ⓘ Arrow Cross Party


ⓘ Arrow Cross Party

The Arrow Cross Party was a far-right Hungarist party led by Ferenc Szalasi, which formed a government in Hungary known as the Government of National Unity. They were in power from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945. During its short rule, ten to fifteen thousand civilians were murdered outright, and 80.000 people were deported from Hungary to various concentration camps in Austria. After the war, Szalasi and other Arrow Cross leaders were tried as war criminals by Hungarian courts.


1. Formation

The party was founded by Ferenc Szalasi in 1935 as the Party of National Will. It had its origins in the political philosophy of pro-German extremists such as Gyula Gombos, who famously coined the term "national socialism" in the 1920s. The party was outlawed in 1937 but was reconstituted in 1939 as the Arrow Cross Party, and was said to be modelled fairly explicitly on the Nazi Party of Germany, although Szalasi often and harshly criticised the Nazi regime of Germany. The iconography of the party was clearly inspired by that of the Nazis; the Arrow Cross emblem was an ancient symbol of the Magyar tribes who settled Hungary, thereby suggesting the racial purity of the Hungarians in much the same way that the Nazi Hakenkreuz was intended to allude to the racial purity of the Aryans. The Arrow Cross symbol also referred to the desire to nullify the Treaty of Trianon, and expand the Hungarian state in all cardinal directions towards the former borders of the Kingdom of Hungary.


2. Ideology

The partys ideology was similar to that of Nazism or Fascism and Hungarian Turanism combined, which was called Hungarism by Ferenc Szalasi – nationalism, the promotion of agriculture, anti-capitalism, anti-communism and a special type of anti-Semitism, called a-Semitism. In a series of four books on Hungarism, Szalasi distinguished between a-Semitism, which called for a society completely absent of Jews, and anti-Semitism, which, he argued, would nominally allow Jews to exist in a particular society with limited rights. He argued that a-Semitism was not opposed to the existence of Jews per se; it was opposed to their existence in as being incompatible with European society. Szalasi extended this argument to Arabs as well, as a matter of fact to the whole Semitic Race. The party and its leader were originally against the German geopolitical plans, so it was a long and very difficult process for Hitler to compromise with Szalasi and his party. Consequently, the party conceived Jews in racial as well as religious terms as incapable to be integrated into the society outside the place and culture of their historical origin. Although the Arrow Cross Party was certainly far more racist than the Horthy regime, it was still different in some ways from the German Nazi Party. It was also more economically radical than other fascist movements, advocating workers rights land reforms.


3. Rise to power

The roots of Arrow Cross influence can be traced to the outburst of anti-Jewish feeling that followed the Communist putsch and brief rule in Hungary in the spring and summer of 1919. Some Communist leaders, like Tibor Szamuely, came from Jewish families, or like Bela Kun, its leader, who had a Jewish father and a Protestant Swabian mother, were considered to be Jews, and the policies of the Hungarian Soviet Republic came to be associated in the minds of many Hungarians with a "Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy."

After the communist government was overthrown in August 1919, conservative authoritarians under the leadership of Admiral Miklos Horthy took control of the nation. Many Hungarian military officers took part in the counter-reprisals known as the White Terror – parts of that violence was directed at Jews, simply because they were Jewish. Although the White Guard was officially suppressed, many of its most prevalent members went underground and formed the core membership of a spreading nationalist and anti-Jewish movement.

During the 1930s, the Arrow Cross gradually began to dominate Budapests working class district, defeating the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats did not really contest elections effectively; they had to make a pact with the conservative Horthy regime in order to prevent the abolition of their party. The Arrow Cross party recruited as well from the poorest and anti-social parts of society, the social groups which at that time in Hungary was often called "scum" or "trash", i.e unemployed alcoholics, ex-convicts, prisoners, rapists, the uneducated, etc. Many of these anti-social members later committed some of the most brutal crimes against Jews, intellectuals, socialists and other civilians.

The Arrow Cross subscribed to the Nazi ideology of "master races", which, in Szalasis view, included the Hungarians and Germans, and also supported the concept of an order based on the power of the strongest – what Szalasi called a "brutally realistic etatism". But its espousal of territorial claims under the banner of a "Greater Hungary" and Hungarian values which Szalasi labelled "Hungarizmus" or "Hungarianism" clashed with Nazi ambitions in central Europe, delaying by several years Hitlers endorsement of that party.

The German Foreign Office instead endorsed the pro-German Hungarian National Socialist Party, which had some support among German minorities. Before World War II, the Arrow Cross were not proponents of the racial antisemitism of the Nazis, but utilised traditional stereotypes and prejudices to gain votes among voters both in Budapest and the countryside. Nonetheless the constant bickering among these diverse fascist groups prevented the Arrow Cross Party from gaining even more support and power.

The Arrow Cross obtained most of its support from a disparate coalition of military officers, soldiers, nationalists and agricultural workers. It was only one of a number of similar openly fascist factions in Hungary but was by far the most prominent, having developed an effective system of recruitment. When it contested the May 1939 elections – the only ones in which it participated – the party won 15% of the vote and 29 seats in the Hungarian Parliament. This was only a superficially impressive result; the majority of Hungarians were not permitted to vote. It did, however, become one of the most powerful parties in Hungary. But the Horthy leadership banned the Arrow Cross on the outbreak of World War II, forcing it to operate underground.

In 1944, the Arrow Cross Partys fortunes were abruptly reversed after Hitler lost patience with the reluctance of Horthy and his moderate prime minister, Miklos Kallay, to toe the Nazi line fully. In March 1944, the Germans invaded and officially occupied Hungary; Kallay fled and was replaced by the Nazi proxy, Dome Sztojay. One of Sztojays first acts was to legalise the Arrow Cross.

During the spring and summer of 1944, more than 400.000 Jews were herded into centralised ghettos and then deported from the Hungarian countryside to death camps by the Nazis, with the willing help of the Hungarian Interior Ministry and its gendarmerie the csendorseg, both of whose members had close links to the Arrow Cross. The Jews of Budapest were concentrated into so-called Yellow Star Houses, approximately 2.000 single-building mini-ghettos identified by a yellow Star of David over the entrance. In August 1944, before deportations from Budapest began, Horthy used what influence he had to stop them, and force the radical antisemites out of his government. As the summer progressed, and the Allied and Soviet armies closed in on central Europe, the ability of the Nazis to devote themselves to Hungarys "Jewish Solution" waned, but the Arrow Cross with the help of the Germans in Hungary, still used their resources for carrying out many acts of massacres. Jews were often rounded up on streets by the Arrow Cross men, and the babies and children often brutally separated from their parents and driven away, while the adults were taken to the riverside, alleys or ditches and shot, cut or beaten to death.


4. Arrow Cross rule

In October 1944, Horthy negotiated a cease-fire with the Soviets and ordered Hungarian troops to lay down their arms. In response, Nazi Germany launched Operation Panzerfaust, a covert operation which forced Horthy to abdicate in favour of Szalasi, after which he was taken into "protective custody" in Germany. This merely rubber-stamped an Arrow Cross takeover of Budapest on the same day. Szalasi was declared "Leader of the Nation" and prime minister of a "Government of National Unity".

Soviet and Romanian forces were already fighting in Hungary even before Szalasis takeover, and by the time the Arrow Cross took power the Red Army was already far inside the country. As a result, its jurisdiction was effectively limited to an ever-narrowing band of territory in central Hungary, around Budapest. Nonetheless, the Arrow Cross rule, short-lived as it was, was brutal. In fewer than three months, Arrow Cross death squads killed as many as 38.000 Hungarian Jews. Arrow Cross officers helped Adolf Eichmann re-activate the deportation proceedings from which the Jews of Budapest had thus far been spared, sending some 80.000 Jews out of the city on slave labour details and many more straight to death camps. Virtually all Jewish males of conscription age were already serving as slave labour for the Hungarian Armys Forced Labor Battalions. Most of them died, including many who were murdered outright after the end of the fighting as they were returning home.

Red Army troops reached the outskirts of the city in December 1944, and the siege action known as the Battle of Budapest began, although it has often been claimed that there is no proof that the Arrow Cross members and the Germans conspired to destroy the Budapest ghetto. Days before he fled the city, Arrow Cross Interior Minister Gabor Vajna commanded that streets and squares named for Jews be renamed.

As control of the citys institutions began to decay, the Arrow Cross trained their guns on the most helpless possible targets: patients in the beds of the citys two Jewish hospitals on Maros Street and Bethlen Square, children and women who couldnt flee, and residents in the Jewish poorhouse on Alma Road. As order collapsed, Arrow Cross members continually sought to raid the ghettos and Jewish concentration buildings; the majority of Budapests Jews were saved only by fearless and heroic efforts on the part of a handful of Jewish leaders and foreign diplomats, most famously the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Angelo Rotta, Swiss Consul Carl Lutz, Spanish Consul Angel Sanz Briz and the Italian Cattle trader Giorgio Perlasca. The Arrow Cross continued rounding up Jews, often with their standard method of taking all the children away from the parents and shooting the adults, and killing or beating any parent or child who protested. At the Danube river, the Arrow Cross organized mass murders on repeated occasions, shooting people in the head and dumping the bodies in the river. They found it especially amusing to tie Jewish couples back-to-back or next to each other, then methodically shooting only one in the head so that both would fall into the river, causing the partner left alive to be pulled down with the dead to drown.

The Arrow Cross government effectively fell at the end of January 1945, when the Soviet Army took Pest and the fascist forces retreated across the Danube to Buda. Szalasi had escaped from Budapest on December 11, 1944, taking with him the Hungarian royal crown, while Arrow Cross members and German forces continued to fight a rear-guard action in the far west of Hungary until the end of the war in April 1945.


5. Post-war developments

After the war, many of the Arrow Cross leaders were captured and tried for war crimes. In the first months of postwar adjudication, no fewer than 6.200 indictments for murder were served against Arrow Cross men. Some Arrow Cross officials, including Szalasi himself, were executed.

A memorial created by Gyula Pauer, Hungarian sculptor, and Can Togay in 2005 on the bank of the river Danube in Budapest recalls the events when the Budapest Jews who were shot by Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945. The victims were lined up and shot into the river. They had to take their shoes off, since shoes were valuable belongings at the time.

In 2006, a former high-ranking member of the Arrow Cross Party named Lajos Polgar was found to be living in Melbourne, Australia. He was accused of war crimes, but the case was later dropped and Polgar died of natural causes in July of that year.

The ideology of the Arrow Cross has resurfaced to some extent in recent years, with the neofascist Hungarian Welfare Association prominent in reviving Szalasis "Hungarizmus" through its monthly magazine, Magyartudat Hungarian Awareness ". But "Hungarism" is very much a fringe element of modern Hungarian politics, and the Hungarian Welfare Association has since dissolved.