|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|
ON MARCH 15, 1939, a gala performance was given at the Royal Opera in Budapest in celebration of Hungary's Day of Independence, equivalent to our Fourth of July. It happened that Hitler had chosen this particular day for taking over Bohemia. Naturally considerable tension was felt in Budapest.
It was customary for these performances to be given under the auspices and for the benefit of some organization. Since the prime minister, Count Pauleleki1">PaulTeleki, was head of the Boy Scouts, on this night they were in charge. The Regent, most of the cabinet ministers, diplomats and local dignitaries were present. I made it a point to go every year, and on this occasion I attended with my daughter, son- in- law and some friends.
Before the prelude, a little Boy Scout came out and started to recite a speech, but he had scarcely got started when there was an unexpected interruption. This took the form of chanting in unison - - what I later learned was "Justice for Szalasi!" Szalasi being the leader of the Hungarian Arrowcross Party, or Nazis, this was obviously some sort of demonstration against Horthy and Teleki.
My son- in- law and I left our box to see what was happening. We were near the stairs and, having located the noise as coming from the gallery, we went up. The chanting was interspersed with terrific shouts; we could not imagine what was happening. When I got to the top of the stairs I was astonished to find that the shouts were coming from the Regent. Two or three men were on the floor and he had another by the throat, slapping his face and shouting what I learned afterward was: "So you would betray your country, would you?" The Regent was alone, but he had the situation in hand. When he had thrown his man down, he began to mumble to himself, brushing off his clothes with his hands; and passed us down the stairs without saying a word. Meanwhile, there was great excitement among the guards. The Regent's box led out into a room where they were stationed. They had not: heard the Arrowcross demonstration. All they knew was that all of a sudden the door of the Regent's box had opened and he had rushed out like a shot before they could get to their feet. The whole episode happened so quickly that they had no idea where he was until he came back.
A few days later, the Regent asked me to call, thanked me for having come to his aid and presented me with his picture. I was a little surprised at his deduction, but did not see any reason to contradict him.
The whole incident was typical not only of the Regent's deep hatred of alien doctrine, but of the kind of man he is. Although he was around seventy- two years of age, it did not occur to him to ask for help; he went right ahead like a skipper with a mutiny on his hands.
Likewise, he never permitted Hitler to treat him as the dictator treated the heads of other states. In August 1938, when Hitler, after seizing Austria and bringing the German army to the Hungarian frontiers, invited the Regent to become his military ally against the Czechs, the Admiral replied, according to de Kanya who was then chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Upper House: "You will get another world war and you will lose it, because you have no sea power." Then when Hitler began to scream, the Admiral rose and asked him not to forget that he, the leader of an infant state, was speaking to the head of a thousand- year- old sovereign state; and told him that unless he was treated as such, he would leave at once. Hitler calmed down immediately and after that treated the Regent with respect, although the incident made him hate Horthy intensely and no doubt had a great deal to do with some of the things that happened later.
The Admiral had learned as a youngster in the Naval Academy at Pola to behave with poise and dignity. The statement that Hungary was a kingdom without a king and had as its head an admiral without a navy was often made. While it was true that Hungary never had a navy, Austria- Hungary had one and Admiral Horthy had been its commander in chief until 1918.
The official language of the Naval Academy at that time was German and Horthy, although the scion of a Magyar family, never spoke his mother tongue without a slight Austro- German accent. Like most Hungarians, though, he spoke many languages well enough to carry on a conversation without difficulty.
To call Horthy "Regent" as we and the British understand the term, is not quite correct. A better title would be "Lieutenant of the Realm," although in Hungarian his official title meant "Governor." Hungary, as contrasted with England and nearly every other kingdom, had always put the crown above its wearer: The king really served as regent for the crowning which rested the sublime power carried down through the ages from the time of King Stephen
Hailing from the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains, the migrating Magyars, who were of Finno- Ugrian origin, crossed the Carpathians in the winter of 895 to 896 A.D., led by their chieftain, Árpád, who was responsible to a council of their seven tribes.
His great- grandson, Duke Géza, was determined to rule over a Western nation, not a loose federation of eastern tribes. To this end, he educated his son Stephenin the new religion of the West and married him to the Bavarian princess Gizella Stephen who succeeded Géza in 997 and ruled until 1038, converted the pagan tribes of Hungary to Christianity. A brilliant warrior and wise legislator, he forced his faith upon his subjects, convinced that only through Christianity could Hungary become a Western power. In the year 1000 he sent an ambassador to Pope Sylvester II, to ask for a crown which would establish the fact that Stephenwas not a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire. At that time, only three persons - the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope and the Emperor at Constantinople - had the right to crown a king in Europe. By applying to the Pope, Stephenkept clear of political entanglements, both in the east and west.
Sylvester sent Stephena crown and the apostolic cross, to be carried before him on state occasions as a symbol of his new title "Apostolic King." With the coronation of its medieval king, who after his death was sainted, Hungary became the most eastern of the western lands. This is the origin of the "millennial crown" around which the Magyars have built a comprehensive doctrine. Theoretically the king was elected and only became king when he was crowned by the nation. Actually, it was as regent for the crown that the nation bestowed upon him such royal powers as the right to confer nobility upon his subjects. At the same time, the crown set limits to his rights. The territory was not his but the crown's - - hence he could not alienate it.
This doctrine was by no means a dead letter. By accepting the crown the king was bound to the constitution. For this reason, Franz Josefunderwent the coronation only after completing his unconstitutional experiments. His presumptive successor, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was resolved to make changes that would have satisfied the Croats at the expense of the Magyars before accepting the crown.
It was because of this that the Serbian government had him murdered in 1914, fearing lest he destroy their plan of luring the Croats away from Austria- Hungary. The events which followed upon his murder led to the installation of Admiral Horthy as regent of a throneless Hungary.
After the collapse of the Austro- Hungarian armed forces and dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire following the war precipitated by Franz\s+Ferdinand's death, the November 1918 Hungarian revolution established a weak and incompetent government under the leadership of Count Michaelarolyi1">MichaelKarolyi. Due to internal disorder and pressure exercised on Hungary by her neighbors, this government was unable to maintain itself. In March 1919, the French army of occupation, in contravention to the treaty of armistice, ordered large parts of Hungary to be ceded to Rumania. The resulting desperation of the Hungarian people was exploited by Michaels+Karolyi, who handed over power to the communist agent, Béla Kun Just released from prison, the latter organized an outright Bolshevik government on the Russian pattern.
It collapsed after a reign of 133 days of terror. The entire nation had been opposed to it. The peasantry, for instance, had refused to deliver food and all other supplies to the cities. Only by sheer force and terrorism could this government maintain itself, even temporarily. At the approach of the Rumanian army Béla Kunand his associates - among them, Mátyás Rákossi, virtual dictator of present- day Hungary - fled from Budapest to Vienna whence they traveled to Moscow.
Counter-revolutionaries stepped in, as Béla Kunand his followers fled, and revoked the republic which Count Károlyi had proclaimed before turning Hungary over to the communists. Hungary became again a kingdom, but the throne stayed empty. Instead of a king they chose to have a regent and wanted a man who would be acceptable to the West. It is little known that Horthy was chosen regent largely by the grace of Great Britain. The British method of supporting him was subtle and circuitous. Admiral Trowbridge, who headed an Allied mission to Budapest, let it be known that Horthy would be a good choice. Probably the British navy had a stronger say in the matter than the Foreign Office. Horthy had always expressed profound admiration for the British navy.
Thus Hungary had a crown without a king - - had the benefits of a monarchy without its risks. The illusion was ideal in a nation with a strong monarchist tradition . To all practical purposes, Hungarians had a republic; but every so often the Guardians of the Crown - - who as such held the highest positions in Hungary - - met with the prime minister to perform an ancient ceremony. Each had a key to the crown vault. When all three keys had been turned, the door was opened and the crown was examined to make sure that it was still intact. All this was done under the surveillance of the crown guards, who watched over it twenty- four hours of the day. The vault was carefully locked at the end of the ceremony, a guard resumed his position from which the crown vault was visible, and the eternal vigil went on.
It can be seen from this that the crown was much more important than the king and that Regent Horthy's position was not as odd as it might be in some other country. He did not have the prerogatives that a crowned king would have had. The government was not responsible to him, but to parliament. Until February, 1935, when the Government Party adopted a new Regency Bill, he could not sanction or refuse to sanction laws; he could only ask for reconsideration. In fact, his position was quite different from that of a regent as we understand it.
Horthy took his oath to the constitution very seriously; he never overstepped his authority. Looking back, there are times when I wish he had been less scrupulous, but his critics cannot have it both ways.
Although the young emperor, King Charles had made him admiral and commander in chief of the Austro- Hungarian navy, all his devotion belonged to the memory of Franz Josef whose aide he had been. He was already regent when Charlesstaged his two unsuccessful attempts to regain the throne. In March 1921, he appeared in Budapest and asked Horthy to yield his power to him. The Admiral persuaded him to return to Switzerland. In October of the same year, Charlescame by air and landed near the Austrian border where he was welcomed by a small number of faithful followers, chiefly former army officers; and with them he marched on the capital. The Hungarian war minister, informed of the event, left his office and went for a walk. But Horthy ordered Captain Gombos, whom we shall see again as premier, to meet force with force. The king's detachment was dispersed, he fell into captivity and, as the British had insisted on his removal, it was aboard a small British gunboat that he was taken away down the Danube. Around these two events has been spun a story accusing Horthy of ingratitude, but he could not have given way without exposing his nation to extinction, because the British- backed Little Entente, armed to the teeth and opposed to restoration of the Hapsburgs, would most certainly have invaded and occupied the whole country.
The hapless Charles as he was depicted to me, must have been an utterly well- intentioned man who in peaceful times would have made an excellent constitutional ruler, but he was not a pilot for dangerous waters. To a man like Horthy or Bethlen, the king's actions appeared irresponsible and amateurish. As far as I could discern, the Regent bore no grudge against Charlesor his family and viewed the aspirations of Otto his son, with the sympathy natural in an old imperial and royal officer.
Faced with grave decisions, Horthy always asked himself and his advisers what would have been Franz Josefs attitude. I know of times when he had refused to do something but changed his mind on being shown that, in similar circumstances, Franz Josefhad taken certain action. Franz Josef once he had abandoned absolutism, ruled but did not govern. With smaller rights, Horthy served as a constitutional figurehead.
As such, was Horthy a good ruler? He was not brilliant, but it is questioned whether constitutional rulers should be brilliant. He had, however, an abundance of common sense, great patriotism, honesty and integrity. No one could truthfully deny that he did his best within the limits of his authority and according to his code.
It was a rule that Admiral Horthy could receive no one without the consent of the Foreign Office. On several occasions his aide came down to ask me to make a request for some American to see the Regent, because it was likewise a rule that the Foreign Office would not permit a citizen of any foreign country to see the Regent without the approval of the citizen's legation. Each time the Regent requested it, I made application, but seldom did the Foreign Office approve. The Regent had to forego seeing a lot of people whom he would have liked to meet, because the Foreign Office objected. They objected because they never knew what he was going to say. Being an old sea dog, he was outspoken. It never occurred to him to dissemble, and he would not have known how. If any correspondent asked him questions, he was liable to give answers which would involve Hungary in all kinds of trouble. On the occasions when permission was given for newspaper men to see the Regent, it was always with the provision that their copy would have to be submitted to the Foreign Office. On two or three occasions, I have seen newspaper or magazine men on their way from the Royal Palace beaming over the most wonderful interview they ever had - - sensation after sensation. They could hardly wait to get to the telegraph office. But by the time the Foreign Office had finished, there was nothing left.
It can be seen from this that Horthy had little or nothing to do with the foreign policy of the country - - in fact, little to do directly with the government itself. A very prominent Hungarian told me one day that the Regent complained bitterly that he had a young fellow for whom he was anxious to get a position in one of the government departments, but could do nothing for him. Tibor Eckhardt told me that he went to the Regent because he thought things were happening that Horthy would not approve and should know about. When he informed the Regent of them, Horthy said, "It is much worse than you think - - " so they sat down together and had a nice, antigovernment talk; but that is all that ever came of it. I myself have gone to him when I thought his government was doing things that it should not do, and he was always one hundred percent to my way of thinking, even when his foreign minister and prime minister were the ones of whom I complained.
He was greatly disturbed by Premier Imredy's introduction of anti- Jewish legislation in Hungary, and let his be known, but all he could do was to intrigue with a number of members of parliament, as a result of which Imredy, on November 23, 1938, was given a vote of no confidence and had to resign. However, when Teleki and others refused to take over the prime ministry and insisted that he reappoint Imredy, Horthy did so. Meanwhile, Imredy had obtained the support of some Catholic leaders and thus mustered a slight majority. From then on, whatever real power Horthy had was lost. But he did not stop intriguing against Imredy, and when some of Imredy's opponents went to Germany a few months later and brought back proof that his great grandfather had been born a Jew and baptized at the age of seven, the Regent was jubilant. He afterward told me the story with great exuberance, and said, "I wouldn't care if he were a whole Jew, but I pretended to be shocked. " Imredy was so astonished, either because he had not known it or did not want it found out, that he fainted during the interview. He at once resigned, and this time Teleki took over.
Horthy and his wife, who would have made a perfect queen, were not to be spared personal tragedy. In August 1942, their oldest son, Stephen was killed in an air accident over Russia. Their son- in- law also met his death in an air accident, and it is said, though as far as I know, it was never proved, that the Germans had a hand in it because Stephenorthy1">StephenHorthy had been elected vice- regent and after he was killed, it was pretty certain that Horthy's son- in- law would take that position. In ordinary times such a succession would not have happened because it smacked of a dynasty, but when Horthy announced that he wanted to retire and nominated his son as deputy regent in February 1942, parliament acquiesced in order to forestall the election of a Nazi, which might have happened under German pressure if the Regent had died without an automatic successor. Both the son and the son- in- law- were very fine, capable men. The last time I saw Stephenwas when he came to see us off when we returned to America in 1941.
Madame Horthy worried considerably about the future for, even as far back as April 19, 1940, my wife has in her diary: Mme. Horthy came to see me. Looked very attractive and chic in trotteur with furs. Regretted instability of the times, especially not being able to insure the future of one's children. ' That is really what everyman works for in every walk of life. For myself I should not mind and for my husband. I should be willing to live in one room. I could do my own cooking if necessary. But not to leave a solid future for one's children - that is too sad.' How well she knew that she would not spend her old days in the royal castle! She played the part of the country's first lady with simple dignity. Her friends knew that she was primarily a loving mother and still the modest wife of an Austro- Hungarian naval officer whose dutifulness in service had not been stimulated by material rewards.
The sea, as is well known, creates a kind of solidarity and professional brotherhood among navy men of all nations, vestiges of which are felt even in wartime.
President Rooseveltalways had a great interest in the Admiral. It began in the first World War. He told me he had never heard of Horthy until President Wilson sent him on a mission to Rome, when he was assistant secretary of the navy. The object of this mission was to induce the Italians to make more active use of their navy. He said it was his first mission and he was very anxious to make good. He was invited to a meeting of the Italian cabinet where he vigorously exhorted them, as instructed by President Wilson. Thaon de Revel, Italy's bearded and dignified minister of the navy, admitted that the Austro- Hungarian navy was much weaker than his own, but, he said, the enemy had excellent hiding places in the Dalmatian Islands. "Apart from that," he added, "they have a daredevil commander, Admiral Horthy, who will swoop out and attack on the most unexpected occasions. No, we cannot expose our fleet to that risk." When Roosevelttold me this story, he concluded, "What was my first diplomatic defeat, and I owed it to Admiral Horthy." The President played cleverly on Horthy's leanings by addressing him as from sailor to sailor, and the Admiral was very responsive. In 1940, after Roosevelts re- election, he asked me to inform the President by cable of his delight. Thinking that this might be made public in America and cause the Regent some embarrassment, I told him it would be rather risky because the Germans might be decoding our messages. He said he did not care if they did: He would like to have me send it; and I did.
Of the bond between men of the sea, Horthy gave me at another time a most enlightening example. The British brought a retired admiral to Budapest to keep the Regent informed and to get information from him. The Germans thereupon sent an admiral of their own who had been in the first war as their liaison officer with Admiral Horthy, then in command of the Austro- Hungarian navy. Horthy was staying in a hunting lodge at Godollo, a rural estate of the Hapsburgs, and when the German arrived invited him there for some shooting. This was in 1940, after the French surrender, when many expected the invasion of the British Isles. The Regent told me that he avoided any mention of the war because he did not want his old acquaintance to think he had invited him for the purpose of pumping him. He knew him as a tight- lipped man and was therefore doubly surprised when after the hunt, the German admiral burst into the following confession: "Admiral, I want you to know that we in the German navy have not changed under the national socialists. The other forces have to a certain extent, but the navy is what she was before. We are grateful to Hitler because he has done a lot for the navy, much of it in agreement with England, but we know that both he and Japan have made a fatal mistake by thinking that the air arm could take the place of the navy. The British navy is still intact and is a wonderful navy. We in the naval staff know that what was true in the last war is no less true this time, namely that sea power will win the war " The Regent added that he had not said anything, but was pleased to have his views confirmed from these quarters. Hitler obviously had not picked the right delegate.
|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|