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15: Russian Tactics in Central Europe

<< 14: The German Invasion of Hungary || 16: The Island Submerged >>

THE SPECTACLE of former allies emphasizing their contributions to the common victory in WW2 is never edifying, and I should not mention it were it not necessary to refute one assertion of our indefatigable "Russia firsters." Their favorite argument in defending the Soviets' conduct in eastern and central Europe is that it was, after all, only the Red army which pushed the Germans from the countries in question. Even if that were true, it would not justify the actions which followed; but it is not true. Germany withdrew from the Balkan regions because, pressed by the Allies from all directions, she had to shorten her lines of supply and of defense. Only after that great regrouping were the Russians able to advance. The same applies to the British advance in Greece. The Red army bagged Rumania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia almost without firing a shot. In Hungary it encountered but rearguard actions of the Germans and of small Hungarian contingents. The fighting in Hungary was tenacious in spots, for instance around the capital where Germans were predominant, but the Russians were allowed to overrun mountain positions in the Carpathians which normally could have been held for months, even by inferior forces. For the spirit of the Hungarian army was by then divided and disrupted. Hence the historic truth is that all these countries, including Hungary, fell to the Russians like ripe fruit from a tree which had been shaken by all the Allies together. No one ally acquired a special monopoly of conquest.

As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, the announcement of Bulgaria's withdrawal from the war happened on August 26, 1944. With it was an appeal made to us and to Great Britain for armistice terms. There had been no war between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union. Bulgaria had been at war with England and the United States since December 13, 1941 -almost three years- but this had not caused the Soviets to declare war upon her. On August 29, 1944, three days after Bulgaria had proclaimed her desire to return to neutrality, the Soviets became suddenly hostile. They announced that they did not recognize the neutrality declared by the Bulgarian government; they considered it "entirely insufficient in the light of the existing situation." This was explained as a reference to the continued presence of German troops in Bulgaria, but in reality there were but a few remnants left, and they could not resist being disarmed by the Bulgarians.

The next day, on August 30th, a Bulgarian armistice delegation headed by an aged and highly respected democrat, former Premier Mushanoff, arrived at Cairo, Egypt, to start armistice negotiations with the United States and Great Britain. The conversations began on September 1st. On September 2nd, to placate the Soviets, the Bagrianoff government resigned and was followed by a cabinet headed by Kosta Muravieff, another meritorious liberal. Mushanoff was a member of this cabinet. On September 3rd the Soviet Tass agency wrote that Bulgaria's neutrality was being used to cover the exodus of German troops. Russia concentrated troops along the Danube on Rumanian soil. On September 4th the Bulgarian armistice delegation was induced to depart from Cairo. The official pretext was that it had been dispatched by the Bagrianoff government and was therefore no longer authoritative, but the real cause was increasing Russian pressure. Muravieff no longer dared to provoke Stalin by talks with the United States and Great Britain. Even if every male and female Bulgarian had started sliding on his or her knees to Moscow, it would not have diverted the "Generalissimo of mankind" from his clear purpose. He did not want Bulgarian neutrality, he did not want Bulgarian collaboration, he did not want peace with Bulgaria -he wanted Bulgaria. On September 5th, Russia declared war on Bulgaria. Molotov's note charged that

the Bulgarian government even now refuses to break with Germany and is carrying out a policy of so-called neutrality, on the strength of which it is continuing to give direct help to Germany against the Soviet Union by sheltering the retreating German forces from pursuit by the Red army. . . . The Soviet government cannot regard this policy of Bulgaria in any other way than as the actual waging of war in Germany's camp against the Soviet Union. . .

The next day Bulgaria asked the Soviets for an armistice. Two days later the Red army invaded Bulgaria and again, after two days, on September 10th, Moscow announced that hostilities with Bulgaria had come to an end. All of the little country was occupied. On the preceding day, the Soviets had installed a new government. The genuine liberals and democrats, Muravieff and Mushanoff, were imprisoned as fascists, because where Stalin's arm reaches, friends of America and Great Britain have to perish. The new cabinet was headed by colonels Georgieff and Veltcheff, well known as the leaders of the "Zveno," which on May 21, 1934, had made a coup-de-main against king and parliament and had established for seven months a regime of fascist republicanism. As well-tried totalitarians, they were immune from "Western democracy." On September 13th, Colonel Georgieff sent an armistice delegation, not to Cairo but to Marshal Tolbukhin.

The above facts are not well known in this country. The story of how Stalin liberated, that is, pocketed, Hungary's next-door neighbor, Rumania, is, I think, better known and therefore I shall devote to it only a few words. In the case of Rumania, Russian military action was justified and necessary: the Red army had to pursue the Germans across Rumania. It is the political conquest that followed which is of special interest. An armistice is ordinarily arranged by soldiers. After the armistice the peace treaty, duly negotiated, settles political matters. Nowadays, armistices seem to be misused to create accomplished facts which anticipate the peace treaties and can hardly be changed by the peacemakers. Very typical was Point 19 of the armistice terms which Rumania received on September 13, 1944: "The Allied governments consider the decision of the Vienna Award as invalid and agree that Transylvania or the greater part of it should be returned to Rumania." This one sentence was the key to a whole set of political plans. It showed, first of all, that the Russians had made their choice. They had decided to treat Rumania better than Hungary, not because they liked Rumania but because they were resolved to keep her. If the peasant woman fattens a pig, the motive is not love. Apparently the Hungarian coup of June 1947, was not envisaged at that time. Stalin's appetite grew as he ate. Thus Hungary which in 1944 was still considered by him as remaining outside of the Soviet orbit was taken over by him in 1947 due to the weak resistance of the Western Allies.

America and Great Britain wanted to reserve the Transylvanian question for the final peace settlement, but as usual, Russia had her way; the result was the compromise expressed by the words "or the greater part of it." By inserting these words, the English-speaking governments thought that no final solution would be possible without their consent. Stalin accepted what looked like a compromise with delight because it offered him the opportunity to keep Rumanians in suspense.

On December 2, 1944 Premier General Sanatescu resigned and was followed by General Radescu, chief of the Rumanian general staff. In his government, the new "National Democratic Front" consisting of communists, left wing agrarians and socialists, was strongly represented. Peter Groza, a member of that front, was vice-premier; Visitanu, another member, foreign minister; and Patrascanu, a Moscow-trained communist, minister of justice. The popular old-party chiefs, Maniu and Bratianu, were dropped. General Radescu enjoyed the confidence of Great Britain and the United States. He hoped to re-establish a decent, democratic and independent regime despite the presence of so many tools of Moscow in his cabinet. However, owing to that stipulation of the armistice concerning Transylvania, Stalin had the whiphand. His agents spread the notion that the final solution of that national problem depended solely on Stalin, whose troops were in occupation of the country; therefore Rumania must lean entirely on the Soviets. This propaganda prepared the ground for the bold and I hope well-remembered action of Vyshinsky, deputy foreign commissar of the Soviet Union, who on March 12, 1945, removed Radescu as a fascist beast and made Peter Groza premier, announcing at the same time that with this trustworthy man in the saddle, Stalin had decided to put the whole of Transylvania under Rumanian administration.

The United States and Great Britain were not asked for their advice. Had they protested, Moscow would have replied that the final settlement was still up to the peace conference. General Radescu was given sanctuary in the British legation.

While the Russians were ousting from the Rumanian government all the friends of democracy known to be friends of Great Britain and the United States, they were putting into key positions Rumanians who formerly had served the Nazi system very efficiently.

The London Times stated that Tatarescu, the new vice-premier and foreign minister, had been prime minister of the government which in July 1940 had renounced the Anglo-French guarantee and reorientated Rumanian policy to Hitler's "new order." The Moscow Red Star stated that Rumania's historical parties had become "archeological parties." By the time the Paris Peace Conference convened, Russia was firmly entrenched in Rumania, whereas in Hungary she had suffered a major defeat at the elections in November 1945. To Rumania was awarded all of Transylvania and Hungary was punished for holding out against sovietization.

It is incredible that the United States and Great Britain were fooled by Stalin into accepting the veteran Soviet agent, Brozevitch, now called Marshal Tito, as the savior and leader of southern Slavic democracy. But when the Russians entered Belgrade on October 20, 1944, Churchill sent congratulations to Tito and Subasitch. And on January 18, 1945 he forced young King Peter to accept the so-called agreement with Tito which had been hatched by the Soviets.

Hitler's ship foundered on a rock named Winston Churchill, but the speech Churchill made that day is one of which he can hardly be proud:

I am the earliest outside supporter of Marshal Tito. It is more than a year since I extolled his guerrilla virtues to the world. He is one of my best friends. I earnestly hope he may prove to be the savior and unifier of his country, as he is undoubtedly at this time its undisputed master... In pursuance of our joint policy, we encouraged the making of an agreement between the Tito government, which with Russian assistance, has now installed itself in Belgrade, and the Royal Government of Yugoslavia which is seated in London . . . Marshal Stalin and His Majesty's Government consider that agreement on the whole to be wise. We believe that the arrangements are the best that can be made for the immediate future of Yugoslavia . . . King Peter II agrees in principle with these arrangements, but makes certain reservations . . . It is a matter of days within which a decision must be reached upon this matter, and if we were so unfortunate as not to be able to obtain the consent of King Peter, the matter would have, in fact, to go ahead, his assent being assumed.

The last sentence was greeted with hilarity in the House of Commons.

Since we followed the lead and accepted the guidance of Great Britain in our dealings with Yugoslavia and also with Czechoslovakia, we might have some excuse, but no great power ever should allow itself to be led blindfolded. Close co-operation with Great Britain is necessary, but we should always know where we are being led.

Czechoslovakian affairs were as badly managed by the British Foreign Office as were Yugoslavian, and in both instances we were accomplices. By overthrowing the social order of 1919, Hitler offered the West the opportunity to correct mistakes committed at Versailles. If the British had kept in mind the truthful report of Lord Runciman when he offered plans for settlement of minority claims, they would have known that something had been basically wrong with Czechoslovakia. The British Foreign Office then might have formed a Czechoslovakian government-in-exile not under Benes but composed of men willing to fulfill the broken pledge of Thomas Masaryk, that is, to make Czechoslovakia a second Switzerland, a country of complete ethnic equality, a real home for its many nationalities- Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Magyars, Poles and Ruthenians. This great opportunity was missed and the well-deserved reward is being reaped. History has repeated itself, in reverse. In the first World War the Czechs in exile -not at home, where they were loyal to Franz Josef- pinned all their hopes on czarism and pan-Slavism. When the czar distrusted deserters and when Russia went down, they became "Westerners" and embraced the fallacious concept of national self-determination, which when granted to them denied self-determination to any nationality but Czechs. In the second World War, Benes began as a Westerner but quickly became an Easterner, when he recognized that his burning desire to take vengeance on his Czech opponents -Sudetenlanders, Magyars and Slovak autonomists- could only find satisfaction with Stalin's permission and help. The price was submissiveness, even the cession of Carpatho-Ruthenia with parts of Slovakia to the Soviet Union.

Thus Hungary became an island in the Soviet sea after having been an oasis in Hitler's desert.

Russia's active role in Hungary began with the siege of Budapest on December 24, 1944. On the same day Moscow announced that an Hungarian national assembly had been set up at Debrecen. General Voeroes, who, in November had escaped to Russian lines and ordered the army to join the Russians, declaring Horthy's regime the legal one, appeared as defense minister and General Miklos as premier. During the siege a Hungarian armistice delegation arrived in Moscow, and on January 21st Premier Miklos signed an armistice with Russia, the United States and Great Britain. But it was not until February 12th that the Budapest siege ended and weary citizens of Hungary, who had been caught between the two fires of German and Russian armies, could leave their cellars.

Then came a period of calculated destruction. The Russian method of occupation follows a certain pattern necessitated by the differences between the East and West in standards of living. After a spearhead of disciplined troops which destroys any remaining opposition, propaganda shock troops arrive. Their job is to destroy all evidence of higher than Russian standards of living in enemy territory, before the ordinary soldiers appear upon the scene. A man who eats at a table and sleeps on a bed is considered a bourgeois. Boxes had to be substituted for tables and straw for beds.

In Hungary such a policy meant destruction of workers' and peasants' homes as well as those of the wealthy classes. The peasants, according to Dr. Eckhardt, who as a leader of the Smallholders Party had much contact with them, are the sturdiest element in Hungary. They are individualists; they refuse to be pushed around. In his opinion Bolshevism will find them a stubborn obstacle. I fully share his views.

The population at first looked to the Russians as liberators after the German occupation; but the Russians did not feel that they were liberating a people. They looked upon Hungary as an enemy country. With the troops came Mathias Rakosi and other collaborators of Bela Kun (whom the Russians purged in 1936 as a Trotskyite) in the Hungarian communist interlude of 1919. After more than twenty-five years' service with the Soviets they are again controlling the Hungarian people, and pretend to be Hungarian patriots.

An account of the Russian occupation of Hungary as seen through the eyes of members of the Swiss legation and consulate, who were ordered to leave Budapest in April 1945, appears as Appendix III of this volume. In it are details of the looting which took place; the wholesale rape of women from the ages of ten to seventy years; the theft of funds in bank and legation safes, including those belonging to other nationals than Hungarians; and of the destruction wrought in Budapest by the siege.

Colonel Dallas S. Townsend, who was second in command of the American military mission in Hungary returned here in the spring of 1946. He has told me a great deal about civic conditions in Hungary under Russian occupation.

In return for the Hungarian provisional government's promise to pay $300,000,000 in reparations and to furnish troops, etc., the Allies promised to set up a Hungarian civilian administration. This they did not do; though the Hungarian government kept its promises. The civilians were under the control of the Red army, and even the Allied Control officers have not been able to get into some parts of Hungary since the armistice without permission from the Russians; in many cases it has been refused.

The $300,000,000 reparations amount actually to about $1,100,000,000, for the dollar was specified as that of 1938, and a five percent a month penalty for delay in delivery was imposed. Due to Russian interference deliveries have been slow and penalties have been huge. In addition, the Russians seized practically all major factories in Hungary on the pretense that they were German property, although in every instance the factory had been taken by force or under duress from original Hungarian owners. None of this property was credited against the reparations figure; at the same time, their seizure made it more difficult for Hungary to make good on the reparation terms and gave Russia a stranglehold on Hungarian economy.

When the Russians felt that they could win an election, they decided to start in Budapest, having been assured by the local communists that the leftist bloc would carry Budapest by an overwhelming majority. The idea was that a big victory in Budapest would help them in subsequent elections in the provinces. Campaigns were conducted by the leftist bloc practically without opposition. The communists had plenty of money. The other parties had none. Further, the leftist bloc had transportation, whereas the other parties had none. To anyone not knowing conditions in Hungary this would not seem particularly important, but it is absolutely vital. Col. Townsend said he saw any number of funerals, where the coffin was in a pushcart and the mourners followed on foot behind. His office was often importuned by the families of people seriously ill for the loan of a jeep to get them to the hospital. Outside of the supporters of the communists it was impossible for anyone to get anywhere.

When the elections were held in Budapest, in November 1945, there were enormous parades, with thousands of people carrying red flags and shouting for the leftists. There was no parade and few meetings were held for the opposition. Communists promised that if they were elected they would see that everybody got plenty of food. They of course gave Russia credit for food allegedly sent into the country. They said: "We better have a communist government that is right in line with Russia, because the British and Americans are not going to do anything for you. Russia will take care of you if you have a communist government. If you don't, it won't be so good for you. If you want to eat, vote the communist ticket."

To those who watched all this, the predictions that the communist-dominated leftist bloc would not carry the election seemed fantastic. One member of the American mission remarked that he could not believe the opposition would poll ten percent of the vote. Yet the leftist bloc lost the election. The voters paraded, had a secret ballot, and voted as they pleased. The elections that followed in the provinces were similar defeats for the communists. The leftist bloc got only forty percent of the vote, of which the Communist Party proper got sixteen percent.

Nevertheless when the elections were over the Communist Party demanded control of the three most important ministries: the interior, and through that control of the police; commerce; and supplies. Three communists, all of whom were actually Russian citizens and who had spent most of their lives in Russia, were appointed to these posts. The communists insisted on naming as vice-premier, the Hungarian renegade Mathias Rakosi, whose position amounts to that of a dictator.

Then the communists began to work on parliament. First, they accused one member after another of various crimes, and uncovered imaginary conspiracies which enabled them to eliminate many important people in the dominant Smallholders Party, formerly friends of the Allies. On three occasions the majority was purged in an effort to reduce it to a minority. No one ever knew who would be next to fall under communist pressure. The more prominent and important you were the sooner your turn was apt to come. People were picked up all the time, on the streets and every where else. Families whose members disappeared often appealed to the American commission, which made attempts to find out what had actually happened, but were met with rebuffs. If members of a family bothered the police force, they were told they would be ar rested themselves if they came around again.

Russians systematically brought about the worst inflation in world history in order to destroy capital, render the monied class impoverished and force people to subjection. This was the price the Hungarian people paid for having established by free elections a democratic government as requested by the Yalta Agreement.

Colonel Townsend said that after the elections were held and the communists still controlled public affairs, the people began to wonder. They began to think that maybe the English and the Americans could not do anything for them and maybe they better get in line with the Russians. The Colonel criticized our government for permitting Russia to get away with all this and said that we had lost so much prestige that by the time he left he might as well not have been there at all.

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