The battles fought at the Don Bend proved once again that man is the most important factor on the battlefield – said Defence Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky at the commemoration of the victims of the Battle at the Don Bend held in plot 52 of the Fiume Street Cemetery, Budapest on 12 January.
Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky recalled that 81 years ago at 9.45 a.m. on 12 January 1943, the Soviet Red Army started the attack at the Uriv-Storozhevoye bridgehead, which resulted in a historic defeat of the soldiers of the Royal Hungarian 2nd Army, which had been deployed to the Don area in 1942. He underlined that the commemoration is multi-layered; historians, for instance, reveal academic connections to the public that clearly show that the Hungarian leadership of the time did not find a way out of the vicious circles of forced steps. “Hungary did not have enough strength to preserve its peace, remain aloof from World War II and protect its citizens. It did not have enough strength to say no for the sake of protecting its national interests” – he said.
In the Don Disaster, approximately 42,000 Hungarian soldiers were killed, 28,000 were wounded and 26,000 were captured. “All layers of Hungarian society of the time participated in the fights: regular officers, reservists, non-commissioned officers, forced laborers and a vice-regent, as well as blue-collar workers and people of high rank. We, commemorators, must not forget for even a second that it is the generation of our grandparents and great-grandparents. Although they were victims of their time, we cannot consider them only as victims, because they were Hungarian soldiers” – emphasized the minister, who also mentioned that peace requires strength in each era and that the issue of national defence is not only the cause of soldiers but also that of each Hungarian. “We owe the protection of our homes and country to our one-time soldiers. To those who died at the bank of the River Don and are waiting for resurrection there. But to those as well who returned home from the Don Bend to live here in peace. We must remember to be able to understand what dangers the world of war might bring and to accomplish the mission of our generation in the line of Hungarian generations and the life of the nation” – said Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky.
General Dr. Gábor Böröndi, Chief of HDF General Staff underlined that the exact number of those who fell at the Don Bend, froze to death in the terrible Russian winter of minus 40 degrees or were captured is still only approximately known, but we can be sure that this was one of the bloodiest battles of Hungarian military history. “Besides remembering what sufferings and horrors they had to endure, it is also of great significance not to forget what gave strength to these heroes to fight until death: patriotism, the love of their family, a sense of responsibility, the ability to sacrifice and the consciousness of being Hungarian” – he said underlining that these qualities give strength and have value still in 2024.
“The sacrifice of the heroes of the Don for Hungary, their courage and endurance set an example for soldiers serving in the Hungarian Defence Forces today as military service and our oath bind us to defend our country even at the cost of our lives” – said the Chief of General Staff.
At the commemoration – following the prayers, wreath-laying and the firing of a field gun of the era –, participants placed their flowers of tribute, and after the event, they commemorated the victims of the Don Disaster with a holy mass in the Mathias Church in Buda Castle. Brigadier General Tibor Berta, Catholic Field Bishop said in his homily in the former coronation church that in the reconciliation and commemoration liturgies they would commemorate the anniversary of the Battle at the Don Bend in the name of preserving peace and righteousness. “We follow the old tradition of our Holy Church when we bring our soldier predecessors here on the altar, pray for their sins to be forgiven and for their salvation in the sacrifice of the holy mass” – he said. He also underlined that our prayers for the soldiers who fell at the Don Bend and represent heroism also urge us to pass on and repeat time after time not only the heartbreaking memories but also the truth about war to avoid the repetition of ruthless horrors. “Violence can never create peace, violence begets violence, in which everyone becomes a loser” – he declared.
The commemoration in the cemetery and the church was also attended by MoD Parliamentary State Secretary Tamás Vargha, Deputy Defence Minister; MoD Deputy State Secretary for Strategy and Human Resources Policy Dr. János Czermann; CSM Zoltán Kaszab, HDF Command Sergeant Major; Lieutenant General (Ret.) Tibor Bozó, Presidential Advisor, Defence Sports Association; Gábor Móczár, Director General at National Heritage Institute of Hungary and Member of Parliament Péter Harrach, Chairman of the National Memorial and Reverence Committee – among others. Leaders and representatives of NGOs supporting the goals of the ministry, supporting the cause of national defence and following military traditions also participated and paid tribute to the memory of the fallen, wounded or missing Hungarian soldiers and forced laborers.