Obituary: Peter Gosztonyi

AFTER THE 1956 Hungarian revolution several participants of the first anti-Soviet uprising in European history left Hungary and became modern historians abroad. Apart from Bela Kirly, who found a new home in the United States, such a person was Peter Gosztonyi, who settled down in Switzerland and became one of the best historians of the Second World War and its aftermath.

Gosztonyi (in foreign publications he used the name "Gosztony") came from a middle-class Budapest family. Born in 1931, he was too young to have been involved in the war and his first choice of a profession was unconnected with history: he studied for a degree in Economics which he obtained in 1953 in Budapest, at the Academy of Economics (Kozgazdasgi Foiskola).

As an officer in reserve he was called up for regular military service in 1956 and appointed the commander of an "auxiliary labour unit" consisting of politically unreliable young Hungarians doing military service. The unit was housed in the so-called Kilin Barracks in the centre of Budapest; the Commander-in-Chief was a certain Colonel Pl Maleter.

The personality of Maleter made a lifelong impression on the young Gosztonyi and in a sense determined his later career, for the colonel (promoted to general during the revolution by Imre Nagy) was one of the top-ranking officers who switched sides in late October 1956 and became Minister of Defence in Nagy's last revolutionary government. After the suppression of the revolution Maleter was tried, and executed for "treason" in 1958; Gosztonyi fled Hungary to avoid imprisonment.

As he spoke German but did not want to stay in neutral Austria, Gosztonyi sought asylum in Switzerland where he studied at Zurich University, obtaining a doctorate in history there in 1963. From 1963 until his retirement he was Director of the Osteuropa-Bibliothek of the private Schweizerische Stiftung in Bern. This post allowed him to do research on modern military and political history from an independent position and from the mid-1960s onwards many publications followed in German, Hungarian and, occasionally, in French. In fact, the first collection which he edited was in French: Histoire du soulevement hongrois 1956 (1966).

It includes important source material on the history of the 1956 revolution. This was almost immediately followed by Der ungarische Volksaufstand in Augenzeugenberichten ("The Hungarian Popular Uprising in Eyewitness Accounts") edited by Gosztonyi, published in Dusseldorf in 1966 and republished in Munich in 1981. He also wrote a history of the 1956 uprising in Hungarian, A magyar forradalom tortenete (1981), which ran into several editions, including one in Budapest in 1989. Another publication on a similar theme was the collection Aufstande unter dem Roten Stern ("Uprisings in the Shadow of the Red Star"), published in 1979.

Apart from the history of 1956 which remained Gosztonyi's lifelong theme (he published many studies about it in such Hungarian emigre publications as Irodalmi jsg and Uj lthatr), the Hungarian-Swiss historian wrote much on the history of the Second World War. He managed to interview numerous important German military participants still alive in the 1960s and 1970s, adding interesting details to already known narratives.

The results of Gosztonyi's research were published in books such as Endkampf an der Donau 1944-1945 ("Final Struggle at the Daube", 1969), Der Kampf um Berlin in Augenzeugenberichten ("The Struggle for Berlin in Eyewitness Accounts", edited, 1970), Hitlers fremde Heere ("Hitler's Foreign Armies", 1976), Die Rote Armee, Geschichte und Aufbau der Sowjetischen Streitkrafte seit 1917 ("The Red Army: a history and development of the Soviet armed forces since 1917", 1980) and Stalins fremde Heere ("Stalin's Foreign Armies", 1991).

Although Gosztonyi had published much in Hungarian even before 1989, after that date he became a popular historian in Hungary, following up his Magyarorszg a msodik vilghborban ("Hungary in the Second World War", volumes i-ii, 1984) with several books such as Foltmadott a tenger . . . 1956 ("The Sea has Arisen . . . 1956", 1989), Legiveszely, Budapest! ("Air Raid Alarm, Budapest!", 1989), Hbor van, hbor! ("It's war, it's war!", 1990), Vihar Kelet-Europa felett ("A Storm over Eastern Europe", 1990), and a biography of Admiral Horthy, the inter-war Regent of Hungary, A kormnyz Horthy Mikls ("The Governor, Nicholas Horthy", 1990).

All these collections of essays and studies were characterised by a colourful style and an intense involvement in whatever their author discussed. Between 1992 and 1994 Peter Gosztonyi made several research trips to Moscow and during the past few years he was working on a longer study on Soviet military thinking in the post-war period.

Peter Gosztonyi, historian and journalist: born Budapest 2 December 1931; married 1958 Yvonne Meyes (one son); died Berne, Switzerland 29 March 1999.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week