Vienna Legation Files: 233 Vogeler, Robert

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Minister in Hungary (Davis)1

confidential

Participants: Foreign Minister Kallai
Mr. Florian (interpreter)
American Minister
Mr. Gerald A. Mokma

Omitting preliminary pleasantries,2 I opened the interview by expressing regret that it was necessary to see the Minister a third time [Page 488]on the Vogeler case. I had hoped to be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion by an informal discussion with the competent authorities. For that purpose I had long been seeking an appointment with Mr. Rakosi. Two weeks ago the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised such an appointment for some day during the week just passed. That week had passed and the interview had not taken place. On Monday afternoon, the day before yesterday, the Foreign Office had informed me that the reason that interview had not taken place was that Mr. Rakosi had gone on a vacation at the end of last week and would be gone two or three weeks. The newspapers have said a month. In view of this clear evidence of evasion on the part of the Hungarian authorities, I was now in the Minister’s office under instructions from my government to make the following statement (which I had written out in advance and which was translated sentence by sentence as I read it).

  • “1) My government is deeply concerned about the Vogeler case and entirely dissatisfied with the position taken by the Hungarian Government. Despite daily inquiries, the Ministry has so far given no explanation whatever of the charges; neither has it given any answer to my request for permission for a consul to visit him in the customary manner. This denial of all cooperation will be looked upon as proof that the Hungarian Government, as already widely believed by the public, is proceeding in an irresponsible manner contrary to all recognized principles of humanity and equity.
  • 2) My government has no basis for believing the charges against Vogeler as laconically published in the press. On the contrary, we are convinced that they are completely false. In this connection it may be remarked that the evasive attitude of the Hungarian Government can only strengthen this view as well as give the appearance of ulterior motives.
  • 3) The condition of the affair to date raises for the American Government a serious question, whether American citizens can peacefully attend to their normal business within Hungary without risk of intolerable molestation by the police authorities, be this minor shadowing by detectives or be it even to the point of detention by the police for an indeterminate time incommunicado. If this question is not soon answered and in a satisfactory way we must take under urgent consideration the necessity of forbidding Americans to travel to Hungary as well as such other steps as would follow therefrom.
  • 4) The absence of a prompt settlement of this case must inevitably affect Hungarian-American relations in all their aspects. The Hungarian Government has refused for so long—already nearly four weeks—to allow Mr. Vogeler his basic right to the protection of his government against irresponsible police detention and secret proceedings that my government cannot be expected to be satisfied, at this late date, with less than his release and departure from Hungary. The authorities have had more than sufficient time to satisfy themselves of his innocence.”

At the end of paragraph 3 of the written statement I interpolated that expressing my own opinion and speaking now on my own responsibility [Page 489]and not under specific instructions, it was my view as to such further steps that since our consul is being prevented by the authorities here from performing his basic duties to his fellow citizen my government would be compelled as a first step to reconsider the justification for as well as the utility of the Hungarian consulates in the United States.

After reading the foregoing statement, I said that concluded what I was instructed to say to him. I earnestly begged him to realize that my government meant what it said. It had been very patient but its patience was not inexhaustible. It intends to uphold its rights and to obtain just treatment of its citizens.

The Minister replied as to the Rakosi appointment, I would know that Mr. Rakosi had been very busy what with the meeting of Parliament and other matters, and it was regrettable that he had not had time to see me before departing on his vacation. As to a consular visit, that could not be permitted before the investigation is completed. As to the guilt or innocence of Mr. Vogeler, it was not safe to proceed on assumptions since it had happened before that innocence had been insisted on by interested parties only to have it develop later that the prisoner was in fact guilty. I replied that so far as the Rakosi visit was concerned the Minister’s explanation would be satisfactory if taken by itself, but it was unacceptable in view of the fact that I had asked for the interview three weeks ago and had been promised by his own Ministry that it would be arranged during the week just past. As to the continued refusal of the authorities to permit a consular visit, this was a continued evasion of the basic point that in all civilized countries a person detained by the authorities has a right of access to his consul. As to the question of guilt or innocence, my government was completely satisfied that Mr. Vogeler was innocent. He has been charged with espionage; that could only mean on behalf of his own government, and my government had not employed him for any such purpose. The Minister replied that this was a question of fact and I should not overlook the fact that the press announcement had stated that Vogeler had confessed. I replied that neither my government nor I was at all impressed by this statement. I had had some personal experience of detention by police authorities who acted very much like the Hungarians are acting and I know the value of such alleged confessions. At this point Mr. Mokma interjected that it was commonly said by people here in Hungary who know that they are being followed by police agents that in the event of arrest they would confess to anything to avoid having the confession extracted. The Minister replied that reactionary circles spread all kinds of rumors of this sort; for example, they had spread the rumor that the Forint was to be devalued but that had been disproved and other rumors might [Page 490]also be disproved. He went on to say that he did not consider it a very happy approach to link the case of one individual under investigation on serious charges with the question of Hungarian consulates in the United States. I replied sharply that I was not linking the case of one individual with the Hungarian consulates but rather that of our consulate here being prevented by the Hungarian authorities from performing its duties which made me wonder why Hungarian consulates should be permitted to perform theirs. I added that we were not discussing reactionary rumors, but the concrete fact that for nearly four weeks Mr. Vogeler had been held incommunicado and the authorities continued to prevent our doing anything for him. As for his reference to an unhappy approach, it was the view of my government that the entire approach of the Hungarian Government to this whole case had been most unhappy.

The Minister replied that he could not give me any official answer as to when we might see Vogeler, but he would make inquiries to the competent authorities and let me know. I replied that this was not satisfactory; while I appreciated the Minister’s assurances that he would look into the matter, he had been giving me this for three weeks and that’s all I had had. I then said that in order that there might be no misunderstanding later on as to what had been said at this interview, I should like his answers to certain specific questions.

(1)
Does the Hungarian Government still refill to permit a consular visit to Mr. Vogeler? The Minister replied, “For the moment, yes”.
(2)
Does the Minister decline to entertain my request that Mr. Vogeler be immediately put at liberty and permitted to leave Hungary? The Minister replied, “I cannot reply to that now”. I then said there seemed to be no purpose in prolonging this interview. I would report it to my government and await developments. I stood up and took my departure.

While saying goodby to Mr. Florian in the outer office, I told him of Mr. Mokma’s recent promotion to the rank of Counselor. Mr. Florian congratulated him and said that that was a nice Christmas present. I said I wished the Hungarian Government would give me a Christmas present. Florian replied, “You know that does not depend on me”. I said I knew that, and I was sure that if Mr. Florian were running the Hungarian Government I would have had that Christmas present, adding I was sure of another thing—that if I had been permitted as promised to see Mr. Rakosi, the latter would have given me a Christmas present since I believed that Mr. Rakosi would view this matter in its broad aspects and not from the point of view of a little policeman holding a man in jail—at least such was Mr. Rakosi’s reputation.

Nathaniel P. Davis
  1. A brief summary of this conversation was transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 1356, December 14, from Budapest, not printed (364.1121 Vogeler, Robert A.).
  2. In his despatch 1127, December 21, from Budapest, not printed, Minister Davis commented upon the tone of this meeting as follows:

    “I omitted all pleasantries and spoke more forcefully and acidly than on any other occasion I can now recall in my entire career. I might as well have saved my breath. When I left we were exactly where we had been on the day Mr. Vogeler’s arrest first became known.” (Vienna Legation Files: 233 Vogeler, Robert)