EXCEPT FOR GUY'S TEN-DAY ABSENCE AT LAKE BALATON, THE escape chain had been operating smoothly. With members of Parliament the matter was fairly simple: as the Communists sliced away at the opposition they would ask for waiving of the Parliamentary immunity of the various legislators under attack; between the request and the Immunities Committee's action - always as requested - there was usually a lapse of two or three days. During this period the menaced Deputy had to be moved out. At first this was not so difficult, but as more and more escapes occurred during this delay, the A.V.O. began surveillance of their intended victims, even before the orders for arrest had been issued. The situation was further complicated by the understandable desire of Deputies who planned to escape to make a final fiery speech in Parliament. As this was too obvious a signal of what was afoot, I was forced to insist that many such Deputies who we were moving out either make their "swan-song" unrecognizable as such or forgo altogether their chance to have the last word.
The attack against the Independence Party was successful in early October, and then began the process of lifting the immunity of the various Independence Deputies. On October 14 Pfeiffer himself, with his wife and five-year old daughter, had to flee. He was being closely watched, but we managed successfully. Hugh told me later that Pfeiffer's escape was even complicated in Vienna, thanks to the Americans themselves. Pfeiffer arrived in Vienna in the middle of the night; the next morning, before Hugh had been able to move him on to the American Zone of Austria, the Vienna German-language newspaper published by the American Occupation authorities printed a large photograph of Pfeiffer on the front page, saying he was rumoured to be in Vienna. Hugh thereupon had to alter his plans to have Pfeiffer and his family driven to the American military airport at Tulln, an enclave in the Soviet Zone, and instead have him flown out in a small plane from a landing-strip in the American Sector of Vienna.
With persons other than Deputies, we had to rely on either their own knowledge of their danger or such information as Edmund was able to pass out from the A.V.O. itself. I had informed the members of the network that they would be taken out whenever they felt the moment necessary or opportune. Henry, who had been inactive for some time, had already taken advantage of the offer. But these were not the only sources of our "clients."
In October Mark sent an American business-man, the representative of one of the important American interests in Hungary, to see me. I saw this man often; he was normally a cheerful, pleasant type of executive whose chief worry was, he thought, dickering with the Soviet representative of the confiscated German minority interests in the same company. This day, however, he was all nerves. Hesitantly, almost embarrassedly, he disclosed the fact that he had received word from his colleague in Bucharest that fourteen Rumanians would arrive two days hence, in illegal flight from Rumania. These were key employees of various British and American enterprises in Rumania, and the companies had decided to try to save them. My caller's task was to arrange their escape from Hungary, and he was worried sick at the thought. Fourteen in one group was something more than we were equipped to handle, so, leaving him to cope with his nerves for forty-eight hours, I told him only to come back on the morning of the second day.
Guy was taken aback at the prospect of fourteen persons, but then the challenge interested him. As a result of his trip to Balaton, he had arranged additional safe house facilities there, so he decided to try it, He gave me three different rendezvous points in Budapest for the Rumanians for the day of their arrival. I gave these instructions to my American friend, and he gratefully resumed his normal coloration. The next night I checked with Helen, who said only - speaking for Guy - that "The Lake has now become a very popular Rumanian resort.
Some days later I was lunching with Mark, and his telephone rang. He listened briefly, then looked at me, and said, "I'll call you back in a few minutes." Sitting down, he said, "Now what are you up to? The Ministry of the Interior, strange to say, has just called the Legation to say that the police in Györ are holding an American couple who were arrested near the border and who have neither money nor documents. They claim they were just touring Hungary, and were supposed to go by train to Vienna tonight, but were robbed. The Ministry wants to know if we know anything about them. A Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins, from Detroit, Do you know anything about them?"
I certainly didn't; an American couple "touring Hungary" at this epoch was too fantastic to be believable, and Mark knew as well as I that no such phenomenon existed. But obviously some unknowns were in trouble; whoever they were they merited a helping hand. I suggested to Mark that he tell the Ministry that he knew all about "Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins," that they were distinguished American citizens, that it was an outrage to hold them under arrest after they had suffered the additional indignity of being robbed, and that he insist that the police put them on the next train for Vienna.
Mark did so, and to our surprise the Ministry called back some hours later to report that they had released "Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins" and put them on the Vienna train.
I had to wait a week to see Guy to get the answer to this puzzle. It seemed that he had been moving the Rumanians from the Lake to his farm in groups of two and four. His instructions were specific no one was to carry either personal documents or any foreign money, and if apprehended they were to avoid disclosing if possible, their true nationality, since Guy feared this would arouse too acute an A.V.Q. interest. "Mr. and Mrs, Tompkins" had been part of a group of four who were apprehended - fortunately, not by the Border Guards, but by the police in a routine check - in a village not far from the farm. The driver said he had merely been hired by his passengers in Györ to show them the countryside; he had been released. "Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins," having obeyed Guy's instructions, gave their story, speaking only English, and said that their companions were merely fellow travellers they had joined in Györ, whom they did not know otherwise. Their companions, two Rumanian men, had unfortunately not followed Guy's instructions; they had both Rumanian documents and money, and were accordingly taken to Budapest to prison. (Some months later they were expelled to Czechoslovakia, and from there eventually reached the West.) "Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins," however, had put on such a good show of outraged indignation that the police had finally telephoned to Budapest for instructions. Mark's response was so effective that the police not only put "Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins" on the train to Vienna, but paid their fare and helped to clear them through the Austrian side of the border as well. It was a worthy and satisfying bureaucratic short-circuit.
For most of the time that I had been in Budapest I had known and occasionally saw Lila, a cousin of Eugene. Herself an aristocrat, Lila was embroiled in an emotional vendetta against aristocracy which had its origins in the loss during the war of someone she loved, killed by the Germans. The tendency of many of the Hungarian aristocrats either to favour, or at least not to fight, the Germans had as a consequence appeared to her in an intensely personal light. She was not a Communist, but she had no objection to the Communist surgery on Hungarian society so long as it represented for her the destruction of the aristocracy. We often argued politics, in a very friendly way, for, notwithstanding the force of her feelings, she was keenly intelligent and recognized the influence on her political views of her own emotional history.
During one such discussion in October, I found her torn by contradictory feelings. She still supported the Communist programme, but by now its execution had become distasteful to her. She lamented not at all the gradual destruction of the opposition parties, but she could not stomach the violence being wreaked on so many, most particularly on exactly those who had most courageously fought the Germans. I gave it as my view that this was a deliberate policy and an integral part of the system she favoured, since it was aimed, not at remedying injustice in Hungary, but at rendering Hungary totally subservient to the Soviet Union. She reflected on this, obviously loath to concede the point.
Nor did she. But after a considerable silence, she said, "You know, I see Rajk once or twice every week." I knew she was friendly with the Minister of the Interior, but I did not know to what extent. "Yes," she went on, "I see him, and we talk, usually for an hour or so, He often tells me their plans for various people. I don't know why, but he does. So I often know who is in danger." She thought for a while longer. Then she smiled quickly. "So I will tell you when good people are in danger. Maybe you can discreetly do something about them." I didn't press the point. I merely said, "Let me know."
This was an unexpected source of help and, as it turned out, most timely and welcome. By the end of October the campaign against the Independence Party had very nearly run its course Paul and one or two others were still in Parliament, but the Communist aim had been achieved, and Paul's time was approaching. Meanwhile, Edmund was informed by a source in Division I of the A.V.O. that the next on the list marked for destruction were the Socialists. The aim here was to achieve the merger of the Socialist and Communist parties. To this end, the A.V.O. planned to start a campaign against the Right-wing Socialists which would accuse them of conspiracy and then drag in any Left-wing Socialists who still held out against merger. Sam and Edmund, taking stock of their positions as Right-wing Socialists, Edmund's post in the A.V.O., and the risks of their connection with me, felt themselves seriously endangered. Lila, following her first talk with Rajk after our conversation, told me the same general story. Much as I regretted it, I told Guy we had two very valuable passengers with whom there could be no slip-ups. This was a nervous wait; the incident with the Rumanians had made us somewhat jittery, but at the end of a week Guy reported another successful operation.
In the disaster which was engulfing Hungary it was incomprehensible still to see those who felt they would succeed where others were failing. An American oil executive took me to task at this stage: "You Government people are too alarmist about this Communist thing. It's just a problem of working along with them. They need what we have so we'll be all right." Six months later, with two of his American colleagues beaten in prison, and his company's properties taken over by the Hungarian Government, he hastily left the country. Some months before, an American newspaperman had expressed the view to me that American policy in eastern Europe was "reactionary." He now returned to Hungary somewhat chastened, to replace his American predecessor, who had been arrested and expelled, to find a substitute for his Hungarian stringer - who, having originally put me in touch with the Socialists, came to me for help and was taken out by Guy - and to try to arrange the release from prison of his own secretary, whom he well knew to be innocent.
On November 7 I went to the Soviet reception marking the 30th Anniversary of the Revolution. In one year so much had transpired that the Russians didn't even make an effort to be polite, but more or less ignored their American guests. I talked for a while with Istvan Barankovics, leader of the Democratic People's Party. I found him ridiculously confident and annoyingly condescending. He was now the leader of the largest opposition party, and the second largest party in the nation. Far from being uneasy at such prominence, he parroted the same sure optimism which had animated the Jesuits. He even spoke of the gains he would make in the next elections. I had to laugh, but not from amusement. I do not pretend to be a prophet, but I was sure of what I said to Barankovics: "Within one year, most of us here who are neither Russian nor Communist will have fled the country, be in prison or be dead." Barankovics laughed at my little fantasy. Less than eleven months later he was in flight to the West, his party smashed and his Cardinal facing trial.
I turned away to speak with Jozsef Kovago, the young and popular Smallholder Mayor of Budapest. He was, in contrast to Barankovics, utterly dejected; the mounting attack on the Socialists was, he knew, the signal that the end was close at hand. I told him of Barankovics's optimism. "Ridiculous," said Kovago. "Can't he see he's next?" Kovago seemed so certain of his own fate that I said to him, "If you wish to leave, I shall arrange it." He thought at length, and then he thanked me, warmly. "No," he said. "Someone has to stay. It was to be almost ten years before I saw him again. Then he had behind him eight years in prison and two weeks as Mayor of Budapest again during the 1956 Revolution. With the final Soviet attack on November 4, he this time chose exile.
Before their departure Sam and Edmund had told me that their leadership had decided to send Karoly Peyer as their representative to the West. The Communist Press had by now mounted a full-scale attack on the Right-wing Socialists, and suddenly the State Prosecutor asked for the lifting of Peyer's Parliamentary immunity so that he could be arrested for plotting against the State. On November 15 his immunity was waived, but the day before - after considerable difficulty on my part to persuade the old man not to make the most fiery speech of his long career - Guy had spirited him out to Austria. The Communist Press howled at Peyer's disappearance. and then reported it as officially known that Peyer was still in the country, in hiding.
Guy had been sufficiently interested in the case to himself accompany Peyer to the frontier. He had returned immediately to Budapest, and was so bemused by the Communist claims as to Peyer's whereabouts that he had gone to see his former chief, Rajk, on the pretext of a friendly call. It was completely in character for Guy, and he told me of his interview with the Interior Minister with high glee. He had teased Rajk, saying that if he, Guy were still in the police, all these wanted persons would not be escaping so freely. Guy recounted how Rajk had leapt to his feet, saying, "We know where Peyer is. And we will have him in our hands within four days." Going to a map of Hungary, he showed Guy an area to the north blocked off in red marks. Stabbing with his forefinger, Rajk said, "He is hiding somewhere in here. But he won't escape us." Guy noted silently and comfortably that the marked area was nowhere near his farm.
I recalled Guy's coup two years later when Peyer arrived in the United States and was not permitted to land in New York. He was taken into custody and transferred immediately to Ellis Island. Apparently neither his fight nor his flight had had much effect on the American "anti-Socialist prejudice."
But another vignette of the period also showed the weakness of dogmatic judgments. During a reception at the Hungarian Parliament building for some visiting American Senators and Representatives, I watched Congressman John Davis Lodge of Connecticut engage in a rather showy harangue against the Communist President of the National Assembly, Imre Nagy. No one could foresee that ten years later the Congressman's brother, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, would indict the Hungarian Government before world opinion for the death of this same Imre Nagy.
Ten days after Peyer's escape Paul sent word through Jane that he was already under surveillance, and that he would have to leave within three days at the maximum. I went to see Helen, to leave word that I wanted to see Guy urgently, and found that she had the same word for me from Guy. I went to Guy's apartment, where I found him with serious news. "We cannot function for at least two weeks," he said. "Perhaps even longer." I said he must be joking, but it was perfectly clear he was not. Guy explained that three days before the A.V.O. had arrested a British agent, a woman. She had talked, and the result was the arrest of some 100 persons. Even simple smugglers were lying low; no one knew how much wider the A.V.O. would drag their net. In addition, since the escape of Peyer, maximum security precautions were being taken along the entire frontier. Guy's man had passed him word they would be unable to move anyone for an indefinite period; it was his own guess that it would take about two weeks for the dust to settle.
I didn't have two weeks to risk with Paul, and I did have the responsibility for his safety fixed firmly and inescapably on me. The timing couldn't have been worse, but there was nothing to be done about that. I told Guy to keep me informed of any new developments, and went home to figure what to do. With relatively inconspicuous people it was sometimes possible, provided they had a passport, to have them openly buy a railroad ticket to Vienna, and then buy a ticket to Prague under another name. While the police checked for them at the Austrian border, they could sometimes cross the Czechoslovak border without difficulty. Once in Prague, they could fly to Zurich, thereby evading the Soviet controls at the border of the American Zone of Austria. But Paul was too conspicuous, and he would be actively sought by the police for arrest the moment his Parliamentary immunity was lifted. The problem was complicated by his already being under surveillance, no doubt precisely to prevent his escape before Parliament acted on his case. I was not prepared to risk the aeroplane again, and in any event it was not due soon enough. There was only one solution, I would have to drive Paul myself to Austria or to Czechoslovakia.
I settled on Vienna; as Paul had no passport, his fate once in Czechoslovakia was too uncertain, and the audacity of the more dangerous route to Vienna was in its favour.
The operation could be done only under cover of my official position, undesirable as that was. I could certainly not disguise myself as a Hungarian, and in any event to have done so would have instantly closed the border to me. Any other nationality was also out of the question: I had by now a fair collection of the Soviet grey passes, which was the only thing which interested the Soviet sentries along the road, and I could forge the names on them easily, but the Hungarian Border Guards would insist on my passport, and a passport was not so quickly or easily forged.
I thought at first to take Paul and his wife in the trunk of my car, a small prewar German Mercedes, but then I realized that to leave Jane behind, known as a friend of Paul's and privy to the escape arrangements, would be fatal. When I told her she would have to come as well, she agreed, but asked that Simon, his wife and baby also accompany us. As I had by now decided on a Chevrolet delivery truck belonging to the Military Mission, I agreed. With Paul's wife we were now six adults and a three-year old infant.
At this point I had a stroke of luck. I was loath to travel the road to Vienna in full daylight, but to travel at night, even though there were fewer patrols, the border posts were more negligent, and the contents of my truck invisible, would have aroused suspicion, since American trucks always made the run in the daytime. However, at almost the last minute, an agreement was reached with the Hungarians over an American correspondent who had been arrested: he would be released, provided he was over the border by the following midnight. As he was being driven out in the late afternoon, I let it be known that I would personally drive a truck containing his and his family's belongings, as a way of insuring that the Hungarians kept to their agreement. It was improvised cover, but it was cover none the less. And it meant moving Paul a day earlier than he had planned-but that was an advantage as well.
The afternoon of the day of departure, I dropped in to see Mark, and left a sealed letter with him. It contained my resignation from the Military Mission, in case something went wrong and it became necessary to disown me. I didn't tell Mark its contents, but told him only to open it if he did not hear from me in three days. I then gave him a coded message for my headquarters, telling them what I was doing. I was certain they would receive it too late to stop me even if they wished.
As soon as it was dark I went to the garage and picked up the truck. I drove to my apartment. There, hidden behind a pile of rubble, I loaded four large cases into the truck, threw in blankets and pillows, two large tarpaulins, and rope. It was a bitterly cold night, so I put on an Army parka, in one pocket of which I carried a Walther automatic and three clips of ammunition. I had no such dramatic intention as shooting my way through a roadblock; but the A.V.O. was capable of methods other than an overt arrest, and drunken Russian troops were not to be confused with sentries on duty.
Jane was waiting for me at the Coronation Church. We drove to a quiet street in Buda where Simon, his wife and baby waited. Then, instead of continuing out on the Vienna road, I turned up a high hill just to the north of Buda. A great forested knob, the unpronounceable Harmashatarhegy - Three Border Mountain - looked out over the entire city of Budapest, to the east to the Great Hungarian Plain, and to the north as far as Slovakia. A wild expanse, it was a favourite summer picnic spot, but in late autumn and winter no one went near it. Nine years from this night it was to be the last hide-out of the Revolutionary Freedom Fighters of Budapest. It was there we would meet Paul and his wife - if they had evaded surveillance. If they had not, the rendezvous might include some uninvited guests.
I arrived at the appointed spot, and made a wide U-turn, with my lights full on. They caught only Paul and his wife, behind a tree. It was 8.30, as fixed, and they had made it successfully - with no baggage. It was a long and steep walk up the mountain, and it had been preceded by crossing almost the entire city on foot. Nevertheless, the precautions were worth it. Paul had lost his "shadow" while still in Pest, and his wife, having left their house in the morning, had not been followed. In the still night, ours had been the only vehicle they had heard moving on the mountain.
By the light of a flash light the five adults and the child slipped into the crates. Paul and his wife were in one, Simon's wife and the baby, who had been drugged, were in another, and Simon and Jane in a third. I then manoeuvred the crates around so that the open ends all faced in towards the centre of the truck. The fourth crate I put next to the rear door, blocking the access to the others. I then covered all the crates with the tarpaulins, and arranged the rope to look as though the crates were all bound and lashed down. I locked the door, got behind the wheel, started the motor, and swung back down the hill and on to the Vienna road. There were six people only a few inches from me, but I felt very, very lonely.
From Budapest to the border I drove steadily. None of the road-blocks was manned - one advantage of travelling during the dinner hour - and we scarcely saw another car on the road. I had told my passengers that when I knocked three times they could talk among themselves softly; when I knocked twice they were to maintain absolute silence. As we entered towns I would knock twice; instantly there was not a sound. Safely out in the country, where a sudden stop was no longer likely, I would give three knocks, and the voices would resume their murmur, and even, occasionally, there would be a laugh. In the talking periods, even though I was not in the conversation, my queasiness would disappear and I would become calm; but in the silences I became tense and worried.
At the border point near Hegyeshalom, I knocked twice, and pulled up in front of the Customs. Here again I was in luck. The Czechoslovaks had just taken over five Hungarian villages on the south bank of the Danube opposite Bratislava granted them by the Peace Treaty. In so doing they had cut the main Budapest-Vienna road and taken over the old Hungarian border station. This one was a mere temporary shack, with no lights in front and no facilities for examining the cars. I left the truck in the dark, and went into the building. In a few minutes my papers were cleared with barely a word, and I was back in the truck. The guards didn't even look out as I drove off.
I had no sooner knocked three times and settled down to driving, than I had to quickly knock twice, and pull up to the Czechoslovak occupants of the former Hungarian border station. They were very put out that I had wandered into Czechoslovakia. I blamed it all on the Hungarians. They had not yet built a new road to avoid Czechoslovak territory, and they were so lazy that the necessity for a detour from the former main toad wasn't even marked. The Czechoslovaks were mollified, and, berating and abusing the Hungarians, permitted me to continue on, I explained to my "cargo" what had happened, and then knocked for silence. A few miles farther on the Austrian guards checked me through politely. I wanted to ask where the Soviet road-blocks were on this night, but on the assumption that the Austrian border guards in the Soviet Zone were handpicked by the Soviets, refrained from showing any such interest.
Between the Austrian border and Vienna there were usually three or four road-blocks operating, but one never knew where they would be, except for the final one at Schwechat, just outside Vienna. Some five miles from the border I finally saw the first one, but there were no sentries on duty. I knocked three times and drove on.
Just when I was beginning to congratulate myself on having chosen a good night, a dim light showed ahead. I quickly knocked twice, and slowed to a stop as my headlights shone on a barrier and a Russian tommy-gunner.
I rolled down my window, and he came and leaned against the side of the truck, his gun slung over his shoulder. "Zdrastye, zdrastye." By a flashlight he studied my pass, and then handed it back to me. He flashed the light over my shoulder into the back of the truck.
"What are you carrying?"
"I don't know."
"How is that - you don't know?"
"Listen, I'm just a courier," I answered him. "They tell me to drive a load to Vienna, I do what I'm told. They don't explain it to me."
He laughed. "But what is it?"
I shrugged. "How would I know? Diplomatic papers, some general's furniture, more papers. I don't know."
He walked around the truck shining his flashlight inside. I prayed for not a move from anyone, and thought instantly of someone sneezing. Then I hastily obliterated the thought, for fear my six passengers might get the idea telepathically.
The sentry came back to the front of the truck. "Come on, Let's look at it anyway," he said. I felt my gun. I couldn't tell how many more sentries, if any, were in the nearby hut, but it was a ridiculous thought. I'd never make it that way.
"Open it up," he repeated. But he was not very forceful about it, and he hadn't yet unslung his gun. I didn't move. Instead I sighed.
"Can't do it,'' I said.
"Why not?" he asked, and leaned against the window.
I reached for my cigarettes, and brought out a pack. I took one first myself. Russians can be bribed, but the worst mistake is to offer a Russian a bribe. For him a bribe must be either something he took by violence or a gift of pure friendliness. I saw him eye the cigarettes.
"For one thing, they don't allow me to, so I'll get in trouble," I said. While talking, I extended the pack to him. He took two cigarettes. As I kept on talking, I shook more cigarettes to the front of the pack, paying no attention to his lifting of cigarettes out two by two. "For another thing," I continued, "it's a lot of trouble. I get out on a cold night, unlock the door, then have to wrestle with all those lashings and tarpaulins. I've still got a way to go, and it's not early." He had now taken ten cigarettes. I still held the pack there, while ignoring it. He took two more, and then stood back.
He grinned. "Spasibo," he thanked me. "You can go." He raised the barrier.
I smiled back at him and drove off - not too fast. I was so shaken I even forgot to let my passengers talk. My mind was totally taken up with the luck I had just had, and worry about the next checkpoint. Between the two thoughts I kept up a constant dialogue with Soviet sentries in my head, until finally I came under the glaring lights of the Schwechat road-block. This would be the last one. The barrier was up, but a sentry, with a tommy-gun, was in the roadway, motioning me to go on.
Never had the cobblestones of Vienna felt so good, never had the grimy buildings seemed so welcoming. As we drove into the Ring, I banged three times on the crates, and shouted, "Becs!" Even the Hungarian name for Vienna sounded good. A muffled but rousing cheer came from the back, and then excited talk, in which I would hear the relief. I stopped at a hotel in the American Zone, called Hugh, and then drove to the address he gave me. In addition to providing lodgings, Hugh thoughtfully brought along a bottle of French cognac. We had a small parry - at which I regret to say I left very little cognac for the others.
The following day I exchanged my truck for the car which had brought the American correspondent to Vienna. I had no desire to promote any further public associations between myself and trucks, particularly when the A.V.O. would be suspicious over Paul's departure. Then I telephoned Mark in Budapest and made irrelevant conversation about books; he had now heard from me and had no need to open the letter I had left with him. Also, I had a plan, and might not make it back to Budapest before the three days were up.
I had heard from both Edmund and Guy that the Soviets maintained one road between Hungary and Austria for their sole use. According to what they told me, no Hungarian or Austrian check-points were maintained on this road, and there was only one Soviet check-point, at the frontier itself. Most importantly, they had heard that, if travelling at night, it was only necessary to give a signal with the headlights - three flashes - and the barrier was raised without even the necessity to stop and show documents. I may have been a bit light-headed from Paul's successful escape, but it seemed a timely moment to find this road.
Hugh knew of the road, but only that it was supposed to be slightly to the south of the main Vienna-Budapest road, and he did not know the signals. Studying the map, I realised that the Schwechat check-point's main purpose was to prevent unauthorized travellers - meaning everyone but Austrian citizens and the Soviet military - from reaching that road, since at Schwechat another road forked to the south, from which other crossings could be reached. By taking the main road, and turning off to the south after the Schwechat check-point, one could reach the south road by country lanes - provided they were not blocked.
I started about nine in the evening, fortified by a lively Viennese cocktail party. Rolling out of Vienna to the east, I paused at the Schwechat check-point, and was again in luck. No sentry. I turned off to the south, and at a distance I could only guess as approximating the area of the road I had picked as most likely, I took the first turn to the east. The land began to be slightly hilly, which meant I was running too far to the south, out of the Danube Valley, so at the nearest crossing I turned to the northeast.
Passing through a village - every shutter closed and not a light showing anywhere - I remarked that the village seemed to go on for an exceptionally long time. Then I began to see shadowy figures moving about, outside the range of my lights. By now I was completely lost within the village, so I stopped and dimmed my lights.
I stepped out of the car. The houses, in the darkness, had strange profiles - high, thin, slanting chimneys rose black against the starlit sky. All around me was the deep hum of voices-speaking Russian. Of all places to be, I was in the middle of a Red Army tank-park. The "chimneys" were the elevated guns of the tanks, and hundreds of Soviet soldiers were lounging and walking about in the dark after their dinner. My presence, was, at best, subject to misinterpretation.
My first instinct was to get in the car, turn around, and get out as quickly as possible. I then realized that would look undesirably mysterious. Instead, I approached a group of Russians. Nothing was visible in the dark except the vague forms of their greatcoats, and I knew I was only a dark shape to them.
There is a way of speaking in Russian which to us is rudely offensive; to the Russian it most often signifies authority. Gruffly, impatiently without greeting, I said, "Where is the road to Hungary?" A pleasant, respectful voice answered almost immediately. "You took the wrong turn. Go back to the second corner, turn left, and then keep straight on. Five kilometres."
Five kilometres to the east I made out the dim light of a sentry post, and then the red-and-white striped barrier. I did not slow at all; one-two-three, I flashed my headlights. A small figure ran up to the barrier. Just in time the bar rose, and I swept past under it. The figure in the dark looked for the brief instant I glanced at him like an Austrian, not a Soviet, guard, but it didn't matter. The road did exist, and the signal was three flashes. It was useful to know.
By now my own situation was precarious. The Peace Treaty had come into effect. The Military Mission was winding up its affairs prior to departure. I saw no prospect of arranging another cover for myself, and the possibilities of cover for a successor were no better. In this much of my mission I had failed. My failure was the opposite side of the coin of the Soviet success in winning their race against the time limit of the Peace Treaty. Even if a suitable cover could be found for another agent to follow me, he would not have much to work with. My network was now exactly half of what it had been. Furthermore, fear had now reached such proportions that it was highly doubtful that reliable new agents could be recruited for some time to come, and least of all those in key positions. The possibility of a "sleeper" network, such as Sam and Edmund had in mind, was always to be considered, although the recruiting involved grave risks in the atmosphere of terror which reigned.
All this I reported to my headquarters, though with no immediate response. I did not report to them that I myself was becoming increasingly nervous. Several weeks after my return from Vienna Guy still maintained that it was too risky to operate. I felt an air of impending danger; I wondered whether in the last few months I had not exposed myself in some way of which I was not aware. I went over in my memory all of my conversations, their circumstances, my meetings, the various escapes. No single detail seemed wrong, but the whole added up to a pattern of excessive activity. I took to sleeping with my gun by my bed; although I had no illusions about its possible usefulness, it was reassuring.
In early December my premonitions took on a concrete form. Lila told me of her latest conversation with Rajk. In continuation of their pressure on the Socialists for a merger, the A.V.O. was planning a show trial of various arrested Right-Wing Socialists. The charge was conspiracy, but it was necessary that the victims be shown to have been in touch, not merely with the West, but specifically with the Americans. The reasoning was simple but effective. This trial was addressed to those Socialists, not necessarily Right-Wing. who still opposed a merger with the Communist Party. To show the Socialist "conspirators" as in touch with the British, with a Labour Government in power in England, would possibly have led only to further argument. To make the point unmistakably clear, involvement with the Americans was desired, since this would show the Right-Wing Socialists as "traitors to the working class." To this end, the A.V.O. was considering the possibility of arresting an American victim. Besides, Rajk had further confided to Lila, the A.V.O. was certain that the Americans had been playing a large role in the numerous recent escapes of wanted persons, and he had hinted that they had a quite good idea of which American was responsible.
Lila was extremely agitated about this news, although not for exactly the same reason that produced a similar effect on me. Lila was devoted to her cousin, Eugene, and she feared that, because of his associations with American companies and Americans, he was likely to be one of the victims. She had tried to persuade him to leave the country, but he had refused. She wanted me, as a friend of Eugene, to persuade him to leave. This I readily agreed to do, for plural reasons, of which only my friendship for Eugene was, of course, known to Lila. I also sent off a message to my headquarters, reporting this latest information, but without comment. Rajk, I conjectured, could be as close to the identity of the American who was "responsible" as he had been to capturing Peyer.
Persuading Eugene to leave took a long night. Neither the wine nor gypsies playing lugubriously in the back room of a small café helped, but when we had alternated tears with laughter and deep melancholy with surging optimism, in the exact proportions which Magyar custom demands for such evenings, Eugene finally agreed that he would not be of much use to anyone rotting in prison, and that this time no neutral intervention would save him, as it had from the Germans. He had made a business trip to the West earlier in the year, and still had his valid passport. I had the Military Mission buy a railroad ticket to Prague, and wired Peter to buy an air-ticket Prague-Zurich, and mail it to Eugene at a hotel in Prague. Just before he left, I saw Eugene and told him to reserve me a hotel room in Zurich.
My headquarters had become as jittery as I was. I had received a reply to my last message. It was simultaneously contradictory and explicit: "LEAVE HUNGARY WITHOUT CONSPICUOUS HASTE, BUT IN NO CASE LATER THAN FOUR DAYS.
I quickly consulted Guy. He considered the operation to be finished, and planned to use his farm now for its original purpose - his own escape. He agreed, however, to take with him anyone I wished to send him, provided they did not exceed four persons. I had, in fact, five persons remaining from the network for Guy to take. I approached them all, hoping I could persuade Guy at the last minute to accept the extra person.
Lila was not a member of the network, strictly speaking, but she had certainly contributed to saving some lives, and I had come to trust her in her oddly correct role. She thanked me, but she was not interested; she believed the terror was a temporary phase, and after that would come the Hungary she wanted to see. At the time of Rajk's arrest as a "fascist, American spy and Titoist agent" in 1949, Lila was fortunately out of the country on Government business. She never returned.
Anna stayed for similar reasons of optimism and duty. Her optimism, unfortunately, was based on even flimsier foundations than Lila's. She was arrested when the final campaign against the Church got under way, in 1948, and spent seven years in prison.
Helen made the same decision. Arrested in 1949, she also spent seven years in prison.
Louis had been elected to Parliament in one of the splinter parties. So long as his Party was not under attack, he did not feel entitled to leave. But he gave me his melancholy smile. "I shall join you before long," he said. Six months later his Party was destroyed, and happily he did make good his escape to the West.
Sara well knew that she had but one place to go from the Foreign Office - namely, prison. She also had her fiancé already out of the country. She accepted Guy's good offices with pleasure.
I made up my accounts in preparation for leaving, to be despatched by Mark in the usual manner. It had been what one might call a bargain operation. The eighteen months had cost the American Taxpayer, including my salary - well below half the total - some $20,000.
In reporting my expenses I was, of course, confronted with my insubordination. I had, by a considerable margin, disobeyed my orders and exceeded my authority. In doing so I had deliberately accepted the fact. Now I was obliged openly to state it. Headquarters had authorized me to remove twenty-five persons from the country. On one line of my accounts, including funds I had advanced to Guy for the escape of himself, his mistress, and Sara-which took place successfully two weeks later - but excluding both a scientist's wife and the cost of petrol for one trip to Vienna accompanied by Paul and five others, I wrote a single comprehensive entry: "Expenses for escape of sixty-seven endangered persons, at average $100 per person - $6,700." A total of seventy-four persons. I wish it had been more. But I was never reproached that it was not less.
On a December night, cold and clear, I drove down from the Vat for the last time. I gave a long last look to the Danube, which knew no politics - and all politics. I was deeply sad, with an ache I well knew would not quit me for years, if ever. On the way out of Buda I stopped at two cafés. But each delay was an empty tribute to those who could not go free; each glass, each effort to live again in these walls among these people was vainglorious; I finally realized that I had to accept my own frustration and live with my own sadness, respecting the suffering of those whose part was and would be greater.
As I rolled through the towns and villages, and along the deserted highway to the West, I certainly found no solace in the knowledge of defeat. But in the frozen, waiting countryside I at least avoided bitterness; there was the minor compensation of having at least tried.
Two weeks later, the young and popular King of Rumania, ordered bluntly by Vishinksy to abdicate, would pass along the rails by the side of this same road into exile, signalling another final conquest. Two months later Czechoslovakia, just across the river which I glimpsed from time to time, would be swallowed into the Soviet Empire, under the threats of Zorin to call in the Red Army. We still pay for the pride which brought about these falls.
Beyond Györ, but before the border at Hegyeshalom, I turned off the main road to the south. Watching my mileage carefully, I turned again at a familiar crossing, this time to the West. Again I saw before me the red-and-white striped barrier and the dim light of the sentry hut. One, two, three, I flashed my headlights. I couldn't be sure, and my nerves were far from being as controlled as the first time. But I didn't slow down, Again it worked. The still undistinguishable little figure raised the bar in perfect but illegal co-ordination.
This time by-passing the Red Army tank-park, I turned north on small country roads until I came out again on the Vienna-Budapest highway. Five miles later I halted at the Schwechat check-point. A sleepy and surly Soviet sentry looked at my document - a valid grey pass and one that had the name and date forged. He looked only at the seals.
Rudely, he told me to go on. But I was not the least offended. As the buildings of Vienna swallowed me up, I knew that I was tired, and that I was beginning a let-down which would last for months.
Nevertheless, my feelings were not undiluted. For myself, there had really been no need to take this surreptitious way out of Hungary. But I had not done it for myself. The Frenchwoman, my intended bride, was an invention for my chief in Washington. Common sense and my heart demanded that I bring with me, on my last trip, the Hungarian lady. Both were satisfied by the seventy-fifth passenger.