After 4 days of suffering after a stroke, on March 5, 1953, Joseph Stalin died. The news travelled quickly; in fact, the Soviet state media had already informed the public about his grave illness the day before. So Stalin, at age 74, was suddenly dead, this was possibly the biggest news of the Cold War. What would happen now?
The diplomats of the U.S. Legation (Embassy) in Budapest were energized by the news.
They started to look for every possible clue to find out how Stalin’s death might change the situation in Hungary. Less than 24 hours later, they gave one of their first quick analysis of their findings. It seemed to them that it was only the Communist leadership who was really mourning the deceased dictator.
“The illness and death of Stalin provoked expected protestations and deep sorrow among Hungarian Commie leaders and in the press. All public buildings today fly black flags while radio play funeral dirges”– Budapest Legation Counselor George Abbott wrote in his report, which landed on the desk of the leaders of the G-2 military intelligence in Washington and the commanders of the U.S. Army stationed in Germany and Austria. “From observations in Budapest there is no evidence of sorrow among the general public, which from appearance of food lines is far more interested in sustenance. Private sources indicate people desperately naively hope that Stalin’s death may cause changes in the government in Moscow which will bring about their ultimate liberation from Commie domination.”
The above-mentioned regular so-called Joint Weeka report, as always, not only contained brief assessment of the week political developments, but also the latest military news from the country. The U.S. Military Attaché in Budapest remarked that Stalin’s “demise” did not affect Soviet military activity in the city, and that “the check of most [military] installations in the immediate vicinity” of the Hungarian capital only showed “normal training activity”.
In the end, as it turned out, Stalin’s death did result in some easing of pressure a little bit on the oppresed people behind the Iron Curtain. Still, for many decades, the Eastern Bloc remained a pretty terrible place to live. If you come to my private tour, I will tell you more about the methods the U.S. diplomatic mission in Budapest could stay informed despite every effort of the Communist government.