Pál Prónay: Paramilitary Violence and Anti-Semitism in Hungary, 1919–1921

Béla Bodó


This essay examines the life, political career and the moral and intellectual universe of Deputy Colonel Baron Pál Prónay, the most important paramilitary leader in Hungary after the First World War. In historical memory and public imagination, Prónay’s name is associated with militia, mob and state violence often described by contemporary liberals and socialists as the “White Terror,” namely the harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture and execution of both political opponents and apolitical Jews after the collapse of the Soviet Republic in early August of 1919. The essay is based on hitherto unused or underused primary sources, such as Prónay’s unpublished two-volume diary; trial documents; police reports; memorandums; internal communications between government agencies, civilian and military authorities; and private letters culled from fi ve major archives, as well as contemporary newspapers, political pamphlets and novels and short stories written by well and lesser known writers. It seeks to unearth the details of Prónay’s life and explain his behavior, in particular his cruelty and sadism, in the context of role expectations, behavior patterns and political and cultural values associated with the nobility, the minor aristocracy, the offi cer corps and gentlemen in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the early twentieth century. The essay looks at the techniques that Prónay used in his diary to project a favorable image while simultaneously destroying the reputation of his opponents as the fi rst step towards political rehabilitation. Why he failed to achieve this goal, the mistakes that he made both as a writer and politician during his belated and desperate attempt in the early 1940s to regain favor with the political elite and the memory of the “White Terror” and Prónay’s role in the Hungarian civil war are the subjects of this essay.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/cbp.2011.167


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