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Ferenc Szálasi
Leader of the Nation
(Head of State of Hungary)

In office
16 October 1944 – 28 March 1945
Prime Minister himself
Preceded by Miklós Horthy
as Regent of Hungary
Succeeded by High National Council
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hungary
(de facto)

In office
16 October 1944 – 28 March 1945
Monarch vacant
Leader himself
Preceded by Géza Lakatos
Succeeded by Béla Miklós
(In opposition, then officially)
Personal details
Born (1897-01-06)6 January 1897
Kassa, Kingdom of Hungary (now Košice, Slovakia)
Died 12 March 1946(1946-03-12) (aged 49)
Budapest, Hungarian Republic
Political party Arrow Cross Party
Spouse(s) Gizella Lutz
Profession Soldier, Politician
Military service
Allegiance  Austria-Hungary
 Kingdom of Hungary
Service/branch Austro-Hungarian Army
 Royal Hungarian Army
Years of service 1915–1935
Rank Major
Commands 1st Honvéd Mixed-Brigade
Battles/wars World War I
Awards 3rd Class, Order of the Iron Crown

Ferenc Szálasi (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈfɛrɛnt͡s ˈsaːlɒʃi]; 6 January 1897 – 12 March 1946) was the leader of the Arrow Cross Party – Hungarist Movement, the "Leader of the Nation" (Nemzetvezető), being both Head of State and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hungary's "Government of National Unity" (Nemzeti Összefogás Kormánya) for the final six months of Hungary's participation in World War II, after Germany occupied Hungary and removed Miklós Horthy by force. During his brief rule, Szálasi's men murdered 10,000–15,000 Jews.[1] After the war, he was tried and executed by the Hungarian court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Ancestry[edit | edit source]

Born the son of a soldier in Kassa, Abaúj-Torna County, Kingdom of Hungary (now Košice, Slovakia) of mixed Armenian (the surname of his great-grandfather was Salossian),[2][3][4] German, Hungarian (one grandparent), Slovak and Rusyn ancestry. His Armenian ancestors settled down in Ebesfalva, Transylvania during the reign of Prince Michael I Apafi. Szálasi's grandfather, who participated as a honvéd in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, married a German woman from Vienna, and their son, Ferenc Szálasi, Sr. (born 1866) attended a military cadet school in Kassa and later became an official in the Honvédség. Szálasi's brothers, Béla, Károly and Rezső also served in the army.

Szálasi's mother was the Greek Catholic Erzsébet Szakmár (born 1875), who had Slovak and Rusyn roots. She provided religious education to her sons. Szálasi once said "I received the power of belief and faith in God through breast milk. My mother made to drink faith through and through me". Ferenc Szálasi lived with his mother until 1944.[5]

Military career[edit | edit source]

Szálasi followed in his father's footsteps and joined the army at a young age. He finished elementary studies in his birthplace, then attended the military academy in Kőszeg, Marosvásárhely (now Târgu Mureș in Romania) and continued studies in Kismarton. Finally, he finished his military education in the Theresian Military Academy of Wiener Neustadt, where he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1915.

He eventually became an officer and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. He served on the frontline for 36 months. At the end of the war, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and was involved in the 2nd regiment of k.u.k. Tyrolean Rifle Regiments, widely known as Kaiserjäger. He stationed near Merano and Lake Garda in the Italian Front. Later the regiments were ordered to the north to Verdun at the last days of the war. For his service, he was honored with Third Class of the Order of the Iron Crown. Returning to Hungary, Szálasi performed courier service for the newly formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the Aster Revolution in November 1918.

Upon the dissolution and break-up of Austria-Hungary after the war, the Hungarian Democratic Republic and then the Hungarian Soviet Republic were briefly proclaimed in 1918 and 1919 respectively. The short-lived communist government of Béla Kun launched what was known as the "Red Terror" and ultimately involved Hungary in an ill-fated war with Romania. In 1920, the country went into a period of civil conflict with Hungarian anti-communists and monarchists violently purging the nation of communists, leftist intellectuals, and others they felt threatened by, especially Jews. This period was known as the "White Terror" and, in 1920, after the pullout of the last of the Romanian occupation forces, it led to the restoration of the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság) under Regent Miklós Horthy. During that time, Szálasi was still an apolitical person, and he did not involve himself in events beyond the general interest.

In 1920–21, Szálasi finished non-commissioned officer training school in Hajmáskér; following that, he served in the 13th Infantry Regiment in Miskolc. In 1923, he enrolled to the General Staff officers' training course at the Ludovica Military Academy. For his outstanding achievements, he was promoted with priority to Captain in 1924. In 1925, Szálasi entered the General Staff of the restored Kingdom. He fulfilled his mandatory field-grade task in 1929 at the 11th Infantry Regiment in Debrecen as a company commander. According to some memoirs by former subordinates, Szálasi was a popular and beloved superior among the infantry. His fellow officers acknowledged his military skills and literacy, but some others thought Szálasi was pedantic and autonomous. According to his future Minister of Defence, Károly Beregfy, "Szálasi's name among the General Staff was a concept of excellent hunting and tactics, but also a concept with the regards of honesty, truthfulness and Puritanism." By 1933, Szálasi had attained the rank of Major and became Chief of the 1st Honvéd Mixed-Brigade's General Staff in Budapest.

Political career[edit | edit source]

First steps in politics[edit | edit source]

Around this time, when Gyula Gömbös came to power, Szálasi became fascinated with politics and often lectured on Hungary's political affairs. By this time, the hitherto apolitical Szálasi was a fanatical right-wing nationalist and a strong proponent of "Hungarism," advocating the expansion of Hungary's territory back to the borders of Greater Hungary as it was prior to the Treaty of Trianon, which in 1920 codified the reduction in the country's area by 72%. In 1933, to summarize his views, he published his 46-page pamphlet with the title A magyar állam felépítésének terve ("Plan for the Building of the Hungarian State") and sent his work to several politicians. Soldiers and military officers were banned from politicizing, thus Szálasi was sentenced to twenty-day detention and expelled from the General Staff by a military court. After his release, Szálasi was ordered to the 14th Infantry Regiment in Eger, where served as staff officer then first adjutant. Szálasi gradually became disillusioned with the army and requested resignation from that in October 1934.

On 1 March 1935, Szálasi left the army in order to devote his full attention to politics, after which time he established the Party of National Will, a nationalistic group. It was eventually outlawed by the conservative government for being too radical. Unperturbed, Szálasi established the Hungarian National Socialist Party in 1937, which was also banned. However, Szálasi was able to attract considerable support to his cause from factory workers and Hungary's lower classes by pandering to their aggrieved sense of nationalism and their virulent antisemitism.[citation needed]

After Germany's "Union" (Anschluss) with Austria in 1938, Szálasi's followers became more radical in their political activities, and Szálasi was arrested and imprisoned by the Hungarian Police. However, even while in prison Szálasi managed to remain a powerful political figure, and was proclaimed leader of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party (a coalition of several right-wing groups) when it was expanded in 1938. The party attracted a large number of followers, and in the 1939 elections, it gained 30 seats in the Hungarian Parliament, thus becoming one of the more powerful parties in Hungary. Freed due to a general amnesty resulting from the Second Vienna Award in 1940, Szálasi returned to politics. When World War II began, the Arrow Cross Party was officially banned by Prime Minister Pál Teleki, thus forcing Szálasi to operate in secret. During this period, Szálasi gained the support and backing of the Germans, who had previously been opposed to Szálasi because his "Hungarist" nationalism placed Hungarian territorial claims above those of Germany.[citation needed]

Way to power[edit | edit source]

Following the Nazi occupation of Hungary in March 1944, the pro-German Döme Sztójay was installed as Prime Minister of Hungary. The Arrow Cross Party was then legalized by the government, allowing Szálasi to expand the party. When Sztójay was deposed in August, Szálasi once again became an enemy of the Hungarian government and Regent Miklós Horthy ordered his arrest. In the meantime the Germans had become concerned that Horthy (who had enough sense to recognize that the war was totally lost) would succeed in surrendering to the Allies. They had, however, waiting in the wings, a perfect ally in Szálasi. When the Germans learned of the Regent's plan to come to a separate peace with the Soviets and exit the Axis alliance, they kidnapped Horthy's son, Miklos, Jr. and threatened to kill him unless Horthy abdicated in favor of Szálasi. Under duress, Horthy signed a document announcing his own abdication and naming Szálasi prime minister–effectively giving "legal sanction" to an Arrow Cross coup. In his memoirs, Horthy contended the appointment of Szálasi was invalid, saying, "A signature wrung from a man at machine-gun point can have little legality."[6] The Germans then pressured Parliament to install Szálasi as Prime Minister and Head of State.

National leader[edit | edit source]

Ferenc Szálasi in Budapest, October 1944.

Szálasi's Government of National Unity turned the Kingdom of Hungary into a puppet state of Nazi Germany formed on 16 October 1944 after Regent Miklós Horthy was removed from power during Operation Panzerfaust (Unternehmen Eisenfaust) [1].

The Hungarian parliament approved the formation of a Council of Regency (Kormányzótanács) of three. On 4 November, Szálasi was sworn as Leader of the Nation (nemzetvezető).[7] He formed a government of sixteen ministers, half of which were members of the Arrow Cross Party. While the Horthy regency had come to an end, the Hungarian monarchy was not abolished by the Szálasi regime, as government newspapers kept referring to the country as the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság, also abbreviated as m.kir.), although Magyarország (Hungary) was frequently used as an alternative.[8][9]

The Government of National Unity headed by Ferenc Szálasi (sitting in the center).

Szálasi was an ardent fascist and his "Quisling government" had little other intention or ability but to maintain fascism and to maintain control in Nazi-occupied portions of Hungary as the Soviet Union invaded. He did this in order to reduce the threat to Germany. Szálasi's aim was to create a one-party state based on his "Hungarist" ideology.

Under his rule as a close ally of Germany, the Germans, with the assistance of the Szálasi government, recommenced the deportation of the Jews, which had been suspended by Horthy. He organised the so-called International Ghetto. During that time some diplomats like Raoul Wallenberg gave protective passports to some Jews, which protected them from deportation. Germans argued they weren't valid according to international law, but Szálasi's government accepted them nevertheless.[10] His government promoted martial law and courts-martial, and executed those who were considered dangerous for the state and the continuation of the war. During Szálasi's rule, Hungarian tangible assets (cattle, machinery, wagons, industrial raw material etc.) were sent to Germany. He conscripted young and old into the remaining Hungarian Army and sent them into hopeless battles against the Red Army.

Szálasi's rule only lasted 163 days, partly because by the time he took power, the Red Army was already deep inside Hungary. On 19 November 1944, Szálasi was in the Hungarian capital when Soviet and Romanian forces began encircling it. By the time the city was encircled and the 102-day Siege of Budapest began, he was gone. The "Leader of the Nation" (Nemzetvezető) fled to Szombathely on 9 December. By March 1945, Szálasi was in Vienna just prior to the Vienna Offensive. Later, he fled to Munich.[11]

Trial and execution[edit | edit source]

The Arrow Cross Party's cabinet, which had fled Hungary, was dissolved on 7 May 1945, a day before Germany's surrender.[12] Szálasi was captured by American troops in Mattsee on 6 May[12] and returned to Hungary on 3 October. He was tried by the People's Tribunal in Budapest in open sessions begun in February 1946, and sentenced to death for war crimes and high treason. Szálasi was hanged on 12 March 1946 in Budapest, along with two of his former ministers, Gábor Vajna and Károly Beregfy, and the party ideologist József Gera.

The hanging was conducted in the Austrian pole method. A large post had a rope attached to a hook at the top. Szálasi was marched up steps, placed with his back to the post, his legs and arms were tied, the noose placed around his neck, the rope tightened, and the steps were removed. With the post only leaving a couple feet between Szálasi and the ground it is likely that he died slowly due to strangulation rather than being instantaneously rendered unconscious and dying shortly after as would happen when utilizing the standard drop. This would also explain why his arms and legs were bound as to prevent struggle during the process.[13]

Thirty-two photos of the hanging were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.[13] Other photographs of the execution are on display in the Holocaust Room of the Budapest Jewish Museum.

On 13 March 1946, the day after Szálasi's death, The National Council of People's Tribunals discussed the convicted politicians' plea for mercy and recommended its refusal to Justice Minister István Ries, when Szálasi and his ministers were already executed. Ries forwarded the decision to President Zoltán Tildy, who subsequently approved the death sentence and execution on 15 March 1946.[14]

Szálasi was buried in Rákoskeresztúr New Public Cemetery in the Budapest Capital District, Budapest, Hungary, plot 298. In 2008, historian Tamás Kovács claimed the Political Department of the Hungarian State Police (PRO; predecessor of the feared secret police State Protection Authority) falsified his name and birth certificate, and buried him as "Ferenc Lukács" in section 298 of the New Public Cemetery.[15] Other historians, however, rejected this claim, since no written source could be found.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Patai, Raphael (1996). The Jews of Hungary:History, Culture, Psychology. 590: Wayne State University Press. pp. 730. ISBN 0-8143-2561-0. https://books.google.com/?id=LLuPS1yVDf8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22the+jews+of+hungary%22#PPA590,M1. 
  2. Terence Ball. The Cambridge history of twentieth-century political thought. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-56354-2. p. 140:"Szalasi was descended from an eighteenth-century Armenian immigrant named Salossian"
  3. Ferenc Szalasi Archived 9 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Martin Kitchen. Europe between the wars. Pearson Education, 2006. ISBN 0-582-89414-X. p. 456 "Major Ferenc Szalasi, whose father was Armenian and whose mother was of Slovak-Magyar origin..."
  5. Sipos Péter: Nemzetvesztő nemzetvezető Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. – Historia.hu.
  6. Horthy, Admiral Nicholas (2000). Admiral Nicholas Horthy Memoirs. Nicholas Horthy, Miklós Horthy, Andrew L. Simon, Nicholas Roosevelt (illustrated ed.). Simon Publications LLC. pp. 348. ISBN 0-9665734-3-9. https://books.google.com/books?id=Qpzqnn95AHIC. 
  7. Hungary: Notes - archontology.org
  8. Budapesti Közlöny, 17 October 1944
  9. Hivatalos Közlöny, 27 January 1945
  10. "Prim Online". http://www.nsz.prim.hu/cikk/486138/. [dead link]
  11. Thomas, The Royal Hungarian Army in World war II, p. 24
  12. 12.0 12.1 Gosztonyi, Péter (1992) (in Hungarian). A Magyar Honvédség a második világháborúban (2nd ed.). Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó. pp. 275–276. ISBN 963-07-5386-3. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ruane, Michael E. (9 February 2018). "Thirty-two frightening snapshots of a hanging. And no one knew who the victims were – until now.". Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/02/09/thirty-two-frightening-snapshots-of-a-hanging-and-no-one-knew-who-they-were-until-now/?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1. Retrieved 11 February 2018. 
  14. Karsai, Elek; Karsai, László: A Szálasi-per, Reform Lap- és Könyvkiadó Rt., 1988, ISBN 963-02-5942-7
  15. Nemzeti emlékhelyen nyugszik Szálasi? – FigyelőNet, 2008-02-08.

Sources[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Political offices
Preceded by
Miklós Horthy
(as regent)
Leader of the Nation
Succeeded by
High National Council
Preceded by
Géza Lakatos
Prime Minister of Hungary
(de facto)
Succeeded by
Béla Miklós
Preceded by
Ferenc Rajniss
Minister of Religion and Education

Succeeded by
Géza Teleki

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