White Terror (Hungary)
The White Terror in Hungary was a two-year period (1919-1921) of repressive violence by counter-revolutionary soldiers, with the intent of crushing any vestige of Hungary’s brief Communist revolution. Many of its victims were Jewish.


At the end of World War I, the political configuration of the Hungarian state was forced into swift and radical change. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Hungary had been a powerful member, collapsed. The victorious Entente
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 powers took steps to carve out Hungary’s ethnically-mixed border regions and grant them to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

, and Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 – efforts which resulted in Hungary’s losing two thirds of its land area, and one third of its Hungarian-speaking nationals. These losses together with the postwar socioeconomic upheaval catalyzed deep feelings of humiliation and resentment among many Hungarians.

In this volatile atmosphere, the nation’s fledgling efforts at modern democracy failed. In March 1919, a Communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 cadre took advantage of the political instability, seized power and proclaimed a new Hungarian Soviet Republic
Hungarian Soviet Republic
The Hungarian Soviet Republic or Soviet Republic of Hungary was a short-lived Communist state established in Hungary in the aftermath of World War I....

. Although it was ostensibly led by a Social Democratic-Communist coalition, it was controlled behind the scenes by the Communist leader Béla Kun
Béla Kun
Béla Kun , born Béla Kohn, was a Hungarian Communist politician and a Bolshevik Revolutionary who led the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919.- Early life :...

. Kun’s regime lasted less than four months. The nation was shocked by the Communists’ thuggish enforcers, gangs of roving toughs
Lenin Boys
The Lenin Boys were a band of Communist enforcers formed to support the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919. The group seems to have contained about 200 young men dressed in leather jackets, acting as the personal guard of Tibor Szamuely, Commissar for Military Affairs...

 who intimidated and murdered their opponents in what came to be known as the Red Terror
Red Terror (Hungary)
The Red Terror in Hungary was a series of atrocities aimed at crushing political rivals during the four-month regime of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. It was so named because of its similarity to the Red Terror in Soviet Russia in both purpose and effect...

. This kind of vengeful internal violence was new to Hungary, and the popularity of Kun’s regime plummeted. The new government tried to retain Slovakia and Transylvania
Transylvania is a historical region in the central part of Romania. Bounded on the east and south by the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended in the west to the Apuseni Mountains; however, the term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also the historical...

 – but these steps only brought a counter-invasion
Hungarian–Romanian War of 1919
The seeds of the Hungarian–Romanian war of 1919 were planted when the union of Transylvania with Romania was proclaimed, on December 1, 1918. In late March 1919, the Bolsheviks came to power in Hungary, at which point its army attempted to retake Transylvania, commencing the war. By its final...

 by Romanian troops, who reached Budapest in August 1919. Kun and his fellow Communists fled; the Communist revolution in Hungary was over.

The White Terror was ideologically rooted in the Szeged Idea
Szeged Idea
The Szeged Idea also informally known as Szeged fascism refers to the proto-fascist ideology that developed among anti-communist counterrevolutionaries and anti-Semites in Szeged, Hungary in 1919 and which later developed into a fascist and national socialist ideology...

, described by Randolph L. Braham
Randolph L. Braham
Randolph L. Braham is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A specialist in comparative politics and the Holocaust, he also is Director of The Graduate Center's Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies...

 as "a nebulous amalgam of political-propagadistic views whose central themes included the struggle against Bolshevism, the fostering of antisemitism, chauvinistic nationalism, and revisionism—an idea that antedated both Italian Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and German Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...


The White Terror begins

In the south of the country, an alternative government formed to replace the failed Kun regime. Leading the armed wing of this new government was Admiral Miklós Horthy
Miklós Horthy
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary during the interwar years and throughout most of World War II, serving from 1 March 1920 to 15 October 1944. Horthy was styled "His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary" .Admiral Horthy was an officer of the...

, one-time Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 of the Austro-Hungarian Navy
Austro-Hungarian Navy
The Austro-Hungarian Navy was the naval force of Austria-Hungary. Its official name in German was Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine , abbreviated as k.u.k. Kriegsmarine....


Horthy named his new force the National Army. Among the officers who answered Horthy’s call were ultra-nationalist soldiers who mounted a campaign of atrocities to avenge the victims of the Red Terror
Red Terror (Hungary)
The Red Terror in Hungary was a series of atrocities aimed at crushing political rivals during the four-month regime of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. It was so named because of its similarity to the Red Terror in Soviet Russia in both purpose and effect...

; to suppress any lingering loyalty to Communist principles; and to frighten the population into obedience to the new order.

These units, commonly known as the "White Guard," carried out a campaign of murder, torture and humiliations. Summary executions of people they suspected of Communist allegiance were common; these victims were often hanged in public places to serve as a warning to others. But the White Guard’s definition of who was an enemy of the state was a broad one. They also preyed upon peasants, upon the politically liberal, and very often upon Jews, who were broadly blamed for the Revolution because much of the Communist leadership had been Jewish.

The most notorious of unit commanders was Pál Prónay
Pál Prónay
Pál Prónay de Tótpróna et Blatnicza was a Hungarian reactionary and paramilitary commander in the years following the First World War...

, who by all accounts brought a particularly sadistic pleasure to his work. Others included Gyula Ostenberg, Anton Lehar, and Ivan Hejjas, who focused his efforts on the Hungarian plain around the town of Kecskemet. Their detachments were part of the National Army, but tended to function as personal battalions following a fanatical loyalty to their commanders.

The White Terror after 1919

The National Army took control of Budapest
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As the largest city of Hungary, it is the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation centre. In 2011, Budapest had 1,733,685 inhabitants, down from its 1989 peak of 2,113,645 due to suburbanization. The Budapest Commuter...

 in November 1919, and four months later Admiral Horthy was named regent
A regent, from the Latin regens "one who reigns", is a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is a minor, not present, or debilitated. Currently there are only two ruling Regencies in the world, sovereign Liechtenstein and the Malaysian constitutive state of Terengganu...

 of a newly reconstituted Kingdom of Hungary. But, far from discontinuing their campaigns, the reactionary units expanded and continued terrorizing their targets for almost two more years; politically-motivated violence devolved into grudge-murders and kidnappings for profit. White Guard officers began to vie for power among themselves, and plotted for one another’s assassinations.

If, as Horthy’s biographer Thomas Sakmyster concludes, Horthy looked the other way in 1919 while the White Guard officers raged through the countryside, the regent also clearly saw the danger that these units posed to a newly stabilized Hungarian state after 1920. He began taking steps to rein in the White Terror.

In 1921, Prónay was prosecuted for crimes related to his terror campaign. Finally, after Prónay joined a failed attempt to restore the Habsburg king, Charles I of Austria to Hungary’s throne, Horthy ordered the battalion disbanded.

The dissolution of the Pronay Battalion in January 1922 is considered to mark the end of the White Terror.
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