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19 September 2014

August–September 1944 – A mosaic selected from diaries, memoirs and histories III.


In the present selection in our 70th anniversary series of records of the 1944 German occupation of Hungary, we concentrate on two themes. One is the tensions and despair amid which the successful action of Regent Horthy thwarted the second Nazi attempt, between 19–28. August, to deport the Jews of Budapest from Hungary to the extermination camps of Auschwitz. The events and the mood are described here by the General Secretary of the Jewish Council, Ernő Munkácsi, and Countess Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai, the daughter-in-law of the Regent. The latter, better known as Ilona Horthy, was a brave confidante of the Regent, and one of his main contacts with the anti-Nazi circles and the resistance movement. Ilona Horthy recounts here the forming of the anti-Nazi Lakatos government, since long on the secret agenda of Horthy – and the frustrations this government brought to him. Horthy then, based on his constitutional mandate, initiates secret steps in order to conduct armistice talks with the Soviets in September, with the aim of bringing Hungary to the Allied side. The passage quoted here from the memoir of Staff Major István Szent-Miklósy, a close partner of Domokos Szent-Iványi both at the top of the Hungarian Independence Movement and in Horthy’s secret Special Bureau, gives a detailed and emotional account of the secret preparations for the armistice in anti-Nazi political and military circles close to Horthy.

Kodolányi Gyula

 
 
REGENT HORTHY THWARTS THE SECOND DEPORTATION ATTEMPT OF THE NAZIS, 17–26 AUGUST

 
As far as I can recall it must have been at the end of July or during the first days of August when I first got to see the Regent on this matter, through the mediation of Horthy, Jr. I informed the Regent in full detail about what I knew, and told him that a categorical refusal regarding the Jewish question could be counted on to bring results against a Germany that had seen its forces in Hungary dwindle due to the military operations in the Carpathians. This was when the Regent gave me orders to find out the exact size and location of German forces stationed in Hungary. Pending the results of such a survey, he agreed to refuse to extradite the Jews to the Germans. On the occasion of this first audience, I gave him a letter of protest I had drafted in five points. The Regent accepted the document with the proviso that it would have to be reworded in the diplomatic idiom. From the way he acted it was obvious to me that he feared a wholesale German invasion.
 
The letter was edited to fit the diplomatic style by Foreign Ministry Councillor Dr Csopey, with the knowledge of Deputy Minister Jungerth-Arnóthy. The latest date the Germans had set for the deportation was 26 August. The government was supposed to submit the letter of protest on the same date, a Saturday. What happened instead is that the Regent personally gave a copy to Veesenmayer, the German envoy, who had come to see the Regent about a different affair. The degree to which the government dreaded the idea of delivering the document became obvious when they failed to hand it over even after having received the reply from the Germans. (It turned out only later that the Regent had already handed over the letter of protest to Veesenmayer.)[1] In the letter, the government undertook the commitment to relocate the Jewry in the countryside, provided that it were permitted to solve the Jewish question in its own discretion and on its own resources. Under no circumstances would the Jews be extradited to a foreign power.

Ferenczy’s testimony before the people’s tribunal sheds even keener light on the history of the letter of protest as a document of the refusal to continue the deportations. The letter was drafted by Ferenczy(2) and consisted of five points. He showed a first draft to the Jewish Council and had them translate it into German. Under the first point, the government expressed its readiness to resettle the Jewry of Budapest in the countryside using its own resources of law enforcement. The government would not, however, accept any further transportation of the Jews by the Germans, as they had not been extradited. For the rest, the letter demanded the departure of Eichmann’s detachment, the handing over of detained politicians and Members of Parliament to the courts, the return of the Pest County Jail to Hungarian administration, and the return of Jewish property and warehouses. In return, the government was willing to accommodate the Jews in camps in the countryside and to put them to work there. Ferenczy described this undertaking as only a pretext for buying time. As he said, “We had to give the Germans something or it would have been impossible to obstruct further deportation”.
 
The letter of protest was typed in seven copies, one of them for the Jewish Council. On 26 August, Veesenmayer asked for an audience from the Regent in connection with his démarche to the Hungarian government concerning Romania’s defection from the Axis. Horthy jumped on the opportunity and handed over the letter of protest himself to the plenipotentiary envoy of the Reich.
 
The ten days from 17 to 26 August marked a period of dramatic face-off and crisis. Although Horthy’s so-called “exemption decree” was not published in the official journal until the 22nd – I will discuss the substance and outcome of this decree later – it had already been common knowledge that there were certain ways for certain people, by going through the Prime Minister’s Office or the Cabinet Office, to win exemption from certain provisions of the anti-Jewish laws, most notably from the requirement of wearing the yellow star. Among the first to receive such exemptions were assimilated Jews who had served as senior government officials in the liberal world, as well as scientists and artists and their relatives. (We will see shortly how far this process was later transformed.) In the attendant public mood, it was a striking appearance when, around 5 in the afternoon of 17 August, three leaders of the Jewish Council entered the bustling Síp Street headquarters without wearing a yellow star. The word of mouth was that they received the exemption granted by the Regent directly from the hands of State Secretary István Bárczy. It may well be that the stripping of three high-profile Council members of their stars should not have had the impact that it did, given that some others, such as the Zionist leaders Ottó Komoly and Rezső Kasztner, had never had to wear the stigma to begin with, courtesy of their German papers. Yet the change embodied in the external appearance of the three Council members left a deep impression in the tense atmosphere. For weeks, everyone had been talking about the deportation. The first question of every Jew upon meeting another was whether he thought fate would soon catch up with the Jews of Budapest. No wonder that many interpreted the starless appearance of the Council members as a sign of deportation being on the threshold. The general astonishment was only amplified by the events of 18 August.
 
In the evening that day, Stern, Pető, Wilhelm and their families were captured and hauled to Svábhegy Hill by the Gestapo. From there, they were taken during the night to the German-run jail of the Pest County Courthouse. Their interrogation focused on trifle details and they really had no idea why they had been arrested. During the very same hour, the author of his book was called for by a detective of the Hungarian Gestapo from Svábhegy Hill. One did not need much imagination to see the correlation. Next morning, on 19 Saturday, Stern, Wilhelm and their families were released on the strenuous intervention of the Regent; the Germans promised to free Pető the following Monday, 21 August. When I called on Samu Stern around noon on the 19th, I found him in bed with a fever and apparently still under the influence of the calamities of the night before. He was being attended to by his next of kin. When the question repeatedly came up of why they were arrested, the Council President insisted fervently that it must have been because of Fülöp Freudiger’s flight.(3)
 
Dr Pető was handled separately, and in fact subjected to abuse, after a document from the Swedish legation was found on him. He was interrogated about his relationship with the Regent, about how the Regent knew him, and was given to understand he was only being released on the orders of the Regent. When they let him go on 21 August, they instructed him to compile and urgently deliver to the Svábhegy Hill Kommando a list of the Council members and all the payroll and voluntary staff of the Council administration. These demands were accompanied by severe threats.
 
The Gestapo action described above signalled the commencement of the deportation. The Council prepared the list containing only the names of the more than 1,000 employees working within its organisation but, feigning naiveté as to the intended use of the list, withheld the home addresses. After a pause of one day, confirming the worst nightmare of hundreds of employees as they held their breaths, the order came from above to supplement the list with the addresses. There was no doubt anymore as to what lay ahead. The same day, Ferenczy told Wilhelm and Pető that, as per Eichmann’s instructions, the first to be deported were the members of the Council, the officials within the organisation, and their relatives. Ferenczy also showed them the timetable specifying the settlements around the city where the tenants of star- marked houses were to be taken from each section of the capital, as well as the times for boarding Jews from specific settlements on the deportation trains. The deportation process itself was to take place from 27 August to 18 September.
 
These plans were quickly leaked to the public, intensifying the already rampant panic to the point best described as an endemic frenzy that threatened to break out of control by any minute. Virtually nobody remained immune to insanity in this hour of utter despair, some waiting in apathy, others in sheer madness for destiny to knock on the door.
 
This was how we edged closer and closer to Saturday, 26 August, the darkest day of the crisis. Early in the morning the command came for the list of Council members and officials, complete with names and addresses, to be delivered to Svábhegy Hill within the next few hours. The list was presented to the Gestapo by the attorney Dr E. R., a member of the government relations team, in an act that obviously heralded the inception of the deportations. The Council leaders were torn between hope and despondency. Nobody knew if Ferenczy, making good on his word, was going to take control of the situation and gain the upper hand of a blood- thirsty gendarmerie that had been swarming to Budapest in droves for the past few weeks, and whose members were ultimately his own accomplices and accessories. In any case, the Council members did what there was to be done, and went to the Castle district late in the morning. The author of this book alerted State Secretary Mester,(4) who maintained direct contact with the Cabinet Chief.
 
During the morning hours, thousands and thousands inundated Síp Street to learn the news that would spell doom or deliverance for all of us. For the event of news confirming the start of deportations, many entertained the idea of suicide; others thought the time would be ripe for them to brave the risk and escape from their star-marked residences to go into hiding with Christian papers. Before the morning was over, a larger group assembled on the third floor, occupied the President’s room – most of the Council members had left by then – and held a sort of makeshift meeting in a sizzling atmosphere. It was a dead ringer for the demonstration led by Dr Varga back in June. Speakers fulminated against the Administrative Committee which they said had abandoned them to their own resources, secure in their own new-found starless privilege in stark contrast to the stigmatised masses. The Council leaders returned to the building around 2 in the afternoon directly from a meeting with Ferenczy, declared the rumours of ongoing deportation to be unfounded, and described the situation as being no worse than it was a week or two previously. In reality, they had just learned that morning that Horthy had given Veesenmayer the letter of protest, and they interpreted this as a sign of firm resolve on the part of the Regent. News of the letter of protest immediately sent one of Eichmann’s men flying to Berlin to receive further instructions from Himmler. In a telegram sent to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Himmler consented to the deferral of the deportations. Ministry of Foreign Affairs councillor Dr Moór and State Secretary Zsigmond Székely Molnár, who was in charge of Jewish affairs in the Ministry of the Interior at the time, relayed the news to Pető and Wilhelm. (Ferenczy testified that Himmler’s reply was received on 28 August.)
 
Ironically, very little of this reassuring news reached the Jewish masses. That Saturday remained etched in the Jews of Budapest as their first truly severe blow that shook them from head to toe. Remembering the precedents in the countryside, many packed their belongings, readied a rucksack and, in some of the houses, even set up a kind of guard to put up a fight should they come under attack by the gendarmerie. Most people spent a sleepless night, keeping vigil as so many had done in the dark nights of the history of Israel.
 
The sun dawned on a beautiful summer day, suffusing the city with warmth. When the official hour allotted for them to leave their homes came, the Jews of Budapest flocked to the streets, drawing deep breaths of the fresh air, relieved in wonder that they should still be around. This is how the deportation scheduled for August failed, and the second battle to save Jews of the capital also proved successful.
 
Suddenly, it was impossible to silence the optimists who roared at the top of their lungs, “I told you there will be no deportations from Budapest!” Few realised the actual situation and the eternal truth of history that skirmishes can be won, that we can all get away with the worst for a while, but victory can only be claimed by those who have prevailed in the last battle.
 
Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel
 

(From Ernő Munkácsi: How Did It Happen? Documenting the Tragedy of the Hungarian Jewry. Budapest: Renaissance Publishing, 1947. This pre-publication excerpt is published by courtesy of Peter Munk. – Editors)
 
 
1  While Regent Horthy was eager to hand over the protest to the Germans, the quisling government of Sztójay tried to avoid the confrontation. Therefore, Horthy acted over their heads, as in all other key issues after March 1944. (Editors)
2  Lieutenant Colonel László Ferenczy (1898–1946),the appointed liaison officer between Eichmann’s SD in Budapest and the Hungarian gendarmerie, acted in July-October 1944 as a double agent on behalf of the Jewish Council, informing them of Nazi plans for deportation in Budapest and helping to thwart these attempts from the inside. As he remained fully loyal to the Nazis after the Arrow- Cross coup d'état on October 16, the People’s Court sentenced him to death in 1946.
3  Fülöp Freudiger, a prominent member of the Jewish Council, had just escaped from Hungary together with some 70 companions, using false passports. (Editors)
4  The Castle district was the seat of the government offices. State Secretary Miklós Mester (1903–1989), a historian, was planted in the Quisling Ministry of Culture by the Hungarian Independence Movement. He issued hundreds of official exemption documents for Jewish and anti-Nazi intellectuals and artists, with the knowledge and signature of the Regent. (Editors)
 
 
 
SAVE WHAT CAN BE SAVED

 
29 August was a memorable day. Despite the fact that only a few days earlier a letter had come from Hitler in which he demanded that we continue to meet our obligations and said that he would under no circumstances tolerate a change of government, the Regent took the Germans by surprise and dismissed the Sztójay government, appointing General Géza Lakatos as the new Prime Minister. It was incredible that the Germans agreed to all this. It was only the situation which had arisen as a result of the Romanians stepping out of the war that made it possible: it seemed that the Germans wanted somehow to maintain for the outside world the illusion that Hungary was still a good ally, so they did not want to take any action against my father-in-law openly. Miklóspapa’s declaration that we would continue fighting against the Soviets seemed to reassure them for the time being. It was on knife-edges such as this that events then depended.
 
General Géza Lakatos appointed his ministers the same day. The composition of this government was very important, because the Regent saw their task as being to prepare for Hungary to join the Allied side – so these were all to be men the Regent could rely on.
 
Unfortunately, as Miklóspapa [Regent Miklós Horthy] later told us, his original plan had not been kept to. His list of ministers had included, among others, Lieutenant Generals Szilárd Bakay, Kálmán Hardy and Ferenc Farkas, all men the Regent could rely on; and he had wanted simply to inform Veesenmayer, rather than ask for his approval. But these men were left out of the government, and at first I could not understand what had caused this change. I did not want to ask many questions, and only found out later that it was Defence Minister Csatay who, fearing German resistance, insisted that the list should be shown to Veesenmayer beforehand. He himself gave the list to Veesenmayer as a “proposed” government, which of course Veesenmayer did not accept. The wrangling ended when Reményi- Schneller and Jurcsek were included, and our suspicions were soon confirmed that they were acting as informants for Veesenmayer. Veesenmayer had other demands, like including Bárdossy and Ruszkay, but Miklóspapa rejected all other suggestions.
 
It’s difficult to judge what the German reaction would have been if Csatay had not interfered. I think Csatay was wrong to do what he did, because if the Regent had wanted simply to inform Veesenmayer of the government he had formed, Veesenmayer’s approval should not have been sought. Veesenmayer would have tried to suggest others even without being asked, but our bargaining position would have been completely different if we had been informing and not asking him – and the fact that the decision was the Regent’s and not theirs would have protected the ministers.
 
Miklóspapa’s success in stopping the deportations and changing the government showed that his decision to stay in post might still enable Hungary to step out of the war, and then the sacrifice would have been worthwhile. In any event, the new government’s policy was little short of miraculous: to stop the persecution of the Jews and to limit the activities of the Gestapo.
 
As he now did not have complete confidence in the government, Miklóspapa could not let them know about any further attempts or preparations to ask for an armistice. This was a definite disadvantage and made his plans less likely to succeed.
 
During our usual evening bridge games we listened with excitement to the radio – the latest news was that the Germans had occupied Slovakia and the Slovaks were resisting. The Russians declared war on Bulgaria. The war was spreading – would there ever be peace? Every evening Magdamama [Magdolna, Regent Horthy’s wife], Nicky [Miklós Horthy Jr] and I discussed events at length with Miklóspapa.
 
On 7 September there was a Council of State meeting chaired by the Regent. The whole government attended, as did the chief of general staff and the heads of the Military and Cabinet Offices. Afterwards Miklóspapa told us how it had gone, and the following is based on what he told me and on the account written by Vattay, the head of the Military Office.
 
First the Regent informed them of the situation that had arisen: through Bakách- Bessenyey, the Hungarian ambassador in Switzerland, he had been informed that it was now clear that we could not count on an Allied invasion. The requirement was nothing less than unconditional surrender, and we were to make contact not with them but with the Soviet Union. The Russians had broken through the Carpathians, and the Germans were unable to hold them back. For that reason he had finally decided that we had to act: we had to put our desire to stop fighting into effect. Prime Minister Lakatos immediately asked to speak and announced that the matter had to be put before Parliament. An argument developed, but the Regent stated that the Parliament no longer represented the people’s wishes, because some of its members were under arrest, others were in hiding, and those who were still free had been intimidated, therefore he would not agree to the Prime Minister’s request. He concluded, “I assume responsibility before the nation and before history”. Acting on Defence Minister Csatay’s proposal, the Germans were informed that if they did not send four divisions and more armoured units Hungary would be forced to ask for a ceasefire. The Regent also informed Hitler of this in writing.
 
I always had misgivings about these disclosures to the Germans. Did we have to inform them of our intentions when they had never been honest with us? Of course there were many details I did not know about, so it may have been simply my prejudice that gave rise to these misgivings. People made judgements subsequently, but they had no idea of all the factors that came into play.
 
It was now that the Hungarian Embassy in Finland reported how well the Russians were treating the Finnish leader Marshal Mannerheim, and that they did not occupy Finland. But at the same time we heard reports of the atrocities perpetrated by the Russian occupation forces in Romania. Naturally these reports struck fear into everyone.
 
Many people have described in detail the events and negotiations that followed. All I would like to add here is what I experienced, together with some explanations I obtained later. I hope you will be able to sense the uncertain, desperate atmosphere in which we lived: in a country occupied by a ruthless power with a hostile ideology, having to await liberation by the army of a country which was equally ruthless and whose ideology was equally hostile. Even Hitchcock could not have made up a more dreadful horror story.
 
But we had to come to terms with this. And, as there was no landing by the British in the Balkans as we had all hoped, the Regent decided to send a delegation to Moscow. This was perhaps the hardest sacrifice he ever had to make for his country.
 
On 10 September, Miklóspapa summoned his reliable advisors to ask them for their opinion. The only members of the government who were there were Prime Minister Lakatos, Foreign Minister Hennyey, Defence Minister Csatay and Vörös, chief of General Staff. The others at the meeting were Count István Bethlen (who had again been smuggled into the Palace), Count Móricz Esterházy, Count Gyula Károlyi, Kálmán Kánya, Baron Zsigmond Perényi, three generals (one of whom was General István Náday, who later flew to the Allied Headquarters in Italy on a secret mission) and Count Béla Teleki, the president of the Transylvanian Party.
 
First János Vörös informed them all of the military situation, which essentially was that, since the end of August, Russian forces had been advancing through the Szekler region in Transylvania. Then Miklóspapa told them that it was necessary to end the war immediately. István Bethlen agreed with the Regent’s decision in every respect, and said there was no sense in continuing the bloodshed – we had to step out of the war. It was decided that we had to do what the Finns had done: stop fighting but not lay down our arms. Everyone at the meeting was in agreement, and it became clear that the Soviet Union was the only power to whom we could – and indeed had to – turn.
 
After this meeting, the problem arose of how István Bethlen could be smuggled back out of the Palace. We were afraid that news of his presence might have leaked out. I do not know whose idea it was that his distinctive moustache should be shaved off. The deed was done, but then he looked even more suspicious because the skin that had now become exposed was white and contrasted sharply with his suntanned face. Then I remembered Pista’s [István Horthy, her husband, killed on the Russian front in 1942] ultra-violet lamp, which was still in our bathroom. So they all came up with “Uncle” István to my apartment on the first floor. I covered his face with towels, leaving only the white skin exposed, and carefully shone the ultra-violet light on it until the white patch disappeared completely. It was a great success: Uncle István, wearing a soldier’s uniform, was unrecognisable, and he got back safely to his hiding place in the country.
 
Count Ladomér Zichy, whose estate in Slovakia was next to the Hungarian border, was chosen on the recommendation of his brother-in-law, Baron Dániel Bánffy, a former agricultural minister, to make contact with the Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Makarov – who was cooperating with the Slovak partisans – in order to pass on a ceasefire request. I was there when he came up to the Palace to discuss the details and accept the task. The following day, the eleventh, he left for Slovakia.
 
At the same time another opportunity to make contact with the Soviets arose. Baron Ede Atzél, a Transylvanian landowner, offered through my brother-in-law Nicky to travel to Moscow accompanied by two Communists. Miklóspapa agreed, and they set off.
 
On 11 September there was a meeting of the Council of Ministers in the Regent’s study. According to the official notes made by State Secretary István Bárczy, who took the minutes, Prime Minister Géza Lakatos opened the meeting by first explaining the final and irrevocable decision the Regent had come to concerning asking for a ceasefire, and all the steps that had led to that decision: “The Prime Minister stressed again that His Highness the Regent’s decision was final and irrevocable. ... He therefore requested the ministers’ observations, wanting to know who would accept political responsibility for this decision made by the Regent and who would not.”
 
The ministers then spoke in turn, making uncertain statements such as: “I can understand the Regent but it is difficult to accept this...” “If the Regent orders me to accept it I will, but...” “The Germans will exact dreadful retribution...” “It is too early to ask for a ceasefire...” “I cannot accept stepping out of the war this very day...” etc. And Lakatos shared these views! So, the twenty-fourth hour was “too early” for them.
 
I will again draw on Vattay’s recollections to illustrate Miklóspapa’s situation:
 
It’s only now, twenty-one years later, that I have seen what looks like an authentic record of that Council of Ministers meeting on 11 September. On studying it I formed the impression that Bonczos, the Interior Minister (who had right-wing tendencies and later left the government) had snatched the initiative in a spirited speech, saying that they couldn’t accept responsibility for the Regent’s wishes and decisions... Bonczos was immediately supported by Reményi-Schneller and Jurcsek, the two pro-German ministers. Slowly, one after the other, those ministers who were still wavering joined them; and finally Lakatos came to share the ministers’ view and joined them in the decision that the government couldn’t accept responsibility and would tender its resignation.
 
Even now, twenty-one years on, I can’t understand that government’s behaviour. When it was formed, the most important and primary task it undertook was to achieve a ceasefire, and when the opportunity to do so arose, the government simply announced that it wasn’t prepared to go through with it. The ministers must have known how difficult it was to form a government and what obstacles had to be surmounted. In that critical situation they abandoned the head of state – they didn’t care what he did, but they wouldn’t accept responsibility. Even the military members of the government voted with the rest.
 
In the evening a small “inner” circle met in the Regent’s study: Miklóspapa, Magdamama and Nicky; General Szilárd Bakay, the commander of the First Army Corps, with responsibility for the security of Budapest; Lieutenant General Károly Lázár, commander of the Bodyguards; Lieutenant Colonel Gyuszi Tost, aide-de-camp; Gyula Ambrózy, head of the Cabinet Office; Antal Vattay, head of the Military Office; and myself.
 
Miklóspapa told us what had happened in the Council of Ministers, and we could tell from his voice how much their decision had upset him. It was hard to believe that the whole government had deserted him. He told us what a struggle it had been to appoint this government, and that now there was no time for another conflict with the Germans over this. He had been abandoned, but wanted to implement his decision, and so he would act without involving the government. All of us who were there undertook to support the Regent in every way. General Bakay, whom Miklóspapa praised as being the best man for the job, said that he could defend Castle Hill against the Germans successfully if he received reinforcements – if he could be given a division, then he would be able to defend both the Palace and the city. Vattay adds the following observation to his memories of that day:
 
How different the situation would have been, how much more forceful and unified the preparations – both political and military – would have been if the government had carried out its duty with complete dedication. The Regent was seventy-six years old, but despite his age he was prepared to take that difficult step even in the face of opposition from the government... His willpower and vitality were not what they had been, he was showing signs of his age, but despite his advanced years he persisted in his intention, surmounted the obstacles and stuck to his decision.
 
Even now, many years later, people wonder whose responsibility it was that Hungary did not manage to go over to the other side. Perhaps they have lost sight of the real problem, that we were being worn away between two hells, between two cunning, lying, murderous great powers, and whatever we did, the final result would have been the same. Our fate was decided in Tehran in November 1943, when the Heads of State of the Western Allies met and decided the fate of Europe; that was the only place anything could have been done to help.
 

(From Honour and Duty. The Memoirs of Countess Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai, Widow of Vice-regent Stephen Horthy of Hungary, Purple Pagoda Press, Lewes, 2005, pp. 194–199.)

 

 
NEW INITIATIVES BY THE MFM(1)

 
We made a serious attempt to secure communication with the so-called Peace Party, a cover name for the Communist Party. The later Communist Prime Minister, Gyula Kállai, once came to my home, and we arranged a meeting with the military leaders of the Peace Party, though Kállai did not divulge their names to us. To ensure their security at that meeting, Communist guards were to be posted around the block of houses by the park where it was to be held. I was to represent the military branch of our resistance movement. In a last minute surprise move, the meeting was called off without explanation. Only much later did I learn that their two top military men were my former schoolmates in the War College: László Sólyom, my competitor in our class standings in military strategy, and György Pálffy-Österreicher, one year younger and on good terms with me. Both had ended their respective military careers because of their Jewish connections and received very good jobs thereafter in industry. What came as a great surprise to me was that they had become top Communist military representatives already in 1944. Both were to play great roles in Hungary later, and both turned against me, Pálffy without any personal reason. Ultimately, both were executed in 1949 after trials that were probably only for show, set up by their fellow Communist leaders. The implication of our cancelled meeting in 1944 was that MFM activities lacked Communist cooperation.
 
Another crucial step was taken by Horthy, Jr, in September. He asked me to his apartment and said, “My father decided to send Colonel General István Náday to the West, to negotiate regarding an armistice. Náday must get out of here safely, together with Colonel Howie.” Many of us knew about this Colonel Howie: he was a British – or more precisely South African – pilot who had been in captivity, escaped to Hungary, and been kept hidden for a while in the Castle District with the help of Lajos Kudar, the head of the National Security Agency. In short, I had been chosen to smuggle out Náday and Howie.
 
I accepted, of course, such an honourable but impossible assignment. It was clear that they had to be flown out of the country. However, in the Buda cliffs under the citadel, the Operations Room, controlling all flights in the Hungarian airspace, was in German hands. Every plane in the air was tracked by a light on a wall-size map at every moment. From German airfields inside Hungary any plane flying without prior approval would be intercepted. Because I was not an air force specialist, I enlisted two of the very best friends we had: General Staff Major Miklós Balassy and Engineer Corps Lieutenant Colonel Domokos Hadnagy. The choice of pilot fell on János Majoros. On 22 September an inconspicuous car headed southwest on the highway toward the Lake Balaton resorts. It so happened that an airplane came taxiing along a runway parallel to the highway just as the car was passing the airport at Székesfehérvár. The car stopped, the occupants jumped into the airplane, which took off immediately and reached the Yugoslav border before the interceptors could catch up. At the Allied headquarters in Italy, General István Náday explained that the Nazi-German occupation kept Hungary in a strait jacket and asked for understanding and patience in offering our surrender to the Western powers. General Wilson responded positively. However, he made it clear that all roads to peace in Eastern Europe led through Moscow, and he directed us to send an armistice delegation there.
 
PROBES FOR AN ARMISTICE WITH THE SOVIET UNION
 

Around the same time or even earlier, three persons volunteered to go through the Soviet front line, to learn whether it was at all possible to go to Moscow and whether it was possible to return safely thereafter. The news media, the information disseminated during the interwar period, and our experiences on the Soviet front blurred our vision as to what kind of treatment we could expect even under diplomatic immunit
y. The first volunteer was from the MFM, Baron Ede Atzél, a man extremely devoted to the causes of Transylvania and Hungary but also hot-headed and enormously strong physically. The other two were Dr Imre Faust and József Dudás.(2)
 
They left through the Soviet front to Moscow, and they were permitted to return even though they did not have any official diplomatic capacity. During a private reporting of their trip, I heard they gained a relatively favourable impression.
 
Hungarian leaders in positions of power did everything to avoid a Soviet occupation and lure the Anglo-Americans. Yet as the war moved into the autumn of 1944, Regent Horthy and other top leaders realised they would do well to prepare for the possibility of having to negotiate an armistice with the Soviet Union. This entailed more than just the selection of a qualified and high-ranking negotiating team. It was also necessary to find a secure border crossing and to insure that the mission would be properly received by Soviet leaders.
 
General Gábor Faragho, inspector of the gendarmerie, who served twenty years earlier in Pécs in southern Hungary and was my commander, was selected to head the negotiating team. He had been military attaché in Moscow in the late 1930s, spoke fluent Russian, and wrote a most fulminating anti-Communist book on his return. Although not at all anti-Semitic, he became inspector of the gendarmerie, which was responsible, after the German occupation of Hungary on 19 March 1944, for rounding up the Jewish population for deportation. Because of this alleged role, he was for a long time persona non grata to Regent Horthy, but in due time Horthy learned of his great merits. Despite the handicap of his reputation, he volunteered to go to Moscow with an armistice delegation and began to brush up on his Russian. I liked him very much, and he liked me just as well. He often sent his conspicuous gendarmerie inspector’s car in the early morning hours to pick me up so we could together analyse the war situation and the steps to be taken by Hungary. Toward the end, he called me twice or even three times a week, and after our discussions I was driven back in his commander’s car along Andrássy Road, across the bridges, up to the castle, where the SCND was located on Úri Street. The Jewish question never came up between us, but the fact that he was a counterbalance to the prevailing attitude of many gendarmerie commanders was absolutely clear to me. He was a man of great intelligence and breadth of vision and also displayed common sense, shrewd diplomatic behaviour and tremendous personal courage.
 
Two others joined him on the delegation to Moscow. Szent-Iványi, in his capacity as director of Horthy’s Special Bureau, could best speak for the Hungarian government’s readiness to withdraw both from the Axis and from the war. Count Géza Teleki brought to the team his own professional competence as well as the prestige of his father’s name and anti-German foreign policy. His relative, Béla Teleki, the president of the Transylvanian political party, was also asked to go, but he declined.
 
The group charged with practical preparation – Baron Dániel Bánffy, gendarmerie Colonel Dr Lajos Kudar, and gendarmerie Captains Dr Pál Nyerges and Béla Korondy – discovered that Count Ladomér Zichy’s estate lay on both sides of the Hungarian–Slovak border, no doubt as a result of interwar territorial adjustments. Through this avenue, they and Count Zichy crossed into Soviet territory and conferred with authorities there. On their return, Kudar submitted a report effectively giving a green light to the Hungarian armistice-negotiating mission. Horthy’s immediate acceptance of this plan bespoke the Regent’s respect for Kudar’s political astuteness, cool-headed judgement and prestige. Kudar was a key member of the Circle of Five and one of the originators of the MFM. In 1944 he was the director of the ÁVK (Államvédelmi Központ) or State Security Centre. Falling into German hands not long after the departure of this negotiating team, he was tortured and eventually executed in January 1945. Next to Pál Teleki and Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, he was no doubt the greatest Hungarian casualty of the Second World War.
 
Faragho, Szent-Iványi and Teleki left on 28 September, after Kudar submitted his report. That day I happened to be in Faragho’s office. He told me neither of his Moscow assignment nor of its imminence. Rather he dwelt on the necessity to persuade Regent Horthy to go to Transylvania, to the headquarters of General Lajos Veress, when it came time to attempt to break away from Germany. Horthy should under no circumstances be in the Royal Palace at that time, lest Hungary lose its head of state. While we were talking, the telephone rang. He said, “Hello! Yes, my dear! Yes! Yes! Then please pack my general’s trousers also. Please put them in the luggage. I might need them.” He hung up the receiver, looked at me, and said, “Isti, you did not hear anything! Understand?” As I left, he stood in the doorway and added, “God bless you! And don’t forget: The Regent has to go out to Veress Laji [General Lajos Dalnoki Veress]!” He put his arm around my shoulder and we parted. I never saw him again.(3)

 
(From István Szent-Miklósy: With the Hungarian Independence Movement, 1943–1947, Praeger, New York, 1988.)
 
 
1   Magyar Függetlenségi Mozgalom [Hungarian Independence Movement].
2  Faust and Dudás were prominent members of the underground Hungarian Communist Party. The Atzél mission, with the Regent’s approval, was making preparations for the Moscow journey of the Faragho–Szent-Iványi–Teleki armistice delegation. (Editors)
3   Colonel General Gábor Faragho (1890–1953) became a Minister in the first post-War Hungarian government in December 1944. He retired in 1945, and was living in house arrest on his farm from 1951, during the Communist terror. Apparently, his life was spared thanks to a Soviet intervention on his behalf with the Hungarian Stalinist leaders. Since Szent-Miklósy was arrested and convicted in the mock trial of Conspiracy against the Republic, and spent the years 1946–56 in prison, the two friends never met again. (Editors)



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