When we initially told the kids our next stop was Budapest, they were a bit taken aback. “I thought we were done with Asia!” ”
“But Budapest is in Europe,” I explained.
“Well it sounds like it is in Asia.” By the time our visit was over, this city was one of their favorites.
We learned several new facts about this large city in Hungary. First, that Budapest is actually the combination of two original cities of Buda and Pest. Secondly, Budapest is pronounced Budapesht. The city lies along both sides of the Danube River. Hungary is completely landlocked and has Slovakia to the north, Romania and Ukraine to the east, Croatia and Serbia to the south, and Slovenia and Austria to the west. The borders of this country have been redrawn many times.
World War I led to a complete redrawing of the map with Hungary losing 5 million Hungarians, 72% of its land and 2/3 of it’s population in the Treaty of Trianon. After this treaty many former Hungarians awoke to being in a new country, and sometimes this was not a friendly place. There would remain a desire among Hungarian leaders to restore their territory back to prewar levels that would shape their decisions. As our tour guide said, Hungary is the only country that is bordered by itself, considering so many Hungarians live in neighboring countries due to its history.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
As Hitler was on the warpath, he wanted Hungary’s assistance. At this point, the leader Teleki was trying to stay out of World War II. Hitler wanted Hungary to allow passage of troops through their land to invade Yugoslavia to the south. Teleki knew that if he allowed this, the Allies would declare war on Hungary. If he resisted Hitler, Germany would certainly invade. There remained hope that, by supporting the invasion of Yugoslavia, Hungary might regain some of their lost lands. Another leader named Horthy decided to allow the passage, and as word arrived that German troops were on the move into Hungary, prime minister Teleki shot himself at the palace.
The new prime minister wanted to get out of the war, but they remained pulled to each side by the Axis and Allied powers. They were currently resisting deportation of Jews, at this time, but still sending Germany soldiers to fight for the Third Reich. They wanted to make peace with the Allies. Hitler understood they were not loyal to him and in 1944 he invaded Hungary from the west. The Nazis soon had taken over power and placed the Nazi-like Hungarian Arrow Cross party in power, with Horthy as the figure head. They actually kidnapped Horthy’s son and threatened his life until Horthy declared that the Arrow Cross Party was legitimate. Things were about to get much worse.
The Jews were now systematically deported to camps, primarily Auschwitz. Here most were immediately killed upon arrival.
Meanwhile, 1,000,000 Allied Forces were invading Hungary from the east. They were all converging on the German held city of Budapest. The resulting Siege of Budapest lasted 110 days and was the third longest siege in WWII. 120,000 people died from sickness, famine and injuries. The city was in ruins. The beautiful buildings were relentlessly carpet bombed. The Germans blew up all the beautiful bridges connecting Buda and Pest over the Danube, hoping to stop the Soviets. Eventually, the Soviets won and “liberated” the city from German occupation. But as the Hungarians say, “they forgot to go home.” They would remain; and for the next 45 years, they would turn Hungary into one of its communist states, starting a new round of suffering.