124.495/1–3150: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Secretary of State


144. After inquiring re Hvasta and Field cases as reported separate telegrams2 I undertook general discussion with Foreign Minister Clementis of problem created by denial his government right diplomatic mission extend protection under international law in favor our nationals.

I indicated that what the Minister had said confirmed statements by Deputy Vice Minister Hajdu during conversation on December 21 (Embtel 1885 December 223) situation being that Czechoslovak Government [Page 527] denies right of consular officer to see imprisoned fellow citizen except as “favor” and not then until investigation of given case completed, which in practice may not be until after months have elapsed. In contrast U.S. procedure permits arrested foreigner communicate with his Embassy or Consulate by telephone, usually within few hours after arrest, following which consular officers usually have very prompt access to prisoner. I said my government had noted with concern adoption non-access procedure by Czechoslovakia and that although no public announcement has been made by my government, inquiring US citizens now being warned (Deptel 15, January 94).

Neither Foreign Minister nor Hajdu attempted argue case aside from latter’s remarks that Czechoslovakia’s procedure dates from “time of Maria Teresa.” (Appropriate research section might usefully investigate this.) On other hand, they manifested no concern over information that Americans now being warned. They gave impression that Czechoslovak Government has already discounted possible effect in terms future entry US citizens.

In view this confirmation of Czechoslovak denial generally accepted protection by foreign mission of its citizens, I again suggest Department consider taking steps either (1) restricting validity US passports, or (2) adopting formal procedure to warn US citizens at time they apply for passports. Department may also wish to consider re first alternative whether it should not be applied with definite intention of “making it hurt most”, i.e., specifically denying as policy matter passports to those who like Macy buyer and hop purchasers (mytel 1885) might assist Czechoslovak economy. This could be done within general framework of prohibition which might except only government employees and families, newspaper correspondents, representative of PanAm airlines for such time as contractual services being performed, etc. Prohibition would be applied against practically all others including Americans of Czechoslovak origin desiring visit families and American missionaries and students. Any such move to be effective should probably be accompanied by restrictions on Czechoslovak travel to US aimed specifically at Czechoslovak businessmen, including bearers official passports. This might imply stepping up economic warfare and involve related policy issue, for example whether we permit Czechoslovak delegation to come to Chicago fair (Embtel 87 January 195).

[Page 528]

As a first move, Embassy suggests immediate adoption of second alternative, i.e., warning to passport applicants.

That we have thus far had no “Vogeler case”6 should not obscure fact that Czechoslovakia has in effect taken same position as Hungarian Government in its dealings with Minister Davis,7 nor possibility that with local air constantly filled with denunciation of foreigners, comparable case may not develop any day in this country. Comparable cases involving other countries, notably Sweden and Holland,8 have already occurred here.

Sent Department, repeated Budapest 7; pouched Moscow, Warsaw, London, Paris, Stockholm, The Hague.

  1. Jan Hvasta, a naturalized American citizen and former employee of the American Consulate General in Bratislava was arrested by the Czechoslovak police in October 1948, held incommunicado, and sentenced to three years imprisonment for alleged espionage following a secret trial in May 1949. In April 1950 the sentence was extended to 10 years. Throughout 1949 and 1950 the Embassy made repeated but futile representations to the Czechoslovak Government seeking Hvasta’s release, consular access, and information about his trial and conviction. In telegram 136, January 30, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs reported that he had that day again sought from Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis permission for the American Consul General in Bratislava to visit Hvasta in prison, and he again suggested to Clementis that the balance of Hvasta’s sentence be remitted and that he be allowed to depart from Czechoslovakia (125.225H3/1–3050).

    In his telegram 138, January 30, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs reported that he had emphasized to Foreign Minister Clementis the interest of the United States Government and the American press in solving the mystery of the disappearance of Noel, Hermann, and Herta Field (240.1122/1–3050). Regarding the Field case, see ibid . and pp. 20 ff. in this volume.

  2. In his telegram 1879, December 21, 1949, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs reported that in the course of a meeting with Foreign Minister Clementis and Czechoslovak Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister Vavro Hajdů, Hajdů asserted that a foreign government enjoyed no right to information regarding the criminal charges against one of its nationals while the case was under investigation by Czechoslovak authorities, nor did a foreign government have any right of access to a prisoner (880H.00/12–2149). In his telegram 1885, December 22, 1949, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs observed that in view of Hajdů’s position, the Embassy’s ability to protect American citizens in Czechoslovakia approached nil unless the Department of State was prepared to undertake some retaliatory action such as halting the travel of American citizens to Czechoslovakia (125.225H3/12–2249). Other aspects of Briggs’ conversation of December 21 with Clementis and Hajdů are reported upon in telegram 1878, December 21, 1949, from Praha, Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, p. 427.
  3. Not printed. It authorized Ambassador Briggs to point out to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry that, in view of the obvious insecurity of foreign visitors to Czechoslovakia, he felt obliged to warn American businessmen that the Embassy was in no position to offer them protection vis-à-vis the Czechoslovak authorities (849.181/1–650).
  4. Not printed. In it Ambassador Briggs asked for an expression of policy on the granting of official visas to Czechoslovak personnel participating in the First United States International Trade Fair scheduled to be held in Chicago, Illinois, August 7 through 19, 1950 (811.191 CH/1–1950). Telegram 69, January 27, to Praha, not printed, authorized Ambassador Briggs to decide on such visa applications in relation to local conditions and developments with a view to deriving a maximum advantage from whatever action might be taken (811.191 CH/1–1950).
  5. Robert A. Vogeler, an American citizen and an Assistant Vice President of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, was arrested by the Hungarian security police in November 1949, held incommunicado, tried and convicted of espionage and sabotage in February 1950, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. For documentation on the efforts of the United States Government to secure the release of Vogeler, see pp. 980 ff.
  6. Nathaniel P. Davis, the United States Minister in Hungary.
  7. Holger Hjelm, a Swedish businessman, was arrested by Czechoslovak authorities in September 1949, held incommunicado for five weeks, and sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 1949 for alleged industrial espionage. At the request of the Swedish Government, Hjelm was released in January 1950 and allowed to leave Czechoslovakia. J. A. Louwers, a Dutch businessman, was arrested by the Czechoslovak police in December 1949, held incommunicado and tortured, tried and convicted for alleged economic espionage in early March 1950, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He was ultimately released and allowed to leave Czechoslovakia in May 1951.