Horthy’s defenders argue that he brought peace, stability and steady economic growth after the trauma of the Treaty of Trianon, when Hungary lost two-thirds of its lands, and the Communist dictatorship of 1919. Caught between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he did his best in an impossible balancing act to protect Hungarian national interests.
Hungary remained a democracy for most of his rule and a safe haven for its Jewish community. Horthy repeatedly refused Nazi demands to deport Hungary’s Jews, which was which was one of the reasons why Nazi Germany invaded in March 1944. Horthy mobilised Hungary’s armed forces to protect the Jews of Budapest, many of whom survived the war. His emissaries were in covert contact with the Allies and he wanted to change sides. Hungary was also a haven for Polish, Slovak and even Jewish refugees,
Not enough, say Horthy’s critics. Horthy declared war on the Allies without being asked by Hitler in 1941 and launched a disastrous campaign on the eastern front that saw 200,000 soldiers killed or captured. By passing four anti-Jewish laws he laid the ground for the Holocaust in Hungary. (The last law in 1941 outlawed sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.) Tens of thousands of Jewish men died in forced labour subjugated by the Hungarian army, Many were killed by their own officers or forced to march through minefields to clear them. Horthy deported 20,000 Jewish refugees who were then shot by the Nazis.