Memorial Day and the Hungarian Americans

This year we observed Memorial Day, a Federal Holiday, on May 27. On this day the United States honors the military personnel who perished while serving in the Armed Forces. Many people visit cemeteries and volunteers place an American flag on each grave in cemeteries.

Memorial Day in the U.S.

It is not widely known that at least 50,000 Hungarian Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II and many perished in the struggle against fascism. The Hungarian-language newspaper, Szabadság has printed the name and rank of each fallen soldier. Altogether over 400,000 US soldiers died and close to 700,000 were wounded in WWII. On average 150 Hungarian Americans died each month in the last year of the war.

Hungarian Americans participated in both the European and Pacific theatres and the US Air Force fought directly against Horthy’s Royal Hungarian Air Force. It is shameful that the Hungarians joined Hitler’s Luftwaffe and misguided Hungarian pilots were shooting down Americans. They are not “heroes” as the Orbán government claims today; they were victims themselves of Hungary’s cruel fascist regime.

In 1941 Hungarian Americans were shocked when the Horthy regime declared war on the US. Hungary’s Ambassador, János Pelényi asked for asylum and most Hungarian Americans considered Admiral Horthy a fascist traitor. Hungarian Americans overwhelmingly supported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the war effort. In 1943 a collection was organized to purchase ten ambulances that were transferred to Major William Bolton of the Army’s special services branch.

New York Times article about Hungarian Americans supporting the war effort in 1943.

New York Mayor La Guardia gave the acceptance speech in front of a large crowd of Hungarian Americans. He expressed his hope that “Hungary and its people eventually would turn against their Nazi oppressors.” La Guardia added that “eventually, the Hungarian people would establish a republic of their own.”

Mayor La Guardia (left) and President Roosevelt

Today Hungarian-American organizations do not commemorate Hungarian Americans who gave their lives fighting fascism. We sincerely hope that it will change in the future.

György Lázár

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