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Arrow Cross Party-Hungarist Movement
Nyilaskeresztes Párt – Hungarista Mozgalom
Leader Ferenc Szálasi
(executed for war crimes)
Founded 1935 as Party of National Will and banned in 1937 until reconstituted as the Arrow Cross Party on 15 March 1939 and disbanded in April 1945 after the Siege of Budapest.
Headquarters Andrássy út 60, Budapest
Membership 300,000 in 1939[1]
Ideology Far-right,
National socialism,
Hungarian Turanism,
Political position Far-right
Official colours Flag of Hungary.svg - Red, White, Green from the flag of Hungary

The Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian: Nyilaskeresztes Párt – Hungarista Mozgalom, literally "Arrow Cross Party-Hungarist Movement") was a national socialist pro-Nazi party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which ruled Hungary as the Hungarian State from October 15, 1944 to January 1945. During its short rule, ten to fifteen thousand Jews were murdered outright,[2] and 80,000 Jews, including many women, children and elderly were deported from Hungary to their deaths in the Auschwitz concentration camp.[3] After the war, Szálasi and other Arrow Cross leaders were tried as war criminals by Soviet courts.



Ministers of the Arrow Cross Party government. Ferenc Szálasi is in the middle of the lower row.

The party was founded by Ferenc Szálasi in 1935 as the Party of National Will.[4] It had its origins in the political philosophy of pro-German extremists such as Gyula Gömbös, who famously coined the term "national socialism" in the 1920s.[5] The party was outlawed in 1937 but was reconstituted in 1939 as the Arrow Cross Party, and was said to be modeled fairly explicitly on the Nazi Party of Germany, although Szálasi often and harshly criticized the Nazi regime of Germany.[6] The iconography of the party was clearly inspired by that of the Nazis; the Arrow Cross emblem was an ancient symbol of the Magyar tribes who settled Hungary, thereby suggesting the racial purity of the Hungarians in much the same way that the Nazi swastika was intended to allude to the racial purity of the Aryans.


The party's ideology was somewhat similar to Nazism, though a more accurate comparison might be drawn between Austrofascism and Hungarian fascism which was called Hungarism by Ferenc Szálasi - extreme nationalism, the promotion of agriculture, anti-capitalism, anti-Communism, anti-Catholic, and militant anti-Semitism. Originally the party and the leader were anti-German minded, therefore it was long and very difficult process for Hitler to compromise with Szálasi and his party. The Arrow Cross Party conceived Jews in racial as well as religious terms, though the necessary scientific capital for a widespread and elaborate program of eugenics simply did not exist in Hungary at the time. Thus, although the Arrow Cross Party was certainly far more racist than the Judeophobic Horthyite regime, whose anti-semitism was based entirely upon Christian belief, it was still very different from the German Nazi Party. Instead, much of the Arrow Cross Party's ideals were based upon mythos, the paradox being that, although the party was pro-Catholic and its anti-semitism had its origins in Christian belief, Szalasi and his colleagues endorsed a respect for the pagan traditions of the Magyar and Avar peoples. The Arrow Cross Party was also more radical economically than other fascist movements, advocating worker rights and land reforms. In a sense the Arrow Cross Party was more like Germany's NSDAP prior to the Night of the Long Knives when the Socialist faction among the Nazis was murdered or subjugated.

Rise to power

A World War II propaganda poster for the party – the text reads "Despite it all..!"

The roots of Arrow Cross influence can be traced to the outburst of anti-Jewish feeling that followed the Communist putsch and brief rule in Hungary in the spring and summer of 1919. Many of the Communist leaders, including Bela Kun and Tibor Szamuely, were Jews, and the failed and murderous policies of the Hungarian Soviet Republic came to be associated in the minds of many Hungarians with a "Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy."

After the Red Terror was crushed in August 1919, conservatives under the leadership of Admiral Miklos Horthy took control of the nation. Many Hungarian military officers took part in the counter-reprisals known as the White Terror - some of that violence was directed at Jews, simply because they were Jewish. Though the White Guard was officially suppressed, many of its fiercest members went underground and formed the core membership of a spreading nationalist and anti-Jewish movement.

During the 1930s, the Arrow Cross gradually began to dominate Budapest's working class district, defeating the Social Democrats. It should be noted, that the Social Democrats did not really contest elections effectively; they had had to make a pact with the conservative Horthyite regime in order to prevent the abolition of their party.

The Arrow Cross subscribed to the Nazi ideology of "master races" which, in Szálasi's view, included the Hungarians and Germans, and it also supported the concept of an order based on the power of the strongest – what Szálasi called a "brutally realistic étatism". However, its espousal of territorial claims under the banner of a "Greater Hungary" and Hungarian values (which Szálasi labelled "Hungarizmus" or "Hungarianism") clashed with Nazi ambitions in central Europe, delaying by several years Hitler's endorsement of the party.

The German Foreign Office instead endorsed the pro-German Hungarian National Socialist Party, which had support among German minorities. Before World War II, the Arrow Cross were not proponents of the racial antisemitism of the Nazis, but utilized traditional stereotypes and prejudices to gain votes among voters both in Budapest and the countryside. However, the constant bickering among these diverse fascist groups prevented the Arrow Cross Party from gaining even more support and power. The Arrow Cross obtained most of its support from a disparate coalition of military officers, soldiers, nationalists, and agricultural workers. It was only one of a number of similar openly fascist factions in Hungary, but was by far the most prominent, having developed an effective system of recruitment. When it contested the May 1939 elections - the only ones in which it stood - the party won more than 25 % of the vote and 30 seats in the Hungarian Parliament. This was only a superficially impressive result; the majority of Hungarians were not permitted to vote. It did, however, become one of the most powerful parties in Hungary. But the Horthy leadership banned the Arrow Cross on the outbreak of World War II, forcing it to operate underground.

In 1944, the Arrow Cross Party's fortunes were abruptly reversed after Adolf Hitler lost patience with the reluctance of Horthy and his moderate prime minister, Miklos Kállay, to fully toe the Nazi line. In March 1944, the Germans invaded and officially occupied Hungary; Kállay fled and was replaced by the Nazi proxy, Döme Sztójay. One of Sztójay's first acts was to legalize the Arrow Cross.

During the Spring and Summer of 1944, more than 400,000 Jews were herded into centralized ghettos and then deported from the Hungarian countryside to death camps by the Nazis, with the willing help of the Hungarian Interior Ministry and its gendarmerie (the csendorség) - both of whose members had close links to the Arrow Cross. The Jews of Budapest were concentrated into so-called Yellow Star Houses, approximately 2,000 single-building mini-ghettos identified by a yellow Star of David over the entrance.[7] In August 1944, before deportations from Budapest began, Horthy used what influence he had to stop the deportations and force the radical anti-Semites out of the government. As the summer progressed, and the Allied and Soviet armies closed in on central Europe, the ability of the Nazis to devote attention to Hungary's "Jewish Solution" waned.

Arrow Cross Rule

Jewish victims of Arrow Cross men in the court of the Dohány Street Synagogue.

In October 1944, Horthy negotiated a cease-fire with the Soviets and announced that Hungarian troops should lay down their arms. In response, Nazi Germany launched Operation Panzerfaust, a covert operation which forced Horthy to resign, after which he was put into "protective custody" in Germany. With Nazi approval, the Arrow Cross Party seized Budapest. Szálasi was declared prime minister and "nation leader."

The Arrow Cross rule was short-lived and brutal. In fewer than three months, death squads killed as many as 38,000 Hungarians, 25,000 of them Jews. Arrow Cross officers helped Adolf Eichmann re-activate the deportation proceedings from which the Jews of Budapest had thus far been spared, sending some 80,000 Jews out of the city on slave labor details and many more straight to death camps. Many Jewish males of conscription age were already serving as slave labor for the Hungarian Army's Forced Labor Battalions where most of them died, including many who were outrightly murdered after the fighting had finished when they were returning home. Quickly-formed battalions raided the Yellow Star Houses and combed the streets, hunting down Jews claimed to be partisans and saboteurs since Jews attacked Arrow Cross squads at least 6-8 times using gunfire[8]. These approx. 200 Jews were taken to the bridges crossing the Danube. There the Jews were shot, and their bodies borne away by the waters of the river because many were attached to weights while they were handcuffed to each other in pairs.[9]

Doctors and patients slaughtered by the Arrow Cross at the Maros Street hospital

Soviet and Romanian forces were already fighting in Hungary even before Szálasi's takeover. Red Army troops reached the outskirts of the city in December 1944, and the siege action known as the Battle of Budapest began - though frequently claimed, there is no proof that the Arrow Cross members and the Germans conspired to destroy the Budapest ghetto[8]. Days before he fled the city, Arrow Cross Interior Minister Gabor Vájna commanded that streets and squares named for Jews be renamed.[10]

As control of the city's institutions began to decay, the Arrow Cross trained their guns on the most helpless possible targets: patients in the beds of the city's two Jewish hospitals on Maros Street and Bethlen Square, and residents in the Jewish poorhouse on Alma Road. As order collapsed, Arrow Cross members continually sought to raid the ghettos and Jewish concentration buildings; the majority of Budapest's Jews were only saved by fearless and heroic efforts on the part of a handful of Jewish leaders and foreign diplomats, most famously Swede Raoul Wallenberg, Swiss Consul Carl Lutz, and Giorgio Perlasca.[11] Szálasi knew that the documents used by these diplomats to save Jews were invalid according to international law, but he allowed them to use those papers.[6]

Charles Ardai, an American entrepreneur, novelist and book publisher, recounted in an Oct. 2008 National Public Radio interview an episode recalled by his mother, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary. Her family and other Budapest Jews were preparing to flee before the approach of Arrow Cross killers. They pleaded with two young boys who were family relatives to go with them, but the boys refused because their parents had told them to wait for them at home. As a result, the Arrow Cross men discovered the boys and killed them.

The Arrow Cross government effectively fell at the end of January, when the Soviet Army took Pest and the fascist forces retreated across the Danube to Buda. Szálasi escaped Budapest on December 11[6], taking with him the Hungarian royal crown; Arrow Cross members and German forces continued to fight a rear-guard action in the far west of Hungary until the end of the war in April 1945. Many Jews were murdered in these final weeks because the Nyilas would not allow them to survive.

Post-war developments

Szálasi on trial in Budapest

After the war, many of the Arrow Cross leaders were captured and tried for war crimes. In the first months of post-war adjudication, no fewer than 6,200 indictments for murder were served against Arrow Cross men.[12]

Some Arrow Cross officials, including Szálasi himself, were executed. The ideology of the Arrow Cross has resurfaced to some extent in recent years, with the Neo-Fascist Hungarian Welfare Association prominent in reviving Szálasi's "Hungarizmus" through its monthly magazine, Magyartudat ("Hungarian Awareness"). However, "Hungarism" is very much a fringe element of modern Hungarian politics; the Hungarian Welfare Association has since dissolved[13].

In 2006 a former high ranking member of the Arrow Cross party named Lajos Polgár was found to be living in Melbourne, Australia.[3] Polgar was accused of war crimes, but the case was later dropped and Polgár died of natural causes in July that year.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Ungváry Krisztián: A politikai erjedés – az 1939-es választások Magyarországon
  2. ^ Patai, Raphael (1996). The Jews of Hungary:History, Culture, Psychology. 590: Wayne State University Press. pp. 730. ISBN 0814325610.,M1.  
  3. ^ a b Johnston, Chris (2006-02-16). "War Crime Suspect Admits to his Leading Fascist Role". The Age. Retrieved 2009-04-19.  
  4. ^ Frucht, Richard C. (2005). Eastern Europe: an Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. 376: ABC-CLIO. pp. 928. ISBN 1576078000.  
  5. ^ Miklos Molnar, 'A Concise History of Hungary
  6. ^ a b c "Szálasi Ferenc és a hungaristák zsidópolitikája volt a jobb".  
  7. ^ Patai, Raphael, The Jews of Hungary, Wayne State University Press, p. 578
  8. ^ a b "Szita Szabolcs: A budapesti csillagos házak (1944-45)".  
  9. ^ from the Open Society Archives at Central European University, at
  10. ^ Patai, p. 586
  11. ^ Patai, p. 589
  12. ^ Patai, p. 587
  13. ^
  14. ^ Lack of political will over Polgar, says Holocaust Centre, Australian Jewish News, July 13, 2006

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