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 Posted Sunday, March 21, 1999

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Hanna F. Sulner, a Hungarian secret police stooge who used her skills to frame the Roman Catholic cardinal Mindsenty, has died. She fled to New York City. We reproduce her obituary as published in the city's leading newspaper.

January 19, 1999


Hanna F. Sulner, 81, Expert Drawn Into Mindszenty Plot



Hanna F. Sulner, a handwriting expert who reluctantly helped Hungarian Communists frame Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty on treason charges in 1949, then promptly fled to the West and exposed the sham, died on Jan. 5 at her home in Manhattan. She was 81 and since 1950 had worked quietly in New York as one of the nation's leading authorities on disputed documents.

Half a century later it seems surprising how much trouble the Soviet-dominated Hungarian Government took to fabricate the case against Cardinal Mindszenty. As an intractable opponent of the Communist takeover of Hungary in 1948, he was clearly an enemy of the new one-party police state.

But at a time when other high-level foes were simply being shot or jailed without fanfare, the Cardinal's position as the primate of a largely Roman Catholic country required special handling.

That the political police turned to Mrs. Sulner and her husband, Laszlo, was anything but surprising. When it came to determining whether a handwritten note, a typed letter or a signature on a will or contract was real or forged, Mrs. Sulner had few peers.

From the age of 16 she had studied at the elbow of her father, Prof. Julius Fischof, a pioneer in handwriting analysis who settled in Budapest after World War I and won a reputation as Eastern Europe's foremost expert on questionable documents. She also studied criminology and obtained a special degree qualifying her to teach document examination at the University of Budapest law school.

Taking over her father's work after his death in 1944, she quickly inherited his reputation as a meticulous professional as well as his positions as official handwriting and documents expert to Hungary's courts, police and military.

Mr. Sulner joined the office in 1946. After their marriage in November 1947, the couple were gradually drawn, unwittingly at first, into the Communist Government's elaborate machinations to discredit Cardinal Mindszenty and frame him on treason and other charges.

Based on articles the couple wrote for The New York Herald Tribune in 1950 describing their role in the case, it is clear that Mr. Sulner was far more involved than his wife in forging incriminating documents, some ostensibly in the Cardinal's hand, others bearing his supposed signature. But if Mrs. Sulner was able to remain somewhat aloof, it had less to do with her fastidious devotion to the integrity of her craft than with her husband's willingness to do the dirty work. That willingness stemmed, he made clear, from the knowledge that the couple's only choice was to cooperate or be hanged.

Another reason was that Mr Sulner had become particularly adroit in using, or rather misusing, a device his wife's father had invented for comparing handwritings. It allowed him to copy letters and words from one document and rearrange them into a new, incriminating one.

In his 1974 memoirs, Cardinal Mindszenty attributed his conviction after a three-day trial in February 1949 to texts created with the device by Mr. Sulner, and, more crudely, by police technicians he taught to use it.

As the Mindszenty trial was drawing to a close, the Sulners escaped to Austria on Feb. 6, 1949. Four days later they surfaced in Vienna, denounced the trial as a farce and displayed microfilm of the forged documents they had worked on.

The next year, Mr. Sulner died at 30 in Paris. He was said to have suffered from heart disease, but his wife remained convinced he had been poisoned by Communist agents.

Bringing her infant son to New York, Mrs. Sulner quickly resumed her career, testifying at more than 1,000 cases throughout the United States, rarely for the losing side.

Once, testifying against three rival experts in a will contest, she convinced a jury that an otherwise pristine signature bad been forged because the dots over three i's were misplaced.

In a field whose experts must rely on copies of original documents held as evidence, Mrs. Sulner, who published numerous articles and an authoritative handbook, "Disputed Documents," in 1966, became famous for insisting on having her own expert assistants make the high-quality, precisely lit photocopies she required for her detailed analysis under the microscope.

She is survived by her son, Andrew, a document expert in Manhattan, and a grandson.

Our opinion
So, watch out Manhattan. The role of Hungarian Jews in the country's notorious police force, first the AVO and then reborn as the AVH, is now regretted by responsible members of both communities. The country's post-war leadership was already perceived as "Jewish" by the people (the barbarous dictator Matyas Rakosi was Jewish, as were his cruellest ministers Revai, Farkas and Gerö.) This perception gave the 1956 uprising its initial pogrom-character, as the AVH officers were mercilessly hunted down by the people and lynched. See David Irving, Uprising (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1981).

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