Hungary Magazine

On this Day, in 1940: Hungarian soldiers massacred ethnic Romanians in Ip, Transylvania

On September 14, 1940, following the Second Vienna Award, which assigned Northern Transylvania from Romania to Hungary, the Hungarian Army indiscriminately killed 157 ethnic Romanians in the city of Ip.

During the 1930s, the newly independent Kingdom of Hungary relied on increased trade with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to pull itself out of the effects of the Great Depression, and as a result, Hungarian politics and foreign policy became increasingly nationalistic.

The Treaty of Trianon

Under the regency of former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy, Hungary shifted to the right and adopted an irredentist policy similar to Germany’s, attempting to incorporate ethnic Hungarian areas in neighboring countries into Hungary. Horthy notably used its relationship with Germany to attempt to revise the Treaty of Trianon, which resulted in Hungary losing two-thirds of its territory.

After Hungary openly repudiated the Treaty’s restrictions on its armed forces, and with Germany well into its own revision of the Versailles Treaty, with the remilitarization of the Rhineland and the Anschluss of Austria, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini sought to peacefully enforce the claims of Hungarians on territories the Kingdom had lost to Czechoslovakia and Romania in 1920.

As a direct consequence of the Munich Agreement, which had decided the partitioning of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the First Vienna Award separated largely Magyar-populated territories in southern Slovakia and southern Carpathian Rus from Czechoslovakia and transferred them to Hungary.

The Ip Massacre

In August 1940, the Second Vienna Award assigned Northern Transylvania from Romania to Hungary. But far from settling matters, the Award exacerbated relations between Romania and Hungary, and on September 5, Hungarian troops, led by Miklós Horthy, stepped across the Trianon borders.

While the ethnic Hungarian population welcomed the troops and regarded the separation from Romania as a liberation, the large ethnic Romanian community didn’t see it that way. After two Hungarian soldiers died in the city of Ip in an accidental explosion, rumors quickly spread that they had been killed by Romanians, and Hungarian troops were sent to the city to investigate.

But the Hungarian soldiers were reportedly met by machine gun fire as they spent the night in the local school. In retaliation, more than 150 ethnic Romanians were killed as soldiers went from house to house, shooting civilians indiscriminately, young and old. Some sources have stated that the Hungarian Army was supported by local vigilantes.

In addition to Ip, Hungarian military forces committed several other massacres during their occupation of Romanian territories, killing hundreds of ethnic Romanians in the villages of Treznea and Marca.

Hungary and the Axis

Two months later, under increasing pressure from Germany, Hungarian Prime minister Pál Teleki, who strongly desired to remain neutral, reluctantly signed the so-called Tripartite Pact and Hungary became the fourth state to officially join the Axis, after Germany, Italy and Japan.

In April 1941, unable to further prevent Hungary’s participation in the war, Teleki committed suicide. And three days later, Hungarian forces participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia alongside German and Italian troops. In June, Hungary declared war against the Soviet Union and joined Operation Barbarossa. By 1942, tens of thousands of Hungarians were fighting on the Eastern front.

But with the Axis losing the initiative on the Eastern front and with the Red Army knocking at Hungary’s borders, Admiral Horthy and Prime minister Miklós Kállay engaged in separate peace negotiations with the Western Allies. Aware of Horthy’s and Kállay’s deceit and fearing that Hungary might conclude a separate peace, Hitler launched Operation Margarethe and in March 1944, German forces invaded and occupied Hungary.

But in 1945, Axis forces in Hungary were defeated by advancing Soviet armies. After its surrender, Hungary’s borders were returned to their pre-1938 lines.

They remain the same today.

Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.