The stories in Tamas Dobozy's collection, Siege 13, look at some of the emotional and psychological consequences of the Budapest Offensive, one of the longest and deadliest military campaigns of World War II. Beginning in the autumn of 1944, the Budapest Offensive lasted though February 13, 1945. Budapest was officially surrounded on December 29, 1944, in what became known as the "Siege of Budapest". The whole campaign caused immeasurable destruction and hardship.
After having taken control of Romania in August 1944, the Soviet Red Army (an Allied force) continued to push west, setting its sights on Hungary (see map). Hungary would provide a direct link to Austria and Czechoslovakia, which would give the Allies access to the south of Germany, a very valuable route. Hungary was an ally of Germany, albeit reluctantly so. According to The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II by Krisztián Ungváry, "As a result of the successive defeats suffered by the Germans on the eastern front, Italy, Romania and Hungary had become increasingly reluctant allies [of the Germans] . With the frontline approaching the Hungarian border early in 1944, the German Wehrmacht occupied Hungary in order to prevent it from following Italy's example in trying to negotiate a ceasefire with the Allies." Adolf Hitler wanted to keep a firm grip on Hungary, in part because it contained the Axis' only remaining crude oil plant. In October 1944, the Arrow Cross Party, supported by Adolph Hitler and led by Ferenc Szálasi, instituted the Government of National Unity in Hungary a group that was directly responsible for murdering approximately 15,000 people and sending 80,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz concentration camp during its five month rule.
As Hungary was extremely important to both the Axis and Allies, both sides fought ruthlessly for it. Between October 29, 1944 and November 24, 1944 fighting was incredibly violent. The 2nd Ukrainian Front (Soviet) made territorial gains, however, they were unable to occupy Budapest, the "Pearl of the Danube," Hungary's capital. By December 29, 1944, the 3rd Ukrainian Front, led by Fyodor Tolbukhin, arrived and provided major support to the Soviet and Romanian forces, allowing them to successfully surround Budapest and confine approximately 190,000 German and Hungarian soldiers. Known as the Siege of Budapest, this military victory did anything but stop the violence. Germans continued to fight to regain control of the city until February 13, 1945 when the Axis forces finally surrendered.
During this time, the country found itself swimming in chaos, confusion, and fear. Ungváry explains, " the battle for Budapest involved civilians as much (if not more) than soldiers. It was a struggle of armies as well as a struggle of minds. When the siege of Budapest began, the people of Budapest were badly, indeed, tragically divided." War found its way into urban centers. An article entitled "World War II: Siege of Budapest" explains, "During those dangerous early days of the siege, German and Hungarian reinforcements rode the city trams to battle in Pest's eastern suburbs." Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, women were raped, people starved.
The article describes: "A brief orgy of horror and violence ensued in Buda after its capture. An estimated two thousand wounded were burned or suffocated to death in fires that broke out in the catacombs under the Royal Palace. Soviet soldiers plundered, looted, and raped the populace. Occupation troops rounded up all able-bodied Hungarian men and youth and sent them down the Danube to build pontoon bridges across the river. For weeks afterward, especially after the spring thaw, bloated bodies piled up against these same pontoons and bridge pylons."
After the war ended, many Hungarians emmigrated to other countries and, as Dobozy so creatively explores in his stories, were forced to find ways of coping with the trauma they experienced.
Top photo of Soviet troops in Budapest. Bottom photo of Hungarian troops in a suburb of Budapest.
This article is from the April 3, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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