Friday, July 11, 2014

ADSS 10.153 Angelo Rotta to Luigi Maglione - increased persecution of Hungarian Jews

Reference: Report number 855/44, Pr 946 (AES 2615/44)

Location and date: Budapest, 19.04.1944

Summary statement: News on the political situation in Hungary and the increased persecution of the Jews

Language: Italian


I believe it necessary to supplement the information already sent to Your Eminence in my two telegrams concerning the unfolding of public life in Hungary after the recent events. (2)

It was expected that a political change would come about.  The increasing threat of Soviet troops made it impossible to continue the slippery policies of Dr Kallay (3), and required the need for adaptation to the new circumstances with a clear and determined course of action.  No such adaptation occurred at an opportune time, but happened in a violent and radical manner with severe blows to Hungarian sovereignty. Newly constituted on the evening of Thursday 23 March, the new ministry urgently asked the Prime Minister Döme Sztójay (4) who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to speak to me in my capacity as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, about the serious offence against International Law with the occupation of the Royal Italian Legation and the arrest and deportation of the Charge d’Affairs, baron de Ferrariis, and the military attaché, General Count Voli together with his wife and daughter. (5) The charges made against the deportees – which were then added to almost all other members of the Legations – are espionage, use of a radio broadcaster, and illegal negotiations with the communists.

The new Prime Minister, (a Serb, who converted to Catholicism some years ago, and who, up until this time, was the Hungarian Minister to Berlin), received me immediately on the morning of Friday, 24 March.  He assured me that he would take great interest in the case, recognising the gravity of it, with the German authorities.

I did not fail to insist, more than once, in the meantime, that other colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps are interested since it is a matter of principle.

In the meantime, yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister told me that negotiations with the German government over the delivery of the deported diplomats were proceeding well.  I later learned from a reliable source that the Germans have made two conditions for the release of the diplomats:
1. Internment; 2. And only if this was requested by Mussolini.

Concerning the first point there are no difficulties.  Regarding the second there is instead opposition on the part of Hungary.  Perhaps a solution could be found for accepting the condition, but only if the Fascist Government makes assurances.

Meanwhile I was told officially that the Hungarian government had broken official relations with the Badoglio government, although the news has not yet been made public.  This break is somewhat useful, because it clarifies the situation and perhaps makes possible the appointment of a neutral nation to take care of the Badogliani soldiers who are now completely abandoned.

As a result, the Hungarian government has now interned – according to the wishes of the interested parties themselves – all employees of the Royal Italian Legation and their families (about one hundred people) in a pleasant hotel in Kekes, about 1000 metres above sea level, where they are treated properly and are under the surveillance and protection of the Hungarian police, the latter condition requested by the parties concerned so they feel more secure.  They are now waiting for the deported diplomats.

Meanwhile, as was to be expected, under German pressure, very energetic, not to say inhuman, measures were taken against the Jews.  The first decree of 30 March, contains racist measures which are now customary in countries under German control, not excluding the obligation to wear the yellow star, an obligation which, given the basis of the decrees also applies to baptised Jews, even those baptised for a long time, of whom there are many in Hungary.  Other decrees then followed, informed by the same spirit and with new restrictions.  These are the main provisions:  [Jews are] prohibited to occupy positions and offices in the public service, forbidden to keep radios or telephones, subject to travel restrictions, forbidden to leave Budapest; there are certain restrictions in the exercise of professions and trades; there is exclusion from the press, cinema and theatre and the use of lawyers.  Jews are obliged to wear the star, declare all goods, furniture and property, which will remain blocked and impounded.(6)

Already at the first audience I had with the Prime Minister, I told him that I felt compelled, as Nuncio, to recommend a sense of moderation of the measures already planned against the Jews, urging due regard for the Baptised.  When the first decree was published I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attempted to make them understand how unjust the measures taken were, which shoed disregard for the value of baptism and brought seeds of painful discord into families.  There are some from other parts, including his eminence the Cardinal Primate (7) who have made serious complains and requests for modifications.  Some minor things have occurred so that priests, nuns etc of Jewish descent are considered to be exempt from the odious obligation to wear the badge, as well as exempted spouses who would be the only person in the family who would have to abide by the obligation.

I insisted on this point in my conversation yesterday with the Prime Minister.  But in addition to the external pressures, the anti-Jewish phobia of several members of the Government makes further ameliorations difficult.

Meanwhile, changes have been occurring in the organisation and management of public administration: elimination of employees, prohibition of several newspapers and periodicals, more sever press censorship, a ban on foreign newspapers, dissolution of certain parties, an intensification of action of the parties of the extreme right, the loss of certain elements of parties that were the basis of previous governments, a sense of apprehension and reservation among the people.

With regard to relations with the Vatican, the Prime Minister told me last night that a few days ago he had visited his eminence, the Cardinal Primate and given assurances that the government had the intention to make its relations with the Holy See more cordial and that in matters concerning the Catholic Church, these would be adjusted so as not to give rise to difficulties of conflicts.  He then repeated the same statement expressing his wish that my personal relationship with him would have the same cordiality he maintained with Monsignor Orsenigo in Berlin.

As was to be expected, the new state of affairs, has increased the danger of air raids.  As a matter of fact on Monday 3 April, there were two serious air bombardments over the Hungarian capital, one in the morning and another during the night, which caused considerable damage and numerous victims (1,073 dead according to the official announcement, but some say the number was greater).  Other bombardments have occurred in following days both in Budapest and the provinces, especially Giavarino (8), with even terrorist events, such as the machine-gunning of people fleeing.  The neighbourhood where the Nunciature is, has so far been completely spared, and therefore no damage to the house or staff.

On 8 April, His Highness, the Regent, went to visit the victims.  It was the first time since recent events, he has left the royal palace, where he has been kept in more or less voluntary isolation.  The work of evacuating the city of Budapest continues on a large scale.  Ministries are transferring offices, even if this has slowed a little.  As I already wrote to you provision has been made for the Nunciature to be moved to a temporary position in the castle of Count Maurizio Esterházy in Csákvár. (9)

As a result of the changed atmosphere, French, Italian, Polish refugees etc are in rather difficult circumstances.  The Polish sterring committee was dissolved and its leaders imprisoned, among them was Father Vitoslawski (10), and someone else was killed.  The Poles living in the camps are so far undisturbed.    Those who do not work feel that lack of subsidies that they used to receive from the Hungarian government.  All are apprehensive about their futures.  On behalf of the Holy Father, I have endeavoured to subsidise the priests, and I will continue to do so in the future, because they are not obliged to work with any less dignity.

The Italian Badogliani soldiers are also left unbothered for now: they are alone without leadership and very uncertain of what to do.  I have recommended to the Prime Minister  that all these refugees be given his protection our of Hungary’s sense of chivalry and Christian duty.

Together with the change of government in Hungary there has also been a change in the personal in the German Legation in Budapest.  A new minister has been sent – Dr Edmondo Weesenmayer (11) -  a trusted friend of Ribbentrop, a young diplomat who was stationed in Zagreb for three years as counsellor of the German Legation. In addition to the post of Minister Plenipoteniary, he has also been charged with special powers, which he has already begun to exercise.  I was assured he will present his credentials next week.  So little by little, things are slowly returning to normal with regard to Hungarian sovereignty.  In police matters the influence of the Gestapo is still felt, operating as it does with its own methods; in other areas, except of course in the military, the German action appears to be fading.

The war is now at the frontiers of Hungary. (12) His Highness The Regent has sent a message to the troops.  Fear of invasion has not ceased, and more and more the Lord’s help is needed in these unhappy times.

Note of Domenico Tardini: 03.05.1944. Seen by the Holy Father

(1) See ADSS 10.125, 137
(2) German troops occupied Hungary on 19.03.1944 and installed a pro-Nazi puppet government.
(3) Miklos Kállay de Nagy-Kálló (1887-1967), Prime Minister of Hungary 10.03.1942-22.03.1944.  The Italian word used to describe Kallay’s policies was “anguillante” meaning “eel-like” or “slippery”, a “slickster”. After the German invasion Kállay was given refuge in the Turkish Embassy in Budapest.  However, on 17.11.1944 he surrendered to the Germans to avoid excessive pressure placed by the Germans on the Turks.
(4) Döme Sztójay (1883-1946), Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Hungary 23.03.1944-29.08.1944.  He was a major collaborator in the deportation of Hungarian Jews. He was tried as a war criminal after the war and hanged.
(5) See ADSS 10.125 n6.  Baron Carlo de Ferrariis Salzano (1905-1985) was the diplomatic representative of the Italian government created under Marshal Badoglio in September 1943.  He remained in Budapest until his arrest after the German occupation and was sent to a concentration camp in Austria before repatriation to Italy in October 1944.  General Count Emilio Voli (1889-1960) was the military attaché to the Italian Embassy from September 1943 until March 1944.  He was kept in German captivity until the end of the war.
(6) Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David on 05.04.1944.
(7) Justinian Cardinal Seredy (1884-1945), Archbishop of Ezstergom and Primate of Hungary 1927-1945.
(8) Györ in northwest Hungary.
(9) Móric Esterházy de Galántha et Fraknó (1881-1960), former Prime Minister of Hungary June-August 1917.
(10) Piotr Wilk. Witoslawski OFM, (1902-1960) was the chaplain of the refugee Polish community in Budapest.  He was arrested in March 1944 and sent to KL Mauthausen and then to Dachau where he was liberated in April 1944.
(11) Edmund Weesenmayer (1904-1977), SS Brigadeführer, Reich Plenipotentiary in Hungary.  Was directly responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 Hungarian Jews during the summer and autumn of 1944.  He was tried in the Ministers Trial at Nuremburg and sentenced in 1949 to 20 years for crimes against humanity. He was released on 16.12.1951.
(12) The Red Army did not cross into Hungary until 23.09.1944.

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