163. Editorial Note

According to Beam (Multiple Exposure, pages 71–72), Hoover called him around 2 a.m. on November 4 (8 a.m. in Budapest) to say that “he had received a clandestine message” that Cardinal Mindszenty and his secretary (Egon Turchányi) were about to seek asylum at the American Legation. When asked for his advice, Beam replied that while the United States opposed asylum in principle, nevertheless it was justified in this case since “it involved hot pursuit endangering human life.” Beam later learned that Hoover checked with the President before the Hungarians were admitted.

In a memorandum to Leverich on this subject, dated November 5, 1957, Sutterlin wrote:

Tom Wailes recalls that a coded message was received by the Legation about 6 a.m. on November the 4th and that it was decoded just before the Cardinal appeared at the door. It is his impression that this message authorized the extension of refuge or asylum to the Cardinal. He remembers that he was somewhat surprised that Washington should have had prior knowledge of the Cardinal’s intention to seek safety in the Legation . . . .” (Department of State, Hungary Desk Files: Lot 75 D 45, Refuge for Cardinal Mindszenty—1956–57 )

In an unsigned and undated memorandum bearing the handwritten notation “Nov. 1956,” Meeker recollected a message that reads: “Dept has just received info . . . that Cardinal Mindszenty will shortly come to the American Legation. You are authorized to admit him.” In another version, the message said “that Cardinal Mindszenty [Page 387] wishes seek asylum with Legation. Approval granted.” The message was thought to have come over regular channels and both parties remembered that it bore the Secretary’s name. (Ibid., Budapest Post Files: Lot 75 F 163, Mindszenty 1956–57)

Mindszenty writes otherwise in his Memoirs, page 212. He relates that when Parliament was sealed off by Soviet troops, he took sanctuary in the American Legation because it was the nearest. He notes that 30 minutes or so after his arrival, cabled permission for him to enter was received from President Eisenhower and that 4 hours later Turchányi was admitted. He does mention subsequent foreign press reports to the effect that Nagy had requested United States asylum on his behalf the day before. In any event, he recalls that he was surprised by the speed with which his case was handled.

On November 8, Beam sent a memorandum to Murphy on the subject of asylum for the Cardinal. He noted that the United States in the past had “strongly disapproved of the principle of diplomatic asylum,” but had been willing to afford temporary refuge in order to save human life. Section 225.2 of the Foreign Service Regulations (“Restrictions on Extending Asylum”), was cited. It reads:

“As a rule, a diplomatic or consular officer shall not extend asylum to persons outside of his official or personal household. Refuge may be afforded to uninvited fugitives whose lives are in imminent danger from mob violence but only for the period during which active danger continues. Refuge shall be refused to persons fleeing from legitimate agents of the local government. In case such persons have been admitted to the diplomatic or consular premises, they must be surrendered or dismissed from such mission or consular office.”

Since the Cardinal’s life had been in jeopardy as he was in flight from a foreign invader, the provision of sanctuary was considered justified. (Ibid., Hungary Desk Files: Lot 75 D 45, Refuge for Cardinal Mindszenty—1956–57)

Turchányi was later apprehended by the AVH on November 10 while attempting to flee Hungary in the company of Leslie Bain who recorded this development in Reluctant Satellites, page 172. Turchányi was thereafter sentenced to life imprisonment. The subject of how the Cardinal came to the Legation is also dealt with in despatch 415 from Budapest, March 8, 1957. (Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/3–857)