7. Editorial Note
On June 16, Radio Moscow announced that former Hungarian Premier Imre Nagy, General Pal Maleter, and other Hungarian officials had been executed for their actions during the Hungarian rebellion of October–November 1956.
The next day, the Department of State issued a statement condemning the executions and asserting that “the Soviet Union and the Soviet-imposed regime in Hungary have once more violated every principle of decency and must stand in judgment before the conscience of mankind.” At his press conference that day, Secretary of State Dulles also strongly condemned the executions. For texts of the Department of State statement and the transcript of Dulles’ press conference, see Department of State Bulletin, July 7, 1958, pages 6–10.
At 4:15 p.m. on June 17, Secretary Dulles spoke on the telephone with Senator William F. Knowland about the executions. According to a memorandum of their conversation, the following exchange took place:
“The Sec returned the call and K said there was quite a considerable discussion and it was bipartisan in nature today on the Hungarian situation—he was wondering what steps we could take in the UN or otherwise to show some disapproval of this kind of situation. They agreed it is shocking. K said he does not see how they can do business with the Kadar regime. The Sec said we have not recognized it—K said they are sitting in at the UN. The Sec said he hit it pretty hard at press conf but that is not the same as doing something at the UN. We are not treating it in any casual way and are thinking of other things. K said the Sec might have someone in State look over the Record today.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, General Telephone Conversations)
The execution of Imre Nagy and Pal Maleter was the subject of discussion at the 104th meeting of the Operation Coordinating Board’s Special Committee on Soviet and Related Problems held at the Department of State at 3 p.m. on June 17. Members of the committee participating in the meeting were Barrett M. Reed and William S. Peterson of the U.S. Information Agency, a representative of the Central Intelligence Agency, Manning H. Williams of the Operations Coordinating Board’s Staff, and Henry P. Leverich, Director of the Department of State’s Office of Eastern European Affairs, who served as Acting Chairman. Williams’ memorandum of the discussion at the meeting reads as follows:
“Mr. Leverich said this announcement, coming at the same time as the publication in Moscow of Khrushchev’s letter to the President of June 11, was a slap in the face to the United States. The question now is, in what degree and how do we react? One way, of course, is through our information media, which would give the affair heavy and continued play. Another way would be through the UN.
“One proposal being considered by the State Department was the reconvening of the Special Committee on Hungary to produce an [Page 33] addendum to their report demanding details of the trial, etc., and automatically putting the Hungarian item on the General Assembly agenda for September. A special session of the UN is being considered, but it is not likely that the United States will call for one at this time. It was agreed that the Special Committee Report on Hungary was a tremendous reservoir of material available for immediate use.
“Mr. Leverich also outlined the following steps that were being taken:
- “a. Reference to the executions was being written into the draft replies to Khrushchev’s letter of June 11 and his letter on trade.
- “b. Belgrade was being asked to supply new material on Nagy’s arrest and execution from Yugoslav sources; it was expected that the Yugoslavs would now open up with new revelations.
- “c. A statement for the President to make at the opening of his press conference Wednesday was being drafted.
- “d. Ambassador Lodge had prepared a statement which had been cleared in the Department and would be coming out soon.
- “e. Suggestions from other agencies would be welcomed; also suggestions as to how EE or EUR could help other agencies.
“Mr. Cox remarked that Khrushchev’s remarks on East Europe in the June 11 letter left him wide open on the executions. Mr. Cox said the executions should be referred to as ‘Soviet murders,’ since there was no indication of even the semblance of a free trial. The label of barbaric Stalinism should be pinned on them.
“Mr. Cox said it was also interesting that the Communists had shifted from blaming ‘fascist Horthyites’ for the Hungarian uprising and now were admitting that revisionism and national communism were at the center of the trouble. They had made it a matter of Communists versus Communists. Now they were putting the blame on Nagy, the Yugoslavs, and Malenkov.
“Mr. Reed asked about the Secretary’s reference to this as another step in a reversion toward the brutal terrorist methods which prevailed under Stalin. He felt this should be kept in context, and that no major reappraisal of Moscow policy should be read into it. Mr. Leverich agreed.
“Mr. Reed also cautioned against seeming to use the executions as an excuse for a negative answer on trade. That was a question which should be handled on its own merits. Mr. Leverich felt that the executions could be referred to in the trade reply, but agreed that cautious handling was required in this instance.
“Mr. Cox suggested that for Asian audiences it would be useful to play up the fact that the Chinese Communists had taken the lead in attacking Nagy and more recently Tito. There was also convincing evidence that what the Yugoslavs have said recently about the Chinese being prepared to lose 300 million persons in a war because there would still be 300 million left was not something the Yugoslavs had dreamed up.
“Mr. McFadden pointed out that the Soviet violation of asylum was a very important issue in many parts of the world, especially Latin America. Mr. Stefan felt that Soviet double-dealing in arresting Maleter after inviting him to negotiate was worth stressing to all areas. Mr. Peterson [Page 34] suggested that the International Commission of Jurists make a statement on the lack of a fair trial for those executed.” (Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, USSR & Satellites—General—1953–58)
For text of President Eisenhower’s comments on June 18 regarding the executions, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958, page 480. For text of Khrushchev’s letter of June 11 to Eisenhower, see Department of State Bulletin, July 21, 1958, pages 96–101.