|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|
THE MEMBERS of the Swiss legation and consulate, accompanied by a group of Swiss subjects- as an aggregate about sixty persons - left Budapest in 1945 at the end of March and beginning of April. The following is a summary condensed from their reports, drafted on May 24, 1945, in Switzerland.
During the siege of Budapest and also during the following fateful weeks, Russian troops looted the city freely. They entered practically every habitation, the very poorest as well as the richest. They took away everything they wanted, especially food, clothing and valuables. Looting was general and profound, but not always systematic. It happened, for instance, that a man was deprived of all his trousers, but his jackets were left to him. There were also small groups which specialized in hunting up valuables, using magnetic mine detectors in search of gold, silver and other metals. Trained dogs were also used. Looting became more general after the Russians had gutted the city, for they did not object to proletarians, who previously had been looted by them, looting the city for themselves. Thus every apartment, shop, bank, etc. was looted several times. Furniture and larger objects of art, etc. that could not be taken away were frequently simply destroyed. In many cases, after looting, the homes were also put on fire, causing a vast total loss.
Bank safes were emptied without exception - even the British and American safes - and whatever was found was taken. Cash found in the banks was confiscated (in the Commercial Bank 120,000,000 pengoes; in the Credit Bank 80,000,000 pengoes). The Russians use their own currency with the inscription "Red Army" but the peasants are unwilling to accept this currency. In commercial rating, 1,000 Russian-labeled pengoes are worth only 800 normal pengoes. The Swiss franc was rated 60 to 80 centimes against 100 pengoes. The Hungarian National Bank has again started circulation of the previously withdrawn 20- pengo banknote in order to alleviate the shortage of banknotes on the market.
After several weeks, looting stopped; today it is the Hungarian police who watch over public security. But Russian soldiers often arrest passersby, relieving them of the contents of their pockets, especially watches, cash and even papers of identity.
Rape is causing the greatest suffering to the Hungarian population. Violations are so general - from the age of 10 up to 70 years - that few women in Hungary escape this fate. Acts of incredible brutality have been registered. Many women prefer to commit suicide in order to escape monstrosities. Even now, when order is more or less re- established, Russian soldiers will watch houses where women live and raid them at night, knocking down anybody who opposes them. The women generally are not killed, but kept for several hours, if not for days, before being liberated. Misery is increased by the sad fact that many of the Russian soldiers are ill and medicines in Hungary are completely missing. Cases have been reported where Russian women serving in the Red army or in the Russian police force have been guilty of rape. Men have been beaten up by such women for not having submitted themselves to their wishes.
Only a few political executions are known to have taken place, including those of some extremist officers who have "distinguished" themselves in the persecution of Jews. On the other hand, complete uncertainty prevails concerning the fate of very many people. The reason for this incertitude is that many persons escaped at the approach of the Russians. Hungarians were evacuated or deported in large numbers by the Germans; many were killed during the siege; and large numbers changed their addresses as their habitations were destroyed. All means for the search of such persons is lacking. Uncertainty is increased by the Russian practice of assuring labor for necessary public works by simply halting people in the streets or raiding certain blocks of houses for workers. (In the beginning everybody was treated this way. Later this treatment was restricted to men below sixty and women below forty years of age.) By these methods, thousands and thousands of people in the provinces as well as Budapest proper are forced to work. These people usually are returned after more or less time, but are never given a chance to inform their families of their whereabouts. For instance, the present cabinet minister for public instruction, Count Géza Teleki, and one of the mayors of the city of Budapest, were seized without warning, forced to work and found only after two days, when a Russian officer with whom they could speak finally released them. The richest man of the country, Prince PaulEszterházy, was found in a graveyard burying dead horses.
Near the town of Godollo, a large concentration camp has been erected where some forty thousand internees are being held and from where they are being deported for an unknown destination toward the Orient. It is known that these internees get very little food unless they sign an agreement to engage as volunteers in the Red army or accept a contract for work in Russia. Very few details are known concerning this camp, as nobody is allowed to approach it. Especially are those people being held here who are suspected by the Russians of having fought against them, or who have been denounced as pro- Nazi. But not all of the pro- Nazis are being persecuted. It is known, for instance, that a member of the guards of the general headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis, was arrested by the Russians, but was released very shortly after having joined the Communist Party. The case of Mr. Juhasz, president of the Gamma factory for precision instruments, can be cited. He is generally known as an extreme rightist and anti- Semite. After his arrest, laborers of his factory visited the Russian authorities and assured them that they were satisfied to work under his guidance. The Russians immediately released him, and he is working today in his old post.
The population of Germanic origin from the age of two up to the age of seventy is deported en masse to Russia.
To force diplomatic missions still residing in Budapest (the Swiss, Swedish, Turkish and Papal legations) and also foreigners living in Hungary to rejoin their own countries, the Russians have declared that all foreigners who stay in Budapest will be treated exactly as if they were Hungarians. The departure of the Swiss legation was properly organized by the Russians; second and third class railway cars were made accessible to them. During their journey to Istanbul, which lasted forty- eight hours, all the travelers were strictly forbidden to contact the outside world. In Bucharest, for instance, they could not speak to anybody, not even to the members of the Swiss legation in Bucharest who had come to the railway station to meet them. Several Swiss citizens could not leave Budapest within the allowed twenty- four hours as they did not possess papers of identity, Russian patrols having previously halted them in the streets and confiscated all their documents. The passports issued by the Swiss legation have not been accepted as valid by the Russians.
The Hungarian government has no power whatsoever. It is simply tolerated by the Russians.
The chief of the Swiss legation, Mr. Feller, and its chancellor, Mr. Mayer, were arrested by the GPU shortly after the entry of the Russians. Nobody has heard a word about them since. On the other hand, the rumor that two ladies of the same legation had disappeared was not found to be true. During the looting of the premises of the legation, one of four occasions, the Russians put a rope around the neck of Mr. Ember, an employee of the legation, in order to force him to hand over the keys of the official safe. As he refused to do so, even in his plight, they pulled the rope around his neck until he lost consciousness. Then they took the keys from his pocket, emptied the safe and took away all the deposits, amounting to several millions.
The Committee of the International Red Cross had two delegates in Budapest. One of them, Mr. Born, was ordered to leave the country immediately. The other, Mr. Weyermann, after having been arrested for two days (when all his documents were also destroyed) was allowed to stay on; but he has no liberty of action and can do very little.
A big safe of the Swedish legation which the Nazis had unsuccessfully tried to remove was removed by the Russians with all its contents. This affair will have a diplomatic sequence as the Swedes propose to protest to Russia.
Jewish refugees within the neutral legations succeeded in escaping extermination by the German Gestapo. They were apparently saved because of the hardships imposed on the Germans by the siege. A member of the Swiss legation reports that the Jews whom they had been taking care of are generally safe. There were only three Jewish- inhabited houses under Swedish protection which were occupied by the Germans, their inhabitants being killed and their corpses thrown into the Danube. There is also reassuring news concerning several persons protected by the legation of Portugal. Unfortunately, Mr. Zoltán Farkas, attorney of the Spanish legation, charged with the protection of that legation, was killed.
Generally speaking, the Russians do not treat the Jews any better than the rest of the population.
It is estimated that more than half of the city of Budapest is destroyed. The commercial district and the hills of Buda (the Fortress and the Rozsadomb) have suffered most. There are certain parts in the city which, according to the Russians, have suffered more than Stalinrad. The quays on the Danube and especially the Elizabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge have been almost completely destroyed. In the Fortress there is almost no house standing. The Royal Palace was burned down. The Coronation Church collapsed. The Parliament Building is severely damaged, but its skyline has remained intact. The hotels Ritz, Hungária, Carlton, Vadaszkurt, and Gellért are all in ruins. The Vaczi- utca has suffered very much. The house of Gerbeaud is damaged, but still stands. A stable was set up during the siege in the great hall of the confectionery store. The Commercial Bank is more damaged than the Credit Bank. The buildings housing the other banks, Moktar, Adria, the National Casino, were burned down completely. The French legation was entirely destroyed by the Germans. The house of the Hubayfamily next to the French legation also suffered a lot during the siege.
Only the waterworks on the Pest side function, not yet those in Buda. There is no gas. Electricity can only be granted to factories working for the Russians and to offices and habitations of the forces of occupation. Two film theaters playing Russian films have been granted electricity. All other customers' meters have been sealed. The trams had started circulation, but on account of the lack of current, they have been halted and those blocking traffic on the roads have been removed by tractors. For civilian use there is no other means of communication than a few horse- or mule- driven carriages. Within the city the post already functions, but in order to send a letter to the provinces you have to take your letter to some suburb from which trains start, the central railway station being entirely destroyed. Travel in the provinces is only allowed with special permission from the Russian authorities and only in freight cars. All the radios in town have been requisitioned by the Russians.
The Franz JosefBridge and the Nicholas Horthy Bridge have been repaired with wooden constructions. There is also a pontoon bridge which the Russians built at the head of Margaret Island. The food situation in town is disastrous due to the lack of transportation. In the provinces the situation is distinctly better. The bread ration in Budapest is l00 grams daily per person, or 70 grams of flour. Potatoes are granted: two pounds per person per week, but even these rations are received infrequently. The black market is considered legal and prices are not controlled. If any person succeeds in slipping through the Russian city control with his products, he can sell them freely. By this system, the fabulous prices that existed throughout the siege have been lowered (for instance, two pounds of flour has fallen from 200 pengoes to 50 or 70).
The factories are working exclusively for the Russians. Laborers receive a threefold food ration. In order to maintain this ration the Russians are compelled to transport a limited quantity of food to Budapest.
During the siege the population had to live exclusively on whatever stocks or reserves it had piled up. Toward the end of the siege, the situation was disastrous and the corpses of horses dead for several weeks (often flattened by tanks that passed over them) had also been eaten up.
Hygienic conditions are very saddening. There are several epidemics (especially typhus>. Sanitary service has been fairly well organized. Every block of houses has one doctor for surveillance against epidemics, but on the other hand, pharmaceutical products and medicines are completely missing, although the Russians have given some disinfectants for the population of Budapest. The pharmacies were completely looted by the Germans, the Hungarian Nazis and the Russians. Medicines are highly in demand; you can exchange against aspirin and especially against antiseptic products very favorably for food and other products.
The Russian troops that entered Budapest first made a distinctly good impression as they were very well equipped. The troops coming later were much less well equipped and very poorly clad, except for their armaments which were just as good as with the elite troops. Almost all the infantry is armed with machine guns. Discipline is very questionable. The soldiers will only obey the officers of their own detachment. The officers are not greeted by the soldiers and detachments on the march resemble a band of excursionists. Many of the Russian soldiers do not understand Russian as there is an immense variety of races among them. Propaganda plays the supreme role in the Russian army. For instance, the castle of Seregelyes, belonging to Count Béla Hadik - the Russian shock troops removed all the furniture and destroyed all the installations within the castle, poured gasoline over the mass of things and ignited it. The castle was then refurnished by the Russian soldiers with straw beds in order to prove to the troops following them in what misery even the bourgeoisie were living. The same procedure was followed in the villages and in the peasants' habitations.
|Hungary - The Unwilling Satellite|