MY WORK AT THE PREMIER’S OFFICE BEGINS
Having obtained my two doctor’s diplomas, during the next fourteen years I spent most of my time outside Hungary, first in post-graduate studies abroad, then in the Hungarian diplomatic corps. It was in the autumn of 1935 that I was transferred from North America to the Foreign Ministry in Budapest. The main reason for my transfer was the person of Mr Ewald Ammende, head of the Bureau for Minorities at the League of Nations in Geneva. During an official tour of the United States Mr Ammende stopped for a few days in Chicago, Illinois, where he had a long conversation with me in the presence of some of my Scandinavian colleagues in the neighbouring city of Evanston. In the course of our meeting, Mr Ammende arrived at the conclusion that in view of certain shortcomings he had observed in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry during his numerous visits to Budapest my early transfer would be beneficial to Hungarian diplomacy.
In 1934, after his tour in North America, Ammende had talks with several leading political figures and officials in Budapest, including ex-Premiers Bethlen and Teleki, Foreign Minister Kánya, Khuen-Héderváry, former Secrétaire Général of the Foreign Ministry and others.
While Kánya, Teleki and Khuen-Héderváry had known me for many years, ex- Premier Bethlen had had just one conversation with me, yet it was that particular encounter which was to have a decisive influence on my subsequent career. At this point I must go back in my narration to the year 1929 when I was on leave of absence in Budapest from my North American post.
1929: I meet Ex-Premier Count István Bethlen
Although I had on occasions shaken hands with Bethlen at receptions given by him as Prime Minister of Hungary in the Sándor Palace, the seat of the Hungarian Premier, we had never exchanged words. In 1929, while in Budapest, I was invited by the Editor-in-Chief of the leading monthly Magyar Szemle, Prof. Gyula Szekfü, an old friend of mine, to attend a dinner party given by the journal in honour of their Chairman of the Board, Premier Bethlen. I accepted and went to the Hotel Hungaria where the banquet was to take place.
There were about thirty to forty guests at the table, all belonging to the upper strata of Hungarian cultural, scientific and literary life. The guestlist included professors Hóman, Kornis, Szekfü, foreign affairs editors of Hungarian dailies and reviews, specialists of various political and economic issues, like Béla Imrédy, Lipót Baranyai, Zoltán Baranyai, György Ottlik, General Bangha and László Ottlik, as well as many others.
After finishing our meal, professors Kornis and Szekfü ushered me into an adjacent room to meet Premier Bethlen. Two large armchairs had been pushed close together and we had an unexpectedly long talk of around 45 minutes to the chagrin of Hóman, Kornis and other guests whose conversations with Bethlen were to follow mine, and had to be cut short.
My talk with Bethlen had very important consequences though as far as my life and my recall of the history of Hungary between 1918 and 1946 were concerned. In 1931, while again on a leave of absence from North America and just at the moment I was reporting to the head of the personnel department in the Foreign Ministry, I was instructed by the Premier’s Office to report forthwith to the Prime Minister, Count István Bethlen. When I arrived at the Sándor Palace, I was told I was to meet with Under Secretary Darányi owing to the Prime Minister having been called at short notice to the Houses of Parliament.
1931: I meet Under Secretary Darányi in the Premier’s Office
This then was how I met Mr Kálmán Darányi who I was to work with for many years. Five years later (in 1936) Darányi became Premier of Hungary, succeeding General Gömbös who had died in Munich in the same year.
My conversation with the Under Secretary was very instructive. Darányi told me that Premier Bethlen had the intention of creating a new department in the Premier’s Office and that I had been selected to head it. The Under Secretary added that he, Darányi, had been instructed by the Premier to make inquiries about my person and in consequence he had called on several persons, including the Foreign Minister and ex-Premier Gyula Károlyi, ex-Premier Teleki, the Secretary General in the Foreign Ministry, Kálmán Kánya, and the former head of the political section in the Foreign Ministry, Khuen-Héderváry. As the Under Secretary put it, all reports Bethlen received about me were favourable and his own personal impressions were also positive, leading Premier Bethlen to take the decision to transfer me from the Foreign Service to the Premier’s Office.
These plans, however, did not materialise. In August of the same year (1931) Bethlen resigned and I returned to America.
I was recalled to Budapest (September–October 1935) as a consequence of Ammende’s intervention. The intention of Kánya was to replace the Press Chief, Marosy, with me, thus putting me in charge of the Press Department of the Foreign Ministry. However, as I had spent over eight years abroad in the diplomatic service, I was considered insufficiently versed in press matters of the Gömbös-period and home affairs, so I was attached to the press department as assistant to Marosy. This “probationary period”, however, didn’t last long.
October 1936: My Appointment as First Personal Secretary to Darányi
On 6 October 1936 General Gömbös died in a Munich sanatorium. He was succeeded as Premier by the Cabinet-Minister for Agriculture, Kálmán Darányi, the same person who as Under Secretary to Premier Bethlen had informed me five years earlier about certain plans Bethlen had for me.
On 11 October I was instructed by the Foreign Ministry (Cf., for all particulars: MS. III) to report immediately to the new Premier. So I went again to the Sándor Palace, at that time not to the cabinet of the Under Secretary but the Premier’s working studio instead. A very long conversation followed (Cf. MS. III), at the end of which I was appointed First Personal Secretary to the Premier.
When Gömbös died and the question of his succession was put on the agenda, Tihamér Fabinyi, the Minister for Finance, had seemed the likely successor. On account of his involvement in Socialist–Communist activities in 1918–1919, however, his name was dropped from the list of candidates. Finally, as he was the senior member of the cabinet, Kálmán Darányi, the Minister for Agriculture, was appointed by the Regent to succeed Gömbös. Darányi without reshuffling his Cabinet kept the agriculture portfolio and on 10 October was sworn in as Prime Minister.
How Darányi Became First Minister
Another reason why Darányi was selected to be Premier was the dismay, shared by former Premier Bethlen and other politicians, at policies of Gömbös which were considered by many as pro-Nazi and radically right-wing. In order to fully understand this we need to look at General Gömbös’ foreign policy.
Foreign Policy of General Gömbös: The Italian Connection
It is true that Gömbös was the first European head of government to make an official visit to Hitler, and that fact alone could be enough to conclude his foreign policy was an essentially pro-German one. This is, however, not the case. In my MSS I and III I have already pointed out that it was the Germans who stressed, in the press and on posters, the significance of the Hungarian Premier’s visit to Germany. The Hungarians attached less importance to their visit and were unpleasantly surprised on seeing the excessive welcome given to them.
All Hungarian governments, from the signature of the Italo-Hungarian Treaty of Friendship (5 April 1927) to the Bled–Kiel incident(1) (27 August 1938), and even afterwards, looked toward Italy not Germany, and the Gömbös government was no different. By selecting Kánya, at that time Hungarian Minister in Berlin, as his second Minister for Foreign Affairs (5 January 1933 – 8 December 1938) Gömbös showed that he wanted to rely upon an experienced, conservative diplomat, and intended to follow a foreign policy independent of Germany.
Soon after his being appointed Premier, Gömbös hastened to Rome to have talks with Mussolini on economic and political questions (10 November 1932). His visit was followed by that of his Foreign Minister, Kánya (17 March 1933) who, besides other tasks, was to prepare the next visit of the Premier which took place on 26 July 1933.
In March 1934 we find Gömbös and Kánya once more in Rome at the occasion of the signing of the so-called Rome Protocols(2) with Italy and Austria. A further enlargement of the cooperation between the three was envisaged in the form of Poland joining the Rome (and later Semmering) Protocols. In the eyes of those politicians alarmed at the expansion of Nazi ideology and economics, the Rome Protocols with Poland as an active member would have served as a counterweight to German supremacy in East Central Europe; thus, it is possible to see how important the policy of maintaining Hungary’s independence was in Hungarian political circles, even among the followers of Gömbös.
After the death of Premier Gömbös it was Darányi who had to deal with the difficulties in Hungary’s foreign as well as domestic policy.
PORTRAIT OF PREMIER KÁLMÁN DARÁNYI
The new Premier was an absolutely honest man, a good Hungarian, I may say, a genuine patriot, who had a thorough knowledge of Hungarian government and administration as well as of Hungarian domestic politics. His intellectual capacities, however, were not at the same level. He was a slow-witted person, particularly slow in arriving at the right understanding of international problems and a very poor linguist. In consequence he always felt out of place in international questions and took little if any interest in foreign matters, leaving that branch of politics to Foreign Minister Kánya whom he had inherited from the Cabinet of Gömbös. Darányi’s domain was home affairs.
As a result of his moderate intellect he had many critics who, while dismissing him were unable to see his high moral qualities. Miklós Kozma, the former Home Minister and head of MTI (Hungarian Telegraphic News Agency) liked to say: “Darányi is an absolute nonentity. Government and internal politics, he has them at his fingertips, and he is absolutely honest and unselfish. But nothing else. He is an absolute nonentity, a nullity.”
I personally have always wished the world had more “absolutely honest and unselfish men” instead of “geniuses” who invariably prove to be pseudo-geniuses despite all the accolades. The widespread criticism of Darányi has always reminded me of the judgements passed on former British Premier Baldwin and the words of Vansittart who tried to put the person and actions of Baldwin in a more favourable light. My personal opinion has always been that what a state needs is less (pseudo-) geniuses but as many honest and talented men as possible. This is why Darányi was undoubtedly a great asset to Hungarian public and political life, just as Stanley Baldwin, according to Vansittart, was to the British political scene.
While Darányi was constantly being vilified for his intellectual shortcomings, he was considered a moderate right-wing, conservative politician which was one of the main reasons why he was selected by the Regent to succeed Premier Gömbös, the latter being looked upon as an ultra-pro-German (not to say pro-Nazi) politician. Practically all his interest and energy being absorbed by matters of internal politics, Premier Darányi had little time left for perusing situation reports, despatches and other papers prepared for his use by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In consequence I concentrated on such matters and periodically prepared summaries of the content of the papers sent over to us from the Foreign Ministry. Yet, even so, Darányi often did not read them or listen to my reading them aloud to him.
Being a rather poor linguist – in fact the only foreign language he was able to use for conversation was rather rudimentary German – Darányi very often had to call on my services as an interpreter. This meant that I was present at many important conversations Darányi had with leading political figures from around the world; thus, I was not only well-informed about the main problems and thrust of our policy on an international level, but also had the opportunity to study and observe the personal, human factors that would more than often influence our relationships with foreign governments.
At the beginning of our collaboration, Premier Darányi disliked some of my personal qualities, believing me to be pedantic, too efficient, and even over- educated. Sometimes he sarcastically referred to individuals who were “too cultivated” or “excessively highbrow” while obviously referring to me. Later, however, he loosened up and became one of my staunchest supporters, a true friend and confidant. (Cf. MS III.)
HUNGARIAN RESISTANCE, HUNGARIAN INDEPENDENCE AND REVISION
Independence – used as a term in the course of Hungarian history and in the present work refers to the freedom of Hungary from the influence, control or determination of another state or other states. In the past Hungary’s independence was usually threatened by more than one state. During medieval times Hungary was forced to defend herself against two great powers: the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire and the German Roman Empire.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Hungary had to fight off the expansionist aspirations of the Turkish and Habsburg Empires. In 1848–49 Hungary had to conduct a desperate struggle against the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire. Between 1936–1946 she had to face the pressures of two Great Powers, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Revision is a term used in connection with Hungarian history to mean a restoration of Hungary’s territorial integrity in the Carpathian Basin. Quite often the two terms – independence and revision – were closely connected: the policies of the great Hungarian statesmen of the 16th and 17th centuries were aimed at the liberation of Hungarian territories occupied by the Habsburg Empire and the Turkish Empire as well as at regaining full independence and sovereignty of the country.
Resistance – as used in 1936–1946 by most underground organisations, including those of the Communists and Socialists, referred to the fight against Hitler’s Germany. Thus, while independence meant a struggle against all attempts at domination coming from outside Hungary’s borders, resistance was directed exclusively against one single Power, i.e. Nazi Germany.
Independence and Revision were – and are – essentially of a nationalistic character. Resistance was based, in the first place, on the fear and hatred which were harboured in many political and social layers of the population against Nazism. At the beginning of Nazi expansion in Central Europe, there were only three groups which took on an openly hostile attitude to Germany: the Communists – whether clandestinely or among the ranks of the social democrats –, the Social-Democratic Party and Hungarian Jewry.
The Nazis and Revisionism, 1932–1939
Initially, Nazism did not provoke a hostile reaction in the Hungarian population at large. Public opinion was dominated by the idea of Revisionism, and the Nazis had been seen from 1933 as successfully breaking the shackles put on Germany by the peace treaties of 1919–1920. Many thought that perhaps the restoration of Hungary’s territorial integrity could also be realised with help from a Great Power in the neighbourhood.
Later, however, disillusionment with the Nazis grew as a result of their policy in East Central Europe. From 1939, and in particular from 1940–41, Hitler seemed to favour Hungary’s neighbours, i.e. Slovakia, Romania and Croatia, which meant that Germany would not support Hungarian Revisionist claims directed against these three states.
It was the Austrian Anschluss that alerted Hungary’s political leaders to the real aims of the Germans. By completely absorbing Burgenland, which for ten centuries had been a part of Hungary, Hitler revealed his true intentions. Since March 1938, the Austrian Anschluss, the essence of his Revisionist expansion plans – as opposed to his earlier declarations – was to revise the peace treaty system of 1919–1920 but only to the extent of increasing the territory of the Reich.
The Munich Agreement (25 September 1938) added to the bitterness people felt in Hungary towards Hitler and his regime. That memorable meeting of four heads of government again failed to meet the Revisionist claims of Hungary and the desire to turn away from Germany and Nazism increased. The First Vienna Award (2 November 1938), although beneficial to Hungary, did not meet the expectations of Hungarian public opinion as far as the Revision of the Trianon Peace Treaty was concerned.
The rejection of collaboration with Germany began with certain political leaders, such as Bethlen, Teleki and Keresztes-Fischer, as early as 1938, and was continued and developed by those groups which, since 1939, had supported the idea of independence and Revision in tandem. Eventually, the Hungarian people followed the example given by such leaders and groups and rejected Nazi domination. From that moment on it became rather difficult to distinguish between those who were carrying on with Resistance and those who were working for Independence.
The second lesson drawn from Hitler’s actions in 1938 was that it was futile to rely on Hitler’s promises and high-sounding declarations. A general disillusionment was the consequence.
THE PRO-GERMAN GROUPS
The General Staff
There were, however, various groups which were pro-German, not to say pro- Nazi. The most important of such groups was the General Staff of the Hungarian Honvédség (Army), which, especially during the tenure of Chief of Staff Henrik Werth (October 1938 – September 1941), became a state within a state.
When passing judgement on individuals on the basis of their deeds and declarations, we must be careful to investigate their motives for taking a particular course of action. As for Werth, as well as many of the leading generals and staff officers in the Army, one may say this: Werth was an honest man, loyal to the Head of State, Admiral Horthy. But, partly in consequence of his German (Swabian) origin and partly because of his profession of staff-officer, Werth was clearly pro-German; his belief was that Revision in Hungary’s favour could be carried out only by cooperation with Germany, and as German military power in Europe was, according to his own calculations and studies, the most powerful, Hungary had to attach her future to Germany’s. In one of his situation reports of 1939, Werth went so far as to say that Hungary “… had to stick to Germany, durch Dick und Dünn …” (under all circumstances) even in the inconceivable case of Germany losing the war.
Werth had been recommended for the job of Chief of Staff by General Lajos Keresztes-Fischer, who with his brother Ferenc was a great favourite of Regent Horthy. In October l938, Werth replaced “the evil influence” of General Jenő Rátz, formerly the Chief of Staff and in October Minister of National Defence, mainly on the basis of a propaganda campaign directed against Rátz by General Werth himself. According to the propaganda, Rátz, besides being the “laziest man in the army” was politicising the ranks of the Officer Corps. That the appointment of Werth to Chief of Staff was a blunder on the part of the Regent and his advisers, primarily Keresztes-Fischer, was later proved by the activities of Werth and his inner circle of collaborators. Their activities helped to lead Hungary into the Second World War and put her last manpower reserves at Hitler’s disposal in 1944 when the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt: the fate of Nazi Germany had long before 1944 been decided by the failure of Göring’s Luftwaffe in its attack on England in 1940, by the German capitulation at Stalingrad and the landing of Anglo-American forces in North Africa, Sicily and, finally, in France.
Rátz, according to my numerous sources, was an excellent and capable soldier and in addition, extremely popular within the Army. Had he been left in his post as Chief of Staff, his keen mind and outstanding military knowledge and experience suggest he would never have entered with the Hungarian army on the side of Germany. Werth and his clique formed the power behind the curtain that caused Hungary to enter the Second World War as well as – indirectly – Premier Teleki’s tragic death.
After Werth was relieved from his duty his ideas and political and military opinions were sustained by a group of staff officers, whose leading spirit was General Dezső László, who had been brought up in Werth’s principles.
Other Pro-German Groups
Another pro-German group consisted of Hungarians of German ancestry who, as a result of the psychological effect of the Nazi German successes of 1933–1940, believed in the superiority of the German race. When the Hungarian government was forced by Berlin to allow the organisation of an essentially pro-German federation, i.e. the Volksbund, the above ultra-pro-German elements were the first to play an important role in the new association and other pro-German activities.
I recall a conversation I had in 1940 in the company of János Szablyás Kompa (a highly decorated former officer of the Army), an employee of one of the largest banks in Hungary, and a certain Kálmán Breslmayer, son of the owner of Hungary’s well-known banking enterprises of the same name. The conversation took place on Petőfi Square in July. Breslmayer, of German stock and strong pro- German sentiments, was a former Hungarian swimming champion.
Breslmayer, buoyed by the German Blitzkriege in Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and France, delivered a speech that lasted almost forty minutes. The essence of his speech was that Germany had already conquered Europe; that in a short time England and even Russia would be forced to submit by Hitler; that a great reshaping of the European political map would follow with a new economic-political “Order” and finally, that Hungary must attach herself fully to Germany without reservation.
In 1941, Baron Richthofen, one of the Secretaries of the German Legation in Budapest, once explained to me how we Hungarians would be happy in the future following “the victorious war” when, according to Hitler’s plans, Hungary would have no more industry and would simply form a country producing war material for use in the industry of the German Reich.
The enthusiastic declarations of Kálmán Breslmayer strongly reminded me of the prophecies of Skoropadsky Jr and Alexander Sushko, Ukrainian leaders in exile, who in 1938/39 predicted to me the “approaching enormous changes in Europe”, including the breaking-up of the Soviet Union, and German supremacy in Europe.
Another moderate pro-German group consisted of those individuals who considered the Bolshevik danger to be the greatest menace to Hungary’s independence and integrity; Hungary, they believed, was no match for the Soviet Union. Unconditional and unlimited cooperation with Germany was the lesser of two evils.
There were also, as is so often the case, those who were pro-German purely because they felt it could further their personal ambition.
There were other persons who arrived at a pro-German attitude by a process of elimination; they felt that since the creation of the Triplice (1879–1882) all Hungary’s troubles had come from powers other than Germany. Their argument ran as follows: the dismemberment of Hungary by the peace treaties of 1919–1920 was caused by France and her satellite states, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia; the dictatorship of Béla Kun was undertaken by men who embraced Communism and its ideas in the Soviet Union; England backed France in its policy of stifling Hungarian ambitions; Italy was an unreliable friend, as had been demonstrated by her complete volte-face in 1915; “freemasons of Jewish descent” had played an important role in the dismembering of Austria–Hungary and that practically all leaders of the Béla Kun dictatorship were of Jewish descent.
There were also anti-Semites who became pro-German for no other reason than they considered the Jews to be enemy number one.
VOLTE-FACE OF PREMIER IMRÉDY, 23 AUGUST – DECEMBER 1938
To understand Imrédy’s behaviour, we need to ignore the details and concentrate on those influences which caused him to make his great volte-face.
And here we have to go back once more to the previous pages and in particular to the period of Darányi’s premiership. As the polarisation of political ideas and attitudes became greater by the day so also did the pressure felt by Hungarian Premiers, not only Darányi, but also Imrédy, Teleki, Bárdossy and Kállay. Such pressure was immense, and even Teleki, who had no personal ambitions whatsoever, had to endure the strain. It was only a matter of time before a Premier with ambition or without the necessary mental or physical health to prevail, would yield to such stresses and embrace the dominant political movement of the time.
And one has to remember that Imrédy was vulnerable, as he had great ambition and was of a nervous disposition. In addition, his political opponents suggested that they had discovered he had Jewish ancestry. Imrédy, in order to deflect attention from this, crossed almost completely over to the right-wing and became the main promoter of anti-Semitic legislature.
Imrédy as an outstanding economist was fully aware of the economic-financial decline of the Carpatho-Danubian basin as a result of the dismemberment of Hungary and of Austria–Hungary, and as such he was an adherent of the revisionist movement. But, in addition, he had great ambition and he perceived how much he could further his already brilliant career by flinging himself wholeheartedly into promoting the cause of Revision. But, until his volte-face, Imrédy had remained pro-Western and did not want to jeopardise Hungary’s future by closely cooperating with Hitler’s Germany. After the famous Kiel incident however, it was the spectre of failure, and the effect that this would have on his career, which made him believe that the key to his continued rise lay in his cooperating with Germany at the expense of his otherwise excellent relationship with the Western democracies.
A PORTRAIT OF PREMIER IMRÉDY
I think it wise at this stage to cast some light on Imrédy’s personality.
In spite of his education Imrédy’s behaviour and personality were anything but reassuring. He belonged to the intellectually brilliant class of public figures who began their careers after 1911–1912, years that form the prelude to the First World War (1911–12, Turko–Italian War; 1912–13, First and Second Balkan Wars). He was not physically strong, weak in fact, and as a result tended to be dictatorial and overbearing. Friends of mine, including ladies, liked to compare him to Savonarola, even referring to him as a second Savonarola in both appearance and personality. Some even went so far as to say that Imrédy looked very much like Lucifer or Mephistopheles and had many diabolical, fiendish elements to his behaviour and actions.
Of course, all this was exaggeration. But the essence was that he had immense ambition, a dictatorial character and, on top of all this, his nerves were shot.
Imrédy was also overly aware of his superior intellectual abilities (just like Bárdossy) which he often used to belittle others. His pride made him quite often impatient and arrogant. He was a fast thinker and a fast worker, he reminded me of an educated, cultured, modern, ambitious and highly efficient business leader. But he was much too sensitive, and more brilliant and intelligent than wise.
Imrédy worked too hard, in his personal and political life. As a result of his fondness for asceticism, Imrédy was honest and incorruptible. Most men in public life try to gain financially from their position or political activity. Mr Imrédy, as well as Darányi, Teleki, Bárdossy and a few others, was an exception. When, in May 1938 he became Prime Minister of Hungary, he did not secure any reservations and guarantees as to keeping his former post of Governor of the Hungarian National Bank.
His penchant for the ascetic life was quite often subject to comments. When I was his First Personal Secretary in 1938, I had quite a few talks concerning his person with Géza Szüllő, one of the leaders of the Hungarian minority group in Czechoslovakia. On one such occasion Szüllő said to me quite bluntly: “Your boss must be a great criminal!” And explaining himself, he added: “Because every morning he is already kneeling and praying in one of the churches in Budapest. He must have plenty of infirmities and flaws.”
DEATH OF PREMIER COUNT PÁL TELEKI, 3 APRIL 1941
It was about 6.45 a.m. when my telephone rang. I took the receiver and to my great surprise it was Gyöngyi who, in a seemingly highly excited state, told me that Mr Bárczy wanted to talk with me at once. A second later I heard Bárczy’s well known but this time almost trembling voice:
“The Prime Minister is dead! Will you come at once?” Five minutes later I was speeding across the Széchenyi Chain-Bridge and up around the curves of Hunyadi János Road. I brought my car to a sudden stop in front of the Sándor Palace. Jumping out from the car I hurried toward the main entrance of the building.
Despite my haste I noticed that the black flag was hoisted. At the entrance – both doormen were there – the big door was flung open and I entered. Then I saw that in the eyes of all the men there, there were tears. Taking two steps at the same time I ran up the red velvet carpet covering the stairs. Everywhere the same scene: tears in the eyes of men and women, on the faces sadness and bewilderment. Teleki had been loved by all people and, now, everybody felt that with their great leader and personification of all their hopes gone, Hungary was speeding towards a catastrophe.
In the Permanent Under Secretary’s room I was informed of all details known of the tragedy as well as the following developments. As I have already described the events of this day in my MSS I (The Foreign Policy of Hungary, 1918–1945) and III (Reminiscences), here I am restricting my narration to my personal impressions and reactions.
This is a passage I have already quoted in this book. Let me copy here the rest of it:
“My conversation with Bárczy was cut short; he was Chief of Protocol and already four telephones were ringing and various individuals were calling on him with questions pertaining to the funeral and the meeting of the Council of Ministers which was to select a successor.”
One thing was sure, I did not want to talk to anybody else, nor see anybody for a while. I drove up to Hármashatár Hill with its commanding view of Budapest and surrounds.
A GERMAN PANZER ARMY PASSES THROUGH BUDAPEST
I left the car and taking my field glasses, climbed a protruding rock on the summit. I directed my binoculars onto the main highway leading to Austria. Right there on the highway a formidable steel snake, the head of which had already passed Budapest with its tail still somewhere deep in Austria, was proceeding at great speed southward. It was an impressive, unique but extremely sinister view. That steel monster of immense dimensions was one of the Panzer Armies ordered by Hitler to Romania and Yugoslavia.
The Panzer Armies were fully mechanised: armoured cars, transport trucks, armoured munitions wagons, some high-speed tanks, all proceeded with a precision and speed that was both impressive and menacing. Motorcycle officers sped up and down the steel snake to make sure that the speeding monster did not meet any obstacle or that its rhythm was not in any way disturbed.
I stopped watching and began pondering on the present and future. As to the final defeat of Nazi Germany, I had little doubt. I was too much a geographer to believe in the final victory of the Axis. To what I had read in Mahan’s Sea Power and World History,(3) I now added what I had learned about air domination. I had no illusions as to how long the superiority of the German Luftwaffe would endure. Once America’s manufacturing industry was up to full speed, as well as the mass training of pilots in Canada and the USA, not to mention in the USSR, – the fate of the Axis would be sealed. As to the significance of air dominance, we were to see the destruction of “Bismarck”, “The Prince of Wales” and other great warships. In addition, while I was watching the German Panzer column, we already knew that the Luftwaffe had failed in its efforts to break British resistance in 1940 while suffering enormous losses. The final blow to the Luftwaffe came when Göring launched his air campaign against Anzac-protected Crete.
As to Europe I was still sticking to the views I expressed in an 80-page report I wrote in March 1939. (Cf. both: MS-I and MS-III.) A Europe destroyed by aerial attacks and dominated by Russia,(4) a turn of events Churchill himself failed to grasp, and when he did, it was too late.
The future began to look rather gloomy for Hungary. First she would become a Nazi colony, and after that, a part of a Russian–Communist Empire. Without the use of Russian manpower the Allies wouldn’t be able to defeat Germany, and even if they could, they would try to use Russian help as much as possible in order to avoid losing the lives of their soldiers. Thus in the final stage of the struggle the Russian armies would occupy half of Europe. Moreover, Hungary wouldn’t fare any better, were she to turn against Germany with her poorly equipped and small army. She would be crushed in no time, and come the final settlement (just as had happened in the case of Poland) the western Powers would be unable or unwilling to protect Hungary (and Poland and Czechoslovakia, and Romania and Estonia, and so on) from Russian domination.
As for myself I personally couldn’t foresee how quickly all the work begun by Teleki and myself would be destroyed and yet I had felt that things would go wrong, sooner or later.
I looked at my watch, it was already 8.45 a.m. I had been watching the endless Armour for more than an hour and yet, not even a fifth of the army had passed. Its tail was still in Austria.
THE NEW PRIME MINISTER: LÁSZLÓ BÁRDOSSY
In 1941 a certain Mrs Höfken-Hempe, an eminent German wood-carver came to Budapest with the intention to make sculptures of prominent Hungarians, including the Regent and the Premier.
In the course of our numerous conversations commenting on the person and character of the Premier, Mrs Höfken-Hempe then told me something which I am trying to reproduce here as accurately as I can:
“Mr Bárdossy is a very interesting man and offers a remarkable head to an artist. If you don’t mind I would like to tell you something which certainly would surprise you. Had anybody told me before my meeting Mr Bárdossy that he was a great artist, a prophet, or a leader of some religious or social movement I would have believed it, but that a man of Mr Bárdossy’s personality and character could be a statesman, is simply unbelievable. That Mr Bárdossy is actually the responsible head of a government and the leader of a nation is simply incredible. Why, he is composed almost uniquely of sentiments and feelings, of ideas and ideals, of love and hatred and first and foremost his main ideas are concentrated on beauty, on perfection, on appearances.
While I was preparing my clay I was attentively watching him and I thought that I had got, grasped and understood his personality, his characteristics and thus I began modelling him. Then suddenly what a surprise! Raising my head from my work I am taken aback seeing quite a different man, an unknown person sitting in the chair in front of me, a man with a vicious expression on his face. What had happened? I look around and then I understand. Somebody is standing at the Premier’s desk and is reporting to his superior, a man who is undoubtedly hated by Bárdossy. I have to stop; I cannot possibly continue my work. I have to wait until the ‘unsympathetic’ person leaves the room. And one or two minutes later Bárdossy is again himself. I continue working but not for very long. I raise my head from my work and lo! Again another man is sitting in the chair: this time a person from whom everything emanates that is love, beauty and endless peace – a fascinating living being. That time he is talking with somebody whom he likes and loves, and he is happy and radiates his happiness to everybody around himself.”
1 Bled–Kiel incident (27August1938). The Bled agreement between Hungary and the Little Entente was signed on 29 August 1938, under which the latter recognised Hungary’s equal right to armament and guaranteed observation of the rights of Hungarian ethnic minorities, while Hungary renounced the use of force to re-annex territories ceded under the Treaty of Trianon. Simultaneously, on Hitler’s invitation Regent Horthy and his Hungarian delegation visited him in Kiel. Hitler considered Hungary’s agreement with the Little Entente as a stab in the back. By then he was preparing for the carving up of Czechoslovakia, in which he counted on Hungary’s active participation, including military, and as part of his preparations, sought the collapse of the Little Entente. As soon as news of the Hungarian–Little Entente agreement broke, ongoing Kiel negotiations cooled off. In view of German reproaches, the Hungarian delegation discontinued negotiations and returned home.
2 The Rome Protocols were the outcome of the negotiations conducted by Hungary, Italy and Austria on strengthening political and economic cooperation in Rome on 14 March 1934, with the participation of Mussolini, Gyula Gömbös and Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss. The agreement, which aimed to strengthen Italy’s position and diminish Germany’s influence in Central Europe, was signed on 17 March in Rome.
3 Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914) was an admiral of the American Navy. His major work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783, published in 1890, is a classic work of naval history. (The Influence of Sea Power upon History, Little, Brown & Co, New York 1890, Dover Publications, 1987 Repr., The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812, Little, Brown & Co, New York, 1892. The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future, Little, Brown & Co, Boston 1897, Kennikat Press, Port Washington N.Y. 1970 Repr.)
4 Churchill: The Second World War, Vol. IV. The Hinge of Fate, p. 635 on the Adana meeting.