11: Central European Declarations of War
<< 10: The Downfall of Rumania || 12: Hungarian Attempts at Making Separate Peace >>
THE COMPLEX which made European nations feel I superior to their neighbors and
particularly to their eastern ones made Hungary very sensitive about being called a Balkan
nation. Croats and Transylvanians also seem to resent being considered members of the
Balkan group. Indeed it would be necessary to give the term Balkan Peninsula a very wide
interpretation in order to include Hungary, but she could not help being the European
gateway into the Balkans and this determined her fate in the Hitler era.
It is difficult to determine exactly German strategy in the Balkans. It was certainly
dominated by her desire to protect the right flank of the armies which were to launch the
attack on Russia. If things had gone better in the war against the Soviets, the Germans
might have attacked Turkey should they have found it necessary, but my impression is that
they entered the Balkans really to protect their oil supplies first, and secondly to stake
out strategic positions which they might find useful if occasion demanded. The negligence
with which they treated the whole Mediterranean Basin is still unexplained. Perhaps they
did not feel themselves strong enough. They certainly made poor use of their Greek bases.
The Magyars were bitterly hostile to Italy during the Greek campaign, which had started
in October 1940. There was great merriment everywhere because of Italy's humiliating
defeat. Italy was Hungary's closest friend and had just helped her to obtain half of
Transylvania. It would seem to be in line with Hungary's interest that the influence of
Italy should grow in the Axis camp as a result of military triumphs. Yet every Hungarian
was simply elated by her setbacks. Possibly they were influenced by memories of the first
World War. In that war, Hungary as a part of the Hapsburg realm had fought against Italy.
The war veterans were still influential and while they welcomed Italy's strategic support,
they could not be expected to have much love for the Italian army.
Among those who displayed their delight at Italy's defeats was the Regent, not because
of antipathy toward Italians but because he considered it a setback for the Axis.
Probably the chief reason for Hungary's sympathy toward the Greeks was chivalry. They
were a small people defying what looked like a great power. We felt the same when Finland
was attacked by Russia. The Hungarians allowed their feelings to run away with their
political sobriety. For, Italy's difficulties in Greece augmented the danger of German
intervention in the Balkans. Many Hungarians realized this, but they could not help but be
pleased at the unexpected success of the Greek army.
Not only Rumania but Bulgaria, too, became Hitler's victim before he took Yugoslavia
and Greece. Just as Hungary was his corridor to Rumania, so the latter was his deployment
area for the invasion of Bulgaria; and the more troops he needed for that new purpose, the
more transports passed through Hungary.
On October 17, 1940, the Bulgarian government denied the presence of German troops in
its country, but it was generally known that the number of husky German
"tourists" had been increasing there rapidly. On December 3, M. Popoff, the
Bulgarian foreign minister, declared that his government was making every effort to keep
the nation out of war. He called Bulgaria's relations with Russia friendly. One month
later, Professor Filoff, the Bulgarian premier, said he was determined to safeguard his
country's neutrality and that neither communism nor national socialism were suitable
systems for Bulgaria.
The British, giving vent to their displeasure, severed diplomatic relations with
Rumania on February 10, 1941, stating that she had become a military base for Germany
without protest. Sir Reginald Hoare, the minister, said at Istanbul, on his way home, that
there were three hundred fifty thousand German troops in Rumania, most of them close to
the border of Bulgaria. He also announced that the Bulgarian army stood on the frontier of
Greece. This fact was stressed by Mr. Rendel, British minister to Sofia, who said on
February 27 that the Bulgarian army had been virtually mobilized, but was not facing the
Germans on the Danube.
It was obvious that Bulgaria had thrown in her lot with Germany. On March 1, 1941, in
Vienna, Filoff signed Bulgaria's adherence to the Axis Pact, and German troops openly
occupied Bulgaria. The German news agency intensified the war of nerves against
Yugoslavia, which had not yet fallen in line, by announcing that the occupation was
carried out "in agreement with the Bulgarian government in order to counteract
British intentions of spreading the war into the Balkans." Prime Minister Filoff
declared that the presence of German troops did not alter Bulgaria's policy of peace. But
Britain broke off diplomatic relations, and Vyshinsky, deputy foreign commissar of the
Soviet Union, declared that the Soviets did not share the opinion of the Bulgarian
government that the presence of German troops in Bulgaria would facilitate the
preservation of peace.
These events in Bulgaria must be considered as one of the last preparations for
Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union.
Hungary's situation deteriorated rapidly. Three days before Hungary began to occupy
Yugoslav territory, the British government had informed the Hungarian minister in London
that the British legation in Budapest under Mr. (now Sir) Owen St. Clair O'Malley was
being withdrawn because Hungary had become a base of military operations against the
Allies. She was included in the Allied blockade. The Soviets had also rebuked Hungary. M.
Vyshinsky told the Hungarian minister in Moscow that the USSR disapproved of Hungary's
action against Yugoslavia. This was another straw in the wind. Soon the wind became a
storm, and Hungary, like all her small neighbors, was a tiny skiff in the tossing sea. The
great duel between pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism began, the life and death struggle
between what amounts to two versions of the same totalitarian paganism-between Russian and
German national socialism.
The outbreak of the war between the two tyrants rendered Hungary's situation much more
serious than before. Hitler was obliged to take stern measures, and the Hungarians knew
the penalty of disobedience. Unlike other nations, the Magyars could not find any comfort
in Hitler's difficulties because Russia loomed up as an even greater danger.
Looking back, one can easily find fault with Hungary's participation in the campaign
against Yugoslavia. Hungary's modest and very limited participation in the war against the
Soviets presents itself in a very different light. Today we are better equipped to pass
judgment. Our own position was simple. Germany was an enemy of our British friend and soon
to be our own enemy. Russia involuntarily became an ally. We wanted quite naturally
Germany's defeat and Russia's victory. Hungarians did not want either. To adopt this
attitude is by no means as foolish as it may appear to some Americans who have become
imbued with the slogan of "unconditional surrender." Many wars in history have
ended without a clear-cut decision, and this was frequently a better solution than
complete victory of one side. Often it was even a fairer solution, because almost never
has one belligerent been completely right and the other completely wrong. Woodrow Wilson's
postulate in 1917 that the war should lead to a peace "without victors and
vanquished" was one of the wisest of his utterances. When Russia entered the war,
that was the desire of most Europeans. Today Americans might well ask themselves whether
our own country would not be safer now if our victory had been just sufficient to
establish German democracy and reliable control of German and Japanese research and
production, without depriving twenty nations of the four freedoms for which we supposedly
fought the war. The catchwords "unconditional surrender" put Stalin on Hitler's
throne and have prevented us from devoting constructive thought to the future.
In the preface to this book, I have pointed out that in a war of coalitions, where on
each side several nations combine temporarily for specific ends without giving up their
distinctive principles, every belligerent can find himself fighting on the right side and
at the same time on the wrong side. As Soviet imperialistic designs are now revealed, it
is apparent whether or not we wish to admit it that, by sending a few troops against
Russia, Hungary fought on the wrong side as Hitler's ally, but on the right side as an
opponent of Soviet Russia.
What happened in Hungary after the Soviet armies liberated her fully justified anything
Hungary did. As a matter of fact, much as she hated communism, Hungary co-operated with
the German army against Russia slowly and reluctantly. According to reliable estimates,
Hungary's troop contingent in the east did not exceed thirty thousand in 1941 and one
hundred fifty thousand in 1942. After that, it went down rapidly because when the tide of
the war turned, Hungary could increase her resistance to German pressure in the hope that
the Western powers would occupy her by way of the Mediterranean.
On June 21, 1941, when Hitler launched his attack on Russia, General Antonescu, the
Conducator of Rumania, hastened to proclaim a holy war for the recovery of Bessarabia lost
to Russia the year before, and said that Rumania was fighting at the side of the finest
army in the world. On June 24, Slovakia, previously the eastern part of Czechoslovakia,
declared that she was on Germany's side in the war against the Bolsheviks and that the
Slovak army had joined the forces of Germany. On the same day Hungary severed diplomatic
relations with Russia. Three days later, Premier Bardossy declared war on Russia without
previous consent of parliament or Regent Horthy. Bardossy claimed Russian air attacks on
Hungarian territory in violation of international law, but in this instance, as in his
later declaration of war against the United States, Bardossy was influenced by Germany's
use of the Transylvania problem as a means of pressure.
Rumania partook of the war against Russia with all her strength. Her losses were
enormous, amounting to a quarter of a million in the first three months. Unlike Hungary,
Rumania wished territorial conquest. Not content with the return of Bessarabia, General
Antonescu on October 18, 1941, declared that Rumania was annexing what he called
Transnistria, that is, the part of the Ukraine between the rivers Dniestr and Bug with the
port of Odessa as capital. Many more Soviet soldiers died at the hands of Rumanians than
as a result of Hungary's intervention, but when Stalin fixed the new boundaries after the
war, Rumania was again the winner because imperialistic interests, not good or bad
behavior during the conflict, influenced his decision. He was certain of Rumanian
subservience, but knew that Hungary was a hard nut to crack.
The policy of Russia's allies was affected by the trend of her relations with these
small nations. Britain and the United States acted upon the principle that Russia's
enemies were also their enemies. The Soviets did not reciprocate our loyalty. On December
6, 1941 the British government declared that from the following day Britain would be at
war with Finland, Rumania and Hungary because of their refusal to cease hostilities
against Russia. The Soviets declared war on Bulgaria and Japan only when the fighting was
over in order to determine the conditions of peace.
It is interesting as well as important that neither the United States nor Great Britain
were ever officially at war with Slovakia or Croatia, although both countries declared war
on the two English-speaking powers immediately after Pearl Harbor. Washington and London
refused to acknowledge the existence of a state of war with these two little nations
because they were not recognized as sovereign states: A declaration of war coming from
Hitler-made Slovakia or Croatia was like a challenge from a gymnastic or choral society.
This procedure, however, should not be allowed to cloud our political judgment and sense
of justice. The Slovaks, according to the official Czech fiction, were part and parcel of
the Czechoslovak nation. I mention this not because I am advocating that all Czechoslovaks
be blamed for the deeds of the Slovaks, or Yugoslavia for the action of Croats. However,
the fact that we were not at war with Croatia and Slovakia while we were with Hungary
should not influence our attitude toward the latter. Actually, although Hungary declared
war on us, it was illegal since it was not approved by parliament or the Regent.
I was not in Hungary on December 12, 1941, when Prime Minister Bardossy announced that
Hungary's diplomatic relations with the United States were severed. Bardossy called up the
legation and informed them that a state of war existed, but he insisted it was not a
declaration of war. He was asked to put this statement in writing, but was reluctant to do
so. Upon being informed that no attention would be paid a verbal statement, he sent a
letter of confirmation. In this letter he reiterated that it was not to be regarded as a
declaration of war, but that the Hungarian government considered a state of war existed
between the two countries. Apparently Bardossy realized that he could not get the consent
either of parliament or the Regent to a formal declaration of war. When the first
secretary of the legation, Mr. Travers, made his good-by call on the Regent, the latter
said to him: "Remember that this so-called declaration of war is not legal; not
approved by parliament, not signed by me." Obviously, Hungary being forced by Hitler
to declare war, Bardossy took it upon himself to do so. Whether he was a patriot or a
scoundrel is a matter of opinion. He was later executed for his usurpation of the rights
of parliament and the Regent.
President Roosevelt evaluated the situation correctly. He knew that war declarations
coming from those small countries were forced by Hitler and he was, therefore, inclined to
ignore them. On June 2, 1942, that is, after six months of Soviet insistence, the
President sent a message to Congress stating that Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria had
declared war on the United States, but he added: "I realize that those three
governments took that action not upon their own initiative or in response to the wishes of
their own peoples, but as instruments of Hitler." Not before July 18, 1942, did
Congress declare that there was a state of war between us and those nations.
Before our diplomats left Hungary, they were the objects of stormy proofs of
friendship. One of our secretaries was invited to dinner by a friend who belonged to one
of the leading families of Hungary. He told her that his things were packed and that he
could not dress, and she told him that it made no difference. He thought, therefore, that
he was dining en famille and was astonished when he arrived, to find a large
number of prominent people -members of parliament, members of the cabinet, and so forth-
assembled. When they sat down, he was seated on his hostess' right. During the course of
the dinner, the hostess arose and said, "I am not accustomed to making speeches, but
since our guest of honor tonight is an enemy, I feel that I must explain this. I am not
pro-German; I am not pro-English; I am not pro-American; I am just pro-Hungarian and as a
pro-Hungarian, I ask that you all rise and drink a toast to a speedy American
victory." The guests arose, drank the toast and dashed their glasses, according to
the old Hungarian custom, to the floor.
We left Hungary in March 1941, about a year and a half after the invasion of Poland. It
was customary, when diplomats left, for the members of the diplomatic corps and friends to
gather and bid them good-by. The tremendous outburst of friendliness which accompanied our
departure from Budapest was not, I hope, altogether due to a desire to make a pro-Allied
demonstration, but it amounted to that. My wife wrote in her diary concerning our
When we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by members of the Foreign Office,
and the Regent's aide-de-camp stepped up to present me with many good wishes from the
Admiral and his wife, and an enormous bouquet of lavender and white orchids, trailing
across from one arm to the other and far down over the side. After another five minutes I
was so overwhelmed with flowers that I could not carry them, and an airways employee
staggered away on several trips to transfer them to the plane. John and I were surrounded
by our friends. It was a bewildering, emotional moment. People kept on thrusting little
parcels into my hands. The Archduchess Gabriella brought violets and cookies adorned with
good-luck symbols. Suddenly we were hurried away and everyone swarmed out from the
building to the terrace. While the engines were warming up, Stephen Horthy came with more
orchids. Then the door was closed, and up we went while handkerchiefs fluttered below and
hats were swung to and fro. John and I were quite spent after all the tears and emotion.
Never have I had so much human kindness lavished upon me as during that last hour in
And as we neared the end of the first lap of our journey westward:
The reddish soil, striking in color even from above, told us that we approached
Spain. At Barcelona, the pilot set us down deftly despite the deep mud. We had the first
bananas since leaving America. We put our watches back two hours and soon were in the air
again towards Portugal. I shall never forget the vastness and beauty of the great Iberian
plateau, with its stupendous white cloud-banks. We passed over hundreds of miles without a
sign of human habitation. The surface seemed to be purely of stone, with deep canyons and
crevices pitting it in every direction. It depressed me, and I remembered the white-haired
Foreign Minister de Kanya's jesting and yet ominous remark that soon he would apply for an
American immigration visa. What we left behind was a world of fear.
<< 10: The Downfall of Rumania || 12: Hungarian Attempts at Making Separate Peace >>