Hell in Panonia

The siege of Budapest in the winter of 1944-45 was not as militarily significant as that of Stalingrad or as colossally wasteful of human life as Leningrad, but it was still a human tragedy of the highest order. For the Germans and their (often reluctant) Hungarian allies, Hitler’s order to defend the capital of Hungary was a costly strategic mistake. For the Soviets, it was an embarrassing obstacle on the way to Vienna. For 800,000 Hungarian civilians trapped in the city for over a hundred days, it was simply a nightmare.

Ungvary is an accomplished military historian who tells the story as it happened—histoire événementielle at its best—relying on hundreds of eyewitness accounts and on many hitherto unknown German and Hungarian documentary sources. His relative neglect of the Soviet sources is the book’s only shortcoming.

The book is divided into seven chapters and richly endowed with maps, tables, and photographs. John Lukacs’s Foreword sets the scene nicely, but to grasp the context of the story it should be read in conjunction with his Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (1988).

Until very late in the war, Hungary was relatively untouched by it. Regent Miklos Horthy—an admiral without a navy in a kingdom without a king—was an anti-Versailles revisionist par excellence, but he was not a New Order fanatic....

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