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 red and white terror in hungary

Gergely Bödők


Between 1919 and 1921 revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence swept through Hungary. Paramilitary groups on both sides unleashed terror and indiscriminately targeted the civilian population and their political opponents.  The research seeks to reconstruct the makeup and activities of these various paramilitary groups and thus contributing to the  burgeoning field of perpetrator studies.   

The military vanguard of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Red Guard, was designed to provide the inner stability of the regime. However, during the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic more than two dozen other paramilitary groups roamed the country, the most notorious led by József Cserny, Tibor Szamuely and Ottó Korvin. Their activities was later termed Red Terror. The wave of arrests in the capital and in major rural areas landed thousands of people in prison, mainly dignitaries of the previous political, economic and cultural elites, who were held as hostages by the communists. 

The toppling of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the ensuing occupation by Romanian forces led to a power vacuum, which was soon filled by a group of right-wing Hungarian army officers in Szeged favored and aided by the Entente. Retaliatory raids by the National Army soon followed and as they regained territory, the atrocities reached its peak in the Transdanubia region. The number of victims rose as the National Army moved into Budapest on the heels of the leaving Romanian forces.


The wave of murders and intimidation was committed by various groups led by (reserve) officers and fueled by anti-Semitic and anti-Communist sentiments. Their leaders of these paramilitary groups, the leading figures of the White Terror, included Pál Prónay, Gyula Ostenburg-Moravek and Iván Héjjas.

The aim of this research is to document the waves of terror engulfing post First World War Hungary, mostly the atrocities committed during the Red and White Terror and ascertain the number of victims as accurate as possible. We seek to map the individual motivations and driving ideologies and explore the local, regional and national phenomena of the atrocities.

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