Review: The Siege of Budapest
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
Kristian Ungvary is a Hungarian and lives in Budapest, and this book is as I understand it an extended version of his PhD thesis in history. I was very lucky to be told a lot more than what the average reader will find in this book by a neighbour of Mr. Ungvary, while having a few beers on the place that saw the heaviest fighting during the breakout attempt, and looking at the much fought-over Postal Palace during a summer afternoon a few weeks back.
The siege of Budapest describes in detail the events of the winter 44/45 which saw the Red Army besiege a combined German-Hungarian force in Budapest from around Christmas 44 to 11 February 45, when the remnants of the garrison attempted a very bloody breakout – only less than 800 men out of maybe 30,000 made it to the German lines. In the process of the siege, much of Budapest was wrecked, and the civilian population, which was not evacuated before the siege, suffered greatly and experienced many casualties.
The book deals with all aspects of the siege. It starts with a description of the battles leading up to the encirclement, and analyses the command decisions on both sides. It then moves on to describe the military events during the siege. The murderous policy conducted against the Hungarian Jews by the Arrow-Cross regime is described in a separate chapter, including the attempts by foreign embassies to create safe houses. Finally, a chapter is dealing with the treatment of the Hungarian civilians by the victorious Red Army. All of this together amounts to a detailed, rounded treatment of the siege as a historic event, and in particular the chapters dealing with the non-military events make this book positively different from other military histories, which often just gloss over anything that is not directly combat-related.
The book also contains an index and a very dense bibliography, and every chapter is followed by very detailed notes. Archival research was undertaken both in Hungary’s and Germany’s military archives, and additionally, Ungvary is using memoirs and personal accounts which he collected through interviews to flesh out the story. He should be commended for his use of wide-ranging sources. The book also contains a number of photographies and is well laid out with many maps tracking the development of the battle. In the German edition that this review is based on, the maps are the only real quibble I have – they are very faint, and it helped me immensely to have been to and walked through a lot of Budapest and to own a city map that I could lay next to the book. For someone not knowing the city, these maps will not be sufficient I fear.
I finished reading this book after my visit to Budapest, which was a mistake. I can only heartily recommend it to anyone who is going to Budapest. It is possible to trace the battle through the streets of both Buda and Pest, and if time allows, to take a day-trip along the break-out route towards the German lines. It is an excellent book that does not overlook the very important non-combat aspects of a city siege.
(This review is based on the German edition of the book, which may differ from the English language version)
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)