Dr. Melinda Kindl, an independent visiting Fulbright scholar from Hungary, arrived in Bloomington to meet the full heat and humidity of mid-August. Yet, unlike some who might have hit a heat-and-humidity-induced intellectual slump, by mid-September she had succeeded in unearthing several novelties in IU’s libraries that could “reshape the way we think about Hungary’s participation in World War II.” I interviewed her in mid-September at Soma Coffee Shop in Bloomington.
JSN: Can you tell me a little about your research?
I’m interested in diplomacy during World War II, specifically Italian-Hungarian relations from the joint plans for surrender to Hungary’s German occupation (1943-1944).
As many know, on July 24-25, 1943, the majority of the Grand Council of Fascism led by Count Dino Grandi voted against Mussolini. The day after that, he was dismissed and arrested by the king. The internal political changes and related popular protests swept the fascist government away. Then, following the announcement of the armistice on the 8th of September, German troops occupied Rome. Mussolini was liberated and the Republic of Salò was created in the north of the country under his leadership; while Pietro Badoglio and the King formed a new government (King’s Italy) in southern Italy. In the south, King’s Italy was incapable of protecting its borders without the aid of English and American forces. In this, the newly created Republic and its fate were shaped—in every sense—by the influence of the Third Reich.
The fundamental political changes in Italy raised serious questions for the Hungarian government. According to the archival documents, during the late summer of 1943, a plan was in place for a joint surrender of Italy and Hungary. This initiative later failed, but the capitulation of Italy confronted the Kállay Government with a dilemma. The Hungarian political debate about Italy’s armistice, as well as the secret negotiation with the Allies in 1943, has been widely investigated, and an abundance of literature exists on this topic. Nonetheless, the relations between Hungary and the Southern Kingdom (from September 1943 to March 1944) remain almost unknown, and the diplomatic relations of the King’s Italy appear only occasionally in the international historical literature.
I started the examination of the Hungarian diplomatic relations with Italy in 2010 as a doctoral student, focusing in particular on the Republic of Salò. After studying the documents kept in the Hungarian National Archives and reviewing the literature concerning the relations between the two countries, the Klebelsberg scholarship provided me with the opportunity to conduct further research on the topic in Rome. In the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I found more extensive documentary sources than I had expected. In addition to archival records, the libraries and private collections in Rome made it possible to find rich historical material (documents and memoirs) which had seemed inaccessible from Hungary. During my two-year stay in Australia, I found more literature on this topic. Surprisingly, libraries in Melbourne hold a wealth of printed collections relating to my research, not to mention the literature in English which is based largely on American archival sources.
What are you working on while in Bloomington and what compelled you to visit?
I came to Bloomington at the invitation of Professor László Borhi, a renowned professor in Hungary who teaches here. There are two projects that I’m currently working on: a literature review on the Italian-Hungarian joint plans for surrender and an investigation of the diplomatic relations between the Kállay Government and the Southern Kingdom of Italy.
During my time in Rome conducting archival research, I could not find evidence of the joint Italian-Hungarian plans for surrender. Apart from the reports on István Ujszászy’s interrogation (Ujszászy was the head of Hungarian military intelligence between 1942-1944), the existence of such plans is also confirmed by English records. British Foreign Office files indicate that, even in the beginning of September 1943, the British were aware that the Hungarians could capitulate together with the Italians. They knew that this would have caused great confusion in Germany and that Hitler would have faced a critical situation. It seems plausible that relevant sources of these accounts remained in the records of British and American embassies operating in neutral countries. By reviewing these documents, we can get a clearer picture of Italian-Hungarian plans, which are not investigated in Italian or in Hungarian historical studies.
As far as the second project goes, my research aims at showing that Kállay’s attitude toward King’s Italy can be seen as an effort to consolidate contacts with the Allies. The documents found in the Hungarian National Archives show that Kállay and his circle, taking a huge risk, managed to establish contacts with Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel III through the diplomats stationed in neutral countries. Evidence of this can also be found in the American archives.
The expected results of my research could enrich our understanding of the history of the Kállay era by highlighting the interrelations and similarities between the Italian and Hungarian policies, and by revealing the connections between their respective histories from the late summer of 1943 to the spring of 1944. This would deepen our understanding of the role played by Hungary in World War II in a broader, international context. Importantly, my research also seeks to examine the nature of the influence of AMGOT (Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories), and its successor, the ACC (Allied Control Commission), on the diplomatic relations of the Southern Kingdom with other nations, in particular with Hungary, between 1943 and 1944.
How do you plan to use the knowledge that you gained in Bloomington in your future academic, or other, endeavors?
The archival information I’ve gathered here will serve as my literature review. I’ve already found something that can reshape the way we think about Hungary’s participation in World War II.
You are an independent scholar now. What do you plan to do, professionally, in the future?
I would like to be a full-time researcher, paid by someone from whom I can accept the money. That is not the Hungarian government right now. I think if someone does science, it’s a mission and you cannot be compromised yourself. Even if there are consequences, you have to act.
Aside from academics, what do you find interesting about life in Bloomington when compared to Budapest? What struck you about the University when you arrived here?
The campus is a protected, sealed environment—like a city within a city. European campuses prepare you more for life. It’s a different concept of education. Also, this is a little strange, but I don’t see elderly people on the street here often. It’s a bit weird—against the laws of nature. I am also a little disappointed though, when I tell people that I’m from Hungary and they immediately start talking about Orbán. What about Kodály, Bartók, Liszt, Széchenyi, Kossuth, Deák, Ernő? Our country has nothing to do with Orbán.
Are you concerned about Hungarian politics today, about revisionist history?
Of course. The government clearly articulated that they have ten years to rewrite history. They are trying to make the work of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences impossible. Ninety percent of Hungary’s intellectual outcome comes from the Academy as university instructors and professors don’t have enough time for primary research, which is time-and money-consuming when you have to travel to gain access to such resources. I feel now a higher personal responsibility to do primary research and to publish archival findings.
On the other hand, I am trying to do something on a personal level, as an activist. I’m a founding-member of an independent intellectual website called Common Matters (kozos-dolgaink.hu). We want to generate discussion about modern problems and come up with solutions. We talk about societal sore spots like minority rights in Hungary, tensions with Romania, EU skepticism—why intellectuals at home are divided. We organize independent people who worry about the future and who care about the present, not just in Hungary, but everywhere.
Jessica Storey-Nagy currently serves as REEI Graduate Assistant for Outreach. She is a doctoral student in Central Eurasian Studies with a concentration in Hungarian Studies.