One of the most popular questions to ask a writer is, “where do you get your ideas?” Frankly, I have no clue as to where some of my ideas come from. I will frequently re-read something I wrote a while ago and wonder, “Where did that come from?” This is the case regarding a character in my book, Saved by the Bell, the fourth book in the boxer series. That particular character was a member of the Hungarian Arrow Cross when he was a young man. I have no idea why. But, having assigned that background to this character, I decided that it would be a good idea if I did some research on the subject of the Hungarian Arrow Cross both to be a credible writer and out of respect for history. At the local library I found (and read) The Gold Train; The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary by Ronald Sweig and The Seige of Budapest; One Hundred Days in World War II by Krisztian Ungvary.
I am now utterly appalled. In the battle for Hungary’s capitol of Budapest, there were the German troops with their coerced ally, the Hungarians, and on the other side, Soviet troops with Romanians and their Hungarian supporters. While there were nearly twice as many attackers as defenders, the defenders had the advantage of being dug in, creating massive casualties on both sides. That’s an understatement. In the city, the mustered local men, who were to maintain order, were the Arrow Cross. Were these people organizing hospitals and medical assistance? Distributing food to a starving population? Creating fire brigades to put out fires? No. With the city encircled and defeat merely a matter of time, the Arrow cross was hunting down, rounding up, torturing and murdering all the Jews and Romas they could find. They were also known to rob Hungarian soldiers and kill those who resisted, including their officers. Deeply hated, the Hungarian partisans in the city focused their attention on killing as many Arrow Cross as they could. Caught between four armies and two battling paramilitary groups were over one million Hungarian civilians.
There is no question but that the Jews and Roma got the worst of it but there was massive suffering all around. Most Soviet soldiers were conscripts and ordered to charge into the teeth of the German’s defense, resulting in massive casualties. Those who surrendered to the Germans explained that if they had attempted to retreat, they would have been deliberately cut down by their own artillery.
Retreat was not an option for foot soldier.
The German command in Budapest kept asking Hitler for permission for the remaining troops to break out of the encirclement and retreat to territory farther west that was still held by the Germans. Hitler refused, insisting that all soldiers fight to the last bullet and the last man. Finally, the German commanders in Budapest radioed Berlin and announced they were breaking out, then destroyed their radio equipment so if Hitler again ordered them to stay, they could not get the order. It was estimated that of the 28,000 German soldiers who tried to break through the Soviet line and reach German held territory, only 800 made it. The rest were killed or captured.
When the Soviets took over, the first thing they did was kill all the wounded German soldiers. In one building, wounded German soldiers were dumped on straw and left with no one to feed them, change their bandages, or render basic hygiene assistance. The few people trying to assist spent three days just dragging out the dead. On the fourth day, the Soviets showed up and set the place on fire so that 800 wounded German soldiers were burned alive. Some locals managed to drag out some of the wounded, but with nowhere to put them, they froze to death. The Soviets then looted everything they could get their hands on, shot anyone who spoke Russian on the assumption that person was a deserter, rounded up thousand of able-bodied men to be used for forced labor or sent to prison camps where they starved, and raped every woman they could find, usually many times. In the meantime, many more civilians died of the diseases that come with no functional utilities and no medical care, or starved to death.
- Final Toll of the Dead:
- Civilians, 38,000
- Hungarian-German soldiers, 48,000
- Soviet-Romanian soldiers 70,000
These are all conservative estimates and don’t include people who died later in POW camps. It was estimated that 60,000 Germans and Hungarians (mostly Hungarians since the Soviet Troops tended to execute Germans) were captured so their total dead might exceed the number of Soviet-Romanians killed.
And what was gained?
Hitler was trying to stave off defeat by keeping the Russians at bay, but Soviet tanks were only 60 kilometers from Berlin when he issued his last “defend at all cost” order, having coming in from Poland, not to mention he was losing the war on the Western front as well. Stalin wanted to capture Budapest in order to make the diplomatic argument that Russian should be able to occupy Hungary as a satellite state, which none of the Western powers had any intention of contesting, anyway. So, frankly, neither side gained anything by this battle.
If you look at the number of tanks, planes, trucks, transports, ammunition light arms, and salaries that went into just this one battle, the amount of money on it must have been staggering. That alone should have been incentive enough to cause humanity to pause about using war as a solution to conflict. In addition, there was the widespread destruction. Hundreds of historic buildings were bombed into rubble, all the bridges in the city were blown up, and just about everything else was looted and burned.
The cost of rebuilding the city must have been staggering.
That doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of human suffering which is beyond calculation. It is hard to imagine how humans could have possible been anymore inhumane to one another than they were in this one city.
To me, the only possible response to all of this would be to determine that war would never happen again that any form of conflict resolution (absent defending against an aggressive invader which is pure self-defense) is preferable to war. And yet, the response of those countries involved in the two great European wars, was to plan for the next war. Our government supports four institutions of higher learning that teach war. We have none that teach peace. We spend more money on our war department than the rest of the world combined. War is the favorite theme in our video games. Since WWII, we sent troops to Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as participated in proxy wars all over the planet, and we’re not alone. War is still the accepted methodology of resolving conflict, controlling resources, going down in history as a great leader, expanding territory and promoting “values.”
You’d think we’d know better than that by now.
The next character I will have to research will be a retired bakery owner. This will no doubt involve a great deal of investigation of pastries.