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Hungary’s Admiral on Horseback

Hungary's Admiral on Horseback

Miklós Horthy 1918–1944

Thomas Sakmyster

Helena History Press

ISBN 978-1-943596-26-3
506 pages

Admiral Horthy’s political career spanned a good part of the first half of the twentieth century, yet he was by no means a modern statesman. The most familiar image we have of him is the man on horseback, a throwback to an earlier age. His social and political views reflected a yearning for a Europe untouched by the doctrines of the French Revolution. His concepts of gentlemanly honor and chivalry had their roots in the Middle Ages.

Where does Miklós Horthy stand in relation to contemporary European leaders? What does a study of his career reveal about Hungarian, and in a broader sense, European history in the era of the two world wars? Although in some ways Horthy as a statesman was sui generis, he does resemble other Europeans who were products of the political and intellectual milieu of the late nineteenth century and for whom World War I and its revolutionary aftermath were a traumatic experience.

Interwar Hungary had to balance precariously between the two most sinister totalitarian regimes of world history. In the ultimately hopeless task of preserving Hungarian independence while at the same time working toward a revision of the hated Treaty of Trianon, Horthy at times tilted dangerously toward Nazi Germany. But in the end he always shrank from the employment of totalitarian methods in Hungary. Several times in the late 1930s and at any point in World War II, Horthy could have used his immense power and authority to establish a pro-German, radical right-wing government in Hungary.

But he did not give his approval, for he had a fundamental, if sometimes grudging, respect for Hungarian political traditions. Horthy made it possible for the adherents of democratization, liberalism, parliamentary government, and social reform to maintain a precarious foothold in Hungarian society, so that when the totalitarian tide eventually receded from Hungary, they would be on hand to take part in the rebuilding of the country.

About the Author

Thomas Sakmyster is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. He has long been active in Hungarian studies, including several terms as president of the American Association for the Study of Hungarian History (AASHH). His scholarly work has focused on inter-war Hungary. In addition to his book on Miklós Horthy, which also appeared in Hungarian and German editions, he has written biographies of two émigré Hungarian communists: József Pogány (A Communist Odyssey) and Sándor Goldberger (Red Conspirator: J. Peters and the American Communist Party Underground). In published articles he has treated such topics as the Great Powers and Hungary, the bombing of Kassa in 1941, the political role of military officers, and left-wing activity among Hungarian immigrants in the United States.

The most important work on Horthy to date … informative and wryly humorous.

Istvan Deak New York Review of Books

All of this is told in a balanced manner in a work that will no doubt remain the most reliable biography of Horthy for a long time.

Nandor Dreisziger Canadian Slavic Studies

A judicious and balanced assessment of Horthy’s political career.

Samuel Goldberger H-Net Habsburg

Although I learnt long ago that there is no such thing as the definitive work, on any subject, Sakmyster’s prize-winning biography of Admiral Miklós Horthy seems close to being just that.

Mario Fenyo Hungarian Studies Review
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