[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Index] [HMK Home] STEPHEN D. KERTESZ - Between Russia and the West


The Aftermath

After my return to Budapest I attended Marshal Voroshilovs reception at the end of October and was cornered by Ossukin, the English speaking and gregarious counselor of the Soviet legation. Helped apparently by a fair amount of liquor, he was in a talkative mood. When he cheerfully congratulated me on our success at the Paris Conference, I expressed astonishment and told him that none of our major proposals was considered in Paris; our reparation burden was not alleviated; on some important issues that Soviet delegation opposed us, while the United States and other Western countries supported us. Ossukin replied that he was familiar with these problems and added, "We know that you were Pál Telekis man, but you have always played straight and have not lied to us." I remarked that I did not lie to anyone and added that only a fool would divulge all he knows, but it was important in international relations that whatever we say correspond to facts. I explained that it was especially important in Paris in my contacts with many delegations to state our position clearly, to friends and foes; that there were few secrets at the peace conference; that leaks and sensational news items spread with lightning speed; that it was not difficult to discover the source of any indiscretion in the conference circuit; and that I understood the Soviet embassy had a first-class intelligence network. This was my last encounter with Ossukin. A few weeks later he left Budapest unexpectedly and all kinds of sinister rumors circulated in connection with his disappearance. This was not unusual in the Soviet service.

At home the deterioration of the domestic political situation shocked me. Communist aggressiveness increased in interparty relations, and that could not have occurred without Soviet approval. I wondered what was going to happen and, in particular, how long the Smallholders could resist. During this period of increasing tension, Gyöngyösitook a stronger stand than before the Paris Conference. Apparently the sojourn in a free political atmosphere and his contacts with Western statesmen strengthened his self-confidence. He



appointed me head of the newly established Division for International Relations, to deal with Hungary's participation in the United Nations and other international organizations. Because our participation in most of these august bodies was a distant aspiration, I considered publication of our peace preparatory material and an account of activities of the Hungarian peace delegation at the Paris Conference an urgent task, and my plan was to prepare five volumes to appear in English, French, Russian, and Hungarian under the title, Hgngary and the Conference of Paris.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister asked me about my preference for a post abroad, and I told him that after the strenuous work and vicissitudes of the last three years I would like to represent Hungary In a congenial quiet post and indicated my preference for the Netherlands. I had been at The Hague several times for extended periods in the 1930s, at sessions of Mixed Arbitral Tribunals and the Permanent Court of International Justice, and had friends from my student days at the Académie de Droit International. Gyöngyösiproposed my designation to the Council of Ministers, but the Communist party vetoed it. I all but expected this outcome and continued to concentrate on publication of the peace conference material. As I had some forebodings, I wanted to expedite this work, a historical evidence of our endeavors. Time was important because a shift to the political left would have made publication impossible. I was thinking of the possibility of a Soviet-engineered Communist coup after ratification of the peace treaty. Gyöngyösirecognized the urgency of publication, approved my scheme, and then in early 1946 informed me he had decided to propose my accreditation to the Italian republic. I raised the likelihoodof another Communist veto, but he asserted that this would be a different case because the post in Rome had been reserved for him by the coalition parties, and he would transfer the designation to me. He told me frankly he had no experience in foreign lands and would prefer to remain in Hungary. The Council of Ministers accepted the proposal in January 1947 and in March of that year the president of the republic appointed me Hungarian minister to the Italian republic (at that time Hungary did not appoint ambassadors).

It was a relief to see my life coming into some order. I handed over the affairs of the Division for International Relations to Zoltán Baranyay assistant under-secretary of state in the Foreign Ministry and a veteran of the Hungarian diplomatic corps. As former head of the cultural division, he had special qualifications for editing the volumes pertaining to Hungary and the Conference of Paris. Volume


IV, containing documents relating to the Czechoslovak amendment aiming at expulsion of 200,000 Hungarians from Czechoslovakia, appeared in April. Unlike the others, this volume still mentioned my name. The following month volume II appeared with documentation on the exchange of population and other aspects of Hungaro-Czechoslovak relations. The two volumes were in English and French. Volume I was published only in French in September 1947 with our ma)or peace preparatory notes and material concerning Hungaro-Rumanian relations, protection of minorities, and notes addressed to the Council of Foreign Ministers. I established the priorities according to the importance of topics, but it was to Baranyays credit that at least three volumes appeared before the Communist takeover of the Foreign Ministry. Volumes III and V, containing miscellaneous materials and economic clauses, were not published.1

As my departure approached, my days were busy. The prime minister and the foreign minister, both Smallholders, suggested that I should explore in Rome the possibility of renewal of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and conclusion of a concordat. They advised me, however, to discuss some major problems with President Tildywho gave me ambiguous, noncommittal answers. When I asked for written instructions, he said that in the times in which we lived it was better not to set our policies in written form. László Bánás, the bishop of Veszprém and a former member of the Vatican diplomatic staff, was led to believe that the Communists and Russians supported the plan and, in a state of high emotion, asked me to expedite renewal of official relations with the Vatican. Cardinal Mindszentywas not encouraging; he remained skeptical of Communist intentions. Consent of the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission was necessary to the planned diplomatic move. Consequently, I decided to clarify Soviet intentions about which conflicting opinions were circulating in governmental and ecclesiastical circles. In a meeting with Pushkin I brought up the problem of exchanging envoys with the Holy See and argued that Hungary had a large Catholic population and it would be advisable for the new regime to settle Church-State problems by the intervention of an experienced papal diplomat. The Soviet Minister replied: ''The Vatican is an agency of American interests in Europe, financed by American capitalists. The new Hungarian democracy does not need the representative of such reactionary forces." Pushkin's position was in harmony with Rákosi's opposition to the renewal of diplomatic relations with the Vatican--he said that a nuncio would act the same way as Mindszentybut in a more sophisticated form.


Pushkin's blunt answer corresponded to his nature and methods. He was a cool, calculating professional and more outspoken in personal contacts than most Soviet diplomats. He was aware of the anti Soviet feelings of the Hungarian population and not impressed when politicians extolled the achievements of the liberating Soviet army. He preferred business-like, matter-of-fact language. On the same occasion, after expressing opposition to a nuncio to Budapest, he warned me that I should not follow the pro-Italian line of my predecessors. I replied that we understood the changed power situation in Europe but that it was next to impossible in Hungary to find popular support for a pro-Soviet foreign policy because of the many unpleasant things and political mistakes after the Soviet army occupied the country. Pushkin admitted errors but said they were immaterial; it was not the present but the future that counted; one should educate the new generation properly and they would cooperate. This conversation occurred March 1947; in less than a decade students and workers led a revolution in Hungary against the regime that educated them, and the Communist party disintegrated like a house of cards. Pushkin, then ambassador to East Germany, was perhaps surprised that history was not working along the lines he predicted.

My last months in Hungary were marked by a series of dismal events. They started with the arrest of many army officers, politicians, and officials, including a member of my division, Domokos Szentiványi. Newspapers announced the discovery of a large-scale conspiracy against the Hungarian republic. As far as I could ascertain, the principal accusation was preparation of political plans for the post armistice period. Almost everybody believed that after the coming into-force of the peace treaty, Soviet forces would withdraw from Hungary as provided by Article 22. They overlooked the fact that the same article authorized the Soviet Union to keep on Hungarian territory unlimited armed forces for the maintenance of the lines of communication of the Soviet army with the zone of Soviet occupation in Austria.

Secretary of State Byrnes in the Council of Foreign Ministers had proposed the reduction of occupation forces throughout Europe. this proposal would have limited Soviet forces to 5,000 in Hungary as well as in Rumania, but Molotovwas not prepared to consider this question. When Secretary of State George C. Marshallpresented the same proposal at the Moscow meeting of the foreign ministers in March 1947, Molotovdid not agree. This meant that the Soviets could keep unlimited forces in Hungary until the conclusion of a treaty with Austria. 2


After my return from Paris several people inside and outside of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs asked about the deadline for withdrawal of Soviet forces. My answer was the clause of the Roman law: Incertus an et qgando, that is, uncertain when, if at all. My interlocutors were appalled. But I could not honestly say anything else. Conclusion of the Austrian treaty was in the nebulous future and even after that Moscow could make an arrangement to station Soviet forces in Hungary. The situation was clear to anyone who cared to think about it, but people do not like to envisage unpleasant realities and prefer to indulge in wishful thinking. Ferenc Nagy's book 3 relates his conviction in 1947 that Soviet forces would withdraw after ratification of the peace treaty. Many non-Muscovite Communists shared this view. Before I left for Paris a ranking Communist official of the Foreign Ministry told me indignantly that Fascists and reactionaries were spreading rumors that the Russians would not evacuate Hungary after the conclusion of peace.

The Conference of Paris and the peace treaty had made clear Hungary's predicament, and under these circumstances group planning for the period following withdrawal of Soviet forces was not prudent, but it was not a conspiracy, it was an exercise in futility. During those days personal security hardly existed, and many people speculated about a better future when a majority government would govern the country. The Communists had obtained only 17 percent of the vote in November 1945, and the idea of their exclusion from government was in their eyes the supreme crime. Persons arrested in the alleged conspiracy confessed under torture anything necessary to justify the accusations and involvement of others. On the basis of loose and less than-prudent talk many people were or could have been arrested throughout the country. But the ''conspirators'' had no arms or plan for a coup d'etat.4

The purpose of the mass arrests became obvious when Communist newspapers connected the conspiracy with the Smallholder party--a Smallholder minister and several members of the party were arrested and their ''confessions" implicated Béla Kovács the secretary-general of the Smallholder party. This strange Onvellian scenario implied that members of the majority party conspired against the regime, that is, against themselves. After much pressure, Béla Kovácswent on leave and later resigned as secretary-general of the party. Although parliament refused to suspend his immunity, he offered to give evidence to the political police. Upon return from this hearing, Soviet authorities arrested him, February 25, 1947, on a charge of espionage against the Soviet army.


The United States on March 5 addressed an energetic note to the British, Soviet, and Hungarian governments on the basis of the Yalta Declaration and as a participant in the Allied Control Commission, against ''foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary in support of repeated aggressive attempts by Hungarian minority elements to coerce the popularly elected majority.,, The note emphasized that Soviet occupation forces had arrested Kovácson the basis of unwarranted charges and proposed a collective investigation of the so-called conspiracy and the Kovácscase by the Allied Control Commission in cooperation with the Hungarian prime minister, the minister of defense, minister of the interior, minister of justice, and the president of the National Assembly.5

A Soviet note from the acting chairman of the ACC, General Vladimir Petrovich Sviridov rejected the American allegation, claiming that the prime minister and the Smallholder party had recognized the existence of an anti-constitutional plot and that the Smallholders voluntarily had agreed to deprive the plotters of parliamentary immunity. The note emphasized that Soviet authorities had a legal right to arrest Kovácsfor crimes against the Soviet occupation forces. Hence Sviridovrejected the American proposal for a collective investigation.6 The Hungarian press published these notes and a subsequent exchange of notes7 showing the Hungarian nation American interest in their predicament. In the persistent political crisis the cabinet was reorganized, three Smallholder ministers resigned and were replaced by left-wing Smallholders, with LajosDinnyés appointed minister of defense and Ernő Mihályfi minister of information.8

This distressing case was a continuation of Communist salami tactics against the Smallholders. The process had begun in March 1946 when the Smallholder party leaders under Communist pressure advised twenty-two Smallholder members of Parliament, the group of Dezső Sulyok to leave the party. The Communists declared these politicians ''rightists,' and demanded their exclusion from the Smallholder party. Creation of a leftist block within the coalition greatly helped such tactics. In some cases, early in 1947, Smallholder resistance was effective; for example, in the refusal to suspend Béla Kovácss parliamentary immunity. But Tildyand Ferenc Nagy advocated concessions because the examples of Poland, Bulgaria, and Rumania frightened them, and they wanted to avoid a similar fate. They played for time, in hope that Soviet occupation would end after ratification of the peace treaty, and on some occasions Western leaders fostered this hope. Western support was not forthcoming, and the ACC disregarded American and British notes of protest. Under these


conditions the Smallholder leaders' ability to endure, while swallowing insults and injuries, seemed a way to survive in hope that Western policy would change. American policy did change with the Truman Doctrine in March 1947, but it was late for Hungary and the policy of containment meant just that--it did not alleviate the fate of countries already within Russia's Europe.

A few days before my departure, the director of the Pal TelekiInstitute, István Révay, came to inform me that the political police discovered in his organization a spy for Czechoslovakia. In connection with this affair all employees of the institute were summoned to the political police, but when they appeared the police interrogated them about my activities, especially my contacts with Géza Telekiand his confidential undertaking. Simultaneous with this, a Communist periodical, Képes Figyelő', published an article against a ''high official of the Foreign Ministry" because his testimony made possible the favorable screening of Colonel István Szentmiklósy arrested in the conspiracy case. Although my name was not spelled out, it was clear I was involved. I had known Szentmiklósywhen he had been a liaison officer in northern Transylvania attached to the Italo-German military commission in 1942-44, and during this period he had initiated and directed a risky intelligence operation that would have provoked German retaliation if discovered. I had emphasized this case in my written and oral testimony during his screening.

These episodes showed that someone was collecting data and trying to build a case against me, but the political police did not summon me. I paid farewell visits to party leaders, called on representatives of the Great Powers, and had frequent official and social contact with the Italian legation. The ACC gave me an exit permit, the Hungarian authorities agreed to the schedule of my departure, and the Italian government was notified of my arrival. There would have been unnecessary sensation if the police had stopped me for whatever reason. I left the country without difficulty.

In Rome I was warmly received by officials in the Palazzo Chigi. My conversation reflected feelings of traditional friendship between our countries. After presentation of my letter of credence to the provisional head of state, Enrico de Nicola, a lawyer and former mayor of Naples, I had a private audience with this warm-hearted and forthright man, and we discussed the postwar problems of Italy and Hungary and our traditional relations. Exchange of anecdotes and easy laughs made our conversation lively.

In the course of visits to the heads of diplomatic missions, I introduced myself to the apostolic nuncio, Francisco Borgongini Duca


accredited to the Quirinal since 1929. He also was the doyen of the diplomatic corps. I informed him of my verbal authorization to negotiate for the renewal of diplomatic relations with the Vatican and conclusion of a Concordat and explained that during the armistice period we would need approval of the Allied Control Commission for such a step. Relating Pushkin's opposition, I proposed to begin formal negotiation after ratification of the peace treaty. The nuncio understood our predicament and took note of my communication to be forwarded to the Vatican.

Soviet Ambassador Mikhail Kostylev told amusing stories about his return to Italy after the war. As a specialist in economics affairs he had served at the Soviet embassy in Italy in the 1930s. As Stalin did not hesitate to send him back to Italy without informing Washington and London, he became the first ambassador accredited to the Badoglio government in April 1945. He witnessed the slow development of Italian administration in Caserta and saw Badoglio take his letters personally to the post office. I recounted my experiences during the siege of Buda and the miraculous revival of Budapest.

The Austrian minister, Johannes E. Schwarzenberg, was most helpful. Some problems of our neighboring countries were comparable. But Austria was a liberated country, not an ex-enemy state, and the four-power occupation gave the Austrians more flexibility and hope for the future.

The easy-going life of the Italians contrasted with terror-stricken uncertain conditions in Hungary. Although Italy had been a poor country and there was an open black market, I remembered what Cardinal Mindszentytold me after his first visit to Rome in November 1945. He wanted to see how people lived and had visited a street full of butcher shops, commenting that in the same street he never saw so much meat and that most of it had come from the United States.

It was a pleasure to watch the enjoyment of life and vitality of simple Italians always ready to sing Verdi or Puccini arias. In my house the chef and supervisor of servants was Peppino, a dignified old Italian employed by the legation for many years. I decided to hire a cook, a specialist in sophisticated French meals, who was to come twice or three times a week. When I asked him about his salary he indicated a ridiculously low amount. I was surprised and asked him how could he make a living on this small salary. He replied: ''Excellency, I am an honest man and confess to you that in a cook's life the salary is insignificant. I make real money when I buy things for


you in the market." That time there was still rationing in Italy, and he received valuable coupons from the legation. Of course, the major beneficiary of this system was Peppino, who handled the coupons at the legation.

Composition of personnel at my legation reflected conditions in Hungary. I was a civil servant without party affiliation, but most of the staff belonged to a political party in the coalition. My Counselor was a non-Muscovite Communist. We had good relations, but I knew that he had to send reports to the Communist party. In addition to the reporting of party members, there were spies at the legation. When 1 was informed that my personal steward who had been employed for many years by the Foreign Ministry was looking into files and sending reports to the political police, I let him overhear conversations and sometimes ''forgot,' notes and files on my desk--a convenient way to send to Budapest the kind of information I wanted. As soon as the situation became critical, I deposited my confidential documents at the house of an Italian friend and received certain visitors there.

Besides increasing official and social duties and visits to Hungarian cultural and ecclesiastical institutions in Rome, I spent much of my time with a variety of Hungarian visitors such as scholars, priests, actors, politicians. At the end of April a delegation of Hungarian parliamentarians arrived who under Count Mihály Károlyis chairmanship had participated in the Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Cairo. I was pleased that members of our National Assembly had attended a conference of this time-honored institution and invited the group for dinner and a reception. Károlyiremained in Rome for a few days, and I made appointments for him with leading figures of Italian politics. I invited Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza, the former foreign minister and Socialist leader, Pietro Nenni, and a few high officials from the Palazzo Chigi, to have lunch with Károlyiand his charming daughter Judith. Since Károlyiwanted to see Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi, I made the arrangements and accompanied him. During a memorable visit Károlyiquestioned de Gasperi's pro-American policy. Familiar with Károlyis background, de Gasperi smiled and quietly enumerated the economic aid and other assistance Italy received from the United States and asked Károlyiwhere Italy could turn for similar support. There was no answer. When we left, Károlyimuttered: ''What Gasperi said was interesting but I still don't agree with his pro-American policy." The United States was Károlyis bete noire and nothing could shake this obsession. He was in many ways a pleasant and gentle man, but the bitter


years of exile had taken their toll and influenced his thinking. He wanted to be ostentatiously more leftist than anyone else. Perhaps this was his way of reacting against his past when he had been one of the richest aristocrats in the Habsburg Empire. Allegedly Károlyionce said that he could accept Communist ideas, but he never would enter the Communist party because no one should tell him what to do or say. In early June he surprised me with an elaborate thank-you letter. He expressed appreciation that I had made it possible for him to see in a short time the most important personalities in Roman politics and concluded: ''At last, a right man in the right place." It was almost amusing to read his compliments because at that time I was in the midst of a political crisis and knew that my days in Hungarian diplomacy were numbered.

The first news of political troubles in Hungary reached Rome by the end of May, when rumor spread that all Hungarian envoys had been ordered home to report. Newspapermen stormed the legation. I instructed my press attaché, George Kósa, to inform them that I did not have knowledge of such an order and did not plan to travel to Budapest. Since I had not received authentic information about events in Hungary, I addressed a cipher telegram to Budapest on May 31:

Fantastic news is appearing in world press concerning crisis and alleged Soviet note. Please inform me about real situation. Kertész. Code telegram No. 1 S .

I understood through newspaper reports that Prime Minister Nagy had been forced to resign while in Switzerland and in the new government the Smallholder minister of defense, LajosDinnyés, became prime minister. Gyöngyösiwas not included in the cabinet, and it was announced that I would be foreign minister. One of the most reliable newspapers in Europe, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, published a long front-page article on June 2 , entitled, ''Transformation of the Government in Hungary - The New Dinnyés Cabinet." Two passages of this article discussed my ''appointment" as follows:

The new Foreign Minister, Stephen Kertész, at the present time envoy in Rome, was secretary general of Hungarian Delegation at the peace conference. He directed the preparation of the first official publication on the peace treaty under the title, ''La Hongrie devant la Conference de Paris." Kertész, already active in the Foreign Ministry in previous times and in charge of several special tasks, participated in the resistance movement against Germany . . . Until entering in office of the new foreign minister, which will be possible only some time later, the Minister of Propaganda, Ernő Mihalyfi, will handle current affairs."9


I was less surprised by the prime minister's forced resignation than by the dismissal of Gyöngyösi whose reputation had been pro-Russian in the sense that he realized that without a cooperative attitude toward the Soviet Union, Hungary's survival might be in danger. It is true that after the peace conference he had shown more independence and defied the Communists, particularly in the Béla Kovácsaffair when he opposed suspension of parliamentary immunity. After Gyöngyösis dismissal the appointment of a non-party man of Western orientation would have been only a front to mislead the West and the Hungarian public. I was destined to be window dressing, to demonstrate to the West that nothing serious had happened or changed in Hungary. Later I could have been dropped from the cabinet without the slightest difficulty. Although Communist designs in connection with my proposed appointment were obvious, I would have been willing to take the chance if I could have expected a forceful American intervention to carry out the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe. In the spring of 1947, the Truman Doctrine had foreshadowed a stronger foreign policy, but I was aware of the limitations of the policy of containment.

Meanwhile I had contacts with Hungarian envoys in several capitals. I sent a cable to my colleague in Washington, Aladár SzegedyMaszák a close friend since our student days in Paris. My cable crossed his message in which he asked me to call him by telephone. We had a long conversation on the night of May 31-June 1, and he informed me of his intention to resign because events in Hungary-- like the German occupation of the country on March 19, 1944-- meant the end of Hungary's independence. With dismissal of Nagy and Gyöngyösi Hungary would be dominated by the Soviet Union militarily, politically, and economically. Dinnyés was no guarantee, and the question of personalities was similar to the choice in March 1944 between Imrédy and Sztójay as prime minister. Under the circumstances he did not recommend that I accept the position of foreign minister. I replied that I did not intend to msh home to aexept the portfolio, but I questioned resignation as a right course at the present time. Hungary had lOSt independence in March 1944 and never regained it. Soviet and Communist pressure took place repeatedly, and Prime Minister Nagy made concessions time and again and proved especially weak in the Béla Kovácsaffair. But the legal and political situation was very different in March 1944, for German troops had invaded the country, the government had been deposed, politicians arrested, and yet Germany's defeat was only a question of time. After the cessation of hostilities with Hungary the basis of Soviet


intervention had been the armistice agreement. The peace treaty would by ratified soon. I suggested a wait-and-see policy and raised the question what would happen to the Hungarian people if all decent men left their posts. After our conversation I sent Szegedy Maszáka cable in which I marshaled additional arguments and asked him to reconsider his decision.

My colleague in Paris, Paul Auer, called me on June 1 to persuade me to accept the portfolio of foreign minister. He said that resignation would not be justified because Dinnyés, though not a man of the right caliber for a high office, was an old and reliable Smallholder politician and if I accepted the portfolio there would be no reason for resignation. The Hungarian envoy in Switzerland, Francis Gordon, called twice to inform me that he would resign because he had been recalled to report and was unwilling to do so. Resignation became the pattern. I understood only the Social Democrat Vilmos Böhm returned to report. Auer changed his mind and resigned, as did most Hungarian representatives abroad. Together with my colleague in London, István Bede I continued a wait-and-see policy.

At this juncture it was necessary for me to ascertain the position of the Western powers, that is, the support Hungary could get from them. At the British embassy I received only vague, noncommittal answers to my inquiry. My conversations with Edward Page, the political officer in charge of East European affairs at the United States embassy (later envoy to Bulgaria), were more helpful. I explained my situation and said that I did not have the ambition to become foreign minister because since the war Hungary had not been an independent state and lived under the Soviet-dominated Allied Control Commission. In the existing conditions I, as foreign minister, would only be window dressing. Yet if I could expect energetic Western action for the implementation of the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe, I would be willing to take any personal risk and play for time in Budapest until the next session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled for November. We agreed to meet again in a few days to receive answers to the questions I raised.

I consulted colleagues in the diplomatic corps and especially Selim Sarper, the ambassador of Turkey to Italy, formerly ambassador in Moscow and familiar with Soviet methods. His first question was who would support me in Hungary. I explained that probably nobody would if the chips were down, because I was a non-party civil servant and the coalition regime was vanishing. I added that under the peculiar political situation in Hungary this might be an advantage in the short run, but then a few months later I could be dropped without


much ado. A show trial might be possible also. I would be willing to take these risks, I told him, if I could get substantial Western support for maintaining Hungary as part of Europe and if an evolution toward genuine parliamentary democracy could take place. Sarper thought that solid Western support for such developments in Hungary was not in the cards. He did not see much possibility of dislodging the Soviet-supported Communists in the country and advised against accepting the cabinet post.

Shortly after my conversation with Sarper I received information from Page, who told me frankly that along the banks of the Danube within the near future there was no hope for an energetic political action such as I suggested. At that time the United States intended to concentrate on strengthening Greece and Turkey, afterward Western Europe and Austria, and if these countries were rehabilitated and made safe for democracy, Hungary's turn might come. This timetable seemed reasonable from the American point of view, but the time span was too long for my purposes.

I asked Budapest repeatedly for information concerning political events and the rumors that were flying in Italian and other Western newspapers. An explanatory telegram I received was humorous in light of the depressing events. It said, with studied naivete, that resignation of the prime minister did not affect the coalition, that the Hungarian people had received it with indifference, that supplies in the markets were abundant, and that food prices were low.

My wife Margaret arrived at the end of May, and Kostylev and his wife invited us for lunch on June 4. Probably he wanted to find out my position concerning events in Hungary. I remained noncommittal and kept the conversation in generalities. The same day we had dinner at the Austrian legation, and I discussed with Schwarzenberg the possible consequences of political changes in Hungary. One of the guests, Joseph Alsop, chimed in and said that the Communist endeavor to seize power in a country like Hungary was similar to pregnancy, in that one could not stop it in the fourth month.

On June 5 a cipher telegram told me in a very polite way that I was wanted in Budapest for consultation, and the same day the head of the political division in the Foreign Ministry asked me by phone to return; he explained that I had been designated for the portfolio of the Foreign Ministry because in the opinion of leading politicians a diplomat without party affiliation could conduct foreign affairs much better than a party politician during the present quiet political period. I replied that I could not accept the portfolio; I had to open the Hungarian pavilion at the Milan fair on June 14 and could not


leave Italy before that date. Two days later I received a strictly personal secret cipher telegram that ordered me to send an open telegram to the Hungarian government strongly condemning the resignation of my colleagues, Szegedy-Maszákand Gordon, Hungarian ministers to the USA and Switzerland, respectively. I immediately sent my answer, in which I refused to follow the order and declared that I would go on leave and did not intend to deal with politics as long as an independent government, able to defend the vital interests of the Hungarian people, could not function in Hungary. The same day I handed over affairs of the legation to my Communist counselor, Lászlo Pödör. In the Palazzo Chigi I had a talk with Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza. I described my situation and told him frankly that I might be obliged to ask for asylum in Italy. His answer was most understanding and promised full support if and when I would need it. I did not ask Sforza to keep my request confidential and realized that he would report it to the Council of Ministers and the news would spread in political and diplomatic circles. This meant that Budapest would be informed in no time. I did not mind; at this stage I decided to play with open cards.

Two courses were open at that moment: to resign with a denunciation of the Hungarian situation or to try diplomatically to influence events from Rome. I was inclined to follow the second alternative. Newspaper headlines did not interest me and would not have been useful to the Hungarian people. The resignation of Hungarian envoys in March 1944 did not help Hungary's case at the peace table. At his press conference on June 5, 1947, President Truman characterized the situation in Hungary as an outrage and stated that the United States would not stand by idly. 10 Yet in practice nothing was done, although it would have been possible to reduce diplomatic relations with Hungary to the level of a charge d'affaires. Envoy Schoenfeld was scheduled to relinquish his post on May 31, and he departed from Budapest the following day. Selden Chapin's nomination as minister to Hungary had been confirmed by the Senate on April 9, and he arrived in Budapest on July 2. His schedule was not altered, and appointment of a charge d'affaires as an expression of disapproval of events in Hungary was not even considered. The State Department decided to send to Budapest one of their best men, and this decision was not changed because of Nagy's unceremonious resignation. When Szegedy-Maszak inquired in the State Department on June 5 concerning American intentions with regard to Minister-designate Chapin, ''Mr. Hickerson expressed the opinion that Mr. Chapin would proceed to Budapest and take up his position


 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Index] [HMK Home] STEPHEN D. KERTESZ - Between Russia and the West