740.00119 European War 1939/1446

The British Embassy to the Department of State


A tendency to establish contact with British representatives abroad as a reinsurance against a German defeat is common to all the minor German satellites in Europe and should increase with further Axis reverses. His Majesty’s Government have therefore been considering whether it might now be advisable to endeavour further to weaken the already faltering loyalty of these countries to the Axis and for this purpose to modify the entirely negative attitude which His Majesty’s Government have hitherto adopted towards any peace feelers from these countries. His Majesty’s Government have however reached the conclusion that the position of the various minor satellites, as summarised in the immediately following paragraphs, differs so greatly that it is neither possible nor desirable to adopt a common line in regard either to peace feelers emanating from them or to British propaganda towards them.

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Finland. One of the principal preoccupations of the Finnish Government has been to convince their own people (and the world in general) that they are not participating in the general war but are merely fighting against Soviet Russia and that the United States of America, and, to a lesser extent, Great Britain, will protect them at the end of the war. In agreement with the United States Government His Majesty’s Government have, therefore, been at pains to impress upon the Finns that this is not so.6 His Majesty’s Government do not themselves in any case desire to be concerned with mediatory action between the Finnish and Soviet Governments and would propose, if they receive peace feelers from or on behalf of the Finnish Government, to make it clear that in their view it is with the Soviet Government that the Finns must deal and that His Majesty’s Government cannot serve as a means of approach.

Roumania. His Majesty’s Government have received from the Roumanian Government no approach that could properly be called a peace feeler. Should they receive any, His Majesty’s Government would take the line that the Soviet Union is primarily concerned as bearing the main burden of the war being waged by Roumania in alliance with Germany and Italy and should be approached in the first place. His Majesty’s Government consider that the Soviet Government are in a better position than they are themselves to hold out inducements to the Roumanians to abandon the Axis.

Hungary. The existing opposition to the despatch of Hungarian troops to the Eastern front has been much strengthened by the recent disasters to the Hungarian armies in the east. Hungary has succeeded in preserving a greater degree of independence than any other satellite in South Eastern Europe. A relatively strong democratic opposition has emerged based mainly on the Peasant and Socialist Parties, upon the Trades Union organizations, which still function in Hungary, and upon the intellectuals. There is also a right-wing opposition, with which Count Bethlen7 is connected, guided mainly by nationalist and anti-German feelings. Leaders of these organizations have been surprisingly outspoken and speeches have been made inside and outside the Hungarian Parliament condemning the present orientation of Hungarian policy. The Primate, Cardinal Seredi, has also denounced Nazi conceptions publicly. Baranyai, the Governor of the National Bank, has recently resigned in protest against Hungarian concessions to Germany. There have been not unsuccessful efforts in Hungary to moderate the persecution of the Jews. [Page 488] Finally developments in Italy have closely influenced Hungarian policy for many years past and any further weakening in Italy’s position and especially in her ties with Germany will have a close effect upon Hungarian policy.

Although His Majesty’s Government do not consider that any early and decisive change in Hungarian policy is likely, the general background seems favourable for some slight modification of the rigid attitude which His Majesty’s Government have hitherto adopted towards Hungary. They accordingly propose in response to any serious Hungarian peace feelers and in their propaganda to Hungary to follow in future the following line:—His Majesty’s Government cannot enter into any undertakings regarding the future of Hungary nor are they prepared to negotiate with individual Hungarians on the basis that they may in due course be in a position to establish a Hungarian Government. However, instead of confining themselves to saying as hitherto, that “so long as Hungary continues to fight against our Allies and to help the Axis she can expect neither sympathy nor consideration,” His Majesty’s Government would propose in future to add that they have been glad to note certain developments within Hungary in the right direction, such as those referred to in the preceding paragraph, but that they obviously can have nothing to do with a regime which allied itself with the Axis and, without provocation, attacked in turn Great Britain’s, Czechoslovak, Yugoslav and Soviet Allies. With a view to disposing of Hungarian fears of a new and more far-reaching Trianon settlement,8 the line might then be developed that, although Hungary will have to make adequate restitution to our Allies, His Majesty’s Government have no desire to see Hungary torn to pieces or to penalise the Hungarian people for the follies of their Governments. Our attitude and that of our Allies will inevitably be influenced by the practical steps taken by the Hungarians themselves to free themselves from Axis domination and to hasten the victory of the United Nations and their own liberation. In this connection attention would be drawn to the Secretary of State’s9 reply to a question by Mr. Mander in the House of Commons on the 16th December last, of which a copy is attached.10 Great care will of course have to be taken in regard to Czechoslovak and Yugoslav susceptibilities although there have recently been signs of a less rigid attitude towards Hungary from the Czechoslovak side.

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As regards the recent Hungarian approaches, summarised in the enclosed memorandum,11 His Majesty’s Government are inclined to think that those received through Angora, in particular that from Professor Szentgyörgyi,12 are in a somewhat different category from those made previously. The earlier approaches had all been clearly instigated by the Hungarian Government in an attempt to reinsure their own position; and His Majesty’s Government still see no advantage in adopting a forthcoming attitude towards them. Professor Szentgyörgyi on the other hand appears to enjoy a certain independence and in many respects he seems to be a person with whom discreet contact might usefully be maintained through suitable underground channels. It is accordingly proposed to arrange for Professor Szentgyörgyi to be informed that his views have been transmitted to London and that the attitude of His Majesty’s Government towards Hungary is that summarised in the preceding paragraph.

Bulgaria. Bulgaria seems to be in a somewhat similar position to Hungary though she is not at war with the Soviet Union. His Majesty’s Government have hitherto received no indications of peace feelers from the Bulgarian Government. If any approaches are made in the future it will be open to His Majesty’s Government to decide on their merits whether or not they should be pursued. It should be borne in mind, however, that any negotiations between His Majesty’s Government and the Bulgarians would at once arouse the deepest suspicion on the part of the Greek, Yugoslav and Turkish Governments. In the meantime a propaganda line similar mutatis mutandis to that proposed for Hungary would also be appropriate in the case of Bulgaria.

Before initiating any action on the lines suggested in the preceding paragraphs His Majesty’s Government would however in the first place be glad to receive the early observations of the United States Government on the general considerations set out in them. No attempt has been made here to deal with His Majesty’s Government’s attitude towards Italy, the major German satellite. Nor of course are His Majesty’s Government prepared to modify their propaganda or their attitude towards the Quisling13 administrations in Slovakia or Croatia, since they regard the problems of Slovakia and Croatia as being respectively internal Czechoslovak and Yugoslav affairs, which properly fall for consideration in the first place by our Czechoslovak and Yugoslav allies.

  1. For correspondence regarding the attitude of the United States toward the participation of Finland in the war, see vol. iii, pp. 213 ff.
  2. Count Stephen Bethlen, former Premier of Hungary.
  3. Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Hungary, signed at Trianon June 4, 1920. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3539.
  4. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  5. Not reprinted; Mr. Eden, in reply to Mr. Mander’s question on whether the British Government favored a Danubian federation, stated that the British would continue to foster such organization.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Albert Szentgyörgyi, Hungarian scientist and Nobel prize winner.
  8. Vidkun Quisling was Minister-President of the puppet government set up by the Germans in Norway.