Extracts from Domokos Szent-Iványi,
The Hungarian Independence Movement, 1936 – 1946 (Hungarian Review Books, 2013).
Documents and Debates: The Teleki Premiership, 1939 – 41.
A. On the Leading Principles of Premier Teleki’s Policy (Macartney):
In January 1940 Teleki sent Barcza a set of written instructions which the Minister embodied in an ‘aide-mémoire’ which he handed to Halifax on 9th February. The ‘aide-memoire’ was compiled with special relation to Hungary’s claims on Roumania, the elaboration of which… consisted, in sum, of a plea for the satisfaction by peaceful means of Hungary’s just claims, was also of wider application. Barcza was also authorised to assure HM Government, ‘speaking for the highest authorities of this country’ that the Hungarian Government:
- Had no aggressive intention towards anyone.
- Was ready to defend, if need be by force of arms, the independence and honour of the country against any foreign aggression.
- Would never, in any circumstances what so ever make common cause or undertake common action with the Government of the USSR.
Barcza was further authorised to give a verbal interpretation that point 2 applied also to the case of aggression from Germany… and… that if the German-Soviet Treaty led to joint action by those two powers against Great Britain, Hungary would not participate in it.
… from about May 1940 on when messages were sent from Churchill to Teleki, and from Teleki ki to Churchill, usually through the intermediaries of György Barcza, our minister at St James’, Lord Halifax, Sir Alexander Cadogan, Sir Owen St Clair O’Malley, the British Minister to Hungary… Teleki now began informing, at intervals, the British Government, by means of ‘personal messages’… while all official contacts between London and Budapest continued through Foreign Ministes Csáky and Lord Halifax…
On 14 June the Hungarian Government drew the attention of HM Government to the Transylvanian problem, hinting that the solution of it lay in territorial revision mediated by the Powers; M. Barcza, when handing in this Note, complained that the position of the Magyar minority in Transylvania had deteriorated since the Anglo-French guarantee to Roumania – a complaint repeated by the Hungarian Minister in Berlin on the 29th.
In April the Foreign Office had written Hungary off as ‘now definitely within the German orbit and to a large extent a vassal of Germany’s’, on whom any concessions would be wasted. By early August Halifax had changed his mind and told Beck that ‘it was worth while trying to keep Hungary out of the war’. He did not try to mediate, and was even prepared to tell the Hungarians that HM Government knew that a territorial issue existed, although it felt that it could not be discussed at that juncture. But the Roumanians insisted on the deletion of even this mild recognition of the existence of a million and a half persons, and declared with the utmost vehemence that there could be no question of territorial revision of any sort. What the pro-Western Hungarians so ardently desired, and what would so greatly have helped their cause – even a glimmer of recognition of the justice of their case by the West, even a recognition that a case existed – was thus again denied to them.
B. On Hungary’s reaction to the Non-Aggression Treaty between Germany and the USSR, 23 August 1939:
Privately, Teleki sent a message to London that Hungary had decided to remain neutral, in fact if not in name, if a German-Polish conlict broke out, and would resist if German troops attempted to enter Hungary. Csáky sent Beck a personal message… that Hungary would not allow German troops to cross her territory to move against Poland; this she would regard as a ‘moral impossibility’.
Hungary’s display of independence and moderation greatly surprised both the British Government and British public opinion – each of which had so long been assiduously fed the jackal story. It also delighted at least the Government, which from this moment on treated Teleki, personally, with real appreciation and confidence.
C. On The German threat to the Romanian oilfields, March-April 1940:
At the same time, a very confidential Note was sent to the British Government telling them of this intention, but adding that Hungary was in no way bound to any party, by conversations or promises. Hungary thought that Britain might prefer as little as possible of Roumania to come under German occupation, and therefore asked whether HM Government was willing to give a binding undertaking that at the end of the war, or on some other suitable occasion:
1. It would show itself as disinterested as the German Government towards the occupation of Transylvania by Hungarian troops.
2. It would not further question the justification of this occupation.
‘The Hungarian Government’ said the Note, ‘does not wish to conceal the fact that H.M. Government’s answer will decisively influence its decision.’
… None of the documents show any immediate reaction to the questions in London… The German invasion of Norway had just become known…
Nevertheless, it is hard not to feel that Teleki was asking those Powers to take a good deal on trust, particularly as he was at that moment negotiating with the British… for the purchase of arms. And a few days later, a Romanian Crown Council decided that in the event of German aggression… or in combination with an act of aggression by Hungary, Roumania would fight.
The Foreign Office should have learnt by now how unrealistic was the picture of Roumania stripping her sleeve to resist a combined attack from the German tiger and the Hungarian jackal… But Britain’s picture of Roumania as an ally both nominal and real was a fixation with it, and on 22nd (April) O’Malley was sent to ask Teleki ’whether Hungary would resist the Germans if they tried to pass through Hungary’… He pressed the question very strongly, adding that Britain now supplying Hungary with certain munitions of war, and must know whether they were going to a country which would resist Germany or one which would let her troops through. It was very important to Britain to get an answer.
Teleki… told O’Malley that Lord Halifax and the British Government in general were showing no sort of understanding for Hungary’s case and could not expect Hungary to be perpetually bothering about them unless they did something for her in return… (he) apparently made no attempt to explain his policy, and did not even ask what had become of his Note to London. He simply answered, and by his own account, with a nervous vigour which probably covered his own deeper inner disquiet, that Hungary might or might not resist… He the said:
“If anyone were to ask Hungary not to allow troops to assemble on or pass through her territory against Yugoslavia, Bulgaria or Turkey, she would understand that: It could be discussed. But to ask of her to prevent troops – anyone’s troops … from passing through against Roumania was impossible. There was no Hungarian who would defend Roumania against anyone.”
In the end, the Hungarians got the worst of both worlds. The British cut off the supplies, the head of their military commission saying that it would be useless sentimentality to arm the Hungarian Army, which could not resist te Germans anyway, and it was not a British interest… that the Hungarian Army should get strong.
D. On The British Attitude to The Second Vienna Award, 30 August 1940:
The British Government, while not accepting the award, adopted a policy of wait and see. Churchill, speaking in the Hose of Commons, declared…
“… The House had no doubt observed… that Roumania has undergone severe territorial mutilation. Personally… I have never been happy about the way in which Hungary was treated after the last war. We have not at any time adopted, since this war broke out, the line that nothing could be changed in the territorial structure of various countries. On the other hand, we do not propose to recognise any territorial changes which take place during the war, unless they take place with the free consent and goodwill of the parties concerned.
Lord Halifax repeated the unfortunate misstatements that Hungary had recovered ‘two-thirds of Transylvania’
… privately, the Foreign Office told Barcza that ‘Great Britain could not recognise any territorial changes which took place after 1 September 1939’.
The British attitude greatly contributed to the weakening of Teleki’s position. As Macartney* writes,
“… reasonable words were downed in the torrent of inaccurate and unfair comment which poured out mostly from the Press, and from the BC, whose Romanian speaker was allowed freely to incite Roumania against Hungary in inflammatory terms, while his counterpart on the Hungarian service had a battle before he was allowed to quote Halifax’s official statement. Moreover, while the negotiations were still proceeding, Britain had supplied the enemies of Teleki’s policy with further ammunition by announcing, on 23 July, its recognition of the Czecho-Slovak National Committee as a Provisional Government…Barcza described the step to Bruce Lockhart as ‘superfluous, untimely and calculated to shake faith in England’s justice’. Teleki was depressed, and the Hungarian Right exultant.”
*C.A. Macartney (1957), October the Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary 1919-45.
E. On the Aftermath of the Second Vienna Award, Autumn 1940:
Although there were agents of other nations working in Hungary, it was the German secret service that posed the biggest threat. One of the most daring actions took place in Dorottya Street in the fall of 1940. A German secret team, consisting of two or three men with two cars cornered one of the assistants of the British Military Attaché. The assistant was fast enough to fight off his assailants and took refuge in a shop. The door was quickly locked and the Nazi agents had to flee as it was in the early afternoon and a crowd of bystanders had gathered to see what was going on. It transpired that the Germans had been trying to acquire the assistant’s briefcase.
F. On Hungary’s decision to join the Tripartite Pact, 20 November 1940:
The joining of Hungary to the Tripartite Pact… forms the turning point in British-Hungarian relations; it was from that moment on that the British Government considered Hungary as having lost her independence.
“When the Tripartite Pact was signed, neither the Foreign Office nor the British Press was very severe on Hungary… Britain continued to treat Hungary technically as a ‘friendly state’, and the press in general, tactfully ignoring Csáky’s and the ‘Magyarország’’s protestations to the contrary, persisted in treating Hungary’s action as the mere jerking of a puppet arm not animated by any motive of her own.
Nevertheless, although they kindly regarded her position of subservience as not being of her own making, or her own desire, the British could not ignore it. Their propaganda was instructed to take a severe tone towards her. She was now the official friend and ally of Britain’s enemies and would have to take such consequences as might arise.” (Macartney)
… To maintain confidential lines of communication with Britain and the United States at this time became very difficult. As neither the mail, nor the telephone, and not even the diplomatic bag could be considered as absolutely safe, we had to resort to the services offered to Premier Teleki by the British and American ministers to Hungary, O’Malley and J. F. Montgomery.
G. On the Hungarian Minister to St James’, London, György Barcza:
Once, in 1940, he came to see me in my office at the behest of Premier Teleki. At that time he was already our Minister to St James’ and we had a talk about the attitude and steps Britain and the United States might take in the future. Since then all his top-secret reports passed through my hands, shown to me by Count Teleki, or presented to me b Chancellor Binder, or else given to me personally whenever he was in Budapest…
H. On ‘The Yugoslav Problem’, October 1940 – February 1941:
In 1939 Italy had occupied Albania; on October 28th, 1940, Italian units in Albania crossed the Greek frontier and the Italo-Greek war began (though the Italian army fought the British in Northern Africa, Mussolini launched an attack on Greece in demonstration of Italy’s… scope for action independent of Germany… (eds)). At that time the Hungarian Government was already carrying on an intensive policy of rapprochement with Yugoslavia… Hungary’s overtures to Yugoslavia could be sure of meeting with Hitler’s blessing and encouragement… he was buying Yugoslavia’s non-support of the Greeks and the British for a price which included an assurance of her security against attack from Hungary (or Italy)… by this time the Hungarians themselves had told the Foreign Office so often that what the Press wrote was simply dust thrown in the eyes of the Germans, that the Foreign Office took them at their word; whereas they did believe in the private communications of the Hungarian Government… Cadogan remarked sensibly that the step was a welcome one, if Hungary meant by it to express her wish for independence and to daw herself away from Germany’s influence; but the position was quite different if she was acting as a place-maker for Germany and trying to draw Yugoslavia nearer to the Axis. Barcza then asked for an official interpretation of the Pact, and Budapest was so incredibly foolish as to answer that Hungary ‘definitely wanted to prove her political independence and was not seeking any Axis interests of any sort. This Barcza, who was personally anxious to represent Hungary as ‘independent’ as possible, passed on to Cadogan and ‘convinced him, with the result that Hungary was later convicted of a treachery out of a treachery which she had no committed’.
I. On the loss of the Goodwill of Great Britain by Hungary, December 1940:
Hungary’s adherence to the Tripartite Pact (20 November 1940) had greatly affected Great Britain’s foreign policy. From that date on Britain considered Hungary as a state which had lost its independence. Accordingly, the British Government began distancing herself from Hungary. The Government’s attitude was that Hitler himselfhad broken the Munich Agreement which therefore could not have any binding affect for the British Government. Upon the renewed interventions of Barcza, Cadogan stated the attitude of the government in a letter of December 28th, 1940 declaring that the stipulations of the Munich Treaty had not been complied with, and wrote:
“There was substituted for them, without His Majesty’s government having given consent or even having been consulted, the procedure of the Vienna Award, which was the concern of the German, Italian, Hungarian and Czecho-Slovak governments alone. HM Government have therefore no responsibility whatever in connection with the Award, which resulted in a departure from the agreement reached at Munich.”
Barcza’s further efforts to make the British Government change their attitude… failed… The Hungarian Foreign Minister who had to swallow the above mouthfuls of British hypocrisy was no longer Csáky…
J. On László Bárdossy, the new Foreign Minister:
He… after 1920 had been attached to the Foreign Ministry as head of the Press Bureau… After some intervening posts, he went to London as Counsellor of Legation… In Britain he was probably the best representative whom Hungary had in the later-war period… If he desired a German victory no more than Teleki, he desired an Allied one less… He held a much higher (and as the event proved a much more accurate) estimate of the strength of anti-Hungarian influence in London than either Teleki or Kállay. He held that Britain was hopelessly committed to the Little Entente, and that no Hungarian would be able to outweigh Benes’ influence in London…
K. On the Growing Crisis of 28 January – 3 April 1941
While the efforts of Teleki to gain support from the neutral powers ended in fiaso, his activities in order to protect Hungary’s rear, … resulted in a rapprochement with the USSR. In January trade negotiations were initiated in Moscow… and a little ceremony was held (right) when the 58 flags of Görgey’s army taken in 1849 by Gen. Paskiewich were restored to Hungary by the Soviet Government (‘after preliminary negotiations between the two governments, on 20 March 1941 the Hungarian army colours and standards that had been seized by the Russian in the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence were returned with all due solemnity’ – eds.)
It was during the first three months of the year that that some preparatory steps were taken by Teleki in connection with sending funds and loyal persons abroad to have them there ready for any emergency. Among the names of such persons were those of Count István Bethlen, Count Gyula Károlyi, György Barcza, Lipót Baranyai and Tibor Eckhardt.
However, the British response was rather negative…the Hungarians wanted an explicit assurance from HM Government that they would regard the Government formed in exile as the legal Government of Hungary, and would continue to do so, whatever happened thereafter, in the future. This assurance they had not received in February or March.
Hungary now found herself in an almost hopeless situation; there could be no more doubt about the attitude of the Western Powers… Hungary’s only hope consisted in a prolonged peace in the Balkans… In March, the Hungarian Government was informed about rumours circulating in certain political circles, German and Hungarian, according to which in exchange for Yugoslavia’s adherence to the Tripartite Pact, Germany would guarantee the territorial integrity of the South Slav State… After an exchange of messages and declarations, the Germans sent an invitation to Bárdossy to come to Munich on 21 March… they gave an assurance… that Germany would do nothing contrary to Hungary’s interests.
The Government was thus confronted with many difficulties. If Hungary refused to comply with Hitler’s wishes, she would eventually have to endure further mutilations of the country… On the other hand, if Hungary joined Germany in the military action against Yugoslavia she might become a declared enemy of Britain and eventually of Russia and, in the final otcome of the Second World War, she would find herself on the losing side.
It was therefore vitally important that Britain be kept fully informed of the grave situation in which Hungary found herself. The main point of course was to make clear to the British Government what the plans of Germany were in connection with this new attempt at the territorial integrity of the country…
The gravity of the situation of 27 March – 1 April and the catastrophe of 3 – 4 April frustrated the execution of the plan, i.e. sending Kovrig and Rónai to England with the above described material.
L. On the Meeting of the Supreme Council of National Defence, 1 April 1941:
… Teleki insisted that a note should be inserted in the minutes that Hungary must at all costs avoid getting involved in a world conflict, because she would have arrayed against her ‘the inexhaustible forces of Britain and America’.
… Bárdossy maintained at his trial that: ‘His conversations with the British Minister in Budapest had convinced him that Britain understood that if the opportunity was offered for Hungary to liberate some 500,000 Magyars in the south she must seize the opportunity, the more so as it was unimaginable that she should stand with folded arms while those Magyars exchanged slavery with the Serbs for slavery to the Germans’.
This wire in no way bore out the impression which Hungarian wishful thinking had gathered from O’Malley about British comprehension of their case. Its gist was as follows: If Germany attacked Yugoslavia, Britain would at once declare Yugoslavia to be her ally. If Hungary allowed or facilitated the transit of German troops across her territory, or the use thereof as a military basis for an attack on Yugoslavia, Great Britain would break off diplomatic relations with Hungary, who would have to take all the consequences of the situation. If Hungary joined the attack under any pretext whatever ( e.g. defence of the Magyar minority in the Voivodina), Great Britain, and presumably her allies, would declare war. At the end of the war, if the allies were victorious, Hungary would be treated as a defeated enemy.and especial odium would attach to her for having attacked a State with which she had just signed a Pact of Eternal Friendship. No one in Britain or America would appreciate the ‘special considerations’ which Bárdossy had put forward in his telegram. (Macartney).
N. On the Suicide of Premier Teleki, 3 April 1941, circa 2.00 – 3.00 p.m.
At about seven o’ clock, on 3 April… Teleki’s valet found him dead in bed… On the table by the bed was a copy of Barcza’s despatch, a copy of the Prophecies of Nostradamus… On this table were also a copy of István Széchenyi’s Diaries and a statuette of Count László Teleki. (Two statesmen who killed themselves under political duress’ – The editors.)