Prelude to the Cold War: WW2 in Budapest

One month after Hungary declared war on the United States in December, 1941, Minister Herbert Claiborne Pell and the rest of the diplomats of the U.S. Legation in Budapest left the country.

Pell did not fail to inform President Roosevelt that Hungary declared war under pressure from Nazi Germany, and that the majority of the population was in fact very sympathetic to the American and the British cause. Roosevelt, therefore, as a gesture or a sign of goodwill, took 6 months to acknowledge the Hungarian declaration of war. 

In the absence of the American diplomatic presence in Hungary, the Swiss Legation took upon itself to represent U.S. and other Allied interests in Budapest. The Swiss Consul, Carl Lutz (pictured) even moved in to the U.S. Legation building in Szabadság tér.

Carl Lutz in Budapest
Swiss Consul Carl Lutz, who also represented the interests of the U.S. and other Allied interests in Hungary during WW2. Photo: Fortepan / Carl Lutz

Lutz became famous for his reckless efforts to save Hungarian Jews from deportation and certain death by issuing Swiss safe-conduct documents by the thousands, risking his life and career by violating the legal procedures.

Carl Lutz was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, who also took quite a few photographs from inside the U.S. Legation building. He occupied the offices on the first floor.

Carl Lutz working in the U.S. Legation building. Photo: Fortepan / Carl Lutz

Lutz is credited with saving 62,000 Jews; and yes, his career did suffer from his “illegal” actions.

After the war, Herbert Claiborne Pell became a member of the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The first American diplomat to arrive to Hungary after the severing of diplomatic relations was Leslie Squire, arriving from Istanbul in December, 1944, as the advancing Soviet Red Army encircled Fortress Budapest.

He actually was an agent of a secret U.S. military intelligence organization under diplomatic cover.

He was followed by lieutenant general William S. Key on February 18, 1945, only days after Budapest fell. He became the U.S. representative of the Allied Control Commision.

If you are curious to learn more about the prelude to the Cold War in Hungary, do not miss our private walking tours. BOOK HERE until August 15, and you save 50% of the price.

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