Cold Warriors – a documentary film about right-wing nostalgia in America

Réka Pigniczky has made an important documentary film based on the “original idea” of Andrea Lauer Rice.   The film was released in 2017 and now it is available on the Web.

Cold Warriors is about the friendly shooting reunion of small group of aging Hungarian immigrants on a rural farm in Pennsylvania. In 1960 they were members of a militia called the Hungarian-American Rifle Association and trained at the Susquehanna River in Rummerfield, Pennsylvania.  The owner of the farm and the founding commander of the “shooters” was a WWII refugee, Zoltán Vasvári, an ex-officer of Horthy’s army.  Vasvári had a fallout with the Hungarian Scouts and recruited young, freshly arrived 56-ers who called themselves “freedom fighters.”   The group practiced with pistols, semi-automatic guns and illegal machine guns, their trainers were ex-officers of Horthy’s army.

Watching the film I got the impression that members of this militia bought into the idea that they would soon fight for freedom in a homeland they barely knew.  This was the Cold War era in US history, Cuban anti-Communists were training in Florida which later led to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

In an interview Pigniczky said that the people in the film are more patriotic than nationalist.  She researched the Cross and Sword Movement (Kereszt és Kard Mozgalom—the organization that sponsored the shooters) and came to the conclusion that the group was not a fascist anti-Semitic group, although she admits that “it is true that there were older members who supported the Arrow Cross Party.”  Members “weren’t extremists, but it was a conservative group.” (read here)

Ms. Réka Pigniczky (left) and Ms. Andrea Lauer Rice

Well, Pigniczky is a bit forgiving.  Supporters of the Nyilas Party were considered hard-core fascists who were not even eligible to enter the US.  Not surprisingly no Roma or Jewish members were among the shooters, this was a strictly white Christian organization.

The film gives an insight into the complex story of the DP generation. After WWII the US Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allowed 400,000 refugees in the US, about 4% of them were born in Hungary.  The refugees came from DP camps in Europe since Truman was not willing to force them back to the newly formed Communist satellite countries.  The Hungarian DP group was a mix of Jewish Holocaust survivors, Horthy officers, Arrow Cross members and gendarmes.   The far-right was an outcast among Hungarian emigres groups in the US and remained somewhat insular.   At dinner parties they proudly wore the Bocskai with the Horthy insignia of the Vitézi Rend.

The shooters did not wish to assimilate.  Their dream was to be parachuted back to Hungary and fight the Communists. The film only casually mentions the fact that the group was “visited by the FBI” and does not mention that some far-right refugees of the DP generation were later investigated by the Justice Department for WWII war crimes.  Varjú László in the film talks about fellow Hungarian emigre groups in Europe and mentions the name of Tibor Tollas.  Tollas was a convicted WWII criminal.  In 1944 he participated in the deportation of Jews from Beregszász (today Ukraine).  The entire Jewish population of Beregszász, 3818 man woman and children, was deported to Auschwitz.  Few survived.

We hear a lot about the Communists in the film but no mention that the founders and the trainers of the group fought against the Allies in WWII.  The majority of Hungarian Americans did not share their ideas since during WWII they supported President Roosevelt and fought in the US Army against Hitler’s and Horthy’s fascism in Europe.

The film was financed through grants as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. The documentary is an important memento of the disappearing far-right Hungarian fringe in the United States.

Watch the entire film here with English subtitles.


György Lázár


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