Hungary during World War II was a generally opportunistic and reluctant
member of the Axis powers. In the 1930s, the Kingdom of Hungary relied
on increased trade with Nazi Germany to pull itself out of the Great
Depression. By 1938, Hungarian politics had shifted to the right and
its foreign policy had become increasingly pro-Nazi German and
pro-Fascist Italian. Hungary benefitted territorially from its
relationship with the Axis. Settlements were negotiated regarding
territorial disputes with the Czecho-Slovak Republic, the Slovak
Republic, and the Kingdom of Romania. In 1940, under pressure from
Germany, Hungary joined the Axis. Although initially hoping to avoid
direct involvement in the war, Hungary's participation soon became
inevitable. In 1941, Hungarian forces participated in the invasion of
Yugoslavia and the invasion of the Soviet Union.
While waging war against the Soviet Union, Hungary engaged in secret peace negotiations with the United States and Great Britain. Hitler discovered this betrayal and, in 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. When Soviet forces began threatening Hungary, an armistice was signed between Hungary and Russia by Regent Miklós Horthy. Soon after, Horthy's son was kidnapped by German commandos and Horthy was forced to revoke the armistice and was then deposed from power. In 1945 Hungarian and German forces in Hungary were defeated by invading Soviet armies.
Following its occupation of Hungary in 1944, the Soviet Union imposed harsh conditions allowing it to seize important material assets and control internal affairs. After the Red Army set up police organs to persecute class enemies, the Soviets assumed that the impoverished Hungarian populace would support communists in coming elections. The communists were trounced, receiving only 17% of the vote, resulting in a coalition government under Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy. Soviet intervention, however, resulted in a government that disregarded Tildy, placed communists in important ministries, and imposed restrictive and repressive measures, including banning the victorious Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party. In 1945, Soviet Marshal Kliment Voroshilov forced the freely elected Hungarian government to yield the Interior Ministry to a nominee of the Hungarian Communist Party. Communist Interior Minister László Rajk established the ÁVH secret police, which suppressed political opposition through intimidation, false accusations, imprisonment and torture.