In addition to our extensive gathering of data, the investigations of two brave Roman Catholic Priests offered the most reliable source of information. Márton Szűcs, retired Dean of Bácsszőllős, and József Kovács, retired Parson of Martonos, dedicated the last years of their lives to gathering data about the innocent Hungarians executed in Bácska in the autumn of 1944. They used the official registry books of the parishes of Bácska and the recollections of eyewitness parishioners. The title of their work is The Silence of the Dead, a requiem in memory of the innocent victims. Their own physical fear of reprisal was also included in the title. The publishing of their summary was authorised after their death. The gathering of data took place in the greatest of possible secrecy, because of the Yugoslav security forces and the prohibition of publishing the details of the war crimes by the authorities.
Tibor Cseres – Serbian Vendetta in Bácska
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić met the Hungarian President János Áder on a visit to Budapest in November 2012. The heads of state agreed in principle that in the first half of 2013, they will meet again in Vojvodina at the sites of Hungarian atrocities against Serbs, and Serb atrocities against Hungarians in the Second World War, and apologise in the name of their nations.
This follows decades of suppression of any mention of atrocities against Hungarians by Yugoslav partisans, and wide public debate among historians and the general public about the historical circumstances and death toll among Serbs and Jews under Hungarian rule in Vojvodina. One story is widely known, the other little known.
If the meeting takes place as planned, both countries can expect warm praise from an international community weary of Balkan conflicts. Hungary looks set to play an important role in helping Serbia join the European Union, just as it did with Croatia, and historical reconciliation would be good for the international image of both countries, and both Presidents.
Just a few days after the Budapest talks, the surprise acquittal of Ante Gotovina, a controversial Croatian military commander in the 1991–95 war, by the Appeals Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the quashing of his 24-year prison sentence, provoked fury in Serbia. Some observers suggest that this may cause President Nikolić to shelve or at least delay the Hungarian–Serbian summit. Others believe the issues can be kept separate, and that the meeting will proceed as planned.
In April 1941, one week after the German offensive on Yugoslavia, the Hungarian Third Army crossed the border and reoccupied the Bácska and Baranya region between the Danube and the Dráva Rivers, which Hungary had lost under the Trianon Treaty in 1920. Hungarian Prime Minister Pál Teleki, who disagreed with the invasion, was found dead on the following morning – it is still debated whether he committed suicide or was shot by the Nazis. In January 1942, Hungarian army, police and gendarmerie units in Novi Sad, the capital of the province of Vojvodina, and thirteen neighbouring villages, rounded up mostly Serbian and Jewish civilians for summary execution purportedly because of partisan resistance. During just three days, between 3,200 and 3,800 were either shot in the street or taken to the banks of the Danube, and executed on the ice. Their bodies were thrown into the river.
News of the atrocities committed by their own troops so onreached Hungary, and drew sharp condemnation from many quarters. The opposition Parliamentary deputy and editor of the anti-Fascist newspaper Szabad Szó (Free Word) Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky demanded on 29 January 1942 at a sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament that those responsible be put on trial – a demand he reiterated in a memorandum to the Regent, Miklós Horthy on 4 February.
The leading Hungarian army officer in Novi Sad, Lieutenant General Ferenc Feketehalmy-Czeydner and three associates were eventually put on trial but fled to Nazi Germany. Feketehalmy-Czeydner was caught at the end of the war, found guilty of war-crimes and executed in 1946.
Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky was tried and executed by the Hungarian Fascist Arrow Cross regime in December 1944. There is a street named after him in Novi Sad, just as there is in Budapest, where he was honoured by the Communist and post-Communist leaderships alike.
The “Novi Sad raid” drew condemnation around the world and later helped undermine Regent Miklós Horthy’s attempted overtures to the Allies. In 1960 Hungarian writer Tibor Cseres’s novel Hideg Napok (Cold Days) described what had happened. This was translated into six languages, including Serbian and English. A script based on the book became a successful film in 1966 under the direction of András Kovács.
“I wanted to tell the story of all the cruelties which several bloodthirsty army officers ordered in the name of the Hungarian nation against hundreds of innocent Serb and Jewish people”, Cseres commented later.
In 2011, Sándor Képíró, a surviving gendarmerie captain, specifically named by Cseres in his novel, was put on trial in Budapest for war-crimes in Novi Sad, but declared not guilty in July 2011, for lack of evidence.
Much less well-known are the reprisals by Serbian partisans against the Hungarian population of the Bácska region from October 1944 until the end of the war.
Aware that in Cold Days he had only touched on one half of the story, Tibor Cseres set out to write a sequel about the suffering of the Hungarians in the closing months of the war. This could only be published in Hungarian in 1991 and in English in 1993 with the title Titoist Atrocities in Vojvodina, 1944–1945: Serbian Vendetta in Bácska. Based on his own research and the work of local historians and parish priests, Cseres calculated that at least 40,000 Hungarians, the overwhelming majority of them innocent civilians, were killed during those three months. The memory of brutality and torture inflicted on the Hungarians continues to traumatise the quarter million strong Hungarian community in Vojvodina to this day.
The exact figures, and the circumstances of their death, as well as the victims of Hungarian forces in Vojvodina, are the subject of a joint commission of enquiry by Hungarian and Serbian historians. Their work is not yet complete, but has now reached a figure of around 10,000 named civilians murdered for simply being Hungarian.
“The commander-in-chief of the partisan army, Marshal Tito, as far as we know, did not give any express written command to butcher the Hungarians in Bácska”, wrote Cseres.“ He did condone and apparently orally directed his partisans in the whole territory of Yugoslavia – including Vojvodina – to take revenge for all ‘injustices’ suffered by partisans and Serbians during the four years of the war. In other words, where a stream of blood flowed in 1942, a torrent of blood should gush in 1944.”
2013 – PREPARATIONS FOR THE ÁDER–NIKOLIĆ SUMMIT
According to the agreement reached between the two Presidents and their advisors in November 2012, the summit will take place on the same day or consecutive days at sites connected to the massacres, sometime in the first half of 2013. One possible meeting point is the large village of Csurog/Čurug where Hungarians massacred Serbs in 1942 and Serbs committed atrocities against Hungarians in 1944. The River Tisza flows nearby.
“Hungary has not had this huge energy which the Jewish community had in remembering and identifying perpetrators”, said one of the officials involved in arranging the summit. “So the perpetrators were never mentioned in official history and only in legend, and usually were not known to the family of the victims.”
“A general apology by the Serbian President for the crimes committed by Serbian soldiers in 1944–45 would be a very considerable step forward and would really contribute to the healing process.”