It was the economic unravelling of post-war Hungary in which Soviet machinations and Western acquiescence were initially most damaging. Economic crisis, of course, had begun with the German occupation of March 1944, the resulting ruthless exploitation of Hungary by a desperate Reich, and the cataclysmic battle between great armies that ensued on Hungarian land. At the start of the occupation, the Nazis were in a hurry on all fronts, including the astonishing deportation of over 400,000 provincial Jews to extermination camps in less than two months – an element of German policy that Hungary had steadfastly resisted while it retained independence. Meanwhile, Carl August Clodius of the German Foreign Ministry’s Commercial Department ordered the “quick and relentless exploitation of the economic resources of the country […] no Hungarian contribution of any significance must be neglected simply because of a lack of means of payment”. Hungary also had to contribute first 200 million pengős per month to supply the occupation force, and then 300 million from October.1

The battle for the capital, when it arrived, exceeded all the tortured fears of devastation that had driven Hungarian decision-makers through the war. It was Hungary’s sad fate that while Hitler cut his losses elsewhere, he dug in his heels in Budapest. By the end, 29,987 of Budapest’s 35,677 buildings were damaged or destroyed. But when its hardy citizens emerged from their cellars, they found a new occupation being established. Marshall Malinovsky gave his soldiers three days of celebratory looting, while special units of the Red Army sought and purloined everything valuable. But this, which could be considered merely the aftermath of a hard-fought victory, was only the beginning.

In the Hungarian armistice that was signed on 20 January 1945, Hungary had to agree to “make regular payments in Hungarian currency and provide commodities […], facilities and services as may be required by the Allied (Soviet) High Command for the fulfilment of its functions as well as for the needs of missions and representatives of the allied states connected with the Allied Control Commission” (Article 11). Additionally, Article 12 stipulated that Hungary must provide $300 million “payable over six years in commodities (machine equipment, river craft, grain, livestock, et cetera)” as reparations to the Soviet Union ($200 million), as well as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia ($50 million each). Even in the initial terms, there were ominous signs, with payments to be settled according to 1938 prices, with 15 per cent added for industrial goods and 10 per cent for other items. “Our economic specialists pointed out how grossly this method of pricing reparations would increase the burden in the Hungarian economy”, testifies Schoenfeld.2 Even so, if this amount calculated in this way had been the main burden, the situation would not have become so serious.

Instead, firstly, from the beginning of the Soviet occupation of eastern Hungary in the autumn of 1944 until June 1945, when a Soviet–Hungarian agreement regarding reparation details was signed, the Red Army stole, requisitioned and removed Hungary’s resources at a rapacious rate – none of which was counted as reparations. “Every day more and more trainloads of dismantled Hungarian machinery left for Russia without being controlled or accounted for”, Ferenc Nagy recalls, as well as “the endless columns of cattle, horses and pigs driven by Red [Army] soldiers toward the Soviet Union.”3 As the Germans had also done, the Soviets dismantled and dispatched whole factories. For example, the huge Tungsram lighting factory in Újpest began to be taken apart in March 1945, with the removal of the machinery and inventory taking two months and employing 600 to 700 wagons. Meanwhile, “[f[ifty workers and three hundred Russian soldiers packed up the 1,200-ton equipment of the country’s largest paper mill”, historian László Borhi relates. This happened to about 100 factories across the country, and it could not even merely be excused by the needs that certainly existed within the Soviet Union.4 Factories were removed that were already dedicated to providing for the Soviet Union, while, in other cases, removed equipment sat rusting on railway sidings.

Secondly, once the more official reparations regime began, the greatest load fell on the Hungarian industrial capacity which the Soviets had just systematically crippled. Even as yet more machinery was removed, Hungary’s factories were charged with producing items such as locomotives for the Soviets. In the summer of 1946, half of Hungary’s industrial production, and about 90 per cent of its heavy industry, was still devoted to producing reparation goods – production for which there would be no payment. At the very least, such production would gradually reduce the balance of reparation payments, but this was also uncertainly and inequitably handled, since the Soviets determined, and consistently underestimated, the value of the items they demanded. The Hungarian side also had to pay the cost of shipping reparations to the Soviet Union, adding a further 15 to 20 per cent to the cost, while the Soviets levied a five per cent charge for deliveries that came later than expected.5

If this was not bad enough, thirdly, the Soviet plundering and requisitioning of food to feed the massive occupation force, a matter not adequately anticipated in the armistice, created a roiling national food crisis throughout 1945 and 1946. In the first months of the occupation, Nagy recounts, “[w]hen the Russians wanted food they simply sequestered everything they could lay hands on, taking away the stores, the supplies of the mills, and even seed reserves”. But even when some order was imposed on the supplying of the Red Army, it was “extremely difficult, because the Russians never informed [the government] of the exact amount of food needed or the numbers of soldiers to be cared for”. The requisitioning of food, seized without payment, strained supplies, leaving less for the population of nine million than had been taken for the occupation force of 1 to 1.5 million. In January 1946, the average daily ration in Budapest plummeted to 480 calories, and even with a slight increase in the coming months, a heavy manual labourer could only expect 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day and an office worker, 600 to 650. These were starvation conditions: by comparison, the League of Nations had estimated that 4,800 calories per day were needed to sustain health in a manual worker doing heavy labour. Even in Germany, whose desperate situation was causing great concern, conditions were slightly better, where the official ration of 1,550 calories per day was met at the beginning of 1946 in the US zone, although in the British zone, intake dropped to about 1,000.6

Reflecting a Soviet aim to squeeze as much as possible from Hungary, other mechanisms for appropriation were used. The $30 million of debt that Hungary had owed Germany was now demanded by the Soviet Union, but Nazi Germany had entered into far more debt in the other direction, and, extraordinarily, the Soviet Union also claimed from Hungary the nearly $300 million which Germany owed Hungary. Furthermore, when the three Allies’ Potsdam Declaration of July 1945 entitled the Soviets to German property in Hungary, they exploited it to an extraordinary degree, taking control not only of subsidiaries of Austrian companies seized by the Reich after the Anschluss, but even of Hungarian companies that Germany had only just seized during the recent occupation.7

While the Soviet occupiers were, of course, primarily responsible for the requirements and conditions they engineered, the tendency of the American and British representatives on the ACC to dismiss Hungarian complaints and accept Soviet dissimulation made them convenient accomplices. The US plenipotentiary, Schoenfeld, was more discerning and sympathetic, but he did not have a seat on the ACC, which was a military-led body. “It is difficult to ascertain how much booty has been delivered to or taken by the Russians”, General Key rightly reported in June 1945. “The Chief of the ACC, upon direct questioning, stated at first that no booty had been taken except minor dumps of ammunition, food and military stores. Later, he admitted that the Tungsram Plant, about which considerable correspondence had been exchanged, was taken by the Soviet High Command as war booty.”8 This was, of course, the tip of the iceberg.

In the face of duplicity such as this, the Western representatives were frequently credulous, or at least passive. At a January 1946 ACC meeting, the Chairman, Marshal Kliment Voroshilov “said that he was still convinced that there was much more food etc. available for the population if only the Government took proper control but all they had done had been to frighten the farmers and peasants so that they would not produce the food, and frighten the population into thinking that there was inadequate food”. Farmers who had been robbed of animals, fodder, crops, seeds, as well as city dwellers who were, at that very moment, allotted 500 calories per day would have been stunned by this assessment. In response, “Key said that the Hungarian Government are trying to put [the] blame for the position on to the expenses caused by the Red Army and the ACC[,] and the Marshal said that the upkeep of these was only about the same as the upkeep of the Hungarian Civil Service” (italics added).9

On 23 April, Key suggested that “rumours” of the Red Army taking booty from Hungary “ought to be publically refuted”. Later in the same meeting, Voroshilov “informed” the ACC “that as regards food supplies for the Red Army for 1946, no requisitions had been made during the first quarter, and none had been made for this quarter, except that 20 per cent of forage which should have been produced in 1945”.10 But food requisitioning continued apace. For example, in June and July 1946 the Red Army required from their unwilling hosts, among other orders, a total of 800,000 eggs, 3,000 tons of meat, and 10,000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables. “The minister of public supply estimated that aside from maize, the amount of foodstuffs ordered by the Soviet armed forces”, from October to December 1946, nearly two years after the armistice had been signed between Hungary and the Allies, still “exceeded the quantity the whole population would be able to consume in the same period.”11

Surely this could not stand, but while Key and Edgcumbe accepted bald Soviet lies about requisitioning, their governments did little to challenge Soviet management of the Hungarian economy other than to demand that the Hungarian government provide the ACC with a report, which Voroshilov prevented it from doing. In December 1945, Schoenfeld reported that the Finance Minister, Ferenc Gordon, “spoke critically about [the] continued passive role of [the] English and Americans, saying there could no longer be doubt as to [the] course of events if [the] Anglo-Americans did not act soon”.12

In March 1946, Nagy “expressed grave apprehension over apparent lack of US and British interest in Hungary’s fate, which he claims makes [the] Hungarian Government’s position to resist Soviet pressure extremely weak”.13 Even when, on 14 August 1946, the Hungarian government sought to merely reduce the demands of the ACC staff, Edgcumbe strongly resented, and sought to resist the request, viewing it as unjustified.14 But the Soviet ranks on the ACC numbered 800 – as well as 100 British officials, 75 American, and 90 Czechoslovak – and they were making excessive and unsustainable demands. In one particularly egregious example, the Czechoslovak delegation had demanded 13,000 bottles of liquor for one month – that is about 140 bottles per person.15

Harriman had indeed been prescient, if understated, when he predicted in December 1944, “[w]hoever controls reparation deliveries could practically control [the] Hungarian economy and exercise an important economic influence in other directions”.16 With the majority of Hungarian resources tied up providing machinery and food for which there would be no payment, and the government facing the complete reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, expenditure relied on the excessive new printing of currency. The Red Army added further to the money supply by printing their own bills also denominated in pengős. There was almost nothing to buy in the stricken country, beset by chronic shortages, but the money in circulation kept expanding. The result was the worst hyper-inflation which, at that point, had ever occurred.

Prices steadily rose through 1945, but it was in the spring of 1946 that the dam broke. A daily newspaper had cost one pengő on 4 April 1945, the day of the complete occupation of Hungary by Soviet forces, and by the end of the year it was 500 pengős. Between 15 April and 1 May 1946, the paper went from 50,000 to 600,000 pengős, and a month later it was 100 million. By the start of July, a newspaper cost between 50 and 100 trillion pengős, and, on the eve of the introduction of a new currency on 1 August, the daily inflation rate was 158,486 per cent. The new currency could be exchanged for the old at a rate of 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1.17

This was devastating. But, while Voroshilov acted as if the causes were outside of his control, and Western members of the ACC readily bought his deceptions, it was clear to others that a catastrophe was being deliberately engineered on the Allies’ watch. Assessing measures needed to stabilise the situation in February 1946 – including the “reducing and regularising” of requisitions, the rescheduling of reparations and the importation of food – Schoenfeld noted that “such measures, however, are beyond [the] power of Hungarian authorities”. But, he added, “during [the] past month it has seemed evident that for the present [the] USSR is not prepared to give Hungary assistance” of this kind. “Unwillingness of [the] USSR to facilitate rehabilitation of Hungary at this time and its contribution to [the] country’s economic disintegration”, he continued, “is palpably part of [a] Soviet strategy of economic penetration of Hungary which has been in process since last summer and is now in full swing.” Soberingly, regarding Western culpability, he also concluded, “[t]o date American attention to this problem has been relatively slight and our economic policy has given little encouragement to those opposed to Soviet penetration. In fact that policy has provided arguments to strengthen [the] case of [the] Hungarian minority which advocates exclusive collaboration with” the Soviet Union.18

Schoenfeld was clearer still on the cause of the crisis in a despatch of 22 April 1946 to the American delegates at the forthcoming Paris Peace Conference. The economic costs placed on Hungary by the USSR, in the form of reparations, as well as “looting, requisitioning, economic penetration, interference with internal economic affairs, and restrictions on economic relations with countries outside [the] Soviet sphere constitute [a] burden largely responsible for [the] rapid deterioration of [the] Hungarian economy and for runaway inflation now ravaging” Hungary.19 The deputy of the American Embassy in Moscow, George Kennan, had made a similar point in a letter to Molotov on 2 March, eight days after Kennan wrote the so-called Long Telegram to Washington that would ultimately help to alter US policy toward the USSR. “The internal economy of [Hungary] has deteriorated to a point where there is now imminent danger of complete economic and financial collapse”, Kennan told Molotov. “It is clear that this situation is due in a very considerable degree to the over-burdening of the country with reparations, to requisitions, to the maintenance of very large occupying forces, to the interference of the occupying authorities in economic matters, and to the failure of those authorities to take energetic measures to combat inflation and other undesirable economic tendencies.”20

It was six weeks before Kennan received a reply, from Molotov’s deputy, Andrey Vyshinsky – who had the distinction of presiding over both Stalin’s purges of the 1930s and the post-war Nuremberg trials. “The fulfilment by Hungary of its reparations obligations and the presence of occupation troops in Hungary”, he insisted, “do not and cannot exercise any serious influence on the economic situation of the country.” Furthermore, “[a]ll Hungarian deliveries of grain crops for the needs of the Soviet occupation troops do not exceed 3 per cent of the total grain output of the country in 1945”, Vyshinsky claimed. “These deliveries were made in planned fashion, and the Soviet Command in Hungary has neither carried out nor is carrying out any requisitions. There has been no interference by the occupation authorities in Hungary’s economic affairs.”21


Ethnic cleansing had been a significant element in the attempts of Soviet revolutionary leaders to remake the polyglot, rural and religious Russian Empire over which they had seized power. In 1920, as Douglas reminds us, “a youthful Stalin had cut his teeth as an architect of forced removals when as ‘Commissioner for Nationalities’ he assisted” in the deportation “of the Terek Cossacks from the northern Caucasus”. Under Stalin’s leadership in the early 1930s, a campaign began against ethnic Poles and Germans in the western borderlands, with about 500,000 uprooted and sent eastwards. In the brutal purges of the late 1930s, ethnic minorities were also singled out for particularly drastic treatment. Of the 68,000 who were arrested during a campaign against Germans, historian Norman Naimark reveals, “43,000 of them were condemned to death”. Presaging the near future, Poles were especially victimised. In 1937, the Soviet Politburo directed the NKVD to launch a campaign against so-called Polish spies that, in reality, ensnared wide swathes of the Polish minority, with whole families arrested. Of the 630,000 Poles in the Soviet Union, 144,000 were arrested and 111,000 were shot.22

We have already noted how the Soviet Union used its alliance with Nazi Germany to significantly expand its territory, but deportations of ethnic populations also formed an important part of subsequent Soviet policy in newly acquired territories. As a result of Soviet gains at Finland’s expense in 1940, 420,000 Finns had to leave the Karelian Isthmus and two other territories. By this time, in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, everyone had been issued an internal passport, followed by the conscription of 150,000 Poles, Jews, Ukrainians and Belarusians into the Red Army. Then in December 1939, as Snyder relates, “the Soviet politburo ordered the NKVD to arrange the expulsion of certain groups of Polish citizens deemed to pose a danger to the new order: military veterans, foresters, civil servants, policemen, and their families”. Two months later, “in temperatures of about forty below zero, the NKVD gathered them all: 139,794 people taken from their homes at night at gunpoint to unequipped freight trains” headed for the GULAG in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Since this number included children and elderly parents of the targeted “elite”, 5,000 died on the journey; a further 11,000 had died by the summer of 1940. Between September 1939 and June 1941, the Soviets deported 315,000 Poles.23

These events occurred far beyond the reach of embattled Britain, while the Soviets were still on the opposing side and the Americans remained outside of the conflict. But when the Soviets and the Western powers were allied in war and planning, and then united in victory, these same ideas and methods became central to a Soviet vision for post-war Central and Eastern Europe, which also became the Allied vision. And while the passivity and credulity of Western representatives on the ACC aided the Soviet occupiers’ economic policy in Hungary, these same tendencies combined with a more active participation in the deportation of German Hungarians in 1946.

How did this happen? Plans for the post-war removal of German minorities began deep in the war, and, overall, included two crucial elements. Firstly, there were the Allies’ own geo-strategic projections and priorities. For the Soviet Union, this firstly meant the retention of eastern Poland in a post-war scenario, and, in order to sell this to both the Poles and the Western Allies, the mitigating absorption of parts of eastern Germany into Poland. The Soviet insistence on both the Sovietisation of eastern Poland, including the complete removal of its Polish population, ensured that they would be equally insistent on a parallel Polonisation of former German territories and the deportation of their German residents. Already set on this course by December 1941, when it was exceedingly hypothetical, Stalin informed the Lublin provisional Polish government of this arrangement in the summer of 1944, when it was imminent.24

Furthermore, since the Soviets envisioned Central Europe as their post-war sphere, the Polish solution was also congruent with a wider regional interest in ensuring that these countries could be safely Soviet-friendly, which, it was assumed, included dealing with the German ethnic minority population that Hitler had made such a focus of his rhetoric and demands. This was also significant because, secondly, the most influential exiled Central European leader, former Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš, made the expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s main remaining ethnic minorities – Germans and Hungarians – the centre of his post-war plans. Reprising his international efforts of the First World War, the cunning, persistent and persuasive Beneš – who had resigned his office after the Munich Agreement – managed to persuade the Allies that he not only rightfully remained the President, but he did so of a legally unaltered state, even though Czechoslovakia had actually ceased to exist not merely because of the March 1939 German invasion of the Czech lands, but also due to the Slovak declaration of an independent republic. Despite the early and eager collaboration of unoccupied Slovakia with Germany, “Czechoslovakia” was, thanks to the London-based Beneš, included in the ranks of nations that issued the Allied declaration of 1 January 1942.

Although, as we will see, Beneš constantly tried to link the deportation of both Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia, he only received unqualified Allied support for post-war ethnic cleansing against the millions of Germans that filled the borderlands of Bohemia and Moravia. The Soviet Ambassador in London assured Beneš in April 1943 of Soviet backing for his German policy. In December of that year, Beneš told the Czechoslovak Communist leader, Klement Gottwald, that the expulsion of Germans would be a “national revolution combined with a social revolution. By means of measures taken against the German wealth as well as German national characteristics, the way will be opened to radical economic intervention and social change in the Bohemian lands.” No wonder that, combined with Stalin’s crucial support, Gottwald, who had been wary at first, became an enthusiastic supporter of ethnic cleansing. “The moment is near”, he announced in a May 1944 radio address, “when we can begin to clear our country of the traitorous German and Magyar trash”.25

However, the Soviets were certainly not alone among the great powers in supporting post-war ethnic cleansing. “A February 1942 study by the [British] Foreign Office’s research wing”, Douglas reports, “had pronounced large-scale forced popular transfers a feasible method of dealing with the European minorities problem.” Then, in the summer of that year, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who thought that such “transfers” were inevitable, received the cabinet’s assent for “the general principle of the transfer to Germany of German minorities in Central and South-Eastern Europe after the war in cases where this seems necessary and desirable, and authority to let this decision be known in appropriate cases”. Bringing this approval into the open two years later, Churchill told the House of Commons on 15 December 1944: “The Poles are free, so far as Russia and Great Britain are concerned, to extend their territory, at the expense of Germany, to the West. […] It would, of course, have to be accompanied by the disentanglement of populations.” This euphemism for ethnic cleansing was indicative of Churchill’s blasé assessment of the prospect. “I am not alarmed by the disentanglement of populations, nor even by these large transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions than they ever were before.”26

This vast project of expulsions began before the war had even concluded, and, in the case of the Poles to be removed from former eastern Poland, was well under way by the time Churchill made his statement to the Commons. When the Soviets began to rapidly remove the two million Poles living in what had been eastern Poland, pushing them across the Bug River, they were setting tragic dominoes in motion that would hasten the beginning of the wider ethnic re-engineering of Central Europe that they intended. Indeed, as soon as the Allied governments of the restored (yet altered) states of Czechoslovakia and Poland were established, the removal of ethnic Germans began. Despite being conveniently labelled “wild expulsions”, the initial campaigns in Poland and Czechoslovakia “were in almost every case carried out by troops, police and militia, acting under orders and more often than not executing policies laid down at the highest level”.27

While this was the wider context in which the expulsion of German Hungarians took place, the position of Hungary’s German ethnic population, known as Swabians, was crucially distinct. There was no sense – as there particularly had been in the Czech lands – that the German minority was instrumental in facilitating the wartime German occupation. Furthermore, while the provisional governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia were regarded by the Soviets as allies – at least as enthusiastic about the removal of ethnic Germans as the Soviets were – Hungary was an occupied enemy, whose domestic politics contained no groundswell of enthusiasm for the removal of Germans. In Hungary, removal would have to be, primarily, an imposition. These expulsions were not only ordered by the Soviets, but were met with significant opposition in Hungary. Lastly, the first expulsions of ethnic Germans in Hungary started alongside, and was for a time and in places indistinguishable from, a more general and indiscriminate Soviet collection and deportation of Hungarian civilians for slave labour in the Soviet Union.

At about the same time that the Soviet General Vinogradov had forced the deportation of about 75,000 ethnic Germans in Romania, in January 1945, Voroshilov and the Soviet political representative, Pushkin, began their pressure on the provisional Hungarian government to approve of the same in Hungary. In fact, as Kertesz recalls, “Pushkin demanded that Hungary request the expulsion of the Germans”.28 Even so, while the war continued, the Soviets unilaterally ordered and enforced the removal of ethnic Germans in Hungary that ensnared about 30,000. As the historian Zalán Bognár describes, in northern Transylvania and occupied Hungary, the Soviet military “deportation of Germans, as well as people with German names – who were Hungarians in a lot of cases […] and in some cases people of Jewish origin to forced labour in the Soviet Union started on the basis of the [Soviet] command No. 0060 dated from 22 December 1944”. This command, which was enforced by the NKVD, required “all people of German origin who are able to work”, which officially meant men from 17 to 45 and women from 18 to 30, to report for “communal labour to be carried out in the areas directly behind the front”.29 This was, of course, a deception characteristic of deportations in this era.

The degree to which these deportations were a Soviet endeavour is underlined by the fact that, when they began, even Communist leaders were mostly in the dark. “Everyone complains implicitly or explicitly about Russians doing all this without the knowledge of or prior agreement of the government”, József Révai wrote to the Hungarian Communist leader, Mátyás Rákosi, on 7 January 1945. “(Between you and me, even we had no prior knowledge of this.) So, this has really backfired.”30 While the provisional Prime Minister, Béla Miklós, subsequently expressed approval for the removal of collaborators and Nazi sympathisers, he also made it clear to the Americans that he did “not approve the deportation of ‘good Hungarians’ simply because they have German names”. Miklós had even submitted to the Soviets a list of those who he felt had been unjustifiably deported, requesting their repatriation to Hungary.31 In other words, not only had these initial wartime deportations of Swabians occurred at the initiative and under the direction of the Soviet occupiers, but the provisional Hungarian leaders had sought to limit the scope of an already relatively limited action.

Soon after the war in Europe came to an end, the provisional Hungarian cabinet, recently relocated from Debrecen to Budapest, discussed Soviet demands for further, permanent Swabian deportations. In the May meeting, while the Communist and National Peasant Party representative supported total removal in accordance with Soviet wishes, “the Hungarian authorities took a stand against indiscriminate deportations on the basis of collective responsibility”, Kertesz reports. “It was agreed that only the disloyal Germans should be deprived of their citizenship and, after the confiscation of their property, expelled from Hungary.” While this still left the significant problem of determining who did and did not meet the criteria of “disloyalty”, the non-Communists in government again argued for the limitation of deportations. In a 26 May note to the Soviets, the Hungarian government estimated that this category contained about half, 200 to 250,000, of Hungary’s Swabian population. Maintaining this limit, as we will soon see, came under pressure not only from the Soviets, but also the Western Allies.

The additional complication for Hungary, however, was that Czechoslovakia sought to establish a connection between the expulsion of Swabians from Hungary and of Hungarians from Slovakia; a link that, if Beneš had his way, would be as catalytic as the one between the forced westward movement of Poles into, and Germans out of, Poland’s new borders. Douglas – while he is incorrectly intimating that the initiative for the expulsion of the Swabians originated with the provisional Hungarian government – describes Gyöngyösi mentioning that removed Germans would make room for Hungarians expelled from Slovakia. But it is the case that Gyöngyösi repeatedly rejected the agenda-driven linkage between the two proposals. In fact, Gyöngyösi’s opposition to Czechoslovakia’s removal of Hungarians made him more, not less, resistant to Soviet-led plans to expel Swabians, since he saw in the latter a dangerous precedent that would be used to justify the former.32 Conversely, the more the Czechoslovak authorities succeeded in forcing out Hungarians from Slovakia, the greater the pressure there would be for the deportation of the Swabians. At a 28 June meeting between Czechoslovak Prime Minister Zdeněk Fierlinger and Stalin, the Soviet leader declined to promise active Soviet assistance in the deportation of both Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia, but promised his approval. “We will not interfere with you”, Stalin told him. “Drive them out. Let them experience for themselves what domination means.”33

But while there were minimal deportations of Swabians between the beginning of the Soviet occupation of Hungary and the Potsdam conference, those initial Soviet anti-German actions formed part of a wider campaign of enslavement against the Hungarian population, which touched every part of the country and every section of society. Ignoring this broader phenomenon, as often occurs, will prevent us from understanding the Soviet occupation in 1945 and 1946. Particularly during the wartime months of the Soviet occupation, but even after the end of hostilities, a total of 600,000 to 700,000 Hungarian men, women and children (out of a population of 9 million) were forcibly taken to the Soviet Union to work as slaves.

Somewhere between a third and a half of them died in captivity.34

“The deportations were presented as the normal treatment of prisoners”, Cornelius describes, “although a majority were not actually prisoners of war and at least one third of the POWs had never been soldiers.” Thousands of young women and children were swept up in the collections and transported to a variety of Soviet slave labour camps, mines and farms. For example, Ágnes Huszár Várdy, who has written in extensively-researched detail on this topic, relates the stories of Ilona Vinnai, a young married woman from Gávavencsellő, and a 16-year-old girl from Sajóbábony, Margit Krechl, who were deported and worked as slaves in Soviet mines. “The process of organised collection of Hungarians began in the Upper-Tisza Region of North-eastern Hungary”, where the Soviet occupation began. “From there it proceeded partially toward Debrecen, and partially toward Miskolc and Eger, and then on to Budapest and its vicinity. After that it moved to the lands between the Danube and the Tisza Rivers and to Transdanubia.” One estimate puts the survival rate among civilian captives at 10 per cent.35

The Western members of the Allied Control Commission showed no interest in this outrage. Gyöngyösi’s Foreign Ministry had lodged numerous complaints to the ACC about the eastward removal of Hungarians, which the Soviets had mostly batted away, before they enabled the issue to be moved from the Foreign Ministry to the jurisdiction of the Communist-controlled Interior Ministry.36 But the matter finally came to the attention of a full ACC meeting, on 30 November 1945, after the Archbishop of Esztergom and Prince Primate of the Catholic Church in Hungary, József Mindszenty, appealed in a pastoral letter of 17 October for the so-called POWs to be returned. Voroshilov assured his American and British colleagues that “all soldiers and NCOs had been returned from Russia and that only officers were now retained” as POWs. In fact, the vast majority of those taken by the Soviets, at least 450,000, had not returned. About 200,000 would not be repatriated until between July 1946 and November 1948, and many had or would die as exiled captives. But, while there were no further inquiries about this matter at the meeting, Key and Edgcumbe were keen to agree with Voroshilov that “members of the Church ought not to interfere in political matters”.37 As far as the Western members of the ACC were concerned, it would be preferable if Mindszenty did not advocate for enslaved Hungarians.


1 Deborah S. Cornelius, Hungary in World War Two: Caught in the Cauldron (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 290, 335.

2 F. Arthur Schoenfeld, “Soviet Imperialism in Hungary”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1948), 555.

3 Ferenc Nagy, The Struggle behind the Iron Curtain (New York: MacMillan, 1948), 101.

4 László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945–1956: Between the United States and the Soviet Union (Budapest: CEU Press, 2004), 149–151.

5 Schoenfeld, 556; Borhi, 147–148.

6 Nagy, 103–104; Borhi, 145–146; Peter Kenez, Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944–1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78; Ian Connor, Refugees and Expellees in Post-War Germany (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 25; Ewa Bacon, Saving Lives in Auschwitz: The Prisoners’ Hospital in Buna- Monowitz (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2017), 45; John Dietrich, The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (New York: Algora, 2013), 112–113; Martha Lampland, The Value of Labor: The Science of Commodification in Hungary, 1920–1956 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 128.

7 Cornelius, 379–380; Borhi, 151–152; 159.

8 “Report by the Chief of the United States Military Representation on the Allied Control Commission for Hungary (Key)” (6 June 1945) FRUS: frus1945v04/d779.

9 British Military Mission Notes of ACC Meeting of 25 January 1946, FOA: FO 371/58965

10 British Military Mission Notes of ACC Meeting on 23 April 1946, FOA: FO 371/58965.

11 Borhi, 145.

12 “The Representative in Hungary (Schoenfeld) to the Secretary of State” (5 December 1945), FRUS:

13 “The Minister in Hungary (Schoenfeld) to the Secretary of State” (5 March 1946), FRUS: https://

14 British Military Mission Notes of ACC Meeting on 14 August 1946, FOA: FO 371/58966.

15 Nagy, 106. The request was, however, ultimately accepted. ACC missions were, after this, given cash to purchase goods, rather than being provided goods directly – liquor orders were also discontinued.

16 Eric Roman, Hungary and the Victor Powers, 1945–1950 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), 25.

17 Lampland, 127; William A. Bomberger and Gail E. Makinen, “The Hungarian Hyperinflation and Stabilization of 1945–1946”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 91, No. 5 (Oct. 1983), 801–824; “The Worst Hyperinflations in History: Hungary”, Global Financial Data:

18 “The Minister in Hungary (Schoenfeld) to the Secretary of State” (15 February 1946), FRUS:

19 “The Minister in Hungary (Schoenfeld) to the American Delegation at the Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris” (22 April 1946), FRUS: frus1946v06/d200.

20 “The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union (Molotov)” (2 March 1946), FRUS: frus1946v06/d190.

21 “The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Smith) to the Secretary of State” (23 April 1946), FRUS:

22 R. M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 40; Norman M. Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 84–85; Nikita Petrov and Arsenii Roginskii, “The ‘Polish Operation’ of the NKVD, 1937–8”, in Barry McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott, eds., Stalin’s Terror: High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet Union (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 153–164.

23 Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic, 2010), 128–29, 150.

24 Douglas, 23–24, 82–83.

25 Douglas, 27; László Gulyás, Beneš: Statesman or Charlatan? The Plans and the Reality, 1908–1948 (Toronto: Corvinus Publishing, 2008), 314–315.

26 Douglas, 23–24, 85.

27 Ibid., 94.

28 Stephen Kertesz, “The Expulsion of the Germans from Hungary: A Study in Postwar Diplomacy”, The Review of Politics, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1953), 182.

29 Zalán Bognár, “Malenkey Roboti, or the Deportation of the Civilian Population in Large Numbers from Hungary to Forced Labour in the Soviet Union in 1944/45, with Special Regard to Those Deported as Germans”, Sulinet: nemzetisegek/nemetek/malenkij_robot/pages/026_Bognar_Zoltan_Malenkij.htm

30 Zalán Bognár, “Efforts Made in the Interest of Forced Labourers, Their Return Home Per Each Region”, in This Was the Final Stop: Actions against Germans and Hungarians Leading to Fatalities in the Carpathian Basin between 1944 and 1949 (Pécs: Kontraszt Plusz, 2016), 140.

31 Kirk to Secretary of State.

32 Cornelius 404; Gulyás, 344; Douglas, 209.

33 G. P. Murashko, “The Fate of Hungarian Minorities in Slovakia after the Second World War: Resettlement and Re-Slovakization: Moscow’s Position”, in Alfred J. Rieber, ed., Forced Migration in Central and Eastern Europe, 1939–1950 (London: Routledge, 2000), 86–87.

34 Cornelius, 380–82; Steven Béla Várdy and Ágnes Huszár Várdy, “Soviet Treatment of Magyars, 1945–56: Hungarian Slave Labourers in the Gulag”, Hungarian Studies Review, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 1–2 (2007), 19–27.

35 Cornelius, 380–381; Ágnes Huszár Várdy, “Forgotten Victims of World War II: Hungarian Women in Soviet Forced Labor Camps” DEP (2007): Ricerche/Vardy.pdf, 94–95; Várdy and Várdy, 19–21.

36 Bognár, “Efforts Made”, 145–146. The Interior Ministry was initially led by the nominal National Peasant Party member, Ferenc Erdei, who was in fact a crypto-Communist. The next three Interior Ministers were arguably the three most significant Communists in post-war Hungarian history: Imre Nagy, László Rajk and János Kádár.

37 British Military Mission: Notes on ACC Meeting of 30 November 1945, FOA: FO 371/58965; Bognár, “Efforts Made”, 147–154; Várdy and Várdy, 21.

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