THE HUNGARIAN CROWN JEWELS
BY Robert L. Chapman, Madison, NJ
At the end of World War 2, I was a first lieutenant in the Signal Company of the 86th Infantry Division. My destination was radio Officer, and I was responsible for radio links to the three infantry regiments and to corps headquarters.
The night of May 4, 1945, my company was bivouacked in a woods at Mattsee, Austria. Some time during the night I was awakened by a sergeant and told that some people had come along wanting to surrender. This was no big news at the time, since Germans and others were surrendering in their thousands.
I roused myself and emerged to see a group of about twenty people, including women and children. Some of the men were in uniform, others not. It seemed to me that the party was important and high-ranking, so I saluted the apparent military leader and introduced myself. He proffered surrender. I said that he had probably best surrender to someone more exalted that me, and I took them to my company commander, Captain Erle Frady (now deceased).
I turned them over to Captain Frady and went back to bed. I don't know what happened to them then.
Years later, in a book called Black Hawks Over The Danube by Richard A. Briggs, I read about the capture, and that the important Hungarian was Jeno (sic) Szollosi, the "Nazi prime minister of Hungary." He "was attended by a representative of the German legation and a staff of seven officers, 32 enlisted men, and nine civilians. In addition relatives of Szollosi and his staff, numbering 23 women, girls, and children, were also with him." The party had apparently been held by the Gestapo at Mattsee. Erroneously, the account states that the minister was captured, along with the crown jewels, by the Anti-tank Company of the 342d Infantry (Regiment), commanded by Captain R.L. Green of Nashville, TN. The Hungarians were seeking to surrender to Americans rather that Russians.
This is the story, as far as I know it. In May 1998 I visited Budapest and went to the National Museum, to see the crown jewels, which are on display in a special room. The museum director was not aboard that day, so I wrote an letter to him, telling the story substantially as I have told it here.
I recently heard, from a Hungarian friend, that Szollosi had been hanged, although I didn't hear where, when, or by whom.
I have recently also learned that the treasures were deposited in Fort Knox, and returned to Hungary by order of President Carter in 1976.