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Part IV


"Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."

Shakespeare, Henry VI


The 83rd Session of the League of Nations' Council, which was to deal with the Yugoslav accusation against Hungary, convened in Geneva on December 4, 1934. In the building of the Disarmament Conference, where we were to meet, strict security measures had been taken "because of the nature and importance of the debates."1 The Council started its work in a private meeting held at the request of Mr. Benes, who wished to make a declaration. Punctuality, observed by monarchs as a mark of politeness, was not binding to Mr. Litvinov. The Chief Delegate of the Soviets delayed the opening of the meeting by his late arrival.

The matter Mr. Benes brought up was "a personal question." Benes was hurt; he expected to be the star performer of the drama staged in Geneva by the three Powers of the Little Entente. He had been degraded, more by his own mistake than by my action, from President of the Council to the role of a stand-in for the Yugoslav Delegate. He tried (but failed) to build up his personal annoyance into an international incident. He complained that in the annals of the League of Nations there was no precedent for any such intervention as mine. He would give me no answer, for the only judge of his conduct was his own conscience. Unable, however, to raise a storm, Benes retraced his steps in the end and declared that in the spirit of international courtesy he asked to be replaced as the President of the Council, while the Yugoslav request was being discussed. No one dissented, and Mr. Benes was dropped from the Presidency. A soothing pill to appease Benes' hurt vanity was administered by his patron, Mr. Laval, who paid tribute to the ability of Benes "who knows the traditions of the League of Nations better than any other person." To this compliment Litvinov associated himself. For his many services to the Soviets, this small gratuity was well deserved by Benes.

He, inadvertently, had done me a real favor by calling attention in so conspicuous a manner to his disqualification. Hard-pressed, I wished to demonstrate that I would not be intimidated by Benes or any other Mogul in the League. I had to avoid being forced into the

1 Journal de Geneve, 7 December, 1934.


unenviable role of a defendant. I became a litigant, in the same position as Mr. Benes. By clever manoeuvering, the Secretariat had kept my objection to his Presidency well away from publicity. With a bang, Mr. Benes called attention to it! Newspapers the next day concluded that I would not become a pushover for the Little Entente. This was exactly the impression I wished to create, in order to restrain attempts at the humiliation of Hungary.

So without further delay, the Yugoslav complaint against Hungary was placed on the agenda of the Council. The Portuguese Ambassador, Mr. de Vasconcellos, whose impartiality was above all doubt, was to preside over these meetings. I was perfectly satisfied: an urgent and objective examination of the dispute was assured, and the smear campaign against Hungary could not be continued indefinitely. Agreement was also reached to elect Mr. Eden at the proper time as the reporter of the Marseille affair. He tactfully participated thereafter in the private conversations among the Powers represented on the Council. The permanent Council of the Little Entente also held a meeting to coordinate the tactics they would follow.

Since Article XI of the Covenant, which the Yugoslavs had invoked, demanded unanimity for the settlement of disputes, Hungary could not be humiliated unless I gave it my consent. The Covenant also provided that member nations would not go to war before submitting their disputes to arbitration and only after a delay of 3 to 9 months. Whatever turn the discussion in the Council took, no immediate damage would result from it. Yet, a dangerous conflict was brewing; not in Geneva, but on the Yugoslav border, and the League might soon become embroiled in it. With the threat of unleashing the unruly Serbian forces, Hungary might be blackmailed into submission, or she would have to face invasion by Serbian raiders. Their plans seemed to have been synchronized with the proceedings in the League. The climax in the conflict between the Little Entente and Hungary was now quite near.

News received on the evening of December 4, and confirmed at midnight in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Gombos, left no doubt that irregular Serbian troops (the so-called "Chetniks") had been mobilized; they were moving north in force, toward the Hungarian border. Composed mainly of Serbian war veterans, they had been settled, as a reward for bravery, on the rich soil of the Banat,


a former Hungarian province. These fierce fighters lived off the land; they did little work, but were ready to rise and strike any moment against any internal or external enemy of the Serbs. It was General Zhifkovitch whose orders the Chetniks followed, and the General was out now for a coup to grab supreme power in Yugoslavia. In 1929, he became Prime Minister when King Alexander suspended the Yugoslav Constitution, dissolved Parliament, and disbanded the Croat and all other political parties, thus establishing his royal dictatorship. Armed clashes provoked on the Hungarian border by the Chetniks could force the shaky Belgrade Government to resign. The invasion of Hungary would be the first step in the General's plan. It would rally around him the patriotic Serbian elements and enable him to establish his military dictatorship. Then he would proceed to destroy all Croat and other national resistance against pan-Serbian domination.

It was fortunate that by this time I had obtained all the factual information on the handling of the Croat refugees by the Hungarian authorities, including those who had been residing in Jankapuszta. Joseph Sombor, the always correct Head of the Political Section of the Budapest Police and Colonel Gustave Hennyey, the reliable Chief of Hungarian Counterintelligence, with whom I could work on most friendly terms, had arrived in Geneva under strict orders of the Prime Minister to lay all their cards on the table - face up. I again obtained irrefutable evidence that Jankapuszta had been a private farm where the Croat refugees had been working as farmhands. No collusion had existed between them and any Hungarian authority. Much against their desire these Croats had been evacuated - some of them ejected - from Jankapuszta following orders of the Hungarian Government. I aLso learned that some Croats were given Hungarian passports by the Budapest Police to enable them to leave Hungary, otherwise they would have had to remain. Mr. de Kanya, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, had insisted in June on their leaving the country without delay. The Hungarian high officials, who had arrived in good time, were trustworthy beyond all doubt; much relieved, I passed on to the press all the information just received, and also prepared an additional memorandum for the Council.

I also obtained valuable confirmation of the correctness of my stand from the camp of our opponents. Madame Tabouis, a prominent French journalist, felt bitterly frustrated by the handling of the


Marseille regicide in the League; not so much because of the false accusation raised against Hungary but because of the clean bill of health which was being granted to Mussolini. As a niece of the famous Ambassador Cambon, she had top level contacts in the French Foreign Office. At tea one afternoon, we reminisced about the French "Immortals": Emile Faguet and Gustave LeBon. I had the good fortune of having been their student at the Sorbonne; she, on the other hand, extolled the merits of Mr. Barthou, another Immortal, held by Madame Tabouis in highest esteem. Unexpectedly, her lively expression stiffened; she was to tell me a secret. She had, she whispered, studied the depositions of the criminals arrested in France for the Marseille murder, among them the testimonies of those who had stayed for a while in Hungary. Each of them had stated that while in Hungary he had known nothing of the murder plot against the King and that he had become implicated in the crime only after he had left Hungary. And with a frown she added: "Must you be that loyal to Italy?" She would have loved to see Mussolini discredited in order to facilitate a French-Russian alliance, in which she had believed since her childhood.

On December 5, the Council completed its tedious negotiations on the Saar without dealing with the Marseille affair. It was a welcome occasion for feting Aloisi, the Italian Chairman of the Council's Subcommittee on the Saar, by all who wished to draw Fascist Italy into closer cooperation with France. To eulogize each other had become, among the Delegates, a standard procedure; so Mr. Laval recited in a monotone Ambassador Aloisi's praise in neatly polished sentences, followed by a moderate acclaim on the part of Mr. Eden. Then, inescapably, and hanging onto the coattails of these two Great Powers, Mr. Benes took his turn to throw bouquets effusively at the celebrated diplomat, and flowers - lots of flowers - at almost everybody present, to arrive finally at the glorification of the League and its work for the maintenance of peace in which he, Mr. Benes, participated so wholeheartedly. For many years, Benes was inexhaustible in his efforts at extolling the perfect and immutable European order. This went on until 1938, when at Munich he was harshly interrupted. But he resumed his cheerful routine during the war, in the wake of the invading Soviet Army. Yet, he never achieved in Moscow the eminence he had enjoyed in Geneva. The cult of personality had been


developed in the Soviets almost to perfection. With Khrushchev as one of the cheer leaders in Stalin's time, poor Mr. Benes became expendable.

While Laval and Mussolini were exchanging personal telegrams of congratulation in connection with the happy end of the Saar contest, tragic events were further developing on the Hungarian-Yugoslav border. There was alarming news in the British press, and the BBC also reported (on December 6) sinister facts about the brutal expulsion of Hungarians. The Chetniks had reached the Hungarian frontier and their demeanor was provocative. There were unconfirmed reports that in the vicinity of Szeged they had crossed into Hungarian territory. An official Yugoslav communique falsely stated that Hungary was ejecting the Yugoslavs. Obviously, this was an attempt to envenom relations and to incite the Serbs to further acts of enmity. Retaliation on Hungary's part would have been the biggest blunder, for Western public opinion was reacting unfavorably to the persecution of Hungarians by the Yugoslavs, and repayment in kind would have cost Hungary much of the sympathy which had been gained, particularly in England.

On December 6, I had a most satisfactory telephone conversation with Prime Minister Gombos. We agreed that whatever provocations the Chetniks or the Yugoslav border guards should commit, there would be no retaliation on Hungary's part. To avoid possible incidents in the tense situation, the Prime Minister ordered the Hungarian border guards withdrawn three miles from the Yugoslav frontier, and he requested the military attaches of the foreign powers in Budapest to visit the frontier and verify the measures taken by Hungary. On December 7, the New York Times published a first page report under the headline: "Contingent of Yugoslav Army challenges frontier force-clash barely averted." On that day, as Mr. Laval later admitted, we had drifted to the brink of war.

The New York Times began to show a lively interest in the expulsion of the Hungarians. It reported that in the frontier town of Szeged 1,308 expellees were being cared for, some of them blind, and that seventy-four among them had to be hospitalized. Some had lived thirty to forty years in Yugoslavia and many had to flee afoot. A Yugoslav Government statement announced that 2,717 Hungarians "had been asked to leave," and that another 2,700 Hungarians who


had not forsworn their allegiance to Hungary were to be expelled. A few hundred Swabians (Germans), disliked by the Serbs, were also unceremoniously ejected into Hungary - a rather curious procedure. I dutifully transmitted all the news to the British, to the Italians, and to several other delegations. Some annoyance was noticeable among the British at the Yugoslav provocations, which they understood as being inspired by General Zhifkovitch and his clique. Mr. Eden was said to be quite anxious to bolster against the General the position of the Yugoslav Government in power. My work in the League of Nations appeared to me now more complicated than ever, for I would have to refrain from weakening the position of our opponent, the present Vugoslav Government, since this might help a more venturesome Serb group in Belgrade in its drive for power. It was rumored in the Secretariat that Mr. Eden was in frequent contact with Prince Paul, seeking to lessen the dangerous tension.

On the eve before Hungary's confrontation with Yugoslavia in the Council (on December 7), Mr. Kalman de Kanya, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, arrived in Geneva. In the coming crucial days, I would benefit from the wise advice of this outstanding diplomat who combined the best traditions of the Viennese school with wide experience and a keen judgment. Mr. Eden remembers de Kanya as "a polished Ballhausplatz diplomatist smooth and missing no tricks."2 I may add that he was entirely dedicated to the cause which he served. Self-reliant and dignified, he inspired respect for himself and for his views, but never publicized any of his successes. Persecuted by the Nazis whom he loathed, he was cared for in his last hours by my daughter in the winter, 1945, during the siege of Budapest. God Rest His Soul.

On December 7, in an atmosphere of great debates, and with the gallery packed, Mr. Yeftitch unemotionally read to the Council his lengthy declaration. He was firm in demanding the repression of terrorist activities, but he also showed a desire to be moderate. He only accused "authorities in Hungary" directly, and not the Hungarian Government as he had done in his memorandum. His role was very delicate: he suffered from being prevented from naming those whom he held responsible for the murder of his King, yet he had to satisfy somehow his people's rightful demand for justice and retribution without

2 Facing the Dictators, p. 129.


inciting them to violent action against Hungary, as planned by General Zhifkovitch. Watching Yeftitch - a simple, unattractive man averse to dramatizing his case - I thought more highly of him, for among the Little Entente hypocrites he tried his best to remain decent.

Mr. Yeftitch condensed in nine points the same charges he had raised in his memorandum of November 28, but he now put increased emphasis on Yugoslav political unity, against which the terrorist actions were directed. He did not object to broadening the present discussion "in order that an international convention might be arrived at" to counteract terrorist activities. This was a constructive suggestion Mr. Eden and Laval had discussed with him. Finally, he called the Council's attention to the dangers which threaten peace and good understanding among nations should terrorism remain unpunished. The moment Yeftitch had finished, first Mr. Benes, then Mr. Titulescu rose to declare that their respective countries associated themselves entirely with Yugoslavia's complaint.

Mr. Clarence K. Streit, in his report from Geneva,3 noticed a few omissions in Yeftitch's declaration. He had mentioned by name all the terrorists in the band which went to France for the assassination, but not the leaders who had escaped to Italy. Mr. Streit also reported that "the Yugoslavs privately make no secret that their real quarrel is with Italy, just as the Hungarians make no secret that theirs is with Czechoslovakia." Mr. Yeftitch had also remained silent regarding the Hungarian expellees. During these last days, several papers had sent their correspondents to Hungary; the expulsion of Hungarians, in contravention of their minority rights guaranteed in the Peace Treaty, could not be denied any longer. In fact, the reports told about a worsening of the situation in the border area. The New York Times reported (December 8), from Roszke,4 that the Chetniks had penetrated, at night, one third of a mile deep into Hungarian territory. With the Hungarian border guards withdrawn, it was the peasants armed with scythes who drove them back across the border. News also leaked out from Yugoslavia about the homes of the expellees having been looted upon their departure. All these abuses were reported in great detail; Mr. Yeftitch could not risk a denial.

The Yugoslavs did not fit too well into this atmosphere of make

3 New York Times, December 8, 1934.

4 A Hungarian village near the Yugoslav border.


believe in Geneva. They are like children; they show themselves such as they were created, with admirable qualities and unconcealed defects. They cultivate truth undiluted by hypocrisy. Their hatreds are violent and their friendships enduring. In Admiral Horthy's evaluation, they make the best sailors in the world, so when at the end of the World War the Austro-Hungarian fleet was ordered to surrender to the Allies, he chose the Yugoslavs to be the masters of his small but glorious fleet. All this was in my mind, when I rose in the Council to counter the expose of Yeftitch. I had to be firm in rejecting his unfounded accusations, but I did not want to hurt him or his people. I rightly hoped that the good work we had started the previous summer would, after a while, be resumed.

For some forty minutes I spoke freely, for I like to watch my audience while I address them. I expressed the sincere indignation of the Hungarian Government and of the people at the Marseille act of terrorism. Then, in logical sequence, I protested against the acts of terrorism carried out during recent days against the Hungarian minority in Yugoslavia. "The expulsions seem to be carried out systematically. The victims are being gathered from village to village and from city to city. No exception is made for the sick, the young and the aged. Emphatically I declared: "I reserve the right to submit to the Council on the basis of the Covenant the circumstances of the highest interest which I have just mentioned." This appeal was directed against the action of General Zhifkovitch, not against Yeftitch-and members of the Council were aware of it.

I certainly was no longer a defendant; I had raised a counter-charge, and went on to tear up the Yugoslav charges. There was no evidence to support them, and the entire action of the Little Entente was nothing more than an attempt to soil Hungary's moral integrity by accusing her of complicity in the regicide. I announced that I would submit the next day an additional memorandum to the Secretariat of the League. One by one, I refuted the unfounded Yugoslav accusations and summed up my rebuttal in a precise statement, quoted the next day in several papers:

"The criminal act of Marseille has not been prepared in Hungary; the King's assassin has never stayed in Hungary. No preparatory act was committed, even by an accessory to the crime, on Hungarian


territory. The concept of the crime, as well as its execution, was the work of a society existing in Yugoslavia.

"King Alexander was condemned to death in a resolution by Croat refugees who do not reside in Hungary. This organization has charged the 'Ustashis' with carrying out their decision. Hungary is not the Country where the crime was conceived, prepared or executed.

"And therefore, Hungary does not share in any responsibility in Connection with the Marseille Regicide."

I now turned on Mr. Benes. The nine points in Mr. Yeftitch's expose were supported by only two witnesses, and the testimony of both of them was supplied by Mr. Benes. One of them, a Slovak, named Vinco Mihalus, was a notorious extortionist; he testified that the Hungarian National League had been plotting against Hungary's neighbors, and he also named me among the plotters. A year previously, the same Vinco Mihalus had fabricated a pamphlet accusing Mr. Benes of similar misdeeds directed against Hungary. So I called Mr. Benes' attention to his duty to defend himself first against Mr. Mihalus, and stated that only thereafter would I take notice of this witness.

The other witness, whose testimony was produced by a Czeclioslovak source, was Jelka Pogorelec, a Croat woman with a dubious reputation who had lived in 1933 (one year before the Marseille regicide) among the Ustashis in Jankapuszta, where she gave birth to an illegitimate child. Frustrated by her lovers, she offered her services to Belgrade and was hired as a spy by Yugoslav Intelligence.5 She related gruesome stories about her experience with the Ustashis in Jankapuszta and testified that the Hungarian local authorities were involved in their shady affairs, but she could not mention anyone of them by name. So, quite pointedly, I asked Mr. Benes to tell the Council whether the testimony of two such witnesses would entitle him to besmirch the honor of an entire nation? In the debate thereafter, the names of these witnesses were never again mentioned.

There still remained the political assault against Hungary, led by Laval and Benes, to discredit her revisionist policy. This also had to be repulsed. It is a defamation, I stated, if revisionism is identified with terrorism, as had been attempted by the Little Entente. "The Marseille murder has nothing to do with revisionism, for it is a symptom of revolutionary bitterness created by the Yugoslav regime." The

5 Milichevitch, pp. 41-43


absurdity of the allegation that Hungary participated in the Marseille murder plot because she desired the restoration of Croatia to Hungary is obvious, for "Hungarian revisionism has never included the land of the Croats among its aspirations. The contrary is true. It is her policy of revisionism which has enabled Hungary to prevent all irredentist adventures; for it is a policy which gives hope that desired changes can be achieved by peaceful means. Revisionism is a peace policy. It is based on the Covenant of the League of Nations and on international collaboration. Thanks to this policy, Hungary can afford to wait for better times to come."

On this first day of the debate, I stood alone against the three Little Entente powers, as well as the Balkan Entente, of which Yugoslavia was a member. Tevfik Rouchdy bey, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, also rose to support the Yugoslav position, which he did with his customary shrewdness. He expressed his confidence that "the Hungarian Government would severely punish the Hungarian authorities implicated," that each other government would also punish any of its implicated nationals, and that all the nations would conclude an anti-terrorism convention. Rouchdy bey thus filed off all the edges of the Yugoslav memorandum and limited his comments to the criminal case. Mr. Titulescu asked the Chairman to continue the debate into the foflowing week, and it was then up to Mr. Benes to give a preliminary tongue-lashing to Hungary. He stated that Czechoslovakia felt that she also was being directly threatened, for plots brewed "on the northern Hungarian frontier" were directed against Czechoslovakia. Taking the occasion to fight attempts at treaty revision, he warned that there would be a "catastrophe" if anyone tried to test the territorial integrity of the Little Entente. The Associated Press reported on the debate (December 7): "Dr. Benes did not hesitate to use the word 'war' several times as he lashed out at present and prospective enemies of the Little Entente." Four years later, sabre-rattling Mr. Benes was offered the occasion to defend his country's territorial integrity. It was not disarmed Hungary but rearmed Nazi Germany which he had to face. Cautiously, be chose surrender.

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