regarded as “subhuman” and worthy of neither consideration nor respect.
As Commander of the northernmost section of the Austro-Hungarian fleet, Horthy distinguished himself at the naval battle of Otranto in 1917, acting with professionalism, courage, competence, and chivalry, facts which, to be fair, Sakmyster fully acknowledges. Horthy showed great respect and no hatred towards his British opponents. The battle of Otranto is generally regarded as a victory for the Central Powers, and Horthy justifiably claims that “our Navy was never defeated at sea. The debacle was caused by defeats on land and the weakening of the home front through hunger and shortages.” (p. 87)
Horthy’s brother was killed in the First War. Soon after that, in 1916, his beloved Kaiser died. It was the beginning of many deaths of family members and very close friends which marked the years 1914-1944 in his life, and it gives an inevitably gloomy aspect to reading the memoirs and the biography.
Surrender was a bitter matter for this staunch patriot and imperialist. Horthy was ordered to hand over the Imperial fleet to a newly-formed “South Slav Committee.” This must have been especially galling for Horthy, since it was that very South Slav Committee which, made up of Croatian soldiers, had mutinied in 1918 and seized the city of Fiume. Fiume and Trieste were Austria-Hungary’s only two seaports:
. . . this order came as a crushing blow . . . Nothing was left for me but to receive the South Slav Committee . . . The discussion was short and cool. I refused the request of the Yugoslavs to strike the Imperial red, white, and red ensign and hoist the Yugoslav national flag. Until I left the ship at half-past four that afternoon, my pendant and the Imperial red, white, and red ensign would be worn. (p. 91)
Like Hitler in Munich at exactly the same time, Horthy returned from active service to see Budapest in the hands of anti-war elements. What Horthy calls the “great upheaval” came with defeat. Russia had sunk into civil war, the German Kaiser had abdicated, and Hungary was being invaded from all sides. In 1918 Austria-Hungary faced not only social revolution but national revolution as well, supported by the victorious powers, who supported the “right to self-determination” of the various peoples who had lived under the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
In the aftermath of the Central Powers’ defeat, Horthy was to witness events which enraged him and which came to be known as the Red Terror. In Sakmyster’s account, we are told that “the Emperor (Charles, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, grand-nephew of Franz Josef, who had died in 1916) appointed Count Mihály Károlyi, leader of a loose coalition of parties which had been opposed to the war and in favor of fundamental social and political reforms, to the position of President.”
Sakmyster does not tell the reader what these parties were, nor in any detail what these “fundamental reforms” were to be, nor does he here or anywhere else explain the allocation of authority according to the Constitution, nor how democracy worked in Hungary, who was eligible to vote, and what the respective powers of the two chambers of Parliament were, so it is unclear from reading the biography what powers Károlyi was precisely granted. King Charles promoted Károlyi from Prime Minister to President. King Charles subsequently withdrew to Switzerland without, however, formally abdicating, whereupon Károlyi declared Hungary a republic.
Horthy and Sakmyster regard subsequent developments in very different lights. Here is part of Sakmyster’s account:
Horthy was appalled by the situation in Budapest. The government of the new republic had been brought to power thanks to an upsurge of protest against the war and the discredited regime of pre-war times. Count Mihály Károlyi, the stubbornly-minded offspring of one of the wealthiest and best-known titled families in Hungary, hoped to win over all the progressive forces in his country to his program, which included democratic elections, land reform, and the maintenance of Hungarian territorial integrity under a decentralized system . . . Horthy was blind to the errors of the old regime and not willing at least to respect the good intentions of the new government. . . . As he drove through the center of the capital in mid-November, he was witness to street gangs, citizens being terrorized, businesses shut down, and officers being mistreated.
Soon after his appointment to premiership, Count Károlyi, wishing to have a free hand, asked His Majesty to accept his resignation and that of his cabinet. His request was granted and the revolution, led by unscrupulous Left-wing radicals and socialists of every shade, hastened on its unchecked career. King Charles even went so far as to agree that the Hungarian troops should be released from their oath of loyalty; Károlyi immediately made them swear a new oath of fealty to the National Council. On the Russian model, they organized themselves into Soldiers’ Councils, i.e. Soviets, furthering the forces of disorder and anarchy.
There then followed the murder in his own home and in front of his wife of the man who had twice been Prime Minister, Count Tisza, identified — quite wrongly, according to Horthy — as a leading proponent of Austria-Hungary’s war effort. Sakmyster describes the murder in a way which comes close to condoning it:
. . . incensed revolutionary soldiers stormed Istvan Tisza’s house and murdered the symbolic figure of the hated old system. The following day, 1st November 1918, it was clear that Hungary had completed its break with the Hapsburg dynasty and looked to a future as an independent entity.
Both Horthy’s memoirs and Sakmyster’s biography contain surprising omissions, some seemingly based on the unwarranted assumption that their readers will be familiar with the political or constitutional background in which events play out. Without saying how wide the franchise was — apparently extremely small — Horthy writes that in 1917,
His Majesty insisted that Count Tisza, the Prime Minister, should introduce a far-reaching extension of the parliamentary franchise. The difficulties which arose over that reform proved insurmountable, and in May 1917, Tisza handed in his resignation. (p. 94)
What were the proposals? Who demanded them? Why insurmountable? Attempts, some successful and some not, to extend or restrict the franchise was evidently a very important aspect of Hungarian politics in the years between the wars, yet neither Horthy nor Sakmyster make any attempt to provide the reader with the facts and figures necessary to make sense of the issue.
Neither Horthy nor Sakmyster name the Aster Revolution by name, a revolution comparable to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, except that it was not peaceful. But it was the Aster Revolution led by Károlyi himself which swept him to power and led him to the formal official break with Austria and the monarchy. It was also the Aster Revolution which led to universal suffrage. Horthy mentions none of this. Perhaps he did not care to spell out what was so distasteful to him. In Sakmyster’s case, it may be that he did not wish to associate Károlyi (whom he clearly admires) with the violence of the Aster Revolution, which included the murder of the Right-wing Count Tisza. The reader can only guess.
The dismemberment of Hungary — Hungary had signed an armistice, but not a peace treaty — rapidly ensued upon the ending of the war. Czechs representing the entirely new nation of Czechoslovakia, Romanians, Slovenes, Croats, Italians, and Serbs all had their territorial claims. In Horthy’s words, “the Károlyi government supinely watched this vivisection of their country and even forbade the troops to oppose the Rumanian advance.” (p. 96)
Ironically, it seems — and this impression is given in both accounts — that it was nationalism which then brought the Hungarian Soviets to power, with Béla Kun, the Foreign Minister, as effective ruler. Károlyi resigned and the Hungarian Soviet Republic was proclaimed (the “Republic of Councils”).
In the ensuing Red Terror and counter White Terror, it is obvious that accounts are likely to be colored by the sympathies of whoever writes about them. As in Russia, the Bolshevik government was predominantly Jewish, and its unpopularity fuelled the fires of latent anti-Semitism. Horthy writes:
The atrocities of the Bolshevists filled the land with horror. . . . The peasants were terrorized by groups of men who went from village to village, held courts martial and with sadistic pleasure hanged all those who in the war had been awarded the gold medal for bravery. “Terror is the principle weapon of our regime,” boasted Tibor Szamuély, a close collaborator of Béla Kun, whose main function was that of executioner. The Jew who had long been settled among us were the first to reprobate the crimes of their co-religionists, in whose hands the new regime almost exclusively rested. (pp. 97, 98)
Horthy gives no figure for the number of the Red Terror’s victims. Sakmyster, citing two authorities, puts the number of victims at about 500. The Bolshevik government, which after all had come to power largely out of nationalist resentment against Károlyi’s failure to halt the dismemberment of Hungary, pursued a resolutely Marxist anti-nationalist policy once in power and liaised with the Bolsheviks in Moscow to do so. It proved as incapable as Károlyi of halting the invaders, which, given the anti-nationalist ideology of the Bolshevik government and the quasi-non-existence of an army, need not surprise.
At this point in his account, Sakmyster writes condescendingly of Horthy:
. . . cut off from the outside world [at his rural redoubt], politically naïve and only superficially familiar with European and Hungarian history, he sought in despair to make sense of what was happening. . . . Like many other simple Hungarians, he thought that Károlyi’s and Kun’s governments were essentially similar, that Károlyi’s clumsiness had made him “a straw man of the Jews” and that revolutionary events in Hungary since 1918 were part of a gigantic Jewish conspiracy.
That Horthy largely associated the Kun government with Jews is understandable and indeed reasonable, given that the great majority of the Kun government’s members were in fact Jewish. Sakmyster produces the figures himself. According to a report by Thomas Hohler and quoted by Sakmyster, 20 commissars out of 26 were Jewish, a fact for which Sakmyster can give no explanation and which he simply describes as “puzzling.”
The dictatorship of the proletariat in Hungary began. Property ownership was abolished, businesses were nationalized, farms were collectivized. Patriotism as an attitude was publicly mocked, the playing of the Hungarian national anthem was forbidden, the displaying of the flag was a punishable offense, statues of national heroes were pulled down and demolished. Horthy was especially angered when the government destroyed a well-known statue of the late Kaiser Franz Josef.
Hungary’s Jewish rulers had become hated by almost everyone. But who would act as a unifying and authoritative figure of opposition, someone who was both a nationalist figure and a link to the old order?
Horthy joined a group of fellow officers who declared an alternative counter-revolutionary government. The leader of the rebellious officers, Gyula Károlyi, was a cousin of Mihály Károlyi. The counter-revolutionary officers were stationed in the town of Szeged in the south of the country, where Horthy joined them. It was there that Horthy’s struck up what was to prove a close friendship with the nationalist officer, Gyula Gömbös.
It was to Horthy whom the officers’ council looked to present to the nation a charismatic personality and a force that bridged, through his friendship with Gömbös and his own beliefs, a unifying force between ethnic nationalists and legitimists. Horthy’s imposing physical appearance, his natural ability to assert authority and win respect, as well as his reputation as a war hero, his talent as a public speaker, and his ability to speak the languages of the victorious powers (both diplomatically and literally) — all these factors made him a natural first choice for a patriotic figurehead for Hungary.
Mihály Károlyi therefore offered Horthy the position of fövezer, Commander-in-Chief. Horthy took a week to decide, retreating to his family home to ruminate — this request for a delay surprises Sakmyster — a behavior which reinforces the impression of a man more committed to duty than to ambition. After he had decided to accept, Horthy chose a dramatic way to announce his decision. After driving to the counter-revolutionary camp under cover of darkness to evade capture by the invading Romanians, he burst in on a cabinet sitting chaired by Károlyi in Szeged. Sakmyster describes the scene:
Without discarding raincoat or headpiece, he marched to and fro in the room, and as he did so declared, “I could no longer sit in Kenderes and listen to the grass growing while my poor fatherland lay in ruins. It was a difficult inner conflict, but here I am. I accept the responsibility. I am at your service.
In the ensuing months and years, Horthy demonstrated his skills both as diplomat and military leader. His immediate task was to overthrow the Bolshevik government — not difficult, given its lack of military strength and widespread unpopularity — while not aggravating the Allied powers, who still claimed a mandate to intervene if and when necessary. Then, once some degree of order had been restored in Budapest, he would have to halt the advance of the Romanian forces and prevent other powers from taking any more of the country than they had already done. He fulfilled those tasks with skill.
On July 31 Béla Kun’s government collapsed, with Romanian troops at the gates of Budapest. Sakmyster states that “permission was obtained” from the French delegation for Hungarian military units to oppose the Romanians — Horthy’s fluent French was probably a help here. Horthy rode into Budapest in triumph, mounted on a white horse. There then followed the days of the “White Terror”: a pitiless campaign of revenge carried out against Jews and Communists. Sakmyster suggests that Horthy and the officers were inspired by the massacre of the Paris Commune in 1871 and “atavistically” inspired by the repression of the peasants’ revolt under György Dósza in 1514. But does the ruthlessness of the reaction need historical models to explain it? Religious emotion, nationalist feeling, anti-Semitism, rage at military defeat, as well as the fury of the army at the humiliation and contempt to which they had been reduced and the fear of the property-owning classes — everything was conducive to a ruthless and pitiless wave of revenge. And that is certainly what happened.
One characteristic of Horthy to which Sakymster refers several times rings true, and its plausibility is supported by a certain tone in the memoirs. It is that Horthy, when confronted with uncomfortable facts, especially negative reports about the Hungarian forces or police, was not only biased, as anyone might be, but especially wont to “look the other way” if he could, and was zealous in believing his own side against the accusations, however plausible, of any foe.
There is no indication that Horthy at any time tortured anyone, was a witness to torture, or issued direct orders to torture or commit other unofficial acts of vengeance. It seemed he just “didn’t want to know.” The number of people arrested, detained, and mistreated over several years after the collapse of the Bolshevik government was higher than the need to restore order or destroy Communism could justify. Sakmyster ascribes Horthy’s silence to a strong streak of “see no evil, hear no evil” in his character which helped him ignore reports of atrocities committed in the name of anything he held dear. In playing down the extent of the White Terror, he was tacitly abetted by the Allied powers, who were glad to see order restored in Hungary and the threat of a Soviet-style presence in Central Europe banished.
The loyalty to “the men” could cut both ways. Sakmyster recounts an incident during the White Terror where Horthy personally issued a pardon for two political suspects because he recognized two sailors who had served under him.
Sakmyster stresses Horthy’s tendency to take reports issued by committees and ministers on trust and to believe whoever was talking to him at a given moment. This sounds plausible. There is also a hint from Sakmyster that a man otherwise untarnished by the least sexual scandal was not impervious to womanly appeals to his chivalry. Sakmyster writes, “If a woman succeeded in fighting through the bureaucratic apparatus surrounding him to plead on behalf of her husband to Horthy personally, there was a real chance that he would decide in the man’s favor.”
Horthy writes that “the atrocities of the Bolshevists filled the land with horror,” but “atrocity” is not a word he uses in association with the White Terror, which he calls the “so-called White Terror,” approvingly quoting his German biographer, Edgar von Schmidt-Pauli, who wrote in 1942 concerning the three-year Hungarian White Terror in a somewhat sinister fashion:
A troop of soldiery, hurling itself forward to create order at the risk of life — the fighting spirit and will to sacrifice having to be maintained at all costs if the leader is to achieve the great task he has set himself — cannot be reprimanded for every trifle. . . . Hell let loose on earth cannot be subjugated by the beating of angels’ wings. (p. 106)
It can well be argued, and Horthy in his memoirs does so, that the White Terror was necessary to save the country from Bolshevism, but, just as in Pinochet’s Chile, the pretext of self-defense and emergency to justify harsh measures wore increasingly thin the longer that unofficial violence (with government connivance) continued, especially after the position of the government itself appeared unassailable. Armed units responsible only to their commander detained without charge or trial, and sometimes tortured and murdered, whoever it took their fancy to interrogate. In such situations, it is near to certain that private grudges could be settled with the pretext of national emergency and law and order.
Horthy’s reasoning and his loyalty seem to have frequently conflicted. The shift from White Terror to a conservative authoritarian government did not proceed smoothly; there was no clear plan, and nobody could be certain what the Regent would do in any given situation. A leading light of the White Terror, Pál Prónay, wrote of Horthy in his diary, “the hero of Otranto lacked decisiveness . . . a henchman of Freemasons like Thomas Hohler and Hungary’s judophile aristocracy.”
Horthy’s unpredictability as a ruler is exemplified in his approach to the question of Slovakia, which had been included in the newly-created Republic of Czechoslovakia. Prónay developed a plan to invade Czechoslovakia in December 1920 and then confront Horthy with a fait accompli. However, rumors of the conspiracy leaked out, and Prague received warning from the Hungarian government of Count Teleki. Prónay was reprimanded by Horthy for plotting what he called such “foolishness.”. In 1921, however, according to the memoirs of Baron Anton Lehar (the brother of the composer Franz Lehar), Horthy himself put forward a wildly irresponsible and homicidal plan to take back the lost lands of Slovakia. Czechoslovak soldiers could be massacred in a surprise attack by throwing cyanide-filled gas canisters into their barracks along the frontier. Lehar, with an analogy which will not escape the reader, persuaded Horthy to abandon the plan by saying he thought it is as reprehensible as poisoning wells! (Lehar, Erinnerungen, pp. 167-168)
In the first years of Horthy’s regency, the non-abdicated King sought to reascend the throne. This placed Horthy in a dilemma, a position which characterized much of his political life. On the one hand, pragmatism and good sense told him it would be madness and probably provoke war, given that the Allies were vehemently against a restoration of the Habsburgs. On the other, he had himself restored the title of Kingdom to Hungary, and was its Regent. Besides, he had sworn allegiance to the King.
Pragmatism prevailed. Although the King unexpectedly appeared in Hungary to recover his throne, Horthy was able to convince him, in a scene worthy of light opera, to leave Hungary again. Sakmyster grudgingly acknowledges Horthy’s diplomatic skill at this point. Sakmyster is in general puzzlingly reluctant to acknowledge Horthy’s skill at diplomacy in the teeth, it seems to this reviewer, of all the evidence, including Sakmyster’s own.
Their account of the restoration crisis provides one more example of both Horthy and Sakmyster failing to provide adequate background to help the reader understand why the actors in the drama acted as they did. Sakmyster notes that a restoration of the monarchy would have led to civil war. Why it should have done so, and between whom, he does not say. Be that as it may, under Horthy there was never to be an official statement on the restoration or non-restoration of the monarchy in Hungary.
Charles himself died in Madeira in 1922, soon after a second attempt to regain the throne had failed. For all his life, according to Sakmyster and confirmed by what Léhar writes in his memoirs, Horthy was haunted by a sense of disloyalty to the King, the man to whom he had sworn an oath of fealty.
Although most younger officers were nationalists in the radical sense of Italian and German fascism, Horthy was by no means isolated in his legitimist position. Habsburg loyalty was predictably strong among Roman Catholics and older members of the officer corps. Not antagonizing either group too much was one of the many balancing acts which Horthy had to perform during the years of his regency, and he managed as well as anyone could, until the war between Germany and Russia finally made neutrality impossible.
Too many questions remain unanswered from reading Sakmyster’s biography. The unusual role of the Regent and the extent of his powers is never explained, nor the remit of Parliament, nor is the reader told, except by scattered hints, which political parties were permitted to run for office and which were not, and exactly which political parties were in play at any given time.
Sakmyster tells the reader, for example, that in 1922 the then Prime Minister, Count István Bethlen, had obtained “control over the Budapest political parties” without explaining which parties they were, how this control was obtained, and what in any case is meant by winning control of them. The Hungarian Diet, the Országgyülés, dates from the 1290s, making it nearly as old as the English Parliament. But how did it work, exactly? We are not told.
The 1920s were relatively peaceful and prosperous years for Hungary as she slowly recovered from the wounds of war. Horthy enjoyed good relations with Prime Minister Bethlen, a political moderate who worked to attenuate the numerus clausus against Jews, which had limited the percentage of Jews permitted to practice in specific professions. Bethlen’s policy of relative tolerance towards Jews ran counter to the radical anti-Semitism of Horthy’s friend Gyula Gömbös. Horthy’s own distrust of Jews had been heightened by the events of 1919, but he at no time showed interest in or sympathy toward any kind of mystical or religious antipathy towards Jews. On the contrary, he seems genuinely mystified by the extremism of racially based anti-Semitism. Both the memoirs and Sakmyster’s biography concur on this. Horthy genuinely could not comprehend the nature of Hitler’s anti-Semitism. He was not alone. Hitler, as head of state of a government based on strictly racial principles as part of its loudly proclaimed ideology and mission, was unique in Europe.
Horthy’s relations with National Socialist Germany were predictably unhappy. At first he was impressed by Hitler’s crushing of Communism and Germany’s ensuing economic recovery, but it becomes clear from the memoirs that he was hostile to the National Socialist cult of the Leader, the lack of consultation in making weighty decisions, the investment of all powers in one individual, the indifference to consequences, the irrational optimism, and the scant regard for the sovereignty of even friendly states. Horthy met with Hitler three times. The first visit, in 1936, had been cordial, but Horthy had become uneasy by the time he visited Hitler again in 1938. He notes,
[i]f Hitler’s intention was to impress us by so lavish a display of entertainments and festivities, tours and presents, he had certainly succeeded, but in a way that he could not have envisaged. The incredible achievements of the few years since 1933, the industry, discipline, and ability displayed by the German people could only be admired. Factory chimneys were smoking, shipbuilding yards were ringing with the sound of multitudinous hammers, and in the fields the farmers were toiling at gathering in the harvest. But the overall picture was too feverish, the total impression filled the beholder with forebodings. He could not refrain from asking himself, to what is all this leading? It strengthened my determination to prevent Hungary from being engulfed in the vortex of national socialist dynamism. (p. 166)
Both Horthy’s and Sakmyster’s account of Hungary’s relations with Germany reveal an aspect of German foreign policy which is perhaps insufficiently stressed. Because Hitler saw himself as the leader of a new world order and head of state of a powerful nation, he expected nations allied to Germany to be subservient to Germany and be compliant with that order and its guiding ideology. Many times Horthy writes of his aversion to Hitler’s peremptory demands and his assumption that small nations allied to Germany would follow what he decided to do.
Horthy was deeply attached to the past, but unlike many who are, he was a realist. Both as accomplished hunter, naval captain, and sportsman, Horthy did not confuse the desirability of an outcome with its likelihood. He was by all accounts skeptical of a happy outcome for the Central Powers in 1914, and no less skeptical of Hitler’s boastful assurances of an Endsieg in 1941.
Sakmyster in his biography and Horthy in his memoirs both provide very readable accounts of the turbulent years of Horthy’s regency, and both agree on one important aspect of these years for Horthy personally and Hungary as a nation. Horthy was caught between Scylla and Charybdis — Horthy himself uses the expression — in two important respects. Firstly, between his desire to regain lost lands, and yet without falling under the influence of the extremely ambitious and nationalist government of Hitler’s Germany, which was vastly more powerful than Hungary and simultaneously wooed and threatened Horthy with the offer of lost territories in return for diplomatic, political, and military support. Secondly, Horthy had to try to reconcile and accommodate the conflicting views and aims of legitimists like himself and the anti-Habsburg nationalists, whose extreme views he neither liked nor understood, but many of whom came from members of the Hungarian armed forces, to which he felt deep emotional attachment.
After Hitler became German head of state in 1933, it was increasingly difficult for Hungary to escape German influence. For one thing, there was the strongly pro-German and anti-Soviet feelings of the greater part of the officer class, who pressed for close relations with National Socialist Germany. For another, as Europe became more polarized, pressure increased to draw closer to the anti-Communist powers of Germany and Italy. The officer class’ radical views seem to have been shared by a large percentage of the Hungarian population, a fact which Sakmyster recognizes but fails to account for.
The impression of Horthy’s character given in Sakmyster’s biography is of a psychologically weak character overall, or at least one who could be manipulated. The nationalist leader Gömbös, if we are to believe Sakmyster, knew how to steer Horthy in the direction he wanted, while a counter-influence was exercised by men like István Bethlen and Count Teleki, who sought a more skeptical and distant policy than the pro-German approach pursued by Gömbös. The impression given by the biography is that Horthy was likely to be influenced in this and other matters by whoever had his ear. However, perhaps this is not so much an indication of weakness as of a person deeply torn in his own inclinations: pro-British more than pro-German, and fanatically anti-Communist and pro-army, yet favorable to parliamentary procedures and due process of law, as befits a professed Anglophile. It is not difficult to see that Horthy was a man often torn by dilemma and inner conflict.
The greatest challenge of all was in foreign policy. How could Horthy maintain Hungarian neutrality when Europe, from the time of the Spanish Civil War onwards, was divided between pro- and anti-Communist, pro- and anti-fascist camps? Repeatedly, Sakmyster’s biography frustrates with its lack of supporting information. Why was it that Horthy was very attached to Gömbös but loathed beyond measure Ferenc Szálasi of the Arrow Cross Party? The reader is left to speculate.
When writing about Gömbös’ visits to Germany and talks with Hitler and Göring (which led Count Bethlen to criticize Gömbös for “flirting with National Socialism”), Sakmyster writes that Horthy was fed rumors by Gömbös’ enemies that he had worked out plans with Göring, with whom he had struck up a good working relationship, to “reorganize” the Hungarian government. Bethlen warned Horthy that he “would end up like King Charles.” Offering no evidence at all, Sakmyster states that Horthy “utterly despised” Göring. This is surprising. One would expect that of all the leading figures in the German government, Horthy would have warmed to this keen hunter and master of ceremonies the most. Horthy’s memoirs, while not suggesting warmth, show no deep ill-feeling:
In spite of his many eccentricities and the blatant luxury with which he surrounded himself, Göring had several conciliatory characteristics; I remember him lifting his little daughter Edda out of her cradle and swinging her proudly over his head. He also knew something about hunting and game, which was why I was pleased to accept his invitation to an elk hunt to be held in September in East Prussia. An ardent huntsman, I was enthusiastic about the hunting laws he had inspired. (p. 165)
Horthy’s own account of his meeting with Göring does not confirm Sakmyster’s claim of a deep antipathy, but it does suggest someone overly impressed by mundane gestures (most fathers may be seen lifting their children up at one time or another!) and therefore vulnerable to manipulation. Horthy emerges as that somewhat unusual combination of an upright but weak personality: intelligent but unimaginative, honest but not always decent, easily swayed yet constant in his beliefs; truly a man of contrasts.
For everything that can be said about his character and his many actions, his difficult relations with Germany, his ultimate failure to escape German influence and finally domination leading up to Hungary’s commitment to the German war effort and the consequent disaster, never at any time is there so much as a hint that Horthy did anything which he did not believe was in the interests of his country. The title of his memoirs, A Life for Hungary, is therefore honest and apt.
Horthy’s neutrality was tested to the breaking point by the pro-Allied putsch in Yugoslavia under General Dušan Simović in March 1941, in reaction to the signing by Yugoslavia of the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Japan, and Italy, a putsch which, as Horthy writes, “though hailed with great jubilation, was the starting point of irreparable tragedy.” (p. 182)
Hitler immediately ordered the destruction of Yugoslavia, and took the opportunity to put Horthy in the position of either participating in its dismemberment by recovering its Hungarian lands or having German forces march through Hungary without his consent. If Hungary refused Hitler’s demands, Hungary would itself be occupied.
As in many other points, Sakmyster and Horthy offer different accounts of the precise nature of Hungary’s commitment to the German war effort and the circumstances surrounding Hungary’s late entry into the war on the German side. What is certain is that most leading Hungarian politicians, and most certainly Horthy himself, did not want war. Horthy writes in his memoirs of his doubts, following the subsequent attack on the Soviet Union in the same year, of the likelihood of a German victory. Teleki, his Prime Minister, was very skeptical as well. The biography bears this out. According to Sakmyster, Horthy was enthusiastic about Hitler’s offer regarding Yugoslavia because he had no idea Hitler intended to attack the Soviet Union.
What is clear from both accounts, however, is Prime Minister Count Teleki’s extreme hostility to Hitler’s proposal that Hungary also attack Yugoslavia. According to Sakmyster, Teleki considered that doing so constituted a breach of trust with a country to which Hungary had sworn undying friendship. He is quoted as telling a friend — the letter is cited in the “Two Teleki Letters” published in the Journal of Central European Affairs of April 1947, on p. 73 — that Horthy would never go to war in the interests of a foreign power. On April 3, rather than be associated with the agreement to enter the war, Count Teleki shot himself. Horthy comments, evasively given his personal involvement, that Teleki was “not a man who could combat the ruthless totalitarian forces that were shaping the destinies of nations in his lifetime.” (p. 185)
Horthy’s explanation of the suicide is vague, and reads uncomfortably like an attempt to exonerate himself from guilt. Teleki felt deeply let down by Horthy. Horthy is adept, like the diplomat he is, at offering justifications for a decision which he felt he had to make, but which he privately disapproved of. This is Sakmyster’s view, and in the case of Teleki’s suicide, it does seem as though Horthy had been forced to betray principle while striving to maintain his country’s independence.
Had Teleki taken the honorable or cowardly way out? However one answers that, the fact is that Hungary was forced into following a course which committed her to the German war effort. The account of the years leading to the end of the war and Horthy’s overthrow by a German-backed pre-emptive coup led by none other than the hated Szálasi make for sad reading by any standards.
Could anyone have acted significantly differently to Horthy if their aim was to keep Hungary out of the German-Soviet conflict? Hungary was trapped. The only possible option might have been the creation of a huge Balkan alliance – such, it seemed, had been mooted by Teleki — to counterbalance the Soviet Union and Germany. It was not to be. For one thing, there was too much mutual antagonism between the various small states, an antagonism that Hitler skillfully exploited. Horthy clearly believed that if, somehow, something like the Austro-Hungarian Empire had prevailed, Europe and indeed the entire world would have been spared unspeakable tragedy.
Horthy writes of his dislike and incomprehension of the Nuremberg Laws in Hitler’s Germany. According to Sakmyster, members of Horthy’s weekly bridge party were wealthy Jewish businessman, one of the facts which caused Joseph Goebbels in later years to write dismissively in his diaries of the “philo-Semitic Hungarian government.” After the outbreak of war, German pressure on Hungary to fall in line with Germany’s anti-Semitic measures was relentless, and as the war progressed, Hungary was put under enormous pressure to exclude Jews from all public life, and in the final stages of the war, to organize the deportation of all Hungarian Jews to an unspecific destination in the German Reich. Horthy’s distaste for National Socialism and his skepticism about German victory, which had become by 1944 his certainty of a German defeat, led to various attempts to put out peace feelers to the Allies. As Horthy rightly notes, the insistence on unconditional surrender put forward by Roosevelt at Casablanca and agreed to by Churchill hugely strengthened Hitler’s position, and arguably protracted the war by months, if not by years.
Horthy’s son Stephen was appointed Deputy Regent in 1942, and Horthy notes with bitterness that congratulations were sent in by all “friendly” nations except Germany. It was known that Stephen had contacts with the Allies via Switzerland and was as skeptical, if not more so, as his father about a German victory. It is also probable that the Gestapo managed to intercept his calls. Stephen took off as a fighter pilot to view conditions along the Eastern front a few weeks after his election as Vice Regent. His plane crashed shortly after takeoff. He was Horthy’s third son to die. Rumors were rife that Stephen Horthy had been killed by German agents, a rumor not proven or disproven to this day. Horthy’s suspicions are clear from the memoirs and must have made his relations with Germany even more uncomfortable in the final months of his rule.
Frustrated with his lack of cooperation and his attempts to arrange a separate surrender for Hungary, Horthy was finally overthrown in a pro-German coup in October 1944. He was later captured by the Americans and spent his final years in exile in Salazar’s Portugal.
Both the memoirs and the biography make for highly interesting reading for those who wish to learn more about the complex and confusing politics of Hungary between the wars, but readers who hope to be enlightened as to the underlying currents which were driving events, or the structures and institutions of Hungary at the time, will feel frustrated by the paucity of historical background in both accounts. Keeping these failings well in mind, both books can be recommended to anyone interested in Hungarian politics between and including both world wars and the character of the man who was Regent of Hungary for nearly all that time.
* * *
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 Thomas L. Sakmyster’s biography was originally written in English and published in 1994, as noted above. However, the book has been long out-of-print and is impossible to find. This review was therefore based on the German translation, Miklós Horthy: Ungarn 1918-1944 (Vienna: Steinbauer, 2006). A new and revised edition of the English version is due to be published soon by Helena History Press.
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