August 23, 2016

Radio Free Europe and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Reporting from behind the Iron Curtain: The Fred (Fritz) Hier Story

One of the lesser known stories of the Cold War is that Radio Free Europe sent reporters and technicians behind the Iron Curtain during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution – and some staffers crossed over into Hungary. The story of how they returned from Hungary is both dramatic and interesting, as we will read below.

The Director of RFE’s Munich operations, Richard Condon traveled in October 1956 to Vienna to oversee the RFE activities. Condon later reported to RFE’s headquarters in Munich:

When the rebellion began in Hungary we deployed most of the Austrian bureau staffs augmented by staff from Munich and other bureaus along the border. The staff had strict instructions not to attempt to enter Hungary, although correspondents from other news agencies were going in and although our staff reported that at some border crossing points there would be no problem of entry. Some had been invited into the country by Hungarians.

On Oct 31 the situation was that almost all border points were completely free. Austrian officials were allowing anyone in possession of a passport or travel document plus accreditation from a news gathering agency to leave Austria and return to Austria with no difficulties.

With the border situation as it was, and all indications at the time pointing to even freer one, I decided after consultation with staff here to allow staff enter Hungary to gather programming news and audience analysis material. All were told that no one was to make a break for Budapest, as several had requested, and that they were to operate only in clear territory.

At least 14 RFE staffers entered Hungary. One wasWilliam (Bill) Raedamaekers, who was the only Radio Free Europe American manager in Munich with Hungarian language abilities. He described his experiences to me, after he crossed over into Hungary:

I went into Hungary in 1956 with a car, driver and tape recorder to tape comments from the leaders of the revolutionary committees that had replaced the communists ion towns like Sopron, Gyor, etc. The electrical current in Sopron was 110 volts and my tape recorder---we didn’t have batteries---was 220, so they found this massive transformer, and we stuck on the hood of the car, while i interviewed the young leaders. I did bring tapes of my interviews back to RFE, but I doubt they were ever aired. The soviet invasion of November 4th made them more historic than current. Still, I asked the American programmer Ted Bell months later what happened to my interviews. He said they were wiped.

Condon sent a report back to Munich on November 5, 1956,

As of today all RFE staff who had been covering border situation and who had at various times been inside Hungary are back in Austria with the exception of:

Frederick L. Hier, U.S. citizen, chief of Salzburg bureau; Gabor Tormay, Austrian citizen and Hungarian reporter Vienna office; and Jerzy Ponikieswki, holder of U.S. Reentry Permit and presumably British travel document, Polish Stringer.

These three returned to Gyor Friday Nov 2 and in company of ten others, including Peter Wiles of Manchester Guardian, Swiss reporter, three or four German reporters and three or four British relief workers, could not return Austria that day when Soviets began establishing check points.

Who was Frederick L. Hier?

Frederick (Fritz) Lorenz Hier, then 34 years old, graduate of Dartmouth College (Class ’44), was born on March 24, 1922. His father was Frederick Hier and his mother Carol Lorenz. He worked as a correspondent in RFE’s Salzburg news bureau, starting in 1951.

His diary of his fourteen days in Hungary was published in his local newspaper The Daily Bulletin, Endicot, New York, on November 27, 1956: “The Rape of Hungary Described in Heir’s Diary.” Here are some verbatim excerpts from his diary:

Saturday, Oct. 27: – Arrived on the Austrian side of the border of Nickelsdorf at 4 p.m [...]Got chummy with Austrian guards who let us go two kilometers over to the Hungarian control house. Where “Freedom Fighters” in full control. Having thrown out Communist guards; torn down all flags and other Red signs; and ripped the stars and Hungarian army insignia from their uniforms.

Tuesday, Oct. 30: Plea to Munich to be allowed to go into Hungary.

Wednesday, Oct. 31: – Approval. Teams made up [...] Buy 12 cartons of cigarettes, 400 chocolate bars, American flags, maps, flashlight, etc., and take off at 3:30 p.m. Into Gyor hotel, “Red Star”after dark.

Sunday, Nov. 4: – Awakened at 5.45 by tanks and scores of other equipment including anti-aircraft guns. Town occupied by 7:00. Twenty to 30 tanks stationed throughout the city, two of them in front of the Rathaus right opposite our hotel. Plus anti-aircraft cannon pointed right at our window [,,,]Decided to try to drive out [...] But only got to Moson Magyarovar when stopped by Russian tank roadblock. Turned by to Gyor Hotel that night again, with population disturbed at our being refused exit is very upsetting to them.

Monday, Nov. 5:.Decision to appeal directly to Russians for escort over border [...] Gabor and I to Russians, where we spent two or more hours. Colonel with scar not very happy about us, a Major who spoke German the translator. Asked for my passport and press credentials. Some discussion of Radio Free Europe, but when asked why we broadcast to East I answered probably for the same reason Radio Moscow broadcast to West [...] Ended in fairly cordial atmosphere, we were told to return to hotel and wait. Forbidden to leave, “but you are living in comfort, do what you want inside, find yourself some girls and make babies if you wish.”

Thursday, Nov. 8: -- City slowly returning to normal except no one working.

Friday, Nov. 9: -- By 11:00 seven other newsmen from Budapest join us in hotel. Their cars and all equipment confiscated by Russians at Gyor roadblock. They very upset and scorn us pretty much because of my RFE affiliation, afraid that might get them into deeper trouble.

Saturday, Nov. 10: – At 9:15 p.m. English speaking Russian Major comes to hotel and asks “American to come to Kommandantura HQ.” [...] General reaches into pocket and pulls out black book and asks which of us is Frederick Hier. I so signify. [...] Asks me to sign statement that we were not harmed [...]We agree on statement which something as follows. “We the undersigned (General, Colonel, and Major) agree that Frederick L. Hier has not been held under arrest but merely detained in Gyor under comfortable circumstances in a hotel and due to existing conditions in the area at the time. I F.L. Hier have no formal complaint to make against Russian Military Unit. I sign this statement of my own free will and without external pressure.” There is some slight discussion about RFE again [...]I leave at 11:00 p.m. in a cordial atmosphere and with deep apologies from the General for the inconveniences caused me and my colleagues.
Sunday, Nov. 11: -- At 4:00 p.m. same Russian Major shows up and says we should report, fully packed to Kommandatura where we will get out papers (“Prospuskas”( for departure from Hungary {...] All goes well. Take off for Vienna via Sopron. One tank roadblack just outside of town and a second one outside of Sopron. Had to report to Sopron Kommandatura also, where went through paper formalities again. Told by Russian Major that he’s read our papers and listen to our radio, “Tomorrow to see how you report on what happened in Hungary.”

After a brief encounter with Hungarian border guards, Hier and the others crossed over in Austrian and were in Vienna an hour later. Hier concludes his diary with, “There seems to be no doubt that the fact the General had my name because of the protests lodged by RFE and Joan (his wife) through her many contacts. The case got to Eisenhower, was transmitted to Ambassador Bohlen in Moscow and then undoubtedly back to Russian Embassy in Budapest. Our supposition is that the Russians, over-sensitive in these times to western opinion, did want to make an issue of us – or me, to be more specific.”

Hier published a series of three articles about Hungary in the local newspaper Patent Trader, Mr. Kisco, New York, in December. His article of December 20, 1956, entitled “Soviets can’t crush Hungarian Spirit,” began with:

Vienna – I have just returned from two weeks in Hungary where I saw a nation of eight million rise up, almost to a man, in a cry for freedom.  The cry was stifled and the people beaten down by the force of the Russian army. And yet, when I left, the country was still fighting and the people defiant. Back in Vienna and the glitter of lights away from the clanking of Soviet tanks, one’s only thought can be: “My God, world, help these brave people.” I make no apology for having gone into Hungary as a news correspondent and having come out a missionary.

Frederick Hier left Radio Free Europe and became the European Director of international Rescue Committee (IRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. He would later become active in Dartmouth College activities and was at one time the Director of Dartmouth Horizons program.  Frederick (Fritz) Lorenz Hier died in Cornish, New Hampshire, on August 18, 1999, at age 77.

August 09, 2016

Radio Free Europe and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Green Candles

In the three previous posts, we looked at the Free Europe Press balloon/leaflet program “Operation Focus,” and the background and some of the continuing “myths” of Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts. Below we will look at how the 1956 Hungarian Revolution impacted the Crusade for Freedom’s fund raising efforts in the United States in behalf of Radio Free Europe.

Green Candles

Drew Pearson was famed newspaper journalist and Radio Free Europe supporter who was present at the first balloon launching “Winds of Freedom” in August 1951. His nationally syndicated column, “Washington Merry-go-round,” on November 8, 1956, was entitled “Candles in the Windows.” Pearson wrote about a meeting he once had with a Hungarian émigré named Dr. Bela Fabian, who told him,             

The Hungarian people will revolt. Hungary will be the first country to challenge its Soviet Masters.

Green is the color of the peasants’ party. It has become the symbol of freedom, the symbol of protest, or revolt. All over Hungary you will see green candles in the windows. The Soviets can’t stop them.
You will also see the green paint on the walls—slaps of green paint.  It’s a symbol. Your Crusade for Freedom has helped this. Your balloons have helped. They have carried messages, which keep the spirit of freedom alive. They have spread green all over Hungary … the Hungarian people are stirring. They will rise up when the time comes, and then they will look to you for help.

You win nothing in life without risking something, he told me. If you take no risks for friends you keep no friends. If you take no risks for freedom you lose your freedom.

Barnard College and Green Candles

Perhaps based on the Pearson article, Sophomore (second year) students at Barnard College, New York City, sold greeting cards and green candles from December 2, 1956 to December 19, 1956. The green candle was the symbol of  “hope that Hungary and other oppressed nations may become free.” The students asked that each dormitory window on the campus burn a green candle on December 19th. That night the two co-chairman of the drive Jackie Zelniker and Brenda Trishman, as well as Betsy Wolf, president of the sophomore class were photographed lighting a candle. By the time the fund drive ended, $300 had been raised. The money was divided between the International Rescue Committee and the World University Service.

Flight #367 from Budapest

The NBC television network series “Armstrong Circle Theater” aired a drama on November 13, 1956, that was “an actual drama of how a small group of Hungarians escaped to West Germany.” The television show was “Based on research material supplied by the Crusade for Freedom in support of Radio Free Europe and Free Europe Press.”  The host of the program was newsman John Cameron Swayze and one of those who appeared in the program, presumably as a commercial for the Crusade for Freedom, was Monsignor Bela Varga, who was part the first RFE Hungarian language broadcast in 1951.

Crusade for Freedom Newsletter
The December 1956 Crusade for Freedom Newsletter sent out to supporters focused on the events in Hungary. There were photographs and first person accounts of the events in Hungary. The newsletter editorial was “RFE must continue to bridge the Iron Curtain” and began with,

The Soviet Empire is in upheaval.  Long years of oppression and brutality are reaping their harvest...The smiling faces of the Russian overlords have been ripped from their faces...One of the major instruments keeping the truth alive behind the Iron Curtain through these dark years was Radio Free Europe, supported by the American people through the Crusade for Freedom. And today, more than ever before, Radio Free Europe is needed by the people behind the Iron Curtain.

In a press release, published in full in the December newsletter, Joseph C. Grew, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Free Europe Committee, denied in details that Radio Free Europe incited the Hungarian Revolution:

Since the uprising in Hungary, the Soviet press has falsely accused Radio Free Europe of inciting the rebellion … Radio Free Europe and Free Europe Press have performed the functions of a free press for the people behind the Iron Curtain.  It is vital that they continue this work until freedom is regained. It has never been the policy or practice of Radio Free Europe to incite rebellion; instead it has been the policy to keep the hope of ultimate freedom alive and to encourage the captive peoples to seek expanding freedom by peaceful means.

President Eisenhower's Morale Boost

On January 8, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a letter to Crusade Chairman Holman that demonstrated his continuing interest in and support of the Crusade campaigns:

Since the Crusade for Freedom began six years ago, I have wholeheartedly endorsed its concept and its activities. More than ever before, contributing to the Crusade is an effective way for every American 
to reassert his belief in the indivisibility of human freedom, and in the right of peoples, wherever they 
may live, to have governments of their own choosing.

Events of the past several months are dramatic evidence of the profound depths of the spirit of freedom, which motivates the peoples of captive Europe. Soviet military intervention and repression in Hungary, designed to crush the spirit of freedom so bravely shown by the Hungarian people, makes it more vital than ever 
that Radio Free Europe continue to provide all the subjugated peoples with unbiased truth about events in their own lands and in the Free World. These peoples must remain assured that their courageous demonstration of 
mankind’s everlasting love of freedom is not passing unnoticed.

Arthur Page as president of the Crusade for Freedom sent out a letter to Crusade leaders on January 15, 1957, quoting from the Eisenhower letter and adding,        

We of the Crusade more than ever must rise to the increased responsibilities, which 1957 is placing on us. We know now – because of the way in which the American people responded to the Hungarian situation – that Americans will expect much of the Crusade. We must more than fulfill their expectations.

The events of Hungary in October and November 1956 played an important role in the local campaigns: in the materials given to the 1957 Crusade participants there was a letter from RFE’s President General Willis D. Crittenberger: “You may be assured that no broadcast by Radio Free Europe has been designed to incite to rebellion the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain. Nor has Radio Free Europe ever offered promises of American military intervention.“ 

The Free Europe Press subsequently published the following.

  • A 112-page illustrated book covering all the important events of the Hungarian Revolt—described as a “stirring and factual account of the heroic struggle.”
  • Thrice-weekly newspaper “Magyar Hilap” for Hungarian Refugees at Camp Kilmer, New York.
  • A 48-page handbook for refugees relocating to the U.S. with a dictionary and orientation course on the U.S.

August 06, 2016

Radio Free Europe and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Positional Incitement

Myths and Allegations

The new installed Communist government needed a bogeyman to blame for the Revolution, rather than publicly admit to any shortcomings of the political system. Radio Free Europe as a recognized symbol in Hungary was the ideal selection. The post-Revolution Hungarian government issued a “White Paper” on the events of the Revolution and directly blamed Radio Free Europe as one of the agitators guilty for not only inciting the revolution but also in allowing to it continue longer that necessary -- a charge that continue to have believers today. The Hungarian White Paper included the following charges:

The subversive broadcasts of Radio Free Europe-backed by dollars, directed from America, and functioning on the territory of West Germany- played an essential role in

·      the ideological preparation and practical direction of the counter-revolution,
·      provoking the  armed struggle,
·      the non-observance of the cease fire, and
·      arousing the mass hysteria, which led to the lynching of innocent men and women loyal to their people and their country.

Both the United Nations and West German governments investigated these and other allegations against Radio Free Europe and concluded differently. The West German government finding as announced at a January 1957 press conference of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer:

This investigation has shown that the assertions which appeared in the press, that Radio Free Europe promised the Hungarians assistance by the West-armed assistance by the West-are not consistent with the facts. However, remarks were also made which were liable to cause misinterpretations. But a discussion, an exchange of views, took place, which also resulted in personnel changes and I believe that the matter can be considered settled for the time being.

The United Nations report concluded:

It would appear that certain broadcasts by Radio Free Europe helped to create an impression that support might be forth coming for the Hungarians. The Committee feels that in such circumstances the greatest restraint and circumspection are called for in international broadcasting.

Radio Free Europe's Transmission Belt with Hungarian Freedom Fighters

One area that led to the allegations that Radio Free Europe (RFE) was inciting Hungarian freedom fighters was in the re-transmitting of information and appeals, sometimes without comments, from the various independent radio stations broadcasting in medium and short wave that sprang up in Hungary after October 23, 1956 and lasted to November 9, 1956.

RFE had one of the world’s largest radio monitoring stations in Schleissheim, outside Munich. It was here that the freedom fighters’ radio stations were heard, recorded, and sent to the headquarters building in Munch. However the freedom fighter’s radio stations in Hungary did not have a fixed time or frequency on which to broadcast. RFE sent engineers to the Austrian-Hungarian border to search for the transmissions and sent their results to Munich and to Vienna. 

There were at least 14 and possibly as many as 50 local freedom stations on the air. The chief ones were Free Radio Gyor, Miskolc, Pees, Debrecen, Dunapentele, Free Radio Rakoczi (Kaposvar), Szombathely, Nyiregyhaza, Radio Damjanich (Szolnok), Free Radio Eger, Free Radio Szechenyi (Szeged), Radio Vorosmarty (Szekesfehervar) and the Radio of the Workers' Council of the County of Szabolcs-Szatmar.

RFE set up a special radio monitoring unit in Vienna to augment the monitoing in Schleissheim. In this way many, if not most, of the small radio station appeals were recorded and re-broadcast by RFE, not in the original voices, mostly due to poor quality, but with RFE staffers. Every evening at 5 p.m., the directional antenna at Holzkirchen (outside Munich,) used to broadcast to Czechoslovakia on medium wave, was turned to broadcast to Hungary.

Cord Meyer, former CIA staffer responsible for Radio Free Europe, and other projects, has written:

As local revolutionary councils to announce their demands seized the low-powered provincial radio stations, the sensitive monitoring equipment of RFE in West Germany was able to pick up these weak signals and get translations promptly back to the Washington analysts and policymakers. 

Since these local radio stations, fourteen in all, could be heard only in their immediate provincial areas, they soon began making direct requests to RFE to replay their revolutionary demands on its powerful transmitters so that the whole country could be informed of the speed and depth of the revolt. 

RFE was given authority to rebroadcast local programs when specifically requested as a communication service, but with attribution to the local station making the request and with identification of the program as a verbatim repeat of the original broadcast. To the extent that RFE then served as a transmission belt for communications between provincial revolutionary councils it played a significant role in spreading throughout Hungary the news of what was happening not only in Budapest but also in the outlying towns. In so doing, the radio did not act irresponsibly but as the disciplined instrument of a conscious policy decision by the Eisenhower administration. 

This rebroadcasting by RFE did serve to identify the radio with the fundamental goals of the revolution, and in the wisdom of hindsight RFE was later blamed for what was in fact a high-level policy decision of the administration. 

Cord Meyer wrote a memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence (CIA) in 1962 that summarizes RFE’s activities in 1956, part of which reads:

It should be pointed out that other Western radios including Radio Madrid and the NTS Russian exile organization in West Germany did broadcast offers of assistance to the Hungarian patriots from a number of exile military and other personnel.  These broadcasts may well have been confused with RFE’s programs. There are also reports that a Communist station in East Germany used RFE’s call letters and broadcast misleading promises of military assistance from the West in order to confuse radio listeners in Hungary.

Interestingly, some Hungarian local radio stations also broadcast in Morse code. Here is one example, on November 4, 1956, was this message sent from an unidentified radio station: 

Special appeal to Radio Free Europe. Early this morning Soviet troops launched a general attack on Hungary. We are requesting you to send immediate military aid in the form of parachute troops over the Trans-Danubian provinces. S.O.S. Save our Souls.

Reportedly, the last heard broadcast was on November 9, 10:15 p.m., from an unidentified station: "Send news in general and in detail. We look forward to news. Say something."

Famed author James Michener included a quotation from a 1956 refugee in his book The Bridge at Andau, that I believe, succinctly captures the reaction of those who listed to the live broadcasts of Radio Free Europe: 

No Hungarian is angry at Radio Free Europe. We wanted to keep our hopes alive. Probably we believed too deeply what was not intended by the broadcasters to be taken seriously. The wrong was not with Radio Free  Europe. It was partly our fault for trusting in the words. It was partly  America’s fault for thinking that words can be used loosely. Word like ‘freedom,’ ‘struggle for national honor,’ ‘rollback’ and ‘liberation’ have meanings. They stand for something. Believe me when I say that you cannot tell Hungarians or Bulgarians or Poles every day for six years to love liberty and then sit back philosophically and say, ‘But the Hungarians and Bulgarians and Poles mustn’t do anything about liberty. They must remember that we’re only using words.’ Such words, to a man in chains, are not merely words. They are weapons whereby he can break his chains.

Positional Incitement

Former Director of Radio Free Europe, George Urban, wrote in his memoirs:

The Radio was young and inexperienced. After barely five years of broadcasting, its, management was still testing the instruments and boundary lines of the Cold War and was simply not up to the task of responding with clarity or finesse to its first great challenge. Hungary, its baptism by fire cost it dear.

There can be no escaping the truth that in the psychological climate of what must be considered wartime conditions everything the free world said in it‘s broadcasts was liable to incite or, at least raise the hopes on a very large scale. ... a “positional“ kind of incitement was inevitable. Surrogate broadcasting from Munich...a form of encouragement simply because they and the sentiments they reflected, existed … Incredibly, the risk of being misinterpreted in a revolutionary environment had not been foreseen. 

For more information:

For more information about the role of Radio Free Europe and examples of what the freedom stations were transmitting, see Allan A. Michie, Voices through the Iron Curtain: The Radio Free Europe Story.

In the 1950s, Cord Meyer was the CIA Chief of the International Organization Division, which had administrative oversight of Radio Free Europe, among other organizations. In his memoir Facing Reality: From World Federation to the CIA (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), there is a full chapter on RFE and detailed information on his and the CIA’s role in Hungary.

A. Ross Johnson, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond, Woodrow Wilson Press, Co-publisher: Stanford University Press, 2010. The book has what is probably the definitive analysis of RFE’s role in Hungary in 1956, Chapter 3, “Two Octobers in 1956,”  pp. 79-130, with full documentation from National Security Council, CIA, German, and RFE archives. 

For a scholar’s view of the CIA’s intelligence failure, see the excellent book by Charles Gati, Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. (Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2006). 

George R. Urban, Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy: My War within the Cold War. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997). This book contains a detailed chapter review of the Hungarian Revolution, based on his access to the full set of recorded RFE programs in the German archives. His book The Nineteen Days: A Broadcasters Account of the Hungarian Revolution (London: Heinemann, 1957) is an insightful and contemporaneous review of Hungary 1956 and the role radio broadcasting.

Next: The impact of the Hungarian Revolution on the Crusade for Freedom in the U.S.

August 05, 2016

Radio Free Europe and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Broadcasting Myths

One of the ever-lasting controversies, or myths, that has remained alive for over half a century is the role of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and its broadcasts leading up to and during the “Revolution.” For example, Tim Wiener a Pulitzer-prize New York journalist wrote a highly critical book on the CIA that was published in June 2007. This book prompted an angry press release by the CIA, which, in part, reads, “Paints far too dark a picture of the agency’s past. Backed by selective citations, sweeping assertions, and a fascination with the negative, Weiner overlooks, minimizes, or distorts agency achievements.”

Included in the book’s errors listed by the CIA is the following: “The book alleges that the CIA used Radio Free Europe to spark the 1956 Hungarian uprising. But Weiner’s main source for this idea is a Radio Free Europe memo that was written after the uprising.“

Below we will look at the background of Radio Free Europe broadcasts to Hungary that led up to the 1956 Revolution and were some of the factors that resulted in the myths of RFE's broadcasts. 

RFE Shortwave Broadcasts to Hungary

By the end of 1948, the Hungarian authorities had stopped production, import and sale of radio sets reportedly capable of receiving Western “hostile” broadcasts. They only allowed the production of so-called “people’s radios” that were suitable for receiving approved broadcasts. By the mid-1950s, there were approximately half-a-million households in Hungary in which the only broadcasts to be heard were those transmitted through a central received set up by the local Communist Party headquarters of the local government office. It has been estimated, however, that even with these restrictions there were approximately one-and-a-half million privately owned radio sets suitable for receiving Western broadcasts, transmitted mostly on short waves.

The first Radio Free Europe program to Hungary took place on August 4, 1951 when Monsignor Bela Varga, former President of the Hungarian National Parliament told the listeners, “To attempt no futile uprisings at this time. Pending the day of liberation, which will permit them to use their strength effectively, … the free world knows and feels that their own battle is their battle. It is no longer in different or neutral. It is wholeheartedly allied to us in this great crusade, which is being waged for world freedom.“

In March 1956, the American Legation in Budapest sent a monitoring report about Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts to the U.S. State Department, part of which read:

There is a feeling among some Hungarians (especially the more intelligent) that RFE has promised a "pie in the sky" and now there is no one to deliver ... The popularity of RFE among Hungarians is considerable ... RFE, very likely more than VOA, symbolizes to the Hungarian people the active interest of the United States Government in Hungary and Hungarians. The danger is that the symbol is a static one in that RFE still seems to symbolize to Hungarians future Western liberations of their country. RFE in order to survive must face up to the problems of transforming itself into a symbol not of future Western liberation but of Western concern that Hungarians stubbornly wrest concession after concession from their government.

Psychological Warfare Prior to October 1956, Radio Free Europe’s “Desk X”

Famed espionage/intelligence writer Ladislas Farago was employed as a “consultant” to the RFE Hungarian Desk from October 1, 1950 to January 31, 1952.  He used the name John L. Carver, as RFE did not want his connection known to the outside.  He worked out of two hotel rooms not at the Radio Free Europe office. Thus the name Desk X was used in reference to him. He was let go perhaps was allowed to get out of his contract due to the fact that New York could not control "his penchant for cloak and daggerism," and "his activities were not in FE/RFE's interests."  He was paid 700 dollars a month for his consultancy.

In May 1951, RFE wanted to drop his services; one manager wrote a memorandum, wherein he stated, “Desk X is responsible for the production of the following series of scripts: Colonel Bell (the fictional military advisor to resistance groups not only in Hungary but was apparently was broadcast to other countries), From Official Soviet Sources, The Hungarian Council of Self Defense, and BODA BALINT.”

Interestingly, the writer added, “These scripts mark the output of most of our desks and account also most exclusively for whatever effectiveness the Hungarian Desk has---Desk X, which, for all practical purposes, is the Hungarian program.”

Balint Boda

Here are some details to better understand the importance of the name Balint Boda in the years leading up to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution:

In RFE broadcasts Balint Boda is represented as a man who makes frequent secret trips through Hungary, returning after each trip to tell the Hungarians what he has found out. His audience appeal rests on his daring defiance of the Communists (Many Hungarians actually believe that  he makes journeys through their country), The uncanny accuracy of his information about the Communists (particularly Communist informers) and the fiery language with which he attacks the people who have betrayed his country. *

Colonel Bell

Ladisalv Farago has been credited with creating a fictitious figure named “Colonel Bell, “ the other important fictional character who would later surface in the days of the Hungarian Revolution.  Colonel Bell was supposedly an ex-military officer and RFE did broadcast some programs on military themes for years before the Hungarian Revolution, not only by “The Voice Free Hungary” but also by other RFE broadcast units:

One representative script apparently used for broadcasting by Desk X, Carver, under the name Colonel Bell is one dated 6 September 1951 was “Colonel Bell’s Military Analysis 42: ‘The Plan in Secret Warfare’:” (excerpt as written in the radio script)

This is Radio Free Europe, the Voice of Free ______. Today Colonel Bell continues his review of secret warfare with a Discussion of The Plan and its significance in preparation for an effective resistance movement…Colonel Bell’s report will be read by a staff member of the _______ Desk of Radio Free Europe.

This fictional character was to re-surface in the critical days of October 1956 when two programs broadcast on 27 and 28 October were clear violations of Radio Free Europe’s Broadcasting Policy and led to the general accusation of RFE’s wrongdoings. Here are extracts from a December 1956 RFE review  "Policy Review of Voice of Free Hungary Programming, October 23-November 23, 1956":

Program No 1_

Borsanyi's (Colonel Bell)“Armed Forces Special” #A1 of 27 October violations the letter and spirit of policy in effect at the time. The program gives detailed instructions as to how partisan and Hungarian armed forces should fight. It advises local authorities to secure stores of arms for the use of Freedom Fighters and tell the population to hide Freedom Fighters who become separated from their units. It advises the population to provide food and supplies for Freedom Fighters.

The writer tells Hungarians to sabotage (“disconnect”) railroad and telephone lines. It fairly clearly implies that foreign aid will be forthcoming if the resistance forces succeed in establishing a “central military command.” The program is cast entirely in the form of advice from the outside; there is no reference to information coming from within the country. 

The program concludes with some rather complex formulations that could be interpreted by listeners as implying help from the outside.

Unfortunately at the RFE morning policy meeting on the date this program was aired, this programs were misleadingly summarized as, “Laws and experience of  partisan war. Without inciting the participants of civil war, we tell them what are the experiences and techniques of partisan warfare, citing Russian, Yugoslav, etc., experiences. First rule, e.g., is that groups, which are fighting dispersed, should establish contact with one another and establish a political center."

Program No. 2

Borsanyi's "Armed Forces Special” #B1 of 28 October gives detailed instructions to Hungarian soldiers on the conduct of partisan warfare. The author states at the beginning of the program that Hungarians must continue to fight vigorously because this will have a great effect on the handling of the Hungarian question by the Security Council of the UN. Without saying so directly, he implies that the UN will give active support to Hungarians if they keep on fighting.

The program is over-optimistic in tone. The opening announcement states: “Colonel Bell will tell Hungarian soldiers how ingenious and smart leadership can counterbalance numerical and arms superiority”. The conclusion states: “Colonel Bell has told Hungarian soldiers how to obstruct large forces by small ones and by simple means”. In the light of subsequent events the program grossly underestimates the ability of the Soviets to move new troops into Hungary.

Here at its worst is the émigré on the outside, without responsibility or authority, giving detailed advice to the people fighting at home.

William Griffith, RFE Political Advisor, who wrote the memorandum, concluded, after a review of 308 programs: "In general, we have found that the VFH did not measure up to our expectations during the first two weeks of the Hungarian Revolution. Although there were few genuine violations of policy and those did not occur in major political commentaries, the application of policy lines was more often than not crude and unimaginative. Many of the rules of effective broadcasting technique were violated. There was too much rhetoric, too much emotionalism, too much generalization. The great majority of programs were lacking in humility and subtlety.

* For a full analysis of the symbol Balint Boda, see Siegfried Kracauer and Paul Berkman, Satellite Mentality: Political Attitudes and Propaganda Susceptibilities of Non-Communists in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, 1956 Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers New York, pp. 143-144.

Next: A look at the post-Revolution Hungarian government’s reaction to RFE’s broadcasts as well as the United Nations and West German investigations into the broadcasts.