12: Hungarian Attempts at Making Separate Peace
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Part Three: An Island in the Soviet Sea
12. Hungarian Attempts at Making Separate Peace
AFTER WE left Hungary I kept up a regular correspondence with members of the legation
and with friends. Thus, I was quite familiar with the state of affairs up to the time our
mission left Hungary. Upon their arrival in this country I met them out in the harbor, and
we all dined together that night. I got full reports from them of Teleki's suicide and the
events that followed so swiftly.
Tibor Eckhardt and Leon Orlowski had left Budapest before I did but, as they had to
take a roundabout route through Africa, did not arrive until some months later. Eckhardt
established himself in Washington and immediately made contact with Hungarian
representatives in all parts of the world, and with various people in the State Department
and embassies in Washington. In this way he has kept remarkably well informed. Orlowski
established himself in New York and, through the Polish underground and acquaintances made
during his diplomatic career, also has kept very well informed.
We three, having been friends in Budapest, naturally stayed in close contact after our
arrival in America. I kept receiving letters from friends all over Europe. It is amazing
that there were so many. The letters came in various ways-some were simply handed to
soldiers after the arrival of the American mission. Letters were given to newspaper men,
not necessarily in Hungary, but in Italy, Germany and elsewhere. A number of letters were
merely posted in America or Switzerland and other countries where the mails were free,
with no indication of the sender. There was a period during the siege of Budapest when
none of us could get any information, but letters got through in a remarkably short time
after it was over.
Many of these letters I did not dare answer and those that I did were very carefully
worded. We had a letter from an American friend of ours who went back to Budapest early in
1947 and made inquiries concerning people with whom he had been on the most friendly
terms, only to be told that it would be better not to go near these persons, as they were
already under suspicion due to their friendship with the Allies. So my friends passed
their friends up with very heavy hearts.
Liberated by American troops from the German concentration camp Dachau, along with Leon
Blum, Schuschnigg and others, Mr. Nicholas de Kallay, the last prime minister of Hungary
before Germany actually took over, has sent me some valuable material covering the
sequence of events preceding and during his term in office from March 1942 until March
1944. Thus most of the events which took place from the time of my departure from Hungary
to Mr. Kallay's arrest are described on firsthand evidence by the person most qualified to
know the facts. His story of Hungary's unsuccessful attempts to withdraw from the war is
of particular interest.
From the time that Mr. Kallay was appointed prime minister by the Regent in 1942,
continuous attempts were made by Hungary to reduce the army fighting against Russia and to
end belligerency. Mr. Kallay, in partnership with the minister of the interior, Mr.
Keresztes-Fisher, and the Hungarian Foreign Office, initiated widespread anti-Nazi action
in which leaders of the opposition also participated. These included the president of the
National Bank, Mr. Baranyai, the leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Rassay, the leader of
the Social Democratic Party, Mr. Peyer, and the vice-president of the Smallholders Party,
Mr. Bajcsy-Zsilinsky (who later was executed by the Nazis as leader of the Hungarian
Kallay's policy was twofold: He wanted to extricate Hungary from the war, but at the
same time avoid German military occupation, which was bound to lead to mass extermination
of Jews and anti-Nazi Hungarians.
In the summer of 1943, Prime Minister Kallay sent his personal envoy to Istanbul to
establish direct contact with the Western Allies with the purpose of offering them
Hungary's unconditional surrender and military collaboration whenever military operations
of the Allies would render it possible. The envoy in Istanbul at first contacted the
American consul, Mr. Berry, and then having waited in vain for six weeks for an answer,
established contact on September 9 with the British ambassador to Turkey, Sir Hugh
Knatchbull-Hugessen. The ambassador reported to Mr. Eden that the Hungarian envoy had
arrived to offer unconditional surrender and future military co-operation on the part of
Hungary, and was authorized by cable from Mr. Eden to enter into conversations with the
Hungarian representative. The British ambassador then arranged with the Hungarian
representative to check on his authorization to conclude an arrangement with Great Britain
for the Hungarian government. As agreed, the Hungarian minister to Portugal, Mr. Wodianer,
visited the British representative in Lisbon, Mr. Standale Benett, and gave him the asked
After these preliminaries, an agreement was concluded between the British and Hungarian
authorized representatives containing the following points:
(a) Hungary offered unconditional surrender to the Allies.
(b) The time when this unconditional surrender should become effective was to be
determined by the Allies, who meanwhile would conclude military agreements with Hungary.
(c) Great Britain undertook to inform her allies of the abovesaid facts. America was to
be informed immediately and the Soviets after one month. Britain requested that no other
contacts be made between Hungary and the Western Allies.
(d) The British representative advised Hungary not to provoke German military
occupation of Hungary as it would impair or render impossible future military co-operation
between Hungary and the Allies and might even lead to the immediate transfer of the
Hungarian army to the Russian front by the Germans.
(e) The Hungarian Foreign Office was to establish permanent contact with the British
Consulate in Istanbul.
This contact was established in the Foreign Office by Mr. Szentmiklosy, undersecretary
of the Foreign Office, who received a secret code from the British and a short-wave
transmitter which functioned in the subsequent period until the military occupation of
Hungary by Germany. Mr. Szentmiklosy was executed in 1944 by the Germans for this service.
The Hungarian declaration of unconditional surrender was submitted at the Quebec
Conference where Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill took notice of it and also informed the
Soviet government. The agreement, although not put in writing, was adhered to by both
sides. Military agreements had been prepared in all details to assure collaboration of the
Hungarian army with Anglo-American armies whenever their strategic plans allowed for doing
so. An exchange of general staff officers had also been prepared. The Western Allies at
that time did not request Hungarian collaboration with the Russian army, and the Hungarian
government at that time could never have undertaken any such obligation, as the army was
willing to collaborate with Anglo-American armed forces, but not with the Russians.
This military plan was never carried out. At the Teheran Conference, in December 1943,
proposed Allied invasion across the Balkans was dropped at the request of Stalin; thus
there was no Anglo-American army near enough to accept the unconditional surrender of the
Hungarian army or to develop military collaboration.
But whatever collaboration was possible was put into practice during the period when
the Hungarian government was still free to act. It became a regular practice of Allied
airplanes to fly over the western part of Hungary to attack German industries located in
Austria. The Russian airmail to Tito flew at regular intervals over Budapest. The Allies
never bombed Hungarian territory, and orders were found with Allied flyers, who eventually
made forced landings in Hungary, forbidding them to bomb Hungarian territory. These facts
which could not be concealed from the Germans went beyond neutrality, as neutral states
objected to Allied warplanes flying over their territory and even pro-Allied Turkey had
shot down British and American planes flying unauthorized over its territory.
From January 1943, on, Hungary had not sent soldiers or war materiel to fight Russia.
In fact, no Hungarian troops participated from that time on in any fighting against the
Russians until March 1944. On the contrary, whatever troops and armaments could be
withdrawn from the front were ordered back to Hungary. Nonbelligerency was also extended
to the various partisan groups in neighboring countries. Their leaders were invited to
Budapest and secret agreements were concluded not to fight each other, not to take
prisoners, and even to exchange those who had been captured. In the case of the Yugoslav
partisans, the Hungarian government had established friendly contacts with the Serbian
partisans of Mihailovitch before Teheran. Then, in the autumn of 1943, Tito's partisans
repeatedly crossed into Hungarian territory and provoked border incidents. Prime Minister
Kallay ordered the Hungarian army to refrain from retaliation and immediately sent his
representative to the Tito forces and agreed with them to refrain in the future from all
armed incidents and hostile acts.
From September 1943 until the occupation of Hungary, the German minister to Budapest,
Mr. Jagow, steadily avoided personal contact with the prime minister, as the latter
previously had refused to receive him. German-Hungarian relations became even more
strained when in February 1944 the Hungarian chief of staff, in a note which could be
qualified as an ultimatum, requested from General Keitel, the chief of the German general
staff, that a) all Hungarian troops be immediately brought to Hungary from Russia; and b)
the Carpathian Mountains be defended exclusively by Hungarian troops; German military
forces, even in case of further withdrawal, being kept from entering Hungarian territory.
Even in the first days of March 1944, when the Germans requested passage for three
thousand German military trucks to carry troops and war materiel across Hungarian
territory, Prime Minister Kallay flatly turned down the demand.
I was gratified during those years to find that the American press gave Hungary some
credit for the efforts -so far as they were publicly known- of Premier Kallay's
On September 13, 1943, Mr. Russell Hill reported to the New York Herald Tribune:
The Rumanians have sent a larger contingent of troops to Russia than any of
Germany's 'other allies' -the number has been variously estimated at between 300,000 and
700,000-and they have suffered by far the heaviest losses. It is in Hungary that
opposition to the German war is best organized and most articulate. The Hungarians have
prepared well for the day when Allied troops arrive . . . There are in Hungary today
eleven anti-Nazi newspapers, of which the leading one is the liberal daily 'Magyar Nemzet'
. . . But even the parties which support Premier Kallay's government have given the
Germans only minimum co-operation. There never have been more than four Hungarian
divisions at the Russian front. The Germans have not been allowed to control Hungary
militarily as they have Rumania and Bulgaria. They have been restricted to railroad
stations and airfields, and German troops are not seen in Budapest or other Hungarian
cities. Undoubtedly, the Germans could have forcibly denied the Hungarians their
relatively free press, their parliamentary institutions and their independent national
Undoubtedly, as Mr. Hill says, the Germans could have denied the Hungarians their
relatively free press, but it would have necessitated German garrisons of at least three
hundred thousand men.
On October 11, 1943, the London Times reported that a Swedish journalist, K.
G. Bolander, after a visit to Hungary, had written in the Svenska Dagbladet:
The greatest surprise was to see how widespread and marked anti-German feeling was
and how openly expressed. The Hungarians are well aware that they are in the wrong box,
but also know that attempts to get disentangled from Germany may lead to German
countermeasures resulting in complete annihilation, and the possibility of the Germans
letting loose neighboring peoples on Hungary. The Slav menace in the case of a German
breakdown is considered even greater, and the Hungarians' only hope seems to be a
miraculous intervention by the Allies. .
Budapest has to say 'No' to German demands almost every day. No troops have been
sent to the Balkans, and when Hungarian troops recently found themselves fighting on the
Russian front, it was because the German retreat had been so quick that the Hungarians,
though actually only supply line troops, found themselves in the front line.
A prominent politician told me that the question for Hungary was whether the
Germans, the Russians or the Anglo-Saxons would be first in the country. 'Of course, we
wish it will be the Anglo-Saxons even if we dare not believe in it,' he said.
When Hitler's patience was finally exhausted and on March 19, 1944 he occupied Hungary,
even Mr. Elmer Davis, director of the U.S. Office of War Information, in whose
organization American and foreign communists and fellow-travelers seemed to be
extraordinarily well represented, wrote in the Washington Post:
Hungary was the only country in southeastern Europe which permitted many of its
newspapers to publish news from neutral and Allied sources. Until the Nazis performed
their latest act of cannibalism and swallowed up their satellites the other day, Hungary
was the only country in southeastern Europe whose press had never been 'co-ordinated' to
serve the will of Hitler.
Some Hungarian newspapers in recent months published at least as many items coming
from neutral, British or American sources as from German sources, and often Allied news
received better play than enemy items. I have seen Budapest newspapers with the full text
of speeches of President Roosevelt, Vice-President Wallace and Wendell Willkie . .
Hungarian publishers were permitted to publish translations of current American books,
which were sold openly in Budapest book stores.
Indeed, it is possible that Hitler found it necessary to occupy Hungary by force,
violence and fraud instead of by consent simply because the Hungarians knew so much about
the coming Allied victory .
In other words, Hungary was not even willing to curb its free press in order to please
Hitler. Hungary's resistance was outright provocative and it could not last.
The Germans had a large fifth column in the country; but the statement that the fifth
column was identical with the German minority is not true. Germans should forever hate and
despise Hitler for his destruction of what had always been the best element of the German
race, namely, the German minorities in eastern Europe. These people, bearers of occidental
civilization, were with few exceptions law- abiding citizens, and when national socialist
agents began to bring them the gospel of the German master-race, the general reaction was
one of reticence; they wanted to keep out of trouble. This attitude became very dangerous
for every member of the German minority when the German armies approached, and when the
various governments gave in to Hitler. His proclaimed doctrine was that he was not only
head of Germany but Fuehrer of the whole German race, so that every German, wherever he
dwelt, owed allegiance to him. Hence to be anti-national socialist was less risky for a
Magyar or a Rumanian than for a Hungarian or Rumanian citizen of German origin. The latter
exposed himself to being treated as a traitor to the German race. By these means, Hitler
succeeded in terrorizing the German minorities for whom he claimed special privileges, a
kind of extra-territorial rights within the countries whose subjects they were. This was
the origin of a real tragedy. Afraid of Hitler's revenge, the German minorities accepted a
new policy which, in case of Hitler's defeat, had to prove suicidal. Nations which had
lived on good terms with their German minorities began to consider them a menace.
In Hungary, Hitler's attempt to use the German minorities as a Trojan horse was partly
unsuccessful. The most numerous German element were Swabians; deliberate, levelheaded,
hardworking people who never had political ambitions. German agents distributed money,
even cows, which they presented as Hitler's personal gifts. The Hungarian government
invented an amusing device to counteract this form of propaganda. Assessors were sent to
the farms belonging to Germans, and they began to count the cattle and survey the fields.
When the peasant asked what was the matter, he was told that the authorities, informed of
his desire to move to Germany in accordance with the Fuehrer's wishes, wanted to fix the
indemnity they would have to pay him. This was just about the time when Germans were being
forcibly repatriated from the Baltic States. The trick was very effective since not one of
them wanted to leave Hungary and go to Germany. All of a sudden, there was a large number
of applications to Magyarize German names. Actually the national socialists in the end
amounted to about one-third of the German minority.
Apart from Imredy after his conversion to Nazism, the prime ministers showed remarkable
energy in fighting national socialism. Fortunately the Hungarian branch was mostly
riffraff. In March 1937, Tibor Eckhardt, who was in the van of the fight against national
socialism, estimated that not more than ten percent of the population supported that
movement. Hitler's successes should have caused a national socialist boom, but Hungarians
seemed to be horrified by his methods. At the height of his diplomatic successes in the
spring of 1939, national socialists received sixteen percent of the vote, about the same
proportion -and to a large extent representing the same people- as the communists received
in the 1945 elections. On the whole, Hungarian national socialism would have been
negligible if it had not fascinated a good number of professional soldiers who, quite
erroneously, regarded Hitlerism as an attempt to rebuild the military strength of the
Hitler's crooked cross could not be displayed in Hungary because as early as May 1933,
Mr. Keresztes-Fisher, minister of the interior, had decreed that no profanation of the
Hungarian flag by any emblem, nor any use of emblems representing the symbol of a foreign
nation would be tolerated. Some months later, he forbade the "wearing or exhibiting
of the swastika in any form" and ordered the destruction of all badges showing it.
Then Mesko, at that time leader of the Magyar national socialists, introduced the fashion
of wearing green shirts with the Arrow Cross, a combination of four arrows which resembled
the swastika. Later Count Alexander Festetics, another nincompoop, became head of the
Arrow Cross and after the fusion of the different groups, claimed, at the end of 1937, in
an interview with the Daily Telegraph, three hundred thousand members, which in
my opinion was an enormous exaggeration.
The occupation of Austria by the Germans encouraged Major Szalasi, Festetics'
successor, to resort to terroristic methods like those used before by the Austrian
national socialists. For this he was arrested and given three years in jail. On February
24, 1939, the government disbanded his Hungarist Party, seized its funds and literature,
and made many arrests. The straw that broke the camel's back was the explosion of hand
grenades in front of the Budapest Great Synagogue. Then in August 1940, came the Vienna
Award by which half of Transylvania was restored to Hungary, and a few weeks later Major
Szalasi was released from prison under an amnesty. The Arrow Cross and the revived
Hungarist National Socialist Party united under his leadership. There is little doubt that
more tolerance toward the national socialists had been one of Hitler's conditions in
Vienna. Peaceful relations, however, did not last long. In November, the government
announced that a national socialist plot had been discovered. Its aim was to kill
Keresztes-Fisher, and to kidnap the Regent in order to compel him to release national
socialists from prison. The government arrested several hundred national socialists and
stated that 236 hand grenades had been found in national socialist homes. It should be
remembered that the government took these energetic steps when all Europe was already at
Hitler's mercy. He must have been exasperated by Hungary's habit of withdrawing after a
short time every concession made to the Hungarian national socialists. As a sequel to the
discovery of the plot against the Regent, two national socialist members of parliament
were sentenced to long terms of penal servitude at the end of 1941.
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