10: The Downfall of Rumania
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IN EUROPE each nation seems to feel it necessary to be superior to somebody. The
British feel themselves superior to everybody. The French feel superior to the Germans,
Italians and most of the rest of Europe. Germans feel superior to Poles, Austrians and the
Balkan countries, but although they talk of being supermen, they have a great inferiority
complex toward the English, the French and others. Poles look down upon Russians; and
Bavarians feel themselves superior to Prussians. Czechs consider themselves above Slovaks
and Poles; Croats above Serbs; Austrians above Hungarians, and Serbs above Bulgars. All
this is surpassed by the Hungarian superiority complex toward Rumanians.
History has shown that Europe's greatest threat is in the East. The nearer to Asia, the
stronger the instinctive fear. Politically speaking, only Rumania separated Hungary from
Asia, and the eastemmost part of Rumania was farther to the east than the westernmost part
of Asia Minor. Compared with Rumania, Hungary was intensely occidental.
At the time King Stephen made his historical decision to turn to Rome (in the year 1000
A.D.), religion was a decisive, formative influence in the world. Thus Hungary came under
Western influence while Rumania remained with the Orthodox Church, which was oriental. By
King Stephen's decision, Hungary came under the cultural influence of the Holy Roman
Empire and what we call Western civilization. Rumania, facing the East and under Turkish
domination for centuries, was different in outlook and way of living, so Hungary became
and remained the most eastern outpost of Western civilization. The standard of living,
especially of the working class, was very much higher in Hungary than in Rumania, and it
was considered a great humiliation by Hungarians that so many Magyars were put under
Rumanian rule by the transfer of Transylvania to Rumania.
The question of religion, of course, played its part -the majority of Hungarians being
Roman Catholics and the Rumanians Orthodox. Hungarians felt that the Orient had snatched a
part of the Occident, and this was not conducive to reconciliation. Transylvania
sentimentally was to every Hungarian what the New England States are to us.
I have already mentioned the psychological importance of the Carpathian Mountains.
Magyars felt that when Rumania stepped across the Carpathians, it was as though the
natural wall against Asia had crumbled. To complicate it still more, a slight majority of
the population of Transylvania spoke Rumanian, and most of the Magyars lived in an
ethnographic enclave, separated by Rumanian areas from their mother country. Rumania
treated the Magyars as subjects with minor rights, paying back in kind, they said, what
Hungary had done to Rumanians.
When I saw him late in 1939, Admiral Horthy very frankly said that a fair settlement among
the small nations in that part of the world was almost impossible within the existing
international order because of the universal hatreds engendered by centuries of warfare.
"If God," he said, "appeared to the King of Rumania and told him that
unless he returned Transylvania to Hungary, Rumania would be wiped out in two years, there
would be nothing that the King could do because if he tried to obey, he would lose his
throne in twenty-four hours." A similar fate would befall a Hungarian leader, who,
upon heavenly advice, would renounce Hungarian claims to Transylvania. Therefore, the
Regent said, any settlement would have to be enforced and maintained by the great powers.
What was needed was a European League of Nations which would not be an adjunct of Downing
Street, the Quai d'Orsay, the Wilhelmstrasse, or Moscow. Mr. Churchill put forth similar
although perhaps more utopian ideas during the war, but he maintained the great and
immutable truth that the smaller problems of Europe could only be mastered as part of an
over-all settlement and not piecemeal. The Transylvanian question was well suited to prove
this. Hungary's and Rumania's quarrel was soon submerged in the much larger issue of the
relations between Germany and the Soviet Union. In the treaties of armistice it became one
of the elements in the gigantic struggle between the two worlds, the free and the
totalitarian. As long as Hitler and Stalin co-operated smoothly, Rumania appeared only as
a bone of contention between Germany and Great Britain. Germany needed Rumanian oil, and
the British made Rumania the questionable gift of a military guarantee.
There was also the legendary British-French force which Marshal Weygand was said to have
assembled in the Middle East in preparation for a thrust into the Balkans. In Budapest
people hoped that the German general staff would first try to decide the war in the west,
and that their country would be spared. At the same time, Hungarians realized that their
geographical position between Germany and Rumania would expose them to grave dangers if
the Germans found it necessary to defend Rumania, either against Britain or Russia, or to
enter Rumania as a springboard in a wider oriental strategy. Dislike of Rumania could not
prevent the Hungarians from being concerned about the fate of that neighbor. The
Transylvanian question was suddenly less important than whether Germany would take over
Hungary in order to get to Rumania.
Just as politics make strange bedfellows, so does a situation of this kind; but the
chasm was too wide and the time too short for effective co-operation between Budapest and
Bucharest. In the spring of 1936, Foreign Minister de Kanya told me that in the three
years he had held this post, Mr. Grigorcea, the Rumanian minister, had visited the Foreign
Office only three times and had never called on him personally. Mr. Grigorcea was an
excellent diplomat; despite the fact that he represented Rumania, both he and his wife
were great favorites in Budapest with practically everyone, from the Regent down.
Therefore, it can only have been under instructions that he called at the Foreign Office
as infrequently as Mr. de Kanya said. His failure to do so more often was very
In February 1937, Mr. Bossy, Mr. Grigorcea's successor, told me that Rumania was very
anxious to make peace with Hungary, but, he added with a sigh, Rumania was in the position
of a girl in love with a man who had never proposed -so what could she do but wait? This
statement was also significant in that it showed the first effect of the fear which Hitler
had begun to spread all over Europe.
In March 1939, after the breaking up of Czechoslovakia, nobody knew what would happen
next. When Hungary and Rumania began to threaten each other by troop movements, it looked
as though an awkward situation was developing. It was certain that if Hungary received
from Hitler a promise for the return of Transylvania, no government would be strong enough
to reject it, even if it meant permitting Hungary to become a base for German military
The Regent told me that it was relatively easy to refuse to let the Germans go through
Hungary to attack Poland because great friendship had existed for centuries between the
two countries; but if the Germans wanted to pass through Hungary to attack Rumania, it
would be quite different. Much as he would oppose it himself, he would not be able to
refuse. In this situation, Hitler fully realized that he was able to flaunt Transylvania
in Hungary's eyes to keep her in a state of confusion and indecision.
The Rumanians have always been able in the past to be on all sides and to end up with
the winner. They profited very handsomely in the first war by these tactics, and King
Carol apparently decided to act accordingly when Hitler began to disturb the existing
situation. King Carol has been considered so much of a playboy that his abilities have
been underrated. He was a typical Balkan ruler, with his passions, tenacity, ruthlessness
and indifference to Western opinion. He wanted to rule and to be obeyed, and clashed with
political leaders who, while disguised as democrats, had virtually the same ambitions.
Since he was a strong personality, it was always a temptation to march with him. He had
adherents and opponents in every party.
To speak of racial purity was even more amusing in Rumania than in Germany; yet Hitler had
his representation there in the Iron Guard, led by Cornelius Codreanu. Prime Minister Duca
used the policy of the iron fist against the Iron Guard and as a result was assassinated
on December 3, 1933, being the first of a series of premiers who lost their lives in the
struggle against national socialism.
After Duca's death, the Iron Guard was at least temporarily dissolved, and in March 1934,
Codreanu was arrested. In August 1936, King Carol, as a concession to Hitler, dismissed M.
Titulescu who had been one of the leaders of the Little Entente and very prominent at
Geneva in the League of Nations. In order to split the Iron Guard, which he had been
holding at bay, the King made Goga, leader of its royalist wing, premier, but dismissed
him after forty-five days, when he had been sufficiently compromised. On November 30,
1938, Codreanu with thirteen other leaders of the Iron Guard was killed. The official
explanation was that they had tried to escape when being transported to another prison,
but it seemed to be generally accepted that this was a planned liquidation, in an endeavor
to check the rise of German-fostered racialism. This explains why Carol found it
convenient to leave in September 1940, one month before the German troops entered his
To go back: In August 1939, King Carol, referring to Hungarian-Rumanian frontier incidents
and to Hungarian press attacks against Rumania's minority policy in Transylvania, declared
that the frontiers once fixed could not be changed without risking a world cataclysm. The
cataclysm started within a fortnight. On September 1 Germany invaded Poland. Two days
later Britain declared war on Germany. On September 17, Russian troops invaded Polish
territory. The partition of Poland as devised by Ribbentrop and Molotov prevented the
Germans from reaching the Rumanian frontier through Polish territory, but Rumania felt the
repercussion just the same. On September 21, the Iron Guard murdered Premier Armand
Calinescu. Carol fought back like an angry hornet. Without trial, three hundred members of
the Iron Guard were put to death. He was the only ruler who gave the national socialists a
dose of their own medicine.
In the midst of these events, Hungary remained neutral, and Yugoslavia formally proclaimed
its neutrality; the former announced her willingness to conclude minority agreements with
Rumania and Yugoslavia. On September 24, Soviet Russia agreed to resume diplomatic
relations with Hungary which had been severed eight months before.
When Germany overran Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and northern France, the
stoutest hearts trembled. In Rumania Carol replaced his excellent foreign minister,
Gafencu, a man with a Scottish mother, by Jon Gigurtu. On July 1, 1940, ten days after the
French armistice, Prime Minister Tatarescu, once high in Hitler's favor and just now high
in Stalin's, formally renounced the British-French guarantee of April 1939 to his country
and stated that Rumanian policy would now be aligned with the "new orientation in
Europe." Then he resigned and Gigurtu included the Iron Guard and the national
socialists of the German minority in the new government; he declared that he would pursue
a policy of sincere integration in the Axis system.
Just three weeks before, the Hungarian parliament had expelled Kalman Hubay, a leader of
the national socialist Arrowcross Party, because he had proposed self-government of the
racial minorities, giving special privileges to German inhabitants and discriminating
against the Jews.
Hitler's victories in the west had shattered the very foundation of the Rumanian state,
but six days after the French surrender, an even greater menace was revealed. In the
general turmoil, this has almost escaped the attention of the world and yet it was not
only a classical example of unprovoked aggression but also, with the exception of the
formal seizure of eastern Poland, in November 1939, was the first decisive move of Soviet
imperialism -a move no longer directed against German imperialism but pointing to the
Balkan peninsula and to the Dardanelles. This should never be forgotten.
On June 26, 1940, the Soviet Union delivered to Rumania an ultimatum demanding the cession
of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. The time limit was twenty-four hours. The Rumanians
replied that they were willing to yield, but asked for negotiations. This was brusquely
rejected by the Soviets, who demanded evacuation of the two provinces within four days. On
June 28, Bucharest yielded. Russian land and air forces at once started the invasion
without waiting for the expiration of the four days. Russia's claim to Bessarabia was
based on revisionism, because it had been hers until 1917. The pretext with regard to
Bukovina was national self-determination; they claimed a predominance of Ruthenians or
Ukrainians among the Rumanians, Germans, Poles and Eastern Jews of northern Bukovina. As a
matter of fact, Bukovina had never been a part of Russia. Until 1777, she had been
Ottoman; then Austrian until 1918 when she was presented to Rumania. The Soviets were
interested in Bukovina because by annexing her they crossed the Pruth and Sereth rivers
and got a foothold in the Carpathian Mountains. I do not know whether the Soviets acted
with Hitler's connivance, but I doubt it; in the case of Bessarabia they apparently did
-since that province is defined as being within Russia's sphere of interest in the Secret
Protocol to the Russo-German Pact of 1939; but there was nothing in that treaty about
Russia's action undermined Rumania's rigid stand against revision. Her spirit was
broken and she began to negotiate with Hungary, who claimed two-thirds of Transylvania.
Frontier incidents followed, and the two nations seemed about to jump at each other's
throats. Hitler was forced to take some action. Crutzesco, the Rumanian minister in
Budapest at that time, told me that Hitler had cautioned Hungary against an open conflict.
No doubt Rumania received the same advice,
Leon Orlowski, the last Polish minister to Hungary, was certain that Hitler was trying
to form a Hungarian-Rumanian-Bulgarian bloc as a bulwark against Russia. Count Csaky,
Hungary's foreign minister, thought the Germans were much worried. He said that they could
not attack England for fear that Russia might take advantage of the opportunity and seize
parts of eastern Europe, including all of Rumania. One can be sure that Stalin was not
inspired by love of Great Britain. Hitler had advertised his eastern plans so loudly that
Stalin could have no doubt of Germany's intentions after the fall of England. The two
conspirators had reached the end of their collaboration; each began tentative independent
operations. That was the portentous meaning of Russia's attack on Rumania.
Before Stalin attacked Rumania he invited the Hungarian minister, Mr. Kristoffy, whom he
had never seen before, to call upon him. In Stalin's studio the following conversation
Stalin: Has Hungary given up her claim to Transylvania?
Kristoffy: No, she has not.
Stalin: Why then don't you attack Rumania? Now is the time.
Kristoffy: I shall inform my government.
Stalin: All right. Do.
Kristoffy was amazed, and so were his superiors in Budapest. They decided against
giving Stalin the pretext he desired, but the story is worthwhile remembering, because it
shows that Stalin's present methods are by no means new, and sheds valuable light on his
change of policy at the end of the war in allotting Transylvania to Rumania, which now has
become in effect a Soviet province.
On August 28, 1940, an Axis conference was held at Berchtesgaden, attended by Count Ciano,
Ribbentrop, and the German and Italian envoys to Rome, Berlin, Budapest and Bucharest. Two
days later, prime ministers Teleki and Gigurtu were summoned to Vienna, where another
Vienna Award awaited them, this time concerning Rumania. Hungary received somewhat less
than half of Transylvania and the Rumanian foreign minister, Manoilescu, said afterward
that there had been a German ultimatum; neither the Rumanian nor the Hungarian delegates
had been allowed to say a word. The Rumanian minister to Budapest told me upon his return
from Vienna that "the Germans were nice, but Count Ciano nasty."
The Germans were more concerned with Rumania than with Hungary, whereas Mussolini, not
directly interested in either, could afford to play Santa Claus for the latter. My
Rumanian informant thought that the Magyars had gotten more than they ever dreamed of
getting. The Hungarians felt the opposite way.
In reality, opinions were strongly divided. Thoughtful Hungarians were alarmed by
Hungary's acceptance of a gift from Hitler when he was an enemy of Great Britain, but no
one knew what to do about it. No one seemed to consider the territory that Hungary had
taken from Czechoslovakia a German present. Then Hungary had acted on her own; but the
second Vienna Award was not sought by Hungary. It was King Carol who personally requested
arbitration from Hitler in order thus to obtain Germany's guarantee of Rumania's new
frontiers; Count Teleki had insisted that negotiations be conducted directly between
Hungary and Rumania. He felt that in having to accept part of Transylvania from Hitler's
hands Hungary had definitely lost all chances for future possession of that territory. But
he had no choice: no Hungarian government could reject even part-fulfillment of the old
Not daring to advocate openly the rejection of the award, many, like Count Bethlen, said
that Hungary should have the whole of Transylvania or nothing. He told Teleki, according
to Dr. Eckhardt, that the whole thing should have been put off until the final peace
settlement. Bethlen was right. That Hitler was not interested in a permanent solution of
the problem was obvious. The new frontier was drawn purely along ethnic lines, neglecting
all geographical and economic considerations and, most of all, those of communication. By
drafting an impossible new frontier, Germany wished permanently to divide and rule both
Hungary and Rumania.
In Rumania the government of Gigurtu had to resign. Ion Antonescu was his successor. Carol
abdicated in favor of his son and left the country. King Michael accepted Antonescu as
leader, called sonorously Conducator. He was Hitler's man, even more so than the people of
the Iron Guard, some of whom did not want to be a branch of the German-controlled
"Nazintern." When jealousies developed between the Conducator and the Iron
Guard, Hitler regularly sided with the former, because the Guard was riotous and
undisciplined. What the Germans wished most in that granary and oil font was quiet work.
Rumania achieved for itself in 1940 the subservience that was forced upon Hungary only in
1944, after the German army took possession.
Shortly after the outbreak of the second World War, when Germany's strategy was
everybody's guesswork and France was still considered invincible, I had a conversation
with Premier Teleki in which we agreed that no small country was safe; but he found
comfort in the fact that there were many other small countries in the same dangerous
position as Hungary, each of which seemed to offer Germany greater strategic advantages.
He said that Russia and Germany were in reality enemies, but reasoned that this would
protect Hungary since Germany would not like to provoke Russia by threatening the Balkans.
He thought that Italy, and possibly Yugoslavia, might give Hungary military support in
case of a German attack. He said Hungary would never allow German troops to enter and
cross her territory. I wondered at the time what he would do if the German army started
for Budapest, but I knew that he was trying to believe what he wished to believe; it was
the old, old story of "it can't happen to us."
Later, when Germany launched its attack on Denmark and Norway, Ullein-Reviczky at the
Foreign Office told my first secretary, Howard Travers, that he felt greatly relieved. I
remember Mr. Chamberlain in the British parliament expressed delight at the same thing. It
was natural that Mr. Ullein-Reviczky should try to get some comfort out of it. His
reasoning was that the Northern States and the Danubian Basin had been standing behind the
same horse and no one had known with which leg it was going to kick. Now it had kicked
with the right leg, and Hungary had stood behind the left one. Reviczky thought, too, that
Hitler was much afraid of annoying Stalin.
By April 18, 1940, de Kanya had made up his mind that the Germans were not coming into
Hungary at all -that is, unless the British tried to cut them off from Rumanian oil
supplies. The British had told him that they would not invade Rumania unless the Germans
did; this seemed to make everything all right, as far as Hungary was concerned. I could
not blame de Kanya or any other Hungarian for trying to be optimistic. I did not try to
discourage him, but I did call his attention to rumors of German troops in Hungary and
Rumania, and he admitted that this was probably true as both countries were flooded with
tourists who no doubt comprised an advance guard.
The Regent was not so optimistic when I talked to him on May 7th. He said that conditions
had changed quite a bit since he had told me that Hungary would defend herself against the
German or any other army to the last drop of blood. With the Western powers always on the
defensive, Hungary's military position had become hopeless. The Hungarian army could
retire behind the Tisza River, that is, to the east, and there make a desperate effort;
but this would amount to abandoning Hungary and defending Rumania. He said that if the
Germans demanded passage Hungary could do nothing but yield. His only hope then was that
the Allies would not move in the Mediterranean region; for if they did, Germany would have
to protect Rumanian oil.
Exactly five months later -and little more than a month after the nazification of Rumania-
on October 7, 1940, the Rumanian legation in Berlin announced that German troops had been
sent to Rumania with the latter's consent "to reorganize the Rumanian army with all
equipment essential for modern warfare." A few days later, the German news agency
stated that "in response to Rumania's request for assistance under the recent
agreement" the Reich had dispatched a military mission with the necessary training
formations and accompanying fighter squadrons as an additional precaution for the
airfields. This announcement did not surprise anybody in Budapest. We knew that the German
troops were passing, often in mufti, always secretly, and if possible, in the dark of the
night. There had been all sorts of rumors. The British and French legations had made
protests, but no one seemed to be able to say just how the troops were getting through.
The French legation was on the Danube, and their staff were watching with field glasses
while many German boats seemed to be going through. They saw all sorts of things that
looked like guns, but actually could not spot any troops or say definitely what the boats
were carrying. It seemed to be the general impression that troop trains would have to go
through Budapest. All the military attachés were doing everything they could to find
About this time the Hungarian government forbade military attachés to leave Budapest
without permission. Our military attaché, having heard that German troops were bypassing
Budapest and going through Szolnok, asked for permission to visit an American doctor at
Szolnok and received it. When he got near the Szolnok station, he cut across the fields
toward the station and arrived about the same time as a German troop train. He was
promptly arrested, but released when his identity became known. When he returned to
Budapest, he was informed by the Department of National Defense that they intended to ask
for his recall on the grounds that he was a spy. When I told the Regent about it, he was
greatly amused. "Spy?" he said. "Why, of course he is a spy! All military
and naval attachés are spies. I was a spy myself when I was one -that is what these
attachés are for." Later, the officer who had made the threat of expulsion came to
the legation and apologized.
An interesting fact in connection with German troops passing through Hungary was that they
were not permitted to travel by road. In February 1941, Premier Teleki told me that a few
weeks before, when a German troop train had arrived at the frontier, the Hungarians had no
engine available. The German commander, after a short wait, lost patience and ordered his
men to alight, unload their equipment and proceed as a motorized column. The Hungarian
officier in command of the frontier stopped it by ordering his frontier guard to load
their rifles. It is really amazing how much the Germans took from the Hungarians during
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