17: With General Smuts to Southeastern Europe
<< 16: Last of the Genro and the Shantung Unsettlement || 18: The Conference Runs into Heavy Weather >>
VIENNA - PRAGUE - BELGRADE - BUDAPEST
[This chapter was added to this electronic edition from Stephen Bonsal's
Pulitzer Price winning 1944 book: Unfinished Business. Bonsal was sent by Colonel
House to a fact-finding tour in central and eastern Europe between April 1 and April 10,
1919. His first hand information about the conditions in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest
during the Communist Revolution in Hungary is uniquely interesting.]
NOTE: General Smuts(1) left on his tour of southeastern
Europe on April 1st and the following excerpts are from the diary of Colonel Bonsai, who
joined him in Vienna. Generally, but not invariably, they are headed by the day of the
week and not by the day of the month. While, as will appear, Colonel Bonsal on this tour
covered a good deal of ground, he was back in Paris on the afternoon of April's 11th to
resume his duties with the Commission engaged in drafting the League and the Covenant.
March 30th, 1919
The Colonel came in this morning, quite excited. "Smuts," he announced,
"is leaving tomorrow night for a tour of investigation and, as we hope, of
pacification in southeastern Europe. With him on the mission will be a Frenchman and an
Italian, and he has asked me to let you accompany him as the American representative. He
intimates that the Frenchman and the Italian will merely serve as camouflage or window
dressing but that he wants you, whom he regards as a 'commonsense' American, to assist him
because you are perfectly familiar with conditions down there before propaganda got to
work and covered up the facts. Here," explained the Colonel, "as regards the
Covenant, things are at a standstill and will remain so for two or three weeks, and by
that time you will be back. Perhaps Smuts will not accomplish much but he will learn a lot
about the actual situation at first hand and that cannot fail to be helpful.
* * * *
From Prague to Vienna; April 3, 1919
Before we reached Vienna, Smuts sent for me. He wished to set me straight as to the
various versions of his talk with Kun which have appeared in the papers.
"Unfortunately," he explained, "his first answer to my inquiries as to the
course he meant to pursue was so offensive to our allies, the Roumanians, that I declined
to receive it. My information is that the little man is at the end of his tether and my
purpose was to facilitate his departure which cannot be long delayed. I came here with the
impression that we have neglected the many and grave problems resulting from the collapse
of the Dual Monarchy. As a result of my personal survey this impression has deepened into
a strong conviction. In my talk with him it was clear that Masaryk also was of this
opinion; he insisted that there should be no further delay in tackling problems too long
"Hearing nothing from Paris," Masaryk admitted, "I have been forced into
entering into tentative negotiations as to our boundaries with the Reich through a German
agent who is now in Prague."
After a moment's reflection, Smuts went on to say that further delay was unwise and
would prove costly. "It is absolutely necessary for the Supreme War Council to call a
subconference to deal with the problems which we have inherited upon the demise of
Austria. Where should it be convened? That also is quite a problem. If it is summoned to
meet in any of the capitals of the Succession States that would not fail to provoke
bickerings among the statesmen of the brand-new political creations. When I return to
Paris I shall insist upon such a conference being called, and in my judgment it should sit
We pulled into Vienna late in the afternoon. I separated from the mission and went to
the hotel to enjoy a rest, of which I was in great need. In the morning I learned that
Smuts had been called back to Paris; the tour to Belgrade and Bucharest had been
abandoned. Now he was to delve into the baffling Irish problem. Perhaps Dublin was to be
his next port of call and of course I immediately advised Paris of this sudden and radical
change of plan.
When, on the following day, my instructions came, detaching me from the mission and
instructing me to continue certain researches as a "lone wolf," I sought out
General Smuts, but as I did not find him I saw no reasons why I should not tell the other
members of the mission I met with that I was not returning to Paris with the general that
evening. According to Thomson, this step provoked severe criticism from at least one of my
colleagues, little Captain L'Hopital, one of Foch's socially ornamental aides, in
distinction to his fighting aides, who represented France on the mission, and who burst
out with, "I have heard of shirt-sleeve diplomacy as practiced across the Atlantic
and now I see it. This is very discourteous to our general. The American commandant should
return to Paris with General Smuts and then when released act according to his
To keep the record clear, I went after Smuts again, found him this time at the English
Mission, and explained the point of etiquette that had been raised. He roared with
laughter. "I approve of your course. I suppose I m something of a shirt-sleeve
diplomat myself. I think it would be absurd for you to go to Paris with me and then
return. Then he said something about L'Hopital which I shall not repeat; it would not
further cement the entente cordiale. "I give you my blessing and my thanks
but on one condition. I, too, wish I could remain down here longer. We are just beginning
to find things out, but the P.M. has wired me he wants me to meddle in the Irish business
and after all that is nearer home. The condition I make on releasing you is that when you
return to Paris you call on me and tell me what you have found out."
Vienna, April 4th.
There came for me today a telegram which put me back in diplomacy, even in secret
diplomacy. And yet it was not in code, but open and aboveboard for anybody to read, and it
If a complete set of Grillparzer's works, the 1872 edition, is available, secure an
option and wire me the price.
Signed: HAROLD JOHNSON
I understood now why I had been detained in Vienna and detached from the Smuts mission.
My instructions had nothing to do with the sale of the Viennese dramatic poet's works, and
if, through a leak in the telegraph office, the Graben booksellers had run up their
prices, they would have suffered a costly disappointment.
Before I left Paris, I had had a long talk with House and out of it had been arranged
the enigmatic telegram which I had drawn up and now received. For some weeks the papers
had been filled with rumors to the effect that the brand-new Austrian Republic had decided
to throw in its lot with the Reich. These telegrams came from Berne or Basle, the starting
points of so much misinformation. But, on the other hand, they might be trial balloons and
probably were. As early as mid-January Clemenceau had spoken to the Colonel as to his
anxiety on the subject, and he discussed the question again at some length with House on
the day that I left Paris to join Smuts.
"I have instructed Allizé, our man in the Austrian capital, to urge upon
Chancellor Renner not to tie up with Berlin or, rather, Weimar. Certainly not before we
take up with him the Austrian Treaty. He must remember that by the Armistice terms he is
under political duress. And in view of the leisurely way we are proceeding with the German
Treaty, the Austrian Treaty is hardly in sight. Allizé is not at all certain that his
words have sunk in and he complains that he is getting no support from his Italian
colleagues, who are so busy robbing the picture galleries that they have no time for
matters of less import. "I think it would be helpful," concluded Clemenceau,
"if you advise Renner to stand pat until he or his delegates come to Paris to discuss
House agreed. He, too, thought it more considerate to give a friendly word of caution
in advance rather than an order later on to the Austrians to withdraw from a position
which it was feared they might be induced by the many Berlin agents in Vienna to take up.
"If the President approves, I will do as you suggest," said House.
And the Grillparzer telegram showed that approval had come from Washington and I was to
make an essay in shirt-sleeve diplomacy. I sent a request to the Presidency (Presidium)
asking for an audience at eleven o'clock that morning. The answer came back promptly, and
an hour later I presented myself at the Ballplatz. Karl Renner was a plain man,
undistinguished in appearance. He had risen to his unenviable eminence in the hard way. He
had been a printer, then a subeditor, and finally, by sheer merit and persistence, had
become the editor in chief of the Arbeiter Zeitung. Unlike Bauer and several of
his more brilliant colleagues, Renner wrote but little; he contented himself with
executive supervision of the paper and in keeping his eyes on the Kassa.
I gave my message as briefly as I could. For a moment he was silent, and then he began
to speak, slowly.
"It is unfortunate," he said, "this message has reached me so late, but
I hope not too late. Botho Wedel, the German Minister, has just left me and what I told
him he is even now wiring to his government. It was that we would join with the Reich. I
was quite frank with him and I told him that we were doing it without any enthusiasm; I
made it quite plain that the lessons derived from our relations during the war were too
fresh in our memories for that. What else was I to do?" Renner inquired of me. I
could see no ausweg, no other way out. He left me an hour ago, and I told him
that I would submit his proposal to the Council in the morning and that I hoped that our
alliance would be more successful in organizing the Peace than it had been in winning the
"Of course this expression of opinion, this word of advice from the American
delegation will carry great weight with us; it will certainly reawaken the doubts that
were expressed in our last council, but what can you offer in the way of assistance? We
know that we cannot stand alone. Austria-Hungary has been dismembered, not by the Allies,
but by the action of the little nations who formed the Empire. Now, what can you offer
I told Renner frankly that I could offer him nothing, that I had complied with my
instructions and that it would be unwise for me, and anything but helpful to him, if I
exceeded them. I did suggest that it might be proper for him to recall that America had
shown great reluctance in declaring war on the Austrian Empire.
"We refrained from doing so until we were forced by the course of events. There is
a reservoir of great good will for your people in America. Practical evidence of this is
the relief program now under way, of which you spoke with so much appreciation when I
first came to Vienna. It will be continued; we will do all we can for the people who, as
we believe, without being consulted, were trapped into the war and who are now its
Poor Renner paced up and down the apartment and then with a sigh returned to the ornate
desk at which had sat Metternich and so many of his princely predecessors. Then he
straightened himself up and said resolutely:
"I do not know how we can manage it. I shall, of course, have to confer with my
colleagues, but you can tell Colonel House that somehow and in some way as yet unexplored
we shall follow his advice."
An hour later I sent my telegram: the desired edition of Grillparzer was available at a
fair price, and it meant that at least for the time being the Anschluss was
postponed. There would be no immediate action, and that indeed was all we asked for.
This was the only occasion on which I saw Renner seated at the desk where Metterich
spun his alliances or where in my own day I had so often fenced with Graf Kalnoky about
the Balkan situation or, and this was more to his liking, gossiped about the coming horse
races in the Freudenau. For reasons that I could understand, and approved of, Renner
preferred to confer with me at my hotel. The beautiful desk of Metternich I thought rather
turned up its nose at its new occupant. There were, moreover, other notable changes in the
furniture of the historic salon. The busts of Kaunitz and the other famous chancellors of
the Austro-Hungarian monarchy which had looked down upon the inquiring correspondent from
America, as recently as 1915 when I here interviewed de Burian on the prospects of war or
of peace, had been removed. And that was wise; they certainly had no place in this new
Vienna, April undated.
"Would you like to talk to Paris?" said young Captain Clapp to me the other
"I should say I would," was my answer, "but, of course, it is
impossible." (Telegrams were greatly delayed and letters rarely reached me and always
many days old. Lacking definite instructions, I was in something of a quandary.) Clapp is
a telephone expert attached to the Hoover organization and, as it turned out, something of
a miracle worker.
"Nothing is easier," explained young Clapp. "We have a perfect
connection with Paris via Cologne. I established it some ten days ago, but we have to be
very secretive about it because if it were known the authorities 'here or there might take
it into their heads to interrupt it. We are working entirely through subordinates,
telephone men like myself, and we are in agreement to send no military information."
That was not a handicap for me. I had no military information to send. Within twenty
minutes I was talking to House at the Crillon and our conversation was as clear as if I
had been talking from Versailles. This system of clandestine grapevine communication was a
great resource to me in the following days and I hope it did not prove too great a
nuisance to the Colonel.
Vienna, April 9th.
Evidently the wires are crossed between Archibald Coolidge, of the Enquiry, and the
delegation in Paris, and doubtless this is one of the reasons why I am detained here.
Coolidge says, in his indignation, that a letter to Santa Claus has a better chance of
being answered than an inquiry sent to the delegation! The Peace Commissioners come back
with the statement that if you ask Coolidge for facts to aid in an appreciation of the
actual situation, he replies with a learned disquisition on the Pragmatic Sanction. He is
a learned man, but muy pesado, as the Spaniards have it. And he is living in the
On the other hand, Professor Brown, in Budapest, is regarded as a "pink," by
some even as a Bolshevik, because he pays some attention to the Bela Kun movement in
Hungary. I have had an opportunity to read some of Brown's dispatches, and they are
excellent. The highhanded proceedings of the territorial lords and magnates share with
Moscow responsibility for the anarchy that prevails on the Hungarian plain. Most of the
agents down there, diplomatic and otherwise, are greatly handicapped by the fact that all
wire communications are interrupted. Thanks, however, to the Hoover organization and the
diplomatic as well as mechanical ability of their telephone expert, Captain Clapp, I now
talk to my colonel in the Crillon whenever I want to. It is difficult to maintain, but I
am sworn to secrecy, for if this surreptitious means of communication were even suspected,
a way undoubtedly would be found to interrupt it.
To escape the hospital smell that pervaded the Bristol, I went to the opera last
evening. I was in uniform, and when I presented myself at the ticket window they were
opposed to taking my money. "Soldiers, officials, do not pay," quavered a voice
through the little window, but I insisted. I was hardly settled in my stall and was gazing
up at the fourth or fifth gallery which was where I sat in my student days, when I was
suddenly surrounded by what seemed the whole management. There they were crowding my
neighbors, bowing and scraping.
"It was unerhört," they asserted. "I must occupy a box -
otherwise they would die of shame." To be sure, as they admitted, the imperial box
was crowded; there, where Franz Josef had so often snoozed throughout the performances,
was a badly dressed flock of civil servants of the new government and their ladies. But we
have an archducal box we would most gladly place at your disposal. "Euer Gnaden,
come! Do us this favor. No, no! Euer Gnaden! here you must not
sit." Say it they did not, but in gestures they pointed with contempt to the fairly
common herd by whom I was surrounded. But I wouldn't move. In Berlin, of course, I could
be arrogant and assertive, but not in my dear Vienna. Just because I was in uniform, a
temporary officer and a make-believe conqueror, I would not even seem to crack the whip. I
would sit with my friends, the good, the gemütliches Volk of the Kaiser-stadt.
At last the management withdrew and my neighbors beamed on me. I sat with them because in
other years I had shared their joys and some of their sorrows, too. I had lived with them
as a corps student with Bummler aufgesetzt. In 1915 I had driven many great nails
in the Wehrmann in Eisen out on the Schwarzenberg Platz in the hope that by its forbidding
mien and some mystic quality it would defend these liebe Leute from their war
allies of the north, and if I was only a Wiener Kind by adoption I was the father
of a real authentic child of the Kaiser-stadt because my second son had come to us one
happy day in the Pelikangasse.
So I sat with the dear plain people who in former years had perched up in the highest
gallery just as I did. As my thoughts were far away, in time at least, if not in space, it
is perhaps not strange that I do not remember the opera and now only twenty-four hours
later I cannot recall its name. It was, to be sure, a sad spectacle, and as the tenore
robusto tottered across the stage I noticed how shrunken were his shanks, how feeble
his voice. But truth to tell, I peopled the stage and the boxes with figures that have for
the most part vanished from the scene. There I used to see Princess Pauline graciously
giving to Count Hübner her hand to be kissed, the favorite of Metternich and perhaps the
first of the old-school diplomats who had circumnavigated the world on his grand tour.
There swaggered Count Kalnoky and here passed Taaffe with his soft, gliding step. And on
the stage I saw Cerale and Fräulein Abel pulsating with life, resplendent in beauty, and
yet now they are as dead as Maria Theresa, and Josef and Kaunitz and the King of Rome!
Vienna, always a cave of the winds, with every breeze bearing upon it a fantastic rumor
(such certainly was my experience here in my days as a correspondent), is even surpassing
itself in this respect now. I shall make a brief record of the news that reaches me from
many quarters, but I begin with one that is certainly not fantastic. Here it is in black
and white in all the official newspapers. This one explains perhaps why the authorities
are so desirous for me to live in one of the palaces and so protect it with our flag. The
"All palaces, castles, and country houses with the adjacent buildings are to be
taken possession of by the State to house the invalids, the sick, and all others who are
without shelter. The up-to-now owners must turn their property over to the State without
indemnity; the farm lands attached to these properties will be taken possession of when
they are needed. In such cases (that of the farm lands) an appropriate indemnity will be
paid. For the period of twelve months the previous occupants of these residences may
continue to live in them, but they may only occupy the space absolutely necessary to
shelter their families. From this date, none of these properties can be offered for sale
or have existing mortgages increased."
Even the Neue Freie Presse, which since the revolution has piped down and can
hardly be recognized as the organ of the bankers, is outraged by this plan, which it says
infringes upon all law and equity. "The seizure of property without indemnity,"
it writes, "destroys the fundamentals of our civilization."
A few hours after this bombshell was exploded, I came across my old friend Fuchs, long
the most active editor of the paper; he was seated on a bench out on the Ring just
opposite the Stadt-Park.
"I am writing my editorial out here," he explained, "because the office
is in turmoil and our printers have taken possession of the editorial rooms and are about
to proclaim a soviet."
The publication of these decrees, expropriating private property, seemed to indicate
that the radical wing of the Social Democrats is getting the upper hand and calls
attention to a possible development of the Austrian situation which not a few have
regarded for some weeks now as a probability. The Reds are now in control in Budapest and
in much of Russia, and they also seem to be sweeping all resistance before them in the
Ukraine that vast reservoir of men and of greatly needed food. Should the Bolsheviks join
up with the troops of Bela Kun and threaten Vienna, that would entail a campaign in
eastern Europe for which hundreds of thousands of troops would be required. Many people
are asking me what the Allies would do in these circumstances, and indeed Renner put the
question to me this afternoon, and my answer was I did not know, but hoped that they would
act intelligently. Naturally, he finds my answer unsatisfactory and unsatisfactory it is.
It is true, of course, that a few days after the Armistice Foch proposed that we send a
hundred thousand men to Moscow to "clean up," but his proposal fell on deaf
ears. No one was in favor of another campaign, everybody wanted to be demobilized and go
The papers here are filled, you might even say ablaze, today, with contradictory
reports from western Europe in regard to the proposed war indemnities. Lloyd George is
reported as saying that Germany must pay the full amount of war damage, even if it takes
fifty years to do so. Wilson is reported as not backing him up very strongly. He thinks
the Allies should be content with getting the money to replace what has been actually
destroyed, and no more - reparation payments but no indemnities. Also, under unusually
striking headlines the papers publish a report which they ascribe to Havas. This runs:
"Yesterday the budget committee of the French Chamber reached a unanimous report
on the actual financial situation and the immediate prospects, and sent it on to
Clemenceau. It reads: 'It is now clear that the financial burden of the French people will
reach twenty-two milliards of francs annually, in which sum pensions for widows, the
invalids of war, and also for civilians who have been crippled, are included. In the light
of these figures, it is an elementary and a just demand that the enemy should be made to
pay war burdens as well as damages, with priority being given to the bill for replacing
what human values have been destroyed or impaired. The sums that will be required for this
purpose should not be estimated on present capacity to pay; the future ability to pay,
after financial recuperation, should be carefully weighed.'"
These reports have created consternation and some rather unusual expressions of
sympathy for those whom the Viennese persistently call "the Germans of the
north." "From our carcase they will get nothing," said Renner to me today;
"perhaps a few feathers; and if they ask too much of Germany, they will kill the
goose that might, with coddling, be induced to lay a few, a very few, golden eggs. But the
end of Austria is in sight; the time has come to write Finis Austriae. No wrong
or insult is being spared us. The Italians are taking from our public galleries and
private collections pictures and works of art which belong to us as much as does the tower
of St. Stephen's Cathedral. The Czechs are on the march and they have reached the Danube;
some of their advanced posts are in Lower Austria; the Roumanians are devastating Hungary;
the South Slays are not lagging behind, they are within a few miles of Graz. I try to keep
an open mind on the veto of the Anschluss which you brought me, but in my heart I
feel that the Allies are acting in a very shortsighted manner. I am not blind to the
consideration that weighs heavily with them. They feel, and feel very keenly, that the
defeated Germans should not emerge from the war with an increase of territory and a
greater population. I suppose they would not deign to read German history, but if they
did, they could learn that, not so long ago, Louis Napoleon sent an ambassador to
Nikolsburg to prevent the union of the northern and southern Germans; and that this
ill-advised step led to Sedan. That they would see if they were not blind. I seem to
remember that in one of the classics it is written that those whom the gods mean to
destroy are first made mad." For the first time Renner was bitter.
These press rumors brought Botho Wedel, the German Minister, into action. He was now
back from Berlin. He sent for an editor of the Neue Freie Presse and, expressing
great indignation, asked that the following statement be printed: (This is on the
authority of Fuchs.)
"Our delegation has been invited to appear in Paris on April the 25th to receive
the Allied terms. I hope then we shall get some light on the future, but even now our
position is clear. I cannot see how anyone should be uncertain about it. In accordance
with the offer of the Allies, we accepted a preliminary peace on the basis of the Fourteen
Points. This agreement we shall carry out, although in view of our losses and the distress
prevailing among our people before and since the Armistice it will be difficult for us to
live up to a peace settlement, even on the Wilson terms. Certainly we cannot do more, and
I am conlident we shall refuse to attempt it. No honest man would sign a promise to pay
which he knows it is quite impossible for him to fulfill. We are all of one mind on this
point, the Government, the National Assembly, and Das Volk. We have a proverb which runs:
'Where nothing remains, not even the Kaiser can collect,' and that, of course, applies
to the presidents of a republic in a similar unhappy plight. Undoubtedly my people would
even prefer a continuance of the anarchic conditions with which we are confronted, than to
sign a treaty which would surely destroy Germany and make of us and our descendants
slaves. No sane man would sign his own death warrant, and anyone who thinks we shall, has
lost his sense of reality."
M. Allizé (the French agent), who is always urging, at least un-officially, the union
of Austria with Bavaria, handed in a note to Dr. Bauer, secretary of the Government for
Foreign Affairs, yesterday, in which he broached a new topic, and also revealed the
anxiety, which so many feel, that the present government here is turning very rapidly to
the Left. He said:
"France, like the other Allies, is seeking to send food here for the distressed
population; hitherto this has been scanty because with us at home very little food is
available, and the difficulties of transport are great. Now, however, as the outlook is
more promising, we have entered into negotiations with the proper authorities and are
hopeful of being able to route food trains over Switzerland."
Then he concludes with a word of warning:
"All these efforts, however, will be arrested unless we receive assurances that
law and order throughout Austria can be maintained; there must be no political
interference with the distribution of food."
A man who knows history and recalls it, as so few of us do, wrote interestingly
yesterday in the Frankfurter Zeitung about the flight of Emperor Karl:
"This is indeed poetic justice," he writes. "For hundreds of years the
House of Austria sought to destroy the independence of the Swiss Confederation and the
rights of free men. Had it succeeded, the Swiss would have become lieges of Austria and
today they could not have offered a refuge to the last of the Hapsburgs, now landless and
forlorn. Had the Swiss not driven out this family five hundred years ago, and by so doing
preserved their independence, they could not be offering, as they are doing today, safe
refuge and asylum to the last of this unhappy line. Today the Hapsburgs are flocking for
safety to their home country they sought to enslave. They come as aliens to their old
home, but, like all refugees from oppression, they are eligible to citizenship if they
demonstrate that they have the proper qualifications for this honor and are alive to the
responsibilities that go with it."
* * * *
This afternoon Dr. Lodgmann, Landes-Hauptman of German Bohemia, as rightly or wrongly
he styles himself, came in with four or five of his indignant followers. He accused
Masaryk of double-dealing, of disseminating misleading information, and indeed of many
other and even more terrible things. He is especially outraged by a report in the Viennese
papers that the new President (in Prague) proposes to give the Germans (of Bohemia)
complete autonomy. "This news comes from Berne and we do not think much of news from
Berne. Masaryk will never let us vote on the question as to whether we would like to join
up with German Austria or remain with the Czechs as a self-governing state. He is simply
trying to mislead the conference in Paris. If the powers really want peace, and I try to
think that they do, they must take into consideration our situation, and they should
remember that neither the people in Prague nor the delegates in Paris can determine our
future; that is in our hands; there is no possibility of Gemeinschaft or even
federation with the Czechs, and they are entirely responsible for this strong and
universal lack of sympathy. If they should wish to put it to the test, we do not shun an
election, but of course such an election would have to be held under non-partisan,
An hour later came a delegation of the German citizens of Reichenberg. They are greatly
excited as to the purpose of the Smuts visit to Prague. They think he wanted to urge
Masaryk to send Czech troops into Hungary, and they sought to find out what I knew on the
subject; this was easy. Officially I knew absolutely nothing; personally, I knew next to
They then placed before me a manifesto or a petition signed by five or six members of
what they call the Provisional Government of German Bohemia; among them was the name of
the famous Dr. Herold. The petition was addressed to President Wilson and read:
"Hearing through the European press that the German populations of Bohemia,
Moravia, and German Silesia are to be denied the right of self-determination, we, members
of the Peoples and of the Socialist parties, called upon to rule provisionally our
communities, draw your attention the injustice of this decision and request that our
representatives may be admitted to the Peace Conference. If it is decided to hold a
plebiscite, and that is what the ends of justice demand, we hope that you will insist that
the vote be taken under the control of the Allied and Associated Powers. In no other way
could a fair election be held. We do not hesitate to say that in case this step is not
taken, there is grave danger to the peace of Europe. Three and a half million Germans will
never submit to the alien rule that the Czechoslovaks are seeking to impose."
I accepted both of these statements(2)
and promised to send them on to Paris by a courier who was passing through Vienna on
the following day, but I urged them to also send formal copies to the secretary general of
the Peace Conference, M. Dutasta. Many here are of the opinion, and among these are the
members of our Food Administration, that Botho Wedel, the German Minister, is very active
in stirring up these complaints. It is evident, however, that there is rough going ahead
for Masaryk. How these people hate one another talk of the Kilkenny cats!
Chancellor Renner, who, owing to the illness of Dr. Bauer, is also acting as Minister
of Foreign Affairs, took me yesterday to visit the Burg, and though I suspected from the
first that behind the courteous gesture there was a plan, perhaps a deep-laid plan, I was
glad to go. I visited Francis Joseph s apartment. I saw that, as the tradition had it,
there was no water laid on. I scrutinized his Gummi portable bathtub and saw that
now it was full of holes. The starving mice that had formerly lived on the fat tidbits
that fell from the imperial table, reduced to starving rations like all living things in
the Danube capital, were gnawing on it. I sat in the window from which in 1904 I had seen
the old Emperor presenting his grandson, little Karl, to the loyal populace. The old
Emperor had smiled his empty, vacant smile and the people had shouted: "What a
magnificent Buberl he is." Now the Emperor is moldering in the vaults of the
Capuchin church and little Karl is a refugee in Switzerland. Wild-eyed people were pushing
their way through the dark and dismal corridors and the few guards in evidence did but
little to control their curiosity. And then Renner developed his plan.
"You would be more comfortable here than at the Bristol," he suggested,
"and you would be better protected. Wild people from all over the monarchy are
streaming into the starving city, and a man who is well dressed and well fed, who looks as
though he had foreign valuta in his pocket, is far from safe. But if you moved
here and raised your flag over the Burg you would be perfectly safe and you would protect
the palace from the roving bands of hoodlums who may at any moment get out of hand."
I expressed my appreciation of the invitation but declined it. It would never do for a
democrat with no heraldic quarterings to take up his abode where once the Caesars of the
Holy Roman Empire had lodged. Besides, I had no flag except the little pennant which I
flew from my car when I was fortunate enough to have one. That would look ridiculous
flying from this great edifice with its hundreds of deserted, unswept, and smelly
rooms.... Renner then very goodnaturedly dropped the subject.
As to the contacts which General Smuts may or may not have had with Herr Renner before
he returned to Paris, I have little or no information. In one of our talks Herr Renner
said: "Ich bin mit ihm nur flüchtig in beruhrung gekommen [My contact with
him was only of a superficial character]." Evidently nothing very satisfactory had
resulted from the conversations that may have taken place - which are reported at great
length in all the sensational papers.
I made a pilgrimage this morning to the imperial vaults under the Capuchin church where
all, or nearly all, the Hapsburgs, with their secrets, their sorrows, their benefactions,
and alas, as I also fear, their crimes, have been laid away. The aged monk who opened the
postern gate to my knock seemed not a little nervous at the sight of my uniform, but after
I dropped a silver coin in the little leather bag for contributions which he carried, he
lit a great beeswax candle and led me through the purple twilight of the great cellar. I
stood by the leaden coffin of Francis Joseph, whom I had seen as an act of penitence
washing the feet of the selected beggars on Maundy Thursday, years ago. I tarried for a
moment by the smaller leaden sarcophagus that contains all that was mortal of the
beautiful Empress Elizabeth she whom I had first seen in my boyhood as alone and
unattended she walked through the garden of the Hofburg. What a noble bearing she had and
what a carriage! To me she appeared as a goddess descended from on high, and in the words
of Aeneas I hailed the beautiful vision as that of a Dea certe! What a strange
life was hers and what a strange ending! Her troubled, tumultuous heart was pierced by a
stiletto in the hand of a crazy anarchist, and those who saw the weapon say that it looked
no more formidable than a hatpin and yet it sufficed. At her side rests her unfortunate
son, Rudolph, the hero, or the victim, of the mystery of Mayerling where he died. Ten
weeks after the tragic event I came from Turkey to investigate the mystery that so
intrigued the world. How Rudolph met his end I do not know, and I do not think the world
will ever know. The official stories, as well as those put out by the Empress Eugénie,
who had also lost an only son in the heyday of life, as well as the doubtless sincere
gossip of Käthi Schradt, the Emperor's dearest friend, were invented with the natural
purpose of misleading a morbid world. Someday, perhaps, I shall set forth the reasons why
I do not think the Archduke shot himself after killing his mistress. They are, I admit,
not entirely convincing. Of all the royal mysteries, that of Mayerling remains unsolved,
and is likely to remain so.
With some show of emotion the monk now led me to the little vacant space, all that now
remains unoccupied in this centuries-old Charnel house. He lifted his eyes to the roof of
the dark vault and said:
"Who will occupy?"
I had no answer; no one knows, and perhaps the leaden coffins will all disappear in the
next whirlwind of war. Even in 1917, I am told, the suggestion was made by the editor of a
fugitive Communist sheet that they be melted down into bullets to kill the oppressors who
ride roughshod over the proletarian world.
As I turned to leave, I caught sight of my old friend of the Balkan days, René Pinon,
now for many years the lynx-eyed observer of the European scene for the Revue des Deux
Mondes. He had been kneeling in prayer, and as we walked out together he brushed
the dust of the ages from his trouser knees. I think I understood his thought which,
however, he did not voice. He was a loyal and patriotic Frenchman and he was happy that
France had survived the world catastrophe that for four long years had menaced her; but he
was also a true son of the Church, and a Rightist. There was moisture in his eye as he
greeted me and surveyed the uniform I now wore as a pawn in the crusade to make the world
safe for democracy. I do not think he mourned the fall of the Hapsburg emperors, but he
did regret the disappearance of the great Catholic power which as recently as 1903 had
exercised its traditional veto and prevented Cardinal Rampolla, suspected of being tainted
by a touch of modernity, from becoming the successor to St. Peter.
I dined tonight with Admiral Höhnel; General Margutti was also his guest, but how
different were the circumstances and the temper of the party from that evening in March
1915 when they dined with me at the Bristol. Then the Russians were being driven back over
the Carpathians, according to War Office reports, and the war would be over in a few
weeks! Now the war was over, and the government that had displaced the Empire had told
them that as they had both been appointed to their respective services from Trieste, now
annexed to Italy, they had better apply to Rome for their pensions. Höhnel was living on
the sale of his stamp collection and the general, I understood, was living very much from
hand to mouth.
For seventeen years Margutti had been the personal aide and adjutant to the Emperor
Francis Joseph, and certainly no one was closer to him and deeper in his confidence than
he. Naturally in these circumstances I gave a wide berth to war topics, but Margutti not
to be denied; with him the responsibility for the war was an obsession. Every few minutes
he insisted: "I live over and over again every day those tragic hours when the
ultimatum to Belgrade was being fashioned. Even then all might have been well. The Emperor
knew that Francis Ferdinand could not have been brought to life again. That was not a
practical demand on the Serbians and he was asking himself why thousands should die to
avenge him? That was the thought of my imperial master, and I was hopeful that with a
little good will in Belgrade peace could be preserved. Then, however, almost daily the
telephone would ring and Budapest was on the wire, the Chancellery of the Minister
President, and I was told that Count Tisza had started for Vienna on a special train, that
he had matters of vital importance to lay before the Emperor-King and that I should
arrange an audience. I did arrange it in the great study, and I was present at it, as I
was expected to be, but of course, as was proper, I kept my distance. While Count Tisza
spoke in a loud voice, in a voice that was unseemly and with an emphasis that shocked me,
I could not understand, I could not gather the meaning of his words, but the import of his
coming was clear. He wanted war! In all the years I had served His Majesty no one had ever
addressed him in such outrageous tones. At times he bellowed, and the condescension of my
imperial master in trying to calm him was of but little avail. The Emperor was visibly
affected and was very upset after the Count left, but he said nothing, keeping his own
counsel and bearing his own heavy burdens - as was his custom. It was Tisza who drove us
into war," concluded Margutti. "May God forgive him I cannot!"
Truly a wonderful inside story of undoubted authenticity, and had I been in my usual
and normal role of a news correspondent a very few minutes would have elapsed before I had
placed it on the wire and what a world sensation would have resulted and from what an
unimpeachable source! But now I was dealing with the aftermath of the great catastrophe
and this, the true story though it was of its initiation and origin, could wait.
I waited, meaning perhaps only to make a verbal report upon my return to Paris, and how
fortunate it was that I did. Within a few days, under orders from Bauer and Renner,
competent historians explored the secret archives, and among the many illuminating
disclosures was one in regard to these interviews in which Count Tisza had presumed to
raise his voice. His tempestuous words had been a plea not to enter a war which was
unnecessary and one in which, in his judgment, whoever won Austria-Hungary would be the
loser. Further, a memorandum was brought to light in which Tisza had marshaled all his
very cogent arguments against the Serbian adventure. Tisza was murdered in the presence of
his wife by a group of cowardly soldiers who made him responsible for all their
sufferings. And yet in killing him they wreaked their vengeance on the man of all others
who was least responsible for the hostilities, although when the battle was engaged he,
too, fought stubbornly. The incident has given me a realizing sense of the dangers of
special cabled correspondence even when the most authentic sources are tapped. Those
(Ambassadors and Ministers and such) whose dispatches are filed away in the secret
archives have much the best of it. They do not come to light for years, and by that time
no one cares truth or fiction? "Es ist alles eins," as they say in
Today, alone, I again visited the Burg Palace. All the great figures who in their
little day had strutted across this scene, the aged Francis Joseph, the beautiful
Elizabeth, the luckless Rudolph of the Mayerling mystery, have vanished now, and the
millennial empire of the Hapsburgs lies in squalid ruins. But there was one in the hungry
crowd who recalled the well-fed days. He was tattered and torn, but from his manner it was
evident that in the happier days he had been a palace lackey and his thoughts ran to food.
"The Kaiser sat him down to lunch," he said, "and what they brought did
not appeal to his appetite. 'I crave,' he said, 'a slice of salmon.' There was a hurried
conference and then, greatly embarrassed and chagrined, the major-domo said, 'Majestät,
there is no salmon today!'
" 'Let us see your diet books, remonstrated the Kaiser. They were brought, and
then, 'I see you bought sixty kilos of salmon yesterday,' said the Kaiser. 'Is it all
gone?' 'All gone, bleated the major-domo. 'Well, for tomorrow order seventy kilos so that
the Kaiser may have a stückl - a little piece.
"Seventy kilos of salmon," the famished mob that had invaded the Burg kept
repeating as they wandered through the damp and dreary salons where in other days these
great feasts had been spread and now were spread no more.
In the following days Herr Renner called upon me several times at the Bristol. It was
evident he wished to discuss further the Anschluss, but as I had delivered my
message and had no further instructions I kept off the subject. Our purpose had been
achieved, at least for the present, and Allizé, the French agent, told me that, in high
dudgeon, the German Minister, Botho Wedel, had gone back to Berlin. The secondary purpose
of his visits was to renew his plea and to induce me to take up my residence in the
Hofburg, but I was not tempted. He evidently feared that some of the mobs and the riotous
demonstrations that emerge almost every day from the working quarters of the city would
brush aside the few police who were guarding it and set the old palace, from which the
Hapsburgs now have fled, on fire. My presence and the American flag would safeguard the
edifice, but I declined the opportunity to dwell in the abode of emperors and kings and
remained in my democratic quarters at the hotel.
But on other matters I liked to talk with Renner. He was, in my judgment, the most
intelligent of the Austrian postwar leaders. I found him surprisingly fair to his
political opponents. Like all the other actors in the tragic days, he was inclined to talk
about the lost opportunities for peace and to point out who was responsible for losing
them. Of Count Czernin's activities he took a very lenient view. It is so different from
the popular, the almost universal judgment of the "sporting" Minister of Foreign
Affairs that it seems to me worthy of record.
"Czernin went halfway toward a separate peace and then stopped midstream and all
unite in blaming him, but the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of his
predecessors where it belongs," said Renner.
"Ballplatz had excellent information about the Balkan situation but did not act
upon it. There was the report of the Markgraf Pallavicini, our Ambassador in
Constantinople in 1913.(3) This able man had spent his
whole life in the Balkans and he was as familiar with its currents and its crosscurrents
as he was with the lines in the palm of his hand. Well, months before the war came he
wrote officially to his chief that the monarchy was headed for war and if it was the
desire in Vienna to avoid it there was only one way and that was to give Russia a free
hand and to abandon the drang nach Osten. This report has since vanished from the
archives but I have talked with many, and very responsible people they are, who read it.
Curiously enough, it is also a matter of record that the report was turned over to the
Archduke Francis Ferdinand for his examination only a few days before he went
to Sarajevo and met with his tragic end...
"Now about Czernin being blamed for stopping midstream for not driving on with his
plan of a separate peace with the Western Powers, I do not think this is quite fair.
Obviously his idea was to intimidate Berlin, to make Ludendorff and those madmen see that
Austria was finished, and also that without Austria, Germany was lost. It didn't work, and
we stayed on to the end. Now let us see what would have happened had Czernin pulled out of
the war. Well, right off the Germans would have overpowered Austria before any assistance
could have reached us from the Entente. Long before the Allied armies could have put in an
appearance in Bavaria or Bohemia, as was planned, or rather hoped, we would have been snug
in the Prussian military straitjacket. As a matter of fact, throughout the war the Germans
had a large force in and around Vienna, and when they began to suspect that Czernin wanted
to quit, they moved many divisions of second-line troops into the Tyrol to prepare for all
possible contingencies. In the end Germany would have been defeated and she would have
been compelled to hoist the white flag, as she did in October 1918. The war might have
been ended perhaps a month or two sooner if Czernin had had his way, but the price?
Austria and Bohemia would have been devastated, as Belgium and northern France and Serbia
had been. Not even the Czechs would have liked that. As a matter of fact, I think Czernin
was wise to desist from his project when he did. The evil wind was sown when his
predecessors ignored the storm signals. Infelix, not Felix Austria, was to meet the
whirlwind these old men had sown, and her complete destruction was inevitable."
When he came to speak of the greatest of the lost opportunities for peace, Renner's
thoughts centered around the International Socialist Congress in July 1917, in Stockholm,
and he admitted that responsibility for failure rested squarely on the shoulders of some
of the Social Democrats.
"Czernin was not hopeful, but he helped us as much as he could and he also
persuaded Tisza to give the Hungarian delegates passports that permitted them to reach
Sweden but, alas! we came there emptyhanded. We were forced to admit that the monarchy
could not give up Trieste. Tisza said he would deserve to be shot if he gave up
Transylvania and not merely the people in power in Berlin, but the very German Socialist
delegates announced that they regarded Alsace Lorraine as a German province and that
German it must remain. Would they consent to a plebiscite? Most definitely they would not.
How wise Vandervelde was in speaking for his devastated Fatherland, when he said: 'What
chance can there be for international action to further the peace movement when the German
Socialist party remains silent in the face of the crimes of the German Army and excuses
the barbarities of submarine warfare?
"I and my colleagues went to the Congress in good faith but very soon we saw that
it was a plan to trap us all into a Hohenzollern peace. Soon I doubted even the good faith
of the Dutch Socialists who had called the Congress. They went to Berlin and conferred
there with Zimmerman too often. How Branting, an honest man and a convinced Socialist,
could ever have been induced to preside, I have no idea. Doubtless he was hoodwinked like
the rest of us."
"I gather then," I said, "that you are of the opinion that the Socialist
delegates to the International Congress for Peace were as far apart and no more open to
reason than were the militants of the predatory powers?"
"I am afraid that is so," admitted Renner sadly. An admission which I think
should be recorded for the guidance of generations to come who may in their time be
involved in the horrors of a world war.
"What do you think of Mr. Wilson's leadership in Paris?" I inquired. Renner
shook his head sadly. "I am not so sure of his leadership," he answered.
"Your President might have imposed his program on the predatory powers in 1917, but
today I doubt it.
"I see some of your papers suggest that our President wash his hands of Europe and
go home to happy America. What do you think of that suggestion?"
"I think nothing of it," replied Renner. "Wilson will not get what he
wants, the wild animals of many countries are on the rampage now, but he must stick to his
guns and make the best peace he can. If not, the law of the jungle will reign in
A report of German plotting in Belgrade forwarded by our delegation in Paris reached me
yesterday. It came without an expression of belief or skepticism, merely registering a
rumor to the effect that German agents in Yugoslavia, particularly in Croatia, are
planning to supplant the pro-ally, Regent Alexander, by his elder brother, Prince George.
For some months now, as was well known, George had been under restraint, practically under
arrest, in a country house near Nish.
Apparently the young man(4) is quite mad and after he
had, in an outburst of passion, murdered one of his aides, he was placed in the safe
seclusion out of which it is feared that the Germans are trying to entice him for some
I did not have much confidence in the yarn and yet as the Germans were very active in
making trouble in Vienna, they might well be doing their stuff in the White City on the
Save also. While I was deliberating what to do, "Jimmy" Logan, formerly of the
Army and now in charge of the Food Administration in southeastern Europe, came in. He was
leaving for Serbia in the morning with a train laden with supplies and medical stores for
the typhus-stricken Serbs. Would I go with him? And I accepted even before he told me that
he would have a private car and the right of way. I concluded it would be interesting,
though depressing, to see Belgrade again, although now in ruins, and I would have an
opportunity to smoke out the Prince George story. In any event, I would escape the
importunities of the new government and the great lords who, almost on bended knees, were
beseeching me to take up residence in their palaces and hoist over them our protective
Certainly we traveled in luxury and comfort that far surpassed anything that had been
provided for the mission of the Right Honorable Lieutenant General Jan Christiaan Smuts,
and now there were only two of us to loll about in the private car. It was decorated with
the Hapsburg arms and other reminders of the great tribe that had ruled for so many
centuries over what had been until quite recently Felix Austria. And on the panels there
were several reproductions of the famous Ville d'Este near Rome.
"I forgot to tell you," explained Logan, "this is, or rather was, the
private car of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who in some way was descended from Beatrice
d'Este, or Isabella, her also famous sister. In that historic villa near Rome he spent his
honeymoon,. and it was in this car that with his lady he traveled to the shambles at
Sarajevo. In our little sitting room their coffins were placed side by side on trestles on
the journey that brought them back to Vienna. The Austrian railway people think the car is
haunted, or at least unlucky, and they were very glad to turn it over to the Food
Administration. We find it most useful in transporting medical supplies and the less bulky
foods to where they are needed. Odd, isn't it? The car that carried that unlucky pair to
their death, to where the avalanche of war and all its attending horrors started, helps us
to alleviate some of the suffering and the epidemics that have followed in its train.
Poetic justice, don't you think so?"
We traveled all day through a beautiful country, very different from the monotonous, if
fertile, plains of Hungary over which I had traveled so often before on my journeys to
Serbia and to Turkey beyond. With Bela Kun and his Communist cohorts controlling Budapest,
the Magyar capital is boycotted by all the railways and there is some justification for
this attitude. Logan tells me that the Smuts train is the only one that put into Budapest
during the last two months and escaped confiscation at the hands of the Soviet!
The country we traveled through was not only new to me, it was most attractive. It
looked like western Maryland and the upper reaches of the Potomac. For a moment we stopped
at Zagreb, better known to me as Agram, and then we ran along the beautiful Save River,
dotted with its crenellated castles, now for the most part deserted, and many of them in
* * * *
I confess I did not greatly enjoy the unusual luxury of the Imperial-Royal train.
Inured as I am to scenes of massacre and mass murder, the present atmosphere redolent of
this personal tragedy depressed me. Often during the night I heard the last words of the
dying arch-duke, who did not know the fate that had also befallen his wife, '"Sophie!
Sophie! Watch over the Kinder." Unmoved I had walked over the battlefields
of Verdun with its half million dead, many unburied with still protruding, beseeching
arms, and with but a passing shudder I had seen the bodies of hundreds of the
"hot-country men" who had, at the field of La Victoria in Venezuela, been cut to
pieces by the cutlasses of Castro's Andinos. These things were horrible and, as I think,
disgraceful to our civilization, but they were too horrible to grasp. On the other hand,
it will be long before I shall forget the face of the little quartermaster captain who was
mashed flat as a pancake on the Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle in Paris twenty feet from
where I stood, by the overturning of a lumber truck. And there another dead soldier who
travels with me, whose face I shall long see, although years have passed and millions have
died, many of whom I have known and not a few of whom I knew intimately. It was on the
East Front in March 1915. We were halted by a patrol outside of Memel where the street
fighting between the Russians and the advancing Germans continued. Orders came from the
High Command we were not to go down into the city where fighting continued, and in
below-zero weather we stood until midnight on the brow of a hill where a few hours before
a Russian battery had been stormed with heavy losses by a Landwehr battalion. We left our
cars and ran up and down to keep from freezing, but gradually fatigue and the cold were
bearing us down. The wind from the Baltic increased in intensity, and it seemed as if we
would be frozen to death, and indeed some of us rather welcomed this escape from
suffering. Then someone had a bright, if ghoulish, idea. All around the battery lay the
frozen, stiff corpses of the men who, pulsating with life and vigor, had stormed it but a
few hours before. Our chauffeurs picked up the dead and piled them together into a
stockade and physically, at least, for the rest of the night we were protected from the
icy blast, but one, a middle-aged sergeant with a great black beard, faced the corner into
which I crawled. He greatly resembled the crude picture of Stonewall Jackson that presided
over my nursery in the days when I first began to listen to war tales. The dead sergeant
and I, alive perhaps because of the protection which his sturdy body afforded, lay side by
side throughout that long night, and so a personal contact was established which still
persists and so it will be, I fear, with my trip in the car which carried the archducal
pair to the romantic honeymoon in Italy and to their death in Sarajevo. Of course I can do
nothing about it and I should try to forget them, but still I know that for a long time I
shall hear those piteous words of entreaty: "Sophie! Sophie! Watch over the Kinder."
* * * *
Belgrade, in early April.
I wandered up the hillside through the ruins of the White City with whose broad avenues
and byways I had been familiar not so long ago. All man's work has been destroyed by man's
diabolical inventions. Only the Danube and the Save majestically flow on to their union
under the old Turkish citadel, and so I know I am in Belgrade, or what is left of it.
At times there was such an uproar I thought that once again the capital of the Serbs
was under fire, but that was not the case. Gangs of soldiers and civilians, urged on by
the loud cries of officers and foremen, were clearing away the ruins that tell the sad
story of the Austrian bombardment with which the holocaust of disaster began. Rapid-fire
explosions rent the air, and now and again the wreckers brought to view the body of a man
or a woman who had not lived to see this day of liberation. Generally the corpses were
exceedingly lifelike and some had homely utensils in their hands, showing that they were
going about their daily round of duties when death came down out of the clouds, or from
the ironclad monitors on the river. Entombed as they have been for four years in piles of
brick and timber, these first victims of the war have been protected from the scavengers
of the air who now, however, circle menacingly over the scene of desolation. As I climbed
in and out of the ruins I heard scraps of every language known to man, and many of the
speakers have come from faraway lands and over distant seas. I spotted two Filipinos and
tackled them in scraps of Tagalog, but they shook their heads.
"Me Visayan," said one, and then they explained in scrappy Spanish that early
in the war they had enlisted on an English ship as stewards and now were serving with the
Danube patrol. At last I escaped the labyrinth of wreckage and before me waved invitingly
the Stars and Stripes over a building still intact that was once the Turkish Legation. I
hastened on to greet one of our most competent representatives, H. Percival Dodge,(5) a career man upon whom I had dropped in at many faraway
posts, in China, in Morocco, in Panama, and in Paris.
On the steps of the Legation I was delayed by an arresting figure, and soon I was in
conversation with perhaps the only happy and contented man I have come up with in all the
acrimonious days which have followed upon the Armistice. He was talking with the
French-speaking butler, and not making much headway, but at sight of my uniform he turned
to me with evident relief.
"I am Mikel Tusla," he said, "an American citizen," and he glowed
with pride. His nakedness was covered with a scanty assortment of rags. He wore a fur cap
from which the fur was gone and only the skin remained. His face was grimy and his feet
were wrapped in rags. As we talked, a gentle rain began to fall and washed little canyons
down his mud-caked face.
"I'm Mikel Tusla, an American citizen," he repeated, "but when I heard
Mother Serbia was invaded, I came back home; and could I do otherwise? My brother had been
killed and the little house on the hillside where I was born had gone up in flames! God!
even in the days of the Turks our home had been spared. For four years I have fought with
the Smedalia brigade and now that we have victory and peace, I want to go back to my Iowa
farm - but there is difficulty."
I sat down on the doorstep and talked for some minutes with this happy man, without a
shirt and without shoes, but who had an expression of contentment in his eyes to which I
had long been a stranger. Then the Minister (H. Percival Dodge.) appeared and proudly I
introduced our fellow citizen.
"You should - and you shall have - a decoration," said the Minister.
"Only last week the Prince Regent told me that all the boys who came back across the
sea to fight for the homeland would be remembered."
This talk about a decoration failed to interest Mikel.
"I only want a little writing on my passport, to say it is good; you see, it was
only good for two years, but it was not my fault that it took us four years to lick the
'Swabs.' Now that all is well in Serbia, I want to go home to my farm in Iowa and to my
The Minister, after examining his army papers, wrote on that passport a citation that
would make the heart of any soldier swell with pride.
Then Mikel turned to me.
"Would you mind if I touched your uniform? Someday my son will wear it."
"I shall be proud," I answered. And he laid his grimy hand on my insignia
with something that was very like a caress.
"You must come to see me tomorrow, or any day, any hour, if there is any further
difficulty," said the Minister.
"With that writing on my pass, there will be no difficulty," said Mikel
Tusla. And he turned and went down the hill through the smoking ruins, the only happy,
contented man I had met in months, and he was without a shirt or shoes.
"The melting pot," said the Minister, "and glory be to it."
* * * *
I confess the atmosphere of the at once honeymoon chariot and funeral car on which I
came to the smoking ruins of the Serbian capital had depressed me, and I planned to make
the return journey by ordinary conveyance, but when after two days in the mourning city
Logan agreed to hold his car for me at least twelve hours I succumbed to the comforts, the
creature comforts, which it afforded. If there are ghosts in this world they certainly
must have infested that tragic Pullman. But of course there are none, simply devils and
demons of flesh and blood, extremely like ourselves. We made a quick journey back to what
had been the Kaiserstadt without any noteworthy experience except one just as we were
running into the station. Hearing Logan and myself discussing once again the ill-fated
couple, the porter said: "I want to show you something." We followed him, and in
my sleeping compartment he pointed out, scratched on one of the panels, "Sophie and
Franzl," but he was not a sensationalist. He admitted that he did nor know whether
the names dated from the honeymoon journey, when the honeymooners might have written them,
as so many democratic trippers do on similar occasions, or whether it had been scratched
there by some railway servant with a romantic leaning toward the vanished regime.
April, Vienna, Monday.
I am back from a brief dip in the troubled waters of the Balkans, for so many years my
familiar swimming hole, where, surprisingly enough, I did not hear a hostile shot. In this
respect it was a record-breaking journey. Down there, with stoical determination, all the
peoples are digging themselves out of the wreckage that four years of war have wrought,
and now back in peace-loving and traditionally frivolous Vienna I find myself involved in
riots and in mass killings so surprising that at times I am inclined to disbelieve the
evidence of my own eyes. I came back on the morning of what they call in Germany, and
here, Gründonnerstag, our Maundy Thursday, a day of penitence and sorrow, on
which it is traditional throughout Christendom for those who can to share at least a crust
with the disinherited and the needy.
Leaving my bags at the hotel and feeling stuffy from the long railway journey, I
immediately started out for a walk on the Ringstrasse. I noticed a greater number of
police than was usual, and that most of them were mounted. Here and there I also caught
sight of small detachments of troops half hidden away in the courtyards of the great
apartment houses on the Ring between the Opera and the Parliament building. The fact is,
however, that I paid little attention to the actual scene; I was living over again in
memory what had happened on Maundy Thursday more than twenty years ago. On that day,
through the courtesy of Count Taaffe, the Prime Minister, I had been invited to the Burg
and had witnessed the medieval ceremony which then survived in the Holy Roman Empire as
perhaps nowhere else. There in the great hall of the Hapsburg Burg, surrounded by the
gorgeously attired dignitaries of the realm, the Emperor Francis Joseph, with a silver
ewer in his hand, knelt down before a row of some twenty care fully selected beggars, and
with perfumed water washed their poor, misshapen feet. Before the curious and the
interlopers from distant lands arrived, the great Salle was already crowded with the
mighty ones of the earth and the high dignitaries of the realm who had assembled to see
the Emperor "with the pride that apes humility" perform this penitential act.
In appearance and garb, at least, the most striking were the Knights of St. John, the
traditional defenders of the Holy Sepulcher, at this time, alas! still in the unholy
keeping of the Turks. Two of them very graciously led us to a raised gallery from which we
could in comfort survey the scene. They were gorgeously appareled in white satin robes
with the Maltese cross of the Crusaders embroidered on their breasts and armlets. They had
escort and other duties to perform and were constantly hurrying hither and thither, but
the great dignitaries stood stock-still, waited and yawned. Among them were the men of the
high army and navy command, the members of the General Staff with their haughty plumed
hats, and not a few of the great magnates from Hungary, their tunics encrusted with medals
and their shoulders covered with leopard skins. Among them also were the great territorial
lords of the Empire, the Schwarzenbergs, the Liechtensteins, the Kinskys, the
Trautsmansdorffs and scores more whose possessions are now scattered to the four winds, as
are the dust and ashes of those of their caste who perhaps had the good fortune to fall in
the battles on the Carpathian Mountains.
Suddenly the beggars, politely called pensioners, appeared - twelve men and twelve
women; some were so feeble that they had to be supported by halberdiers and court
servants. They were hardly in their places before the Emperor came in, and he was flanked
by the cardinal archbishop of the apostolic city and the papal nuncio, the famous
From now on the Church was in control of the ceremonial proceedings and it was the
cardinal archbishop who gave the Emperor his cue. Reading from the Gospel of St. John, he
announced: "Posuit vestimenta sua [He laid aside His garments] ," and
the Emperor obediently entrusted his sword and his hat to an adjutant. Then the Cardinal
read "et coepit lavare pedes Discipulorum [and He began to wash the feet of
the Disciples] ." A servant now appeared with a silver ewer and preceded by a court
chaplain who sprinkled the protruding feet of the pensioners with what was evidently
perfumed or aromatic water, the Emperor began his task. Half kneeling before each of his
humble guests, the lord of many lands wiped the moisture away from the now obviously
shrinking feet. Then he gave them new socks and stout shoes. He led them to a great table,
groaning under a weight of meat and drink, and, for the first course of this banquet, the
Emperor-King served them with his own hands. The Emperor did not seem to enjoy the unusual
experience, but he went through with it doggedly, with the determination with which he
complied with all the requirements of his profession. The Emperor even tasted the soup and
told one of the lackeys to put in several more pinches of salt, which he did. I do not
think the pensioners enjoyed the repast. They ate sparingly and looked about with curious
eyes. Then they were told that receptacles would be given them to carry away the rich food
to humbler surroundings where they could eat more at their ease and this pleased them. So
their eyes wandered over the scene which was, I have no doubt, as strange to them as it
was to me. So, following their roving eyes, I also looked about me.
...But evidently I am a poor substitute for Froissart. I cannot recall whether the
beautiful Empress was there. Had she been there, the memory of her grace would doubtless
have remained with me throughout the drab years that have followed. But I am almost
certain she was not present; doubtless she was breaking in the wild horses of the
Hungarian Pusztas down at Gödöllö, and probably the carefully selected old ladies in
their prim hats and gray smocks, now brought in, had their feet washed and were otherwise
comforted by her ladies in waiting in a side apartment, to which we, the curious
spectators, were not admitted. But, certainly, few other members of the Hapsburg family
were absent. There was the sturdy Karl Ludwig, fat and rosy, although he is surviving his
fourth marriage. By his side stood his eldest son, Francis Ferdinand, whose death at
Sarajevo set the world ablaze and started the holocaust of disaster. Also, there were two
little boys in sailor suits, the sons of the Archduke Otto, who was not present. He never
attended Church festivities if he could help it, and on this day he could not have been
present even had he wanted to; it was an open secret that because of a certain
indiscretion the handsome Otto was being detained under arrest in a Tyrolean castle at
least for the duration of his uncle s displeasure.
The elder of the little boys was Karl, who succeeded to his great uncle's tottering
throne in 1916. He could not cope with the difficulties that confronted him, and he is now
in Switzerland in none-too-affluent exile. And there was little Elizabeth, a scrawny elf
with a wizened but shrewd, uncanny face. She is the only child of the luckless Crown
Prince Rudolph, who died so mysteriously at Mayerling, and the Princess Stephanie, who,
plump and plain, survives her unhappy marriage, but, no favorite at Court, she is not
present today. The Viennese of both high and low degree blame her for not holding her
"man," or if she could not do that, for not having overlooked his gallantries.
She is particularly criticized for the gala Court carriage she on a memorable occasion
maliciously stationed outside the apartment of the soubrette Rudolph was visiting; that
was a thing that had never been done in Court circles before - at least not since the days
of Maria Theresa, who, after all, was a warm-blooded woman as well as a fighting empress,
and who tried to rule her flighty Franz with an iron hand.
...Now came the last of the scriptural scenes. Preceded by a noble boy carrying heavy
purses in a great basket, the old Emperor, with somewhat unsteady step, climbed upon the
estrade where the Court pensioners sat, exalted. Around the neck of each of them he placed
the corded noose of a purse, which doubtless contained the traditional forty pieces of
silver. The eyes of the pensioners were wide open now.
Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the pageant came to an end. Preceded by the noble
boys, the nuncio and the archbishop, the Emperor vanished behind an arras, and the
assemblage disbanded. We went down the corridor and the gala steps out into the
Schweizerhof. It was crowded with Court carriages and lackeys in gorgeous liveries. I
recall helping a charming French lady into her carriage and also what she said, with a
touch of cynicism, which, had it been overheard, in those days would have been regarded as
"C' est jouer la comédie - mais au moins, la pičce est fort belle." To
me it certainly seemed a strange pageant, a relic from the medieval world, which probably
nowhere else survived...
What a contrast is the scene with which I find myself confronted today. There are no
gala carriages and no bemedaled courtiers to be seen. The Ring smells of the accumulation
of garbage. Here and there a shabby taxi raffles by. Here and there along the broken
railings of the Volksgarten there slinks an invalid soldier of the Hoch und
Deutschmeister, once the darling regiment of the Viennese, the pride of the Imperial City.
How gaily they sang as I saw them sally out to war in 1915:
"Ach du mein Östereich!
Du bist em schones Land."
Today they sang no more. Many had empty sleeves, all were pale of face, many seemed to
be starving; some were asking for alms from those who had nothing to give, or pleading to
be taken to the reconstruction hospitals, which were already overcrowded. And yet perhaps
these were the lucky ones in contrast to their comrades I had seen in 1916, dying like
flies in the prison camp at Khabarovsk on the Amoor in faraway Siberia. Lucky they
doubtless were, but certainly they did not seem to know it.
...Deep in this reminiscent mood it was natural that my thought should travel back to
the last time I saw the mighty ruler of this long-lived, millennial empire, whose ruins
lay strewn before me. It was in February 1915, but what I saw then is as plainly etched in
my mind s eye as though it had happened but yesterday. Francis Joseph was coming down the
Mariahilferstrasse on one of his last visits to his post of duty in the Burg. Perhaps it
was his very last as a few months later an attack of gentle pneumonia, that blessing to
octogenarians, eased his departure from a world where he certainly could not have had any
desire to linger. As I saw him for the last time he did not ride in a gilded Court
carriage nor was he surrounded by the pomp and panoply of the Imperial Guard. Indeed he
sat in his private zwei-spanner only to be distinguished from the public vehicles
of that category by the fire and the beauty of the blooded horses that drew it.
The mighty Emperor whose empire was crashing about him was on his way to the Burg, to
hold a war council, to hear the dark news that was coming in from so many fronts. By his
side sat Count Paar or General Margutti, which of his personal adjutants it was I could
not tell, so swiftly they passed me. On the box sat a "Jaeger." The great man
was late, and the horses were being pushed. Persuaded, perhaps, that this was an historic
moment, I stood still on the curb, almost spellbound, and my coat was flecked with the
foam from the snorting onrushing horses. The strange old man was greatly changed. He
seemed to me quite ripe for the end that awaits monarch as well as serf. His
expressionless eyes were glazed and from one corner of his mouth there hung unlit the
inevitable Virginier cigar, a libel on the noble state where really sweet tobacco
is grown (only second to our Maryland crop), that the Austrian tobacco monopoly had
proclaimed to the world, unashamed, for so many generations. Had the Emperor not said:
"It would seem no misfortune is spared me"? But he was wrong. He, at least, was
to die in his bed and still an emperor, while Kaiser Bill skulks, a refugee in Holland,
and little Nicholas, but yesterday the autocrat of all the Russias, trapped in an
Ekaterinburg cellar with all his nearest and dearest, has been butchered to make a
Perhaps beyond the Styx, but never again in this world - this vale of tears, at least
in part of their making - will the mighty men meet to reshape their dominions. Never again
will the cloth of gold be spread for their Imperial Majesties on the dreary Polish plain
of Skerniwicze. Never again in "shining armor" will they strut about on that
lonely island in the fogbound Baltic, remaking maps of their world and redressing balances
of powers. Indeed they will not ever again hobnob, and drink the waters at Tyrolean Ischl,
which they were told, at least by the Court physicians, could not fail to have a
rejuvenating effect on their senile bodies.
Now the old empires are being partitioned, and the new boundaries are about to be drawn
by those who were for so long the underdogs. A herculean task it will prove to be, but one
consoling thought suggests itself - they cannot possibly make a worse mess of it than did
those who claimed to rule by Divine right. And at least Crown Prince Rudolph presents no
problem except to the writers of mystery stories who have such unrestrained license in
dealing with historic facts. About the mystery of Mayerling, as it is called, best sellers
have been written in many tongues, but little light emerges. Unlike most of these
brilliant fictionists, I did investigate the mystery. I did bring to light at least two
long-veiled facts, but unfortunately they proved contradictory, and so while the
unfortunate young man who was the heir to the apostolic throne has long crumbled into
dust, the mystery, the deepest of the many in his line, survives and will doubtless always
re main unsolved.
If I had a reputation to lose, say, as a transatlantic Sherlock Holmes, I could advance
the plea that when my services were called in it was a cold trail, indeed it was three
months old. I was in Constantinople when the news of the sudden death of Rudolph shocked
Europe, and in a few hours the many versions of how it had happened set many tongues
wagging. A few hours later I received a wire from the Commodore(6)
ordering me to Vienna and urging me to elucidate the mystery. Nothing could have been more
unwelcome to me. Owing to one or two minor achievements during my first sojourn in the
waltz capital, my chief had a wholly exaggerated notion as to the sources of in-formation
I enjoyed there, and now I was sure that this myth would be exploded. A few hours later,
however, another wire came, which was most welcome. "Have made other arrangements in
Vienna. Stay with the Armenians."
Three months later the myth came to dangerous life again. I was called to Paris to
confer on the tangled Macedonian situation but also instructed by the Commodore to stop
off for a week in Vienna and "clear up" what was still known throughout the
world as the Mayerling mystery. Neither the unfortunate man who had substituted for me nor
any of his competitors had accomplished this and so I was put on the cold trail and told
to go to it.
The discoveries I made, particularly the unmarked grave in the Heiligenkreuz,
"peace Acre," cast doubt upon many of the popularly accepted solutions. It
certainly was dug within a few hours of the tragedy but unhappily it did leave my own
theory in the "not-proven" class. I was, as so often before, mulling over the
inconclusive end of my researches when suddenly I was recalled from my Rip Van Winkle
dreams of court splendors and unsolved mysteries to the ugly present by musketry fire. I
heard the raffle of sabers being drawn from scabbards and the cobbles in the driveway of
the Ring rang with the approach of mounted men and the sharp orders that brought the
slouching troops out of the courtyards and to attention fell on my ear. Fully aroused now
and looking about me, I saw a disorderly mob of men, women, and barefooted children
marching down the Mariahilferstrasse and I also saw that the police were drawing a cordon
across the street which leads from the industrial quarters, with the evident purpose of
preventing them from reaching the Parliament building a few hundred yards farther along.
As they drew nearer I could see how miserably clad they were and I could hear their cries:
"We are starving! Give us bread and jackets! Es Friert uns! Wir verhungern!
We are famished and we freeze."
In all the uproar and the confusion that followed, in which so unexpectedly I was
involved, I cannot say that I have a very clear idea of how the battle began. Suddenly,
however, shots rang out, followed by volleys, and these were certainly not warning shots.
Some of the police fell and many of the horses. There ensued a regular fusillade and
peering from behind the newspaper kiosk where I had sought refuge, I could see that many
of the starving workers had fallen and riderless horses were prancing over their bodies.
Some of the workers were running away but other more resolute groups were pushing on. The
troops now entered the melee, in support of the police, and soon the Ring was cleared of
the living. Here and there lay groups of dead and tangled masses of the writhing wounded
which showed how deadly the firing had been while it lasted.
When the shots became desultory and finally died away, or almost, I saw a sight which
gave me full realization of the dangers starving people will face under the compelling
urge of hunger. Men, and women, too, now crept out from their refuges in the adjacent
buildings and though frequently fired upon could not be kept from hacking with their dull
knives at the bodies of the horses that had fallen and then making off with hunks of
When the last of the rioters had disappeared and ambulances for the police, at least,
arrived on the scene, I emerged from my makeshift bombproof which had served its unusual
purpose and did what I could for the wounded. Many indeed were past helping. Among these
was a handsome Englishwoman who had been shot through the heart and had died instantly. It
developed from her papers that she was a Mrs. Thompson, a casual passer-by, as was I, the
wife of a distinguished engineer who had come to Vienna on the invitation of the new
government to advise them on the water-power projects that are being planned to give
employment and bread to the thousands who are literally starving. After what I had seen of
the reckless courage of the rioters who were risking their lives for a chunk of horse
meat, there could be no doubt that the need is appalling and that our Food Administration
is getting to work none too soon.
Contrary to the expectations of many friends, I am back safe and sound from my sojourn
of three days in Budapest under the Red Star, the hammer and sickle - the advance post of
Bolshevism in Europe. None of the difficulties that had been expected materialized.
Everything passed off so smoothly that I have an uneasy feeling that perhaps my journey
was not clandestine after all and that the new authorities not only acquiesced in my
venture but connived at it! The only unpleasant incident took place on the return journey
at the new Austrian frontier about an hour out from Vienna, measured by the slow-moving
and lice-infested train; here I was held up and accused of being an emissary of the Reds,
who had come to corrupt the Austrians and turn them from their apostolic faith. I should
say in explanation that the frontier guards I here encountered were drunk and later a very
plausible explanation of their condition was forth coming. It seems that the regular
supplies of beer had given out and the customs men had fallen back on the local Branntwein,
which is, I should say, corn liquor in its most deadly form. However, I was permitted to
telephone to Renner's office in Vienna and the liberating word came almost immediately.
The offending inspector collapsed, whether from the corn liquor or the rebuke he received
I cannot say, and I resumed my journey in a roomy but by-no-means-clean cattle car.
Colonel House had insisted on my running down to the Hungarian capital for a
"look-see," however brief. He was inclined to class the reports that he had
received from the representative of the Enquiry there with those that came from the
scholarly observer(7) of this organization in Vienna whose
interminable dispatches dealt almost exclusively with the history of the pragmatic
sanction; however, in this, for once, the Colonel was mistaken. The reports of Philip
Marshall Brown,(8) were very clear, extremely fair, and
always illuminating. I was sorry that he was away during my short stay in his bailiwick.
"But I want another point of view," insisted the Colonel over the telephone.
"You need only stay down there a couple of days. You know Budapest from former visits
and perhaps you will meet with people who, having confidence in your discretion, will tell
Well, the only difficulties I met with were in starting. In what guise or, rather, in
what disguise, should I go? If I went in uniform, that would be some sort of recognition
of the Red regime, and I was not authorized to take that step; if I went in civilian garb,
and was apprehended, might be regarded as a spy and dealt with as such. I finally decided
on this risk, and even left behind me the diplomatic passport with which I had been
provided when starting on the Smuts mission. I decided to go in the familiar role of a
newspaper correspondent and in the civilian clothes which Gregory of the Food
Administration kindly furnished. I had no identification papers with me, and fortunately
no one asked me for any. Once in Pest, in my best Hungarian, I told the shabby cabdriver
at the station to take me to the Hotel Hungaria, my favorite refuge during the days of my
Balkan adventures. He seemed surprised, but took me there, and on my arrival I found that
the famous hostelry had been converted into government offices and there where the gypsy
orchestra had played "To the Ear" - wild, fantastic music - the air was filled
with the click of typewriters. He then took me to the Carlton-Astoria, I think it was
called, and there I received a cordial welcome and registered as a journalist with
residence in New York. This resulted in an unexpected complication. The clerk told me that
all journalists received a reduction of 25 per cent on their bills. What should I do in
all honesty about that? Fortunately, in the lobby there was a box in which all were
invited to place contributions for invalided soldiers, and in this box I later deposited
the amount of the professional reduction to which, for the moment, I was not entitled.
It was a greatly changed Budapest in which I now wandered about. The people were quiet
but obviously extremely nervous as to the things that were about to happen. As I walked
along Andrassy Street, a window fell and all within hearing ran like mad - they evidently
apprehended bombs. While the situation was outwardly calm, most people seemed to think
that they were merely experiencing the lull that precedes the storm. Three weeks before
all the banks had been looted and all the stores sacked. At the moment of my arrival there
was nothing left to steal. Kun ordered the "Lenin boys," for the most part
released convicts, to the citizen army, urging them to face the invading Czechs on the
north and the Roumanians advancing from the south. It was then they showed their true
and their teeth. Not a few of the officers who brought them these unwelcome orders were
killed, and in and out of uniform the "boys" continued their depredations.
Since March 21st, when the Károlyi government fell (or rather evaporated), all the
factories were taken over by the "State" and then perforce closed down because
the only people who knew how to run them had, not unwisely, taken to their heels. In the
first three weeks of the Soviet rule the Lenin boys probably murdered a thousand people -
thrifty citizens who foolishly sought to retain the little money they had and the stores
of food they had hidden away. Of course in a situation like this it is very difficult to
control the figures of what were euphemistically called "casualties," but I
believe the above figure is a very liberal underestimate. Kun tried to get these bandits
to march against the invaders but with few exceptions, and indeed none among the cityfolk;
they had no stomach for fighting. Loot! loot! and ever more loot was their dream - now
about to be realized, they hoped.
While I do not claim to have enjoyed anything more than a superficial view of the
situation, I do think that but for what is termed his "agricultural policy" Kun
might have lasted a little longer.(9) It is quite true
that, first off, the peasants of the Pusztas, or at least a goodly number of them, were
enthusiastic at the thought of becoming small landowners, but when the commissars arrived
they learned that the redistribution of the large estates did not work out as they had
thought it would. It is true that the old territorial lords were displaced and that some
of them who lingered around, most unwisely, were murdered by the Lenin boys who
accompanied the commissars. But when it turned out that the old estates were to be
converted simply into collective farms and that the profits resulting from their labors
were to be pocketed by the State, following the bad example that had been given them a few
days before, the peasants killed quite a number of the newly arrived commissars, and those
who could were glad to return to Budapest and to the protection of the large force of Red
soldiers that the little dictator had now assembled there.
As far as I can make out this is the immediate background of the present very insistent
Magyar problem. Nearly a month ago the Károlyi government collapsed under the weight of
its stupidity. Apparently it was neither Tory nor Red, neither fish nor fowl nor even good
red herring. Anarchy was spreading through the land, and at this juncture Bela Kun, the
shrewd little Polish Jew who for some time, as an agent of Lenin, had been engaged in
subterranean work in Hungary, entered the government and in a very few days took control
of it. It is only fair to state that Kun was perfectly frank as to his intentions: he
almost immediately proclaimed the right of the industrial workers to rule the factories in
which they had slaved for so long; also the right of the peasants to the lands on which
they and their forebears had been held as serfs for generations. His foreign policy was
equally clear. In alliance with Moscow, and as its spearhead, he would overrun all the
bourgeois countries who did not frankly accept the New Gospel and bring them to heel. In
the first flush it cannot be denied that his program was warmly received in many quarters,
particularly by the peasants who shouted innumerable "Eljens ," for
Moscow and for Kun. I am told, however, by some, that many of the peasants thought that
these alien catchwords were the names of fast-running horses!
Before leaving Vienna on the Hungarian venture I had talked with my old friend,
Rittmeister Pronay, and he had offered to be helpful and also discreet. In happier days I
had known him as the commander of a squadron of that crack regiment, the Radetzky Hussars,
that witched the Prater and all Vienna with its horsemanship. Now poor Pronay was a war
invalid and his outlook dark indeed. Even before the coming of the catastrophe he had lost
his estates at cards, I think. Invalids were not wanted in Hungary any more than anywhere
else, and Renner, out of charity, was keeping him employed on a mere pittance in drawing
up a record of the casualties of the Great War, the listen of those who had died,
and those who had disappeared, and those who were still marooned in the Siberian prison
"We have reached March 1918," said Pronay. "We move slowly, I and my
comrades, but slow as we move someday we will reach Armistice Day, and then we, too, shall
be on the bread line."
Pronay had wanted to give me letters to some of his loyalist friends in Pest, but I had
declined, believing that they would prove as embarrassing to them as to me. However, in
some way that I did not seek to discover he had advised many of them of my coming, and as
a result clandestine communications reached me from time to time in my room, and also were
often discreetly slipped to me at the cafés and restaurants which I frequented. They were
generally typed on a machine of ancient make and were always marked "P" to
authenticate their source. I must say that the information that reached me in this way was
not always convincing. It should be frankly admitted, however, that the situation was
terribly confused. The Esterhazys, the Zichys, the Festetics, and the rest of Pronay's
horsy friends to whose statements I might have given some credence had fled the country
or, wisely, I think, remained in hiding. Count Károlyi, the pseudo-democrat, in control
for a few weeks, when the Red storm broke, had also sought safety in flight. His hide-out
was a closely held secret.
There was an amusing story told me of an incident in these last troubled days in which
the telephone played an unusual role. From the last of the Hapsburgs, Károlyi, upon
taking office, asked and received release from his oath of allegiance and publicly
announced his loyal adherence to the People's Republic, but he, too, not unwisely, I
think, ran away before it was inaugurated. Perhaps I should throw a charitable veil over
the conduct of the Archduke Joseph at this critical and, it must be admitted, most
perplexing moment for a Hapsburg and a man of great wealth. He saved his estates and
probably his life by throwing in his fortunes with the Reds. At least the
Soviet-controlled papers announced that he also, again by telephone, had secured his
release from his allegiance to the head of the Hapsburg house, now a fugitive, and had
taken an oath to support the People's Republic. The papers were also printing in lurid
letters extracts from a speech which must have sounded strange indeed as they fell from
Hapsburg lips, if they ever did. As reported, his concluding statement was:
"With a little Bolshevism we shall pull ourselves out of the hole where the war
has landed us." Evidently this archduke was a teachable fellow. He knew the times
were changing and that it was the part of wisdom to change with them.
On my arrival I was permitted, even urged, to attend a session of the Workers and
Soldiers Council of the Revolution. Kun spoke very frankly and well, I thought, and by the
aid of a volunteer interpreter I think I got at least the general drift of his remarks. My
interpreter spoke very bad German and he explained that Kun spoke very bad Magyar, so he
had a difficult role. Kun began by saying:
"Comrades, I will not beautify the situation which is one of danger to us all. We
have lost the fight at Szatmár-Németi and the Roumanians are at the gates of
Grosswardein; some of our men fought well; others, I regret to say, deserted their
positions. But in Debreczen we have scored some successes; there the Workers have risen in
their might and expelled the counterrevolutionaries. Everywhere the invading Roumanians
outnumber us and are better armed. The great need of the young army of the new proletarian
State is better weapons and more of them.
"We do not know whether the Entente means to hold the Roumanians to the line of
demarcation which was fixed by Colonel Vix (acting for the Supreme War Council) or whether
they would condemn us to the fate of the Paris Commune. At the present moment the Czechs
are not advancing, but that may happen tomorrow and we must prepare for an invasion on
this front also. There is no reason to despair, but I must admit that as far as munitions
and arms are concerned, we are in bad shape. At present we can most certainly not
undertake an offensive. Every proletarian in Pest must hasten to the front; and remember,
even if we fail, we shall have sounded the tocsin that will awaken the proletarians of the
world. We shall have notified them of the inevitable struggle that is coming and our fate,
if adverse, will serve to warn them in time of the necessity to arm.
People's Commissar Bakany then took the floor with a stern warning to the bourgeoisie
factions who, he said, the moment the Roumanians appeared, "threw off all
concealment, put out the old flag, and shouted 'Long live the King!' "
He then moved that at least half the members of the Council and all the Workers who
were not engaged on pivotal jobs should proceed to the front. It was carried, but the
motion was weakened, I thought, by the proviso attached to the effect that the Workers
Council should decide which of its members should be sent to the firing line.
In my role of an inquiring journalist I had later on the same day a talk with Bela Kun.
He was most accessible and outspoken. More clearly than what he said, a mere repetition of
his speech at the Workers Council, I recall his surroundings and his appearance. With a
guide that was furnished by the hotel, and with the prestige of a tourist, a rare bird
indeed in these revolutionary days, I was ushered into a cabinet council in the very same
room where in former years I had interviewed in succession the former Prime Ministers of a
vanished Hungary, the Tiszas, father and son. The portraits of Deak and of Kossuth which
had formerly adorned the council chamber were gone, and their successors were sitting
around a large table with heads close together. The heating apparatus in the palace, as
everywhere else in the city, was out of order, and it was probably wise for the new
counselors to sit in their overcoats all wore imitation fur coats; and so good was the
imitation that even the moths were deceived and had evidently been at work gnawing on the
I shall never forget Bela Kun as I now saw him at close quarters and cheek by jowl with
his coterie of conspirators. He made upon me an indelible impression, but it is one that
is difficult to convey. He had a round bulbous head and his hair was so closely shaven
that he seemed to be bald; he had a short, squat nose, ugly thick lips, but un doubtedly
his outstanding physical feature was his great pointed ears. Some people suggested, but
under their breath, that with his great abnormal head and his small but very active body
he looked like a lizard, and certainly there was a touch of green in his coloring. In a
word, his figure was one that I have never seen duplicated in any of my wanderings.
Rumor has it that when the war came (1914) Kun was under arrest charged with the
embezzlement of funds, but the charge was dropped when he was drafted into the commissary
branch of the Hungarian Army. When the Russians made their great drive over the
Carpathians in 1916 he became, it is said, a very willing captive. Sent to the celebrated
prison camp at Tomsk in Siberia, he learned Russian so well that when the Revolution broke
he was able to distinguish himself by his eloquent appeals to his fellow prisoners in
favor of the new gospel. I was given copies of his awakening speech, his call to arms in
seven or eight languages. It opens, and for that matter concludes, with the familiar
words: "Proletarians of the World, unite. The hour of liberation has struck!"
This speech and many others attracted the attention of Radek, the famous Russian
propagandist, and through him Kun came in contact with Lenin and soon he was enrolled as a
missionary of the Red gospel.
A few days after the Károlyi government was established, in the fall of 1918, Kun
appeared in Budapest, officially at least as the representative of the Russian Red Cross.
He brought with him many millions of rubles, ostensibly to succor the thousands of Russian
prisoners and wounded, who were still marooned in Hungary. In the executive council, the
so-called Commissioners of the People, by whom the renegade Count Károlyi was surrounded,
out of the twenty-six who composed it at this time, eighteen were Jews, at least so I am
informed. Be the religious and racial divisions what they may, it is quite certain that
very shortly a majority of the counselors welcomed the latest recruit and fell under the
spell of his eloquence, or, as some insist, of the Moscow gold which he distributed so
I did not enjoy even a glimpse of Károlyi. He had disappeared two weeks before my
arrival and left no address behind him. Many and strange are the stories I heard about
him, and probably some of them are worthy of credence. He was born to great wealth and
broad possessions, in the renowned Magnat family whose name he bears, as most of them
think, most unworthily. A great many fairies were not present at his birth and in their
absence they certainly failed to shower rich gifts upon him. He came into the world with
his mouth awry and he had to be provided with an artificial palate. Even with a mechanical
device, when he raised his voice, it is said something more resembling a dog's bark than a
human cry emerged.
At the age of ten, so the story runs, he startled his affluent parents by announcing
that at the earliest possible moment he proposed starting a revolution! That was certainly
a bombshell hurled in the midst of a family group that had much reason to believe that
they were living in the best of all possible worlds. Cut off from a career in the army,
and indeed from all official life, by his physical handicaps, Michael Károlyi found an
outlet for his restless spirit in gambling. At the baccarat table in the Nemzet Club, for
a hundred years the rendezvous of the great, the daring, above all the affluent, of
Hungary, he played for high stakes and won or lost millions on the turn of a card. When in
the last year of the war things began to look dark for Hungary, Károlyi was nearly dead
broke and also interned in France as a dangerous alien.(10)
Many think, especially those who have not a word to say in favor of a man who, whatever
his motives may have been, was a renegade to his caste and a humiliation to his clan, that
it was the need to rehabilitate his finances that induced him to enter upon the strange
associations by which he will always be remembered.
In his earlier years Károlyi had been a frequent and generally an unsuccessful
duelist, and some of the circumstances of the duel that he fought with Stephen Tisza, the
last Prime Minister of Hungary (murdered by mutinous soldiers returning from the front at
the time of the Armistice), is legendary, because of its great length and one-sided-ness.
The weapons used were sabers, and as Tisza was a skilled swordsman, he is said to have
struck Károlyi thirty-five times, but merely with the flat of his sword! In later life he
lamented his generosity.
"I should have killed Michael that day," he said; "had I done so, I
would have spared our country its deepest humiliation."
Catherine Károlyi, the devoted wife of Michael, one of the strangest figures in this
lurid "incident," was a granddaughter of the great Andrassy, who, while he
fought against the Hapsburgs under Kossuth, in later life became Minister of Foreign
Affairs for the Dual Monarchy, and represented Francis Joseph at the Congress of Berlin
and on many other important occasions. Catherine's own father was the Jules Andrassy who
was sent by Czernin on a mission to Switzerland in 1917, probably to negotiate a separate
peace. An attempt was made to cloak these clandestine negotiations, but it was
unsuccessful, for one reason because Andrassy broke all the discreet rules of the
diplomatic game by making at the time a frank speech in Parliament, calling upon the
Government "to abandon Germany, bring back our troops from all the fronts, and save
Sensible words, indeed, but they were spoken too late. Apparently the only path still
open to Austria led to the abyss into which she fell twelve months later.
In the early days of his startling political activities Károlyi was frequently
insulted and indeed not seldom assaulted in public places. Whatever else he may have been,
Károlyi was no coward, and he always reacted by challenging those who so despitefully
used him; however, finally a court of honor held at the Nemzet Club handed down the
crushing decision that "Michael Károlyi by his own actions was incapable of
affording satisfaction to a gentleman on the field of honor."
Undoubtedly this sentence of ostracism, this denial of the privilege which above all
others he and his peers cherished and so frequently exercised, the right of being satisfaktions-fähig,
had great influence in pushing Michael into the Socialist and, as some charge, into the
Károlyi, to sum up, gave up the seals of office on March 21st (1919), several weeks
before I reached Budapest. I make this statement, although I admit there is another story
to the effect that he never had them in his possession, and this story may be true. The
feudal lords were very jealous of the emblems of the historic rule of King Stephen, and
the seals may have been buried, as were so many other historic symbols, to save them from
contamination. But whatever insignia Károlyi may have had, authenticating his ministry,
he turned them over at the hour of crisis to a certain Garbai, who had been in his
cabinet. Garbai served for a few hectic hours as president of the Council, but within the
week he was eased out by his own cabinet, of which Bela Kun was the most energetic figure.
Kun inaugurated the new era by issuing an ukase that smacked of Moscow and which declared
that all trade was a State monopoly and that all money, however held, in the banks or
privately, belonged to the Government. In the lurid days which Budapest now lived through,
while all the records available certainly come from untrustworthy sources, there is much
reason to believe that more than six hundred people of some prominence were murdered, not
for open opposition to the revolutionary regime, but because they were suspected of not
being sympathetic "fellow travelers."
Certainly I was glad to get away from the city that in my hectic Balkan days had always
been my favorite retreat. And I was lucky too. As Admiral Höhnel said in welcoming me
back to the city of the Waltz King: "You, as an American officer, in civilian clothes
were vogel frei, anyone had the right to shoot you down!" But, as a matter
of fact, no one bothered to do it.
* * * *
Paris, April 12th.
In my first talk since my return with General Smuts today, he was not as reticent as to
his bout with Kun as he had been in Vienna, but even so what he did say was not very
enlightening. He evidently did not regard the incident as a diplomatic triumph and soon
the conversation turned to other fields. He admitted, however, that he had told Kun that
the scattered forces, more or less under his control, on the Czech frontier were violating
the terms of the Armistice and that sooner or later this attitude would compel the Allies
to take severe measures. To this Kun answered that his government were not bound by the
agreements which may have been accepted by Károlyi, and that as a matter of fact they
were completely ignorant of their provisions. He then asked if the Roumanians were
honoring the agreements they had made and Smuts admitted they were not, but he assured him
that they, too, would very shortly be brought to book. I have a clear idea now that under
his instructions from the Supreme War Council Smuts had tried to convince Kun that his
regime was doomed and had also offered to assist him (for the benefit of all concerned) to
an easy "getaway."
It must be admitted that the Roumanians also are not paying even lip service to the
mighty men in Paris. Without a mandate and against positive and repeated orders, they are
marching up through Transylvania and, further complications, thousands of old Magyar
soldiers are flocking to the national standard of St. Stephen which Admiral Horthy has
unfurled at Szegedin and so another little war looms on the horizon!
True, the Czechs were on the Hungarian border, probably they had overstepped it, but no
one really knew as the new boundaries had not been fixed. Smuts s first task was to
prevent the clash that was so near and, by expelling Kun, to rob the advancing armies of
all justification of invasion. Kun stayed in power much longer than Smuts believed he
could. Smuts said in April the former Jewish insurance agent could not hang on for more
than six weeks. As a matter of fact he retained power for many months, until August, and
then made his escape to Moscow via Vienna. There is much reason to believe that before
they left Kun and his crew had sent much loot and booty to Russia which would, they hoped,
assure them of a comfortable, carefree existence in the years to come. However, these
"old-age pensions" with which the White Hungarian papers taunted the provident
Red refugees were confiscated by the Moscow Soviet and it is said that Kun has been forced
to resume his former pursuit of writing life insurance. But now his methods and technique
are quite different. It is said he does not write policies in the great international
companies as formerly. You simply paid him premiums and as long as you kept them up you
were safe from arrest at the hands of the Ogpu, in which he is all-powerful!
I should perhaps repeat here that in my parting talk with Smuts (before his return to
Paris) he not only approved of my staying on in Vienna (as instructed by House), but urged
me to try to realize his plan of a subconference to be held in Paris at which all the
Succession States of the defunct Empire would be represented. He wished me to work on his
plan, which had been interrupted by his call from Lloyd George to take up the Irish
problem, and in his enthusiasm he announced that he was confident that within ten days I
would be "herding the delegates" yet to be appointed to the peace fold in Paris.
However, I received no instructions on the subject and naturally did nothing. Renner
approved of the plan and told me that "in a hasty talk with him, Smuts had touched
lightly upon the matter" - "flüchtig beruht" - were the words he used, and
that he was strongly in favor of the plan - but the invitation never came.
On my return to Paris, Frazier assured me that the plan never reached the Big Four, or
even the Supreme War Council. He thought that in all probability Lloyd George had decided
that Smuts should devote all his time and his great abilities to a solution of the
situation in Erin which was, it is true, quite a man-sized job. Several days later, at a
reception House gave to the delegates, Smuts came in and, pushing me into a corner, told
me confidentially that his plan had not prospered and that he greatly regretted what he
regarded as the unfortunate neglect of a golden opportunity.
He was pleased when I told him that Renner had authorized me to say that as far as
Austria was concerned, the project was not dead. Hearing nothing further on the subject
from Smuts and fearing that he had been diverted definitely from the only concrete plan he
brought back from southeastern Europe, I (April 30th) accompanied the Colonel on one of
his constitutional walks, and though I knew how beset he was with problems emerging from
every point of the compass, I again explained, at considerable length I fear, the sad
posture of affairs in the Succession States as I saw it. He, too, was impressed that
something must and should be done, and right away. He took the matter up with the
President and found that he, too, was favorable. He had no objection to the plan of a
subconference but it soon developed the Italians had. At the moment the Fiume cauldron was
at the boiling-over point and so the vital and indeed most urgent matter was again
postponed and later definitely dropped.
As an alternative, I suggested that a mission be sent to Hungary to take over when the
Soviet regime collapsed, as collapse it would, although not as soon as Smuts had
predicted.(11) This plan also won approval but was never
carried out. It is true there were many, but certainly not more, important problems
pressing for solution. Unfortunately, however, these problems were nearer at hand and
those who pressed them carried more guns than I did.
Paris, April 14th.
Since my return I find much misinformation in circulation, and in circles which should
be well informed, with regard to the wishes of the Austrian Germans toward the Anschluss,
the union with the German Reich which, as I was instructed to tell Renner, is to be
forbidden in formal terms by the Versailles Treaty. I am well aware that an opinion based
upon but a few days stay in Vienna is not very convincing and should not be accepted
without further study, but, on the other hand, it should be taken into consideration that
owing to many long sojourns in Austria in previous years I was able to make contacts with
important people who would have been more reticent in their talks with a casual stranger.
The result of all this preamble is that I have no hesitancy in affirming that the great
majority of Austrians are opposed to the plan, at the present time, and that to the few
who toy with the idea it is a counsel of despair. These people say "crippled Austria
cannot stand alone, she must lean on someone, what crutch can you suggest other than North
Even the people who favor the Anschluss see clearly what union would mean to
Austria. As one of them said, "We shall become the granary, the very limited granary,
of the Reich, and our infant industries will be put out of business by the greater
productivity of the North German industrial plants." And whenever the subject was
broached I had ample opportunity to realize that the dislike,(12)
even the antipathy, of the Austrian for the Prussian, has not been quenched by the
common misfortunes endured during the Great War. On the contrary, I think it has been
1. [British General Jan Christiaan Smuts (1870 - 1950) fought
against the British during the Boer War, later he was instrumental in creating the Union
of South Africa in 1910 where he was prime minister between 1919 - 1924, and 1939 - 1948.]
2. So far as I know, this was the only public reference to the
Sudeten problem at this time and for months later. The Germans of this hill country did
not normally approach the Conference, and I am not aware that they attempted to do so. As
a matter of fact, a fact that is so often lost sight of, they never had belonged to
Germany and most of them settled in the Bohemian hills in the hope of escaping German
rule. Renner was not the only man in touch with the Sudeten people who thought that the
present was a most inopportune moment for them to join with the Reich Germans suffering
deserved hardships, and perhaps some undeserved. It was not until the year 1930, when the
world economic depression bore down upon them more heavily than upon the agricultural
Czechs, that the Sudeten people gave ear to the propaganda that came to them from Munich
and Berlin--with what effect all the world knows. While the Sudeten might have been more
wisely treated, as some maintain, it is certain that no minority in Europe during these
troubled years enjoyed such considerate and kindly treatment as they did. It is frequently
asserted that President Masaryk was opposed to taking over the Sudeten and also averse to
bringing into his republic the Carpathian Ruthenians of Russinia, as I think we called
this mountain land at the time. These statements, however, are without any foundation in
fact, at least as regards the Sudeten, as my talk with the President in Prague fully
demonstrated. While he never broached the subject, at least not to me, I do think he was
far from eager to annex Russinia. But nobody wanted this poverty-stricken province at the
time, except Hungary, and no one wanted to enlarge the territory of what had been the
misruled kingdom of St. Stephen.
3. I was particularly interested in this statement. I had known
Pallavicini in the days of King Milan in Belgrade when the "Pig war" broke, that
harbinger of the great disaster.
4. The rumor that came from Berne to our delegation in Paris was to
the effect that an attempt was about to be made to place the elder and probably insane
brother of Prince Regent Alexander on the throne and that discontented Croatian as well as
foreign groups were behind it. If successful, it was hoped that the conspiracy would give
the Belgrade Government an entirely new orientation. There was, as it turned out, no
foundation to the story beyond the fact that Prince George was insane and was being held
under proper and most necessary restraint.
5. [1870 - 1936]
6. The title generally given to the seagoing owner of the New
York Herald both at home and abroad.
7. Archibald Cary Coolidge, of Harvard.
8. Later professor of international law at Princeton.
9. He sneaked out of Budapest three months later.
10. He had been making a rabble-rousing trip to America and on his
return journey he was picked up by the Allied authorities and interned in france for the
11. The Kun regime lasted longer by many months than Smuts
predicted it would, and even longer than I thought, though I gave Kim a longer lease of
power than did the Afrikander. Kim only skipped out in the following August (1919), and my
information is that he did not get back to Russia via Vienna with the great treasure that
the papers reported. My information is that the "Lenin boys" took charge of
that. I have always thought that the devastation of Hungary by the Roumanians and the
massacres of many so-called "Reds" at the hands of the Whites that followed on
the fall of Kun could and should have been prevented by firm and timely action on the part
of the Peace Conference.
12. The fact that practically from the outbreak of the war Berlin
kept two divisions of second-line troops in and around Vienna, really an army of
occupation, was not an idle gesture; indeed from 1916 on it was a wise precautionary move.
They kept in check the partisans of a separate peace and also any danger of a revolt among
the Slav factions of the Dual Monarchy. Had the plan to dismember Germany. urged at this
time by many French leaders, prospered, I have no hesitation in saying that the Austrians
would have welcomed a union with the Bavarians and the Catholic Rhinelands. And the Roman
Catholic Church, so powerful in these regions, would have strongly favored this
redistribution of the congregations, without the least doubt.
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