23. Letter From Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty to President Eisenhower0

Dear Mr. President: On November 4, 1956, when an open breach of word and promise and an entrapment brought into our capital 15 enemy tank divisions with 6,000 tanks, and our Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense became prisoners during negotiations, I knocked on the door of the United States Legation in Budapest and asked for refuge, so as to cry out for help from here for an unhappy nation left with no intelligen-tsia, and with 25,000 freedom-fighting heroic dead, 75,000 deportees, 193,000 defectors, 100,000 prisoners and labor camp inmates, and 5,000 executed, and to hold in reserve the remains of my life after eight years of imprisonment and three days of freedom. For this I am gratefully thankful to you, Mr. President, knowing that my “sins” and my presence here have brought many difficulties to the Legation and to the United States.

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Since that time three years have gone by. In proportion to the passage of time, the American saying about the unmoving guest becomes more serious to me. I must notice that the atmosphere has changed completely with the clever peace, dialectical and panic dumping. As for me, I have become an out-of-fashion guest.

I did not intend that my company here should last a long time. For one thing, I had faith in outside help toward my country in proportion to the justice on its side. For another, there was good opportunity for solution on an individual basis. When, at the end of 1957 and early 1958, the case of my “partners in crime” was being considered,1 I asked that the following be transmitted to the regime: I would go in their place into the prisoner’s dock, but only after their release. This matter got snarled; you, Mr. President, do not know of this.

At the time of the election of the Pope,2 such a stipulation of principle was lacking; for this reason departure from Hungary was not consonant with my thoughts, although I was ready to obey the call from the Vatican.

Now what can be done?

When the candle of Central Europe and my country, which for three years has been growing fainter, has by this time burned to the stump, life is not a joy. Where a nation becomes an indifferent victim, there the evaluation of the lives of those that hold the candles is also different.

In the course of meditation I have thought of leaving a letter behind me and going out and giving myself to the AVO guards around the Legation. They would then torture me as they did before. This too will pass, but much harder than the outside sensation that can be expected to come in its wake. But I had to cast this idea aside: today I cannot serve a higher interest with it, as I could have in 1957 and 1958. And yet moral law forbids us to give up our lives without a higher interest.

Some sort of negotiation could be begun. But this certainly would have no results for either side, for the current softening and thaw did not come either for the good of my country or my course. There would also be a price: an oath to a regime which was not recognized by myself or my host until the end of 1957. (My only assets and consolation for the end of my life: it was my people and not the favor of power which freed [Page 104] me, and that for a decade and a half—for eleven years of it not free—I did not collaborate with blood, terror or falsehood.)

I now put my case in the hands of my host. Whether he deigns to decide to grant further refuge, or decides on some sort of change, my personal gratitude for the three years remains unchanged. The good deeds over the long period of time appear in the light and mirror of the loaf of bread and sip of drink in the Gospel.

Repeating my gratitude for the goodness and the refuge, I remain, Mr. President,

Most respectfully yours,

Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty3
Prince-Primate of Hungary
and Archbishop of Esztergom
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 864.413/12–959. No classification marking. Transmitted to the Department of State under cover of a brief letter from Ackerson to Kohler, November 13. The letter was translated by Leo Topolsky of the Legation staff in Budapest.
  2. Presumably a reference to the arrest in December 1957 of Monisgnor Egon Turcsanyi, Cardinal Mindszenty’s secretary during the 1956 revolt, and the sentencing to death on December 10, 1957, of Major Antal Palinkis-Pallavicini, one of the military leaders who helped free the Cardinal during the revolt.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 13.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.