No. 729

264.1111–Vogeler, Robert A./4–951: Despatch

The Minister in Hungary (Davis) to the Department of State

No. 696
[Page 1450]

Subject: Vogeler Case

Memorandum of Conversation

Present: Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Berei and the Minister

I called on Mr. Berei at 4:00 o’clock this afternoon by appointment at my request. He received me promptly and remarked with a wide grin that today the two of us were alone. I explained that my alter ego is in the United States. He offered no explanation for Sik’s absence. (This was as I had expected. It has been the experience of my Western colleagues and myself that Berei usually receives alone when the visitor is unaccompanied.) I opened the conversation by saying that I had now been back in Budapest four weeks but while I had wanted to see him, I had not wanted to take up his time until I had something concrete to say. Naturally I had used the opportunity provided by my presence in Washington for a full discussion of our various problems but as certain decisions had not been taken at the time of my departure I had awaited instructions. These had now come and I had something to say to him that I thought he would find of interest.

With reference to the question of radio interference I spoke in terms of Alternative A in the Department’s telegram 256 of March 271 and concluded that I assumed this action satisfactorily disposed of that crucial question.

Turning now to the question of the “so-called Royal Crown” I delivered verbatim the message contained in numbered paragraph III of the telegram referred to above. I went on immediately, speaking quite informally and as though it were of much less importance, to tell him, as outlined in numbered paragraph II of the Department’s telegram, that the United States would have to proceed to liquidate property other than cultural if an agreement were not reached by the end of this month.

When I finished what I had to say about the radio Berei indicated by a nod of the head that he was in fact aware of the action we had taken and that there was nothing more to be said on that subject. He also had no comments to make on the possibility of liquidation of property in Germany in the absence of an early agreement. As to the Crown, he said, of course, he could not make any comment until the matter had had the attention of his Government nor did he wish to enter into an argument with me but at first flush he found this standpoint of the American Government somewhat surprising. How did the Crown get into American hands? And [Page 1451] was there any question but that it was property of the Hungarian State? I replied that it came into American hands because it was surrendered to the American forces by Hungarian soldiers in uniform who were engaged in warfare against the United States and surrendered themselves, then delivered the Crown for safe-keeping. Of course it was Hungarian State property and it had been delivered by Hungarian officers. The point for him to remember was that it was not taken by force by German forces after January 20, 1945, which is the qualification of Hungarian State property subject to restitution. Berei seemed to treat this whole matter as somewhat of a joke and commented laughingly that the so-called Hungarian officers might have been Hungarian citizens but after January 20 they were under orders of the Nazis and hard to distinguish from them. I begged him to remember the wording of the treaty and said at any rate what I had told him was my Government’s decision. He laughed again and said he didn’t want to have a dispute with me; then becoming serious repeated that he would report to his Government at once and get in touch with me as soon as possible.

Perhaps I am clutching at straws but Berei did seem in a far better humor than usual. Having completed our business he spoke of the pleasant weather and I referred to the very enjoyable festivities over the 4th. He said he was glad I enjoyed myself. We discussed the ballet a bit and he said he was glad I had an opportunity to see it. Then, with a broad grin, he remarked that the American diplomats in Budapest are much better off in this respect than the Hungarians in Washington because Budapest contains one-eighth of the population and is the cultural center whereas Washington is hardly that. I took his line and returned his grin with the suggestion that the complaints of his people in Washington could easily be disposed of by removing the restrictions placed on us here. We would be glad to follow suit. He grinned again but made no comment. I said it really was too bad that his Government had done that; sometime before I leave Hungary for good I would like to visit the Hortobagy but that was miles beyond the zone he had set up. Berei said he hoped I wasn’t planning to leave Hungary for good. I replied that it would happen sooner or later. He then said there was no reason why I should not visit the Hortobagy and any time I wanted to I should give him a ring a few days in advance and he was sure it could be arranged. He thought the summer would be the best time.

[Page 1452]

While this exchange of pleasantries was going on I took from my pocket two aides-mémoire (copies enclosed2), one dealing with the radio and one with the Crown. I then handed these to Berei and said that I had brought them along for his convenience as they stated exactly the position of my Government. He expressed his thanks. (I had prepared in advance a note bringing together and modifying, as directed by the Department’s telegram, my previous Notes Nos. 144 and 165 of May 26, 1950 and June 16, 1950, respectively, and aides-mémoire reiterating the other points of the June 16 agreement but there seemed no reason to deliver these in the absence of any request for a written statement.3

Nathaniel P. Davis
  1. Supra.
  2. The two aides-mémoire, both dated April 9, read as follows:

    “The Government of the United States, being concerned no less than the Hungarian Government with the problem of radio interference, has decided to terminate the relay of the Voice of America program through Munich and to transmit through another channel which will avoid such interference.”

    “The Government of the United States is not prepared to discuss the return of St. Stephen’s Crown as a condition to the release of Mr. Robert A. Vogeler. This property was not removed by force from Hungary but was surrendered to United States authorities for safe-keeping and is being held in trust by them. It is therefore outside the scope of restitution and continues to be treated as property of a special status. The Government of the United States does not regard the present juncture as opportune or otherwise appropriate for taking any action regarding its disposition.”

  3. Regarding notes of May 26 and June 16, 1950, see footnote 2, Document 723. Presumably the “note prepared in advance”, referred to by Davis, is textually the same as Legation note 139 to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Document 732.