Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Expulsion of the Germans from Hungary: A Study in Postwar Diplomacy

  • Stephen Kertesz

The key to the problem of the expulsion of the Germans from Hungary* was the Potsdam Conference, where the representatives of the three major Allies declared “that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken.” Thus the three major Allies assimilated the problem of the Germans in Hungary with the problems of Germans in Poland and Czechoslovakia, although in reality the situation in Hungary differed greatly from that in the other two countries. The terms of the Potsdam decision might have been suitable for the Polish and Czechoslovak situations, but were most misleading when applied to Hungary.

Hide All

1 Large groups of Germans settled in Hungary as early as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These early settlements came into being in Transylvania and in Northern Hungary, territories attached by the Treaty of Trianon to Rumania and Czechoslovakia. Under King Matthias, at the end of the fifteenth century, Hungary had a population of approximately five millions, of which 75 to 80 percent were Magyars. During the Turkish wars and occupation, battles were fought for nearly two centuries on the plains and in the hill districts, which regions were densely populated by the Magyars. Consequently, centers of Hungarian culture were annihilated in vast areas. After the expulsion of the Turks, a census in 1720 revealed only three and a half million persons in Hungary proper. Subsequently, the Imperial Government of Vienna directed a large-scale colonization, which diminished the proportion of the Magyars even more. Immigrants came from all over Europe. The majority consisted of Germans, Rumanians and Slovaks from Northern Hungary, but also included were French, Alsatian, Catalan, Italian, Dutch, Bulgarian, Armenian and other settlers. The over-whelming part of the German minority that lived in post First World War Hungary had moved into the country in the course of this eighteenth century colonization period, that is, they lived for more than two centuries in Hungary.

As to conditions in Hungary after the expulsion of the Turks, see Marczali, Henry, Hungary in the Eighteenth Century, with an introductory essay on the earlier history of Hungary by Harold W. V. Temperley (Cambridge, 1910). Cf. Telcki, Count Paul, The Evolution of Hungary and Its Place in European History (New York, 1923), pp. 5487. For the changes of Hungary's population, see The Hungarian Peace Negotiations, Vol. I. published by the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (Budapest, 1921), pp. 4353.

2 For the developments in Yugoslavia and Rumania, see Schechtman, Joseph B., “The Elimination of German Minorities in Southeastern Europe,” Journal of Central European Affairs, 6 (1946), 152162. Men Without the Rights of Man, A Report on the Expulsion and Extermination of German Speaking Minority Groups in the Balkans and Prewar Poland, published by the Committee Against Mass Expulsion (New York, 1947).

3 These questions were debated in the Hungarian press. Szabad Szó, the organ of the National Peasant Party, and the Communist Party organ, Szabad Nép, advocated the wholesale deportation of the Germans as early as April and May, 1945. See, especially Szabad Szó, 04 22, 1945. For the more moderate views, see Magyar Nemzet, 05 1, 8, 12, 16, 1945. Some politicians advocated an internal dispersion of the Germans in order to dissolve the compact German settlements in Hungary.

4 Ferenc Erdei was a member of the Peasant Party, but actually he owed exclusive allegiance to the Communist Party and fulfilled Communist orders.

5 The American memorandum dealt with the possible expulsion of Magyars from Rumania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and noted, “The Governments of those states are primarily concerned with the matter of responsibility of these Hungarians for crimes against the state of which such Hungarians are citizens. The United States Government, however, would not consider it justified to deal with all members of an ethnic group who constitute a minority as criminals against the state and as subject to expulsion from its territory, only because of their ethnic origin.” Hungary at the Conference of Paris, Vol. II (Budapest 1947), pp. 45.

6 “The three governments having considered the question in all its aspects, recognize that the transfer to Germany of German populations, or elements thereof, remaining in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, will have to be undertaken. They agree, that any transfers that take place should be effected in an orderly and humane manner.

“Since the influx of a large number of Germans into Germany would increase the burden already resting on the occupying authorities, they consider that the Allied Control Council in Germany should in the first instance examine the problem with special regard to the question of the equitable distribution of these Germans among the several zones of occupation. They are accordingly instructing their respective representatives on the Control Council to report to their governments as soon as possible the extent to which such persons have already entered Germany from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and to submit an estimate of the time and rate at which further transfers could be carried out, having regard to the present situation in Germany.

“The Czechoslovak Government, the Polish Provisional Government and the Control Council in Hungary are at the same time being informed of the above, and are being requested meanwhile to suspend further expulsions pending the examination by the Governments concerned of the report from their representatives on the Control Council.” Department of State Bulletin, XIII (1945), 160.

7 81st Congress, 2d Session, Report No. 1841.

8 Ibid., p. 6. This report described the motives behind the American position at Potsdam in the following way: “Premier Stalin himself is the principal source for the information that large-scale expulsions took place long before Potsdam. As early as the Yalta Conference, in February 1945, he had said, ‘Where our troops come in, the Germans run away.’ At Potsdam during the meeting of July 25, 1945, he stated that Poland had already expelled millions of Germans and that, although one and a half million remained, these were being held only to help with the harvest. Then they, too, would be expelled. He remarked that the Czechs were giving the Germans two hours' notice in which to move out. Premier Stalin emphasized that nothing could be done to stop these expulsions. He felt that not only the Big Three but the Polish and Czech Governments themselves were powerless to prevent the process, which was occurring because of deep-rooted and bitter feelings of the people against the Germans.

“It was against this background of the accomplished fact of large-scale expulsions, coupled with Soviet unwillingness to do anything about them, that the United States sponsorship of article XIII must be considered. Granted that nothing could be done to stop the expulsions altogether, the United States was anxious to do everything possible to improve the situation. We therefore sponsored article XIII of the Potsdam agreement because it was the best that could be done at the time to prevent further inhumanity and disorder in the transfers. When article XIII was considered on the July 31, 1945, meeting at Potsdam, Premier Stalin objected on the ground that it would do no good—the Polish and Czech Governments would go right on expelling Germans, no matter what the Potsdam agreement said. The United States, however, continued to urge approval of article XIII. Secretary of State Byrnes said that article XIII would not completely solve the German expellee problem, but would at least slow up the wholesale expulsion of Germans then in progress. Premier Stalin then reluctantly agreed to include article XIII in the Potsdam agreement.

From this, it is apparent that the United States certainly was not responsible at Potsdam for encouraging or authorizing the expulsion of Germans from eastern Europe. Expulsions had been going on long before Potsdam; we were merely trying to do all that was possible to make this process more orderly and humane.”

9 The decision of the Allied Control Council was published in Washington on December 7, 1945. This press release of the State Department pointed out that it was the purpose of the Allied Control Council, “to do what it can to see that the transfers are effected in an orderly and humane manner in accordance with the Potsdam agreement. Many Germans have already migrated into Germany from Poland and from territory now under Polish administration, often under conditions which made very difficult the orderly settlement of the persons involved. The present decision of the Allied Control Council should greatly alleviate those difficulties. Before the Potsdam conference the Czecho-Slovak Government had determined to transfer a substantial part of the German minority in Czechoslovakia to Germany. The decisions of the Potsdam Conference and of the Allied Control Council should help to ensure that these transfers will be carried out as humanely as possible.” Department of State Bulletin, XIII (1945), 937.

10 The pertinent parts of General W. S. Key's diary and his comments were put at the disposal of the writer through the courtesy of General Key and are used with his authorization.

11 The Germans in Hungary usually are called Swabians.

12 For the full text of this note, see Kertesz, Stephen, Diplomacy in a Whirlpool: Hungary between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, (Notre Dame, Publication date 08, 1953). Document No. 10.

13 The Hungarians in Czechoslovakia outnumbered the Slovaks in Hungary at least seven to one. Thus, even after a total exchange of Slovaks for Hungarians there would have remained more than half a million Hungarians in Slovakia. Hence, the total expulsion of the Germans from Hungary was offered as a handy solution. For the Prague negotiations, see Hungary and the Conference of Paris, Vol. II (Budapest, 1947), pp. 3053.

14 President Benes was probably misinformed about the intentions of the Western powers. Otherwise it would be difficult to understand why he later reiterated the statement made to Gyongyosi in an article in which Benes explained: “The choice is between the concept of a national state and the formerly recognized Wilsonian concept of a state of nationalities, with all that involves. In a national state there is no room for minority problems. The rule applies just as much to the Germans as to the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia; and it concerns not only Czechoslovakia but also Hungary, Jugoslavia, Rumania and Poland. Even the Great Powers have recognized that in the interest of peace in Europe there remains no other solution but the removal of the Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. The Potsdam Conference solemnly and definitely recognized this principle and notified the Czechoslovak Government of it. [Italics added]. Poland and Hungary were also notified by the Powers of their decision in regard to Germans living in their territory, and both of them accepted this essential change.” Benes, Eduard, “Postwar Czechoslovakia,” Foreign Affairs, 24 (04, 1946), 400401.

Since the Czechoslovak policy aiming at the expulsion of the Hungarians from Czechoslovakia met with American resistance, the expulsion of the Germans from Hungary might have been offered by the Soviet Union as a substitute and an indirect solution of the problem. The Western acceptance of this Soviet proposal at Potsdam was probably the basis of President Benes' information. The present writer knows through personal experience that the British Ambassador to Czechoslovakia supported Benes' policy and advocated the total removal of the Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. British diplomacy in Budapest was unresponsive in the matter.

15 “The United States Mission in Hungary presents its compliments to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and wishes to inform the Hungarian Government that the United States Government has been seriously perturbed by reports of continued mass movements of German refugees who presumably have been summarily expelled from their homes and dispossessed of all property except that which they can carry. These German refugees, who appear to have entered Germany from areas east of the Oder-Neisse Line, are mostly women, children and old people, who have arrived in a shocking state of exhaustion, in many cases robbed of all their few personal possessions and ill with contagious diseases. The Potsdam Agreement states in paragraph 13 that the transfer oi population shall be conducted in an orderly and humane manner. Consequently, such mass distress and maltreatment of the weak and helpless is at variance with this agreement as it also is with international standards for the treatment of refugees.”

16 This Note Verbale was addressed to the British and United States Political Missions in Budapest. For its text, see Kertesz, Stephen, op. cit., Document 11. It was thought necessary to urge explicitly a reply to the problems exposed in the note of December 1, 1945, because the victorious powers were usually slow in answering Hungarian notes if they reacted to them at all. For example, in the case of the persecution of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, the Hungarian Government addressed 184 notes to the ACC between April, 1945 and July, 1946. No action or even answer resulted. As the persecutions continued, the Hungarian Government repeatedly sent complaints accompanied by extensive memorandums directly to the British, American and Soviet representatives in Budapest. In a note of September 12, 1945, the Hungarian Government requested a hearing by the Council of Allied Foreign Ministers on the question of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, and proposed that an international commission of inquiry, composed of the representatives of France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States, should investigate and examine the controversial issues between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. This request was reiterated in another note of November 20, 1945, when the Hungarian Government asked that the districts of Slovakia inhabited by Hungarians be placed under international control, pending the appointment of the commission of inquiry. To these and to some other proposals the Russians did not react, and the en tirely negative American and British replies arrived in February and March, 1946. For the text of the pertinent notes, see Hungary and the Conference of Paris, Vol. II (Budapest, 1947), pp. 1329, 5055, 155163.

17 Concerning the various endeavors of the Smallholder Party aiming at the limitation of the expulsion to those Germans who were guilty as individuals, see Nagy, Ferenc, The Struggle Behind the Iron Curtain (New York, 1948), pp. 131132, 168169, 198202.

According to the Smallholder proposals, the Germans to be expelled would have been restricted to those who (1) declared themselves of German vernacular and of German nationality at the last census, (2) changed back their Magyarized names into German, (3) voluntarily joined the German army, (4) were members of the Volksbund. In some of these categories the element of “guilt” was based on presumptions which were not always correct. At the same time, however, the proven anti-Nazi Germans would have been exempted from transfer in all categories. Whatever the shortcomings of this system, it offered some possibility of restricting deportations. In 1939, the Ministry of Interior authorized the Volksbund as a cultural association of the Germans in Hungary, which, however, gradually became the center of pro-Nazi activities.

18 For the text of this memorandum, see Kertesz, S., op. cit., Document 21.

19 Hungary and the Conference of Paris, Vol. IV (Budapest, 1947) pp. 7778. The peace delegation of Hungary opposed, and after a hard struggle, defeated the Czechoslovak proposal aiming at the expulsion of 200,000 Hungarians. This was the only instance at the Paris Conference in which a state under the occupation of the Red Army openly opposed a move sponsored by the USSR and asked for Western political support. This opposition, however, would have been futile without the energetic support of the United States delegation.

“Mr. Smith,” mentioned by Vysinsky, is General Walter Bedell Smith. At that time he was the American Ambassador to the Soviet Union and the representative of the American peace delegation in the Territorial and Political Commission for Hungary.

20 The expulsion of the Germans from Hungary is described in detail with most of the pertinent decrees and other official texts by Annabring, Matthias, “Das ungarlandische Deutschtum, Leidensweg einer siidostdeutschen Volksgruppe,” Südost-Stimmen, II, Sondernummer (03, 1952), 180.

21 Clay, Lucius D., Decision in Germany (New York, 1950), pp. 313314. In January, 1946, the Hungarian Government concluded an agreement with the United States military authorities in Germany which regulated the transfer procedure.

22 The relevant experiences were summed up in the following way: “It is a fact, however, that by and large the Hungarian Government proceeded less ruthlessly against the German minority than any other Soviet satellite. Attempts were made, however crude and imperfect, to distinguish between magyarized Swabians and others. The expellees were allowed to take more property with them than similar groups in Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, or Rumania. Fewer people perished in ‘work camps’ than in neighboring countries. Even so, the record is shocking, and at least once the American Military Government felt constrained to refuse the acceptance into Germany of further refugee trains because of the deplorable conditions prevailing in these transports.” Men Without the Rights of Man, p. 11.

The American-licensed German newspaper Neckarzeitung in its issue of June 19, 1946, gave the following description: “Hungary is making rapid progress in the expulsion of Germans. Except for the arbitrary actions of those detailed to escort the refugee transports, the letter of the law is generally obeyed. Except for activists interned in work camps, hardly any Germans who registered as members of the Volksbund in 1941 are allowed to remain in the country. The refugees are arriving in fair health. The expellees from Hungary have more baggage than those from other countries: one hundred kilograms, including food. They have bedding, kitchen utensils, and some clothing besides what they wear. The ages range from the youngest to the very old. Families are often not complete. The present whereabouts of sons who were in the war are usually not known. In the absence of adult males, young women were drafted for work in Russia. A few have returned; others hope to go from Russia directly back to Germany, at some future date.” The English translation of this article was published in Men Without the Rights of Man, p. 10.

23 Szabad Nép, 01 19, 1946.

24 Szabad Nép, 07 14, 1946. The Hungarian Ministry of Interior negotiated with the representatives of the U. S. Military Government in Germany concerning the resumption of the transfers. These negotiations were successfully concluded on August 22, 1946 and were made public on August 31. The time and manner of the publication of this agreement was most inopportune for the Hungarian peace delegation, which was under pressure in Paris to accept the removal of 200,000 Hungarians from Czechoslovakia.

25 Clay, , op. cit., p. 314.

28 Monthly Report of the Military Governor. Office of the Military Government for Germany (U. S.) 1–31 July, 1947. Statistical Annex, p. 4. Earlier reports in 1947, mentioned higher figures, amounting to 180,000.

27 Szabad Nép, 02 17, 1948.

28 Annabring, , op. cit., p. 60.

29 See, for example, the articles published in the Ellenzek, 10 4, 1947, and Hazánk, 10 17, 1947. The Catholic episcopate and Cardinal Mindszenty also described the various evil practices. Cf. below footnotes 31 and 32.

30 83.3 percent of the Swabians were Catholics: in the countryside the percentage of the Catholics among them was 84.9 percent and in the cities 67 percent. The rest of the Swabians were Protestants: 13.9 percent Lutherans and 1.8 percent Calvinists.

31 The collective letter stated: “The Bishops of Hungary are greatly alarmed by the news that the expulsion of the German minority is to be continued. In 1944 we did our utmost to prevent the Government then in power from carrying out the inhuman deportation of the Jews. Conscious of the mission entrusted to us by God, we consider it now our duty to protest against the expulsion of the German-speaking minority. The more so since they are of our faith.

“We have already lodged a protest with your predecessor in office. For we would have no right to be indignant about the cruel expulsion of the Hungarians from Czechoslovakia if we approved of the self-same methods being employed in our own country where the Germans have been settled for more than two hundred years.

“We protested against measures of this kind when the whole of the German minority was to be made collectively responsible for the treacherous actions of such groups as the Volksbund and the SS. We protested against a practice that punished with the traitors not only innocent and politically indifferent people, but also those very people who had avowedly professed their loyalty to the Hungarian homeland by supporting the ‘Loyalty Movement’ even when they did not wish to forego their mother-tongue.” Authorized White Book Cardinal Mindszenty Speaks (New York, 1949), pp. 139140.

32 The pastoral letter of October 2, 1947, pointed out the most salient injustices and abuses practiced in the course of the deportation procedures in the following way:

“Not only those persons whose great-grandmothers on their mother's side were of Magyar stock and, on their father's side, descended from Alsatian stock, but even those who can prove their Magyar descent on both sides are being expelled. Nor is any consideration paid to those who professed themselves Magyars in the days of Hitler and who were consequently persecuted by the Germans. Their children do not even know a word of German.

“No regard is paid to family bonds. Children are lost because their mothers are unable to look after them in the general confusion of the hasty departure. We do not need, however, to expatiate on details …

“One possibility, however, of remaining in this country is left to these unhappy people, a most illuminating feature which throws light on the whole situation. If a man declares his willingness to give up his property and hand it over to some stranger who, in return, is prepared to vouch for him, he is allowed to stay in this country. Does this make such a man any less a German? Is he no longer considered a danger to Hungary?

“A dreadful story is thus disclosed. All this goes on in this age of humanity, of human dignity, of freedom and of the establishment of a happier and more democratic life! We cannot refrain from crying out loudly against these things.” Ibid., pp. 146–147.

33 New York Times, 04 2, 1950. Cf. Annabring, , op. cit., pp. 7071.

34 Annabring, , op. cit., pp. 7475.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Review of Politics
  • ISSN: 0034-6705
  • EISSN: 1748-6858
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed