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The native form of this personal name is gróf széki Teleki Pál. This article uses the Western name order.
Pál Count Teleki de Szék

Pál Teleki, twice Prime Minister of Hungary, speaking at the 4th World Scout Jamboree held at The Royal Forest at Gödöllő in 1933
Born 1 November 1879 (1879-11)
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died 3 April 1941 (1941-04-04)
Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary
Nationality Hungarian
Occupation Prime minister twice, from 1920-21 and 1939-41
Known for University professor, expert in geography, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Chief Scout of the Hungaran Scout Association, Prime Minister of Hungary twice
Pál Teleki in in his 30s

Pál Count Teleki de Szék (Budapest, Hungary, 1 November 1879 – Budapest, Hungary, 3 April 1941) was prime minister of Hungary from 19 July 1920 to 14 April 1921 and from 16 February 1939 to 3 April 1941.[1] He was also a famous expert in geography, a university professor, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Chief Scout of the Hungarian Scout Association. He descended from a noble family from Alsótelek in Transylvania.

He is a controversial figure in Hungarian history because while he was Prime Minister a number of anti-Jewish laws were enacted while he also walked a very difficult political tightrope, striving to preserve Hungarian autonomy up to the last moment of his life.


Early life

Teleki was born to Teleki Géza (1844–1913), a Hungarian politician, and his wife Muráty (Muratisz) Irén (1852–1941) in Budapest, Hungary. He attended lower school from 1885-1889, and higher school (gymnazium) from 1889-1897. In 1897 he started upper-division work at the university. After graduating in 1903, he went on to become a university professor and expert on geography and socio-economic affairs in pre-WWI Hungary and a well-respected educator. (Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was one of his students).

His maps were an excellent composition of social and geographic data, even by today's well-developed Geographic Information System's point of view. He was a delegate to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.[2]


In the summer of 1927, Teleki's son Géza, a member of the Hungarian Sea Scouts, was attending a Sea Scout rally held at Helsingør, Denmark. On a sailing cruise, he ignored a reprimand from his Scoutmaster, Fritz M. de Molnár, for failure to carry out a small but necessary exercise of seamanship. Molnár tried to drive home his point by threatening to tell the boy's father on their return to Budapest. Géza replied "Oh, Dad's not interested in Scouting." This roused Molnár's mettle, and he determined to take up the subject of Scouting with Count Teleki.

Molinar's talk about Scouting intrigued Teleki, and Hungary obtained the wholehearted support and encouragement of one of its most noted citizens, becoming Hungary's Chief Scout, a member of the International Scout Committee from 1929 until 1939, Camp Chief of the 4th World Scout Jamboree held at The Royal Forest at Gödöllő, Hungary, Chief Scout of the the Hungarian Scout Association, and a close friend and contemporary of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell. His influence and inspiration were a major factor in the success of Scouting in Hungary, and contributed to its success in other countries as well. [3]

Preserved Hungarian autonomy

Some view Teleki as a moral hero who tried to avoid Hungary's involvement in World War II. He sent Tibor Eckhard, a high ranking Smallholders Party politician, to the United States with $5 million dollars for the Hungarian Minister in the United States, János Pelenyi, to prepare the Hungarian government in exile, for when he and Regent Horthy would have to leave the country. According to supporters of this view, his object was to save what could be saved, under political and military pressure from Nazi Germany, and like the Polish government in exile, to try to survive in some fashion during the war years to come.

Teleki holds Hungary to "Non-belligerent" status

Rejoining the government in 1938 as Minister of Education, Teleki supported Germany's take over of Czechoslovakia with the hopes that the dismemberment of Hungary completed in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon would be undone. On 16 February 1939, Hungary's Premier Béla Imrédy, who had been known as a pro-fascist, anti-Semitic leader, was forced from office after it was revealed that he was of Jewish descent. Teleki became Prime Minister for the second time on 15 February 1939. While he strove to close down several fascist political parties, he did nothing to end existing anti-Semitic laws.[2]

On 24 August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which among other things stipulated the Soviet Union's long-standing "interest" in Bessarabia, Romania. One week later, on 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. It demanded use of the Hungarian railway system through Kassa, Hungary, so that German troops could attack Poland from the south. Hungary had traditionally strong ties with Poland, and Teleki refused Germany's demand. Regent Horthy told the German ambassador that "he would sooner blow up the rail lines than to participate in an attack on Poland."[4] Hungary declared that it was a "non-belligerent" nation and refused to allow German forces to travel through or over Hungary. As a result of Teleki's refusal to cooperate with Germany, during the autumn of 1939 and the summer of 1940 more than 100,000 Polish soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians, many of them Jewish, escaped from Poland and crossed the border into Hungary. The Hungarian government then permitted the Polish Red Cross and the Polish Catholic Church to operate in the open.[5] The Polish soldiers were formally interned, but most of them managed to flee to France by spring of 1940, thanks to indulgent or friendly attitude of officials.

However, with Germany's seizure of Austria Czechoslovakia and Poland, the buffer nations between Hungary and the belligerent nations of Germany and Russia had evaporated. Germany made economic demands on Hungary to support the war, and offered to repay with arms deliveries, but because of developments in the Balkans, these were routed to the Romanian Army instead.[6]

In his diaries, Italian Foreign Minister and Mussolini's son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano wrote that during a visit to Rome by Teleki in March 1940, Teleki "has avoided taking any open position one way or the other but has not hidden his sympathy for the Western Powers and fears an integral German victory like the plague."[7] Ciano reported that Teleki later said that he hoped "for the defeat of Germany, not a complete defeat—that might provoke violent shocks—but a kind of defeat that would blunt her teeth and claws for a long time."[7]

Germany demands Hungary's assistance

In 1940, Germany used Russia's imminent movement to take over Bessarabia as an excuse to prepare to occupy the vital Rumanian oil fields. Germany's General Staff approached Hungary's General Staff and sought passage of their troops through Hungary and for Hungary's participation in the takeover. Germany held out Transylvania as Hungary's reward. The Hungarian government resisted, desiring to remain neutral. It held out some hope for assistance from the Italians. They sent a special envoy to Rome with the message that, "For the Hungarians there arises the problem either of letting the Germans pass, or opposing them with force. In either case the Hungarian liberty would come to an end." Mussolini replied, "How could this ever be," he said, "since I am Hitler's ally and intend to remain so?"[7]

In March 1941, Teleki strongly objected to Hungarian participation in the invasion of Yugoslavia.[8] Given Hungary's resistance to aiding Germany, it in turn was not trusted by Germany. Hungary was not informed of Hitler's top-secret preparations for invading Russia and Hungary was not initially part of the invasion. "Hungary, in the period of preparation for Barbarossa, is not to be counted as an ally beyond the present status ..." Furthermore, German troops were not to cross Hungarian territories, and Hungarian airfields were not to be used by the Luftwaffe, according to the new directives of the High Command on 22 March 1941.[9] Teleki believed that only a Danubian Federation could help the Balkan peoples—Yugoslavs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Transylvania, Austria, Czechoslovakia)—escape Germany's domination.

In the book, Transylvania The Land Beyond the Forest Louis C. Cornish[10][11] described how Teleki, under constant surveillance by the German Gestapo during 1941, sent a secret communication to contacts in America.[12]

He foresaw clearly the complete defeat of Nazi Germany, and the European chaos that would result from the war. He believed that no future was conceivable for any of the minor nations in Eastern and Central Europe if they tried to continue to live their isolated national lives. He asked his friends in America to help them establish a federal system, to federate. This alone could secure for them the two major assets of national life: first, political and military security, and, second, economic prosperity. Hungary, he emphasized, stood ready to join in such collaboration, provided it was firmly based on the complete equality of all the members states.[12]

Journalist Dorothy Thompson in 1941 supported the statement of others. "I took from Count Teleki's office a monograph which he had written upon the structure of European nations. A distinguished geographer, he was developing a plan for regional federation, based upon geographical and economic realities."[12] Teleki received no response to his ideas and was left to resolve the situation on his own.

Teleki must choose between Axis and Allies

The incident that eventually led to Teleki's suicide began on 25 March 1941 when the Yugoslavian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lazar Marković, secretly traveled to Vienna and signed the Tripartite Pact. On 26 March 1941, he returned home to find that Air Force General Dušan Simović had executed a bloodless coup d'état and had refuted Marković's signature on the alliance and accepted a British guarantee of security instead. Germany saw its southern flank potentially exposed just as it was preparing Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Germany planned to invade Belgrade and compel it to remain part of the Axis. Hitler used Hungary's membership in the Tripartite Pact of 1940 to demand that Hungary should also attack. The Hungarian Minister to Berlin was sent home by air with a message for Regent Horthy:

Yugoslavia will be annihilated, for she has just renounced publicly the policy of understanding with the Axis. The greater part of the German armed forces must pass through Hungary. but the Principle attack will not be made on the Hungarian sector. Here the Hungarian Army should intervene, and, in return for its co-operation, Hungary will be able to reoccupy all those former territories which she had been forced at one time to cede to Yugoslavia. The matter is urgent. An immediate and affirmative reply is requested.[13]

Teleki had signed a non-aggression and "Treaty of Eternal Friendship" with Yugoslavia in 12 December 1940, only five months previously, and would not assent to assisting with the invasion.[14] Teleki's government chose a middle ground, opting to remain out of the German-Yugoslav conflict unless Magyar (Hungarian) minorities were in danger, or if Yugoslavia collapsed. Teleki relayed his government's position to London, seeking allowance for Hungary’s difficult position.[15]

On 3 April 1941, Teleki received a telegram from the Hungarian minister in London that the British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Anthony Eden, had threatened to break diplomatic relations with Hungary if she did not actively resist the passage of German troops across her territory, and to declare war if she attacked Yugoslavia.

Teleki's enduring desire was to keep Hungary non-aligned, yet it could not ignore Nazi Germany's dominant influence. Prime Minister Teleki had two choices. He could continue to resist Germany's demands for their help in the invasion of Yugoslavia, although he knew this would likely mean the immediate invasion of Hungary and overthrow of its government by Germany, just as they had taken over the Sudentenland, Poland, Austria, and as they were threatening to do to Yugoslavia. Or he could allow passage of German military across Hungary, betraying Yugoslavia, openly defying the Allies, moving them to declare war on Hungary.[13]

The Hungarian Regent, Admiral Horthy, who until this time had resisted Germany's pressure, agreed to Germany's demands. Teleki met with the cabinet council that evening. He complained that the Regent had "told me thirty-four times that he would never make war for foreign interests, and now he has changed his mind."[16]

Before Teleki could chart a course through the political thicket, the decision was torn from him by General Werth, chief of the Hungarian General Staff. Without the sanction of the Hungarian government, Werth, of German origin, made private arrangements with the German High Command for the transport of the German troops across Hungary. Teleki denounced Werth's action as treason.[13]

Germany enters Hungary, Teleki commits suicide

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., he left the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his apartment in the Sandor Palace. At around midnight he received a call that is thought to have advised him that the German army had just started its march into Hungary.[13][14] Prime Minister Pál Teleki committed suicide with a pistol during the night of 3 April 1941 and was found the next morning. His suicide note said in part:

We have become breakers of our word... I have allowed our nation's honor to be lost. The Yugoslav nation was our friend... But now, out of cowardice, we have allied ourselves with scoundrels.[17] We will become body-snatchers! A nation of trash. I did not hold you back. I am guilty" [18]

Winston Churchill later wrote, "His suicide was a sacrifice to absolve himself and his people from guilt in the German attack on Yugoslavia."[19] On 6 April 1941, Germany launched Operation Punishment (Unternehmen Strafgericht), the bombing of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. "He is viewed by some Hungarians as a patriot who chose to die rather than collaborate with the Nazis."[20] Britain shortly broke diplomatic relations but did not declare war until December that year.

Anti-Jewish actions

Regent Horthy appointed Teleki prime minister on 19 July 1920. While he was Prime Minister, the Hungarian parliament passed anti-Jewish legislation that banned non-Christians from attending universities.[21] He and his government resigned less than a year later on 14 April 1921 when the former emperor, Karl IV, attempted to retake Hungary's throne.

From 1921 until 1938, Teleki was a professor at Budapest University. While there, journalists asked him what he thought about the anti-Jewish violence that had occurred on the university campus. He replied: "This din does not bother me. In any case, the students take examinations that test their knowledge of the sea and this din is aptly suited to that of the sea."[22]

During the 1930s, the percentage of Jews in the general population was far smaller than the percentage whose work included business, finance, and the professions. In the 1930 census, Jews comprised only 5.1% of the population, but among physicians, 54.5 percent were Jewish, journalists 31.7%, and lawyers 49.2%. Persons of Jewish faith controlled four of the five major banks, from 19.5 to 33% of the national income, and around 80 percent of the country's industry. When the worldwide depression struck in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Jews were made scapegoats by anti-Semites for Hungary's economic plight.[23]

In 1938, after a period of considerable economic turbulence and a general political turn to the far right, Teleki became Prime Minister once again on 16 February 1939. Hungary passed anti-Jewish law restricting the role played by Jews in the Hungarian economy to 20%.[24] In 1939, after he became Prime Minister once again, Hungary required all young Jewish men of arms-bearing age to join forced-labor service. In 1940, this compulsory service was extended to all able-bodied male Jews. As a result of the laws established during Teleki's tenure, after his death in July 1941, the Hungarian government transferred responsibility for 18,000 Jews from Carpato-Ruthenian Hungary to the German armed forces. These Jews, without Hungarian citizenship, were sent to a location near Kamenets-Podolski, where in one of the first acts of mass killing during World War II, all but two thousand of these individuals were executed by the Nazi Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing unit).[25][26]

Including the recently annexed territories, in 1941 Hungary's Jewish population totaled about 825,000. The Hungarian racial laws defined "Jews" in racial, not religious, terms, forbid marriage between Jews and non-Jews. Teleki wrote the preamble to the Second Anti-Jewish Law (1939) and prepared the Third Anti-Jewish Law in 1940.[citation needed] He also signed 52 anti-Jewish decrees during his rule, and members of his government issued 56 further decrees against Jews.

Later he denied writing the preamble to the Second Anti-Jewish Law, and said that if he had had the chance to word it, he would have presented a stricter one. During Teleki's second term in 1940, Hungarian Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi was given amnesty, and the Nazi movement became stronger.[citation needed]

Shortly after Teleki's death and after Hungary declared war, Jewish forced laborers were organized in labor battalions, commanded by Hungarian military officers. They were engaged in war-related construction, often subject to extreme cold, and given inadequate shelter, food, and medical care. (At least 27,000 Jewish forced laborers died before Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944, after which Germany rapidly increased the deportation of Jews to the death camps.)[26]

It must also be noted however, that during this time many young Hungarians were also forced into training camps in preparation for service on the Eastern Front and were also subjected to brutal treatment, extreme cold and given inadequate food, shelter, medical care and equipment. Many thousands of 17, 18 and 19 year olds subsequently died in the first few weeks of their forced integration into the severely depleted units of the German Army in Russia.

Controversial figure

Statue of Pál Teleki in Balatonboglár, Hungary

To many Hungarians, Teleki was a flawed hero and he remained a controversial person long after his death. This was reflected in a public dispute covered in the Hungarian media during early 2004 over a statue of him, marking the 63rd anniversary of his death, to be displayed in Budapest. The statue by Sculptor Tibor Rieger was originally to be installed opposite the President's official residence in Budapest. However, the Minister of Culture Istvan Hiller, following pressure from the Wiesenthal Center, canceled these plans. On 5 April 2004, the statue was finally placed in the courtyard of the Catholic Church in the town of Balatonboglár on the shore of Lake Balaton.[27] Balatonboglar had during World War II been host to thousands of Polish refugees who opened in that town one of only two secondary schools for Poles in Europe during 1939-1944. They credited Teleki with opening Hungary's borders to them and named a street in Warsaw for him after the war ended.[28] In 2001 he was posthumously awarded Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland[29].

Befitting his commitment to Scouting and to Hungary, he was buried at Gödöllő, the location of the Royal Palace.

See also


  1. ^ "Hungary". World Statesmen. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  2. ^ a b "The People's Chronology: 1939". Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  3. ^ John Skinner Wilson (1959). Scouting Round the World (Second Ed.). Blandford Press. pp. 165. 
  4. ^ Gabor Aron Study Group. "Hungary in the Mirror of the Western World 1938-1958". Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  5. ^ "Poland in Exile - Escape Route". 
  6. ^ Ranki, Gyorgy and Ervin Pamlenyi, Lorant Tilkovszky, Gyula Juhasz (eds.) (1968). A Wilhelmstrasse es Magyarorszdg, "The Wilhelm Street and Hungary". Budapest: Kossuth Konyvkiado. pp. 471. Carl von Clodius, Leader of the Economic-Political Department of the German Foreign Ministry to the German Foreign Ministry, 13 January 1940, Doc. No. 299
  7. ^ a b c Cadzow, John F.; Ludanyi, Andrew; Elteto, Louis J. (1983). Transylvania: the Roots of Ethnic Conflict. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-283-8. quoting The Ciano Diaries, 25 March 1940.
  8. ^ Szinai, Miklos and Laszlo Szucs, Horthy Miklos, Titkos Iratai (1965). Secret Documents of Nicholas Horthy. Budapest: Kossuth Konyvkiado. pp. 291–292.  His letter addressed to Regent Horthy gave his reasons in the following words: "We sided with the villains . . . we shall be bodysnatchers, the most worthless nation"
  9. ^ Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945, Series D, Vol. XlI Directives of the High Command, Fuhrer's Headquarters. Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 22 March 1941). pp. 338–343. 
  10. ^ Cornish, Louis (1947). Transylvania The Land Beyond the Forest. Dorrance & Company. 
  11. ^ Pal Teleki (1923). The Evolution of Hungary and its place in European history (Central and East European series). 
  12. ^ a b c Francis S. Wagner (ed.) (1970). Toward a New Central Europe: A Symposium on the Problems of the Danubian Nations. Astor Park, Florida: Danubian Press, Inc.. 
  13. ^ a b c d Churchill, Winston (1985). The Grand Alliance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-41057-8.  quoting Ullein-Revicry, Guerre Allemande: Paix Russe, p. 89}}
  14. ^ a b Montgomery, John F. (1947). Hungary, the Unwilling Satellite. Simon Publications. ISBN 1-931313-57-1. 
  15. ^ Zoltán Bodolai (1978). The Timeless Nation: the History, Literature, Music, Art and Folklore of the Hungarian Nation". Hungaria Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0959687330. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  16. ^ Sakmyster, Thomas L. (1994). Hungary's admiral on horseback: Miklós Horthy, 1918-1944. Boulder: East European Monographs. pp. 256. ISBN 978-0-88033-293-4. 
  17. ^ Cecil D. Eby (1998). Hungary at War: Civilians and Soldiers in World War II. Penn State Press. p. 15. ISBN 0271017392. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  18. ^ Horthy, Miklós; Edited and Annotated by Andrew L. Simon (Original Text Copyright 1957,). "The Annotated Memoirs of Admiral Milklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary". Ilona Bowden. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  19. ^ Churchill, Winston; Keegan, John. The Second World War (Six Volume Boxed Set). Mariner Books. pp. 148. ISBN 978-0-395-41685-3. 
  20. ^ Sonya Yee (2004-03-27). "In Hungary, a Belated Holocaust Memorial". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  21. ^ William Wright (2004-03-08). "Hungary must lay its ghosts to rest if it wants to move on". Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  22. ^ Balint Magyar (2004-05-04). "A Hungarian Tragedy (Ha'aretz)". Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  23. ^ "Interwar Hungary". Retrieved 2009-10-05. 
  24. ^ Andrew Salaman. "Childhood in Time of War". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  25. ^ The Holocaust in Hungary Holocaust Memorial Centre.
  26. ^ a b "Hungary Before the German Occupation". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  27. ^ "U.S. Department of State: Report on Global Anti-Semitism". 2005-01-05. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  28. ^ Gyorgyi Jakobi (2004-09-04). "Hero or traitor? - statue of a controversial Hungarian Prime Minister unveiled, but not in Budapest". Retrieved 2009-09-24. 
  29. ^ (Polish)"Decree of the President of Polish Republic of 23 March 2001". 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
post created
Minister of Religion and Education
Counter-revolutionary Government

Succeeded by
Károly Huszár
Preceded by
Sándor Simonyi-Semadam
Prime Minister of Hungary
1920 – 1921
Succeeded by
István Bethlen
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Succeeded by
Imre Csáky
Preceded by
Imre Csáky
Minister of Foreign Affairs

1920 – 1921
Succeeded by
Gusztáv Gratz
Preceded by
Gusztáv Gratz
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Succeeded by
Miklós Bánffy
Preceded by
Bálint Hóman
Minister of Religion and Education
Succeeded by
Bálint Hóman
Preceded by
Béla Imrédy
Prime Minister of Hungary
1939 – 1941
Succeeded by
László Bárdossy
Preceded by
István Csáky
Minister of Foreign Affairs

1940 – 1941

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