Miklós Horthy

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Official portrait of Horthy

Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya (June 18, 1868 – February 9, 1957) was a conservative Hungarian naval officer and statesman who served as the country's regent from 1920 to 1944, until he was forced out of power by Nazi Germany. Horthy lived through a turbulent period of history, which saw the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the loss of two-thirds of Hungary's territory; the rise of fascism, Nazism, and communism; and two world wars. Horthy guided Hungary through these events, pursued conservative and anti-communist policies, and strengthened his nation's place in Europe.

Early life and career

Horthy was born into a noble Protestant family on June 18, 1868, in Kenderes, Hungary.[1] He joined the Austro-Hungarian naval academy at the age of fourteen.[1] Horthy rose quickly in the ranks,[2] serving as an aide-de-camp to the Austro-Hungarian emperor Francis Joseph from 1909 to 1914.[1]

Horthy distinguished himself during World War I, breaking the Allied blockade of the Adriatic Sea multiple times.[1] In 1918, he was promoted to the rank of admiral and became the commander of the fleet.[1][2] After the war's end, Horthy oversaw the transfer of the Austro-Hungarian fleet to the newly created country of Yugoslavia,[1] as the former country was dissolved and its successor states lost access to the sea.[2] Horthy retired to his family estate in his hometown.[2]

Regent of Hungary

Hungary before and after the Treaty of Trianon
Hungary regained some of its lost territories under Horthy

After the conclusion of the First World War, Hungary was in turmoil, having lost over two-thirds of its territory and undergoing internal instability. The country briefly was controlled by a communist government. In May 1919, Count Gyula Károlyi asked Horthy to join his counterrevolutionary government which was trying to defeat the communists.[2] Horthy, the "only available high-ranking officer" who did not join the communist government, became the Minister of War.[2] He became the leader of the counterrevolutionary National Army, and in November 1919 he took the Hungarian capital Budapest from the communists, defeating them and their leader Béla Kun.[2]

Horthy and his fellow officers formed what was called the Szeged Idea, "which was counterrevolutionary, right-leaning, and militant", gaining the support of the conservative aristocracy, churches, and many peasants.[2] They were also known for their cruelty and their role in beginning what became known as the White Terror,[2] which followed Red Terror under the communists.

In January 1920, the Hungarian Parliament voted to restore the monarchy, and on March 1 of that year, it voted to make Horthy the country's regent.[2] During the premiership of Count István Bethlen from 1921 to 1931, Horthy took a lower profile, letting Bethlen run the government.[1][2] In the 1930s, Horthy became more involved in Hungary's affairs, and in 1937, the Hungarian Parliament voted to substantially increase his powers.[1]

While Bethlen, a conservative in style, opposed attempts to take Hungary in a bolder conservative right-wing direction, Horthy strongly desired for his country to regain the territory lost after World War I.[2] This desire caused him to develop an alliance with Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler.[2]

Alliance with Hitler and involvement in World War II

Horthy's cooperation with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler is often misunderstood and frequently mischaracterized. Horthy disliked Hitler, but he allied with the German Führer for practical reasons.[1] For example, he supported Hitler's dislike for Bolshevism,[1] and Hitler, who had his own territorial ambitions, was sympathetic to Hungary's desire to regain lost territory.[2] For these reasons, it is reasonable to say that of all the existing options in the geopolitical situation of the 1930s, Nazi Germany was the best available choice for Hungary to align with. Of the other options, the USSR was ideologically incompatible with Hungary, and the Western European Allies had betrayed Hungary after the First World War and were uninterested in advancing Hungarian interests.

Horthy's alliance with Nazi Germany allowed Hungary to regain some of its lost territories. Between 1938 and 1941, Hungary reannexed land from Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia.[2] In return, Horthy joined World War II on the side of the Axis Powers, sending soldiers to fight the USSR alongside Germany.[2]

Although Horthy, like many people of his time, was an anti-Semite, he "had a soft spot for the more assimilated" and wealthier Jews living in Budapest, and he and his prime minister, Miklós Kállay, opposed the deportation of any of Hungary's 800,000 Jews as desired by Germany.[2][3] In 1944, however, the Germans forced Horthy to appoint a pro-Nazi prime minister who supported the Holocaust.[2] The deportations of Hungarian Jews began under this new government, although Horthy continued to refuse the deportation of Jews living in Budapest.[2] About 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered thereafter under Nazi-controlled Hungary.[4]

It was not long before Horthy himself was forced out of power. By 1944, it was clear that the Axis was losing the war, and the Soviet army was approaching Hungary's borders. Horthy secretly tried to reach an armistice with the Allied Powers. On October 15, 1944, Horthy announced Hungary was leaving the war.[2] In response, the Germans arrested him and his family, forced him to resign, and installed a fascist government in his place.[1][2]


After World War II ended, the Allied Powers "agreed that Horthy should not be tried as a war criminal,"[2] and they released him in May 1945.[1] Horthy went into exile in Portugal, where he died in 1957.[1][2]


While the communist government in Hungary, for obvious reasons, slandered Horthy's reputation, his reputation underwent a revival after the fall of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1993, Horthy's body was reburied in his hometown in Hungary with 50,000 people in attendance.[2] Hungary's conservative prime minister Viktor Orbán has spoken positively of Horthy.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Miklós Horthy. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 Horthy, Miklós (1868–1957). Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  3. Rita Steinhardt Botwinick, A History of the Holocaust (New York: Routledge, 2016), 187.
  4. Botwinick, 188.

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