We enter an Arrow Cross assembly hall. The ghostly figure of Ferenc Szálasi stands at the head of the table. Informative photos of the Arrow Cross movement can be seen on the back wall. The monitors show contemporary filmed material, amongst them the deportation of Hungarian Jewry, Arrow Cross propaganda clips, the forcible return of war criminals and a series of pictures documenting the interrogations carried out in this building. Under the monitors Arrow Cross and SS uniforms are displayed. Loudspeakers blare sound clips from the program of the Hungarist Híradó (Hungarian Nazi Newsreel). Ice-floes drifting on the Danube projected onto the wall at the end of the hall conjure up the memory of Jewish victims shot on the Danube embankment in the winter of 1944-45.
Soviet troops had already occupied Debrecen and Szeged with battles continuing beyond the Tisza River, when on October 15th, the Nazis transferred power into the hands of the Arrowcross Party. Ferenc Szálasi´s principle goal as ˝Nation Leader˝ was to mobilize Hungary for war, since he was convinced that Hitler´s promised ˝secret weapon˝ would tilt the war in Germany´s favor at the last minute.
The power of Szálasi´s Arrowcross Party grew following the introduction of secret voting rights, through his social program, through his anti-semitic and nationalistic demagogy as well as through his radicalism. However, without German backing and support, he would never have been able to govern. After taking over the power in October, the competence of Szálasi´s ˝Hungarist State˝ was restricted to the capital and the Trans-Danubian region because of the advance of the Red Army.
After the Arrowcross putsch, the more than 200,000 strong Jewish community in Budapest, which had been untouched so far, came into direct, life-threatening danger when Adolf Eichmann, who directed the deportation of nearly half a million Jews living in the countryside, returned to Budapest on October 17th. In July when Horthy stopped the deportations he was removed. Under Eichmann´s command, more than 60,000 Jews were forced on a merciless march westward, to Austria, where they were compelled to build fortifications. Approximately 70,000 Budapest Jews who managed to avoid deportation were forced into a ghetto. At the same time, some 30,000 Jews who possessed letters of protection from neutral countries were given places in ˝safe houses˝. Thousands of others were robbed, executed and thrown into the Danube. The Arrowcross activists were on a murderous rage until the last minute, but the ghetto was saved like none other in Europe.
Before the Russians closed in and blockaded Budapest around Christmas, the Arrowcross authorities as well as the ˝Nation Leader˝ moved across the Trans-Danubian region and then to the western border right into what they referred to as ˝border refuges˝. The Germans defended Budapest as a fortress, which gave the Soviet Army a long and brutal fight before the Soviets succeeded in taking over the city. The siege lasted from Christmas 1944 until February 13, 1945, resulting in great suffering and destruction. They reduced to ruin all bridges in Budapest, seriously damaged public buildings and destroyed more than 30,000 apartment buildings and homes.
In March 1945, the Germans began their last counter-offensive near Lake Balaton, but in April, the Red Army drove the last of the Nazi troops from Hungary. Szálasi and his closest colleagues had already left the country at the end of March. More than one million people fled from the Red Army to the West and more than 100,000 never returned.
The general mobilization ordered by the Arrowcross Party and the unmanageable terror of its activists increased the number of war victims by tens of thousands.