15: Friction With Hitler
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Friction With Hitler
The year of the Austrian Anschluss, of the Sudeten crisis, of the Munich Agreement, and
finally of the Vienna Award arbitrating between Hungary and Czechoslovakia, put Hungarian
politics to a severe test. As a former sailor, I was used to relying not on sunshine alone
but also on the readings of barometers and weather charts. In 1938, I could see the storm
approaching while not only the masses but also eminent statesmen still believed in
"peace in our time". I knew, the helm would have to be firmly grasped to keep
the small Hungarian ship of state on her set course through the mounting waves. We desired
revision, yes, but revision by peaceful means. I am not writing this with the wisdom
gained after the event. To my great satisfaction, I find in the memoirs of Ernst von
Weizsäcker(1), the Permanent Secretary of the German
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a sentence which shows clearly how my thoughts were running
at the time. "We must avoid becoming involved in a new war at all costs." These
were the words with which, in August, 1938, I greeted Frau von Weizsäcker, who had come
to accompany my wife on our travels through Germany. I am now going to record expressing
these self-same sentiments, not to a lady, though she was the wife of a Permanent
Secretary, but to Hitler himself.
In a state of extreme tension, we had watched, from Budapest, the dramatic struggle
waged by the Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg, for the retention of the independence of
his country. The unification of the two German states was the logical consequence of the
violent disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Hungary was neither called upon
nor was she in a position to guarantee Peace Treaties after the Western democracies,
suffering from a fresh defeat in the Spanish Civil War, together with Mussolini had
withdrawn their support from Austria. I learned later that even Yugoslavia, a member of
the Little Entente, had strengthened Hitler in his resolve. When we, together with Italy
and Yugoslavia, had become the neighbours of Germany on March 11th, 1938, it had entirely
changed the balance of power in Central Europe. I realized that Czechoslovakia's hour had
struck now that she was hemmed in by Germany on three sides. For Benes and Masaryk the
time of reckoning had come for having procured the creation of their artificial state at
the Peace Conference by means of falsified maps and fictitious(2)
data. By such ruse they gained regions in which the Czechs, the State-nation, were a
minority that ruled over incensed Slovaks and other despoiled nationalities: Germans,
Magyars, Ruthenes and Poles. We, at any rate, felt no surprise when, a few weeks after the
Anschluss, the Sudeten Germans came forward with their claims. Our Premier, Béla Imrédy(3), who had taken over from Darányi on May 14th, and Kánya,
our Foreign Minister, returned from their journey to Rome in July with Mussolini's
assurance, after Hitler's Italian visit(4), that he,
Mussolini, would 'unreservedly support' the German claims against Czechoslovakia. London
sent Lord Runciman(5) to Prague. Was Hungary expected to go
arm-in-arm with Litvinov(6) to the defence of the Czechs?
Particularly, as three years earlier we had voiced our worry even to the American
Government concerning the re-entry of the Soviet Union into the affairs of Central Europe
by reason of her treaties with France and Czechoslovakia. However, it is important to
establish this point, we had in no way bound ourselves politically or militarily to
Germany during my visit to that country.
Hitler, in issuing an invitation to me to visit Germany in the summer of 1938, had
bethought himself of a signal honour to pay me. In my distinction as the last
Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian fleet, the traditions of which were now
proclaimed by the German Navy, I was to attend the launch of a heavy cruiser and my wife
was to christen the vessel. However much I enjoyed meeting my German friends of the sea, I
was always inclined to be suspicious when my natural and understandable fondness for my
former avocation was too blatantly invoked. In this matter of Hitler's invitation, the
purpose was clear and it displeased me. And events were soon to prove how well founded my
forebodings had been.
The journey, on which I set out with a considerable retinue in my special train on
August 21st, had been arranged with all possible circumspection from the German side. The
heavy cruiser was originally going to be named Tegetthoff apparently to stress
the Austro-Hungarian traditon. After glancing through the proposed programme, I pointed
out that to name the ship after the victor of the naval battle of Lissa might well be
taken amiss by Germany's Italian friends, whereupon the name of the Prince of Savoy, Prince
Eugen(7), was chosen. On the other hand, the Germans
feared that I might take offence at the words of the bass singer in Lohengrin, the opera I
had selected for the gala performance: "0h Lord, protect us from the wrath of the
I put Baron Dörnberg's(8) mind at rest, he being the
master of ceremonies. I knew the passage in question. As a sincere lover of Wagner, if I
had not chosen Lohengrin on that account, I could not pretend to myself that I would be
sorry to hear of a time when Hungary's might was greater than it was at that moment.
When our special train, which Baron Dörnberg had joined in Vienna, arrived at Kiel in
the morning of August 22nd, Hitler received us. He handed my wife a large bouquet of
lilies of the valley, a remarkable attention as these were my wife's favourite flowers and
a rarity at that time of the year. Our rooms and the banquet tables were adorned at all
times with a profusion of flowers. In Berlin, my wife, who is a Roman Catholic, was given
a prayer-stool and a crucifix in her room.
The weather was glorious as we entered the open cars at Kiel and drove to the Germania
yard, my wife in the car of Grand-Admiral Raeder(9), I in
Hitler's. High above us towered the proud ship, elegant and strong, a fine example of
modern shipbuilding, which owed much in ingenuity to the limitations imposed by the Allies
on the German Navy. We mounted the tribune, my wife pronounced the words, "I christen
you Prince Eugen," and pressed the electric switch, releasing the bottle of champagne
which shattered against the bows. With well-directed hammer-blows, workmen knocked away
the last supports, the last ropes were severed. Majestically, the Prinz Eugen
moved down the ways, slowly at first, then gathering speed through the foaming water.
After the christening ceremony, Hitler showed me over the Germania yard, which was
alive with activity. He laid particular stress on the fact that we two heads of states
were mingling so peacefully with the workers. He seemed to think this remarkable, perhaps
because dictators have special reasons for distrusting people. I am, however, only too
ready to affirm that these north-German workers, strong and tall, gave us the most
My wife, meanwhile, accompanied by a party of ladies and several other guests, had gone
on board the elegant Hapag liner Patria. Hitler and I went on board the control
vessel Grille, which Hitler used for his sea trips. At luncheon, Grand-Admiral
Raeder made a short speech in which he referred very flatteringly to my career as a
commanding Admiral and gave the assurance "that the German Navy would at all times
safeguard and follow the great traditions of the Austro-Hungarian Navy". In the sense
of this tradition, the German Navy has certainly proved its bravery.
During the torpedo-boat and artillery manoeuvres on the Baltic, use was made of the
target-vessel Zähringen, steered by remote control. The naval review that was
held displayed the surprising number of vessels possessed by Germany, considering the
short space of time she had had to build up her fleet.
On the return voyage to Kiel, Hitler asked me for a private conversation. Two years had
passed since our talk at the Obersalzberg, and those two years had wrought a great change
in Hitler. He was behaving as the master of Europe as he explained with few preliminaries
his plan to absorb Czechoslovakia, which later became known by its code name: Plan Green.
His aim was to smash the Czechs, as he put it, destroying Prague if necessary, and to make
Czechoslovakia a German protectorate. He was fully resolved on war, and he tried to
persuade me to pledge the Hungarians to march into Slovakia from the south as the Germans
entered Czechoslovakia(10). He gave me to understand that
as a reward we should be allowed to keep the territory we had invaded. This project was
put in the form of a request, and I replied with all courtesy but with great firmness that
there could be no possibility of Hungarian participation. Hungary had, of course,
revisionist claims on Czechoslovakia, I added, but it was our wish and intention to press
those claims by peaceful means. I pointed out that, in any case, our restricted forces
were not strong enough to overrun the fortifications that had been erected along our
borders(11). "We'll provide you with the arms,"
Hitler interrupted. But I adhered to my refusal and even warned him against the risk of a
major war, as, in my opinion, the chances were that neither England nor France, nor even
Soviet Russia, would passively watch a German entry into Czechoslovakia.
The friendly mood of the morning had evaporated; our conversation ended on a rather
unpleasant note. A conversation, similar to that between myself and Hitler, was held
between Ribbentrop, Imrédy and Kánya, during which the significant words, "If you
want to join in the meal, you must help with the cooking," were spoken. Herr von
Weizsäcker, who was present at this conversation, made a note at the time that the answer
of the Hungarians had "raised objections". Indeed, our Premier and our Foreign
Minister refused, just as I had, to consider military co-operation. The Germans were also
annoyed about certain discussions that were being held at the time between Hungary and the
states of the Little Entente(12). The provisional results
of these had been simultaneously published in Budapest and in a communiqué concerning the
Council meeting of the Little Entente held at Bled on August 21st and 22nd under the
chairmanship of the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Dr. Milan Stojadinovic(13).
In this statement, both sides had declared themselves averse to violence in their mutual
relations, while Hungary's right to re-arm had been fully recognized. Ribbentrop regarded
this as an act of withdrawal on Hungary's part from the German policy towards
Czechoslovakia. In a sense this was true, for we had no desire whatever to engage in
warfare. Kánya had considerable difficulty in calming the extremely excited German
I took pains, while I was on board the Grille, to make my attitude clear to
General Field Marshal von Brauchitsch(14), who gave me the
impression that he fully understood my position. What I did not know, and what von
Brauchitsch naturally did not tell me, was that the German military leaders, headed by
Major-General Beck(15), were conspiring to arrest Hitler
and his immediate collaborators if the Fuehrer allowed the Sudeten question to lead to
war. The British, as far as I have been able to learn since, were aware of this in
We spent that night aboard the Grille; the next day we went over to the Patria,
which sailed through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to Helgoland, where Admiral Tegetthoff had
fought a superior Danish fleet in the war of 1864. Inscribed on the base of the monument
erected to his memory that was transported from Pola to Graz after the First World War are
By battle bravely joined off Helgoland,
By glorious victory at Lissa,
He won immortal fame
For himself and Austria's Navy.
We inspected the island's new fortifications and also visited its famous aquarium. The
Helgolanders in their gay costume entertained us with folk dances. As lobster-culture is
an important part of the island economy, my wife was offered a gigantic specimen on a
During the cruise to Hamburg, the entertainment provided for us was magnificent. The
pianist, Elly Ney(16), and the cello-player, Hoelscher(17), gave two excellent recitals. The band of the former
Hungarian officer, Barnabás von Géczy, played dance music on board. According to the
original programme, it was not intended that we should go over to the Patria
before the evening. Apparently, my "no" to Hitler had effected the change in
arrangements, to the consternation of the wretched master of ceremonies. I noticed,
however, that Hitler, contrary to his usual practice, spent the whole evening amid the
merrymaking throng, after having had dinner with my wife and myself at a special table.
He, of course, was served with vegetarian dishes. Our conversation ran mainly on music.
Hitler said that the days of the Wagner Festival were his only time of relaxation, and he
invited us to visit Bayreuth. As nearly all the members of the German Government, the
leading military figures and several of the diplomats, including the Italian Ambassador
Attolico(18), were on board the Patria, there
were many easy opportunites for discussion.
The old Hanseatic city of Hamburg, which we toured before the luncheon held at the Town
Hall, delighted us with its combination of rustic beauty, natural elegance and industrial
activity. On the journey to Berlin, Hitler repeated the manoeuvre he had employed on the
occasion of Mussolini's visit. He saw us off at the railway station in Hamburg, and, by
some clever shunting, contrived to reach Berlin some three minutes before our train drew
in, so that there he was on the platform, welcoming us on our arrival. I was fascinated by
the mobile chancellery coach and the news-van attached to his private train which I saw as
it overtook us. To Hitler's considerable annoyance, the Czech and Rumanian Ministers had
also come to meet us as a result of the rapprochement induced by the recent statement of
Bled. This caused the Fuehrer to give the innocent master of ceremonies, Baron Dörnberg,
a ferocious dressing down.
In Berlin, we were the last guests to be received in the old Palace of the Reich's
President in the Wilhelmstrasse, one wing of which was then occupied by Meissner(19), the Minister of State. The building was earmarked for
Ribbentrop, who contended that it was 'naturally' too cramped for him and had two new
wings added. In his toast at the banquet given in the new Chancellery, Hitler declared
that the Hungarian and the German peoples are at last near to reach "their final
historical frontiers". He declared, similarly, shortly afterwards at Munich that
Germany's last territorial claims had been satisfied by the acquisition of the
Sudetenland. I had expressed my thanks for our reception while on board the Grille.
I had added the civil warning that the destructive activity of a typhoon could not be
stayed by calling it "an abnormal atmospheric depression". In Berlin, I
emphasized our wish "to continue our work of peaceful reconstruction". Hitler's
behaviour on that evening led the guests to understand that he was anything but satisfied
with the results of our visit.
The military parade in my honour in Berlin on August 25th was the largest that had
hitherto been held. The number of armoured cars, and they were not made of papier
mache, the tanks and motorized artillery taking part, which lasted two and a half
hours, seemed endless. Troops and armaments were amazingly impressive. As my eye fell on
the tribune on which stood diplomats and military attachés, I had a feeling that the
grandiose spectacle Hitler had orgarized was not failing in its objective.
In the afternoon, I had my second private talk with Hitler. It not only failed to
dispel the tension created by our first talk, it aggravated it. In a manner that I
considered quite unwarranted, he asserted that I should not have discussed his plan, and
my definite refusal to cooperate, with General Field Marshal Brauchitsch. I emphatically
refused to accept his rebuke and declared that it was my custom to decide for myself to
whom I spoke and of what I spoke. Moderating his tone, Hitler then insisted that the
Generals had no say in any matter; he alone made decisions. I replied that I considered
that a truly dangerous policy. Hitler than changed the subject, but our conversation
I do not know whether Hitler noticed the line about "the wrath of the
Magyars" in the opera that night. We, for our part, thoroughly enjoyed the
performance of Lohengrin. The following day, we visited Potsdam and the tomb of the great
King of Prussia, whose name Hitler so frequently invoked, though he had very little of the
self-control and strategic genius of the philosopher of Sans-Souci.
To emphasize his exceptional position, Hermann Göring(20)
had not put in an appearance before we arrived in Berlin, when he invited us to be his
guests at Karinhall. Hitler had already told us about the breeding of aurochs(21) and wild horses on the Schorf Heath. He had added with a
laugh that he would not be surprised if 'Hermann' were not one day to set about breeding a
strain of Ancient Germans there. The Ancient German idea seemed to have captivated
Göring. Not only did he himself receive us clad in an 'Ancient German' hunting costume
complete except for the bearskin, but even his menservants and his maids were garbed
similarly. Our host changed his attire at least twice, down to bangles and jewellery. As
he welcomed us to his 'home', he added in the same breath, "and all you can see
belongs to me".
We wondered why he should have to tell us that.
In spite of his many eccentricities, and the blatant luxury with which he surrounded
himself, Göring had several conciliatory characteristics; I remember him lifting his
little daughter Edda out of her cradle and swinging her proudly over his head. He also
knew something about hunting and game, which was why I was pleased to accept his
invitation to an elk-hunt to be held in September in East Prussia. An ardent huntsman, I
was enthusiastic about the hunting laws he had inspired. The last leader of the Richthofen
fighter squadron, wearer of the Pour le Merite, he was of all Hitler's immediate
entourage the one whom foreigners would find most accessible. I am reminded of von
Weizsäcker's remark, "the official world of the Third Reich remained utterly alien
to me and I disliked all contact with it".
This alien quality was very much to the fore during our visit to Nuremberg, where, on
the last day of our stay, we were shown the Party Conference Grounds. The ancient city,
with its memories of Dürer and Hans Sachs, and the splendid castle of the Hohenzollerns,
pleased us very much. But we felt out of sympathy with the mountain of stone which
constituted the Party Buildings. We were told that more stone was used in their
construction than for the Pyramids. We were taken over the Hall of the Fifty Thousand,
which was then under construction, and Herr Himmler(22)
explained that this was where the leading party members gathered annually to hear the
Fuehrer's great speech. My wife could not resist asking, "I suppose this then is
where they make their reports and put their requests?" "Certainly not,"
Himmler replied. "Only one person speaks here: the Fuehrer." My wife went on to
voice her surprise that so vast and costly a building should have been built for a single
annual event. Himmler, plainly disgusted by her failure to appreciate the greatness of the
Fuehrer, expressed his opinion by giving her a contemptuous glance.
That night we boarded our private train and went home. If Hitler's intention was to
impress us by so lavish a display of entertainments and festivities, tours and presents,
he had certainly succeeded, but in a way that he could not have envisaged. The incredible
achievements of the few years since 1933, the industry, discipline and ability displayed
by the German people could only be admired. Factory chimneys were smoking, shipbuilding
yards were ringing with the sound of multitudinous hammers, and in the fields the farmers
were toiling at gathering in the harvest. But the overall picture was too feverish, the
total impression filled the beholder with forebodings. He could not refrain from asking
himself, "To what is all this leading?" It strengthened my determination to
prevent Hungary from being engulfed in the vortex of National-Socialist dynamism. Hitler
might want Lebensraum, but we Hungarians were not prepared to render up our country as
part of it.
Yet Hungary, I hear the critics murmur, has had her share of the spoils of the Munich
Agreement and even, in the wake of the Germans, of the partition of Czechoslovakia. John
Wheeler-Bennett(23) has gone so far as to accuse us, and
Poland, of playing the part of a jackal. Sir Winston Churchill, in the first volume of his
'The Second World War', gives an account of my talks with Hitler which is
contrary to fact. He gives the reader to understand that it was I who insisted and Hitler
who hesitated. Also, he puts forward the view that we were prepared to help with the
cooking in order to share the meal.
The truth, however, was very different. I will make a long story of negotiations as
brief as possible. Our agreements with the Little Entente states had, as I have said, been
contingent on their giving us satisfactory guarantees for our minorities in their
territories. To this effect, we then, at the same time as the Poles, demanded through our
Minister in Prague, on September 21st, rights for the Magyars within Czechoslovakia
equivalent to the rights granted the Sudeten Germans. Earlier we had been forced to
protest, on the 16th of that month, against the military measures being taken along the
Hungarian frontier. We had received no replies to our Notes. On the contrary. Since my
return from Germany, conditions in the Hungarian areas of Czechoslovakia had deteriorated.
Clashes and incidents were becoming more frequent. A suspicious aeroplane with Hungarian
markings which was flying over a prohibited military area was forced down by our artillery
and proved to be manned by Czechs. Thereupon, just before the Munich Conference, we
immediately approached the two nations who were friendly to us, Italy and Germany, with
the request that the discussions should also review the well-known claims made by Hungary
at Trianon. We did this, not to gain a prize, but to assert our rights. The truth of this
has been endorsed by Hugh Seton-Watson, the son of the well-known Slavophile Robert
Count Csáky(25), the Chief of the Cabinet of our
Foreign Minister, Kánya, was sent to Munich; he was received neither by Hitler nor by
Ribbentrop. This was clearly the result of my attitude at Kiel. He was, however, able to
talk with Count Ciano. As a result of that Mussolini demanded and achieved at the
conference of the four powers that the Hungarian question should be dealt with and that
the Prague Government should be instructed to come to terms with the Hungarian Government.
Should no agreement be reached by direct negotiations, the Big Four would again take up
The latter alternative proved necessary. The negotiations which opened early in October
soon reached deadlock although we proposed a plebiscite to solve the problem of
allegiance. We should have preferred a question of this nature to be solved by amicable
means as it ought to be between neighbours, but when Father Tiso(26)
insisted, in the name of the Prague Government, in submitting the dispute to Germany and
Italy, we agreed. We should, after the Munich decisions, have preferred to adhere to the
original proposal that the four signatory powers should solve the problem. However, after
the Slovak proposal had been made, this would have seemed a slight to Germany, a
contingency that our Premier, Imrédy, wished to avoid at all costs.
A point that cannot be proven is whether Hitler would have awarded us the whole of
Slovakia had we agreed to the proposal he made at Kiel. It seems likely, however, that the
thought of an independent Slovak state occurred to him only after our talks. In Vienna,
Kánya, our Foreign Minister, with Paul Teleki, our most eminent geographer, who had
previously been Prime Minister and was to be Prime Minister again, watched our interests.
The Czech interests were looked after by Chavalkovsky(27),
the Czech Foreign Minister. On the ethnographical maps that had been prepared, new
frontiers were drawn by Ribbentrop and Ciano, and on November 2nd their arbitration, by
which part of the former Upper Hungary was re-united to its fatherland, was made known. In
the official text of this arbitration statement, which was agreed to in the minutes signed
by the four Foreign Ministers, the words Czechoslovakia and Czechoslovak were hyphenated,
which cannot have been accidental.
Here it must also be recorded that, after the conclusion of the Munich settlement, the
German Government claimed from Czechoslovakia the bridgehead at Pozsony (Bratislava;
Pressburg), i.e. the village of Ligetfalu (Engerau) and its environs, south of the Danube.
Regardless of the fact that this area belonged to Hungary prior to 1920 and that its
population was purely Hungarian, Ligetfalu and the surrounding district were incorporated
into the Third Reich even before the Vienna Accord. This action on the part of the German
Government very understandably caused Hitler to lose much of his popularity in Hungary.
Even though Pozsony, with its large population of Hungarian inhabitants, was lost,
still November 2nd was a great and significant day to the Hungarian nation. The average
Hungarian was ignorant of the prehistory and background of the settlement.They were
ignorant too of the appalling bad taste with which a day that decided the fate of so many
thousands ended: the uproarious feasting on the Coblenz above Vienna and the pheasant
shoot in the Wiener Wald.
I issued a proclamation addressed to the people who were again united to their
"You are once more free. The days of sorrow and tribulation are past. Your
sufferings, your unshakable determination and our common struggle have brought victory in
a just cause. Once again the light of glory shines upon you from the Holy Crown. Once
again you are sharers of our common fate of a thousand bygone years. The Hungarian
fatherland has awaited your return with confidence. The Royal Hungarian Army is the first
to set foot on the national soil that has now been freed from subjection. With deep
affection we welcome all national groups in these areas, that they may rejoice
with us and participate in the feast of liberation. May order, peace and honest endeavour
prevail. Make no mistake: the eyes of the whole world are fixed upon you. May God bless
On November 6th, at the head of my troops, I crossed the Danube bridge at Komárom. On
November 11th, I made my entry into Kassa. It was my experience to see the joy, often
awkwardly expressed, of those two towns. As I passed along the roads, people embraced one
another, fell upon their knees, weeped with joy because liberation had come to them at
last, without war, without bloodshed.
At Kassa, a huge triumphal arch had been erected, and our hussars, who were at the head
of the procession, were carried away by their excitement. At gallop they rode across the
frontier which was no longer a frontier. The old historic town had probably never before
seen so vast a concourse of people. From near and far, even from Budapest, thousands of
people had come together. It truly was the "laughing happiness of a nation which
hitherto had been treated unfairly and had been plunged into despair", as Lord
Rothermere declared. He had hastened over from London to see with his own eyes the outcome
of the policy he had been so insistently advocating in his Daily Mail since 1927. Of the
many orators, I shall name only Count John Esterházy(28),
the leader of the Magyars in Czechoslovakia, who had courageously and selflessly defended
the rights of his fellow countrymen. I replied to his speech first in Hungarian and then
in Slovak, assuring our new Slovak-speaking citizens(29)
that they would have no reason to regret the change of rulership. After the parade, in
which former Czechoslovak soldiers in their old uniforms took part, a solemn Te Deum was
sung in the ancient Cathedral. After that, I laid a wreath on the tomb of the hero of
liberty, Francis Rákóczi(30).
A few months after the entry into Kassa, the Czechoslovak 'appendix', as Mussolini had
called sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, was surgically removed. This narrow strip of land,
inhabited preponderantly by Ruthenes of the Greek Catholic faith infiltrating from the
northern slopes of the Carpathians, had been given to the newly created Czechoslovak state
by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 to make possible a direct railway link between
Czechoslovakia and Rumania. It completed the encirclement of Hungary, thereby preventing
her from having a common frontier with Poland. The Peace Conference had instructed the
Prague Government to create an autonomous region with a Parliament of its own, but Prague
had ignored this charge. After the Second World War(31),
Prague 'presented' Ruthenia to its Communist ally, although that territory had never
belonged to Russia and the Soviet Union had declared itself in the Atlantic Charter averse
to territorial expansion. The population was given no opportunity to express its own
preference. When, earlier, we had announced our claim to Ruthenia as territory that had at
one time belonged to the Crown of St. Stephen, we met with scant sympathy in Berlin. The
possibility of a common Hungarian-Polish frontier conjured up unpleasant visions before
the politicians and the German General Staff. After the Munich Agreement, conditions
became increasingly anarchic in Ruthenia. The Prague Government found itself under the
necessity of sending General Prchala(32) there, in
January, 1939, to re-establish order. He did not succeed in doing so. On January 6th, a
well-organized attack was made on the border town of Munkács, which had been returned to
Hungary by the Vienna Accord. On February 28th, the town of Ungvár was attacked. Hungary
could not remain inactive while irresponsible elements such as the Szics Guard(33) endangered the safety of her borders. The problem became
acute when Hitler marched into Prague and Slovakia was declared an independent state. If
the Prague Government had been unable to keep order, then the government of an independent
Slovakia would certainly be in no position to do so. Since part of the area had for some
months been re-united to Hungary, Ruthenia no longer had railway links with Slovakia and
Prague, and even by road it was difficult to reach from Slovakia. It was no longer
possible to submit the question to the arbitration of the signatories of the Munich
Agreement, as that agreement had been torn up by Hitler. Our government, therefore,
presented the government at Pozsony (Bratislava) with a twelve-hour ultimatum on March
14th, the day of the proclamation of Slovak independence, demanding that Ruthenia be
forthwith evacuated. Pozsony submitted to the ultimatum and our troops occupied Ruthenia.
Berlin had by now lifted its veto. It was of the utmost importance to us to avoid German
encirclement by establishing a common Hungarian-Polish frontier.
Looking back on that chequered year of 1938, we can clearly see the main lines of
future events. Neither Munich nor the creation of a protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia had
been the last of Hitler's claims. On the contrary, the Anschluss, the seizure of the
Sudeten areas, and the occupation of Prague were well-planned preparations for the next
and again the next step. The smaller states could but wait for the next blow to fall:
either on Poland or on the Soviet Union, both being Hitler's eventual targets.
They had to wait, possessed of only one conviction: that it was in no way possible to
halt the course of events.
1. Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker (1882-1951), deputy to German Foreign
2. Indeed, for example, they proposed for boundaries "navigable
rivers" that were creeks so small that a child could wade through them.
3. Béla Imrédy (1891-1946), was tried and executed after the war.
4. On May 3, 1938.
5. Lord Walter Runciman of Doxford (1870-1949). He visited Prague on
July 25, 1938. On his return, he reported favorably on Nazi claims.
6. Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (1876-1951), Soviet diplomat, Foreign
7. Liberator of Hungary from the Turks. He recaptured the fort of
Buda in 1686.
8. Baron Alexander von Dörnberg (1901-1983), Chief of Protocol of
the German Foreign Ministry.
9. Grand Adm. Erich Raeder (1876-1960).Appointed to command the
German navy in 1928, he secretly rebuilt it in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
During the war he disagreed with Hitler's policies and was replaced by Admiral Dönitz. He
was sentenced to life in prison in Nuremberg but was released in 1955.
10. Contemporaries' memoirs claim that Hitler suggested that
Hungary attack Czechoslovakia first, and than ask Germany for military assistance. Hitler
hoped that this would not have drawn the ire of the Western Powers. Horthy's resolute
refusal irked Hitler. (Bokor, P.: Endplay by the Danube, Budapest: RTV-Minerva, 1982. p.
253: TV interview with general Kálmán Hardy (1892-1980) relative of Mrs. Horthy. In
11. Both Rumania and Czechoslovakia constructed a line of concrete
bunkers and other fortifications along Hungary's borders by this time.
12. As Foreign Minister Kánya has just before signed an agreement
of non-belligerence with the Little Entente (Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia),
after very long negotiations at Bled, Horthy was in firm position to reject the proposal.
(P. Pritz: Conditional Bridge Party in Dachau, Népszabadság, Nov. 25, 1995.)
13. Milan Stojadinovich (1888-1961).
14. Walther von Brauchitsch (1881-1948), Commander of the German
15. General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944). He was a highly cultivated
career soldier who opposed Hitler's aggressive policies, and his attempts to destroy the
independence of the army. In 1938 he retired in protest against the planned attack of
Czechslovakia. Implicated as one of the leaders of the failed attempt to kill Hitler, he
was executed by the Nazis in 1944.
16. Noted German pianist Elly Ney (1882-1968).
17. Celloist Ludwig Hölscher (1907- ?)
18. Bernardo Attolico (1880-1942).
19. Otto Meissner (1880-1953).
20. Field Marshal Hermann Wilhelm Goering (1893-1946), commander of
the German Luftwaffe.
21. Extinct European wild ox.
22. Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), German Minister of the Interior,
SS leader. Under his personal direction the Nazi death camps were built. He committed
suicide in a British prison in 1945.
23. British historian John Wheeler-Bennett (1902-1975)
24. Writing under the pen-name of Scotus Viator, Robert
William Seton-Watson (1879-1951), a British journalist and historian, carried on a one-man
crusade in the British press before and during World War 1 toward the dissolution of the
Austro-Hungarian empire. He had a significant role in influencing the British public
opinion in favor of dissolving the Monarch and partitioning Hungary. The anti-Hungarian
propaganda emanating from the Successor States still, in the 1990's, rely on his books as
references. Horthy's restraint of showing any rancor is quite admirable.
25. Count István Csáky (1894-1941), to be prime minister later.
26. Roman Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso (1887-1947) became president
of Nazi Slovakia. He was executed after the war. Apparently he was rehabilitated after the
break-up of Czechoslovakia, his picture is prominently displayed on Slovak official
27. Frantisek Chavalkovsky (1875- ?).
28. Count János Esterházy (1901-1957), died in a Soviet prison
29. Traditionally, there was no enmity between Slovaks and Magyars.
During the 1848-49 Revolution tens of thousands of Slovak miners and students fought
valiantly in the Hungarian army. Austrian attempts to recruit Slovaks against Hungary were
30. Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II (1676-1735) leader of the last major
anti-Habsburg rebellion in Hungary. He died in Turkish exile and was reburied in Kassa,
his favorite town, in 1906.
31. June 29, 1945.
32. Czech general Lev Prchala (1892- ?).
33. Armed contingent of the Ruthene nationalist 'Ukranian National
Party' in autonomous Ruthenia.
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