60 years ago today

by Eszter Hargittai on April 4, 2005

Since you can’t find this anywhere online and I think it’s worth a mention, I thought I’d do the honors. April 4, 1945 was the end of World War II in Hungary. When I was growing up, it was referred to as the day the country had been liberated and big celebrations ensued with one of my favorite Soviet-era songs (“Április négyrõl szóljon az ének..”). Not surprisingly that approach didn’t survive the political changes of the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact that the significance of this day in the country’s history has been completely obliterated saddens me and leaves me frustrated. Talk about the social construction of holidays and historical dates. I would be much less bitter about all of this if the country had decided to commemorate the end of World War II on some other day, for example, the end of the war in Europe or across the world. But no such luck. Ignoring this issue is completely consistent with Hungary’s inability to face up to its horrific role in that war. Celebrating the war’s end would mean acknowledging that the country had anything to do with it and that’s clearly asking too much.



Matt 04.04.05 at 5:17 pm

Hi Eszter,
The links don’t seem to be working (I assume they are to May 9th for the 1st, and JV day for the second). A nice post, though. I’m sorry to se the change.


lakelobos 04.04.05 at 8:11 pm

History, i.e. our collective memory, is awash in memory loss. Your sadness reflects parallel tenacious sadness of other nations. FDR knew the trick; he coined the “day the will live infamy.” Even the attack on the New Deal will stay away from 12/7/41.


Skippy McGee 04.04.05 at 9:43 pm

Ntszch nssts w mst lwys mstrst ths t sk t pprtn blm nd ssgn glt … thy sffr frm “rssntmnt” whch h dscrbd s gnrl htrd fr mnknd nd fr lf tslf. Thy sffr frm lf s thgh t wr dss thy hd cntrctd.

“Cllctv mmry” nd nhrtd “glt” pssd n bld lns t dscndnts s nthng lss thn stn g, pr-grcltrl r mystcsm.

Hngry hs nthng t plgz fr nd ths wh nsst thrws r shllw, mnpltv bstrds wh ttmpt t hrt ppl thrgh scl ngnrng bcs thy r t cwrdly t xprss thmslvs drctly.


Éljen április 4.! 04.05.05 at 3:00 am

“Nonetheless, the fact that the significance of this day in the country’s history has been completely obliterated saddens me and leaves me frustrated. “
This is true only for the political right (and maybe for the very minor liberal party).
(The main Hungarian daily – a left-liberal one -, the title is “Liberation”.)
“Ignoring this issue is completely consistent with Hungary’s inability to face up to its horrific role in that war.”


John Quiggin 04.05.05 at 6:08 am

Dsmvwllmnt s t gd fr sm trlls!

Among the Axis countries in World War II, it seems as if the former West Germany has been the only one to make a proper acknowledgement of the guilt incurred by its leaders and the many who supported them actively or passively. Japan still prefers the hostility and distrust of its neighbours to the internal strife that would be caused by anything approaching an honest acknowledgement of the crimes committed before and during the War. And, from what I can see, Austria and Hungary are much the same.


Éljen április 4.! 04.05.05 at 6:22 am

Dear John Guiqqin!
Some facts supporting your statement (concerning Hungary) would be gratefully appreciated…
from Budapest


Maynard Handley 04.05.05 at 3:07 pm

My understanding of Hungary during WW2 was that those in power did what they could to avoid being sucked in, including making such deals as the Nazi’s as were necessary, but those deals were essentially words that were implemented as laggardly and ineffectively as possible.

It might not have been noble, but it kept more people alive — including, it should be said, probably more Jews alive — than the alternatives. Defying Hitler would certainly have led to a Yugoslavia type outcome; attacks by Germans with the local Nazi supporting nutcases (which you had them, and have now, in every country) taking advantage of the case to go bezerk.

Correction welcome, if my understanding is wrong.


Fred Smoler 04.05.05 at 3:59 pm

in re post 7, above: Hungary did stay neutral for quite a while, and entered under myserious circumstances. Someone bombed Hungary a couple of days after the start of Barbarossa, and it is still not clear who or why–the three suspects are malevolent or incompetent Rumanians, malevolent or incompetent Russians, and malevolent or incompetent or Machiavellian Germans. Hungary then declared war on the Soviet Union. Conservatives who still more or less controlled Hungarian foreign policy had been trying to stay out while nonetheless revising the Trianon borders, and had succeeded in securing part of Transylvania and Slovakia. Hungary tried to change sides in ’44, after Rumania did, and did not behave too badly until the Arrow Cross were put in charge following the German deposition of Horthy. So by local standards, the traditional Hungarian elites did not behave particularly atrociously–some barbarities before the Arrow Cross took power, but not nearly as many as Rumanians contemporaneously committed.


Éljen április 4.! 04.05.05 at 6:27 pm

re: Fred Smoler
I would consider some malevolent or incompetent Hungarians, say from the army (heavily German-oriented). And it was the vital interest of the Soviets to keep Hungary out of the war, so it is very unlikely that the Russians bombed.
Anyway, Hungary was an ally of Germany, albeit a reluctant one.
Some information on Hungarian history between world War I and World War II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary#History

On the history of Hungarian Holocaust:


Erik 04.06.05 at 1:30 am

>Ignoring this issue is completely consistent with Hungary’s >inability to face up to its horrific role in that war.

horrific compared to what other country or people?

every nation commits horrible acts in every war (US in Vietnam, Japan in China, China in China, Germany everywhere, Russia take your pick, Serbs Croats Bosnians have they ever played nice?, etc etc). The WWII generation is mostly dead, and even their children are nearing retirement– how should Hungary “face up” to its role in the war? Public apology? Reparations for the grandchildren of… who? Jews? Russians? Americans?


maria 04.06.05 at 3:17 am

Re: Fred Smoler

re: “… securing parts of Transylvania and Slovakia.”

Of course, after securing these territories there were many atrocities perpetrated against the Romanian and Slovak inhabitants – whether they were more numerous or worse than
those perpetrated by others in the region is debatable. Certainly the Rumanians were not only ones committing horrific acts at the time …


Fred Smoler 04.06.05 at 6:47 pm

in re the argument that Russians were unlikely to have bombed Hungary because of the vital Soviet interest in Hungarian neutrality, Soviet command and control were at that time necessarily pretty chaotic, and at that time substantial navigational errors were more than possible for any air force. In re the point that the Rumanians were not the only ones committing horrific acts at the time, point taken, although it seems noteworthy that in the summer of 1941, Rumanian atrocities in Bessarabia are widely reported to have shocked the SS.


maria 04.07.05 at 12:04 am

Re : “Rumanian atrocities in Bessarabia are widely reported to have shocked the SS”.

You are absolutely right about this – I was just pointing out that in addition to the persecution of Jews (which is what was documented in most detail by the SS), there were many atrocities committed against various Eastern European ethnic groups by other ethnic groups in the area. They received less attention and they were not as widely documented, but they were just as horrific (although they do not compare in scale with the general violence against the Jewish population). In Yugoslavia’s case, these acts were obviously remembered as late as the 90’s …

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