Editorial Note

At his press conference on February 15, Secretary of State Acheson issued a statement by the Department of State reviewing recent unsuccessful efforts to assure American legal counsel for Robert Vogeler in connection with his forthcoming trial in a Hungarian court on charges of espionage. The statement pointed out various international legal precedents in favor of affording Vogeler the privilege of retaining an American attorney. The Hungarian Government was condemned for its refusal to permit an American attorney, Morris L. Ernst, to enter Hungary to represent Vogeler. The statement restated the demand of the United States Government for the fullest possible safeguards for Vogeler’s rights in the matter of his treatment and defense, and expressed the deep concern and indignation of the Government and the people of the United States at the intolerable attitude and behavior of the Hungarian Government in the Vogeler case. In making public the Department’s statement, Secretary Acheson observed that he could not emphasize too strongly the seriousness with which the United States viewed the Hungarian Government’s conduct in the Vogeler affair. He promised that the Department of State would continue its efforts to safeguard Vogeler’s rights and assure that he was properly defended.

On February 17 the Department of State issued a further statement to the press observing that earlier assurances by Mátyás Rákosi, Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary General of the Hungarian Workers’ (Communist) Party, regarding a fair trial for Vogeler had been belied by a speech made by Rákosi on February 10 to [Page 991] the Central Executive Committee of the Hungarian Workers’ Party. The statement warned that Rákosi’s speech appeared to foreshadow a guilty verdict and necessitated a careful scrutiny of the trial and of Vogeler’s physical and mental condition.

For the texts of the Department’s statements of February 15 and 17 and Secretary Acheson’s brief comments of February 15, see Department of State Bulletin, February 27, 1950, pp. 323–326.

The trial of Robert A. Vogeler, Edgar Sanders, and four Hungarian codef endants on charges of espionage and other crimes against Hungary was held in Budapest City Court, February 17–20, 1950. Vogeler and his fellow defendants confessed to a wide range of acts of espionage, and their testimony implicated many other persons, including former and current officers of the American and British Legations in Budapest. The official record of the trial is presented in the Hungarian Government White Book, R. Vogeler, E. Sanders and Their Accomplices Before the Criminal Court (Budapest: Hungarian State Publishing House, 1950). For his own account of his arrest, detention, interrogation, and trial, see Robert A. Vogeler (with Leigh White), I Was Stalin’s Prisoner (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1951).

In response to instructions from the Department of State, the Legation in Budapest submitted detailed daily accounts and commentaries concerning the proceedings of the trial. These voluminous reports are included in Department of State file 264.1111 Vogeler, Robert A. The Legation reports indicated that all the defendants, including Vogeler, appeared to be in good health and showed no signs of physical maltreatment, drugs, hypnotism, or other means of external coercion. Vogeler’s testimony, according to these reports, was characterized by a great many errors and inconsistencies. It appeared to the Legation that Vogeler had been induced to memorize and recite a prepared false confession acting under some compulsion of an unknown nature. The defendants were completely isolated from the spectators at the trial, and it was impossible for the Legation’s representatives to speak with Vogeler.

Foreign, including Western, newsmen resident in Budapest attended the trial, but only two Western newsmen were permitted to enter Hungary specifically to cover the proceedings. Accounts of the trial appeared in the world press.

On February 21 the Budapest Court found Vogeler, Sanders, and their Hungarian codefendants guilty of the charges against them. Vogeler was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment at hard labor and Sanders to 13 years imprisonment at hard labor. Two of the Hungarians (Imré Geiger and Zóltan Rádo) were sentenced to death.

On February 21, following the announcement in Budapest of Vogeler’s sentencing, the Department of State issued a statement to [Page 992] the press condemning the Vogeler trial as “devoid of justice, inadequate as to evidence, and replete with falsehoods.” The United States Government refused to accept Vogeler’s so-called confession or his self-incriminating testimony which the Department felt could only be understood in the light of Vogeler’s long detention incommunicado and the denial of access to his family, to any American official, or his American attorney. For the text of the Department’s statement, see Department of State Bulletin, March 6, 1950, page 378.

In a statement issued to the press on February 24, the Secretary of State reviewed recent actions by the Governments of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania contributing to a marked deterioration of relations with the United States. Secretary Acheson indicated that the obvious purpose of these actions, which included the sentencing to imprisonment of Robert Vogeler on false charges, was to cut off the people of Eastern Europe from the free world, to deprive them of all hope of any other fate than that reserved for them by their rulers, and to liquidate all signs and symbols of Western influence to the accompaniment of a flood of propaganda. He further observed that the recent flagrant acts by Hungary had brought its relations with the United States to its lowest point since the end of World War II. For the text of the Secretary’s statement, see ibid., pages 377–378.