Iván Héjjas – Anti-Semite, torturer, mass murderer

(This is the second of a three-part series on Iván Héjjas the leader of the Ragged Guard)

The resurrection of Iván Héjjas at the Kecskemét conference started with a biography written by László Domonkos in 2018 in which he denied the atrocities attributed to his subject.  Domonkos is not a historian.  But his views have received official support by his appointment as a member of an institute set up in 2013 to study Hungary’s history. In fact, the rampage of Héjjas, Prónay and others is well documented.

Anti-Héjjas demonstrators at the White House in 1928. (Library of Congress)

Héjjas began his campaign of terror with the fall of the Republic of Councils in August 1919.  The occupying Romanian troops allowed him and his men to act as an auxiliary police.  They looted stores, went after Communist sympathizers and a large number of Jews. They rounded up their victims at night, drove them to the forest of Orgovány where they tortured and killed them.  They stole money from merchants, killed their wives and children, stripped them naked, bayonetted them, cut off their ears and noses, gouged out their eyes, beat them to death with axes and hanged them.  By December his detachment had killed about 300 people.  News of the atrocities spread worldwide.

In the spring of 1920 the British Labor Party demanded an investigation.  The Wedgwood Commission went to Vienna and Budapest and issued a 59 point report, detailing the tortures and murders and showing that Héjjas was directly responsible for many of them.  One of the accounts is that of Aliz Hamburger, my grandmother.

Aliz was the sister-in-law of Jenő Hamburger, Commissar of Agriculture in the Council of Republics.  She was arrested in January 1920 and taken to military barracks where an officer confronted her. “Do you know who I am?  You will.  I am Iván Héjjas.”  They whipped her to take her clothes off, ordered another Jewish prisoner Béla Neumann to have sex with her.  He refused.  In front of her eyes, they yanked out his teeth and castrated him with a knife.  His body was later found in the Danube. Then they beat her and raped her with the butt of a whip.  She became very ill.  A civilian court released her weeks later and she escaped to Vienna where she gave her testimony.

László Domonkos’ book about Héjjas

My grandmother survived because by the spring the atrocities had become an embarrassment for Horthy, who was dependent on the Entente powers’ support. Yet the lynching would continue for another two years, totaling nearly three thousand.

The conference in Kecskemet would have been much more appropriately titled “Of murderers and sadists.”

Steven Kovacs



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