Part Five

 

  As the war situation changed at the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944 to the detriment of the German armies on the Eastern Front, the attitude of the Hungarians towards their German allies was expressed in two ways.  The members of the Hungarian government sought to give the impression of standing by their ally publicly while privately seeking other alternatives by approaching the Polish government in exile in London in the hopes of coming to some kind of understanding with the Anglo-American Alliance.  They also began to assert themselves to test the measure of their independence from Germany and ordered that Reich German deserters would no longer be handed over to the German authorities and be placed in punishment details.

 

  After the execution of Ciano, Mussolini’s Foreign Minister and son-in-law, the Hungarian parliament was outraged and in standing vote taken on January 18, 1944 they officially protested the action taken by the Nazis.  Only the two Bund members in the parliament remained seated for the standing vote and ovation that followed.  In further defiance of Nazi policies the Ministry of Education declared that all Jewish youth were allowed to participate in all sports associations.  This action created another uproar in right wing circles and hysteria in certain quarters in the Reich.

 

  Anton König a former reporter working on the Neuen Sontagsblatt (New Sunday Newspaper) who had been called to serve as the Prime Minister’s press secretary gave expression to the official attitude of the Hungarian government to the “German Folk Group” of Basch’s invention.  König was a fierce opponent of the Volksbund and now acted as a censor of their press organs.

 

  During the first two SS recruitment drives the clergy and churches had been violently opposed to them and used all of their power of persuasion against them.  By the end of 1943 it was obvious to anyone who could read the signs that Germany would lose the war and Roman Catholic and Lutheran clergy attacked the ideology of Hitler and the Bund.  This was especially true in Swabian Turkey, the central and western regions of Hungary.  They issued pamphlets ridiculing Nazism and the Bund, persuaded young people to join Hungarian educational societies, provided support for Reich German refugees who had fled to Hungary to avoid the bombings, and counselled families with members in the SS home from the front on furlough not to return to their German units.  In Harta the Arrow Cross Party spread the rumour that the Volksbund was going to dissolve as an organization and all of its members would join the Arrow Cross.  By now even this right way radical pro-Nazi party was opposed to the Volksbund.

 

  During the second recruitment effort to enlist the German minority in the Waffen-SS the leadership of the Arrow Cross Party had sent out circular letters to all of its Fürhrers in each of the Counties in which they were ordered to prevent the reporting of any Arrow Cross Party members to the Waffen-SS commissions.  They indicated that by serving in the SS units they would be shedding their blood in a way that would not really serve the interests of the Hungarian nation.

 

  For a better understanding of the third Waffen-SS recruitment drive in Hungary there are ramifications of what occurred in Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Slovakia that would affect the Hungarian situation.

 

  In Romania the Bund leaders were intensely concerned about the security of their Folk Group.  In January 1944, their Führer, Andreas Schmidt indicated the situation was precarious as the Russians were on the threshold of an invasion of Romania and the Romanian government was looking for a way out with some kind of accommodation with the Western allies.  Feelings were running high following Ciano’s execution who had been a signatory of the Vienna Accords and his death marked a repudiation of the Accords that had been forced on Romania and even the conservative circles took some joy in it.  A catastrophic social upheaval was taking placing in the industrial region around Reschitz as a result of Communist propaganda that had led to the formation of two large Partisan units that were already campaigning against units of both the Romanian and German armies.

 

  Two British secret agents had been parachuted into Romania and were arrested by the Romanian police.  One of them was the head of the Secret Service for South Eastern Europe but the Romanians refused to hand them over to the Reich despite threats issued by the German ambassador in Bucharest.  This was one of the many different ways the Romanians sought to distance themselves from Germany which would have a totally negative effect on the outcome of the war for the Nazis.  Later in the summer they not only capitulated to the Russians but joined them in their war effort against Germany.

 

  In Croatia the very life and existence of the German minority was in jeopardy and its Folk Group leadership saw that they were being threatened with annihilation by the anti-German forces of Tito’s Partisan units.  Things were getting worse each day.  Measures had to be taken and the only possible solution was flight and evacuation to Germany.

 

  In Serbia the local Serbian population met in private houses and made up lists of names of Germans who would be liquidated when the eventual fall of the Nazis took place.  It was only a matter of time before they faced defeat.

 

  While in Slovakia the political situation had not changed for the German Folk Group.

 

  This was the situation that led to the Reich’s request to carry out a third Waffen-SS recruitment drive in Hungary. 

 

  In March 1944 the SS Headquarters, Section D in Berlin completed the outline and first draft of an agreement between the Reich government and the government of Hungary for a third Waffen-SS recruitment drive which was then forwarded to the Reich Foreign Ministry.  On April 3rd, the legation official Reichel of the Foreign Office sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Budapest which outlined the design and plan for the new Waffen-SS enlistment with the request that he be fully up front with the Hungarian officials in this matter.  It is also important to note that SS Commander von Keppler claimed that he briefed the Hungarian National Army Minister of Defence, Lajos Csatay, on March 25, 1944 and he offered no objections for the third Waffen-SS recruitment drive.  In a telegram dated April 6th, 1944 it can be ascertained that an agreement had been worked out for the planned Waffen-SS action by the Hungarian government along with SS Commander Winkelmann and Keppler according to the German ambassador in Budapest, von Jagow.  One matter, however, remained outstanding: the definition of what it meant to be of German nationality.  The German version of the agreement read:  belonging to the German nationality were those who had a least three German grandparents or who claimed to be Germans.  The Hungarian version read:  German nationality belongs to all of those who freely declare themselves as such.  This became a very contentious issue for the Hungarians who insisted theirs was the correct interpretation of the Vienna Accord of August 30, 1904 which actually stated:  “The members of the German “Folk Group” are those who acknowledge that they are German and recognized as such by the leadership of the Volksbund.”  The Hungarian point of view eventually held sway in the discussions and by the end of the negotiations personal acknowledgement of “being German” was the key to solving the issue.

 

  Parallel to the planning for the third Waffen-SS recruitment campaign in Hungary, the Reich youth leader, Axmann along with the state secretary of the SS, von Steengracht made a recommendation to activate the military training programme of the ethnic German youth under the influence and ideology of the Reich Hitler Youth organization.  This recommendation was warmly welcomed by Basch and the new German ambassador in Budapest, Veesenmeyer.  But despite that both of them feared that carrying out this recommendation would create a great deal of mistrust on the part of the Hungarian government.  They agreed to carry out a discussion of the matter with the Hungarian government officials only after the third Waffen-SS recruitment drive was completed.

 

  The leadership of the Levente acquiesced to the demands of the Volksbund and allowed the German youth in Hungary to withdraw from its jurisdiction and programme.  Prager, the former regional Führer of the Sudetenland was placed in charge and Schuhmacher the former holder of the position was ordered to serve in the Wehrmacht. 

 

  The Accord with the Hungarian government for the third Waffen-SS recruitment made it possible for the Volksbund leadership to carry it out as a compulsory enlistment even though officially it was publicized as being voluntary.

 

  Through a decree promulgated by Himmler on February 27, 1944 he eliminated any differences or distinctions between the Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) and Reich Germans and thereby could lay claim to all of those of military age among the German minority of Hungary for the Waffen-SS and this time no one would be able to avoid reporting to the enlistment commission even if the individual claimed to be Hungarian.  It was the Volksbund that would decide who would be considered to be German.  This entire matter would be of great importance during the enlistment and for the future policies of the Hungarian government in terms of the German minority because now the criteria being used was racial and was no longer consistent with the Vienna Accord of 1940.  The stipulation that all men from the German minority that joined the SS would lose their Hungarian citizenship had been annulled by Himmler’s decree.

 

    An additional codicil was added to the Accord with regard to the SS recruitment campaign on the urgent request of the SS in the Reich on May 30th that allowed for the recruitment of German women in Hungary between the ages of 17 to 30 to serve in the SS Women’s Corps of the Waffen-SS.  They were to be given assignments in health services and communications in keeping with the mandate of the Corps.

 

  The official announcement of the forthcoming third Waffen-SS recruitment drive was made at the national assembly of the Volksbund in Bonyhád on April 23rd and was received with an outpouring of pandemonium on the part of the crowd.  In his speech, under the theme:  “All Germans of Hungary must now take up arms as soldiers of the Führer,” Basch stated:  “As the Volksbund representing our German people we will use all of our efforts in this war to achieve victory and fulfill our highest calling and nothing can stand in our way.  Whoever is a German must step forward and obey the command of our Führer and do his duty.  There is only one German people and only one Homeland and we have only one world view that unites us.  If there is someone who has the notion to hinder us or hem us in from carrying out this war at the very moment he attempts to do so I can assure you he will be branded as the archfiend of the German people and our Hungarian Fatherland.  And this talk and confusion about there being two kinds of Germans in Hungary will now come to an end.”

 

  The fanaticism of Basch requires no commentary.  But his speech does show how much political power the Volksbund had won during the last year and the impotency of the Hungarian government.

 

  On May 5th, 1944 Basch called for all Germans to voluntarily report to the Waffen-SS in an article in the Deutsche Volksbote (The German Peoples’ News).  He informed his readers that those who were not prepared to put on a German uniform in the past would now be forced to do so.  He had made agreements with the Ministry of Defence (April 27th) and the Minister of the Interior that empowered the Volksbund leaders to call upon the Hungarian police to force those who refused to join the Waffen-SS.  This was a complete reversal of Hungarian government policy in the past and caught everyone totally off guard.  The enlistments began on May 15th in Pélmonoster in Swabian Turkey and ended on September 8th in Szatmar.

 

  The recruitment of women occurred from August 10-17th and was voluntary.  The regional Bund leaders were in charge of the registration of the women volunteers.  The recruits were accompanied by their local Bund Führerin to training schools in the Reich.  How many were involved?  It is estimated that there were 600 to 700 volunteers.

 

  The German minority that had opted to join the Loyalty movement in opposition to the Bund and its policies and ideology and were regarded by the Bund as pro-Hungarian were called up to register with the Waffen-SS and many of them refused to do so voluntarily.  In villages and towns across the country hundreds of Swabians demonstrated against the Waffen-SS conscription and presented petitions to the County officials and other government authorities.  Many of them attempted to register with the Hungarian National Army at nearby army barracks because they would rather serve with them than the Waffen-SS.  The clergy and numerous village notaries formed solidarity groups to assist and support “draft resisters.”  But most of the Hungarian officers, attached as observers to the SS enlistment commissions, and representing the Hungarian National Army simply washed their hands of any men who resisted and sought their help.  They indicated to them that the matter was entirely out of their hands.

 

  This policy had been seriously challenged within the Hungarian government during talks on June 1st but the Prime Minister Sztojay held firm because he knew Himmler was totally intransigent on this issue because he expected nothing less than forming at least two divisions as a result of the enlistments going on in Hungary.  Horthy was not satisfied with his Prime Minister’s position and called for the Minister of Defence, Csatay to present a proposal to the cabinet on June 21st to the effect that all those Swabians who claimed Hungarian nationality would not be forced into the Waffen-SS against their will.  Csatay was then accused by the German ambassador Veesenmeyer of attempting to sabotage the agreement.  The domestic uproar the enlistment was causing required the special attention of SS Headquarters in Berlin and an SS Commander named Berger was quickly dispatched to Budapest.  On arriving he immediately pointed out to the ambassador that the enlistment was making slow headway because the Hungarian officials were dragging their feet.  Veensenmeyer called upon Csatay to provide a written response to the current status of the Waffen-SS enlistment drive.

 

  In his reply on August 29th the Defence Minister said he had corrected the list of names submitted to him by the Volksbund which had contained 202,000 names and had released 131,000 of them for the SS recruitment.  The fact that the enlistment commission had only recruited 42,000 men was no fault of his.  From this report of Csatay it is obvious that this third time around for the Waffen-SS recruitment it was providing much better results than the first two.  From 42,000 recruits reported on August 25th the number rose to 60,000 by the end of the September.  By the end of the war, after another new understanding between the governments of Hungary and Germany reached on October 24, 1944 another 20,000 Swabians were added to the ranks of the Waffen-SS.  The 25th and 26th Waffen-SS divisions were set up from these recruits.

 

  From the documents that are available we are unable to determine either the number of   volunteers or those who were forced to serve in the Waffen-SS.  Nor can we identify the regions from which they came.  It is safe to say there were 60,000 from Hungary in terms of the borders established by the Treaty of Trianon after the First World War and an additional 60,000 from the acquired territories i.e. northern Transylvania and the Batschka.

 

  As a result of the third recruitment the following units were established:

 

  18th SS Panzer Grenadier Division:  Horst Wessel

  22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division:  Maria Theresia

  31st SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division:  Böhmen-Mähren

 

  In the forthcoming battles in Hungary and in and around Budapest these divisions suffered great losses along with the SS-Division Das Reich and Reichsführer SS that were also manned by men from the German minority in Hungary.

 

  In the months of May and June non-Germans were also recruited into the German Wehrmacht, i.e. 11,000 Romanians from northern Transylvania.  With the establishment of the new Szalasi Arrow Cross government on October 15, 1944 the Volksbund leaders believed there would now be a national purification of Jewish elements including the Hungarian National Army.  But the Army overthrew the government in November.  Basch was of the conviction that the command of the Hungarian National Army should be in the hands of the Reich.

 

  The Volksbund leadership placed all of their energies and efforts in establishing the SS-Panzer Grenadier Division “Hunjady” for the age groups from 1902-1921 from among the remaining men of the German minority as well as others for what they called Home Defence forces.  These were all pipe dreams as the catastrophes on the front finally caught up with them.  But to the very end Basch inveighed against his followers to enlist more men to throw at the advancing Red Army with the absurd task of saving Europe from the Bolshevik menace.  The German minority in Hungary suffered staggering losses serving in the Waffen-SS at a minimum 20,000 lost their lives while the Bund leadership led the escape to safety in what would become West Germany where many of them still work hard to this day to plead not guilty to any suggestion of any impropriety on their part and continue to have the support of officials of the government in Bonn because they are numbered as the fiercest of anti-Communists.

 

  The lack of conscience on the part of these escaped Nazis is mind numbing as they continue to prattle about the justice of their cause as spokespersons for the German minority in Hungary that they were simply out to preserve and protect.  The German minority that lost their homes and property; were taken to slave labour in the Soviet Union; were expelled and deported from their Hungarian Homeland just as Adolph Hitler had promised.  It was probably the only promise he ever kept.

One Response to “ Germans of Hungary in the Waffen-SS (5) ”

  1. Harley says:

    Excellent article..

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