Herbert Hoover Describes The Ordeal Of Woodrow Wilson


[ Mr. Hoover approached Fridtjof Nansen, the polar explorer. Nansen’s efforts foundered on Russian conditions and French opposition, but, in the meantime, pressure in Paris for an American attack on the Communists had eased. Now, presently, the situation in Hungary offered typical new problems .]

Béla Kun and Archie

We were faced with five revolutions in Hungary while trying to feed its people. We did not trouble President Wilson about the first one, which was the Hungarians’ declaration of an independent republic.

The second revolution, however, presented problems to the President and the Big Four. Béla Kun, a Hungarian, while a prisoner of war in Russia, had joined the Communists and had been especially indoctrinated for service in Hungary. He was sent to Budapest with a supply of gold to organize a revolution. His conspiracy succeeded and on March 22, 1919, he made himself dictator. He inaugurated a Red Terror, confiscated all property, and sadistically executed more than 2,000 persons without semblance of trial.

Because of these events the Big Four imposed a tight blockade on Hungary. Prior to the revolution my organization had set up our usual system for the rehabilitation of famine-debilitated children, the food supplies in this case being paid for by the Hungarian National Bank from its gold reserves. At the moment of Béla Kun’s seizure of power, we had a trainload of food en route for this purpose. The French officials in charge of the blockade refused to allow the train to pass, although we had arranged that the distribution to children would be continued under our organization.

Here again I had to appeal to the President for help. He arranged that Clemenceau give the proper orders—and we continued the feeding of the children.

On April 15 I transmitted to the President the following telegram from Captain T. T. C. Gregory, chief of our mission in Vienna: Trains of food recently held up by the French arrived yesterday Budapest. Created most favorable feeling for Americans as demonstrating their integrity in carrying out their engagements, more particularly among the anti-Bolshevik labor element in Budapest.

The problems of my organization with BeIa Kur. were however much wider than this. He controlled our railway connections to the surrounding states, and unless they were to starve, we had to secure some cooperation from him. Our staff proposed an agreement with him by which we would continue to operate our trains over Hungarian lines and, in turn, we would sell him food. [This was approved by the Big Four.]

I transmitted to the President, at his request, dayby-day accounts of BeIa Kun’s progress which I received from the well-informed Captain Gregory.

On August 1, after 100 days of government, BeIa Kun was overthrown by the trade-union leaders, who brought about a revolt in his army. Kun fled by plane; some of his assistants committed suicide. A government largely of trade-union leaders assumed power and the Republic was re-established. This was Hungary’s third revolution.

At this juncture the Rumanian Army began an invasion of Hungary “to right their wrongs,” and on August 5 occupied Budapest. They promptly began looting the city in good old medieval style, including the food in our canteens and the children’s hospitals.

Coincident with the occupation by the Rumanian Army, on August 5 another revolution took place with the help of the Rumanian Army. The Archduke Joseph, with eleven gendarmes and Rumanian machine guns directed at the government building, seized power and arrested the trade-union Ministry. A cry arose from all the liberated countries in Eastern Europe to Paris, “The Hapsburgs are coming back.”

Premier Clemenceau received a letter from the Archduke on August 8. In it he accused the trade-union Ministry of including some of Kun’s supporters, and stated his program to be “to crush Bolshevism.” He asked for a closer association with the Allied Governments. I was away on an inspection trip to Poland. Upon my return on August 19, I was again requested to attend a meeting of the Big Four.

The minutes of the meeting show that I gave the Council detailed information on the plundering by the Rumanian Army (including the testimony of two American eyewitnesses of their taking sixteen wagonloads of American food from the hospitals—as a result of which eleven children died).

Premier Clemenceau handed me the Archduke’s letter of August 8 and asked me how we should deal with him.

The minutes record the following: As to the Archduke’s usurpation, he [Hoover] would like to call attention to … a sidelight on the situation. The coup d’état by which the Archduke Joseph’s Government had been installed was not entirely a Hungarian affair, Rumanian troops had surrounded the meeting place of the Ministry and had turned their machine guns on the building in which they were sitting. This event had had an immediate repercussion throughout Poland and Eastern Europe and the Bolshevists were making much of it and claiming that the Alliance was trying to re-establish reactionary government in its worst form. This had done more to rehabilitate the Bolshevist cause than anything that had happened for a long time. … If things were allowed to continue as they were, the old … [regime] would be well established in ten days and the Allied and Associated Powers would have to be prepared to see the House of Hapsburg begin to re-establish itself throughout all its former dominions. He [Hoover] could only suggest that the Council should instruct its representatives in Budapest to call the Archduke before them and say that his Government could never be accepted or recognized. Such action might induce the Archduke to step aside and invite the social democrats to form a coalition government.