To the Editor:
In his otherwise very good article “Budapest Under Fire” (January) Mr. Peter Schmid seems to have given credence to a rumor which has been accepted as a “fact” by many other responsible men. It should be corrected, since otherwise it will become an automatically registered notion by future historians. “Anti-Communists themselves,” Mr. Schmid writes, “acknowledged that Cardinal Mindszenty’s speech with its reactionary echoes was a catastrophe.”
I am a Catholic, born in Hungary. During the nerve-racking days of the Hungarian revolution I, too, feared that the revolutionary fervor might go “too far”; I, too, feared what that impulsive, rigid, uncompromising Primate would say after seven years of misery and prison. It was not until well after the collapse of the revolution that I read Cardinal Mindszenty’s radio address in full. I was immensely relieved. It was neither reactionary nor a catastrophe: it was a speech of high statesmanship, a term which I use not in its now so often inflated sense; I am writing as a diplomatic historian. Mindszenty asked for forgiveness; he castigated the tendency of forming new political groups and parties; he had good, indeed, noble words for the Soviet Union and the Russian people.
These impressions of mine have been further confirmed by some refugees with whom 1 talked in Camp Kilmer; two of them complained that the Cardinal’s speech was “too generous.” One coupled “too generous” with “old-fashioned.” I hope that in this age of social democracy, “too generous” and “old-fashioned” are not identical with “reactionary” and “catastrophic”—at least not yet.
Perhaps because of the 20th-century habit of trying to fit everything into preconceived categories, there is now a widely spreading myth about the “liberal” approach of Cardinal Wyszynski as against the “reactionary” one of Mindszenty. In reality, there is no such evidence from the radio broadcast in question. Its text is available in many radio-monitoring editions, surely including Radio Free Europe. It would be a commendable service to contemporary history if a translation were to be printed in a reputable American journal.
J. A. Lukacs