The Prince Primate's struggle for freedom
As a result of his support for the Jews and the courageous memorandum, he was arrested on 27 November 1944. Until his release on 1 April 1945, he was detained in the prisons of Veszprém, Sopronkőhida and Sopron, along with his direct colleagues and seminarists who had tried to defend him and thus had been also arrested. By the time bishop Mindszenty was released, World War II had ended. When the German soldiers had left Hungary, there came the Soviet-Russian army. Both occupations caused terrible devastation.
As soon as Central Europe’s fate was evidently linked up with the Soviet rule, Pope Pius XII endeavoured to find prelates who had opposed the German invasion and National Socialism and appoint them at the head of the 70 million Catholics of the region. Their merits and their personality ensured that they would be loyal during the communist dictatorship and persecution, and would firmly defend the faithful. Such guidelines determined the appointment of Archbishop of Prague Josef Beran, Polish Primate Stefan Wyszyński and Prince Primate József Mindszenty.
On 2 October 1945, Pope Pius XII appointed József Mindszenty as the 79th cardinal of Esztergom and thus prince primate of Hungary. During the thousand years of Hungary's Christian past, various titles, rights and duties became inherent to such position. In his inaugural speech on 7 October 1945 Mindszenty said: "I want to be a good shepherd—one who, if need be, will lay down his life for his sheep, his Church, and his country. I will strive to become the conscience of our people. I will breathe new life into the sacred traditions of our people, without which some individuals could but the entire nation cannot live."
As prelate of the entire country, he considered it his primary duty to relieve the sufferings caused by the war, and he did everything he could to ask the people abroad and within Hungary for active help. He was the first to provide food supply for the people. On 18 February 1946 he was created cardinal by Pope Pius XII, which increased his international prestige and facilitated his charitable work.
After 1945, the government under communist pressure started a deliberate and planned campaign against freedom of religion, the prestige of the Church and its role in public life. Before the parliamentary elections, József Mindszenty and other bishops wrote a circular letter emphasizing the moral aspects of the elections. Their aim was to defend Christian and national values. Witnessing the gradual destruction of the country, Cardinal Mindszenty proposed a referendum on changing the form of government, and he also criticized the rampant terror of the political police.
His primary objective was renewing the faithful's life of piety, assisting religious schools and community organizations, and defending the national interests of Hungary. He considered it highly important to obtain the Hungarian Catholic Church's complete economic independence of the state and thus reduce the government's harmful supervision. One of his major initiatives as cardinal was the year of reparation in 1947–48, proclaimed in honour of Our Lady.
In 1945 he asked the Allied Control Commission, on behalf of the episcopate, to let Hungarian prisoners of war come home. He summoned his priests to cater for the spiritual needs of the internees, and give assistance to the families of the persecuted. He used to say: "Let's fight for democracy but without forgetting about man in the meantime!" The Cardinal was virtually the only person who spoke up against the measures collectively afflicting the German-speaking inhabitants. He warned the authorities not to do any injustice within the country that could rightfully be detrimental to the Hungarians on the other side of the border.