The aim in compiling this page on Breakout Day was to offer a virtual tour of what would have interested visitors. It outlines Breakout Day in brief. Further information is being added since 13 February, 2021.
The final act of desperation by the remaining German defence force began with a breakout attempt at 8 pm on 11 February 1945. Precise numbers involved can no longer be gauged, but official reports at the time put them at 43,900 military and an unknown number of civilians. Half were said to be army members, but the mass graves explored and various other sources show soldiers taking only an occasional part. The bulk chose an apparently much safer solution.
About a third of some 24,000 German soldiers set off on the Breakout despite greater or lesser existing injuries. The number actually making it out of the city was far fewer, about 10,000 men, of whom only about 700 could have reached their own lines after 13 February 1945. The last of the successful escapees arrived on 20 February and the last arrests of unsuccessful German soldiers took place on 17 March. So a mere 1.5 per cent escaped without death or capture.
The Breakout was more horrific still as German soldiers involved had been living an idyllic life in Hungary in the summer of ʼ44. Mounted SS Divisions 8 and 22 were built up after the invasion in Swabian villages with native recruits. Survivors in Germany would recall Hungary as a Canaan of milk and honey. Those in the Third Reich suffered the sparest food rationing, but there were no such curbs in Hungarian villages. For many young Reich recruits, Hungary was where they first ate well on meat, got drunk, or fell in love.
That peacetime mood appears in the photos that follow. The first two show unidentified SS officers near Bátaszék, Tolna County.
Nor did just officers photograph each other. Shots taken of recruits would often become last memories for their brides.
The pictures that follow were taken at a reception at Bátaszék. For Whitsun, 28 May 1944, one officer offered 50 litres of beer to soldiers who sat longest on a bucking donkey.
Local SS units also had summer celebrations. One such was the saint’s day of Miklós Horthy, the country’s head of state. Even celebratory horse races were run in the towns of Szekszárd and Baja. Officers wore dress uniforms for the occasion.
German forces stationed in Hungary first met with military events in early September 1944. This involved only guard units of Mounted SS Division 22, but at the start of November 1944 all German reserves in Hungary were called in, mainly to defend the capital. The photo below is rare in showing German and Hungarian soldiers in one shot, at a post on the Attila I line.
The Breakout attempt by the Budapest military defence ended the lives of almost 20,000 men in three to five days; remains have been found of hardly 800. So those lying nameless are no fewer than after Hungary’s lost Battle of Mohács against Suleiman’s Ottomans in 1526, of whom only about 800 have been found. Of course there are many differences between the two. Mohács ties in with a 150-year break in Hungarian statehood, while the siege of Budapest and Breakout hardly mark a period in the Second World War. Still, there’s good reason to mark it, not least as some relatives of the first and second generations are still alive. Most Breakout victims wore German uniforms, but they weren’t necessarily born in Germany. Take the 20,000 or so men of the two SS divisions in Budapest. Division 22 was drawn from Hungary’s own German-speaking community, which also filled up Division 8 as required. Nor had most of these Hungarian Germans volunteered. They’d had no choice: they were thrust into SS uniforms by a deal between the Hungarian and German states. Their fate belongs to Hungarian history and their remembrance a Hungarian duty.
This account sets out to assist those intent on marking this dramatic event in history. Almost all Breakout participants were German soldiers, and so for several points along the best-known route there appear in the account biographies of individuals among them. These points may coincide with places the soldier passed, and that’s been specified in each biography. Yet there’s little chance of knowing exactly where lost individuals fell. In such cases they appear randomly in the account.
The biographies were picked with several factors in mind. It was thought important to present individuals who’d taken part in the Breakout as rank and file, simple soldiers, but also to cover those who exemplified the difficulty involved in commemorating the German dead in the Second World War.
The choice goes beyond the actual lives of those involved in the Breakout to the system behind them. In that sense the biographies come to reflect what the Third Reich entailed. Yet this doesn’t mean these cases were representative of the Outbreak participants as a whole. Some 5 per cent of the defenders as a whole had officer rank, but 95 per cent of those selected do. Most were simple men who hadnʼt joined the war by choice. Their main concern was to survive, and they weren’t notably active politically either. However, those who identified with the Third Reich are overly represented, if not exclusively so. Furthermore, such identification could appear on different levels. However, the cases presented here can also point to the system lying behind the order to break out of Budapest. Among them were those forced into service, those punished twice for parentage, those prompted to murder by mental disease, orphans abandoned, Knight’s Cross (Ritterkreuz) holders , robbers of cultural items, Gestapo officers, and concentration-camp guards.