IN EARLY JANUARY EUGENE REPORTED A SINGULAR INCIDENT. In the early evening, in a crowded section of the city, there had been some shots fired in a nearby darkened street, and shortly afterwards a Hungarian officer, wounded and bleeding, stumbled out on to the main avenue and managed to board a street-car. Some fellow-passengers helped him off, called an ambulance, and then stood about to protect him until it arrived. When it did, he was, at his own insistence, taken to the British Military Mission.
A casual comment to the man I had every reason to believe was my British opposite number produced only a very stiff upper lip. It took some time to find the answer to this mystery, but when uncovered it provided one key to the problem of the "conspiracy."
The Government was also, quite naturally, apprised of the arrests, and, after due consultation, the Defence Minister summoned General Palfi-Oesterreicher, Communist head of the Military Political Section, for an explanation. (The Defence Minister was a highly respected General, Albert Bartha, who had been recalled from retirement to reorganize the Army. Bartha had been with Kitchener at Khartoum, and still held, as he once told me with obvious pleasure, the rank of Lieutenant in the British Army.) Palfi-Oesterreicher at first refused any information, and then made allegations about a "conspiracy" against the "democratic regime." This being a political question, the matter was taken up with the Prime Minister, who ordered Palfi-Oesterreicher to make the prisoners available to General Bartha for questioning. At first Palfi-Oesterreicher agreed, but when Bartha showed up at the prison he was refused access to the prisoners on the grounds that the Soviets had forbidden it. The Prime Minister approached General Sviridov, who denied any such order. Accordingly, disciplinary action was instituted against Palfi-Oesterreicher. But the very same day this step was taken, General Kondratov, head of the Military Section of the Allied Control Commission, called on the Prime Minister and told him in no uncertain terms that if the proceedings against PalfiOesterreicher were not dropped immediately, the Soviet High Command would take the matter of the "conspiracy" into their own hands.
The proceedings were quashed, but in the meantime, in his rage at Palfi-Oesterreicher's insubordination, General Bartha had let drop the fact that his source of information about the arrests was the Socialist deputy head of the Military Political Section, a Colonel Viktor Kruchina. Some days after Kondratov's ultimatum, Kruchina was invited to tea by the Smallholder deputy head of the A.V.O., one Janos Gyurics. On emerging from Gyurics's apartment, Kruchina was attacked by an A.V.O. squad. Kruchina had been active in the Resistance against the Germans and the Hungarian Nazis, and had been in contact with the British during the war. He was thus experienced in these matters, and had gone to tea armed with two pistols - in some circles a more vital question than how many lumps of sugar. He fought his way out of the trap, was wounded, but escaped.
It was thus, by working through from an isolated, if dramatic, street incident, that we became aware of the extent of Soviet backing of the Communists' "conspiracy" manoeuvre. (The answer as to why the Government didn't tell us officially is simple the Soviet Chairman of the Allied Control Commission had at the outset forbidden the Hungarian Government to communicate with the American and British representatives on the Commission, and vice versa, except through the Chairman. To have told us unofficially would not have provided a basis for any American or British action - the possibilities for which, in any event, the Government was, correctly, doubtful.)
Shortly thereafter, Rajk, the Communist Minister of the Interior, announced the "conspiracy" to the Press. The Communist papers took up the cry. They thundered against "the fascists still in our midst." The Communist Party, in its Press, in Parliament, in public speeches, had for some time been pursuing the line that the Smallholder majority in the 1945 elections was simply due to the fact that former Nazis had taken refuge in the Party, and they had steadily been pressing for the expulsion of various Smallholder Deputies from the Parliament and of certain Smallholder officials from the Government. They now shouted that the "conspiracy" at last uncovered was proof of what they had been saying for months.
All through the first weeks of 1947 the Communist Press and speakers kept up a steady campaign against the Smallholders Party on the basis of the alleged "conspiracy." There was in fact no "conspiracy." There were discussions among everyone-including the Communists themselves, quite naturally-as to the situation which might exist in Hungary when the Peace Treaty went into effect. Such discussions among non-Communists - the great majority of the population, the Parliament and the Government - were simply a meeting of the minds to the effect that the Communists should not succeed in gaining absolute power by the time the Occupation was legally terminated. (The opposite conclusion, basic to Communist discussions of the situation among themselves, was naturally not characterized as "conspiracy.") The question was how to avoid a Communist take-over, but no responsible Hungarian politician was under any illusions that the Western Powers would ever intervene by force td block such a seizure. They were, moreover, under no illusions about the neighbouring and immediate power of the Soviet Union, and the necessity to accommodate their foreign relations to the Soviet demands for security on their western borders: indeed, one of those initially arrested in the "conspiracy" was one of the three original signers of the Armistice with the Soviets. The outstanding fact, and the one which was ineradicably graven in my mind, was that among those arrested, and later among the hundreds accused, were almost all those who had distinguished themselves by active resistance to the Germans and to the Hungarian Nazis.
Nevertheless, the Communists, supplied by their police cohorts, continued to announce "confessions." These "confessions were regularly alleged to have implicated more and more persons; these were in turn arrested, and then alleged to have themselves "confessed" and implicated still further persons. And so the pool widened, the rising waters claiming more and more victims; with each new victim, the hopes and future of those still on shore were also drowned.
The "confessions" were the result of interrogation methods which have since become well known. Notwithstanding the strict security surrounding the arrested, word began to come out of the prisons of these methods. Paul obtained a smuggled letter, signed by one of the accused, which warned that the "confessions" were false, but were unavoidable in the face of the methods being used, and that the questioning was seeking to implicate the entire leadership of the majority party. (It was at this time that rumours first began to circulate of the use of drugs in interrogation. As I later learned, a Red Army medical major named Istvan Balin had come to the A.V.O. at the end of 1946: he began using actedron, pentothal, scopalomine and morphine on the political prisoners.) I informed Mark of these developments, about which I had a growing feeling of urgency and alarm. He shared these feelings, and shortly took the opportunity, while seeing the Prime Minister on other business, to express concern over the potential danger to the Government. Nagy answered that he and his colleagues were aware of the danger, but retained the hope that they could manage to keep the matter under control. What this diplomatic exchange really conveyed was the Prime Minister's knowledge of the Soviet willingness to support the Communists actively in the "conspiracy" affair, and his conclusion that, unless the Western Powers indicated that they would, and could, intervene effectively to offset Soviet pressure, he had no choice except to try by his own resources to minimize the damage.
In late January the Communist charges, which had already engulfed one Smallholder Minister, and six of the most capable members of Parliament, spread out to include Bela Kovacs, the Secretary-General of the Smallholders Party, Kovacs, a peasant, a long-time associate of the Prime Minister, and a gifted organizer of enormous popularity, was the crucial support upon which the whole majority edifice rested. The charges against him were tantamount to accusing him of conspiring against himself. Nevertheless, they were pressed with all the vigour the Communists could muster - and with behind-the-scenes pressure from the Soviets.
This was the critical moment for postwar Hungary. The Parliamentary majority sensed this: Leo took the lead with several of his Smallholder colleagues in declaring that the affair had gone far enough. Independent of the leadership, they introduced a motion for the creation of a Parliamentary committee to investigate the "conspiracy." The Communists raged, and threatened to withdraw from the coalition if the measure passed the Parliament-a serious menace, in view of Soviet insistence on their presence in the Government. The non-Communist Government leaders who were aware, as the rank and file were not, of the Soviet presence behind the Communist pressure, sought to find a compromise which would save Kovacs - and with him Hungarian independence-and at the same time provide an effective sop to the Soviets.
On February 10 the Peace Treaty was signed - to come into effect ninety days after ratification. The hopes this aroused were used by the Smallholder leaders to calm the deputies. At the insistence of President Tildy, the Parliamentary investigating commission motion was withheld from debate and efforts were continued to negotiate with the Communists. These efforts were doomed to failure: the essence of the Hungarian position was lack of power; without it the concept of compromise is unknown to the Soviet vocabulary. Apparently the efforts dragged on too long.
On the night of February 25, 1947, Jane telephoned for an urgent meeting. We met - as prearranged for such emergencies - by the Coronation Church, from where I could see if she was being followed. She was not, but she was accompanied by Paul - agitated as I had never seen him. Earlier in the evening he had been on his way to see Bela Kovacs. Arriving at the block in Pest where Kovacs lived, he found the area sealed off by several companies of Soviet troops. As he waited, he saw some Soviet officers emerge from Kovacs' apartment house. Kovacs was between them. He was shoved into a Soviet staff car and taken away. It was as simple as that-with the added benefit for the Soviets of a show of force to intimidate the Government majority.
I enciphered a message to headquarters, including my comments on the significance of the open Soviet intervention, and then telephoned Mark. We met in one of the city's livelier nightc1ubs - it fitted well with the Communists' preconceptions of what Americans might be doing on a politically eventful night - and discussed the possibilities for the future. He knew as well as I that in one night all the implications and complications inherent in an intelligence network based on political motives had materialized. Political support as a motive naturally involves some reciprocity on the part of the nation benefiting from the intelligence. Whether Washington liked it or not, the Soviet challenge was political and strategic, and thus directly affected the intelligence potential of the network - as the questions of each member of the network in the next few days showed What support will the United States give us to fight back now? To be able to assist the Hungarians effectively would require more than an attitude of disapproval by Washington towards the Soviet actions in Hungary. Similarly, expressions of sympathy to men whose lives or freedom were immediately endangered would be tantamount to refusal of assistance - with the consequent deterioration, not only of an intelligence network, but also of American strategic and political interests in the area. For Leo and Paul, with the duties and possibilities of public office, these questions were urgent. But such questions can seldom be answered forthrightly in international politics.
In early March the American and British Governments sent notes to the Soviet Government protesting the Soviet unilateral interference in Hungarian affairs, and the conduct of the Hungarian Communist Party. The notes called for a joint Soviet, American, British and Hungarian investigation of the so-called "conspiracy," and of the role of Bela Kovacs. The anticipated Soviet rejection was followed by further American and British notes, without effect.
Prior to Kovacs' arrest, the United States had granted a $15,000,000 credit to Hungary for the purchase of surplus materials. On March 12, President Truman asked Congress for an appropriation of $400,000,000 for economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey. The accompanying statement, which proclaimed the United States Intention to aid peoples everywhere in resisting Communist aggression, and was immediately labelled the Truman Doctrine, caused Americans in Budapest, increasingly sombre these days, to walk in the streets with their heads held high.
These various moves were sufficient to restore some measure of courage among the Hungarians. Although Paul was more cautious, Leo felt that the American response now made it incumbent upon the Hungarians to move in their own defence. He felt that, at the minimum, they should make the position of the Hungarian majority clear, and that they should avoid any possible inference being drawn from their conduct that they had been supine before Communist and Soviet pressure and force. He resurrected, with the support of a numerous, rebellious faction among the Small-holder deputies, the proposal for a Parliamentary investigation of the "conspiracy." The leadership of the Party was less sanguine about the possibilities for manoeuvre, and in mid-March the struggle came to a head. President Tildy summoned the dissidents to the Presidential Palace: there he cajoled, threatened, pleaded, blustered and eventually succeeded in persuading the majority of the rebels to support the Government's policy. The motion for a Parliamentary investigation was abandoned. Leo was in tears as he told me of the session with Tildy and its outcome. It was indeed a turning-point. When Seymour Friedin, then Eastern European correspondent of the New York Herald-Tribune and an experienced observer of the westbound Soviet steamroller in Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria heard the news, he said, "That does it. At this rate I'll be filing my next despatches from Hoboken - if I can make it to the ferry."
In 1955 Bela Kovacs was released by the Soviets, and returned to Hungary, his health broken. In the 1956 Revolution he reappeared as leader of the resurrected Smallholders' Party in the coalition established by Imre Nagy. The contrast between the America of 1946 and of 1956 was most marked on the night of November 4, 1956. As the Red Army assaulted Budapest Kovacs appeared at the American Legation to ask asylum. On direct instructions from the State Department in Washington, which at the same time granted asylum to Cardinal Mindszenty, Kovacs was refused. There followed alternating periods of prison, hospital, house arrest, and limited detention, until his death in 1959.)
A lull now followed in Hungary. The Smallholders had been forced to expel a number of their deputies and officials, and the Party was demoralized. Most important, it was now clear that no one was immune from the "conspiracy" danger. Trials of a number of the accused were held, at which, as confession and self-denunciation poured forth from the defendants, the efficacy of the Communists' methods became apparent. (Retractions in open court - as occurred in the case of Balint Arany, a principal defendant - were followed by immediate adjournment of the case, to be resumed only when the defendant reappeared in court to retract his retraction.)
The trials, under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry, supplied a key to the critical question of why the other two non-Communist parties in the coalition collaborated with the Communist campaign of destruction of the majority party. Istvan Riesz, the Minister of Justice, was a Socialist, but this did nothing to protect the administration of justice from the Communist juggernaut. Furthermore, the Socialist Party, as well as the Peasant Party, throughout the whole course of the "conspiracy," had vigorously supported the Communist attacks. The answers to this suicidal policy were both overt and covert. The overt answer lay in a statement of Rajk, the Interior Minister: "Learn from Lenin," he said. "If you have five enemies, you should ally yourselves with them; arrange to incite four of them against the fifth, then three against the fourth, and so on, until you have only one enemy left in the alliance; you can then liquidate him yourself and kick him out of the alliance." But these tactics would not have worked alone; they were supplemented, as I was to learn in detail, by the covert answer: penetration, intimidation and subversion on an enormous scale.
The Socialists, the second largest party in the coalition, and with considerable strength in the trade-union movement, obviously could, if they so chose, act as an effective brake on the Communists. They were also in a position to know much about Communist plans and actions.
The deficiencies of my network which I had earlier remarked were by now becoming apparent. In the constant reshuffling of the Government; Paul, himself long under attack by the Russians, had been removed from his post - although not from his seat in Parliament; Leo was becoming increasingly isolated after his defeat in the Parliamentary investigation question; Henry became less and less active as the danger increased; and George was now almost useless in a Foreign Office housekeeping assignment. Eugene was still active, but his sources were not in vital positions. Simon continued to provide valuable economic information, and Louis was still consulted by politicians of all parties, and by the Russians. Jane of course, continued to operate effectively as a cutout, but not as a source of important information. The situation was far from satisfactory, and promised to deteriorate unless I could broaden the area of my work. However, the same events which had made my position more difficult had also gravely alarmed others; as I was looking for them, so they were looking for me.
In April a Hungarian newspaperman in whom I had full confidence, and who had been most helpful in arranging for me to meet persons in whom I was interested, came to me and said that certain important Socialists would like to talk secretly to an American. I arrived at the rendezvous given, which was simply a certain floor of an apartment house. There I was met by a young man who was intensely serious, but possessed of a sense of humour withal. He led me up one floor, around to the service staircase, into what I took to be an unused storage closet - "Sorry about the back entrance," he said - and there, hidden behind a curtain, was a door leading into the building next door, which fronted on another street. Unlocking the door, he explained that it had been cut between the buildings during the German occupation to assist the escape of Jews, including himself, and that now that the building was once again under surveillance it came in very handy. He led me into a comfortable apartment, where I found five other people. One of the group I recognized as Karoly Peyer, for many years leader of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party, until his incarceration in Mauthausen by the Germans in 1944.
Peyer looked exactly as one would expect a Viennese tavern-keeper of the old Empire to look. Short, round, with shaved head, he sported magnificent handle-bar moustaches, and his eyes frequently lit up with an irrepressible twinkle. He was shrewd, but there was no mistaking his ingrained decency. Peyer had been in the Socialist and trade-union movements ever since the beginning of the century. Under his leadership, the Party had managed to survive increasingly rightist regimes in Hungary, and for the average Hungarian worker the trade-union movement meant Peyer. Arrested by the Germans, one of his assistants, Arpad Szakasits, succeeded to the Party leadership in his absence. By the time Peyer was liberated from Mauthausen by the American Army and had made his way back to Hungary, Szakasits had already entered into a close compact with the Communists. He relegated Peyer to a minor position in the Party, which Peyer, for the sake of the Party, and notwithstanding his enormous popularity, accepted quietly. However, Szakasits' control was based on nothing less than bribery and corruption - a trip Szakasits himself had made to Western Europe at the end of 1945 in a private railroad car had been a scandal throughout the Continent - and Peyer, fighting all the way, had more and more come into active opposition while still within his Party.
Peyer now saw the direction in which Socialist co-operation with the Communists was leading the country. His talk with me, although it took several hours, had basically but two questions: What is the attitude of the United States Government? And: What will the United States Government do in support of its attitude? Peyer was considering an attempt to reassert his leadership of the Socialist Party. His object was to deny Socialist support, automatically given by Szakasits, to the Communists, and thus block a Communist seizure of power before the effective date of the Peace Treaty; he was also anxious to save his Party from the forced merger with the Communists which he foresaw in the Communist plan. But he was reluctant to expose his followers to Communist police reprisals and Soviet terrorism and abduction; against these only the West could provide a defence.
Now it was abundantly clear that the inexorable pressure of events, the effects of Soviet moves and the implications of American responses were transforming my mission into a political operation. I had no aversion to such a development; on the con-trary. I was personally enthusiastic, but I was none the less sceptical of what the United States were really prepared to do at this early juncture. Peyer had phrased his remarks with circumspection, but their burden was clear. I told him that the American attitude was summed up in the notes delivered to Moscow on the occasion of the Soviet arrest of Bela Kovacs, and I reminded him of the Truman Doctrine. For the rest, I said that I was not in a position to know what further steps the United States would now take in the case of Hungary, although I would see that his intentions and problems were made known in the proper quarters. I observed that questions such as his were not ordinarily susceptible to direct answers. To this he smiled and said, "Usually nor soon enough."
On leaving, my guide - "Sam" - asked if I would mind coming back in a few days: he and another young man - "Edmund" - who had been present, but had remained silent most of the rime, wished to talk to me about other problems. I returned on the agreed day, and what I heard was a considerable step towards answering my own problems. Sam and Edmund had both been active against the Germans and Hungarian Nazis: Sam had operated a clandestine radio station during the German Occupation; Edmund had been an Army officer and a member of the Hungarian Front, the clandestine organization of the Small-holders, Social Democrats and Communists, and had time and again risked his life saving Jews. Both had escaped imprisonment, Edmund on one occasion by shooting his way out of a police ambush. Sam was now an official in the Trade Union Council-a Communist-run organization used chiefly to dominate the individual unions and to organize "spontaneous demonstrations" for Communist political demands. Edmund, to my astonishment, revealed himself as an officer of the A.V.O. - pointing out gravely that any carelessness on my part with this information would mean his instant death. He was one of the few Socialists permitted in the organization as a theoretical sop to "coalition."
Both were absolutely loyal to Peyer. However, as Sam pointed out, Peyer was working at the political level, in the situation as it was. Me and Edmund, on the other hand, while they would work as hard as possible to help their Party leadership, were convinced that the handwriting was on the wall. They believed it would not be too long before they would once again be forced underground by a totally Communist regime, and they wanted to prepare now for that eventuality. They emphasized that an underground network prepared now would have infinitely better chances of survival than one hastily assembled at the last moment. One purpose of such a network, as they conceived it, was to maintain contact with the West, and to this end Sam asked for the supply of radio sets. In the course of the afternoon they gave me vital details of the Communist and Soviet violence, blackmail and intimidation behind the recent political developments, including the "conspiracy,'' and promised more.
I was curious as to why this approach had come to me. "Look," Edmund said, and mentioned the name of the newspaperman who had brought us together, "he vouched for you, as did several of the American correspondents he knows." I reflected that my hours spent with the journalistic fraternity had not been merely time pleasantly spent after all. "Furthermore," Edmund went on, "if you ate not the man with whom we should speak of these matters, we can only trust you to put us in touch with the right man. Jt is in your interest as well." I did not acknowledge whether I was or was not the "right man.
I did ask a further question which puzzled me. "Why not the British?" I inquired. "Surely you have close fraternal ties with the Labour Government in England?" Sam laughed. "First of all, we don't trust the British because of their support for Tito," he answered. "Secondly they seem to have no realistic conception of Soviet aims, and therefore they take Szakasits and his stooges as genuine Socialists, instead of the Communist tools they are. Thirdly, we suspect that the British, Socialist or not, don't really object to Soviet control over Eastern Europe - look at what they forced on Mikolajczyk and the Poles. Fourthly, America tried to help Hungary with the Peace Treaty; Britain couldn't have cared less." I remarked that I was glad the word had got around at least about American efforts. "Lastly," concluded Sam, "it is America that leads today." I thought it a quite complete answer. I looked at Edmund. "Quite a risk you're running." He shrugged.
I cabled my headquarters for a check on both Sam and Edmund. They had no information. Without telling her anything of my conversation, I asked Jane to make a few discreet inquiries. She came back with exactly the stories given me by Sam and Edmund of themselves, plus the fact that Paul had known Edmtind in the wartime Hungarian Front, and thought very highly of him.
At just this time, George decided to take advantage of the possibilities of a foreign diplomatic assignment. He went abroad, and in a few months resigned and stayed on in exile. But before leaving he brought to me a woman whom I listed as "Sara." She had worked in the same administrative section with George, but was shortly due for transfer, because of a nominal Peasant Party membership, to the Political Section of the Foreign Office, where she was to have a position giving her access to all of that section's most confidential correspondence. Sara was forthright: she was convinced that the Communists would soon seize power; she was determined to do what she could to obstruct that, and when she could do no more, she planned to leave the country for a Western capital where her fianc~ resided - a fact unknown to the Communists, she pointed out.
I now had three potential new agents, with easy access to highly valuable material, all of whom were motivated by political support. Furthermore, the initiative had come in all three cases-although less in the case of Sam-from the prospective agents themselves, which was not undesirable in my role, vis-a-vis them, of case officer. I began to feel somewhat encouraged as to my ability to ride through the changes which were bound to come in the succeeding months with a minimum of damage to the work and with some hopes for a future for the network.
While I was in this frame of mind, Guy came to see me one evening at my apartment. He did not seem personally concerned about the political situation, but told me, quite casually, that he had resigned from the police. He made no comment about this, but proceeded to a proposition he wanted to put to me. It was astoundingly simple. If I would make available to him an American Army truck for two afternoons a week - a thing I had only to lift up the telephone to do - he would guarantee me $12,000 per month payable in any currency and in any bank anywhere in the world that I wished. I was stunned.
My first reaction was to throw him out of the house. I realized that this would accomplish nothing, however, so I asked him for further information. I could get nothing from him, except that the trucks would be used to cross into Slovakia, to the north, and his insistence that there was no danger. I finally gave up probing and told him simply that I was not in a position to help him. He seemed offended, and deeply disappointed.
The next day I told Jane I wanted to see Simon. When we met, I told him of the offer I had received, but without saying who had made it. He laughed uproariously. Finally, recovering himself, he said, "That would be the perfect deal. You working for the Communists. Take it. You'll be rich." Again he was overcome with laughter, but I finally got the explanation from him. The Communist Party had, the previous year, as one of the brain-children of Zoltan Vas, the Communist economic wizard, formed some-thing called the West Orient Corporation. It was, quite simply, an enormous and privileged black-market outfit. They stole cars in Austria and sold them in Hungary; they imported scarce goods from the West and sold them at enormous profits in Hungary and they capitalized on Hungary's few products of export value by means of the Party machinery throughout Europe. The traffic to Czechoslovakia was simply the smuggling of Hungarian tobacco and cigarettes. At a time when cigarettes were still a medium of exchange everywhere in Europe, the income from this traffic swelled the Communist Party's coffers. Obviously they had been having trouble of late with the Czechoslovak border guards, not yet Communist, and an American Army truck was the ideal solution. I had to laugh myself. They could well afford the $12,000 monthly.
The implications were less worrisome than they looked. If the Communists had suggested me to Guy, it was a good sign that they took me for just. another American profiteer - a not entirely unique specimen in Europe at the time. If Guy had come to me on his own, simply because I was the only American he knew who could help him, then there was also no danger. But I decided to keep Guy at arm's length.
For some time past I had been communicating to my head-quarters the increasing and unavoidable political implications of my operations in Hungary. No guidance had been forthcoming. Now the Communists had begun to agitate for new elections, which could only intensify the pressures on me. My inability to take a line one way or another in the circumstances would sooner or later jeopardize my usefulness, even for intelligence work, let alone its effect on the willingness of Hungarians to continue to resist. I therefore asked for permission to meet Peter in Switzerland, under the guise of a holiday in Italy, to discuss these problems urgently. In reply, I was told to let it be known that I was going to Italy on vacation, but to come to Washington instead. I accordingly set out by car for Italy, driving to the south-west towards the British Zone of Austria. Apart from being arrested in Veszprem by a Russian sentry who, speaking mostly Ukrainian himself, took my imperfect Russian as proof that I was a Russian deserter, I arrived safely in British-occupied Graz, continued on over the Grossgluckner - then Europe's highest road, where I encountered more Russians, but this time former Russian prisoners who refused to return to the Soviet Union - and went on down to Salzburg in the American Zone, where I took a plane to Paris, and thence to Washington.
Washington seemed unreal, and excessively comfortable. In just under a year I had become accustomed to the ruins and rubble of Budapest, and to the sense of danger in the air. Washington was alive with movement and confusion, but the sense of danger was noticeably absent; the general atmosphere was still that of victory in the war, and there was seemingly no public awareness of the erosion of that victory being so harshly pursued in Eastern Europe.
I went over every detail of my operations with my chief and his assistants. My use of Sam and Edmund, and of Sara, was authorized, although without any intimation to them of the organization for which I worked. There was an obvious C.E. interest in Edmund, but I pointed out that, as a Socialist, his position in the A.V.O. was too much on sufferance to offer any opportunities for operations more complex than secret intelligence. Sam's request for radio sets was turned down cold as too dangerous at this stage. I was instructed to continue to seek out new agents in the areas not covered. They themselves, presumably working through the Hungarian Legation in Washington, gave me the name of an agent, Anna, who would satisfy my requirements concerning Church affairs.
On the matter of political action, I presented my ideas for covert support of a wide range of Hungarian non-Communist groups. Here I encountered sympathy, but I sensed that I was considered to be somewhat alarmist, and in any event this was not a matter for decision by my organization. There seemed to be a general feeling that such techniques were wartime measures only, and inappropriate to the postwar period. It was assumed that the results to be achieved by such action could be more properly obtained by direct negotiation with the Soviets, It would take another year, the fall of Czechoslovakia, the Tito-Cominform break, and the narrow victory of the Italian elections of 1948 before the United States Government realized the need for a political arm in the Soviet war.
I was, however, permitted to state my case to a high official, a Presidential adviser. He agreed with my analysis of Soviet intentions in Hungary, but, he said, the American people were in no mood to take serious steps to stop them. "The American people have just finished a war," he said, "and they will not stand for us taking action which seems likely to provoke hostilities with the Russians." I pointed out that the net result of this was not simply Soviet domination of Hungary, but a slaughter of the nation's entire leadership-beginning first and foremost with those who had resisted the Germans. This would mean, I said, that if the Soviets were allowed to pursue their course unhindered, they would have in their hands a nation without leadership, from which in the far future we could expect nothing except support of Soviet aims. "You are too pessimistic." he answered. "You should read the reports on the popular initial reaction of the Russian people to the German invasion. After almost a quarter century of terror, they still rose up to welcome the Germans in the naive belief that they were being liberated. Even the Jews of Moscow, kept in the dark by Stalin as to Hitler's anti-Semitism, rioted in the streets as the Germans approached-convinced that they were to be liberated. These Russian reactions were pathetic, and when they found out the truth the people fought for Russia. But their initial reaction is proof that people do not forget freedom as easily as you fear." I had little faith in this view at the time; but history was to prove him right. The Hungarian Revolution, in which a whole generation raised on Communism were to fight Soviet domination, was just under ten years away.
"At least we can save some of the people," I argued. ''We cannot just leave those whose principles and courage will be our assets and their doom to prison, torture and death.'' He thought awhile. "And can you save some of them without embroiling us in a series of clumsy mishaps that will only worsen their fate?'' he asked. My answer, "Yes," may have been only bravado; it was still the only answer possible. ''Well, we'll give that one some thought," he said, rising to signal the end of our talk. Before returning to Europe. I drew up and presented a plan to my headquarters for a series of escape operations. designed to save political leaders whose resistance to the Soviets put their lives or freedom in danger, but with sufficient leeway to allow the inclusion of some persons who may not have been politically active, but who none the less merited our help. My headquarters received this without comment.
However, my chief had comments on another score which amused and at the same time irritated me for what it revealed of our confidence in our own agents. A large man of imposing appearance, quite the general he was, he took me to lunch just before my departure. Over the coffee I noticed that he was talking on at great length, seemingly without saying anything. I paid closer attention, and finally realized what he was trying to say, with almost embarrassing discretion and a show of great personal interest in me. He was obviously well informed that in Budapest I saw a great deal of a particular Hungarian lady. I was embarrassed for him, but also annoyed. "You are afraid I will give something away to her?" I asked. "No; of course not," he demurred. "But you know how it is; blackmail and all that sort of thing." I felt genuine pleasure at what I knew I could answer. "You should have consulted the F.B.I.," I said. "You will find that the Russians tried to blackmail me and failed. Where they failed their Hungarian stooges aren't going to succeed." He looked surprised. "I didn't know that," he said. He appeared somewhat mollified, but still not completely happy. I gave him the rest. "What your informant was unable to tell you," I went on, "is highly relevant, however. It is true that I see a great deal of the Hungarian lady, but what your man apparently doesn't know, and the lady does, is that I am planning to marry someone completely different-a Frenchwoman, as it happens." His discomfort vanished in a flash. "Wonderful," he cried, and we parted in back-slapping mutual confidence. What I had not done was to find out who was watching me in Budapest; whether I was the incidental object of some C.E. operation, the deliberate subject of a security surveillance, or merely an item of gossip.
I flew back to Europe. As I arrived in Paris I was met by the news that the Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Nagy, on vacation in Switzerland, had been implicated in the "conspiracy." It seems that he had, with the agreement of his Cabinet, including Rakosi, requested the Soviets to turn Bela Kovacs over to the Hungarian authorities~bviously in the thought that even that was a lesser evil than imprisonment and possible death at the hands of the Soviets. General Sviridov had replied - in Nagy's absence, Rakosi was acting Prime Minister - that the Soviets were unable to surrender Bela Kovacs, but included with his reply a copy of Bela Kovacs's "confession," which he noted showed that the Prime Minister was also a "conspirator." I hastened to Salzburg, and drove on to Budapest. The day I arrived the Prime Minister's four-year-old son, left behind in Hungary during his parents' vacation, was handed into his father's arms at the Swiss-Austrian border by a Communist functionary in direct exchange for the Prime Minister's resignation.