From mayor to labor camp – the turbulent life of Aladár Huszár

Despite being mayor of the city of Budapest, member of the upper house and of prominent descent, Aladár Huszár’s life (1885-1945) ended in a Nazi labor camp. László Nagy wrote a book about this man’s exciting life. An interview with the author by István Végső.

What can we know about Aladár Huszár, about his childhood, his upbringing and his background?

Aladár Huszár was born into a well to do family and was born on the northern side of the river Ipoly in a village called Ipolybalog. He was of barsi, honti and nógradi descent on his paternal side, this family had large estates, castles and mansions in many places, including Baráti, Vámosmikola and Keszeg.

The family was catholic on both sides, his father’s side, the Huszárs as well as his mother’s side, the Blaskovichs all had legal or farming diplomas from prestigious universities or held high ranking government positions. Among them we find many, who were progressive regarding national interests. No doubt, that Aladár Huszár got to the highest position, although his achievements may have to do with the turbulent times, he lived in.

His mother was really noteworthy. Jolán Blaskovich was fanatic in Hungarian nationalism, she was extremely caring when it came to social issues and her respect for the simple people of the country helped shaping her son’s worldview forever. Aladár, who spent his childhood in the mansion in Keszeg, went to boarding school in Vác and continued his education in Buda. His studies ended in law school which led his path straight to government. History, however interfered rather quickly after.

He fought in the First World War. Did he receive any medals of honor?

He was drafted in July of 1914 to the first huszár battalion, he later was directed to the frontline in Bukovina and Galicia in 1915. He did become general and served in the army on the eastern front. He was said to be talented in spying, his subordinates liked him very much for his positivity.

He was wounded twice, the first-time providence came to his rescue because the bullet that hit him almost went straight to his abdominal, instead it curved and landed in his leg. In his memoirs he writes in details how embarrassing it was for his unit and for him, as a general, that the army retreated and surrendered. He of course writes about the devastating spirit that was felt among the people after November of 1918 and about the changes it has brought about. Leadership though rewarded his efforts, he got both a silver and a bronze medal, the cross of Karolyi, medal for the wounded and the German iron cross.

He almost got killed in the defense of Balassagyarmat in 1919. What happened there?

This is a complicated story. Huszár, being back from the eastern front, has reclaimed his office in Balassagyarmat, but the city was sieged by the Czechs just a few weeks later. The Czechs soldiers were pushed out of the city in the end of January, through the efforts of him organizing defense troops from local civilians and workers from the railway.

Although he could have been wounded or killed in these fights, the Communist takeover soon after has thrown him into jail and he was scheduled to be executed the next day.

He had a long list of “sins” (as a popular rightwing politician thus potential enemy of the state) he was in hiding in the Börzsöny for a few weeks before he was caught.

It is believed that he was helped by some red army soldiers who obviously denied orders, because Huszár was very popular among the simple people, he was well known, and he was considered a good and moral man. A few days later the Communist lost, the soldiers left the city, so Aladár Huszár was also freed.

He was ispán of Nógrád-Hont county from 1920, of Esztergom-Komárom from 1923 and of Győr-Moson-Sopron from 1928. He was introduced then by the weekly publication Új Budapest, as “The man, who knowns what he wants”. To what do we attribute this rapid carrier take-off?

Really it was a straight line. The real surprise came when he was appointed mayor. That surprised even some influential politicians. There was no shortage of ambitious, well equipped politicians, let’s not forget all the people who now moved to inner Hungary, after many territories were cut off from the heartland. But few were those, who were reliable, patriotic, experienced and popular, such as Huszár.

The fact that he was appointed to all these positions, was to the fact that he had all of these traits. But most certainly his service in WW1, his resistance in 1919 and him hiding Cecile Tormay during the Communist takeover contributed to his popularity. He always had the Hungarian interest in mind, his carrier was flawless in that respect.

He also was very upright when it came to his loyalty towards leadership. He resigned from his position in Esztergom, when the corrupt mayor of that city had major disagreements with the clergy, a disagreement that could not have been resolved. He also resigned from his position seeing the urge for centralization by the Gömbös government.

He was respected because of his animosity towards the far-right and his popularity in the eyes of Horthy and his inner circle can be seen in the fact, that he could retain his presidential position in OTI till the German invasion.

How does one see his anti-German position? How did he shift away from policies of the government?

It really was his upbringing and his family- both from the paternal Huszár side and the maternal Blaskovich side, but also his wife, the Szilassy family from Losonc- that shaped his firm opposition to any oppression, may it be German or Russian. He took opposition to far-right ideology in his publications in Magyar Nemzet and other papers, during World War II. He even published a collection of his writings in a book later. He did not want to part from Horthy or from government, because he realized that that would mean an end to his career.

He therefore maintained close connection with the civil resistance, coming close to the circles of Bajcsy or Bethlen. One of the reasons behind the Hungarian tragedy is, that resistance feared from the right-wing politicians and they in return feared from the left-wing movements. Huszár became marginal when it came to serious resistance.

Did he have any connection with the Jews or with the Jewish religion?

Well, at his inaugurations, as the practice of the time, all state recognized faiths represented themselves to show gratitude. He always expressed his favorable view towards the Jews so long as they support his nationalistic, patriotic agenda. While researching his life, I have never come across anything, that would show and hate or disfavor towards the Jews or any Jew in particular.

According to what I found, while he was mayor, he seemed to even positively discriminate Jews. During WW2 for instance, as the far-right was gaining power, he came out strongly against, than only verbal attacks and discriminations against Jews. Nevertheless Jews could not be part of the ‘törzsökös’ movement he started in 1939, at least not in the beginning, due to racial policies, later he changed his mind and stated, that anyone who “uses his capabilities, nationalistic feelings and moral spirit towards support of the aim of the movement” may join.

He approved one of his speeches to be published by the Periszkóp magazine against the 2nd Jewish Law, that was introduced in 1939.

What do we know about his abduction and death?

There were lists already about politicians and public figures, journalists, leftists by the German invasion in 1944. Although Aladár Huszár was “only” arrested on the 3rd of April by the Gestapo, he was not freed even when prime minister Lakatos successfully intervened on behalf of some politicians, such as Lipot Baranyai, Tildy Jr., Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, Ferenc Nagy and others. Lakatos’ request had Huszár on the list, but Huszárs stance on Hungarian sovereignty, his articles against leaders of the ‘arrow-cross’ made him ineligible for release.

He was deported to Dachau in November of 1944, and according to documents found in the KZ library, he died on the 4th of February 1945 in some infectious decease.

How is his legacy observed in his hometown or elsewhere?

Aladár Huszár is mostly honored in Balassagyarmat, the city of Civitas Fortissima, where his political career took off. Who knows what the faith of that city would have been had it not been for Huszár’s policies in 1919, which took much personal courage against the Czech invaders?

There is a street named after him since 2009 and the Civitas Fortissima museum, where his family lived till 1923, is open for visitors. There was a memorial plaque placed on the side of this building on the 100th anniversary of the city’s siege, which initiated by historian József Gere and myself. I hope that the thorough research and the publication of this book contributes to the legacy of Aladár Huszár and his name will be remembered by more people both in the capital and in all the cities where he worked.

(László Nagy: From Ipoly to Dachau – the life story of Aladár Huszár Baráti, Rozetta Studio, Budapest, 2018, page 386).