Soviet troops begin a 50-day-long encirclement of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, near the end of WWII.
Part of the broader Budapest Offensive, the siege began when Budapest, defended by Hungarian and German troops, was first encircled on 26 December 1944 by the Red Army and the Romanian Army. During the siege, about 38,000 civilians died through starvation or military action. The city unconditionally surrendered on 13 February 1945. It was a strategic victory for the Allies in their push towards Berlin.
Having suffered nearly 200,000 deaths in three years fighting the Soviet Union, and with the front lines approaching its own cities, Hungary was by early 1944 ready to exit World War II. As political forces within Hungary pushed for an end to the fighting, Germany preemptively launched Operation Margarethe on 19 March 1944, and entered Hungary.
Memoirs and diaries
The events in the Naphegy and Krisztinaváros neighborhoods of Budapest are told in a few surviving diaries and memoirs. Charles Farkas (Farkas Karoly) was born in 1926 and includes his experience during the siege in his recently published memoir Vanished by the Danube: Peace, War, Revolution, and Flight to the West.
László Dezső, a 15-year-old boy in 1944, lived at 32 Mészáros Street with his family. This area was heavily attacked because of its proximity to the Southern Railway Station (Déli pályaudvar) and the strategic importance of the hill. Dezső kept a diary throughout the siege.
The memoirs of András Németh also describe the siege and the bombing of the empty school buildings which he and his fellow soldiers used as an observation post.
The memoirs of Heinz Landau, Goodbye Transylvania, present a German soldier’s view of the battle. Pinball Games: Arts of Survival in Nazi and Communist Eras, written by George F. Eber, a richly detailed account of a 20-year-old Hungarian and his family living through the siege, was published posthumously in 2010. It chronicles the clever strategies employed for survival and outlined the boredom and terror of a family that was trapped, but would not capitulate. Eber, who had become an internationally-known architect, included sketches with the memoir. One of them depicts a Russian soldier silhouetted against a Budapest wall on the first night the Germans were driven out of his neighborhood. The memoir also includes an account of World War II and the post-war transition of the country into Soviet-style Communism.
The memoirs of the 14-year-old dispatch runner of the Vannay Volunteer Battalion, Ervin Y. Galantay, give an insight into the battle and urban combat. The diary of the young runner describes day-to-day life and survival of both civilians and soldiers. It was published in English by the Militaria press in Budapest in 2005, under the title Boy Soldier.
Joseph Szentkiralyi, who had worked in the United States prior to World War II, had been deported to Hungary as an enemy alien after the war began. During the siege, he and his family endured constant artillery bombardment and street-by-street tank and infantry battles between the Germans, the remnants of the Royal Hungarian Army, and the attacking Romanian, and Soviet forces. Szentkiralyi, wanted for questioning by Hungarian army officers, hid on the upper floors of buildings during bombing raids to avoid capture. To prevent starvation and help keep their families alive, Szentkiralyi and others risked their lives to leave their bomb shelters at night and butcher frozen horse carcasses they found in the streets. At the end, daily rations consisted of melted snow, horse meat, and 150 grams of bread. Szentkiralyi worked for the Allies after the war ended. Learning that he faced imminent arrest, he fled to Switzerland to avoid detention and likely execution by the Soviets.