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3. From the Second Vienna Award to Paris: Transylvania and
Hungarian-Rumanian Relations During World War II

It is a curious fact that the Soviet Union was the first great power during the Second World War that showed a willingness to support revisions of the frontier between Hungary and Rumania. When Soviet troops occupied Bessarabia and part of Bukovina at the end of June, 1940, and during the following days and weeks, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov made several friendly statements and promises to the Hungarian envoy in Moscow, József Kristóffy, who reported them in telegrams to Budapest and later summed up Molotov's statements in a report as follows:

1. the Soviet Union has no claims whatever against Hungary; 2. the Soviet Government is striving to establish good neighborly relations with Hungary; 3. the Soviet Government considers Hungary's territorial demands against Rumania well-founded and will support them at the peace conference; 4. the Soviet Union's attitude will remain as explained above, in case of a conflict between Hungary and Rumania; 5. the Soviet government is ready to begin negotiations for a trade treaty with Hungary.[1]

Yet at the peace negotiations in 1945--46, Molotov objected even to consideration of an American initiative that proposed to examine the possibility of improving relations between Hungary and Rumania through a modest boundary revision on ethnic grounds. This essay will examine how events developed between these two different Soviet positions.


The Soviet Union renewed diplomatic relations with Hungary in September, 1939,[2] and the extreme right in Hungary did not cease to praise the wise cooperative policy of the two greatest powers in Europe, Germany and Soviet Russia. Telegraphic communications and railway connections were established between Hungary and the Soviet Union. Following a Soviet initiative, the Hungarian government in October, 1940, exchanged the Hungarian Communist leader, Mátyás Rákosi (in an Hungarian jail), for banners taken by the Russian army in

1849, when it intervened on behalf of Austria in crushing the war of independence in Hungary. However, the anti-Soviet attitude of the Hungarian public was obvious, especially in connection with the Russo-Finnish war. Public demonstrations and collections were organized for Finland, and Hungarian volunteers left the country, with the help of the authorities, to fight in Finland against the Soviet army.

During this period, Rumania began to worry about the possibilities of a Soviet attack, and a special emissary of the Rumanian king asked the Italians to "work on the Hungarians," because any Hungarian threat on the Rumanian rear would "oblige the Rumanians to come to an agreement with the Russians."[3] Hungarian Foreign Minister István Csáky assured the Italian foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, that "Hungary will not take the initiative in the Balkans and thus spread the fire,"[4] but he emphasized Hungary's demand for equality of treatment for the Hungarian minorities in case Rumania should cede territory to Russia or Bulgaria without fighting.[5] The Hungarian policy was expressed even more clearly by Prime Minister Paul Teleki on a visit to Rome in March, 1940. Ciano noted that "he [Teleki] will not do anything against Rumania, because he does not want to make himself responsible, even indirectly, for having opened the doors of Europe to Russia... Teleki has avoided taking any open position one way or the other but has not hidden his sympathy for the Western Powers and fears an integral German victory like the plague."[6] Later Teleki frankly told Ciano that he hoped "for the defeat of Germany, not a complete defeat --- that might provoke violent shocks --- but a kind of defeat that would blunt her teeth and claws for a long time."[7]

Shortly thereafter, Hungarian hopes for possible Italian help against the Germans were diminished. On the pretext that Russia would soon move into Bessarabia, Germany intended to occupy the Rumanian oil fields. The German General Staff approached the Hungarian General Staff and requested free passage through Hungary and possibly Hungarian military participation. The reward for Hungary's cooperation allegedly would have been Transylvania. The Hungarian government sent a special messenger to Rome who explained that "For the Hungarians there arises the problem either of letting the Germans pass, or opposing them with force. In either case the Hungarian liberty would come to an end."[8]

During these Hungaro-Italian negotiations the Germans began the occupation of Denmark and Norway, and the Italian ambassador to Germany, Bernardo Attolico, denied the rumor of a German attack on Rumania. The Duce advised the Hungarians to "keep calm and moderate, and... accede to the German requests." Ciano commented:

"This was not the answer the Hungarians expected and hoped for. They went so far as to ask whether, in case of military resistance, they could count on Italian help. Mussolini smiled; "How could this ever be," he said, "since I am Hitler's ally and intend to remain so?"[9]

The spectacular occupation of the smaller Western European states by Germany and the unexpected collapse of France deeply impressed the Hungarian public. In fact, these events caused general consternation. The government press manifested a dignified reserve and, when Italy declared war on France and Great Britain, Csáky stated that Hungary would continue her nonbelligerent status.

Soviet Russia reacted to the German victories in the West by the incorporation of the Baltic states and Rumanian territories. Following a Russian ultimatum, Rumania evacuated Bessarabia and northern Bukovina and ceded these territories to the Soviet Union. Simultaneously with these events, Hungary made military preparations along the Rumanian frontier and decided to solve the Transylvanian question by force, if necessary. Hitler vetoed Hungarian military actions and invited Teleki and Csáky to a conference in Munich. They met on July 10 in the presence of the German and Italian foreign ministers, Joachim Ribbentrop and Ciano. Hitler warned the Hungarians against unilateral action, advised them to initiate bilateral negotiations with Rumania and promised to support their initiative in Bucharest. The Rumanians procrastinated and would have preferred Hitler's arbitration instead of bilateral negotiations with Hungary. King Carol informed the Germans of Rumanian willingness to return to Hungary 14,000 square kilometers of the territory the Trianon Treaty had transferred to Rumania.

In August, the Rumanian government agreed in principle with Bulgaria concerning retrocession of South-Dobrudja, but declined to entertain the Hungarian claims. The Hungarian government could not accept the negative Rumanian attitude because the Peace Treaty of Trianon transferred to Rumania a larger territory than that retained by Hungary, and according to the Rumanian census 1.5 million Magyars remained in Transylvania. Budapest could not disregard the fate of this large Hungarian population. Eventually, the Rumanians reluctantly agreed to bilateral negotiations. The Hungarian and Rumanian delegations met in Turnu-Severin (August 16--24), but they could not find a common basis for agreement.[10]

Meanwhile Rumania renounced the Anglo-French guarantee of Rumania's political independence (July, 1940). Some great powers expressed approval or understanding of the Hungarian thesis. As mentioned, Molotov declared to the Hungarian envoy, Kristóffy, on July 7, 1940, that the Soviet government considered the Hungarian claims well

founded and would support them at the peace table. At the time of the negotiations in Turnu-Severin, Molotov again stated to Kristóffy that the Hungarian claims were justified.[11] According to the reports of the Hungarian envoys in London and Washington, George Barcza and John Pelényi, respectively, high officials in the British Foreign Office and in the Department of State showed an understanding toward Hungary's policy in the Transylvanian question.

After the failure of the bilateral negotiations, both Hungary and Rumania mobilized, and a conflict seemed imminent. Under these circumstances Hitler resolved to take a direct hand in the affair since a conflict in southeastern Europe would have resulted in serious complications for Germany and could have hindered the flow of Rumanian oil. In addition, the possibility of Russian intervention in a Hungarian-Rumanian conflict also existed. Later the German leaders repeatedly pointed out to the Hungarians that Germany had to decide the Hungaro-Rumanian conflict in order to save Rumania from collapse and from Russian intervention.[12] The German and Italian governments invited the representatives of the Hungarian and Rumanian governments to Vienna. The day before the meeting Hitler told Ciano that he was leaving the decision up to him and Joachim Ribbentrop. The only thing he had at heart was that "peace be preserved there, and that Rumanian oil continue to flow into his reservoirs."[13]


The Hungarians thought that the Axis Powers would mediate, but were not prepared to submit the issue for arbitration. Ribbentrop as sailed the recalcitrant Teleki in Vienna. He accused Hungary of having adopted anti-German policies on more than one occasion. His words were "rather threatening."[14] Finally the Hungarian delegation asked Budapest for full power to submit the issue to Italo-German arbitration. This document was deposited at the German legation in Budapest only half an hour before the second Vienna Award was delivered on August 30, 1940. A Crown Council in Bucharest authorized the Rumanian delegation to accept the arbitration. Based mainly on ethnographical considerations, the Award restored the northern part of Transylvania to Hungary. At the same time, Germany and Italy guaranteed the territorial integrity of Rumania, which still retained the major and economically more important part of Transylvania with a minority of more than a half million Hungarians.[15] There was a general outcry in Rumania against the Vienna Award, and at the same time disappointment in Hungary was great. The new frontier created difficulties for Hungary

from the point of view of communications, and it left under Rumanian control the most important mineral assets and resources of Transylvania, such as the district of Meggyes-Kissármás (Medias-Sarmasel) with mineral, oil, and natural gas deposits. King Carol resigned in favor of his son Michael and left the country. Thereafter, Prime Minister Ion Antonescu became the dictator of Rumania.

The Award caused serious friction between Moscow and Berlin. Germany informed the Soviet Union only after the Vienna decision had been delivered, and Molotov claimed that Germany violated the Nonaggression Pact, which provided for consultation in questions of common interest to both countries. Molotov declared that the German government "could not have been in doubt that the Soviet government was interested in Rumania and Hungary."[16]

Hungary's position nonetheless was made more difficult by the pro-Nazi reorientation of Rumania's foreign policy, which was achieved with amazing speed. Rumania resigned from the League of Nations and from the Balkan Entente and began to transform the internal structure of the country according to National-Socialist principles. The most dangerous step, however, was the invitation extended by Rumania in early October, 1940, to the German "instructor corps." General Friedrich Paulus stated, in his deposition at Nuremberg, that an entire panzer division was transferred to Rumania, manifestly as a training unit but actually for the purpose of preparing the Rumanian army for war. These troops had to cross Hungary, and some military personnel were also stationed in Hungarian railroad stations "to maintain the lines of communication between Rumania and Germany."[17] Although Teleki restricted the Germans to a few important railroad stations, this was the beginning of the German military penetration into Hungarian territory. Shortly after these events, Hungary adhered to the Tripartite Pact (November 20, 1940) concluded on September 27, 1940, in Berlin between Germany, Italy, and Japan. This was considered one of the means for maintaining the relative independence of Hungary in Axis Europe.[18] But the Hungarian government refused to accept a secret additional protocol that aimed at the implementation of the Pact in the field of newspapers and propaganda. Such a cooperation naturally would have led to the liquidation of all anti-Nazi opposition newspapers in Hungary.[19]

Hungary's adherence to the Tripartite Pact was followed by catastrophic events. Prime Minister Teleki committed suicide on April 3, 1941, the eve of the crossing of Hungary's boundary by German troops marching to attack Yugoslavia. On the evening of April 2, he had received a telegram from the Hungarian envoy in London that the British

Foreign Office informed him that if Hungary took part in any German action against Yugoslavia, it must expect a declaration of war upon it by Great Britain. Winston Churchill noted in his memoirs "His suicide was a sacrifice to absolve himself and his people from guilt in the German attack upon Yugoslavia. It clears his name in history. It could not stop the march of the German armies nor the consequences."[20]

Teleki's successor was his foreign minister, László Bárdossy, a professional diplomat, but a man of scant political experience. Although a patriot and originally an anti-Nazi, he followed a pro-German policy. He had been Hungarian minister to Rumania at the time of the second Vienna Award. Impressed by the energetic pro-Nazi policy of the Rumanian dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu, he believed that limited cooperation with Germany was the only means for maintaining some independence for Hungary in German-dominated Europe. When the independence of Croatia was proclaimed in Zagreb on April 10, Regent Horthy declared that, since Yugoslavia had ceased to exist, the Hungarian Army would protect the Magyar population living in territories taken from Hungary by Yugoslavia in 1918. Between April 11 and April 14, and without serious fighting, the Hungarian Army occupied part of the former Hungarian territory transferred to Yugoslavia by the Trianon Treaty.

Under Bárdossy, Hungary's international position rapidly grew worse. On April 8, 1941, Great Britain severed diplomatic relations with Hungary, since it had become a base of military operations against the Allies. Following the outbreak of the German-Russian war, Bárdossy was induced by the General Staff to declare war on Russia, on June 27, without consulting Parliament. The city of Kassa (Kosice) was bombed allegedly by Soviet planes on the preceding day, and Bárdossy considered this action a casus belli.[21] The declaration of war caused violent protests from the opposition parties. At the time, the chief of staff of the Hungarian Army, General Henry Werth, suggested that the war against Russia would be just a matter of weeks and Hungary must not be late this time. He had announced the forthcoming attack on the Soviet Union at a secret meeting of Hungarian Army corps commanders in May, 1941, and stated that Rumania and Hungary would take an active part on the side of Germany.[22]

The British declaration of war against Hungary (December 6, 1941)[23] and the severance of diplomatic relations with the United States (December 12, 1941), followed by an Axis-enforced declaration of war (not recognized by the United States), were the other important international events during Bárdossy's premiership.

Hungary's entry into war with the English-speaking powers was

not without dramatic incidents. When the American minister to Hungary, Herbert Pell, representing British interests in Hungary, handed over on November 29, 1941, the above-cited British ultimatum, Bárdossy according to his own record of the conversation replied as follows: "Your information comes as a surprise. I never believed it would go that far, nor that England could help the Soviets only by declaring war on us... There are no Hungarian forces fighting in Russia now. We have withdrawn our forces from the front. The Hungarian Government is not participating in any direct military action... Most of the Hungarians placed their faith in English fairness to judge the present situation. They will feel hurt by such a decision of the British government."

In the course of the ensuing conversation, Pell showed a most understanding attitude toward Hungary. Counselor Howard K. Travers stated that the American Legation tried every means to prevent a declaration of war by England on Hungary after the first rumors of such a decision. Minister Pell said that he considered the decision of the English government as his own defeat.[24]

After Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared in the Reichstag that a state of war existed between Germany and the United States. As a subterfuge, the Hungarian government simply stated its solidarity with the Axis and severed diplomatic relations with the United States. According to the files of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, in answer to the question of Minister Pell "Does it mean war?" Bárdossy replied with a categorical "No."

The Italian minister and the German charge d'affaires at Budapest called the next day on Bárdossy, urging the Hungarian government to declare war on the United States.[25] The Hungarian declaration of war was duly dispatched. This declaration, together with those of the other satellites, was rightly characterized later in a note of the American government delivered in Budapest by the legation of Switzerland on April 7, 1942. This note considered the satellite declarations of war as made "under duress, and... contrary to the will of the majority of the peoples of the countries in question." Similarly, President Roosevelt stated in a message to Congress on June 2, 1942, that although the governments of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania had declared war against the United States, "I realize that the three governments took this action not upon their own initiative or in response to the wishes of their own peoples but as the instruments of Hitler." However, on the recommendation of President Roosevelt, Congress declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania on June 4, 1942. The next day President Roosevelt signed the declarations of war.[26]

The state of war with the United States and Britain was considered a great misfortune in Hungary. Yet it proved to be a blessing in disguise at the armistice and peace negotiations. Without a state of war with the English-speaking powers, the affairs of the Danubian countries would have been settled exclusively by the Soviet Union, and the Hungarians would have been expelled from Czechoslovakia.

The reluctance of Hungary and the other Danubian satellites to declare war on the United States reflects the fact that the free will of small nations is very limited in a world conflagration. Bárdossy well described the tragic dilemma of Hungarian statesmen when he told Mussolini's representative in Budapest, Filippo Anfuso, that: "God confronted us with Hitler. If the Germans demand something, I always give a quarter of it. If I refused categorically, they would take everything, which would be worse."[27]

From the autumn of 1941 onward the German attitude toward Hungary stiffened. Up to that time Hungarian military help in Soviet Russia had been of token value. Time and again the Nazis pointed out to the Hungarians that the Rumanians, Slovaks, Czechs, and Croats were more cooperative toward Germany and that Hungarian unfriendliness might have unpleasant consequences. In January, 1942, Ribbentrop himself came to Hungary to convey Hitler's insistence upon a 100 percent mobilization of all Hungarian resources needed for a speedy termination of the war. He dangled the idea of territorial concessions to Hungary in Transylvania with their magnitude depending on the amount of Hungarian support. This, combined with threats, was the usual German device. Ribbentrop extolled the merits of Antonescu, the Rumanian dictator. He pointed to Rumania's complete participation in the war as a shining example for Hungary to follow.

Bárdossy, seeking to reduce to a minimum Hungarian participation in the war, refused to yield to German pressure for total mobilization. He argued with Ribbentrop that Hungary could not be expected to send all her military forces abroad, leaving her own frontiers undefended. This had been the main cause of Hungary's First World War catastrophe. Germany's interests, he said, could not be served by an unruly Hungary, in which all production would be seriously curtailed. Ribbentrop expressed regrets about this unexpected reply, intimating that it was likely to lessen Hitler's good will toward Hungary. Eventually Bárdossy agreed to Hungary's increasing participation in the war, and Hitler's next move was the dispatching of General Keitel to Budapest with a large military suite to discuss details. Even so, for the spring offensive in Russia, he could bring about the mobilization of but one-third of Hungary's military forces.[28]

Since Regent Horthy was dissatisfied with Bárdossy's policy, he had to resign in March, 1942. His successor, Miklós Kállay, sought to extricate Hungary from the German grasp. This was no easy undertaking, for the country was completely encircled by German satellites and German-occupied territory. Changes were made only gradually and with great discretion.

In the face of the growing assertiveness of Hungarian independence, the Germans stirred up interest in the formation of a Rumanian-Croat-Slovak bloc against Hungary. Hungary's relations with the two German-protected puppet states, Tiso's Slovakia and Pavelic's Croatia, were unfriendly, and relations with Rumania were even worse, having several times approached the point of a severance of diplomatic relations. Both Hungary and Rumania were manifestly preparing for a private showdown at the end of the general war, if not sooner.

As first secretary of the Hungarian Bucharest legation, in 1942 I had a special assignment regarding the affairs of the Hungarian minority in southern Transylvania.[29] Thus I witnessed the Antonescu regime apply ruthless discriminatory measures against members of the Hungarian minority group. Thousands of tragic cases accumulated in the files of our legation and consulates. Dozens of desperate people came daily to the legation. The Rumanian authorities confiscated all foodstuffs from them and they could not feed hungry children. Diplomatic protests had no results whatever. The Rumanian government on their part complained about the persecution of the Rumanians in northern Transylvania. The whole situation seemed utterly confused and hopeless.

Hitler himself envisaged a war between Hungary and Rumania but desired to postpone it. He explained his views on the matter to Mussolini, recalling how he had stated to the Rumanians and Hungarians that if, at all cost, they wanted to wage war between themselves, he would not hinder them, but they would both lose by it. However, it would be a problem if both countries now withheld petroleum for the war which they wanted to fight between themselves later. It would be the duty of the Foreign Ministers of the Axis to deal with both countries persuasively and calmly so as to prevent an open break.[30]

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