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Part Three: An Island in the Soviet Sea

Map - 1938



AFTER WE left Hungary I kept up a regular correspondence with members of the legation and with friends. Thus, I was quite familiar with the state of affairs up to the time our mission left Hungary. Upon their arrival in this country I met them out in the harbor, and we all dined together that night. I got full reports from them of Teleki's suicide and the events that followed so swiftly.

Tibor Eckhardt and Leon Orlowski had left Budapest before I did but, as they had to take a roundabout route through Africa, did not arrive until some months later. Eckhardt established himself in Washington and immediately made contact with Hungarian representatives in all parts of the world, and with various people in the State Department and embassies in Washington. In this way he has kept remarkably well informed. Orlowski established himself in New York and, through the Polish underground and acquaintances made during his diplomatic career, also has kept very well informed.

We three, having been friends in Budapest, naturally stayed in close contact after our arrival in America. I kept receiving letters from friends all over Europe. It is amazing that there were so many. The letters came in various ways - - some were simply handed to soldiers after the arrival of the American mission. Letters were given to newspaper men, not necessarily in Hungary, but in Italy, Germany and elsewhere. A number of letters were merely posted in America or Switzerland and other countries where the mails were free, with no indication of the sender. There was a period during the siege of Budapest when none of us could get any information, but letters got through in a remarkably short time after it was over.

Many of these letters I did not dare answer and those that I did were very carefully worded. We had a letter from an American friend of ours who went back to Budapest early in 1947 and made inquiries concerning people with whom he had been on the most friendly terms, only to be told that it would be better not to go near these persons, as they were already under suspicion due to their friendship with the Allies So my friends passed their friends up with very heavy hearts.

Liberated by American troops from the German concentration camp Dachau, along with Leon Blum, Schuschniggand others, Mr. Nicholas de Kallay, the last prime minister of Hungary before Germany actually took over, has sent me some valuable material covering the sequence of events preceding and during his term in office from March 1942 until March 1944. Thus most of the events which took place from the time of my departure from Hungary to Mr. Kallay's arrest are described on firsthand evidence by the person most qualified to know the facts. His story of Hungary's unsuccessful attempts to withdraw from the war is of particular interest.

From the time that Mr. Kallay was appointed prime minister by the Regent in 1942, continuous attempts were made by Hungary to reduce the army fighting against Russia and to end belligerency. Mr. Kallay, in partnership with the minister of the interior, Mr. Keresztes- Fisher, and the Hungarian Foreign Office, initiated widespread anti- Nazi action in which leaders of the opposition also participated. These included the president of the National Bank, Mr. Baranyai, the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Rassay, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Peyer, and the vice- president of the Smallholders Party, Mr. Bajcsy- Zsilinsky (who later was executed by the Nazis as leader of the Hungarian underground).

Kallay's policy was twofold: He wanted to extricate Hungary from the war, but at the same time avoid German military occupation, which was bound to lead to mass extermination of Jews and anti- Nazi Hungarians.

In the summer of 1943, Prime Minister Kallay sent his personal envoy to Istanbul to establish direct contact with the Western Allieswith the purpose of offering them Hungary's unconditional surrender and military collaboration whenever military operations of the Allieswould render it possible. The envoy in Istanbul at first contacted the American consul, Mr. Berry, and then having waited in vain for six weeks for an answer, established contact on September 9 with the British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hugh Knatchbull- Hugessen. The ambassador reported to Mr. Eden that the Hungarian envoy had arrived to offer unconditional surrender and future military co- operation on the part of Hungary, and was authorized by cable from Mr. Eden to enter into conversations with the Hungarian representative. The British ambassador then arranged with the Hungarian representative to check on his authorization to conclude an arrangement with Great Britain for the Hungarian government. As agreed, the Hungarian minister to Portugal, Mr. Wodianer, visited the British representative in Lisbon, Mr. Standale- Benett, and gave him the asked assurance.

After these preliminaries, an agreement was concluded between the British and Hungarian authorized representatives containing the following points: (a) Hungary offered unconditional surrender to the Allies

(b) The time when this unconditional surrender should become effective was to be determined by the Allies who meanwhile would conclude military agreements with Hungary.

(c) Great Britain undertook to inform her allies of the above said facts. America was to be informed immediately and the Soviets after one month. Britain requested that no other contacts be made between Hungary and the Western Allies (d) The British representative advised Hungary not to provoke German military occupation of Hungary as it would impair or render impossible future military co- operation between Hungary and the Alliesand might even lead to the immediate transfer of the Hungarian army to the Russian front by the Germans. (e) The Hungarian Foreign Office was to establish permanent contact with the British Consulate in Istanbul. This contact was established in the Foreign Office by Mr. Szentmiklosy, undersecretary of the Foreign Office, who received a secret code from the British and a short- wave transmitter which functioned in the subsequent period until the military occupation of Hungary by Germany. Mr. Szentmiklosy was executed in 1944 by the Germans for this service.

The Hungarian declaration of unconditional surrender was submitted at the Quebec Conferencewhere Mr. Rooseveltand Mr. Churchill took notice of it and also informed the Soviet government. The agreement, although not put in writing, was adhered to by both sides. Military agreements had been prepared in all details to assure collaboration of the Hungarian army with Anglo- American armies whenever their strategic plans allowed for doing so. An exchange of general staff officers had also been prepared. The Western Alliesat that time did not request Hungarian collaboration with the Russian army, and the Hungarian government at that time could never have undertaken any such obligation, as the army was willing to collaborate with Anglo- American armed forces, but not with the Russians.

This military plan was never carried out. At the Teheran Conference in December 1943, proposed Allied invasion across the Balkans was dropped at the request of Stalin thus there was no Anglo- American army near enough to accept the unconditional surrender of the Hungarian army or to develop military collaboration.

But whatever collaboration was possible was put into practice during the period when the Hungarian government was still free to act. It became a regular practice of Allied airplanes to fly over the western part of Hungary to attack German industries located in Austria. The Russian airmail to Titoflew at regular intervals over Budapest. The Alliesnever bombed Hungarian territory, and orders were found with Allied flyers who eventually made forced landings in Hungary, forbidding them to bomb Hungarian territory. These facts which could not be concealed from the Germans went beyond neutrality, as neutral states objected to Allied warplanes flying over their territory and even pro- Allied Turkey had shot down British and American planes flying unauthorized over its territory. From January 1943, on, Hungary had not sent soldiers or war materiel to fight Russia. In fact, no Hungarian troops participated from that time on in any fighting against the Russians until March 1944. On the contrary, whatever troops and armaments could be withdrawn from the front were ordered back to Hungary. Non-belligerency was also extended to the various partisan groups in neighboring countries. Their leaders were invited to Budapest and secret agreements were concluded not to fight each other, not to take prisoners, and even to exchange those who had been captured. In the case of the Yugoslav partisans, the Hungarian government had established friendly contacts with the Serbian partisans of Mihailovitch before Teheran. Then, in the autumn of 1943, Titos partisans repeatedly crossed into Hungarian territory and provoked border incidents. Prime Minister Kallay ordered the Hungarian army to refrain from retaliation and immediately sent his representative to the Titoforces and agreed with them to refrain in the future from all armed incidents and hostile acts.

From September 1943 until the occupation of Hungary, the German minister to Budapest, Mr. Jagov steadily avoided personal contact with the prime minister, as the latter previously had refused to receive him. German- Hungarian relations became even more strained when in February 1944 the Hungarian chief of staff, in a note which could be qualified as an ultimatum, requested from General Keitel, the chief of the German general staff, that a) all Hungarian troops be immediately brought to Hungary from Russia; and b) the Carpathian Mountains be defended exclusively by Hungarian troops; German military forces, even in case of further withdrawal, being kept from entering Hungarian territory.

Even in the first days of March 1944, when the Germans requested passage for three thousand German military trucks to carry troops and war materiel across Hungarian territory, Prime Minister Kallay flatly turned down the demand. I was gratified during those years to find that the American press gave Hungary some credit for the efforts - - so far as they were publicly known - - of Premier Kallay's government.

On September 13, 1943, Mr. Russell Hill reported to the New York Herald Tribune:

The Rumanians have sent a larger contingent of troops to Russia than any of Germany's 'other allies' - - the number has been variously estimated at between 300,000 and 700,000 - - and they have suffered by far the heaviest losses. It is in Hungary that opposition to the German war is best organized and most articulate. The Hungarians have prepared well for the day when Allied troops arrive . . . There are in Hungary today eleven anti- Nazi newspapers, of which the leading one is the liberal daily 'Magyar Nemzet' . . . But even the parties which support Premier Kallay's government have given the Germans only minimum co- operation. There never have been more than four Hungarian divisions at the Russian front. The Germans have not been allowed to control Hungary militarily as they have Rumania and Bulgaria. They have been restricted to railroad stations and airfields, and German troops are not seen in Budapest or other Hungarian cities. Undoubtedly, the Germans could have forcibly denied the Hungarians their relatively free press, their parliamentary institutions and their independent national existence.

Undoubtedly, as Mr. Hill says, the Germans could have denied the Hungarians their relatively free press, but it would have necessitated German garrisons of at least three hundred thousand men.

On October 11, 1943, the London Times reported that a Swedish journalist, K. G. Bolander, after a visit to Hungary, had written in the Svenska Dagbladet: The greatest surprise was to see how widespread and marked anti- German feeling was and how openly expressed. The Hungarians are well aware that they are in the wrong box, but also know that attempts to get disentangled from Germany may lead to German countermeasures resulting in complete annihilation, and the possibility of the Germans letting loose neighboring peoples on Hungary. The Slav menace in the case of a German breakdown is considered even greater, and the Hungarians' only hope seems to be a miraculous intervention by the Allies . .

Budapest has to say 'No' to German demands almost every day. No troops have been sent to the Balkans, and when Hungarian troops recently found themselves fighting on the Russian front, it was because the German retreat had been so quick that the Hungarians, though actually only supply line troops, found themselves in the front line. A prominent politician told me that the question for Hungary was whether the Germans, the Russians or the Anglo- Saxons would be first in the country. 'Of course, we wish it will be the Anglo- Saxons even if we dare not believe in it,' he said.

When Hitler's patience was finally exhausted and on March 19, l944 he occupied Hungary, even Mr. Elmer Davis, director of the U. S. Office of War Information, in whose organization American and foreign communists and fellow- travelers seemed to be extraordinarily well represented, wrote in the Washington Post: Hungary was the only country in southeastern Europe which permitted many of its newspapers to publish news from neutral and Allied sources. Until the Nazis performed their latest act of cannibalism and swallowed up their satellites the other day, Hungary was the only country in southeastern Europe whose press had never been 'co- ordinated' to serve the will of Hitler.

Some Hungarian newspapers in recent months published at least as many items coming from neutral, British or American sources as from German sources, and often Allied news received better play than enemy items. I have seen Budapest newspapers with the full text of speeches of President Roosevelt Vice- President Wallace and Wendell Willkie . . . Hungarian publishers were permitted to publish translations of current American books, which were sold openly in Budapest book stores.

Indeed, it is possible that Hitler found it necessary to occupy Hungary by force, violence and fraud instead of by consent simply because the Hungarians knew so much about the coming Allied victory . . .

In other words, Hungary was not even willing to curb its free press in order to please Hitler. Hungary's resistance was outright provocative and it could not last. The Germans had a large fifth column in the country; but the statement that the fifth column was identical with the German minority is not true. Germans should forever hate and despise Hitler for his destruction of what had always been the best element of the German race, namely, the German minorities in eastern Europe. These people, bearers of occidental civilization, were with few exceptions law- abiding citizens, and when national socialist agents began to bring them the gospel of the German master race, the general reaction was one of reticence; they wanted to keep out of trouble. This attitude became very dangerous for every member of the German minority when the German armies approached, and when the various governments gave in to Hitler. His proclaimed doctrine was that he was not only head of Germany but Fuehrer of the whole German race, so that every German, wherever he dwelt, owed allegiance to him. Hence to be anti- national socialist was less risky for a Magyar or a Rumanian than for a Hungarian or Rumanian citizen of German origin. The latter exposed himself to being treated as a traitor to the German race. By these means, Hitler succeeded in terrorizing the German minorities for whom he claimed special privileges, a kind of extra- territorial rights within the countries whose subjects they were. This was the origin of a real tragedy. Afraid of Hitler's revenge, the German minorities accepted anew policy which, in case of Hitler's defeat, had to prove suicidal. Nations which had lived on good terms with their German minorities began to consider them a menace. In Hungary, Hitler's attempt to use the German minorities as a Trojan horse was partly unsuccessful. The most numerous German element were Swabians; deliberate, levelheaded, hardworking people who never had political ambitions. German agents distributed money, even cows, which they presented as Hitler's personal gifts. The Hungarian government invented an amusing device to counteract this form of propaganda. Assessors were sent to the farms belonging to Germans, and they began to count the cattle and survey the fields. When the peasant asked what was the matter, he was told that the authorities, informed of his desire to move to Germany in accordance with the Fuehrer's wishes, wanted to fix the indemnity they would have to pay him. This was just about the time when Germans were being forcibly repatriated from the Baltic States. The trick was very effective since not one of them wanted to leave Hungary and go to Germany. All of a sudden, there was a large number of applications to Magyarize German names. Actually the national socialists in the end amounted to about one- third of the German minority.

Apart from Imredy after his conversion to Nazism, the prime ministers showed remarkable energy in fighting national socialism. Fortunately the Hungarian branch was mostly riffraff. In March 1937, Tibor Eckhardt, who was in the van of the fight against national socialism, estimated that not more than ten percent of the population supported that movement. Hitler's successes should have caused a national socialist boom, but Hungarians seemed to be horrified by his methods. At the height of his diplomatic successes in the spring of 1939, national socialists received sixteen percent of the vote, about the same proportion - - and to a large extent representing the same people - - as the communists received in the l945 elections. On the whole, Hungarian national socialism would have been negligible if it had not fascinated a good number of professional soldiers who, quite erroneously, regarded Hitlerism as an attempt to rebuild the military strength of the German nation.

Hitler's crooked cross could not be displayed in Hungary because as early as May 1933, Mr. Keresztes- Fisher, minister of the interior, had decreed that no profanation of the Hungarian flag by any emblem, nor any use of emblems representing the symbol of a foreign nation would be tolerated. Some months later, he forbade the "wearing or exhibiting of the swastika in any form" and ordered the destruction of all badges showing it. Then Mesko, at that time leader of the Magyar national socialists, introduced the fashion of wearing green shirts with the Arrow Cross, a combination of four arrows which resembled the swastika. Later Count Alexanderestetics1">AlexanderFestetics, another nincompoop, became head of the Arrow Cross and after the fusion of the different groups, claimed, at the end of 1937, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, three hundred thousand members, which in my opinion was an enormous exaggeration. The occupation of Austria by the Germans encouraged Major Szalasi, Festetics' successor, to resort to terroristic methods like those used before by the Austrian national socialists. For this he was arrested and given three years in jail. On February 24, 1939, the government disbanded his Hungarist Party, seized its funds and literature, and made many arrests. The straw that broke the camel's back was the explosion of hand grenades in front of the Budapest Great Synagogue. Then in August 1940, came the Vienna Award by which half of Transylvania was restored to Hungary, and a few weeks later Major\s+Szalasi was released from prison under an amnesty. The Arrow Cross and the revived Hungarist National Socialist Party united under his leadership. There is little doubt that more tolerance toward the national socialists had been one of Hitler's conditions in Vienna. Peaceful relations, however, did not last long. In November, the government announced that a national socialist plot had been discovered. Its aim was to kill Keresztes- Fisher, and to kidnap the Regent in order to compel him to release national socialists from prison. The government arrested several hundred national socialists and stated that 236 hand grenades had been found in national socialist homes. It should be remembered that the government took these energetic steps when all Europe was already at Hitler's mercy. He must have been exasperated by Hungary's habit of withdrawing after a short time every concession made to the Hungarian national socialists. As a sequel to the discovery of the plot against the Regent, two national socialist members of parliament were sentenced to long terms of penal servitude at the end of 1941.

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