24 September 2016

Sheltered by the Embassy of Belgium in Budapest


 

The Asylum Appeals of Ferenc B. Farkas and Judith Maléter in November 19561


 

During the days of the Revolution of 1956 and the weeks following the Russian attack on 4 November, the heads of most diplomatic missions accredited to Hungary probably felt something similar to what Walther Peinsipp, the Austrian envoy to Budapest,2 wrote in his summary report dated 20 December 1956: “The situation of the Embassy during the revolution and the last five weeks of the city’s occupation can only be compared to a ship which, sailing in windy weather suddenly gets into a typhoon, loses all contact with its shipping company, is not the least equipped to such storms, and is left completely alone. The captain’s conduct in this situation, which no navigation manual can foresee, must derive from the situation itself, in its most difficult and decisive moments.”3

The protection of foreign citizens staying in Budapest and the delivery of humanitarian aid posed a major challenge for diplomatic representations, which for some time were isolated from the outside world due to a news ban and the intermittent telephone and telegraph connections. But the question of asylum claims by high-ranking politicians and public figures who had been politically exposed proved to be far more delicate. The story of Cardinal József Mindszenty is well-known; he “enjoyed” the forced hospitality of the Embassy of the United States in Budapest for nearly fifteen years.4 But there are counterexamples: Egon Turchányi – Mindszenty’s secretary –, Béla Kovács, Smallholder Minister of State and two of his fellow politicians were not granted political asylum. Besides the American Embassy, the Yugoslav Embassy also played a crucial role in granting political asylum, by giving protection to Imre Nagy and his fellow communist politicians and their family members.5

It is a little-known fact that a member of the government and another member’s wife were also admitted for a few days by the Belgian Embassy. “One of the most alarming problems that arose during the tragic months of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was the question of asylum rights. For reasons of security, I have not yet reported the two applications that had been addressed to the Embassy here”, says Frédéric Collon, Belgian envoy in the opening of his report dated 4 May 1957 and addressed to his superior, the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs; he then goes on to detail the case of the two applicants, without mentioning names.6

From 23 October 1956 on, more and more people – mostly Belgian citizens and employees of the adjacent Italian Embassy, as well as two Italian correspondents of the daily Il Tempo sought refuge at the Belgian Embassy, which included the residence building as well. Most of them arrived on 4 November: nineteen people, of whom eight were seeking protection. Unable to contact his superior, the Belgian minister refused the asylum claims of the Hungarians, fearing he could not guarantee their security, and the number of people the building could accommodate was also limited.7 As it appears from Collon’s letter quoted above, he made an exception in two cases. On the following pages I will try to reconstruct the events by confronting the Belgian minister’s report – whose text I will publish in its entirety at the end of my paper – with the recollections of the two asylum seekers, made at different times and among differing circumstances.8


 

THE PERSON IN QUESTION SPENT AROUND TWO WEEKS WITH US”

 

In the early 1990s, Judith Maléter (née Gyenes), the widow of major general Pál Maléter (1917–1958) – Minister of Defence in the government of Imre Nagy established on 3 November 1956 –, sought out the widow of a fellow minister of her late husband’s, Mrs Anna Farkas née Györffy, in her Szentendre home, in order to give her a black pen.9 She had preserved the one-time elegant German Kaweco fountain-pen for nearly forty years. She received the pen from the Peasant Party politician in the days following 4 November 1956, who asked her to give it to his wife as a last message in case something would happen to him. All this happened at the Belgian Embassy where – independently of each other – both had been granted refuge.

Judith Gyenes decided to seek asylum early in the morning of 4 November after she heard on the radio that her husband had not returned with the negotiators from the Russian military headquarters in Tököl.10 Imre Nagy’s first dramatic announcement was aired at 5.20 a.m., according to which the Soviets had attacked the capital. Half an hour later the Prime Minister called upon Pál Maléter, the Minister of Defence, and members of the delegation through the radio to return to Budapest without delay. Although no one in the Parliament could have known yet that the members of the government delegation had been arrested the night before, they suspected however that there was great trouble afoot. When Gyenes, by then extremely concerned following the second radio announcement, phoned again Nagy’s secretariat to get news on her husband, a young man told her in a frightened voice that she should leave her apartment at once and go to an embassy, by all means a Western one. Gyenes packed her most important things, as well as documents, a comb, a toothbrush and underclothes for her husband, and asked for help by telephone from the military headquarters in Úri Street. They sent a jeep decked with the national flag for her to their home at 29 Orbánhegyi Road. Her two sisters and an acquaintance of theirs, a journalist called Dénes Gyapay, were also in the flat. Although Gyapay – who accompanied the young woman and whose Italian was good – suggested they should go to the Italian Embassy in Vorosilov Road, Gyenes insisted on going to the Parliament instead. For the sake of her husband’s security she was reluctant to ask for asylum in a Western embassy. But their car was forced to stop before the Tunnel: Hungarian soldiers warned them that a Soviet tank blocked the exit leading to the Chain Bridge, and if they spotted them they would surely shoot. They also learned that the Russians had blocked all the bridges. Gyenes then decided to ask for protection at the nearby Italian ambassadorial residency, not far from her godmother’s flat.

Their car turned around at Váralja Street and approached the building located at 36 Donáti Street by a roundabout route. The Italian envoy was staying in Pest in the embassy building with his wife, but the staff managed to contact them by phone, and Gyenes was admitted. But due to the uncertain and unpredictable situation, and fearing that the Russians would not respect diplomatic immunity, the Italian Embassy employees asked for help from the Belgian envoy shortly afterwards. According to Frédéric Collon’s account, everybody – including the staff, Gyenes and some Italian citizens staying there – moved to the neighbouring Belgian Embassy at 34 Donáti Street. According to the envoy’s report, the spouse of the Hungarian Minister of Defence spent about a fortnight at the Belgian Embassy. Then Gyenes, according to whom her stay lasted only a few days, thanked her hosts for the help and left. Later she was not arrested, only dismissed from her job, but aside from two short visits to the prison, she never saw her husband again. Pál Maléter was sentenced to death at the trial of Imre Nagy and his associates and was executed together with Nagy and Miklós Gimes on 16 June 1958.11


 

X UNDERSTOOD THE SITUATION AND LEFT THE EMBASSY”

 

In contrast, the asylum application of Ferenc Farkas, a leading politician in the Peasant Party, created a far more awkward situation for the Embassy, as his stay could not be as long as Pál Maléter’s wife’s. At the interrogation preceding his pre-trial detention on 28 June 1957 which was recorded in a procès-verbal, Farkas himself gave an account of the period he spent at the Belgian Embassy. He however tried to provide as little information as possible so as not to create embarrassment for anyone, and thus kept silent about his meeting with Judith Gyenes.12 Before going into further details, I will briefly sum up how Farkas, who had completely withdrawn from public life and politics since 1950, found himself again embroiled in politics.13

Ferenc Farkas, the grey eminence and economist of the National Peasant Party was held to be one of the closest allies of Imre Kovács, a leading politician of the party until early 1947. Besides being a member of the local self-government and the Parliament, he held numerous prominent positions in the fields of politics, economics, culture and public life. He was, among others, a member of the High Council of the Hungarian National Bank (1945–1949), secretary general of the Hungarian Arts Council (1945–1950), president, then president and executive director (1945–1947) of the National Land-Credit Bank, president (1947–1949), then vice-president (1949–1952) of the National Cooperative Credit Bank. After 1947 however, he was gradually marginalised. After his resignation from his posts in 1948–1949 and his nearly fatal attempt to take his own life in 1950, he chose voluntary silence and inner emigration. Although he was allowed to remain vice-president until the reorganisation of the National Cooperative Credit Bank in 1952, he went on prolonged sick-leave before putting his expertise in economics to use from 1953 onward as head of department of the Teachers’ and Students’ Savings Bank created within the National Savings Bank (OTP).

Although his new appointment was insignificant compared to his earlier positions as an economist and politician, he started developing the school-based bank savings programme with the sedulity so characteristic of him. His fellow former Peasant Party politicians often visited him in his office on Szentkirályi Street. He and his family continued to socialise with leading figures of the intellectual scene of the 1930s and 1940s, with their writer, poet and artist friends, the closest of whom were Gyula Illyés, Lőrinc Szabó, Márta Sárközi, László Németh, István Bibó, Aurél Bernáth, Béni Ferenczy and their respective families. László Németh for instance wrote his drama entitled Galilei in their small garden-house at Szentendre in the spring of 1953. The writer worked for months in Farkas’s one-room garden-house equipped with a fireplace; he would go to his hosts’ dwelling-house only to eat and wash. The drama premiered after a long delay on 20 October 1956 in Budapest’s Katona József Theatre, just three days before the outbreak of the Revolution.14

Farkas greeted the appointment of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister, the dismissal of Mátyás Rákosi and the ensuing events in 1953 with hope and expectation. He still avoided any public role though, except for smaller initiatives: he wrote a noteworthy pamphlet for the autumnal meeting of the Patriotic Popular Front in 1956, entitled Fundamental Questions of the Popular Front, and participated in an attempt by writers close to the Peasant Party and its entourage at founding a periodical entitled Írás [Writing]. His sudden and unexpected return to politics however happened on the last day of October 1956.

According to available evidence, Farkas stated at his interrogation that from the night of the outbreak of the Revolution he stayed in his home at Szentendre with his family. He went to Budapest only on the morning of 31 October, after hearing Ferenc Erdei, Deputy Prime Minister, on the radio on 30 October, calling the Peasant Party to reorganise itself and return to politics with the other coalition parties.15 Although he did not mention it during the interrogation, he probably had contacted his fellow party members the previous day by telephone. They condemned the arbitrary organisation efforts of those Peasant Party politicians who had collaborated with the Communist regime after 1949, and began to reorganise the party. Ferenc Farkas was also present at the discussion at Gyula Illyés’s apartment in the morning of 31 October when the new leadership decided to announce the reorganisation of the party and its leadership at a rally called for a few hours later in Vajdahunyad castle in front of the Museum of Agriculture. They agreed that the old, pro-Communist party officials who collaborated with the Rákosi regime were responsible for ruining the Peasant Party, and that they, including Péter Veres, party president since 1945, should resign. Also it was discussed that until the convocation of the national convention, an ad hoc governing committee of politicians should make the decisions, and that no president would be elected, instead a governing body composed of writers would be formed.16 Besides Farkas, members of the ad hoc leadership included István Bibó, Sándor Hódi, Lajos Jócsik, József Kanyar, Sándor Kelemen, Imre Kondor, János Kurucz, Attila Szigethy, Zoltán Zsebők and Gyula Zsigmond, and later Lajos Matits and László Sebestyén. On the other hand, Géza Féja, Gyula Illyés, Dezső Keresztury, János Kodolányi, László Németh, Zsigmond Reményik, István Sinka, Lőrinc Szabó, Pál Szabó, Áron Tamási and Péter Veres became members of the governing body. Sándor Püski was elected the council’s secretary. On 3 November they announced the appointment of Ferenc S. Szabó and Gyula Zsigmond as deputy secretary generals. As a demonstration of distancing themselves from the errors of the past, the name of the party was changed to Petőfi Party and their former daily, Szabad Szó [Free word] was renamed Új Magyarország [New Hungary].

As of that moment Ferenc Farkas once again became an important actor in party and national politics. Reorganisers of the party’s activity were unanimous in their opinion that Ferenc Farkas, a founding member of the National Peasant Party and one of its most talented and respected politicians who still enjoyed the trust of the people, should be the secretary general of the leadership charged with making actual political decisions. At the reorganisation rally at Vajdahunyad castle, which was not exempt from animosity, Farkas was one of the speakers, along with Ferenc S. Szabó, Péter Veres and Gyula Illyés. In his speech he emphasised the necessity of confronting the past and having done with the previous era, and he called each and every member of the Peasant Party to start on the reorganisation and draw the lesson from the errors of an era that was put to an end by the Revolution – errors that are not completely alien to leaders of our own party –, so that they should not be repeated.”17

The next day, 1 November, Farkas as the party’s secretary general publically announced through the radio the formation of the Petőfi Party and outlined its political goals.18 As a token of their support of Imre Nagy’s policy, the party’s proposals included the initiation of a referendum on the exit from the Warsaw Pact and the neutrality of the country. It was further suggested that until a government was in power “some members of which are responsible for the outbreak of the revolution”, a National High Council headed by Zoltán Kodály should be established and vested with the rights of the head of state. It was also said that until the Russian occupation troops had completely left the country, the party would not participate in the government’s work. In the turmoil of the fast- pacing events the latter decision was modified, since Farkas heard from Erdei that the following day, on 2 November, a coalition government would be formed by the reborn democratic parties, in which the Petőfi Party would get only one ministerial portfolio, as opposed to other parties which would get three. Farkas suggested they should try to wring one more portfolio. There was no question about him becoming one of the state ministers: his nomination enjoyed united support. At the secret ballot the twelve members – including Farkas – of the governing body and the party leadership voted unanimously (except for an empty vote) for him.19

Although in 1946 and 1947 he had declined the offer of the “Treasury Bench” as Minister of Finance, this time he answered with an unhesitating yes. At the same time he was prepared for the worst. This is the picture we get from Ferenc S. Szabó’s memoirs, according to which Farkas said the following after his nomination: “In the given political situation I feel I have to accept this office. This is what is needed, even if it means the gallows.”20 As a second option – as neither Gyula Illyés nor Dezső Keresztury accepted the nomination –, the name of István Bibó was brought up. In his interrogation, Farkas assumed full responsibility for delegating Bibó as a candidate for minister and said the following as to the nomination procedure: “I asked that István Bibó be also nominated, in case we get a second portfolio. Bibó keenly opposed his own nomination. The reason I offered for his participation in the cabinet was his being the only qualified jurist among us and given the chaotic political climate, I felt the presence of someone with such qualifications was necessary in the government. After about a half-an-hour debate, we unanimously nominated Bibó by secret ballot, despite his protest.”21

It was Ferenc Farkas who kept in touch with Imre Nagy, and it was also he who was present at the talks concerning the forming of the cabinet and at the cabinet meetings following it. On 2 November, it was also he who participated at the conference of the National Economic Reconstruction Council.22 The following day, after Mindszenty’s statement, Farkas delivered another speech on the radio, this time on behalf of the coalition parties. He summed up the cabinet’s position and outlined future tasks.23 After the speech that Saturday night he could still go home to Szentendre to pack up his things and say goodbye to his family, as the next day he was supposed to go to Warsaw as a member of the government delegation to negotiate with the Soviets the termination of the Warsaw Pact and details of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. The delegation led by Géza Losonczy would also include András Márton, József Antall and a member of the workers’ council. Instead of József Antall Sr, his son was to step in. The final list, which was also announced on the radio, included the following names: Géza Losonczy, József Kővágó, András Márton, Ferenc Farkas and Vilmos Zentai.24

Ferenc Farkas turned 53 on the following day, and his birthday party was set to be celebrated with the family: his favourite dish, “floating islands”, was already made. According to the recollection of his elder son, the then 13-year-old Ferenc Farkas Jr, his father was brought to Szentendre by a Packard, an American luxury car. They ate dinner somewhat in a hurry, celebrated the birthday, then his mother packed a white shirt and a dark suit for his father’s journey the next day. Ferenc Sr, who seemed rather tense, then returned to Budapest by the same car. For some time they did not know whether they would see each other again.25

From this moment on, our only proof as to what happened to him on 4 November and the following weeks is the record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas. Farkas spent the night at a close friend’s, Gyula Illyés’s, a member of the Petőfi Party’s governing body of intellectuals. During these days Illyés stayed in the flat of a relative at the corner of Gül Baba and Vérhalom Streets with his wife and their daughter. Farkas also had a flat in that same building, and he presumably spent the night from Saturday to Sunday there. His stay in Budapest was recorded by Gyula Illyés as well, under 4 November: “Evening: Feri”. But the date of the entry is wrong: it refers most probably to the previous night, i.e., 3 November.26

At the interrogation, Farkas recalled the events of Sunday morning as follows: “In the morning before leaving Gyula Illyés, I called Mrs Erdei who was staying in the Parliament building, and asked whether her husband had come back from the evening negotiations. She answered in the negative. This prompted me to seek asylum for the duration of the fighting.”27 As István Bibó later recalled, he also spoke to Farkas early in the morning. He called his fellow-minister on the phone at Illyés’s to ask him whether he knew about the ad hoc cabinet meeting and whether he would attend. Bibó recalled their conversation in an oral history interview: “Jolán Majlát called at about 4 a.m. on Imre Nagy’s behalf to tell me they were going to send a car for me that would take me to the cabinet meeting in the Parliament. Then I called Ferenc Farkas, who was staying at Gyula Illyés’s at the time […], to ask him whether he got a similar message. He said he did, but he would not go because he had a feeling it was a trap. I did not have such a feeling, so I decided to go, but I told him I respected his decision.”28

Ferenc Farkas went to the nearby Swiss Embassy from Illyés’s, but it was closed and there was no answer to the bell. Then he tried to seek protection at the Austrian Embassy which was not far from there, but the Austrian envoy denied his request for asylum. Then he decided to ask for a lift from the driver of a Red Cross ambulance car parking on the street and heading to Pest: he presumably wanted to get to one of his two brothers-in-law’s. Both were living next to the National Museum: István Györffy and his family at 10 Bródy Sándor Street, György Györffy at 15 Múzeum Boulevard. At the Buda-end of the Chain Bridge, however, they were forced to stop because the car before them was fired at from the Tunnel. The ambulance men wanted to get to Pest by a roundabout route. Ferenc Farkas then decided to get off at Fő Street and go to his niece’s who lived nearby.

Olga Szentkláray, who was then 25 years old, remembers after nearly sixty years that her mother’s cousin called them in the morning hours, at about 8–8.30, not far from the St Ann Church, a few minutes from their apartment to ask if he could go up.29 Ferenc Farkas looked elegant, as always, in a grey suit, long heavy overcoat and a green deerstalker. She remembers the deerstalker vividly because when Farkas wanted to leave, they decided it was far too conspicuous, and her father lent him a dark hat. She remembers clearly that they were discussing for quite some time how they should inform Ferenc Farkas’s wife that her husband had not left for Warsaw and that he was alive and safe. They came up with the idea that Olga’s younger brother, János could go to Szentendre by bike but they rejected it in the end as far too dangerous. The flat had a view on the Danube, so they saw the Pest side of the city and the movement around the Parliament clearly. In their conversation Farkas mentioned József Antall Jr (future Prime Minister of Hungary, 1990–1993), who was to accompany him to Warsaw. According to Mrs Olga Gyöngyösy, Farkas said he was a very talented young man, heading for a bright future.

In his deposition Farkas recalled the events thus: “It was there that I heard about the radio announcement that members of the government had been arrested in the Parliament. […] Around 5–5.30 p.m., I took the phone book and established that the closest embassies to where I was, i.e., at 17 [19 – F. J. A.] Fő street, were the Belgian and Italian Embassies. There was a fierce gunfight which lasted for half an hour, even while I was heading towards the Belgian Embassy at Donászi [Donáti – J.A.F.] Street 5 [rather 10 – J.A.F.] minutes away. I rang and then asked for asylum. A Hungarian employee and an embassy staff member who spoke German kept me waiting under the gate, then told me fifteen minutes later that the ambassador would grant me asylum for the duration of the fighting. They put me up in the basement […].”30 This incident is mentioned in the report of Collon, the Belgian envoy, too: “the physically and mentally extremely exhausted” cabinet member “stayed in a humble room of the embassy building, completely isolated, where he could rest and recover without having to meet with employees or other asylum seekers harboured at our embassy”.

According to Judith Gyenes’s recollections, Farkas holed himself up in a basement room full of old rugs and smelling of white tar, which had no windows. Farkas was sure that, had he been found there by the Soviets or the Hungarian authorities, he would be immediately shot or executed later. He asked the wife of the Minister of Defence to burn all her documents lest she would get into trouble if the Russians broke into the building. Gyenes did not comply with his request, but to calm the upset politician, she threw the congratulatory letters addressed to his husband into the open fire of the boiler. She took the said documents while still at home to give them later to her husband Pál Maléter. Farkas also asked the young woman to give the Kaweco fountain-pen to his wife. Gyenes recalled thinking that Ferenc Farkas was fairly upset and was convinced that his life was in danger.31

According to the record of Farkas’s questioning, he finally stayed at the embassy only four days – “for almost a week”, according to Collon – “since I was informed by the Hungarian staff that my stay there put the envoy in an awkward position, I left in the morning of the fourth day”.32 Collon wrote the following to his superior: As things began to calm down, I was compelled to admit that the situation of the person in question could become dangerous and his presence could cause trouble to the embassy.” Collon on the one hand was worried he would not be able to guarantee Farkas’s safety, on the other hand he was afraid that had he been compelled to declare to the Hungarian authorities that they were harbouring an ex-cabinet member, the embassy would be subjected to police surveillance.

When the fighting calmed down the ambassador informed the asylum seeker of the possible consequences of his staying further at the embassy. The politician realised it would be better if he left. We can only speculate at Farkas’s state of mind upon his leaving the Belgian Embassy. Added to that, he knew nothing certain about his family. Some time during the previous days, most probably on 4 November, he had tried to send them a message. He sent, or rather had a freedom-fighter sent to them to Szentendre with the message that he could not go to Warsaw. He asked the messenger to take his wife and their two sons to Pilisszentlászló ten kilometres away, to a friend from youth, Tivadar Lehoczky, to hide there. Mrs Farkas was at first reluctant – she did not want to be a burden to friends who had been forcibly relocated and were living in poverty, but later she deferred. At Pilisszentlászló, they holed themselves up next door to Lehoczky’s, in the summer house of Aurél Földes, chairman of the Hungarian Football Association. Aside from the family they knew and the parish priest, they did not communicate with anyone. They tried to listen to the radio from time to time but Radio Free Europe’s broadcast was jammed and other stations only played music. Every now and then they heard a gunshot. They spent about a week to ten days at Pilisszentlászló, then returned to their home at Szentendre.33

After leaving the embassy Farkas himself decided to hide out for a while as a precaution. It was at that time he sought out an old friend of his, an architect called Géza Gaul, who lived at 39/B Alkotás Street with his family. Emil Gaul faintly remembers that a friend of his father’s rang one day and asked his mother, Edit Grandpierre, whether he could sleep at their place a few nights if the authorities were looking after him. The answer was in the positive, but Emil Gaul does not remember any more.34 In Gyula Illyés’s diary, the name of Farkas crops up again from 12 November on. According to the entry, Farkas visited his friend on that day and told him about how he had tried to seek asylum at several embassies: “Farkas [Ferenc] at home – the Austrian envoy: ‘If I were a Hungarian minister, I would know where my place is.’ The Belgian [envoy] did not even come to meet him?”35 When he denied the asylum the Austrian envoy might have intimated that Farkas should better be at the Parliament, while the Belgian envoy did not even deign to speak to him in person.

Farkas was presumably in such an exhausted mental and physical state that he only felt secure at the hospital department headed by his friend Emil Haitsch, nerve specialist and psychiatrist. His record of questioning seems to corroborate this assumption: “In the morning of 17 November 1956, I became unwell. I walked to the neurological department of the hospital at Róbert Károly Boulevard where I was diagnosed with nervous prostration, nicotine poisoning and other symptoms, and was admitted to the department. I was in hospital for three days, received several sedatives and injections. On the fourth day I got permission to leave the hospital in the mornings for 2–3 hours. I took the opportunity. I was under hospital treatment until 11 January 1957.”36 Haitsch (1897–1967), an outstanding figure of Hungarian psychiatry, was legendary for his humanity, anti-communism and great culture. He sheltered several people who were persecuted by the Communist regime and whom he admitted to his department with some trumped-up psychiatric problems. Gyula Illyés, Sándor Weöres and Dezső Keresztury – among others – immortalised his figure in a poem each.37

The political activity of Ferenc Farkas after the repression of the Revolution is well-known from István Bibó’s memoirs. Besides others, Farkas also took an active part in initiatives seeking opportunities for an acceptable political solution including the formation of a coalition government. He resigned from his post of ad hoc secretary general on 8 May 1957. In July 1957 he was taken into police custody, but no charges were brought up against him.38 According to Bibó, he was “extremely elegant, generous” during the hearing of witnesses at his trial. He tried to take the responsibility for every act and decision that could have been brought up against Bibó as counts of indictment; after the verdict he wrote a plea for mercy in defence of his friend.39 Considered as hostile and even dangerous to the regime, Farkas continued to be under surveillance by agents of the state security service.40 Due to his ill health, he asked for early retirement in the summer of 1958, and in 1959, following his heart attack, his earlier request for invalidity pension was accepted.41 From then on he lived in complete reclusion at Szentendre. He died after a long illness on 22 January 1966 in Budapest.


 

POLITICAL ASYLUM VS REFUGE


 

In the second part of his report, Frédéric Collon dwells upon the practice of providing diplomatic asylum and he also explains the procedure he followed. In that respect he underlines the asylum application case of Cardinal Mindszenty as the one which “created the greatest stir”. In relation to Mindszenty, Collon briefly sums up the American position, according to which “the United States does not officially acknowledge the right of foreign diplomatic representations to provide asylum”, then he quotes the relevant regulation of the US Foreign Service verbatim in English and French. According to the regulation, diplomatic representations cannot provide political asylum, only temporary refuge, to persons “whose lives are in imminent danger from mob violence”. Therefore when Collon provided refuge for Ferenc Farkas for nearly a week and to Judith Gyenes for almost two weeks, following which the persons in question left on their own accord, he clearly acted in accordance with the American rules.42

 

THE EMBASSY OF BELGIUM

Budapest, 4 May 1957
CONFIDENTIAL F. COLLON

Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Belgium

 

P. H. SPAAK Minister of Foreign Affairs

BRUSSELS Dossier 10
No. 541

Serial no. 163

 

Re: Asylum during the Hungarian Revolution of 195643

 

One of the most alarming problems that arose during the tragic months of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, was the question of asylum.
For reasons of security, I have not yet reported two applications that had been addressed to the embassy here. The first concerns a member of the government of Imre Nagy formed on 3 November 1956. The person in question came to the embassy on 4 November and applied for asylum. The previous night he had tried to contact his colleagues who had been in session in the Parliament, but he did not succeed because Russian tanks were already attacking the environs of the Parliament building. The man was in an extremely exhausted state, both physically and mentally. I provided refuge to the person in question for about a week; he stayed in a humble room of the embassy building, completely isolated, where he could rest and recover without having to meet with employees or other asylum seekers harboured at our embassy.
As things began to calm down, I was compelled to admit that the situation of the person in question could become dangerous, and his presence could inconvenience the embassy: I feared that they might eventually come after him and bring him away even by force. The embassy on the other hand could have found itself in an awkward situation if I had had to declare his staying there to the Hungarian authorities; in that case the residence and the office building would have been put under strict police surveillance, which would have made our work at the embassy quite difficult.
As soon as I learned that it was possible to leave the country via Austria, I explained to the person concerned that although it had been fairly easy for him to get in the embassy, it would be virtually impossible for him to get out if he wanted to stay for long. At the time he arrived here the city was dead with the police withdrawn and there was no danger of police control on the streets. X understood the situation and left the embassy. A few weeks ago it came to my knowledge that X had not been harassed; several people saw him on the street, and according to my latest information he is probably still a free man.
The other case concerns the wife of one of the leaders of the Hungarian uprising who had also been a member of the government formed by Imre Nagy on 3 November. This person, who had previously holed herself up at the residency of the Italian mission next door, was transferred to us with the entire staff of the residency when my Italian colleague and his wife decided to move to the office building of the Italian Embassy at Pest. The person concerned stayed with us for about two weeks, after which she was harboured by friends. Her current address is unknown but no news has come of her arrest so far.
Of all the applications of asylum, naturally the case of Cardinal MINDSZENTY made the biggest stir, who is still staying at the Embassy of the United States of America.
According to the American press, the United States does not officially acknowledge the right of foreign diplomatic representations to provide asylum, at least not in the sense as it is done mainly in Latin America. As a result the Americans were duly afraid that the Communists would try to capture the Cardinal by force, but at the end they could be satisfied that the KÁDÁR government tacitly accepted that the American government was providing him protection.
In the present circumstances, taking into consideration the positions of both the government and the Cardinal, it seems the Cardinal – provided he is not ordered by the Vatican to ask for a permission to leave freely to Rome – would be compelled to stay at the Embassy of the United States for a vast period of time.
At the same time I am taking the opportunity to provide you the text of the regulation issued by the American State Department on the subject of asylum: As a rule, a diplomatic representative or consular officer shall not extend asylum to persons outside of his official or personal household. Refuge may be afforded to uninvited fugitives whose lives are in imminent danger from mob violence but only for the period during which active danger continues. Refuge must be refused to persons fleeing from the pursuit of the legitimate agents of the local government.”44So as you can see, I myself proceeded in the spirit of the American regulation. In all likelihood I would have done a great disservice to the two persons I wrote you about if I had not thought it my responsibility to throw light on a situation they could not have a clear view of.

 

Frédéric Collon45

 

Translation by Orsolya Németh




1 The present study has been written for the 50th anniversary of the death of Ferenc B. Farkas (1903–1966) (hereinafter: Ferenc Farkas).

2 Walther Peinsipp (1906–1990) headed the Austrian diplomatic representation in Budapest as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary between 1956 and 1962.

3 Excerpt from the summary report by Walther Peinsipp, Austrian envoy, on his embassy’s activity during the Revolution and the events following it, dated 20 December 1956. In: Sub clausula 1956. Dokumentumok a forradalom történetéhez [Documents of the history of the Revolution]. Edited with a foreword by Lajos Gecsényi and Gábor Máthé. Compiled with notes by Magdolna Baráth. Budapest, 2006. 739.

4 Cf. Adam Somorjai OSB – Tibor Zinner: Do Not Forget this Small Honest Nation. Cardinal Mindszenty to 4 US Presidents and State Secretaries 1956–1971. A documentary overview. English translation (foreword, narrative part between the documents) by Judit Zinner. Bloomington, 2013.

5 Cf. Vince Vörös: “Further negotiations, however, never took place with Kádár and company”. The original interview was made by István Hegedűs in 1988. Edited by Zsuzsanna Kőrösi. http:// server2001.rev.hu/oha/oha_document.asp?id=326&order=1 (downloaded: 20. 10. 2015.); János Rainer M.: Nagy Imre. Politikai életrajz II. 19531958 [Ime Nagy: A political biography II. 1953–1958]. Budapest, 1999. 332–354.

6 Letter by Frédéric Collon to Paul-Henri Spaak, 4 May 1957. Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères belge (hereinafter: AMAEB), Hongrie, 1375–1957, I, dos. 10, no  541, no d’ordre 163. Collon (1892–1983) was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Belgium to Budapest between 1956 and 1958. I am indebted to Giuseppe Lian for calling my attention to this document and helping me identify the two asylum seekers.

7 Gergely Fejérdy: La réaction diplomatique d’un petit pays européen face à l’insurrection hongroise de 1956: la Belgique. Relations internationales, 2007/1 (n° 129) 127–138. https://www.cairn.info/ revue-relations-internationales-2007-1-page-117.htm.

8 Although in his article Fejérdy makes reference to the envoy’s report and makes an attempt at identifying the politician seeking asylum, he is unable to correctly identify the two asylum seekers (Fejérdy 2007: 128).

9 I am summing up the events based on the personal account of Judith Gyenes. The oral history interview was made by the author on 10 December 2015. More on Anna F. Györffy: Mosó Masa és barátai. F. Györffy Anna (1915–2006) grafikusművész. [Washing Masha and her friends. Anna F. Györffy, graphic artist.] Ed. Judit Antónia Farkas. Budapest, 2016.

10 A forradalom hangja. Magyarországi rádióadások 1956. október 23–november 9. [The voice of the Revolution. Hungarian broadcasts between 23 October and 9 November 1956.] Edited with a foreword by János Kenedi, epilogue by László Varga. Budapest, 1989. 495–496. Cf. Miklós Horváth: Maléter Pál. Second and revised edition. Budapest, 2002. 138–151.

11 Cf. Horváth 2002: 205–214; www.visszaemlekezesek.hu/gyenes-judith (downloaded December 10, 2015).

12 Order of pre-trial detention, 28 July 1957; Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. The trial of István Bibó and his associates. The case-file of the investigation. Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security (hereinafter ÁBTL) 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 233, 234–244.

13 For more on Ferenc Farkas, see Mária Csicskó: “Egy igaz polgár a Parasztpártban. B. Farkas Ferenc” [A true citizen in the Peasant Party]. Valóság, 1991/1. 64–85; Aki nem ír, hanem úr.” Bisztrai Farkas Ferenc emlékezete. Tanulmányok, visszaemlékezések, dokumentumok. [The memory of Ferenc Bisztrai Farkas. Essays, reminiscences, documents.] Edited with notes by Judit Farkas. Budapest, 2007.

14 Németh László élete levelekben. I. 1949–1961 [The life of László Németh in light of his letters]. Edited with a foreword by Ágnes Németh, notes and afterword by Mátyás Domokos, corrections and index by Gábor Duró. Budapest, 2000. 131, 140–141; “100 éve született az ‘56-os államminiszter” [A dialogue between Marianne Dobos and Judit Farkas.] In: Marianne Dobos: Akkor is karácsony volt. Bölcsészek 1956-ról. [It was Christmas time then, too. Students in the Faculty of Humanities on 1956.] Ed. Lóránt Kabdebó. S. l. [2004]. 224. Some of the details of this publication have been corrected in the present study.

15 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150.003/2. 234–235; A forradalom hangja. 228–229. Cf. Mária Csicskó–András Körösényi: Egy harmadikutas szocializmus – utópia földközelben. A Petőfi Párt 1956–1957-ben [A third-way socialism – A down-to-earth utopia: The Petőfi Party in 1956–1957.] Századvég, 1989/1–2. 118–138; Dokumentumok. Ibid. 139–183; Pál Szeredi: A Parasztpárt két évtizede. A Nemzeti Parasztpárt története. 1939–1960 [Two decades of the Peasant Party. A history of the National Peasant Party 1939–1960]. Pilisszentkereszt, 2014. 378–410.

16 A forradalom hangja. 291–292, 459–460; Gyula Illyés: Naplójegyzetek 1956–1957. Atlantisz sorsára jutottunk [Diary notes 1956–1957. The fate of Atlantis has befallen us]. Edited by Mária Illyés (foreword) and István Horváth (notes). Budapest, 2016. 32–33.

17 “The ideology of the National Peasant Party is to be found in the works of Sándor Petőfi, Mihály Vörösmarty, Endre Ady and Zsigmond Móricz” (Reorganisation rally of the National Peasant Party – renamed as Petőfi Party. Új Magyarország, 1956/1. 2).

18 A forradalom hangja. 368–369.

19 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 240.

20 Dokumentumok XIX. The Memoirs of Ferenc S. Szabó. The interview was made by Mária Csicskó. In: Századvég 1989/1–2. 171. On Farkas proposed as Minister of Finance, see: Géza Ottlik’s letter to Ferenc Farkas, 20 July 1946. In: “Aki nem ír, hanem úr.” 142; Csicskó 1991: 71.

21 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 240.(Italics mine – J. A. F.) Cf. István Bibó: 1956. Edited with an afterword by István Bibó Jr. Budapest, 2011. 108–109.

22 Rainer M. 1999: 325–327; “Elder statesman”. János Horváth, member of Parliament, former fellow politician, and professor of economy, is interviewed by Judit Farkas. In: “Aki nem ír, hanem úr.” 23.

23 A forradalom hangja. 471–472.

24 Cf. Minutes of the cabinet meeting, 2 November 1956; Memorandum of Imre Nagy, Prime Minister and appointed Foreign Minister, to the Soviet Embassy in Budapest on negotiations about the withdrawal of Soviet troops, 2 November 1956. In: Sub clausula 1956. 675–678; A forradalom hangja. 417.

25 Dobos [2004]: 228.

26 Illyés 2016: 47. I wish to thank here Mária Illyés for her kind help.

27 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 240. (Underlined in the original – J. A. F.) During the interrogation, both the detective and Farkas used the word “asylum” all along.

28 Bibó 2011: 394–395.

29 Personal account of Mrs Olga Gyöngyösy née Szentkláray (hereinafter: Mrs Olga Gyöngyösy). The oral history interview was made by the author on 17 November 2015. János Szentkláray, internist, head physician, lived at Fő Street number 19, not at number 17, as it is erroneously stated in Farkas’s deposition.

30 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 240.

31 Personal account of Judith Gyenes.

32 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 240.

33 Dobos [2004]: 229. A recent oral addition by Ferenc Farkas Jr.

34 Personal account of Emil Gaul, whom I hereby wish to thank.

35 Illyés 2016: 65. Cf. Csicskó 1991: 76.

36 Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 241. Cf. Documents XX. Gyula Zsigmond’s recollection. Excerpt from the life interview made for the Oral History Archives. Made and edited by András Körösényi. Századvég, 1989/ 1–2. 181.

37 Oral account by Gyöngyvér Kónya, neuro-psychiatrist and Mária Illyés. Cf. http://mek.oszk. hu/00300/00355/html/ABC05727/05772.htm (accessed 1 November 2015).

38 Cf. Record of evidence at the hearing of Ferenc Farkas, 8 May 1957. ÁBTL 3.1.9. V–150003/2. 241–244; Bibó 2011: 136–202., 213–236., 325–343., 404–411.

39 Bibó 2011: 384, 420; Csicskó 1991: 80.

40 Operative record files, Ferenc Farkas: ÁBTL–2.2.1. I/14. 6. 51–60.

41 Csicskó 1991: 80–81.

42 It is important to point out that Collon makes no such distinction (asylum vs refuge) neither in his report, nor in his French translation of the English text. Cf. Somorjai OSB – Zinner 2013: 7.

43 The original typewritten document is in French with some English quotations and handwritten corrections.

44 This is a quote from The Foreign Service Regulations: Immunities and privileges of diplomatic and consular officers § 101. 845. Restrictions on extending asylum. The last phrase of the text is missing from here: “In case such persons have been admitted to the diplomatic or consular premises, they must be either surrendered or dismissed from the mission or consular offices.” C. Neale Ronning: Diplomatic Asylum. Legal Norms and Political Reality in Latin American Relations. The Hague, 1965. 109.

45 Autograph by Frédéric Collon.




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