The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Europe | Appealing for Armistice, My Imprisonment

21: Appealing for Armistice, My Imprisonment

<< 20: The Occupation of Hungary || 22: The Arrival of the Americans >>

Appealing for Armistice, My Imprisonment

I was still hesitating before the last irrevocable step. It is always bitter to have to beg for an armistice. The fact that England and America had referred us to the Russians, and to the Russians alone, transformed our misfortune into a tragedy. The first reports were coming in of incredible brutalities committed by the Russian fighting forces against the defenceless population. I had to take the humiliating step of appealing to Moscow.

The laws of self-preservation demanded that we come to terms with the enemy. Should anyone be inclined to criticize us on this score, he should remember that we were not, as we had been in the First World War, Germany's ally by treaty. We had been forced against our will into a war that was waged to forward Hitler's expansionist aims. The basis of our participation in the war against Russia was comparable to that of Germany only in that we were both fighting Communism. But Hungary made no territorial claims on Russia. We knew full well that we could not count on Germany's gratitude for our entry into the war nor for our having supplied her with war materials, for which a debt of three billion pengôs was never settled. We wished to fight the battle against Communism, but only so long as it was in our own interests, not merely to further Hitler's war aims and not to the point of suicide. When a war has plainly been lost, it is time to arrange peace.

Towards the end of September, I sent to Moscow the Chief of the Hungarian gendarmerie, Lieutenant General László Faragho(1), who spoke fluent Russian, having formerly been our military attaché in Moscow. He was accompanied by Professor Count Géza Teleki(2), the son of the Prime Minister, Count Paul Teleki, who had so tragically sacrificed his life, and by Councillor Domonkos Szent-Iványi(3), representing the Ministry for Foreign Affairs(4). A Magyar landowner in Slovakia(5), who had contacts with the partisans, was the intermediary in the preparations for their journey.

Our representatives were instructed to negotiate for an armistice if possible on the following terms: immediate cessation of hostilities, British and American participation in the occupation of Hungary, and the unhindered withdrawal of German troops from Hungary.

On October 11th, an agreement was initialled in Moscow. No date was as yet fixed, but it was to be a basis for further negotiations. But meanwhile our plans had been upset.

Major-General Bakay, the Commander of the troops in Budapest, who had worked out a detailed plan to defend the Palace in the event of a German attack, was seized and taken away by Gestapo men on his return from an inspection at dawn on October 8th, 1944, as he was stepping out of his car to enter his apartment in the Hotel Ritz. I thereupon sent a message to Moscow by means of the secret transmitter(6) that had been installed in the Palace and was worked by my son Nicholas and my aide-de-camp Tost. I asked that the armistice should be made effective from October 20th. The Russians wished to precipitate matters, as the Americans, during a visit of Churchill and Eden to Moscow, were protesting against their exclusion from the negotiations with Hungary. Moscow was hoping to put before them a fait accompli. The Russians insisted that the effective date should be October 16th, and on the 14th demanded by radio that an answer should be given before 8 a.m. on the 16th.

Meanwhile, several confused incidents had occurred in Budapest. Their sequence is difficult to determine and will probably never be accurately known, for so many people were occupied with so many different activities and the majority are no longer able to speak for themselves. These turbulent events made it impossible for us to keep to the time limit imposed by the Russians. Moscow later made use of this inability to declare our agreement null and void.

Hitler had learned of the Moscow negotiations and was soon informed about the departure of Faragho and his colleagues. He wanted to prevent a Hungarian armistice at all costs. We know now that he was planning coercive measures. Politically, it had been arranged that, with German aid, a meeting of the 'National Opposition' should be held at Esztergom to depose me and proclaim Szálasi head of the state. The military part of this undertaking, the capture of the Palace and the complete occupation of Budapest, was to be entrusted to the SS General von dem Bach-Zelewski(7) and the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Waffen-SS, Otto Skorzeny(8), famed for his liberation of Mussolini. To support Dr. Veesenmayer, Dr. Rudolf Rahn(9), the German Ambassador at Fasano, was sent to Budapest. The telegram containing Veesenmayer's final instructions was received by the German Legation in Budapest during the night of October 13th to 14th, as I learned later.

On October I4th, I decided that on the following day, a Sunday, I would address the nation over the radio on the proposed armistice. I invited Dr. Veesenmayer to call on me at noon on October 15th at the Palace, with the purpose of informing him of my intention. Immediately after my talk with him, I was to give my broadcast. The script of my address lay ready at the Palace.

I was fully aware that a dramatic race was in progress. I knew that the Germans would do all they could to prevent Hungary from concluding an armistice which I saw as the only way out. Like our Finnish cousins, we had fought the Communist menace as long as there seemed to remain a chance of success. If I wished to spare Hungary the horror of warfare on her own soil and to assure Hungary's existence as a state being recognized by the victors, now was my very last chance. Hitler, on the other hand, had every incentive to keep the war away from Germany's frontiers as long as possible. I could not know the details of his plan, so that I do not know whether the events of that Sunday morning were part of his general plan or not.

The German Security Service had informed my son Nicholas(10) through intermediaries that envoys of Tito wished to talk with him. Nicholas had not kept a first appointment on observing suspicious-looking persons lurking in the vicinity of the proposed meeting-place. Another meeting was fixed for October 15th early in the morning at the offices of Felix Bornemisza(11), the Director of the Hungarian Danube harbours, on Eskü Square on the Pest side. Thinking it possible that there were envoys from Tito who might have important information to give, I had, on the assumption that the meeting would take place in the Palace, empowered Nicholas to negotiate. My son did not realize that I had made that assumption and went into town accompanied by three Guardsmen. He told them to come to his assistance should they observe anything untoward, or should he be away longer than ten minutes. His suspicions proved only too well founded. He had hardly set foot in the building before he was attacked by fifteen armed Gestapo men who beat him mercilessly until he fell to the ground and feigned unconsciousness. He was then rolled in a carpet and carried to a van that was waiting outside, but before he was thrust into the van he succeeded in giving a cry for help. In the fight shots were fired and one Hungarian and one German were killed. This abduction had obviously been planned well beforehand. Nicholas was to be a hostage to force my hand.

The news of his abduction reached me just before a meeting of the Crown Council that was scheduled for 10 a.m. The meeting did not begin until ten-forty-five. Facing me across the rectangular table sat Vörös, the Chief of the General Staff; on either side of me sat the members of the government and the Chiefs of the Cabinet and Military Chancelleries. I can here refer to the minutes which give my address as follows:

"I have called together the members of the Cabinet in this darkest hour of Hungary's history. Our situation is gravely critical. That Germany is on the verge of collapse is no longer in doubt; should that collapse occur now, the Allies would find that Hungary is Germany's only remaining ally. In that case, Hungary might cease to exist as a State. Hence I must sue for an armistice. I have made sure that we shall receive acceptable conditions from the enemy, but it is certain that we shall be subjected to German atrocities when that armistice is concluded. We shall have much to suffer; our troops may be dispersed. But against that suffering must be set the fact that if we continue this hopeless fight, our race and our fatherland will be in jeopardy and will surely be destroyed. We have no alternative. We must decide to sue for an armistice."

The Chief of the General Staff gave a survey of the military situation. The troops of Marshal Tolbuchin(12) were on the southern outskirts of Belgrade. There was fighting between Szeged and Csongrád to force a passage across the Tisza. South of Debrecen armoured units were engaged in a violent battle. Vörös went on to say that the Russians might be battering at the gates of Budapest itself in two days' time. He told us that at 10.10 a.m. he had received an imperative order from Guderian:

""The entire area of Hungary has been declared a German operational area. Only the German Supreme Command may issue orders. The orders for withdrawal issued to the First and Second Hungarian Armies are hereby countermanded and this counter-order must be implemented within twelve hours."

Practically all those present took part in the discussion which followed. Premier Lakatos declared that the government accepted in full the arguments put forward by the Regent of the Realm but was unable to pronounce in favour of negotiating for an armistice, and therefore had to resign. The reason given for this resignation was that the government had not consulted Parliament before assenting to negotiations or an armistice. I replied that I was about to inform Dr. Veesenmayer of my decision and that the right to ask for an armistice was not vested in Parliament but in me as Supreme Head of the Armed Forces. A conclusion of peace needed the sanction of Parliament, but as a result of the occupation and numerous arrests, this Parliament could no longer be regarded as a fully constitutional body. I therefore asked the government to continue in office. All present, including Reményi-Schneller and Jurcsek, agreed to do so.

Dr. Veesenmayer arrived before there had been time for the new government to be sworn in. The meeting of the Crown Council was interrupted while I received the German Plenipotentiary in the presence of the Prime Minister, Lakatos, and the Foreign Minister, Hennyey. With great indignation I protested against the abduction of my son, and when Dr. Veesenmayer denied that he knew anything about it, I confronted him with the German cartridge-cases found on the scene of the abduction. Veesenmayer tried to evade the issue by making the counter-attack that my son had been justly arrested for conspiring with the enemy. Later I learned that the Germans had taken him to an airfield, where a plane was waiting. He had been flown to Vienna and from there was transported to the concentration camp of Mauthausen.

I told Veesenmayer that our decision concerning the armistice had been taken. The colour drained from his face, and he appealed to me, stressing the mystique of the name Horthy. He begged me to postpone my decision, if only for a short time, until I had seen the ambassador, Rahn, who had arrived in Budapest with a special message from Hitler. I replied that I was ready to meet Herr Rahn, but that the decision I had taken was irrevocable. I then returned to the meeting of the Crown Council and the members of the new Cabinet were sworn in.

At 1 p.m., Rahn called. He too tried every means to. make me change my mind. I could only reply that Hungary's willingness to conclude an armistice had already been broadcast. The message containing the text of the proclamation(13) had been taken to the radio station immediately after Dr. Veesenmayer had departed and this text had been broadcasted at 1 p.m.

Veesenmayer, it seemed, had not informed Rahn of the gist of our conversation. Rahn expressed surprise and spoke of the military dangers that would confront the German armies on the cessation of active participation by the Hungarian troops. As I had modelled Hungary's move for an armistice on the Finnish rather than on the Rumanian example, I was prepared to discuss methods by which the Russian troops could be prevented from attacking the Germans in the rear. I was unable, however, to give Rahn the necessary assurances.

Once more I returned to the Crown Council and the minutes recorded on the spot include a short statement made by me:

"I have informed Herr Rahn that he came too late, as I have already asked the enemy for an armistice. We are entering on difficult times, but this step had to be taken. I have burned my boats. I regret that I must place so many difficulties before the members of the Government."

I then shook hands with all present and left the council chamber.

The Arrow-Cross group took my radio proclamation as a signal to go forward with their plans for seizing power. One of the first buildings they occupied with German aid was the radio station. An Arrow-Cross Party member drew up a counter-proclamation, allegedly in the name of Vörös, the Chief of the General Staff, which was broadcast. It served its purpose. My military orders had not yet reached the troops(14) and everything was thrown into the utmost confusion. The two units of the Army that were still in Budapest went over to the Arrow-Cross after their commander, Bakay, had been arrested and his second in command, Aggteleky(15), had disappeared. It is not known to this day how Vörös's signature came to be appended to the false proclamation. Vörös assured me personally that he had had no knowledge whatsoever of the communiqué sent out in his name(16).

Indescribable excitement reigned in Budapest. To many, my radio proclamation had come as a relief after almost unbearable suspense. A number of political prisoners were released. The underground movement began to carry out its plans. At the same time, there was fear of German reprisals and countervailing measures; the Germans had quickly sent some Tiger tanks to patrol the streets. Those who had hoped for an armistice were now thrown into despair by the spurious Vörös' orders. These conflicting emotions made it easier for the Arrow-Cross supporters to achieve their ends. In the afternoon, the radio sent out the first speech of Szálasi, accompanied by blaring Hungarian and German marches.

The Palace was in a state of siege. The approaches had been mined, incidentally isolating the German Embassy on the Palace Hill. As we learned during the night, the German attack on the Palace had been timed for the early hours of the morning of October 16th(17).

We had just lain down, fully dressed, when Lieutenant Field Marshal Vattay, Chief of the Military Chancellery, and Ambrózy, head of the Cabinet Chancellery, were announced. They had come to deliver the message that the Fuehrer 'offered' me asylum, provided I abdicated, relinquished all powers, and surrendered the Palace. I refused this 'offer' and emphatically told the messengers that I was not to be approached again concerning this matter.

Shortly afterwards, the two men returned with my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant-Colonel Tost, to urge my daughter-in-law to persuade me to accept the 'offer'. My daughter-in-law, who, like my son Nicholas, gave me unceasing help and had, in these last days especially, proved to be an indefatigable collaborator, knew me too well to lend herself to such a project. All their entreaties were of no avail, not even the threat that an attack on the Palace was imminent.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tost pleaded with her to change her mind, saying: "Think of the safety of your family, and especially of your son. It is to your advantage." She terminated the conversation by telling them that she would be the last person to attempt to influence me.

In expectation of the attack, I sent my wife, daughter-in-law and grandson at four o'clock in the morning under guard to the residence of the Nuncio, who had in the past offered us sanctuary.

Yet, what was the sense of allowing the situation to develop into a fight? In view of the enemy's superior strength in men and artillery, we had nothing to oppose to their armoured vehicles, a fight could lead only to the decimation of our faithful Guards. Though I had been unable to achieve my aim of bringing peace to Hungary, my radio proclamation had nevertheless proved to the world that Hungary was not willingly submitting to occupation. But I intended to ask no one to lay down his life for me. I therefore ordered that no resistance should be made. This order failed to reach only one unit in the Palace park, a unit that was commanded by the son of the former Premier, Kállay. Shots were fired, and four German soldiers were killed(18). Andreas Kállay(19) was taken prisoner and sent to Dachau.

Shortly before 6 a.m., Dr. Veesenmayer appeared and asked me to go to the Hatvany Palace, "to spare me the pain of seeing the occupation of the Royal Palace". That, I thought, was a definite, if courteous, form of arrest. On our arrival at the Hatvany Palace, the headquarters of the SS, Dr. Veesenmayer said, "Here Your Highness is under the Fuehrer's protection."

My reply to that was that I had sought no one's protection and did not consider that I needed it in my own country. Dr. Veesenmayer stared at me in amazement. My words were as incomprehensible to him as his behaviour was to me.

Not until considerably later, the autumn of 1947, in fact, did I obtain the explanation of this mutual misunderstanding. I received my information from a man whose name I cannot give but to whose reliability and veracity I can testify. According to his account, which tallies with the testimonies of witnesses made during the Budapest trial of Szálasi in February, 1946, these were the events of that October night from the 15th to the 16th:

"On October 15th, at 11 p.m., Ambrózy, the head of the Cabinet Chancellery, and Vattay, the Chief of the Military Chancellery, went to the Prime Minister's office, where they found Premier Lakatos in conference with the Ministers, Ivan Rakovszky, Gustav Hennyey, Louis Csatay, Baron Peter Schell(20) and Parliamentary Secretary Stephen Fáy(21). Vattay declared that he feared that the life of the Regent of the Realm was in danger. The only way by which he and his family could be saved was to place them under the protection of the German Reich. The Premier rejoined that if that was indeed his opinion, it was Vattay's duty to propose that course to the Regent. Vattay declared himself willing to do so, left with Ambrózy, and returned alone at midnight while the Ministers were still in session. He claimed to have brought the Regent's answer: 'His Serene Highness has agreed to the proposed solution. He makes only one condition, that he may take with him his close collaborators, so that these shall not fall victims to Arrow-Cross revenge.' Vattay then gave the names of Ambrózy, Lehár, and himself. Premier Lakatos, who had no reason for doubting that this was indeed the Regent's answer, undertook to inform the German Embassy. This then was the basis for later developments. The Germans, going by what the Premier had told them, thought that the Regent had completely capitulated before midnight, both politically and militarily. Premier Lakatos undertook the part of intermediary in arranging for the abdication to take place on the afternoon of the 16th. As he saw it, and was bound to see it, capitulation demanded a formal abdication."

This statement clarified what had been to me an inexplicable change of attitude. It showed that Premier Lakatos had based his actions on the false statements made by Vattay in his second interview with the Premier at midnight. What could have been Vattay's motive in bringing an 'answer' which in reality had never been given, an answer, moreover, that was in utter conflict with my clearly expressed views? I can explain his behaviour only if I postulate that Vattay, who had never failed in loyalty to me, took this otherwise inexplicable course of action in order to save my life and the lives of my family.

This account agrees also with the German statements. According to them, at one o'clock in the morning Lakatos telephoned the German Embassy, which was being evacuated before fighting took place. He spoke to Counsellor Feine(22), who informed Dr. Veesenmayer at once. During the night, a number of express telephone calls were made to the Fuhrer to obtain Hitler's acceptance of the conditions of my supposed capitulation. According to the Germans, Hitler did agree, and Lakatos was informed of this by Counsellor Feine personally at half-past two in the morning. He was asked to come to the German Embassy as quickly as possible and to go to the Palace with Dr. Veesenmayer; I was to leave the Palace before 6 a.m., as it was not certain that the attack on the Palace timed for that hour could be countermanded. A peaceful solution had been regarded as no longer possible at the Fuehrer's headquarters.

Two rooms were assigned to me at the SS headquarters. Guards swarmed in the corridors and an SS man was stationed on guard in my room. As I was about to take an aspirin, he snatched it with the glass of water from my hand in the belief that I was attempting suicide.

Lakatos, Vattay and Tost were with me. After a while, a German officer came in and announced that "the Premier wished to speak with me". Very surprised, I went into the next room and found Ferenc Szálasi. Giving me a Nazi salute, he made the request that I should appoint him Premier. In the whole of my long career, I had never before had a man asking me to appoint him to office. I advised Szálasi to have himself appointed by the Germans if they had not already done so. "As I am a prisoner here," I added, "I cannot perform my official duties, and in any case you are the last person I should choose to appoint to that function." That snub did not discourage this Arrow-Cross man from making another attempt that same afternoon, receiving, of course, the same reply.

The melancholy hours dragged by. Each one of us had his own sad thoughts. Not one of us could eat the food that was put before us. I soon withdrew to my own room, while the others went to another. Suddenly I heard a shot: Lieutenant-Colonel Tost had risen to his feet and, before anyone had realized what he was about to do, he had shot himself and collapsed by the window, streaming with blood. By his death, I lost one of my most faithful officers; no doubt he preferred to escape by suicide from prolonged imprisonment and Gestapo interrogations which he knew might force him to betray others(23).

As I had brought no personal belongings with me, I asked to be taken to the Palace to pack necessary articles. At 6 p.m., Counsellor Feine came to accompany me. I had been prepared to find that a search had been made, but the disorder of the scene mocked my wildest imaginings. Skorzeny's men had made themselves comfortable on the damask-upholstered furniture. Cupboards and drawers had been broken open. My apartments had already been pillaged and these barbarians had helped themselves to everything that seemed to them of value, from my wife's jewellery to the servants' savings. A touch of comedy lightened even this macabre experience. As I approached the bathroom to fetch my toilet articles, the door opened and a man came out wearing my dressing-gown. He had just finished taking his bath. The apartments of my dead son Stephen and of my abducted son Nicholas had also been looted.

I gave my old servant instructions to pack what clothes, linen and other necessities remained. As I was still standing in the bathroom, three guards with sub-machine-guns in attendance, Lakatos suddenly appeared, together with Veesenmayer. Lakatos handed me a sheet of paper on which was set out in German the announcement of my abdication and the appointment of Szálasi as Premier.

I quickly ran my eye over the typewritten page; at the bottom of the German text I read the typewritten words, 'Signed, Horthy'. I returned the sheet to Lakatos saying: "What's this? Am I supposed to sign this?" Lakatos said that I was. I replied that he must know that Szálasi had twice asked me that day to appoint him, and that I had twice refused. That, I thought, closed the conversation, and I went on packing. Lakatos continued to hover about in an obvious state of uncertainty, and it occurred to me that he did not understand my behaviour; I asked him why he wished me to sign the document. Surely, in answer to a direct question, he could only advise me not to sign it. He then indicated that it was a question of my son's life.

I called Veesenmayer, who was standing outside the bathroom, and he confirmed Lakatos's statement that my son's life and eventual return did indeed depend on that signature. I realized that, with or without my signature, the sheet would be published as 'signed Horthy' and it would be proclaimed that I had abdicated after appointing Szálasi. This meant, I said to myself, that while I could change nothing by refusing my signature, I might save my only remaining sons life if I did sign.

I said to Veesenmayer: "I see that you seek to give your coup d'etat an air of legality. Will you give me your word of honour that my son will be liberated and will join us if I sign?" "Yes, Your Highness," Veesenmayer replied. "I give you my word of honour." I then told him that I neither resigned nor appointed Szálasi Premier, I merely exchanged my signature for my son's life. A signature wrung from a man at machine-gun point can have little legality.

Dr. Veesenmayer and Rahn were overjoyed at having blocked Hungary's attempt to conclude an armistice and at keeping Hungary in the war 'by peaceful means', as they had been instructed to achieve both these tasks 'if they valued their necks'. (Later I learned that Veesenmeyer had made repeated attempts to keep his word by obtaining my son's return, approaching Ribbentrop, Baron Dörnberg and others in the Foreign Ministry, and Himmler himself with Winkelmann, a high SS official in Budapest.)

The document that I had signed, a prisoner's forced signature, was obviously invalid, though this did not prevent a proclamation in Hungarian being issued. It was a translation of the German document that I had signed, and appended to it was a signed statement from Lakatos, attesting to the accuracy of the translation. I, of course, had never issued any such proclamation, and the signature to Lakatos's attestation had been obtained while he himself was a prisoner. Proof of this is the chit, 'Certificate of Release from Imprisonment', which Lakatos(24) was given on regaining his freedom.

On October 21st, Szálasi thanked Hitler by telegram for the 'true comradeship' that had been so 'inspiringly manifested' on October 15th and 16th in the 'mutuality of the German-Hungarian fate'. In his reply, Hitler referred to Szálasi as the 'responsible Premier' and assured him "that the German Reich will never fail Hungary". Not until after this interchange did Parliament meet again, on November 2nd. Since so many of the members had been arrested, considerably more than under the Sztójay Government, it could only be called a Rump Parliament. At the opening of the session, the Speaker, Tasnádi-Nagy(25), read out two declarations of mine which must have been the 'documents' referred to earlier. There is no evidence that they were ever submitted to the House. The election of a Regent of the Realm was deferred. Parliament 'took notice' of the fact that 'Premier' Szálasi would "provisionally perform the functions of Regent", and would henceforth assume the tide 'Leader of the Nation'. This Parliament could, of course, no longer claim to be a representative body. All attempts of the 'Nemzetvezetô', the Leader of the Nation, to have his 'Government' officially recognized in neutral countries failed dismally.

When my packing was finished as far as my circumstances permitted, I returned from the Palace to the SS headquarters, where I was visited that night by my wife and daughter-in-law. They had been brought from the Nuncio's(26) residence in a German Legation car, after armed SS men had intruded on this extraterritorial soil.

On October 17th, I left the capital and my country a prisoner. At half-past four in the afternoon, Counsellor Feine of the German Legation came to accompany me to the railway station. Under heavy military escort, our car drove to Kelenföld station. The special train, in which my wife and daughter-in-law with her small son were already seated, was waiting to leave the station. Dr. Veesenmayer had asked me, the day before, which members of my entourage I wished to take with me. I had named Ambrózy, Lázár(27), Vattay, and also my aide-de-camp Tost, who was then still alive. Veesenmayer had raised no objections to any of these names, but in the train I found only Vattay and Lieutenant Field Marshal Brunswick(28), whom I had not mentioned at all.

This was the saddest journey of my life. For almost a quarter of a century, I had stood at the head of my country, watching it grow steadily in strength until Hitler had plunged Europe into war and precipitated an unwilling Hungary into the maelstrom. Now I was perforce leaving Hungary; a usurper had thrust me aside with the aid of foreign arms and had set up a regime unworthy of Hungary.

Air alarms had been sounded at every Hungarian station we passed through, and we arrived in Vienna at midnight in the deepest depression. Here, Veesenmayer had told me, my son would join us. I strained my eyes in the hope of seeing my son Nicholas, but probably succeeded only in making myself ridiculous to the man in charge of the train. Neither in Vienna nor at Linz nor in Bavaria did we find him. We did not even know where he was or whether he was still alive. Our request to be allowed to receive a word from him for Christmas was not granted. Ribbentrop merely advised my daughter-in-law in a letter that he was 'suitably housed', a cynical description of his residence in the Mauthausen concentration camp.

At Munich, Baron Dörnberg joined our train. From him we at last learned our destination: Schloss Hirschberg in the neighbourhood of Weilheim, which, for camouflage, had had its name changed to 'Waldbichl'. We later heard that it was there that Mussolini had been taken after his liberation by the Germans. We arrived at Weilheim at eleven o'clock and were taken by car to the pleasantly situated castle. Baron Dörnberg showed us the apartment that had been prepared for us. A room had even been set aside for my son. But what could the Ministry for Foreign Affairs do after Hitler himself had dubbed me a 'shameful traitor'? I was allowed to have in my possession neither money nor valuables. A unit of one hundred men of the Waffen-SS were detailed to patrol the gardens within the barbed-wire fence. Inside the castle were twelve Gestapo men with three police dogs. On our walks, we were invariably accompanied by armed men(29). From a letter of April 8th, 1947, written by Eric Mayer of the International Red Cross, we learned that his wife, who was active in the Prisoners of War Delegation, had personally brought a Red Cross letter addressed to my daughter-in-law to the castle in February, 1945.The Gestapo Chief, affecting ignorance of the name of Horthy, had I refused to accept it and had told her that there was only an office in the castle, though at that very moment my daughter-in-law and her son were in the garden. "The members of the Horthy family," the delegate informed the International Red Cross, "are prisoners of the Gestapo, to whom not even Red Cross messages can be delivered."

We had no complaint to make about the comfort of our prison; the furnishings of the castle came partly from a Munich palace and partly from Italy. The service also was good at first. After December 1st, however, we received insufficient food. This was due to a personal whim of the Gestapo Chief, who asserted that we could no longer claim special diplomatic rations. The arrival of my brother Eugen(30), therefore, was all the more welcome. Accompanied by a Gestapo agent, he drove up in his car on January 3rd. His car was taken from him, but he was allowed to keep the food he had brought. A small radio set he also had with him was overlooked and at first caused us considerable anxiety, for there was a death penalty attached to the possession of undeclared radio sets and to listening to foreign stations. We took the risk of using it, however, relieved that we were no longer forced to rely solely on the meagre information contained in the newspapers; behind closed doors and with every possible precaution, we contrived to learn something of the fate of our unhappy Fatherland and the advance of the Allied armies.

From what my brother was able to tell me and from the radio news, the following picture emerged: the Szálasi regime had surpassed our worst fears. The Arrow-Cross Party, drawing much of their support from the hooligan elements in the population, had upon seizing power perpetrated acts of unmitigated vandalism. They had filled, as rapidly as possible, a number of official posts with party members, men who had no inkling of the problems of government or of economics, so that affairs swiftly fell into the utmost confusion. The 'Leader of the Nation' withdrew to an estate near Sopron, where he continued to work on his 'Diary'. It was something along the lines of Mein Kampf, a copy of which was to be handed to every newly married couple and was to become a standard book for every examination.

As early as October 22nd, 1944, a government decree had drawn all male Jews between the ages of ten and sixty into a Defence Labour Force. On November 4th, all Jewish property was confiscated by the state. Hitler found time to receive Szálasi, and on December 4th the two Fuehrers vied with each other in self-delusion when they published a joint official communiqué on the "firm determination of the German people and the Hungarian people united under the revolutionary movement of Hungarists" to "carry on the defensive struggle with all the means in their possession and in the spirit of the traditional and well-tried comradeship-in-arms and friendship of the two nations.

By the time this communiqé was published, the encirclement of Budapest by the armies of Marshal Malinovski(31) and Marshal Tolbuchin was almost complete. The circle was closed on Christmas Eve(32).

Then followed what I had hoped to spare my country when I tried to conclude an armistice: the hordes from the East avenged themselves with plunder and destruction on Szálasi's Hungary for its purposeless protraction of the war. Bridges and railways had been blown up by the defeated and retreating German Army. During those last weeks of the collapse of the Third Reich, Hungary became the scene of bloody fighting. Our fine capital was used as a hedgehog position and laid in ruins, as were so many other towns and villages. The remnants of the Hungarian troops, despite the hopelessness of the situation, fought on bravely, to be beaten by the overwhelming superiority of the Red Army. The spoliation of this aftermath of war caused indescribable moral and material loss. The Asiatic barbarians remained true to their past.

The devastation in Budapest itself can be gauged from a report to the Berne Ministry for Foreign Affairs by the Swiss Legation, which left Budapest towards the end of March, 1945:

"Half the city at a rough estimate is in ruins. Certain quarters have, according to the Russians, suffered more than Stalingrad. The quays along the Danube, and in particular the Elisabeth Bridge and the Chain Bridge, are utterly destroyed. On Palace Hill, there is practically nothing left standing. The Royal Palace has been burnt to the ground. The Coronation Church has collapsed. The Parliament Buildings are badly damaged, though their facade is still intact. The Ritz, Hungaria, Carlton, Vadászkürt and Gellért Hotels are in ruins. Part of the Bank Buildings and the National Casino have been destroyed by fire."

Must I describe the state of our feelings during those last weeks of our imprisonment at Schloss Hirschberg? Apart from our fears concerning our home, our friends and relatives, we were anxious about our son and about our own safety. It was as well we did not know till later that Hitler had ordered our extermination before the Americans came, so that no one should ever know who had been imprisoned at Waldbichl. It seems that the Commander of the SS was ready to carry out this order. It was due to the efforts of Consul-General Hellenthal, who had been seconded to us by the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs and to whom we shall always owe gratitude for his intervention in many instances when intervention was not easy, that the execution was delayed and postponed. Two days before the Americans arrived, the SS men and the Gestapo, including their Commander, put on civilian clothes and fled.

On May 1st, 1945, the vanguard of the American Army arrived at Schloss Hirschberg. We believed that the hour of our liberation had come.

1. Gen. Gábor Faragho (1890-1953) was supervisor of Horthy's famed gendarmerie, in charge of training. While in Moscow, he was personally acquainted with Stalin. Later Faragho served in the Provisional Government as the minister of food supply. He spent the years of Communism unharrassed on a farm, protected by his extensive number of friends in Moscow.

2. Count Géza Teleki (1911-1983) became Minister of Education in the Provisional Government set up by the occupying Soviet army, later he emigrated to the United States where he was a professor of geology at George Washington University.

3. Domokos Szentiványi (1898-1980), diplomat, foreign policy advisor of Horthy's son. Served in the Provisional Government set up by the Soviet occupational forces.

4. The delegation carried a three page letter addressed to Stalin written in English by Horthy, in which he asked for armistice. A copy of this handwritten letter turned up decades later:


I turn to you in the name, and in the interest of my people which is in mortal danger. In the name of the Hungarian people that can not be blamed for the outbreak of this war. For a thousand years, but particularly during the last decade, the fate of our people was influenced by the neighboring German colossus. We were swept into this unfortunate war against the Soviet Union under this influence.

I have to emphasize the fact that my poor country was flooded by the 'fifth column' of the Germans. This major infiltration began at the time when the German armies entered Rumania and Bulgaria. As a result, German agents closely supervised every movement in Hungary, and the most important news and reports were kept from me. I have just been informed that after the air attack of Kassa and Munkács Foreign Minister Molotov, -through the Hungarian envoy-, expressed the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union toward Hungary. If it is true, it is tragic, since it did not reach me in time.

For the sake of truth, I wish to inform you that we had no intention to take away any piece of land from anyone that we did not have a right to. In contrast, Romania captured Bessarabia from her ally after the first world war, and during the second world war she attempted to capture a large share of southern Russia with the aid of the Germans. Moreover, when we wished to put an end to the cruel treatment of Hungarians in Transylvania in 1940, again, it were the Rumanians who asked for German help, asking Hitler to assist them in keeping at least a part by the Vienna Accord.

When sending my plenipotentiary delegates to the armistice negotiations, I ask you to spare this unfortunate country, -which has it's historical merits-, and whose people shows so many similar traits with the Russian people.

Be so kind to use your great influence among your allies to set armistice conditions that are congruent with the interests and honor of our people, as this people deserves a peaceful life and a secure future. I take the opportunity to express to you, Marshal Stalin, my highest respect.



P.S. Since our troops are still at the borders, and we are occupied by strong German forces, I ask you to hold my letter in confidence until we can overcome the present situation." (Vigh: Jump... op. cit.; p. 145.)

During the negotiations further delay was caused by the fact that the Soviets did not accept this letter as a formal authorization to negotiate. Hence Lt. Col. József Nemes was sent through the front carrying the requested document. (Gosztonyi, P. There is War, Budapest: Népszava, 1989, p. 70, in Hung.)

5. Count Ladomér Zichy (1904-1981). He had land holdings both in Hungary and in Slovakia. In the latter, he had contact with anti-Nazi partizans. This allowed him to arrange Horthy's armistice delegation to fly to Moscow.

6. This was no little feat as a 50 men German radio-broadcast seeking detachment was encamped only a block away from the Palace. As it turned out later, one of the radio operators was a Nazi spy. However, the decoding of the messages was done by Colonel Tost and the widow of Stephen Horthy, assuring confidentiality.

7. SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski (1899-1972).Commandant of the German forces that suppressed the Warsaw uprising of the Polish Home Army earlier that year.

8. SS Lt. Col. Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975). Legendary German commando leader. He freed Mussolini earlier from Gran Sasso where he was interned by Badoglio. It was his soldiers who captured Horthy's son. He commanded the German forces against the Palace. As a part of "Operation Bazooka", the German plan for takeover initiated soon after the appointment of the Lakatos government, he already reconnoitred the site on September 20 under the disguise of Dr Wolff from Cologne.

9. Rudolf Rahn (1900-1975) was German ambassador to Italy at the time.

10. Miklós Horthy Jr. directed the of the secret "Bailout Bureau" which was set up by Horthy in 1943 ostensibly to deal with the affairs of Hungarians living abroad. Under this cover, the Bureau collected information and facilitated contact with Jews and anti-Nazi opposition groups. After the German invasion in March, 1945, it issued "letters of safe conduct by the Regent" to Jews usually for "activities in the service of the nation", with no requirement to investigate details. Thousands of such letters were issued. (Pers. inf. From Mrs. Ilona Bowden.)

11. The same Felix Schmidt-Bornemisza who was comrade-at-arms of Horthy in the navy.

12. Soviet Marshal Fjodor Ivanovich Tolbuchin (1894-1949).

13. The text of the proclamation is included in the Appendix. Horthy by this time mistrusted Vörös. He did not show the proclamation's text to them beforehand. One fateful mistake by Horthy was that he did not specifically state that the preliminary armistice agreement, in fact, was already signed on October 11, 8:57 PM, Moscow time. This allowed the Nazis to obfuscate the matter by their announcements later. It also confused the Hungarian troops. Some writers feel that Horthy should have informed the Soviets about his impending proclamation. Furthermore, Horthy's continued insistence on a gentlemanly 'fair play' toward the Germans suggests a high degree of naiveté. In September, 1946, Horthy explained to a Swiss reporter: "I don't attack from behind, not even a Hitler. I am not a traitor. I promised Hitler that I advise him promptly if I want to make a separate peace. I kept my word." (Gosztonyi, P: Regent Nicholas Horthy and the Emigration, Budapest: Szaz. Publ., 1992, in Hung. p. 134.)

14. It was sabotaged by Nazi sympathizer Staff-Colonel Albin Kapitánfy (born Kratzner), who was placed in charge of radioing the commands to all army units. Later he bragged about this.

15. Major General Béla Aggteleky (1890-1977). He was arrested on the morning of the 15th by his adjutant Iván Hindy, who turned him over to the Gestapo. Later Hindy was the commander of the surrounded Hungarian forces in Budapest and was captured by the Soviets at the end of the siege as he and his entourage emerged from a storm sewer.

16. Vörös escaped from Budapest and hid as a monk in Kecskemét until the Soviet front passed through. He reported to the Red Army and was taken to Moscow. He tried to give the impression to be Horthy's personal representative. He was asked by the Soviets to write a declaration addressed to Hungarian soldiers. It was published in the Pravda on November 15, 1944 under the following title: "Forward for a free and democratic Hungary under the leadership of Regent Horthy." This was not likely to have pleased Moscow's Hungarian Communists. Later Vörös became the minister of war in the Provisional Government. In 1949, after the Communist takeover, he was falsely charged to be an American spy and convicted to life in prison. The 1956 revolution freed him.

17. According to Skorzeny's memoirs, Hitler expected Horthy's attempt to 'bail out' as early as the middle of September. (Dombrády, L. - Toth, S.: The Royal Hungarian Army: 1919-1945; Budapest: Zrinyi, 1987. In Hung.)

18. The commanders of the opposing German and Hungarian forces agreed the night before not to start hostilities, and to meet at 10 AM. the next day. The Hungarian Guards laid out a mine-field in the approach routes to the Palace. By accident, a lamplighter of the gas street lamps, named Mihály Rekenye, while doing his rounds caused a mine to explode.He survived, with his clothing torn off. Both opponents believed that the other started an attack, and a firefight ensued. (Bokor: Deadend..., op. cit.; p.264.)

19. Captain of the Guards András Kállay (1919- ).

20. Baron Peter Schell (1898-1974) Interior Minister .

21. István Fáy (1881-1959) Member of Parliament, Deputy Minister.

22. Gerhart Feine (1894-1959).

23. Toward the end of December Tost's 70 year old father was also shot to death by Arrow Cross thugs in Kassa.

24. Subsequently Lakatos was imprisoned by the Nazis but later he escaped. After the war he was imprisaoned, then interned, and later deported by the Communists. In 1965 he was allowed to visit his daughter in Australia where he completed his memoirs. He died in 1967.

25. András Tasnády-Nagy (1882-1956)

26. Msgr.Angelo Rotta. Earlier, he handed out thousands of Vatican letters of protection to Hungarian Jews.

27. Major General Károly Lázár (1890-1968) commander of the Guards.

28. General György Brunswik (1888- ?), logistics commander. According to some, he was a Nazi stool pidgeon. (Vigh: Jump..; op. cit.)

29. The only official contact allowed to Horthy was Chief Consul Horst Hellenthal, assigned there by the German Foreign Ministry.

30. Jenô Horthy (1877-1954) hunter, Africa explorer.

31. Soviet Marshal Rogion Jakovlevich Malinovsky (1898-1967).

32. The Siege of Budapest did not end until February 13, 1945. There was a total of 70 thousand German and Hungarian forces encircled under the command of SS General Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch.The fight went on from house to house. All seven bridges on the Danube were dynamited. Against Hitler's command, Pfeffer-Wildenbruch decided at the end to stage a breakout. The Soviets were secretly informed of this, and the German forces were massacred on what was later named Malinovsky Boulevard. Only 785 Germans reached their own lines. Pfeffer-Wildenbruch was freed from Soviet prison in 1955, upon Adenauer's Moscow visit. After the siege, Russians commented that Budapest looked worse than Stalingrad. Western media carried little of this matter as it was engaged with reporting on the Battle of the Bulge.

<< 20: The Occupation of Hungary || 22: The Arrival of the Americans >>