Rebellious Priests? The Catholic Clergy and the Diet, 1764–1765*

András Forgó
University of Pécs
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 1  (2021): 73-95 DOI 10.38145/2021.1.73

The study of the eighteenth-century parliament has intensified in Hungary over the past decade and a half. This tendency is part of a larger European historiographical trend which has revalued the role of the Diets in the study of eighteenth-century political decision-making and political culture. The Hungarian Diet of 1764–1765 is traditionally seen as an outstanding political event in the century, and at the same time as a turning point of the reign of Maria Theresa. After the bitter experiences gained here, she did not convene the estates of Hungary during the remaining fifteen years of her reign, she rather ruled the country by decrees with the help of the institutions of the estates in Hungary. This study is looking for the answer to the question of how the clergy’s opposition to the politics of the court is represented in the sources and how the “change of sides” by the chapter representatives can be grasped in the parliamentary debates.

Keywords: Hungarian Diet, Catholic clergy, political culture, lower house, Corpus Juris Hungarici, Tripartitum, pasquillus, constitution, estates, eighteenth century

The study of the political activity of the ecclesiastical order in the eighteenth century is not a recent trend in Hungarian historiography. It has long been known in the secondary literature that the advancement of Catholic confessionalization, or in other words the massive support of Catholicism in the era, was accompanied by an increase in the role of the clergy in public life. This public role can be examined mainly through an analysis of the clergy’s activity in the parliaments. The study of the activities, composition, and decision-making mechanisms of the eighteenth-century parliament has intensified in Hungary over the past decade and a half. This tendency is part of a larger European historiographical trend which has revalued the role of the Diets in the study of eighteenth-century political decision-making and political culture.1

The Diet of 1608 passed an article which specified who would be entitled to participate in the work of the parliament, a matter previously regulated exclusively by customary law. Article I included the groups of the prelates (praelati), barons or magnates (barones/magnates), the nobles (nobiles), and the free royal cities (liberae regiae civitates) among the estates (status et ordines). It then specified the composition of the upper house (tabula superior) and the lower house (tabula inferior). As for the members of the clergy, the diocesan bishops were given the right to sit and vote in the upper house, while the representatives of the cathedral and collegiate chapters could vote in the lower house. The abbots and provosts infulati and possessionati were guaranteed a personal appearance in the Diet, but among the ordinary inhabitants of the country (inter regnicolas), i.e. in the lower house.2 As a consequence, the clergy enjoyed substantial representation in the parliament, and if they coordinated their activities, they could influence decision-making in both the lower and the upper houses. For precisely this reason, it is important to consider how members of the ecclesiastical order behaved during the parliamentary debates.

István Szijártó has placed eighteenth-century Hungarian estate politics in a new context when he applied the theorems of “confessional corporatism” and “constitutional corporatism” to the political life of the period. The first parliaments of the eighteenth century were dominated by religious debates. The Catholic majority and the followers of the legally authorized Protestant confessions, the Lutherans and the Calvinists, were in irreconcilable conflict. Taking advantage of the new situation after the expulsion of the Ottomans, the Catholics, led by the clergy, demanded the complete suppression of Protestantism, while the Protestants demanded free religious practice based on the 1606 Treaty of Vienna.3 These debates often paralyzed the work of the parliament for months. As it became almost impossible to make the decisions that were important to the court, beginning in 1715, Vienna sought to exclude the religious issue from parliamentary discussions. Eventually, this led to the regulation of religious affairs in 1731 and 1734 and the issuing of the two Carolina resolutio.4 Although this was not a reassuring solution for either party, the fact that the confessional issue was no longer a subject of debate in the Diets opened up the possibility not only for the negotiation of the reforms, but also for the defense of the constitutional order. As a consequence, an alliance of the estates across confessions could be established, which began an era that Szijártó has labelled the period of “constitutional corporatism,” when the parliament could deal more and more with the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Szatmár (1711). This process culminated in the resistance movement of the estates at the Diet of 1764–1765. The next parliament, however, which met in 1790–1791 (after the death of Joseph II and following a 25-year pause), stirred up confessional tempers again. At this point, the Hungarian estates had to take a position on whether to codify Joseph’s policy of tolerance or to return to the religious conditions of Maria Theresa’s reign. The parliament eventually passed a law with the same meaning as the Edict of Tolerance, so religion once again could be removed from the agenda and the estates could continue to focus on the protection of the constitution.5

In his work on the eighteenth-century history of the Hungarian episcopate, Joachim Bahlcke formulated a definitive thesis about the relationship of the prelates to the court and thus, indirectly, about their role in public life. The central idea of the monograph is that, in the first half of the century, the prelates worked closely with the court on building the Catholic institutional system and at the same time resolutely supported the policy of the rulers in Hungary. In the middle of the century, however, there was a sharp turn: cooperation turned into opposition. Maria Theresa’s measures to reform the Catholic Church and to reduce the influence of the ecclesiastical order in Hungary provoked fierce resistance from the prelates. According to Bahlcke, the change in the relationship was first made noticeable by the Viennese reception of the famous Enchiridion de fide by Bishop Márton Padányi Biró of Veszprém.6 The document, which was extremely anti-Protestant, was banned by Maria Theresa, mainly due to its turbulent reception abroad. However, the real clash, according to Bahlcke, took place in the Diet of 1764–1765, when the clergy joined the clerical resistance generated by the writing of Adam František Kollár, director of the Vienna Library, which is to be discussed in more detail later. Unsurprisingly, the conflict only became really aggravated during the reign of Joseph II. When Pius VI visited Vienna, the Hungarian prelates took joint action against the ruler’s measures affecting the Catholic Church. Thus, in Bahlcke’s wording, cooperation became confrontation. In other words, by the end of the century, the Hungarian prelates turned against the politics of the court. 7

Bahlcke’s thesis has previously been criticized by many in Hungarian historiography,8 but it is noteworthy in his argumentation that, like István Szijártó, he considers the parliament of 1764–1765 an important stage of open confrontation. The work of Mihály Horváth discussing the same parliament refines the picture outlined by Bahlcke on the clergy’s role. According to Horváth, the clergy was united in the support of the opposition put up by the estates in the Kollár case, and the lower house clergy backed the opposition even at the beginning of the debate on the tax increase. At one point, however, they shifted to the side of the court, and that changed the balance of power in favor of the “ruling party.”9 Thus, in the following, I am looking for the answer to the question of how the clergy’s opposition to the politics of the court is represented in the sources and how the “change of sides” by the chapter representatives can be grasped in the tax debates.10

Political Debates of the Parliament of 1764–1765

In accordance with old traditions, Maria Theresa summoned the parliament on June 17, 1764 to Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia). The laws set a four-day deadline for the estates to assemble. As the celebration of Corpus Christi fell on June 21 of that year, the first day of the meeting was held on June 22, with the presidency of Personalis Ferenc Koller in the lower house and Palatine Lajos Batthyány in the upper house. As usual, the estates invited the ruler to the parliament through an elected delegation, which marched into the city on July 3. Already the queen’s itinerary and her entrance to Pozsony signaled that a new era of governance had begun: while the ceremonies before the opening of the coronation parliament in 1741 took place with the usual solemnity, in 1751 and 1764 the members of the dynasty travelled to Pozsony without the usual night stop at Petronell, and the ceremonial elements of the entry into the city were also dramatically shortened.11 After receiving the propositions, the estates met again on July 5 in a so-called mixed session (sessio mixta) where they were all present to acquainted themselves with the text of the proposal. According to the plans, the lower house would have begun the detailed discussion on July 9. At this moment, however, the biggest scandal in the history of this parliament broke out, the outrage over the aforementioned work by Adam František Kollár.12

Maria Theresa wanted to use the Diet of 1764–1765 to implement reforms in Hungary that had already been introduced in the Czech and Austrian provinces. These reforms were primarily aimed at the transformation of taxation. Although the queen had managed to achieve a tax increase in the past,13 the estates did not want to consent to the voluntary waiver of their declared tax exemption. On the one hand, reference was made to István Werbőczy’s legal book, the Tripartitum (1514), which, although not officially part of the Hungarian Corpus Juris, was still highly esteemed among the nobility, mainly for the description it contained of the privileges of the estates. The Tripartitum stated that one of the fundamental privileges of the estates was that they were exempt from the payment of all gifts, taxes, and duties, and in return, they were obligated to provide military protection for the country.14

In defense of their tax exemption, they could also rely on Article VIII of Act 1741, in which Maria Theresa, in exchange for their financial and armed assistance in the Austrian War of Succession, reaffirmed the privileges of the Hungarian estates, first openly declaring their exemption from taxes by stating that property could not be a basis for taxation (ne onus fundo quoquo modo inhaereat). Thus, at the beginning of Maria Theresa’s reign, the court failed to switch to land-based taxation in Hungary, as it had already done successfully in Austria. After that, Vienna had no choice but to increase the amount of the war tax (contributio) from parliament to parliament, and these costs were passed on to the serfs by the nobility.15

The tax reform emerged in 1764 in connection with the question of military supply: Maria Theresa considered it necessary to put an end to the obsolete noble uprising (insurrectio) and to establish a permanent army maintained by the nobility instead. This was contained in the royal proposals. Moreover, the settlement of the serf-landlord issue was also put on the agenda in Vienna. For tactical reasons, however, it was not included in the royal proposal, but was intended to be submitted to the parliament when, in accordance with the traditions, the estates would come forward to lament the burdens of the poor taxpaying people (misera plebs contribuens), that is, the peasantry. As the estates invoked historical reasons to preserve their tax exemption, the court also needed such arguments to introduce reforms. These arguments were provided by Kollár’s work, which was written in Latin.16

The main purpose of the work, which stirred up a great storm, was to show that the rulers could exercise their legislative power without the consent of the estates and also that their power over the church extended to ecclesiastical property and possessions. In support of his propositions, Kollár analyzed the decrees of the Hungarian rulers from the Árpád era onwards, thus illustrating that the estates had only been able to intervene in government during the period of late medieval anarchy, and that the kings exercised power over the church without restriction. The Tripartitum, to which the nobility had since referred as the primary source of law, had been written during a period of anarchy, and it had never been accepted by a parliament and had even been revised by the estates themselves a few decades after its publication. The tax exemption for the nobility was rejected by Kollár on the grounds that the nobility had already been called the protector of the realm by Saint Stephen, and in the decree of Andrew II, it was stated that the nobles owed loyalty and service to the ruler in exchange for their privileges. Here Kollár refers to Article XXXI of 1222, which states that, in order to preserve their liberties, the estates owed obedience to the crown. The piquancy of this argument is that the next paragraph of the Article is the famous resistance clause, which the estates, on the basis of the Tripartitum, considered the legal guarantee of any legitimate action against the ruler.

The estates understood the message of Kollár’s work very clearly: the Habsburg government wanted to put an end to the uniquely strong rights of the Hungarian estates and intended to launch reforms which threatened to undermine the noble privileges in this hereditary province, too. As Kollár attacked the prerogatives of both the first and the second estates, both the ecclesiastical and the secular nobility rejected the conclusions of the work. Thus, the alliance of interests already discussed in the introduction of this paper was formed. The lower house began open resistance on July 9: it refused to discuss the royal proposals until its grievances had been remedied, which included the public burning of Kollár’s work and even the punishment of the Kollár himself to set an example. Although the intervention of the upper house poured oil on troubled waters, Vienna eventually had to back down: the distribution of Kollár’s work was banned, copies already sent to Hungary were confiscated, and Maria Theresa ordered an investigation on August 16 to clarify the matter. Although the lower house was still busy compiling the grievances, the work of Adam Franz Kollár was eventually taken off the agenda.17

Tempers, however, continued to flare: even though the queen was eagerly awaiting the estates’ response to the propositions, the estates were now busy collecting their grievances. This was followed by the tractatus diaetalis on the issue of taxation. As we have seen, it was not possible to raise the idea of a formal tax reform because of Article VIII of 1741. One of the queen’s confidants, Miklós Pálffy, the later Judge Royal, also warned the queen before convening the parliament against attacking this noble privilege, though he himself considered it harmful.18 There is no doubt that in rejecting land-based taxation, the nobility was clearly confronted with a European practice that increasingly involved privileged social groups in bearing the burden of the state, and thus for a long time prevented the reduction of the financial burdens of the common people.19 Therefore, it is no wonder that the Viennese government circles also condemned the privileges of the Hungarian estates. Wenzel Anton Kaunitz had a particularly negative opinion of the freestanding of Hungary, and he likened Hungarians to ticks.20 However, the court had no choice but to continue to focus only on raising the tax rate instead of on implementing comprehensive reforms.

However, in the tense atmosphere caused by Kollár’s work, the estates even refrained from raising taxes, and some county deputies even wanted to reduce taxes by the same amount as had been suggested by the previous parliament in 1751. Maria Theresa, on the other hand, stood her ground: in her response to the grievances of September 19, she insisted on the need for a tax increase. The upper house also sided with the queen this time, giving up the earlier anti-government position it had adopted during the tug-of-war around Kollár’s book. As a consequence, only the lower house needed to be softened and persuaded to give up its oppositional stance. This work was carried out, as usual, by the Personalis Ferenc Koller and the Royal Court of Justice. The main argument in favor of abandoning the position of the lower house was that the estates could only expect a positive assessment of their grievances if they, too, made concessions from their position on taxes. Persistent work was ultimately crowned with success: the lower house first withdrew its insistence on the restoration the level of taxation before 1751, and it eventually consented to an increase in taxes. Moreover, Maria Theresa even managed to extort support from the estates for the Royal Hungarian Noble Bodyguard. However, the court could not by any means record the outcome of the tractatus diaetalis in 1764–1765 as a success, as no results had been achieved with the estates on either the issue of the insurrection or the issue of feudal duties. 21 It is well-known that the latter was regulated by decree by the queen, but the former had not been satisfactorily settled for the court for a long time.22

The Role of the Clergy in the Parliamentary Debates

The ceremonial events surrounding the opening of the parliament were not a harbinger of the subsequent behavior of the clergy: according to a report by one of the county deputies, the prelates, together with the secular dignitaries, received Maria Theresa at the border with “great honor.” The head of the Hungarian prelates, Prince-Archbishop Ferenc Barkóczy of Esztergom (1761–1765), gave a nearly half-hour-long, “unspeakably beautiful” speech in Latin to the queen.23 A note from one of the court officials, which has survived in the official documents of the parliament, also highlights the primate’s ornate speech, interspersed with expressions appropriate to the solemnity of the event.24 In this speech, he contended that the country was lucky threefold, because Maria Theresa had visited Pozsony for the third time, after her coronation in 1741 and the parliament in 1751. Barkóczy emphasized that this time the husband of Maria Theresa, the co-ruler Francis of Lorraine, the Holy Roman emperor, and the heir to the throne, Archduke Joseph, had also come to Hungary. The primate also repeated the offering of vitam et sanguinem, which became famous in 1741.25 At that time, thus, there was no indication of a conflict.

However, on July 10, an unknown source had already notified Kollár that a discussion of his book had begun in the upper house. Primate Barkóczy now personally accused him of trying to question the privileges and rights of the nobility and of wanting to stir up a conflict between Maria Theresa and the estates. 26 In the Kollár case, Barkóczy remained an advocate of the clergy, whose positions were closely followed in the court. In addition to Barkóczy, Bishop János Gusztinyi of Nyitra (1764–1777) was active in the fight against Kollár’s work. He was elected to the twelve-member committee which had the task of investigating the so-called illegal allegations.

It was Gusztinyi who presented the results of the investigation to the estates, in which he made serious accusations against Kollár. According to Gusztinyi, Kollár had moved away from the faith by attacking the divine origin of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. He had also supported a misguided view of ecclesiastical property, according to Gusztinyi, as this property was not owned by the ruler, who was only a guardian and protector of it. The report also refutes Kollár’s attacks on the Tripartitum, which are seen as a defamation of the Hungarian nation, and it states that Kollár was deceived by “a-Catholic authors.” Finally, Gusztinyi contends that Kollár had disregarded the laws, the liberties of the estates, and the principles of canon law, and thus he had significant threatened to infringe on the public good and the “res publica.”27

However, not all of the prelates lined up behind the opposition. Archbishop József Batthyány of Kalocsa, the second dignitary of the episcopate, played a mediating role in the conflict from the outset, thus trying to address the tense situation. As soon as the conflict broke out, Kollár turned to the archbishop, asking him to represent his interests in the parliament. In his reply, Batthyány did not deceive Kollár: he explained that it would be difficult to pacify the offended Hungarians, and he also drew Kollár’s attention to the statements from his work directed against the papal power, the church, and the nobility. He encouraged Kollár to try to clarify his position and reconcile with the participants of the parliament by writing a letter in his own defense, and he promised to do everything to help him.28 Batthyány also contacted Corneille de Nény (Cornelius Franz von Neny), the cabinet secretary of Maria Theresa (1763–1776).29 Nény seems to have played a significant connecting role between the Hungarian parliament and the court, because in addition to the archbishop of Kalocsa, letters in his estate survived from Palatine Lajos Batthyány, Ferenc Balassa, count of Szerém county, Pál Festetich, councilor of the chancellery, and József Demkovich, deputy of Szerém county.30 Archbishop Batthyány wrote his reports to the cabinet secretary between October 3, 1764 and January 4, 1765. He wrote most of them in October and November, when, as we have seen, the debate on taxation was becoming increasingly intense. The archbishop tried to strike a balance between the estates and the court so that the queen’s intention could prevail. He sought to gain the support of the estates both in the cases of the amount of taxes which Maria Theresa sought to levy and the noble uprising. He also mentioned the contentions made by Barkóczy in opposition to the court on several occasions, but overall, he was optimistic about the clergy’s supportive attitude.31 Incidentally, the resistance of Archbishop Ferenc Barkóczy of Esztergom and Palatine Lajos Batthyány to the wishes and will of the court was an extraordinary shock, even for the contemporary public. Their deaths in 1765 were attributed to them having fallen into disfavor with Maria Theresa as a result of the events in the parliament.32

The next question is when and under what circumstances the opposition attitude changed in the parliament and what role the members of the clergy played in this. Following Mihály Horváth, the scholarly literature tends to concur that the lower house gave up the rejection of the tax increase at the 41st session of the parliament on October 10, 1764. József Bajzáth, canon of Esztergom, gave a long speech in which he said that the members of the upper house had already agreed to the tax increase, so if the estates were to insist on their negative position, they would anger the queen, thus completely turning her heart against the nation. However, if they were to agree to some tax increase, she would also respond to the grievances of the estates. After this, the representatives of the clergy also espoused Bajzát’s views, and seeing this, the other members of the lower house withdrew their insistence on a reduction in taxes, and the majority accepted the tax increase.33 Therefore, according to Horváth, the clergy in the lower house changed their mind during the debate and switched from the oppositional view of the lower house to the view of the court and the upper house, thus reversing the position of the whole lower house. Now, I will turn to sources which offer some insights into the ways in which the figures of the clergy who were involved in these shifts experienced the events.

János Szily, canon of Győr and the first bishop of the newly established diocese of Szombathely from 1777, represented his chapter in the parliament of 1764–1765 with his fellow canon György Herman. He regularly informed the members of his chapter about the events between July 6, 1764 and March 21, 1765, or in other words for almost the entire duration of the Diet, thus forming a picture of the whole course of the parliament. His fellow deputy is also relevant to this discussion because he is commemorated in several parliamentary satires, as we shall see, not in a particularly flattering way. According to Szily’s report, the clergy, as had been the case in previous years, held special meetings during the parliament, partly with the involvement of monks.34 Kollár’s work is mentioned in the first letters, which also confirm that the discussion about of his work erupted in the Diet on July 9. It is also clear from Szily’s letters that, in accordance with existing practice, the palatine, the personalis, and the protonotaries sought to expedite the work of the parliament, especially in compiling grievances, and that they urged the estates to discuss royal propositions.35 The two envoys also wanted to address the grievances of their chapter in the parliament, and to achieve this, they negotiated with Archbishop Ferenc Barkóczy as well. However, Barkóczy asked them not to submit their grievances to the joint committee responsible for compiling grievances or to the parliament at the time, because, as the archbishop argued, internal conflicts should be set aside due to the fact that Kollár’s book now threatened the whole ecclesiastical order. Thus, the two canons of Győr did not raise the grievances of the chapter for months.36

Szily had also following the tax debates since the beginning of September. Since the lower house initially demanded a reduction in the tax amount, on September 5, the 28th session, according to Szily’s report, after the departure of the upper house delegation, Personalis Koller asked the clergy’s opinion on the matter of the tax. Pál Kiss, the deputy of the cathedral chapter of Veszprém, replied with a long speech in which he indicated that the clergy agreed with the estates on everything. On the question of the noble uprising at the meeting the next day, however, the lower house clergy was no longer so united. Szily’s fellow deputy, canon Herman, represented the position of the estates, while Gábor Gloser (Gloszer), who spoke on behalf of the canons of the cathedral chapter of Kalocsa, was in favor of the ruler’s proposal.37 The latter should not surprise us. Gloser’s letter of commission explicitly stated that the chapter of Kalocsa would support the ruler’s propositions.38 The next day, on September 7, canon Herman again spoke in agreement with the county deputies about the noble uprising. This concord was also demonstrated at the next sitting, which was held on September 10. Canon Szily pointed out that the estates had every reason to be satisfied with the clergy, since the clergy did not oppose them, but, as they had promised at the previous parliament, the clergy had joined them on every issue.39

At the 39th session, which was held on October 1, the upper house again proposed raising the tax through the usual delegation, after which the personalis turned to the cities and the clergy for their opinion. At the time, János Szily himself spoke, arguing that since the estates knew the misery of the taxpaying ordinary people, they would join them with their vote. In contrast with Szily, György Malenich, canon of Zagreb, argued in his long speech in favor of the tax increase. This was also supported by István Bartha, canon of Eger, which is not surprising, because the abovementioned delegation of the upper house was led by Bishop Károly Eszterházy of Eger.40 The canon József Bajzáth from Esztergom proposed to offer the sum which had been paid in 1751, but in the end, the majority wanted to vote for the amount reduced by the surplus from 1751, and so this position was communicated to the upper house.41 In the days that followed, according to Szily’s report, there was no parliamentary session, but the deputies discussed the tax issue with the palatine and the personalis in private talks. Chancellor Ferenc Esterházy then arrived in Pozsony with three of his officers,42 which indicated that the pressure to accept the tax increase had grown. In the end, this increased pressure prevailed: at the meeting on October 17, which Szily apparently mistakenly calls the 54th day of the meeting, the lower house offered the abovementioned 100,000 forints for the costs of the Royal Bodyguard. At that point, even the deputies of the cathedral chapter of Várad supported raising the amount.43 From then on, the issue of the tax was touched upon only sporadically in Szily’s accounts, which is a clear sign of the victory of the court. On the other hand, though he was young, the canon of Győr suffered from a serious illness during this period, and although he tried to inform his chapter about the events which were taking place in parliament, he was repeatedly forced to apologize for his less and less frequent letters.44

Thus, unlike Mihály Horváth, Szily mentions neither the session of October 10 nor the speech given by József Bajzáth. However, according to the official diary of the parliament, which was certainly Horváth’s main source, Bajzáth surely gave a speech.45 This is confirmed by the note to the court cited above, which reports not only on the speech but also on its effect on the lower house.46 Compared to the scenario drawn by Mihály Horváth, Szily presents the position of the chapter deputies on the tax increase in a more nuanced way. According to him, there were canons who represented the position of the court from the outset. However, Szily’s records also indicate that the majority of the clergy, together with the majority of the lower house, changed their previous opposition position mid-October and accepted the tax increase.

We get a similar picture from the diary of Károly Fejérváry, deputy of Sáros County, about the events which took place in parliament. He also dated the outbreak of the Kollár case to July 9, and he even states that it was canon Szily who suggested to the estates that the two houses set up a joint commission of inquiry into the matter and recommended that Kollár be punished and that copies of his book be burned. Pál Kiss, provost of Veszprém, the canons József Bajzáth from Esztergom, József Herman from Győr, and István Bartha from Eger were also elected to the committee. Fejérváry also mentions the speech held by Gloser on September 6, in which he supported the reform of the noble uprising advocated by the court. However, according to him, at the time, Szily behaved in a manner that suggested that he was opposed to the reforms recommended by Gloser, much as he also did at the meeting on September 28, when he interrupted Gloser’s speech, and the two canons debated the issue of reforms before the lower house. Fejérváry also confirmed that Malenich’s speech, which he dated to October 2, called for the adoption of the tax increase. According to Malenich, on October 10, even canon Pál Kiss of Veszprém urged a compromise with the upper house, although he had previously spoken out several times in defense of the “poor taxpaying people.” The phrase, which, as we have seen, is typical of the era, was used to encourage rejection of the tax increase. Fejérváry claims that canon Bajzáth also joined him. Pál Festetich also reported in his letters to cabinet secretary Nény on the division of the canons, although his account differs somewhat from the two cited above. He mentioned István Bartha, canon of Eger, as the leader of the “opposition” canons, alongside Pál Kiss.47

After the Christmas break, the work of the parliament continued in January 1765. The drafting of the articles had begun, but other domestic issues had also come to the fore. From the point of view of our topic, it is worth mentioning the tensions around the anonymous pamphlet written by György Richwaldszky, canon of Esztergom, entitled Vexatio dat intellectum. The work was met with great resentment in court circles because it drew attention to the attack on the liberties of the estates and the dangers of the introduction of foreign legal practices. Richwaldszky called on the estates not to give up any of their rights, and he called on the Locumtenential Council to ensure that the ruler’s instructions did not violate the laws of the country or the prerogatives of the church. He also suggested that those who violate the “sovereignty” of the estates should be prosecuted for crimes of high treason. Railing against the spread of the teaching of natural law, which in his assessment threatened both the church and the old state system, he also emphasized that the interests of the nobility were the same as the interests of the clergy. All in all, he summarized the opposition of the estates to the issues raised by Kollár. It is a telling fact that the pamphlet still spread in manuscript form during the 1764–1765 parliament, but in 1785 it was printed in a Latin-German bilingual edition, so its points also served as weapons against the politics of Joseph II.48

Because of the pamphlet, which was publicly burned in Pozsony in 1765 at the order of the ruler, military forces were ordered to come to the town in which the Diet was held, and several members of the ecclesiastical and secular communities were interrogated. A sum of 2,000 gold was offered to anyone who could provide information about Richwaldszky’s whereabouts. In his report, however, Szily did not consider it probable that the investigation would produce results.49 And indeed, although Richwaldszky was suspected of having been the author of the pamphlet, the authorities failed to prove that he had written it. Nor did he lose the favor of the court, as proven by the fact that he was later involved in the preparation of the diocesan reform in the 1770s.50 This case is interesting from the perspective of the discussion here because in the person of Richwaldszky we find a canon who rebelled against the royal politics as early as 1765, albeit not during the lower house meetings, but in the form of an anonymous pamphlet.

Opposition to the policies of the court among members of the clergy was seen as exceptional even by contemporaries. According to general opinion, they were supporters of the “ruling party.” This view is reflected in particular in the pasquilli, that is, in the pamphlets which attacked the individual participants of the Diets. The Parliament of 1764–1765 abounds in pasquilli of this kind, which attacked the chapter deputies mainly in their person. Of these, the satire written against the aforementioned canon György Herman of Győr stands out. In addition to his allegedly immoral way of life (he was brought into disrepute because of a claim according to which he had had affairs with several girls and women from Győr), he was accused of supporting the issue of a tax increase in the parliament from the outset. According to one of the pasquilli, he agreed with Adam František Kollár that the priesthood should pay taxes, and allegedly, he could not even speak Latin properly.51 As we have seen, the records of canon Szily do not substantiate these accusations either, and it is particularly difficult to believe that the deputy, who had been elected to serve as the orator of the lower house delegation in August 1764,52 could not word his sentences precisely. On the contrary, Herman was known as a distinguished speaker,53 many of whose speeches survived. It was he who spoke at the funeral of Archbishop Barkóczy in 1765 in Pozsony.54 It is easy to imagine that Szily blunted the edge of his fellow deputy’s speeches in his accounts, but we can still assume that the author of the (anonymous) pasquillus exaggerated the weight of Herman’s pro-court manifestations.

The most fervent opposition among the canons was undoubtedly shown by József Bajzáth, the deputy of the Esztergom chapter. In most cases, he led the lower house delegation and, according to Szily’s accounts, he expressed his views innumerable times, or more narrowly, his rejection of the court’s demands. It is no coincidence that he, too, was suspected of having authored the Vexatio.55 Among the opposition, however, he was particularly popular. According to one of the verses celebrating him, he deserved the bishop’s mitre because he spoke with the voice of the people and even of God in his speeches.56 His oppositional conduct, however, did not jeopardize his political or ecclesiastical career, as a few months after the closure of the parliament, he became court councilor and officer of the Hungarian Court Chancellery, while at the same time he was also granted the title of bishop of Ansaria. By 1773, he had already been vice-chancellor and secret councilor, and in 1777, he was appointed bishop of Veszprém by the queen.57 Similarly, canon Pál Kiss of Veszprém was an oppositional voice in September 1764, when, according to Szily, his aforementioned speech was made, and Mihály Horváth has confirmed this in his research as well.58 Yet one of the pasquilli condemns him along with Herman and says he is of humble descent, though he most probably was the descendent of a noble family.59 These two cases remind us that the anonymous pamphlets can only be use with caution as expressions of “public opinion,” and we cannot always decide with certainty how far the accusations against the people ridiculed reflect the real facts and how many of these accusations were just clichés attributed to the social group to which the people targeted belonged. According to Festetich’s report, canon István Bartha of Eger, in agreement with several other county deputies, suggested keeping the Kollár issue on the agenda on August 7,60 and he even led the delegation of the lower house in September,61 but as we have seen, at the October 2 meeting, in agreement with his bishop, he opposed the tax reduction.62 On October 12, he was one of the deputies who called for a tax increase.63

Szily himself can also be classified as one of the canons who initially supported the opposition, and this did not ruin his career either, as his aforementioned appointment to the seat of Szombathely clearly testifies. These nuances are interesting because, according to contemporary opinion, the deputies of the cathedral chapters, in the hope of an episcopal mitre, supported the ruler’s politics.64 These examples, however, show that espousing a position in opposition to the wishes of the court did not necessarily lead to one being ignored when appointments were later made.

Among the consistently royalist canons, the aforementioned Gábor Gloser from Kalocsa and György Malenich from Zagreb stand out. Gloser was also targeted by one of the pasquilli, in which he was rebuked for his allegedly common origin.65 It is no coincidence that ignoble origin was an rebuke made in many pasquilli: historical research has also confirmed that the number of canons of humble origin in the chapters increased greatly in the eighteenth century.66 Gloser, whose pro-court behavior, as we have seen, was in accordance with his letter of commission, later held minor ecclesiastical and secular offices: in 1775 he was appointed to serve as provost of Felsőörs and, in 1777, as a prelate of the royal court.67 Canon György Malenich of Zagreb won the provostship of Buda from Maria Theresa in 1754 and the title of abbot of Zselicszentjakab in 1760, but later he did not advance in the hierarchy of the church.68 It is noteworthy, then, that a show of support for the court by the canons was not an absolute guarantee for later career advancement either.

Returning to our question, we can state that the sources only partially confirm the general conclusions in the secondary literature in connection with the parliament of 1764–1765. On the one hand, the unified opposition of the prelates in connection with the Kollár affair seems exaggerated. It is quite clear that the clergy acted in an organized manner against Kollár’s work, which, quite unsurprisingly, was coordinated by Archbishop Barkóczy himself. The claim, however, that all prelates adopted an oppositional stance cannot be substantiated. This conclusion seems to be refuted by the activity of József Batthyány and the role of Bishop Károly Eszterházy of Eger: canon Szily mentions the upper house delegation led by Eszterházy eight times, and in each case this delegation represented the position of the court. As usual, these delegations were led by clerics, and according to Szily’s accounts in 1764–1765, Eszterházy was the most active among the bishops.69 This is reinforced by an anonymous source from the royal court.70 Thus, even if Maria Theresa was disappointed with Archbishop Barkóczy, the second and third dignities of the Hungarian Catholic Church remained loyal to Vienna. It also seems an oversimplification to claim that the canons initially took a completely united position in opposition to court in the lower house tax disputes and then unexpectedly switched as a group. In fact, there were lower house clerics who supported the position of the court from the outset, while the majority of those who were against the proposal made by the court changed their minds gradually before supporting the court’s aims, along with the other lower house representatives.

Concerning the political affiliation of the county deputies, István Szijártó has convincingly refuted the popular opinion that the counties with Protestant majorities beyond the Tisza River were the leaders of the opposition in the eighteenth century parliaments, while the counties with Catholic majorities were supporters of the court. Much as in the whole course of the second half of the century, in 1764–1765 most of the deputies of in the counties which were in opposition to the court were Catholics.71 Similarly, it is not clear that in 1764–1765, at the initial phase of the discussion of the Kollár affair and the tax issue, the clergy as a whole belonged to the opposition. Like the county deputies, the clergy was also divided and represented different political positions. The parliament of 1764–1765 differs from the previous ones in that we find among them speakers who (temporarily) spoke openly against the aspirations of the court. More precisely, this phenomenon is not new either, since earlier (and later, in 1790–1791), part of the clergy opposed the ruler’s position several times, but only on matters of religion.72 In 1764–1765, however, several of them also became political supporters of the oppositional positions represented by the estates.

Archival Sources

Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár [Diocesan Archives Győr] (GyEL)

II. Káptalani Levéltár [Chapter Archives]

1. Theca XLII

Kalocsai Főegyházmegyei Levéltár [Archdiocesan Archives Kalocsa] (KFL)

II. Kalocsai Főszékeskáptalani Levéltár [Arch-Chapter Archives Kalocsa]

1a) Főkáptalani magániratok, Jegyzőkönyvek [Private documents, protocols]

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár [Hungarian National Archives] (MNL)

Heves Megyei Levéltár [Heves County Archives] (HML)

XII. Egyházi szervezetek és intézmények [Ecclesiastical organizations and


2. Az egri káptalan magánlevéltára [Private Archives of the Chapter of


Országos Levéltár [National Archives of Hungary] (OL)

A) Magyar Kancelláriai Levéltár [Hungarian Chancellery Archives]

57. Libri regii

Országgyűlési Könyvtár [Library of the Hungarian Parliament] (OGyK)

Magyar Parlamenti Gyűjtemény [Hungarian Parliament Collection] (MPGy)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (ÖStA)

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHStA)



Nachlass Nenny


Ungarische Akten



Ältere Zeremonialakten


Printed sources

Bezerédj, István. “Rosti Ferenc levelei az 1764–65. évi pozsonyi országgyűlésről” [Letters of Ferenc Rosti from the Diet of 1764–65 in Pozsony]. Dunántúli Szemle 10 (1943): 4–21.

Enchiridion Martini Bironii Padáni episcopi Weszprimiensis, de fide, haeresiarchis, ac eorum asseclis, ... deque constitutionibus, atque decretis imperatorum & regum, contra dissipatores catholicae ecclesiae editis: diotrephi seu Acatholicis in Hungaria commorantibus, ad ... Mariam Theresiam, ... exhibitum, Jaurini 1750.

Kollar, Adam Franciscus. De originibus et usu perpetuo potestatis legislatoriae circa sacra Apostolicorum Regum Ungariae. Vindobonae, 1764.

Kollár Ádám Ferenc levelezése [Correspondence of Ádám Ferenc Kollár]. Edited by István Soós. Commercia litteraria eruditorum Hungariae 4. Budapest: Universitas, 2000.

Vexatio dat intellectum. Manuscriptum sub diaeta Regni Hungariae anno MDCCLXIV, vulgatum, et mox XII. Kal. Mart. an. MDCCLXV. Posonii in foro publico per manus carnificis combustum, cum omnia illa, quae nunc regno huic accidunt, in eodem praedicta habeantur, una cum facta super eodem scripto Apologia ad perpetuam rei memoriam nunc primum typis excusum. S. l. 1785

Werbőczy, István. Tripartitum. A dicsőséges Magyar Királyság szokásjogának Hármaskönyve. Latin-magyar kétnyelvű kiadás [Customary law of the Renowned Kingdom of Hungary in Three Parts] Budapest: Téka, 1990.


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Bánk, József. Egyházi jog [Canon law]. Budapest: Szent István Társulat, 1958.

Csizmadia, Andor. Adam Franz Kollar und die ungarische rechtshistorische Forschung. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 398. Vienna: VÖAW, 1982.

Bedy, Vince. A győri székeskáptalan története [History of the Cathedral Chapter of Győr]. Győr, 1938.

Eckhart, Ferenc. “A praecedentia kérdése a magyar rendi országgyűléseken” [The question of praecedentia in the Hungarian Diets]. In Notter Antal Emlékkönyv. Dolgozatok az egyházi jogból és a vele kapcsolatos jogterületekről, edited by Pál Angyal, Jusztin Baranyai, and Mihály Móra, 172–80. Budapest: Szent István Társulat, 1941.

Erdő, Péter. Egyházjog [Canon law]. Budapest: Szent István Társulat, 2005.

Fazekas, István. A Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv magyar vonatkozású iratai [Documents of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv related to Hungary]. Budapest: Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár, 2015.

Forgó, András. “Der ungarische Klerus des 18. Jahrhunderts im Spannungsfeld zwischen konfessionellem und konstitutionellem Ständewesen.” In: Frühneuzeitforschung in der Habsburgermonarchie: Adel und Wiener Hof – Konfessionalisierung – Siebenbürgen, edited by István Fazekas, Martin Scheutz, Csaba Szabó, und Thomas Winkelbauer, 273–89. Publikationen der Ungarischen Geschichtsforschung in Wien 7. Vienna: Collegium Hungaricum, 2013.

Forgó, András. “Formen der Spätkonfessionalisierung im Ungarn des 18. Jahrhunderts.” In Adel und Religion in der frühneuzeitlichen Habsburgermonarchie. Annäherung an ein gesamtösterreichisches Thema, edited by Katrin Keller, Petr Maťa, and Martin Scheutz, 273–87. Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2017.

Forgó, András. Egyház – Rendiség – Politikai kultúra. Papok és szerzetesek a 18. század országgyűlésein [Church – Estates –Political culture: Priests and monks at the 18th-century Diets]. Budapest: Szent István Társulat, 2017.

Gonsa, Gerhard. “Das kaiserliche Kabinett.” In Verwaltungsgeschichte der Habsburgermonarchie in der Frühen Neuzeit, edited by Michael Hochedlinger, Petr Mat’a, and Thomas Winkelbauer, 541–50. Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung, Ergänzungsband 62/1. Vienna: Böhlau, 2019.

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Horváth, Mihály. “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés története” [History of the Diet of 1764]. In Horváth Mihály kisebb történelmi munkái, vol. 1, 375–422. Pest, 1868.

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Nagy, János “‘Ha nézem a Papokat, mind ellenünk vannak.’ A káptalani követek ábrázolása a XVIII. századi országgyűlési pasquillusokban” [“As I look at the priests, they are all against us.” Chapter deputies in 18th-century Parliament pasquilli]. In Doromb: Közköltészeti tanulmányok 3, edited by István Csörsz Rumen, 237–48. Budapest: Reciti, 2014.

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Tusor, Péter. “Die päpstliche potestas indirecta und die habsburgische Religionspolitik am Anfang des 17. Jahrhunderts.” In Das Trienter Konzil und seine Rezeption im Ungarn des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, edited by Márta Fata, András Forgó, Gabriele Haug-Moritz, and Anton Schindling, 79–93. Reformationsgeschichtliche Studien und Texte 171. Münster: Aschendorff, 2019.

1* This research on which this paper is based enjoyed the support of the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and project NKFI K 116166.

Szijártó, “The unexpected survival,” 27–39.

2 It should be noted that this regulation was not entirely in line with the approach of the ecclesiastical order: the article of the law classified only the bishops in the order of the prelates and granted the right to appear during the sessions of the upper house only to them. Contemporary canon law however, also considered abbots and provosts infulati to be prelates (lesser prelates, praelati minores). The current canon law knows only territorial prelates (praelati territoriales), but according to Hungarian law, they were entitled to appear only in the lower house. This gave rise to much controversy throughout the era. Bánk, Egyházi jog, 94–100; Erdő, Egyházjog, 308; Eckhart, “A praecedentia kérdése,” 172–80.

3 The first point of the Peace in Vienna, which ended the armed uprising led by István Bocskai (1604–1606), allowed free religious practice for the Lutheran and Reformed confessions in Hungary. Although it was later included in the laws of the country (Act I of 1608), it was never complied with in practice. This is partly explained by the fact that the Holy See considered the law invalid because of its detrimental effect on the Catholic Church, and the Holy See even held out the prospect of the public excommunication of Matthias Habsburg (Matthias II as king of Hungary), who sanctioned it. Tusor, “Die päpstliche potestas indirecta,” 79–93.

4 The decree issued by Charles VI (Charles III as king of Hungary) in 1731 and confirmed and supplemented in 1734 regulated the living conditions of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions in Hungary until the famous decree of Joseph II in 1781. Although within a very strict framework, the regulation allowed them to practice their religion in a limited way and operate their institutional system, unlike the Protestants in Austria. Forgó, “Formen der Spätkonfessionalisierung,” 273–87.

5 Szijártó, “A konfesszionális rendiségtől az alkotmányos rendiségig,” 37–62.

6 Enchiridion Martini Bironii Padáni episcopi Weszprimiensis.

7 Bahlcke, Ungarischer Episkopat.

8 First, we can find one prelate who faced the court before the middle of the century in the person of Bishop Michael Friedrich Althann of Vác (1718–1734), who came into conflict with Charles VI due to the Carolina resolutio. Second, the Theresian reform program from the 1750s was supported by many prelates. Third, the Josephinist church policy tended to divide the Hungarian clergy rather than create a “united front” against the court. Forgó, “Der ungarische Klerus”; see: Gőzsy and Varga, “Bahlcke, Joachim: Ungarischer Episkopat,” 70–75; Szijártó, “A kora újkori magyar rendiség,” 105–11.

9 Horváth, “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés.”

10 I have dealt in detail with the eighteenth century political activity of the lower house clergy: Forgó, Egyház – Rendiség – Politikai kultúra. In the followings, I supplement these results with new sources for the parliament of 1764–1765 and with the latest findings in the secondary literature.

11 ÖStA, HHStA, Obesrsthofmeisteramt, Ältere Zeremonialakten Kart. 63. ff. 1r–378v. Ungarischer Landtag in Pressburg, Reise und Zeremoniell, 1764. V. 4 – XI. 24.

12 Stefancsik, Az 1764/65-i országgyűlés, 8–15.

13 Horváth, “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés,” 382–83.

14 Werbőczy, Tripartitum, I/ 9, § 5.

15 Szijártó, A diéta, 242.

16 Kollar, De originibus et usu perpetuo potestatis.

17 Csizmadia, Adam Franz Kollar.

18 Szijártó, A diéta, 248.

19 See Poór, Adók, katonák, országgyűlések, 254–55.

20 Szabo, Kaunitz and Enlightened Absolutism, 313–14; H. Balázs, Bécs és Pest-Buda, 68.

21 Horváth, “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés,” 390–410, Stefancsik, Az 1764/65-i országgyűlés, 34–46; Szijártó, A diéta, 248–55.

22 Poór, Adók, katonák, országgyűlések, 162–94.

23 Letter from Ferenc Rosty, Vice Comes of Vas County, to his wife on July 4, 1764. Bezerédj, Rosti Ferenc levelei, 9.

24 “Endlich trate obbemelter Primatis Regni Fürstlichen Gnaden gegen den thron etwas nähender, und machten im nahmen des ganzen Landes eine sehr zierliche Anrede, welche wegen ihren so gemässigten, als beträchtlichen Ausdruckungen halben vollständig in das haupt Diaetal Diarium eingebracht worden ist.” ÖStA HHStA Länderabteilungen, Ungarische Akten, Comitialia, Fasc. 408, konv. B, fol. 3r.- 103v. Unterthänigster Bericht über den Verlauf des auf den siebzehenden Monat Junii des 1764. Jahres allergnädigst ausgeschriebenen und in der königl(ichen) Frey-stadt Preßburg gehaltenen Landtages. 7v.

25 Hende, “Politikai reprezentáció,” 42.

26 “In hesterno statuum congressu princeps praesul Strigoniensis contra opusculum Tuum longam orationem habuit, applaudentibus fere omnibus, dum pro arbitratu privilegia et jura nationis in dubium revocares, et praesenti tempore inter augustam et status turbarum semina inseminares.” Unknown writer to Kollár, Pozsony, July 10, For its edition, see: Kollár Ádám Ferenc levelezése, 156.

27 Bahlcke, Ungarischer Episkopat, 275–76.

28 Kollár to Batthány, Vienna, after July 16, 1764. Batthány to Kollár, Pozsony, July 24, 1764. Kollár Ádám Ferenc levelezése, 157, 160–61.

29 Gonsa, “Das kaiserliche Kabinett,” 541–50.

30 On the documents which survived in Nény’s estate, see: Fazekas, A Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, 411.

31 ÖstA HHStA, Kabinettsarchiv, Kabinettskanzlei, Nachlass Nenny, Geheime Berichte des Erzbischoffen von Colocza über den ungarischen Landtag, anni 1764/5, an den geheimen Kabinets Sekretär Hofrath Baron Nenny, Pressbourg (in French).

32 Marczali, Magyarország története, 296.

33 Horváth, “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés,” 405–8.

34 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5420. (July 6, 1764).

35 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5422 (June 17, 1764) and passim.

36 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5423 (June 24, 1764).

37 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5437 (September 10, 1764).

38 KFL II/1. a), vol. 1a, Protocollum capitulare actorum privatum, pag. 144–152 (the session on 25 April 1764).

39Cum venerabile clero pariter status et ordines sunt contenti, quod non solum nihil contrarii statibus opposuerint (uti elapsa diaeta primi promittendo fecerunt), verum etiam eos secundaverint. Nos ultronee declaravimus semprer statibus adhaesuros, dummodo et ii nobis adhaereant, quod et liberaliter promiserunt.” GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5437 (September 10, 1764).

40 Unfortunately, Bartha’s letter of commission has not been preserved by the protocollum of the chapter. MNL HML XII. 2/a, Acta conferentiarum capitularium annorum 1754 usque 1782.

41 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5430 (October 3, 1764).

42 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5431 (October 15, 1764).

43 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5432 (October 17, 1764).

44 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5432A–5438 (October 20, 1764–December 12, 1764).

45 OGyK 700.465, Acta et diarium Diaetae anni 1764–1765, pag. 138–140.

46 “Auf diesen gleich erwähnten vortrag haben sich endlich die gesamten H[erren] Stände einhällig entschlossen, das abbemelte anno 1751 erhobene Quantum neüerdings zu bestättigen...” ÖStA HHStA Länderabteilungen, Ungarische Akten, Comitialia Fasc. 408, konv. B, fol. 3r- 103v. Unterthänigster Bericht… fol. 97v.

47 Nagy, “A káptalani követek hangadói,” 179–83.

48 Vexatio dat intellectum. Bahlcke, Ungarischer Episkopat, 281–87.

49 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5451 (Mach 5, 1765).

50 Bahlcke, Ungarischer Episkopat, 283.

51 Nem eszemhez való publica szóllani / Mert én nem tanultam nyelvet mértékelni. / Ország dolgát azok tudják megfontolni / Kiknek nyelvek nem nagy, eszek nem parányi. / Én nagy tudományom kevélységben vagyon, / Eszem is, iszom is, amit tetszik nagyon, / Hogy ahová járok, erőm ott ne fogyjon. Téglás, A történeti pasquillus, 101–3.

52 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5424 (August 13, 1764).

53 Bedy, A győri székeskáptalan, 466.

54 Nagy “Ha nézem a Papokat.”

55 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5451 (March 5, 1765).

56 “Orator Patriae, mytram tibi Patria vovet, / Vox tua, vox populi, vox sacra, vox Dei est.” Stefancsik, Az 1764/65-i országgyűlés, 40.

57 Kollányi, Esztergomi kanonokok, 367–69.

58 Horváth, “Az 1764-ki országgyűlés,” 393.

59 Nagy, “Ha nézem a Papokat,” 244.

60 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5424 (August 13, 1764).

61 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5437 (September 10, 1764).

62 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5430 (October 3, 1764).

63 GyEL II/1. Theca XLII, Nr. 5432 (October 17, 1764).

64 Szijártó, A diéta, 167.

65 Téglás, A történeti pasquillus, 103.

66 Nagy, “Ha nézem a Papokat,” 247.

67 Lakatos, A kalocsa-bácsi főegyházmegye, 24.

68 MNL OL A 57, vol. 43, 351–53; vol. 45, 425–26.

69 Regardless, Archbishop Batthyány did not have a very good opinion of him, because he thought Eszterházy was overly stubborn in his approach to politics. See: Bahlcke, Ungarischer Episkopat, 279.

70 ÖStA HHStA Länderabteilungen, Ungarische Akten, Comitialia Fasc. 408, konv. B, fol. 3r–103v. Unterthänigster Bericht, passim.

71 Szijártó, A 18. századi Magyarország, 167; see: Szijártó, Estates and Constitutions, 150–53.

72 Forgó, Egyház – Rendiség – Politikai kultúra, 72–87, 198–209.


With or without Estates? Governorship in Hungary in the Eighteenth Century

Krisztina Kulcsár
National Archives of Hungary
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 1  (2021): 96-128 DOI 10.38145/2021.1.96

In the eighteenth century, the Hungarian estates had the greatest influence among the estates of the provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy. The main representative of the estates was the palatine, appointed by the monarch but elected by the estates at the Diet. He performed substantial judicial, administrative, financial, and military tasks in the Kingdom of Hungary. After 1526, the Habsburg sovereigns opted to rule the country on several occasions through governors who were appointed precisely because of the broad influence of the palatine. In this essay, I examine the reasons why the politically strong Hungarian estates in the eighteenth century accepted the appointment of governors instead of a palatine. I also consider what the rights and duties of these governors were, the extent to which these rights and duties differed from those of the palatine, and what changes they went through in the early modern period. I show how the idea and practice of appointing archdukes as governors or palatines was conceived and evolved at the end of the eighteenth century. The circumstances of these appointments of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, future son-in-law of Charles VI, Prince Albert of Saxony(-Teschen), future son-in-law of Maria Theresa and Archduke Joseph, shed light on considerations and interests which lay in the background of the compromises and political bargains made between the Habsburg(-Lorraine) rulers and the Hungarian estates.

Keywords: Hungarian estates, governor, palatine, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Prince Albert of Saxony(-Teschen)


In the Kingdom of Hungary in the early modern period, the privileges, rights, and obligations of the monarch and the estates were determined partly by customary law and partly by having been codified at the Diet over the centuries. As a result, the Hungarian estates were by far the strongest in the Habsburg Monarchy, and they enjoyed extensive rights.1 Their main representative was the palatine, appointed by the monarch but elected by the estates at the Diet. In the Middle Ages, the palatine’s term of office lasted for a specific period of time, until replacement, resignation or death.2 From 1526 onwards, the post was given for life by law (Act XXII of 1526).3 The palatine played a mediatory role between the estates and the king and swore his oath of office after his election at the Diet in front of the monarch and the estates.4

As opposed to the palatine, the governor (locumtenens) received his post without the involvement of the estates. His mandate was usually temporary, and his tasks were defined by the ruler.5 The job of the governor was to execute the ruler’s decrees and in the early modern period the office holder operated outside Hungarian constitutional law. His task was thus not the representation of the estates or mediation between the monarch and the estates. This is well illustrated by the fact that he swore his oath in front of the monarch alone, and the representatives of the Hungarian estates were not present at those occasions. The only Hungarians attending were royal office holders or church dignitaries.6

This paper focuses on the how the influence of the estates was reduced in the eighteenth century: the Habsburg practice of side-lining the Hungarian estates and appointing governors. The purpose of this contribution is to consider the people who filled the office of the governor with the aim of exploring what their rights and duties were, the extent to which these rights and duties differed from those of the palatine, and what changes they went through in the early modern period. I seek, furthermore, to examine the arguments the Viennese Court made when appointing governors, and why the Hungarian estates in the eighteenth century might have accepted these Habsburg appointees.

Palatine and Governor: Compromises prior to the Eighteenth Century

In the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, the palatine (comes palatinus, comes palatinus regis) was the highest-ranking secular official after the king. Initially, he was an official of the royal household (comes palatii)7 with important judicial powers. The governor was always appointed (and discharged) by the king, but according to the most recent research, from as early as the middle of the fourteenth century, this office was elective by the Hungarian estates at the Diet.8 At this time, the name (regni Hungariae palatinus) and tasks also changed.

The title of palatine was not the same as the title of the deputy to the monarch, as the king endowed the latter with various powers. Until 1490, the king appointed a deputy (vicarius) for the period of his absence or when he was abroad, and this deputy could take steps on behalf of the king and could use his seal. After 1490, the monarch appointed governors (locumtenens), who could operate under their own name and seal.9 One must also distinguish between the case when the country had no monarch and when the legal heir was underage. In such cases, the estates themselves elected a deputy (gubernator) and invested him with royal prerogatives (e.g. János Hunyadi in 1446, who was the first person to hold this role in Hungary).10 This post, however, was different from that of both the palatine and the governor.

After their accession to the throne of Hungary in 1526, Habsburg rulers always resided outside the kingdom, so deputizing for them was of paramount importance. Initially, they governed through a governor (locumtenens, lieutenant-general), who stood in for the king not when the ruler was “temporarily” outside the country but when he was permanently residing elsewhere (even if permanent residence in Vienna was not considered by public law as a real absence from 1573 on11). Until 1530, the monarch appointed the palatine as governor, thus fulfilling the wishes of the estates. In return, he could count on their military help. However, this powerful dignitary often proved too difficult to handle politically. The only way the king could counter the growing influence and power of the estates was by leaving the position of palatine unoccupied. Consequently, until 1554, the monarch relied on the governor he appointed as his deputy.12

As a compromise to resolve the conflict between the ruler and the estates, Tamás Nádasdy was appointed palatine (1554–1562). It would be logical to assume that the reason for this was pure military consideration in the context of the Ottoman threat and the military situation in Transylvania. However, King Ferdinand I gave way also for another important reason. Given that until 1678 the Hungarian throne was not hereditary, the estates insisted on the free election of a king. In contrast, the king intended to crown his son Maximilian, so as a compromise, he agreed on the election of a palatine. The new palatine, Nádasdy obtained the medieval rights attributed to palatines, which were then codified for the first time.13 Nádasdy also received the title of Captain general (generalis et supremus capitaneus), since the monarch needed the estates to finance the defense of the borders. Eventually, in 1556 the palatine’s excessive military power was curtailed: from that point on, military affairs were controlled by the Aulic War Council, and the palatine’s military right was revoked.14

After the death of Nádasdy in 1562, successive Habsburg rulers appointed governors. These loyal officials were usually Catholic clergymen who were in need of support from the state against the Protestant Hungarian estates or were appointed because they were the monarch’s siblings. This situation persisted until the early seventeenth century, which indicated the tense relationship between the monarch and the estates.15 Only loyal subjects of the dynasty could be appointed governors. As the estates of the Kingdom of Hungary converted to Protestantism, the governor, chosen from among Catholic prelates, could counterbalance the power of the Protestant estates. From the second half of the sixteenth century on, the governor still had several spheres of authority as “the deputy to the king”: he could exercise his power to pardon (except those who wronged the king), donate land up to a certain size, issue decrees, summon assemblies, and had broad judicial discretion.16

Eventually, with the Treaty of Vienna of 1606, which put an end to the Bocskai uprising, the Hungarian estates achieved their aim: the ruler agreed to elect a palatine at the next Diet. At the Diet two years later, referring back to this promise, the election took place as a result of another compromise which was in place until Matthias II’s coronation: the estates could again elect a palatine, who could protect the Hungarian constitution and the privileges of the estates.17 Act III of 1608 determined the details of how to elect palatines, which were thus posited for centuries to come. The monarch designated the candidates, first three and, after 1608, four candidates. Two of them had to be Catholic, the other two Protestant. The fact that the act ordained that the position of the palatine be filled within a year in the event of vacancy clearly indicated the growing power of the estates. The act also gave the right to other dignitaries to summon a Diet for the sake of electing a new palatine when the position was vacant, in case the monarch was not willing to do it himself. To our knowledge, this never happened18 but the act itself signals how crucial the post of the palatine was for the estates. From that point on, the position of the palatine intertwines with the post of the governor, as both titles were held by the palatine parallelly, and it also well-exemplifies the essence of the agreement between the Viennese Court and the estates.19 In the seventeenth century, however, the monarchs gradually deprived the palatine of his power to deputize for the king and his other political rights, leaving primarily his judicial role.20

Nevertheless, following the conspiracy of the Hungarian noblemen of 1670, in which the palatine himself was involved, Leopold I yet again worked through a governor (who was the Archbishop of Esztergom) until 1681. In that year the Hungarian aristocrat Pál Esterházy was elected palatine by the Hungarian estates.21 Hence, his appointment was the result of a political compromise at the end of a domestic crisis in the Kingdom.22 As palatine, Esterházy represented the interests of both the king and the estates, and had a mediating role, but despite his loyalty to the monarch, he primarily protected the privileges of the Hungarian estates.

Appointment of Governors in the Eighteenth Century

After the insurgencies of the seventeenth century and the Rákóczi rebellion (1703–1711), at the beginning of the eighteenth century the ruler and the Hungarian estates came to an accommodation. Although the Rákóczi rebellion was suppressed, due to the external situation the Habsburg monarch was forced to make a compromise with the Hungarian estates. From 1705, Leopold I’s son, Joseph I reigned over the Austro-Bohemian hereditary provinces and the Kingdom of Hungary. Yet, in 1711, before the end of the rebellion and the peace treaty, the king unexpectedly died. His successor was his brother, Charles VI, who proclaimed to be king of Spain in 1703 but did not actually succeed in getting the Spanish throne. After his brother’s death, Charles quickly made a compromise with the Hungarian estates so that he could focus on the War of the Spanish Succession. Thus, the Hungarians could make a favorable agreement with the king, who did not impede the election of the palatine after Esterházy’s death in 1714.

The post of palatine was considered of crucial importance after the Rákóczi rebellion, for both the estates and the Viennese Court. Nevertheless, the court was not dependent on the influence of the estates: with clever politics, it could successfully influence the election even in the seventeenth century, to make sure that the palatine’s position (sometimes even that of the palatine and the governor at the same time) was held by a person suitable for the court. All the court had to do was to compile a list for the assembled estates, which included the person it wished to see in the position and three others that had no chance and no repute in the eyes of the estates. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, electing a Protestant palatine was highly unlikely. Still, the monarchs could not be sure about the outcome of the election, as exemplified by the battle between the two aristocrats nominated, Count György Erdődy and Count Lajos Batthyány (the court’s favorite), at the Diet of 1751.23

However, the estates retained their extensive rights and hence formed an obstacle for the Habsburgs when it came to tapping into the kingdom’s resources. Therefore, the monarchs used various tools to restrict the estates so that they could not interfere in the public affairs of the country much. First, they establish new administrative institutions, which were independent of the estates. In addition, successive rulers managed this situation by summoning the Diet less and less often and leaving important posts vacant. This is what happened with the office of the palatine. During the eighteenth century, it occurred three times that after the death of a palatine, the Habsburg ruler decided to appoint a governor.

The first of these governors was Prince Francis Stephen of Lorraine (the future son-in-law of Charles VI and the fiancé of Maria Theresa), who got the position of governor after Palatine Miklós Pálffy’s death in 1732 and held it until 1741, when he became co-ruler.24 Between 1765 and 1780, Prince Albert of Saxony, the future son-in-law of Queen Maria Theresa held the post of the governor.25 In 1795, following the untimely death of Palatine Archduke Alexander Leopold, his brother, Archduke Joseph was appointed governor by Francis I.26

Due to protests by the estates in the seventeenth century, it was important what grounds and arguments the Viennese court had when defeating the (potential) opposition of the estates concerning the appointment of governors. There were two notions the court emphatically applied in the documents. One was used to express that the situation was not permanent. In all three cases, partly in keeping with the letter of the law, they were in post only temporarily, provisoriter or provisorio modo. This way, in contrast with the appointment of governors in medieval times, they did not determine the duration of the assignment. In theory, their assignment lasted only until the next Diet would elect a palatine. Legally, as mentioned above, a Diet had to be convoked within a year upon the death of a palatine, as stated by Act III of 1608. Since the Diet was summoned by the ruler, he or she could sustain this temporary situation as long as they liked. The estates’ response to this came in 1741, when, as a compensation for the coronation of Maria Theresa, the military support provided in the War of the Austrian succession, and the appointment of Prince Francis Stephen of Lorraine as co-ruler, the estates demanded all sorts of concessions. In 1741, for example, they had the obligatory election of the palatine reinforced (Act IX of 1741). This condition was included in the law because prior to that, in both cases, the country was administered only by a governor and the estates could not elect a palatine. Still, both Charles VI and Maria Theresa disregarded the law. Thus, the monarchs tried to avert the estates’ opposition partly by employing the term provisorio modo.

Besides temporariness, the governor’s kinship was also emphasized as a political tool in the hands of the Habsburgs. It served the purpose of preventing the estates from publicly protesting against the appointment of the governor and insisting on summoning a Diet to elect a palatine. Consequently, this element was stressed in the diplomas of appointment: Francis Stephen of Lorraine was called a ‘blood relative’,27 and Maria Theresa also referred to her own future son-in-law as such.28 Prince Albert was actually the son of her cousin, Archduchess Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony, that is, really a descendant of the House of Habsburg. This practice was not unprecedented: in the Austrian Netherlands and the Austrian Hereditary Provinces, the practice was to select governors from among the closest relatives of the Habsburg ruler.29 In the Kingdom of Hungary, it was only King Rudolf II in the seventeenth century, who, because he resided in Prague, appointed governors from among his brothers. Archduke Ernest of Austria held the post of the (military) governor between 1577 and 1594, and was followed by his brother, Archduke Matthias.30 As mentioned above, in the early seventeenth century the estates publicly opposed this and demanded the election of a palatine. In the eighteenth century, however, neither the appointment of Prince Francis Stephen of Lorraine nor that of Prince Albert provoked public opposition. Instead, all counties sent their congratulations to the new governor upon his appointment, even if for some of them it took five months to do so.31 In the late eighteenth century and in the nineteenth century, Habsburg-Lorraine archdukes filled the office of the palatine. This reason and reasoning thus proved to be a useful tool against the Hungarian estates, and the governors were viewed as guarantees for the monarch.

Reasons for the Appointment

After this historical overview, let us examine the reasons of the appointment of eighteenth-century governors. The most important reason was personal motivation. The cases of the two princes were similar: they did not have significant landed property or great incomes, yet they were the fiancé of a (rich) Habsburg(-Lorraine) archduchess. Furthermore, Francis Stephen, for instance, was to marry the heiress to the throne in 1732, but he did not have any considerable properties. A year after his appointment, when military troops marched into Lorraine, he really became dispossessed, because he had to give up his lands (the principality of Bar on September 14, 1736 and the principality of Lorraine in February 173732) to Stanisław Leszczyński, the father-in-law of the French King Louis XV, who was compensated for the Polish throne lost in the War of the Polish Succession. However, in Tuscany, which was promised to Francis Stephen in return, the House of Medici ruled until mid-1737, so for a while, his only “real” dignity was as governor of the Kingdom of Hungary, one of the most significant countries of the Habsburg Monarchy. Albert of Saxony (1738–1822) was in an even more difficult situation: as the fourth son of August II, Elector of Saxony, he had no properties of his own, nor a real rank, and his allowance was extremely small.

It was therefore important in both cases that the landless, poor prince should be granted an office that brought with it dignity and rank as well as some political power. The position of the governor of Hungary seemed suitable for this purpose. It offered, although temporarily, a title, a position and of course, income. It should be stressed that the mentioned provisorio modo also mattered to the estates. Francis Stephen of Lorraine was on course to be elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Albert of Saxony and Archduchess Maria Christina were in line for the governorship of the Austrian Netherlands after the death of the incumbent officeholder, Maria Theresa’s brother-in-law, Charles of Lorraine.

The specific political reasons for the appointments of the two princes differed slightly. In 1732 Charles VI had grave reservations about the post of the palatine (as indicated by the fact that the new government office of internal politics established in 1723 received the modifier ‘Lieutenancy’ and not ‘Palatinal’33). He heartily disliked the office of the palatine, especially because Palatine Miklós Pálffy (1714–1732) was very popular in Hungary and managed to widen the authority of his office. When Pálffy died in 1732, Charles VI himself said that one of the main defects of the country is the exaggerated authority and influence of the palatine, owing to the estates. This was what he intended to decrease by appointing a governor and thus increase royal power and authority.34 For Maria Theresa, the main consideration was to provide his son-in-law with an appropriate position. There was, however, another political reason, namely that negotiations at the Diet of 1764–1765 were unsuccessful and the planned reforms (such as the regulation of the relationship between landlords and peasants, and the provisioning of standing army35) fell through. Nonetheless, with the help of decrees, the monarch had the power to introduce reforms even in opposition to the estates. This policy was better served by a loyal governor than a palatine protecting the estates’ interests.

It may seem that Prince Albert’s appointment came ad hoc and was motivated only by personal considerations, as a result of the marriage between Albert and the monarch’s daughter, and indeed, the thought of appointing a loyal blood relative was not alien in Vienna. In 1765, Maria Theresa said in a compilation about her children’s future that instead of the palatine, another person should lead the kingdom, possibly an archduke, preferably one of her sons. The proposal was not new, as the idea had already come up at the court. At the meetings of the State Council, operating since 1761, the idea of giving an archduke-palatine to the Kingdom of Hungary was already brought up in the early 1760s.36 The fundamental idea probably came from Pál Festetics, vice president of the Hungarian Royal Chamber, who was one of the queen’s trusted advisors in Hungarian matters.37

When Palatine Count Lajos Batthyány died on October 26, 1765, the issue of whether there should be an election for palatine and who should receive the post was on the agenda. However, by then, Maria Theresa’s elder sons had each been given a province of the Habsburg Monarchy to lead: the crown prince, Joseph was Holy Roman emperor and co-regent, while Leopold was grand duke of Tuscany. Archduke Charles died in 1761, and Ferdinand was intended to become governor general of Lombardy. The only possible candidate, Archduke Maximilian, was too young, only nine years old. In lack of reliable and competent Hungarian noblemen, Maria Theresa did not even consider the possibility of making her young son lead the kingdom. According to her own admission, she was unable to find suitably talented and loyal Hungarians to help him in the governance of the kingdom.38 The landless Saxon prince marrying into the family came just at the right time. He was a relative with unquestionable loyalty, as he was indebted to the queen for his marriage, and his appointment helped solve the issue of governing the country.

In the case of Archduke Joseph in 1795, there were no such problems of livelihood and rank, but the fundamental effort to decrease or suppress the influence of the Hungarian estates is clearly noticeable. With the help of appointing a governor, Francis I wished to fill the post left vacant after the death of their brother, Palatine Archduke Alexander Leopold, and decided to appoint a governor mainly due to political reasons. The French revolution created a new political situation throughout Europe. Members of the reigning houses were even more afraid of their subjects’ plotting. The members of a secret Hungarian plot of 1794, called Jacobins, were arrested and executed, but it seemed wiser to entrust the country to a governor who was a blood relation and loyal to the court than to let the seething estates elect a palatine and give them the opportunity to put a politically powerful Hungarian noblemen at the forefront of the estates.

The governors appointed in the eighteenth century were unique not only due to their person and their closeness to the dynasty. There were several differences in their tasks and scopes of authority, as compared to those of the palatines and previous governors.

Formal and Informal Tasks of the Governors of the Eighteenth Century

Formal tasks

The duties and tasks of the eighteenth-century governors were the same as those of the palatines of the eighteenth century, but they certainly differed from those of the governors of the previous centuries. This was largely linked to changes in authority and responsibilities, as well as to certain historical events.

In the eighteenth century, the palatine kept his rights, which authorized him to represent the estates in the early modern period. These rights included presiding over the Diet and, more specifically, from 1608 onwards, over the sessions of the Upper House composed of members of high clergy and aristocracy.39 At the Diet, the palatine was a mediator between the estates and the monarch, that is, his role was not limited to representation only. His tasks included appointing the members of the delegation of the Upper House, participating in joint meetings with the Lower House. The palatines (and palatine-governors) of the early modern period fulfilled all these duties related to the Diet. Nonetheless, as governors, neither Francis Stephen of Lorraine, nor Prince Albert had to act at the Diet, since during their years as governors the monarch never summoned one.40 At the end of 1795 the situation was completely different. Archduke Joseph was expected to preside over the sessions in the Upper House as governor (before his election as palatine). This unusual situation generated tension and was opposed particularly by members of the Upper House.41 Although the Hungarian State Councilor József Izdenczy argued that there had been thirty Diets between 1553 and 1606, when, for lack of an elected palatine, the appointed governor became the president over the sessions of the Upper House, so only because of the Diet there would not have been any need for a palatine and thus for an election of a palatine, either.42 Opposition at any rate only lasted until the Diet began, when the archduke took his place as president, jointly with the Archbishop of Esztergom.43 This time, beyond the urgent political need, being the ruler’s relative again helped solve the conflict between the estates and the monarch.

Additionally, however, the governor acquired new responsibilities connected to the Habsburg administration in Hungary in the eighteenth century: most of all palatines and governors had to preside over the sessions of the already mentioned Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council.44 The governor chaired the meetings and signed the orders sent to the kingdom’s local institutions, counties, and cities. This was definitely a new responsibility, as seventeenth-century officials had no such administrative tasks.

Administration of justice was another important responsibility for the pal­atine and the governor, a task they had been carrying out since medieval times. In the eighteenth century, as the Chief Justice of the country, twice a year, they presided over the meetings of the Court of Appeal, a court that took the place of the court of the palatine and that of the royal governor. Here, lawsuits were only reheard in case of complaints or “appeal.”45 This responsibility remained unchanged; the appointed governors continued to participate in the meetings. In terms of the law (Act LXXVI of 1659), the palatine was lord lieutenant of Pest-Pilis-Solt county. This title was also given to the governors, but due to their absence, they governed the county via an administrator. In the case of Prince Albert, for example, the substitute was ordered to be appointed by the queen instead of him.46 When it came to border disputes between counties, the palatine (or the governor) gave orders for an investigation and had the right to make the decision.47 In the Middle Ages, the palatine was chief justice of the Jasz and Cuman privileged groups and, after the their territory was purchased in 1745, the responsibility was exercised by the incumbent palatine or the governor.48 They received renumeration for the post and for presiding over the Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council,49 and these incomes partly ensured livelihood according to their rank.

For long, the title of captain general was regarded as one of the most important responsibilities of the palatine. It was believed to originate from the Middle Ages, but recent research has revealed that it was only added to the palatine’s responsibilities as a result of the election of a palatine in 1554, claiming it was an old, medieval tradition. Back in the Middle Ages, palatines did not possess this title but charged the royal governor with the responsibility. When the Aulic War Council was established in 1556, the palatine, with his autonomous and wide military power, was deemed to be a hazard, and so the responsibility was withdrawn from him. Therefore, with the exception of Archduke Ernest, governors in the early modern times had no specific military responsibilities in Hungary, up until Prince Albert.


Informal tasks

Due to their closeness to the monarch, however, much more was expected from the governors. These were their “informal” tasks. They were to execute the ruler’s decrees with precision, serve as a source of reliable information and lend their support to certain causes. This can be illustrated by the secret instructions which were given by Charles VI to his future son-in-law Francis Stephen. In the context of Habsburg re-catholisation efforts of the 1730s, the instructions emphasized that the governors’ duties were to be fulfilled in defense of the Roman Catholic religion. He was also to reduce the number of noblemen with the dual aim of weakening noble influence and increasing tax intake.50

There were specific instructions made for Prince Albert’s new post, which differed considerably from the usual instructions for the palatine.51 His task was not to solve general or on-off problems, as customarily stated in the documents prepared for the appointment of Hungarian noblemen. Instead, the surviving addendum regulated the handling of issues in the Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council and the governor being treated according to his rank.52 Concerning his judicial duties, however, he was not given any additional instructions.53 The sources reveal that there were also secret instructions included for Prince Albert himself,54 but the document has not survived.55 Consequently, it cannot be ascertained what special tasks he was ordered to carry out, or whether there were any delicate matters to which he had to pay special attention, as there are no special provisions in the documents.

In 1795, two different governor’s instructions were made for Archduke Joseph as well. The “official” order was rather personal in tone, and served more as moral guidelines, including advice on how the young, inexperienced archduke should behave.56 In this document dated August 8, 1795, Francis I did not put emphasis on policies and tasks as his great grandfather Charles VI did, nor did he specify the administrative responsibilities as it was the case with Prince Albert in 1765. On the same day, Archduke Joseph received additional secret instructions, the content of which was connected to the political situation caused by the French Revolution and particularly with the monarch’s loss of trust due to the Jacobin movement in Hungary. The text reveals that these were not new instructions. Apparently, Francis I endorsed the late Palatine Archduke Alexander Leopold’s proposition dated April 16, 1795, which had a considerable political bias against the Hungarian estates. On the basis of this, it can be clearly stated that as governor, Archduke Joseph was ordered to act as counterbalance and take action against the Hungarian estates.57

Political Latitude

However, the sources indicate that the governor within the Kingdom of Hungary had only limited powers. He was not allowed to make decisions autonomously but was reliant, rather, on the ruler’s decrees from Vienna which he was to put into practice. Although Charles VI was allegedly tempted to grant rights to Francis Stephen of Lorraine that would have exceeded those of the palatine, as a precaution for future monarchs he decided against doing so.58 Nonetheless, the sources discussed so far also indicate that eighteenth-century rulers intended to give governors a certain political importance beyond mere representation. By keeping the monarch’s authority in view, they could limit the power of the Hungarian estates. For example, Charles VI promised Francis Stephen of Lorraine in his secret instructions that he would listen to his private opinion and support him, and he would decide in accordance with it, even against the opinion of the Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council. The ruler also gave him advice on how to treat the members of the council and suggested that he have preliminary discussion of the matters to be brought up in the council with a trusted advisor appointed to help him.59

In the case of Prince Albert, the queen’s wish was even more straightforward: she wanted her son-in-law to play an active role in the life of the kingdom. In his memoires, the prince recalled this as follows: “Since merely playing a symbolic role in this position was against my beliefs, and since the queen herself expected me to exercise my responsibilities with the utmost zeal, through hard work and practice I acquired all the necessary knowledge. I never neglected my duty of presiding over the meetings of the Lieutenancy Council, I carefully read every letter and every report, I read through and signed all the documents. To put it simply, albeit somewhat reluctantly at the beginning, I conscientiously carried out all the tasks that my new post required.”60 The prince’s work was aided by noble officials loyal to the court, whose opinions and beliefs the state counselors in Vienna did not doubt.61

As governor and president of the Lieutenancy Council, the princes dealt with the most crucial matters concerning the kingdom. Official records testify that the princes were regularly asked for their opinions; what is more, when Francis Stephen of Lorraine was absent, copies of the minutes of the Lieutenancy Council meeting were sent after him, either to Vienna or, in wartime, to the theater of operations in the south.62 A more detailed future research on certain cases shall help us ascertain how much the stance the princes took determined the ruler’s decision and whether there were any issues of greater or lesson concern to them.

It should be noted, however, that in certain cases the princes themselves drew up drafts to improve the handling of the kingdom’s matters. This clearly shows how much they identified with their post, particularly in military issues. Both princes had experience in the theater of war: Francis Stephen of Lorraine gained this experience in the war against the Ottoman Empire (although he was not a very successful commander), while Prince Albert fought against the Prussians, first as a volunteer, then, from 1760, as lieutenant general in the Habsburg army. Later he became Captain General of the Kingdom of Hungary. Understandably, due to this, both princes expressed their opinion on military issues. On the basis of the personal experiences gained throughout his travels in the kingdom,63 and with the help of some members of the Lieutenancy Council, in the early 1770s Albert proposed a new, fairer distribution and billeting of the troops stationed in the country. In 1772, a draft of a new system of tax assessment was drawn up by him and his counselors. Likewise, this did not happen as a result of an official request but was an individual initiative made with the approval and support of the prince.64

It can also be shown that sometimes the elaborated reform plans of the governor were somewhat modified. For example, the 55-page draft he submitted about reforming the administration of the Lieutenancy Council was not fully accepted.65 The draft, however, was made upon an official request to find mistakes and elaborate a new method of administration. The monarch’s final decision indicates that only certain parts of Albert’s proposal were used, while several elements (such as the reform he proposed concerning the work of the commissions of the council) were entirely neglected. In this case, the prince governor’s task (despite his title) was to express his opinion and make a suggestion, but the draft was not accepted unconditionally, as it was stated in the secret instructions by Charles VI in the case of Francis Stephen of Lorraine. During Maria Theresa’s reign the aim was different: they wished to prepare a comprehensive, well-substantiated regulation this way. Despite not always acting on his recommendations, the prince’s intention was never doubted, and his work was always appreciated.

The governors’ ill-defined sphere of authority occasionally led to problems. In 1766, for instance, Prince Albert arbitrarily sent back the nomination of Ferenc Subich, an official to Vienna, and transferred him to another position in his own governor’s office, instead of giving him the post of secretary of the Lieutenancy Council.66 By doing so, he overruled the queen’s decision, a step the Hungarian Royal Chancellery called unprecedented and highly hazardous, as it was an insult on the monarch’s authority and the chain of command. The queen, however, did not question the loyalty of the prince, who was grateful and indebted to her.67 Thanks to his close relationship with Maria Theresa, Prince Albert was not punished for this unthoughtful and careless action. The queen unconditionally trusted the prince and knew that he did not act out of disrespect. However, in the following 15 years Prince Albert carefully limited himself to making proposals for nominations and awards, such as in the case of officials to be transferred from the Hungarian Royal Chamber to the Lieutenancy Council,68 but their appointment remained to be the responsibility of the queen.


Changed Spheres of Authority and Roles

Firth of land donation

Besides excessive political influence, there was another economic reason for governors being deemed more suitable by the monarch in the eighteenth century. This was closely linked to a sphere of authority that had changed considerably from the late seventeenth century on. In the eyes of the court, the palatine’s most contested sphere of authority was the so-called palatine’s firth of land donation, which meant that the palatine could grant landed properties smaller than 32 serf’s plots to any nobleman without the preliminary consent of the ruler. This right was believed to have originated in the Middle Ages, though there is no basis for this conclusion. In fact, the firth of land donation was a royal prerogative, exercised by the monarch or, in case he or she was underaged, by the gubernator acting on his or her behalf.69 The first example recorded was in 1509, when governor Imre Perényi donated some part of a land that fell to the monarch.70 Later, too, the right could only be exercised by governors, not palatines. Act XXVI of 1567 mentioned the right as the governor’s firth of donation. Still, during the seventeenth century, the right became increasingly linked to the post of palatine, presumably due to the two positions being filled by the same person.71

Eighteenth-century sources make clearly mention of the palatine’s firth of land donation, on the basis of Act LXVI of 1609. The attitude to the palatine’s exercising of the right had fundamentally changed: it was believed that the governor could not enjoy this royal prerogative. This restriction is also detectable in the appointment documents of the governors: despite their close relationship to the monarch, the princes were not to impinge on the ruler’s power.72 The reason for revoking this sphere of authority may be economic. Apparently, these donations posed a great disadvantage for the Royal Chamber. In the mid-1750s, Pál Festetics was commissioned to investigate in what ways this sphere of authority of the palatines could be limited, if not terminated. In a lengthy report written in Latin and German, Festetics examined the history of the palatine’s firth of land donation. Citing the law, he argued that the idea of the firth of land donation originating from medieval times was incorrect, since it was first mentioned in Act LXVI of 1609 (then confirmed in Act XXX of 1659 and Act I of 1681). Until then, as recent research also reveals, only the gubernators as deputies of the monarch could enjoy this right, and it was not linked to the post of palatine in any way.73 By the eighteenth century, the law had changed and Palatine Pál Esterházy’s practice became the dominant one for the donation of lands. This, however, often put the Royal Aulic Chamber at a disadvantage, since land donations frequently exceeded the designated size or, at times, those receiving the donations managed to get a royal donation as well, and thus could take the income of more properties away from the Chamber. To solve this problem, Festetics proposed that in case of vacancy for the palatine’s position, an archduke should be appointed governor (whose sphere of authority could be restricted as needed). Moreover, the councilor also suggested that somehow the estates themselves be made to initiate the appointment. Another proposal of his which was later implemented by the queen was that in case there was no archduke in the dynasty to appoint as governor, the firth of land donation should be withdrawn from the appointee so that the number of noblemen exempt from paying taxes would not increase. The kingdom could have considerable economic benefits if smaller landowner noblemen moved to the cities, where they were obliged to pay taxes and could even be of use to the state by doing some trade or official activities.74

Based on Festetics’s reasoning, the issue of land donation must have been a rather difficult one in the eighteenth century. To eliminate the disadvantages, from that century on, the right was revoked from the appointed governors: neither Francis Stephen of Lorraine, nor Prince Albert could exercise it.75 As testified by the records on lands donated by the palatine, there were no new donations introduced between 1732 and 1740, and 1766 and 1780.76 It may be ascertained, then, that by the eighteenth century this had become the greatest difference between the sphere of authority of the palatine and the governor: the firth of land donation was exercised only by the palatine, a right he practically obtained from the governors of the early modern times. This right was withheld from the governors of the eighteenth century.

Another example of change in the sphere of authority and political thinking was the debates concerning Archduke Joseph’s appointment as governor in 1795. In fact, by that time, even the Hungarian advisors loyal to the dynasty believed that, as opposed to the palatine, the governor should not have the firth of land donation. Thus, when in the summer of 1795 Archduke Joseph’s appointment was discussed, in light of the previous examples, it was not considered to be a good idea to give him this sphere of authority. In the end, as proposed by State Councilor József Izdenczy, the archduke received the same rights as his late brother, Archduke Palatine Alexander Leopold, including the firth of land donation. However, this was not only the result of deepening trust but also had a political goal. The councilor believed that this was a way of preventing the estates from pushing for the election of a palatine.77


The role of the palatine at the coronation

The other sphere of authority of the palatine that had considerably changed from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century was his role at the coronation. According to the general view of (eighteenth-century) contemporaries and theoretical literature, the role of the palatine was indispensable at the ceremony. This argument, however, is not supported by the sources: this function of the palatine did not exist in the Middle Ages,78 and there is mention of only one such case in the course of the following centuries. In 1527 the palatine was present at the coronation of Ferdinand I as king of Hungary, and, despite the medieval tradition, managed to get the opportunity to place the crown on Ferdinand’s head together with the bishop of Nitra.79 Nevertheless, it did not become an established practice, mostly because the country did not have a palatine for decades to come. As a secular dignitary, the palatine first received a role at the coronation of Queen Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg 1681, when Palatine Pál Esterházy helped out the elderly and sickly archbishop by jointly touching the queen’s shoulder with the crown.80 In 1687 the palatine received an even more prominent role at the coronation of the child Joseph I. Although by this time the Lord Steward’s Office in Vienna had already demonstrated on the basis of old documents that the palatine had traditionally no active role at coronations, he only asked the estates three times whether they intended to crown the future king. Still, the influential Palatine Pál Esterházy made an agreement with the archbishop and could eventually place the Hungarian crown on the king’s head together with the archbishop.81 From that point on, the palatine became an active participant in the coronation of Hungarian rulers and in the course of the following centuries he became an indispensable figure at the ceremony. The Hungarian estates themselves insisted on this “established right” and, in tense political situations, such as prior to the coronation in 1741, they required the election of a palatine as a precondition to crowing Maria Theresa. At the end of the eighteenth century, State Councilor József Izdenczy claimed that it was wrong to believe that the palatine’s presence and active participation was required at the ceremony and brought up the coronation of Maximilian II as a counterexample.82 Still, it must be noted that the Hungarian estates used this tool rather cleverly in the seventeenth century, and often required the election of a palatine as a precondition of coronation, thereby symbolizing their power.83


The sphere of authority of captain general

According to the widespread notion, one of the major roles of the palatine was his sphere of authority as captain general of the country (Capitaneus generalis), as originating from the Middle Ages. Investigating the medieval example, however, proved that the title of captain general could only be received by appointment and not as part of the post of palatine, and persons other than the incumbent palatine could also receive the title.84 The title of captain general was not mentioned with regards to governors either. Although in 1554 Palatine Tamás Nádasdy received the title of captain general but he only managed to do so with the false claim that his predecessors had also had it. The document put in writing then and later called the Palatines’ Act of 1486 came to existence at that time, and they tried to prove its authenticity with the made-up medieval origin.85 This was, then, the result of the negotiations between Ferdinand I and the Hungarian dignitaries.86 In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, however, the sphere of authority was fully withdrawn from the governors and from the palatines as well. It only made back into the law in 1681, when Pál Esterházy was appointed, on the basis of what was thought to be the Act of 1486. Later Diets repeatedly reinforced this law.87 Eighteenth-century governors were not given this sphere of authority; Francis Stephen of Lorraine, for instance, had no control over the Hungarian army. Yet, in the case of Prince Albert, a considerable change took place when Maria Theresa appointed him captain general (Capitaine général), commander-in-chief of the foot soldiers, cavalry units, garrisons, fortresses, as well as each unit belonging to the Habsburg army stationed in Hungary.88 In terms of title and authority, the new rank seemed to be the same as that of the palatine, but the sphere was rather limited owing to the Habsburg military leadership, and in fact Prince Albert had no real military authority. The new military rank was established on the basis of practice in the Austrian Netherlands and Italian territories (Tuscany and Lombardy). In 1773 the same instructions were given to the captain generals of the three provinces or countries, including Hungary, regulating the title and post of governors or governor generals.89 Further research is needed to determine how much this post was linked to and differed from the Hungarian example attributed to the palatine. The end of the century witnessed a rearrangement: the palatine’s post fulfilled by archdukes was again joined with the medieval rank of captain general (or, at least, with how it was posited in 1715), and it was even codified.90

Despite having had his authority concerning the military withdrawn, the palatine retained one military role: were there a general noble military mobilization (insurrectio), if the monarch was not in the position to attend to his duties, the palatine became commander of the troops.91 In the period examined by the present paper, the only case when the nobility could have been mobilized without the palatine was during the War of the Prussian Succession in 1778. Advisors at the Viennese Court faced the problem of having to find reasons with which they could convince the nobility to mobilize without a palatine in position, but they decided to do so by referring again to the Diets between 1563 and 1608. As for the estates, they rightfully inquired who the commander of the troops would be, since the position of palatine was vacant.92 Eventually, the dilemma of public law did not have to be solved, as the planned Diet was not summoned.

A Special Situation: Archduke-Governors and Archduke-Palatines

Changes in the palatines’ sphere of authority and the polices of the Viennese Court manifested themselves even more in the late eighteenth century. In 1790, after Joseph II’s death, Leopold II had to make a choice, because, as already mentioned, since 1687 the palatine’s presence was necessary for the coronation ceremony. Without a palatine, he could not be crowned; however, if he permitted the estates to elect a palatine, it would increase the influence of the estates, who probably felt after Joseph II’ anti-constitutional reign that they would finally have the opportunity to protect their rights and privileges. In 1790, given the French revolution and the general crisis of the Habsburg Monarchy, this idea seemed dangerous. As a compromise, Leopold II resurrected an earlier plan from the time of his mother, Maria Theresa, in a somewhat changed form.

As shown earlier, in the 1750s Pál Festetics and, then, in the 1760s the State Council of Vienna made the suggestion that someone from the Habsburg-Lorraine family could be nominated to the position of the palatine and elected with the estates’ support. Even the name archduke-palatine was coined at this time. (Nevertheless, Maria Theresa probably would have preferred an archduke-governor rather than an archduke-palatine.) In 1790 the Viennese Court also wanted to postpone the election of a palatine. Initially there were discussions of appointing a governor instead. Later, during the selection of the candidates, they clearly tried not to let the estates have much influence over the matter: the advisors recommended an elderly nobleman or a completely loyal dignitary for the list, and the other candidates stood no chance whatsoever. This way, if the palatine died or resigned by mutual agreement, the monarch would have had the opportunity again to appoint a governor. However, as a gesture towards the Hungarian estates, Leopold II agreed to the appointment of a palatine. His willingness to reconcile is well-illustrated by the fact that he had the names of acceptable noblemen written on the list and agreed to his fourth son being recommended for the post without nomination, even if it meant that the archduke’s name would not even come up or the Diet would elect someone else. Indeed, the election did not go very smoothly, as 25 counties insisted on electing a Hungarian nobleman for the post. The recalcitrant counties were eventually either intimidated or made to agree by the delegates loyal to the monarch. The method of the “election” signals how limited the estates’ former right to elect a palatine now was: in the course of this well-prepared theatrical performance, Archduke Alexander Leopold became palatine by acclamation, that is, he was elected before the envelope containing the names of the four Hungarian noblemen recommended by the monarch was even opened.93

When Alexander Leopold died five years later, the new Habsburg ruler, Francis I (II) did not summon a Diet but once again nominated a governor from the House of Habsburg-Lorraine only a few days after his brother’s death.94 He appointed another brother of his, Archduke Joseph.95 The uncertainty of the court is clear to see when the arguments for and against the election-appointment is examined. Advisors fighting against the influence of the Hungarian estates went as far as suggesting that Francis I should appoint his brother Joseph not as governor but as palatine, thereby neglecting the estates’ right to choose, which would have gone completely against the statute law as well as customary law.96 Eventually, the archduke was appointed as temporary governor of the kingdom. A year later, in 1796, when planning the next Diet, the Viennese Court again seemed reluctant to have an election for a palatine. On the one hand, it would have been offensive towards the ruling house if, discarding the model of the 1790 Diet, the Hungarian estates would have not elected the archduke by acclamation. Due to his rank, Archduke Joseph’s name could not be listed among the king’s four candidates. On the other hand, (similarly to the events of 1790), the court was afraid that election by acclamation would set a precedent and thus in the future persons not from the reigning house could be elected simply by acclamation and not in the traditional way.97 In the end, owing to the threatening external situation, Francis I agreed to summoning a Diet to vote on the issues of military recruitment and war tax and to elect a palatine. During the ceremony, they kept to the formal process: even before the monarch’s envelope was opened, the estates elected Archduke Joseph by acclamation.98

The archdukes of Habsburg-Lorraine who were appointed as governors (or palatines) thus found themselves in completely new circumstances, which differed greatly from those of the other two eighteenth-century governors and of palatines in the early modern period. The novelty of the situation lay not only in their person and actual membership of the ruling family. The circumstances of their election to palatine was also unique: without the announcement of the list of candidates, by acclamation, the estates had decided to elect the archdukes. The way they took the oath changed too: both the palatine and the governor took an oath to the monarch.99 The dispute concerning the content of the oath offers clear evidence of the gradually decreasing power of the estates: they did not manage to include the stipulation that the archduke-palatine was responsible for protecting the rights of the estates and the country. All the archduke-palatine swore to do was to fulfil his duties to the monarch.100

The spheres of authority bestowed on the archdukes were also transformed to a great extent: the tasks of presiding over the Diet and their role at the coronation ceremony have already been discussed. Beyond these, the monarchs were willing to make other concessions, owing their being close relatives. The ruler’s confidence in his brother is shown by the fact that in 1795 Archduke Joseph was granted a much wider sphere of authority than his predecessors. Still, the Hungarian officials originally prepared the documents of appointment on the basis of the precedence of eighteenth-century prince-governors, and Prince Albert’s instructions were attached as an example. When formulating the text for the appointment of the archduke, they relied not on the prince’s document granting a more narrow scope of authority but on the certificate of the late Palatine Alexander Leopold.101 The sphere of authority of Archduke Joseph was exactly the same as that of his deceased brother who bore the dignity of the palatine, in terms of the firth to donate land, discussed in detail above, which was a privilege of Archduke Joseph.102 The ceremonial welcome and inauguration of the archduke, however, followed the tradition of the 1766 ceremony in Pozsony (today Bratislava), and the one in Buda in 1791. This symbolized continuity and aimed at following the previous patterns of representation. In fact, what may come as a surprise is that in 1791, they followed the example of the governor’s march in for the archduke coming as palatine, instead of creating a unique, more solemn welcoming ceremony.103

Archduke Joseph was thus the third governor in the eighteenth century who was close links to or directly descended from the reigning house. The Hungarian estates made no objections against his appointment either. Those who were dissatisfied or prone to revolt were won over by the argument of family relationship, others considered the archduke’s appointment to be an honor. Archduke Joseph only held the post for a short time: his spheres of authority as governor were terminated in 1796 when, following the example which had been set in 1790, the estates elected him palatine at the Diet. In the end, the archduke held this position until his death more than fifty years later.

The role of archduke-governor and archduke-palatine became important once more in 1847, at the eve of the revolution. The sources provide evidence of the fact that by then the Viennese Court was already accustomed to having an Austrian archduke as the Hungarian palatine. The government tried to achieve the goal of having an archduke appointed as palatine, so they returned to the practice of 1790: instead of reading out the names of the candidates, they unequivocally elected the palatine by acclamation. The acceptance of this unwritten law is well-illustrated by the fact that the Hungarian Royal Chancellery itself made the proposition of electing Archduke Joseph’s son, Archduke Stephen as palatine when the post would be vacant. One important reason for this decision was that the other archdukes did not have an adequate knowledge of the country, nor a close relationship with it.104 By this time, the eighteenth-century practice had become so accepted that the nomination of candidates only served to keep up the appearance of lawfulness, since the court was certain about the outcome of the election. Thus, the right of the free election of a palatine was not even an issue. Nevertheless, until the Diet was summoned, the king only appointed his cousin as governor in 1847, but his extended sphere of authority was maintained, as Archduke Stephen, too, could have all the rights and responsibilities of his predecessors before the Diet.105

The appointment of archdukes as palatines clearly indicates the end of an era. The former practice of having governors in Hungary for years was now unnecessary. By filling the office of the palatine with a family member, the Habsburg ruler gained a reliable and constitutionally rooted representative in the county. The manner of their appointment gradually decreased the estates’ freedom of choice, while Archduke Stephen’s nomination signaled a completely new practice. Although in 1790 the question arose whether the post of the palatine could become hereditary by repeatedly being filled by archdukes from the ruling family,106 the estates were no longer worried. Due to the events of the Revolution of 1848–1849, the system of estates ceased to exist, and positions of dignity also disappeared, a change that cannot be examined in this paper. The political role of archduke-governors and archduke-palatines, as well as their relationship with the Hungarian estates requires further research to reveal the extent to which they held a position in the estates as palatines and were loyal to the court.


In the early modern period, the relationship between the Hungarian king, from 1527 a Habsburg, and the Hungarian estates were often characterized by conflicting interests. The degree to which the relationship was, at times, tense and, at other times, peaceful is illustrated in part by how much room the monarchs gave to the Hungarian estates, which were trying to protect their rights and privileges. In order to preserve their power within the country, and to ensure the financial and personal conditions necessary in warfare against the Ottoman Empire, the estates and the monarchs alike were forced to make compromises or concessions. The main platform for demands in the early modern period was the Diet. If, however, the monarch did not summon the Diet, he or she could limit the influence and power of the estates and govern without them. The power of the estates could also be decreased by leaving high positions vacant or by appointing the monarch’s own loyal subjects to fill these posts. As shown above, by neglecting the post of palatine, that is, the highest position for the estates, and appointing a governor, the ruler had more political room to manoeuvre. Therefore, the ruler did not have to make any political compromises. Royal decrees issued from Vienna were executed by institutions, for example from 1723 by the Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council (headed by the palatine or the governor). There was no doubt about these governors’ loyalty, since they were dependent on the ruler. Hence, the governor’s role was independent of the estates. Such concentration of the ruler’s power made it possible to introduce reforms in Hungary.

The side-lining of the estates in this period is most visible in the way they failed to present their complaints and demands at the Diet. Between 1732 and 1741, as well as 1765 and 1790, no Diets were convoked, so the estates could not bring forward their need for an election of a palatine, mandatory since the early seventeenth century. When in 1778 the possibility of summoning a Diet came up, the Viennese Court firmly insisted that only the issue of military recruitment be discussed. Any other political proposal would have been rejected.107 Eventually, the Diet was not convoked, so the estates could not demand the election of a palatine. In other words, the appointed governor, Prince Albert, did not have to be replaced. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the influence of the estates gradually decreased, and the power of the monarch increased. One sign of this change was the gradual limitation of estates’ right to elect a palatine. By the nineteenth century, the method of election developed in the early seventeenth century had become a mere theatrical performance, when the preliminary designated member of the ruling family was elected palatine by acclamation. In the eighteenth century the post of palatine was not filled three times. Instead, the country was administrated by a governor, which meant that governing increasingly took place without the estates. The case of the governors also exemplified the new strategy of the Viennese Court: they were not Hungarians but relations to and close relatives of the monarch, first the future husbands of archduchesses, then archdukes of Habsburg-Lorraine. This way, the proposal made in the mid-eighteenth century, was finally realized: instead of a Hungarian palatine, the Kingdom of Hungary was administrated by an archduke-governor (or archduke-palatine) so that the monarch could reign without interference by the estates.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary] (MNL OL)

Magyar kancelláriai levéltár [Archives of Hungarian Chancellery]

A 1 Magyar Királyi Kancellária regisztratúrája [Hungarian Royal Chancellery], Originales referadae

A 35 Magyar Királyi Kancellária regisztratúrája [Hungarian Royal Chancellery], Conceptus expeditionum

A 39 Magyar Királyi Kancellária regisztratúrája [Hungarian Royal Chancellery], Acta generalia

A 57 Magyar Királyi Kancellária regisztratúrája [Hungarian Royal Chancellery], Libri regii

A 119 Donationales palatinales

Helytartótanácsi levéltár [Archives of the Lieutenancy Council], Magyar Királyi Helytartótanács [Hungarian Royal Lieutenancy Council], Protocolla sessionalia (C 1)

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Archivum palatinale archiducis Josephi, Archivum palatinale secretum

archiducis Josephi, Miscellanea officiosa (N 22)

István főherceg nádori levéltára (N 31)

Festetics család keszthelyi levéltára, Festetics Pál (P 245)

A Habsburg család magyaróvári levéltára, Albert herceg iratai (P 298)

Ember Győző hagyatéka (P 2093)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (ÖStA HHStA)

Habsburgisch-Lothringische Hausarchive, Hausarchiv, Hofkommission in Familienangelegenheiten

Habsburgisch-Lothringische Hausarchive, Hausarchiv, Handarchiv Kaiser Franz

Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Lothringisches Hausarchiv

Kabinettsarchiv (KA), Staatsrat (StR), Staatsratsprotokolle (Prot.)

Kriegsarchiv (ÖStA KA)

Zentralstellen (ZSt), Hofkriegsrat (HKR), Akten


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CJH III. Corpus Juris Hungarici. Magyar Törvénytár III. 1608–1657. évi törvényczikkek [Corpus Juris Hungarici. Hungarian law repository III. Acts of 1608–1657]. Edited by Sándor Kolosvári, Kelemen Óvári, and Dezső Márkus. Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, 1900.

CJH IV. Corpus Juris Hungarici. Magyar Törvénytár IV. 1657–1740. évi törvényczikkek [Corpus Juris Hungarici. Hungarian law repository III. Acts of 1657–1740]. Edited by Sándor Kolosvári, Kelemen Óvári, and Dezső Márkus. Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, 1901.

CJH V. Corpus Juris Hungarici. Magyar Törvénytár V. 1740–1835. évi törvényczikkek [Corpus Juris Hungarici. Hungarian law repository III. Acts of 1740–1835]. Edited by Sándor Kolosvári, Kelemen Óvári, and Dezső Márkus. Budapest: Franklin-Társulat, 1901.

Domanovszky, Sándor. József nádor élete és iratai [The life and documents of Palatine Joseph]. Vol. I/1–2, József nádor élete [The life of Palatine Joseph]. Magyarország újabbkori történetének forrásai [Sources on the modern history of Hungary]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1944.

Domanovszky, Sándor. József nádor élete és iratai [The life and documents of Palatine Joseph]. Vol. II/1, József nádor iratai I, 1792–1804 [The documents of Palatine Joseph]. Magyarország újabbkori történetének forrásai [Sources on the modern history of Hungary]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1925.

Ember, Győző. Az újkori magyar közigazgatás története Mohácstól a török kiűzéséig [The history of modern Hungarian administration from Mohács to the expulsion of the Ottomans]. A Magyar Országos Levéltár kiadványai III. Hatóság- és hivataltörténet 1. Budapest: “Budapest” Irodalmi, Művészeti és Tudományos Intézet, 1946.

Ember, Győző. “Der österreichische Staatsrat und die ungarische Verfassung, 1761–1768.” Acta Historica 6, no. 1–2 (1959): 105–53, no. 3–4 (1959): 331–71; Acta Historica 7, no. 1–2 (1960): 149–82.

Evans, Robert J. W. Das Werden der Habsburgermonarchie, 1550–1700. Gesellschaft, Kultur, Institutionen. Vienna–Cologne: Böhlau, 1989.

Gábor, Gyula. A kormányzói méltóság a magyar alkotmányjogban [The title of governor in Hungarian constitutional law]. Budapest: Athenaeum, [1932].

H. Balázs, Éva. Hungary and the Habsburgs, 1765–1800. An Experiment in Enlightened Absolutism. Budapest: Central European Press, 1997.

H. Németh, István. “Polgár vagy nemes? A városok nemesi rendű lakosainak problematikája a felső-magyarországi városszövetség tevékenysége tükrében” [Burgher or nobleman? The problematics of noble inhabitants of the cities in light of activities of the city alliance of Upper Hungary]. Korall 9 (2002): 79–106.

Hertel, Sandra. Maria Elisabeth: Österreichische Erzherzogin und Statthalterin in Brüssel (1725–1741). Schriftenreihe der Österreichischen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung des 18. Jahrhunderts 16. Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2014.

Holub, József. “A nádor szerepe a koronázáson” [The role of the palatine in the coronation]. Századok 51, no. 1 (1917): 89–93.

Iványi, Emma. Esterházy Pál nádor közigazgatási tevékenysége, 1681–1713 [The administrative work of Palatine Pál Esterházy, 1681–1713]. A Magyar Országos Levéltár kiadványai III. Hatóság- és hivataltörténet 10. Budapest: Akadémiai kiadó, 1991.

Kulcsár, Krisztina. “A helytartói status. Albert szász herceg (1738–1822) kinevezése és évtizedei Magyarországon” [The governorship. Prince Albert of Saxony (1738–1822) – his appointment and activity in Hungary]. Aetas 17, no. 1 (2002): 51–66.

Kulcsár, Krisztina. II. József utazásai Magyarországon, Erdélyben, Szlavóniában és a Temesi Bánságban, 1768–1773 [The travels of Joseph II in Hungary, Transylvania, Slavonia, and the Bánát of Temes]. Budapest: Gondolat Kiadó–Magyar Országos Levéltár, 2004.

Kulcsár, Krisztina. “Nádorság és ami vele jár: A nádor hivatali feladatai a 18. században Batthyány Lajos példája alapján” [Palatine and what comes with it: The official duties of the palatine in the eighteenth century based on the example of Lajos Batthyány]. In Batthyány Lajos nádor [Palatine Lajos Batthyány], edited by Péter Móricz, 51–66. Körmend: Körmendi Kulturális Központ, Múzeum és Könyvtár, 2017.

Kulcsár, Krisztina. “Der Kaiser-Mitregent Joseph II. und sein Statthalter-Schwager Herzog Albert von Sachsen-Teschen im Königreich Ungarn.” In “Die habsburgische Variante des Aufgeklärten Absolutismus.” Beiträge zur Mitregentschaft Josephs II., 1765–1780. “A felvilágosult abszolutizmus Habsburg-variánsa.” Tanulmányok II. József társuralkodói időszakáról, 1765–1780, edited by András Forgó, and Krisztina Kulcsár, 65–91. Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien–Balassi Institut–Collegium Hungaricum Wien–Ungarisches Nationalarchiv–Ungarische Archivdelegation beim Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, 2018.

Kulcsár, Krisztina. A 18. századi helytartó feladatai és politikai mozgástere Albert szász-tescheni herceg példája alapján [The duties and political scope of the eighteenth-century governor on the basis of the example of Prince Albert of Saxony-Teschen]. Századok 153, no. 6 (2019): 1081–1100.

Mályusz, Elemér. Sándor Lipót főherceg nádor iratai [The documents of Archduke Alexander Leopold]. Magyarország újabbkori történetének forrásai. Kormányzat- és közigazgatástörténeti iratok [Sources on the modern history of Hungary. Documents on government and administrative history]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1926.

Nagy, János. Rendi ellenzék és kormánypárt az 1751. évi országgyűlésen [The estate opposition and the government party in the 1751 Diet]. Dissertations from the Budapest Archives 7. Budapest: Budapest Főváros Levéltára Mika Sándor Egyesület, 2020.

Pálffy, Géza. A Magyar Királyság és a Habsburg Monarchia a 16. században [The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the sixteenth century]. Magyar Történelmi Emlékek. Értekezések. Budapest: MTA Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont Történettudományi Intézet, 2015.

Pálffy, Géza. “Küzdelem a király- és királyné-koronázás jogáért a kora újkori Magyarországon” [A struggle for the right to be crowned king and queen in early modern Hungary]. In Egyház és reprezentáció a régi Magyarországon [Church and ceremony in old Hungary]. Pázmány Irodalmi Műhely – Lelkiségtörténeti tanulmányok 12, edited by Orsolya Báthory, and Franciska Kónya, 299–314. Budapest: MTA–PPKE Barokk Irodalom és Lelkiség Kutatócsoport, 2016.

Pálffy, Géza. The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century. Hungarian studies series 18. Boulder: Social Science Monographs; New Jersey: Center for Hungarian Studies and Publications; New York: Columbia University press, 2009.

Szijártó M., István. A diéta: A magyar rendek és az országgyűlés, 1708–1792 [The Diet: The Hungarian estates and the parliament, 1708–1792]. Keszthely: Balaton Akadémia Kiadó, 2010.

Szijártó, István. “The Diet: The Estates and the Parliament of Hungary, 1708–1792.” In Bündnispartner und Konkurrenten des Landesfürsten? Die Stände in der Habsburgermonarchie. Die Stände in der Habsburgermonarchie. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung Bd. 49, edited by Gerhard Ammerer, William D. Godsey jr., Martin Scheutz, Peter Urbanitsch, and Alfred Stefan Weiss, 119–39. Vienna–Munich: Böhlau, 2007.

Szőcs, Tibor. A nádori intézmény korai története, 1000–1342 [The early history of the institution of the palatine, 1000–1342]. Subsidia ad historiam medii aevi Hungariae inquirendam 5. Budapest: MTA Támogatott Kutatócsoportok Irodája, 2014.

Varga, Endre. A Királyi Curia, 1780–1850 [The Royal Curia, 1780–1850]. A Magyar Országos Levéltár kiadványai III. Hatóság- és hivataltörténet 4. Budapest: Akadémiai kiadó, 1974.

Zedinger, Renate. Franz Stephan von Lothringen (1708–1765): Monarch, Manger, Mäzen. Schriftenreihe der österreichischen Gesellschaft zur Erforschung des 18. Jahrhunderts Bd. 13. Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2008.

1 H. Balázs, Hungary and the Habsburgs, esp. 58–62; Beales, Joseph II, 477–84; Evans, Das Werden, 177–87, 191–93, Pálffy, The Kingdom, 157–68, 186, 240–41; Szijártó M., A diéta, 32–35; Szijártó, The Diet, 137.

2 C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 37, 130–34, 334–35.

3 Ibid., 156–58; CJH I. Act XXII of 1526.

4 C. Tóth, “Az ország nádora,” 444–45, 447; C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 344; Szőcs, A nádori, 241–46; CJH I. Act XXXIII of 1492.

5 Pálffy, A Magyar Királyság, 280–89; C. Tóth, “A nádori cikkelyek,” 38.

6 Cf. for example MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 5, p. 228–29, MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 47, p. 365–67, and MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1765/458.

7 Szőcs, A nádori, 25–49; C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 32–33.

8 For a time, the consensus in the secondary literature was that, since Act II of 1439, it was the custom for the Diet to select the palatine. This conclusion was reached on the basis of the fact that the practice was put into law in this act. However, recent research suggests that even a century earlier the palatine was chosen in this manner. C Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 11, 18–21, 35–36, 157–62.

9 C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 11, 244.

10 Gábor, A kormányzói, 48–60; C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 198–99.

11 Gábor, A kormányzói, 121.

12 Pálffy, The Kingdom, 172–73.

13 C. Tóth, “A nádori cikkelyek,” 41–42, and C. Tóth, “Az ország nádora,” 225.

14 Pálffy, The Kingdom, 95, 97–98.

15 Ibid., 173.

16 Ember, Az újkori, 101.

17 Pálffy, The Kingdom, 224–25; CJH III. Act III of 1608.

18 Though the suggestion was allegedly raised in 1795 by Count Károly Zichy, the Lord Chief Justice, just before he was deprived of his office. Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. I/1, 186, 205.

19 Ember, Az újkori, 103, 112; Pálffy, The Kingdom, 225–29.

20 Ember, Az újkori, 107.

21 CJH IV. Act I of 1681.

22 Iványi, Esterházy, 43–56, 244.

23 See Nagy, Rendi ellenzék, 71–80; Szijártó, A diéta, 300.

24 MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 36. p. 709–710; see Bakács, Franz Stephan.

25 MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 47. p. 363–64; see Kulcsár, A helytartói státus.

26 MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 36. p. 709–10.

27 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1732/33. It is important to note this in part because it is indicated in the sources: the Hungarian estates considered Francis Stephen a foreigner and “extraneus.” Kulcsár, Der Kaiser-Mitregent, 70.

28 MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 47. p. 363–64. A document issued for the prince: MNL OL, N 13 (Arch. loc. Alberti Ducis Saxoniae), Lad. 67. Fasc. 1. No. 3.

29 Hertel, Maria Elisabeth, passim.

30 Pálffy, The Kingdom, 69.

31 For exampe: MNL OL, N 13 (Arch. loc. Alberti Ducis Saxoniae), Lad. 62. Fasc. 1. No. 11; No. 23 and No. 16.

32 Zedinger, Franz Stephan, 66.

33 MNL OL, P 245 (Festetics Pál), IV. 15. Pál Festetics’s proposal on the authorities and prerogatives of the palatine.

34 ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Lothringisches Hausarchiv 39-5. fol. 9v, fol. 10v–11r. “Instruktion und Anweisung...” Laxenburg, May 17, 1732.

35 Cf. Szijártó, The Diet, 133.

36 Ember, “Der österreichische Staatsrat,” 349, 1763: 2874.

37 MNL OL, P 245 (Festetics Pál), IV. 15. Pál Festetics’s proposal on the authorities and prerogatives of the palatine.

38 ÖStA HHStA Habsburgisch-Lothringische Hausarchive, Hausarchiv, Hofkommission in Familienangelegenheiten 1-1. Verhandlungsakten. fol. 166v. The situation might have been different if Archduke Charles, the second-born son (1745–1761), had not died in 1761, who would have turned 20 in 1765, but so far, no traces of this possibility have been found in the sources.

39 Szijártó M., A diéta, 108–11.

40 The role Francis Stephen played as a governor in the concursus of the 1730s (an assembly of the estates which proposed an extraordinary war tax) need further clarification. Szijártó M., A diéta, 235–42. Especially 238.

41 Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/1, 124; Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. I/1, 214.

42 MNL OL, I 50 (Privatbibl.), Fasc. 39. 1796. Landtag. Extractus diarii… Bemerkungen des Staatsrates Izdenczy. October 31, 1796.

43 Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. I/1, 184–216.

44 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1765/448.

45 Varga, A Királyi Curia, 17–18; CJH IV. Act XXV of 1722–1723.

46 ÖStA HHStA KA StR Prot. 1765. Nr. 2656.

47 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.) 1765/448. Proposal by the Hungarian Royal Chancellery, November 11, 1765.

48 Ibid.

49 Iványi, Esterházy, 279.

50 ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Lothringisches Hausarchiv 39-5. fol. 13r. fol. 17r–20v.

51 Cf. Kulcsár, “Nádorság,” 53.

52 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1766/2. and MNL OL, A 35 (Con. exp.), 1766. I. No. 6.

53 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig ref.), 1766/299; ÖStA HHStA KA StR Prot. 1766. Nr. 14. Proposal by the Hungarian Royal Chancellery, January 3, 1766.

54 Ibid. 1765. Nr. 2997.

55 There is no sign of the draft in the State Chancellery in Vienna, and the copy which was held in the documents of the State Council was burned. No other information about the secret instructions which were given to Albert can be found on the notecards of the State Council in Győző Ember’s bequest. MNL OL, P 2093 (Ember Győző hagyatéka), Staatsrat protocollumok, Gépelt kivonatok, 1765:2849.

56 ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Hausarchiv, Handarchiv Kaiser Franz 12-4-6. Instruktion von Kaiser Franz II. für Erzherzog Joseph, seinen Bruder als Locumtenens (Statthalter) in Ungarn, 1795. fol. 131–150. The printed version: Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/1, 18–28.

57 The original copy of the secret instruction was burned in the archives of the archduke. One copy can be found in Vienna, ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Hausarchiv, Handarchiv Kaiser Franz 12-4-6. Instruktion von Kaiser Franz II. für Erzherzog Joseph, seinen Bruder als Locumtenens (Statthalter) in Ungarn, 1795. fol. 169–227. Alexander Leopold’s version was published in: Mályusz, Sándor Lipót, 808–51. (1795. No. 181.) Palatine Joseph’s version begins on p. 815. See Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/I, 29. I would like to thank András Oross of the Hungarian archival delegation in Vienna for his help.

58 ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Lothringisches Hausarchiv 39-5. fol. 11r–v.

59 ÖStA HHStA Habsburg-Lothringische Hausarchive, Lothringisches Hausarchiv 39-5. fol. 11v, fol. 12r–v.

60 MNL OL, P 298 (Albert hg. iratai), Nr. 2. A. II. 12/2. fol. 3r-v.

61 Kulcsár, A 18. századi helytartó, 1087–88.

62 MNL OL, C 1 (Prot. sess.), Duplicated minutes.

63 Cf. Kulcsár, II. József, passim.

64 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1771/5806, and 1772/2869.

65 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.) 1769/33. November 17, 1768.

66 MNL OL, N 13 (Arch. loc. Alberti Ducis Saxonie), Lad. 67. Fasc. 1. No. 4. December 29. 1765.

67 MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1766/253.

68 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1772/5440.

69 C. Tóth, “Az ország nádora,” 199.

70 Ibid., 216.

71 Iványi, Esterházy, 76; C. Tóth, “Az ország nádora,” 252.

72 Cf. MNL OL, A 1 (Orig. ref.), 1732/33. Point 5. and ibid., 1766/448.

73 C. Tóth, “Az ország nádora,” 216, 228–29, 238, 241, 248–53.

74 Cf. H. Németh, Polgár vagy nemes, 81, 84–85, 95–96.

75 ÖStA HHStA KA StR Prot. 1765. Nr. 2656.

76 MNL OL, Donationales palatinales (A 119).

77 Domanovszky, József nádor, I/1, 205; Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/1, 18.

78 Holub, “A nádor,” 89.

79 Pálffy, “Küzdelem,” 302.

80 This custom began to spread in 1681. Bartoniek, A magyar királykoronázások, 150. and Pálffy, “Küzdelem,” 300–1; Bak and Pálffy, Crown, 97.

81 Pálffy, “Küzdelem,” 307–8.

82 MNL OL, I 50 (Privatbibl.), Fasc. 39. 1796. Landtag. Extractus diarii… Bemerkungen des Staatsrates Izdenczy. October 31, 1796.

83 Pálffy, The Kingdom, 201.

84 C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 306–15, especially 310–11.

85 C. Tóth, “A nádori cikkelyek,” 42.

86 Ibid., and C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 315–16, 332–33.

87 CJH IV. Act I of 1681, Act XXI of 1715.

88 MNL OL, A 57 (Libri regii), vol. 47, p. 368, 379. On the comparative irrelevance of the appointment, see Kulcsár, A helytartói státus, 59.

89 ÖStA KA ZSt HKR Akten 1773–37–60.

90 CJH IV. Act V of 1790.

91 C. Tóth, A Magyar Királyság nádora, 38.

92 MNL OL, A 45 (Acta praes.), P. 1778/11. “Daß in Königreich Hungarn 46 Jahr hindurch….” Kulcsár, Der Kaiser-Mitregent, 76–77.

93 Mályusz, Sándor Lipót, 38–45.

94 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1795/8425.

95 MNL OL, N 22 (Misc. off.), 1795. No. 1. Francis I to his brother Joseph, Schönbrunn, July 20, 1795. and MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1795/8166.

96 Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/1, 122, no. 44.

97 Ibid., 122–24; Mályusz, Sándor Lipót, 43.

98 One finds a clear indication that the initial uncertainty had come to an end in the fact that, although a list of candidates was made, Francis I placed a blank sheet of paper in the sealed envelope instead of the names of the candidates. MNL OL, I 50 (Privatbibl.), Fasc. 39. The annexes to Izdenczy’s letter, November 12, 1796.

99 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1791/209; MNL OL, N 22 (Misc. off.), 1795. No. 2. MNL OL, N 31 (István főh.), 1847/149.

100 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1790/16917.

101 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1795/8425.

102 Domanovszky, József nádor, vol. II/1, 18. Instruktion. and cf. ÖStA HHStA KA StR Prot. 1796. No. 646.

103 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1791/9255.

104 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1847/917. draft; 1847/1365. Proposed on January 14, 1847.

105 MNL OL, A 39 (Acta gen.), 1847/1362.

106 Mályusz, Sándor Lipót, 42.

107 Kulcsár, Der Kaiser-Mitregent, 76–78.


The Influence of the Estate System and Power Relations in the Late Feudal Parliament Seating Plan

Tamás Dobszay
Eötvös Loránd University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 1  (2021): 129-154 DOI 10.38145/2021.1.129

“We shape our buildings and then they shape us,” Winston Churchill said when the question of rebuilding Westminster and modifying the interior of the House of Commons came up and he expressed his support for preserving the former system.1 Thus, according to the prime minister, a seating plan both expresses and determines the character and operation of parliamentarism. In light of this interconnection, in this essay I examine the formal characteristics of the late feudal Diet in Hungary between 1790 and 1848, as well as the power relations of the estates and strivings as they found expression within this system.

Keywords: 19th century, Hungarian Diet, late feudal parliamentarism, Estate system, use of space, seating arrangement of chambers

The Use of Space in Nineteenth-Century Modern Parliaments

The most striking difference in the seating plan in the Hungarian Diet before 1848 and that of representative parliamentary systems is the lack of both the horseshoe-shaped, that is, central pattern and the Westminster-style arrangement in Britain, with its benches which are facing one another. It is no coincidence that in the nineteenth-century continental parliaments, members of parliament sat on benches in closed, often ascending rows, reminiscent of ancient Greek theaters. The central arrangement of space (in the case of almost entirely closed circles, semicircles, and horseshoe shapes) helped ensure that each member of the assembly could sit at a nearly equal distance from the others, speak up, and see and hear one another, and it was the best way for the presidium, with which the semicircle came to a close, to chair the meeting, monitor developments, and notice if there were any need to intervene. Although the present paper does not lend itself to a comprehensive discussion of the use of space by representative institutions in the nineteenth century, a considerable amount of data indicates that this was the prevalent arrangement in most of the chambers designed for the assemblies established as a result of the revitalization of parliamentarism after the period of absolutism, and Hungarian contemporaries were well aware of this fact.

In many respects, the French parliament, which by 1830 had consolidated after the whirlwind changes brought about by the revolutions, served as a role model. As Transylvanian Farkas Sándor Bölöni pointed out when recording his travels in Europe in 1830,

“the chamber of deputies […] has public meetings […] The chamber has the shape of an amphitheater, and the deputies sit on the right or the left, according to their views. The audience sits in the balcony. Opposite the praeses, the journalists jot down the discussions. The Moniteur, as the official paper, sits near the seat of the praeses.”

Bölöni also noted that the speakers stood on a pulpit erected in front of the presidium. “If someone wishes to speak on a subject, he gets on the grandstand to give his speech, mostly reading from his papers.”2 A few years later, a similar description was provided by the young Bertalan Szemere (who was a member of the Diet a decade later and served as secretary of the interior in 1848), who did a lot to introduce the customs of parliamentarism in Hungary.

“The chamber is shaped like an amphitheater, with twenty white Ionian marble columns on each side, carved from a block, and a gallery of two rows behind them. There are ten rows of benches running parallel with the semicircle, and the windows on the vault, like the chamber itself, line up in a semicircle. The president’s seat and the marble pulpit are situated in the middle of the diameter.”3

Szemere ascertained the effects of arrangement and use of space on the members’ behavior and manner of speaking when he was learning about the British parliament and the discursive registers used there, as compared to French tradition. He suggested that the solemn tone of French speeches derives from the use of the pulpit: “In the [British] House of Commons, one does not hear the eulogizing pathos that pervades the French legislative chamber and which […] may also be attributed to the grandstand, because standing on it compels one to speak solemnly, so to speak,” a behavior uncharacteristic of the speakers in the House of Commons.4

The newly established Belgian National Assembly also followed the example of Paris. As Szemere pointed out, “the chamber of delegates is the exact replica of the Parisian chamber.” Bölöni made the same observation, but he described it in more detail and included mention of minor differences as well: “The chamber of the congress is indeed fine. The seats of praeses and members are arranged the same way as in Paris […] with the only difference being that the members can speak from their own place and sitting in the benches. Pro et contra oppositio members have the same arrangements.”5 It is a well-known fact that the central, almost entirely closed seating plan of the 1848 Frankfurt National Parliament is determined greatly by the oval floorplan of St. Paul’s Church, which hosts the assembly.6 The chamber of the Italian National Assembly, which became stable in 1861 after the events of 1848, was set up in Palazzo Carignano in Turin, with a floorplan similar to that of the Parliament in Frankfurt: in both chambers the seats were arranged in ascending rows in a semicircle.7 These assembles, however, all showcased the situation after revolution so, to varying degrees, they all broke from the former feudal systems. The Parliament of Württemberg,8 for instance, was established as part of the modern constitution that the monarch forced against the estates, which were demanding the reinstatement of the “ancient” constitution.

The British seating plan, with its facing rows of benches, is undoubtedly the result of the arrangement of the canon choir of St. Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster: members of the House of Commons simply sat in the stalls of the former choir when they took possession of the building. The customary arrangement, which expresses the two-party system and the division between government and opposition, remained unchanged during reconstruction in the early modern period and in the chamber newly built after the fire of 1834. In Szemere’s words, the chamber of the House of Commons

“has a door-shaped pulpit in the middle of one end, where the speaker […] sits. In front of him, a desk covered in books and documents, next to which work three clerks wearing grey wigs. Along the longer walls, there are four ascending rows to the right and four to the left, with benches very close to one another and no desks in front of them […] by the way, the audience is allowed into the chamber if there is enough room, unlike in the French Parliament, where this is forbidden […] On the speaker’s right sit the ministers and their supporters […] on his left sits the opposition […] like two enemy camps.”9

A few years earlier, Bölöni provided a similar description, adding that
“[t]he members speak from their place […] The speech is always directed to the speaker.”10 This arrangement has persisted in its entirety and was later adopted by the Parliaments of other Commonwealth countries (e.g. Canada, Jamaica, Australia).

These seating plans conform to the particularities of modern parliamentarism. They express the duality of government and the assembly representing the nation, as well as the equality of the members within the parliament. As a remnant of the feudal system, the House of Lords, with its limited power, is located in a separate chamber. Considering the two models, it is the British parliamentary seating plan that emphasizes the two-party division of government and opposition. Churchill, too, argued in favor of keeping this arrangement by claiming that if British politics insisted on a two-party system, then the confrontational benches would clearly indicate the status of the MPs in the parliament: if one member sits on the other side, it will visually represent the change in his party affiliation, whereas the central arrangement with its contiguous rows meshes differences in party affiliation and enables the expression of transition, overlapping, and minor political differences.11

In contrast, from the perspective of the focus of this essay, the Hungarian Diet before 1848 can be linked to previous customs maintained with certain degrees of continuity with feudal systems.

Assemblies which Preserved Feudal Characteristics

Some European assemblies of the era passed on their feudal characteristics, customs, and concomitant uses of space to nineteenth-century legislation. In these institutions, the seating arrangement was determined by estates, rank, and, among those of the same rank, the principle of seniority.12 The latter was in fact transmitted to the more conservative upper houses of modern parliaments as well. In the nineteenth century French senate, for instance, “princes of royal blood, pairs by birth, sit right behind the chairman.”13

The plenaries of the Swedish Riksdag were rather unusual, as they placed the monarch and the assembly opposite each other, and the representatives of the four estates in two columns, sitting in benches reminiscent of desks in classrooms or church buildings. This seating plan persisted after 1789 and 1810, too: most of the members sat on benches lined up opposite the presidium. Although the four estates had their consultations and votes separately, the noble curia, for example, still used the same arrangement in its legislative chamber at the end of the century.14

From a Hungarian point of view, the Reichstag of the Holy Roman Empire is of particular importance, because also due to their shared monarch, it could influence the order of the Hungarian Diet developing in the seventeenth century. The historical assembly, which existed until 1806, was in fact not an elected representative body but a board of rulers of the provinces and cities with sovereign rights in the empire. The members and their delegates participating in the meetings surrounded the chamber, sitting parallel with the four walls. The seating arrangements conformed to the division into estates: the estates, forming three separate curiae within the assembly, had their own session halls, too, and during plenary meetings, they also sat separately, at a distance from one another. In the case of the latter, the speaker was the high commissioner of the emperor, the electors of the Holy Roman emperor sat on either side of him, and, perpendicular to them, down the long sides of the chamber sat the 120–150 sovereigns of the provinces. Members of the third curia, free imperial cities, sat in the back, opposite the emperor and the electorate. As for the first two curiae, ecclesiastical members were seated on the right and secular members on the left. Among the princes, with an individual vote of 96–98, those in lower ranks were grouped into an additional two ecclesiastical and four secular curiae, thus casting one individual vote each, that is, six more curial votes altogether. The seats closest to the emperor (or his delegate) and the speaker, as well as the ones on the right of the speaker were always considered more prestigious.15 On the other hand, the seating arrangement corresponding to status and rank in the estates determined the figure of the speaker, as well as the order of speech and voting in each board and the entire assembly alike.16 The different curiae, however, had varying seating plans. There was enough room for the seven-nine prince-electors at one table in their chamber, while the princes sat in two times four rows opposite the presidium in their own session hall (much like in the Swedish assembly), and delegates of the cities were sitting by the walls.17

Apparently, the seating arrangement of the plenary meetings of the Imperial Diet was not unique among old Diets of the estates. When the French États généraux assembled again in 1789 after a hiatus of more than 150 years, the plenary meeting had the same seating arrangement despite the high number of representatives. A huge session hall was erected on Versailles Avenue. The throne and the seats of the royal family were placed on a platform at one end of the hall, with the tables and the chairs of the ministers and the chancellor right in front of them; the clergy sat on the right along the wall, opposite the nobility on the left, and representatives of the third estate sat in the middle, opposite the throne.18 However, this arrangement could only be implemented at plenary meetings held with the permission of the king, while the estates were expected to have their sessions separately when holding serious discussions; thus, the revolution began with the three estates demanding to become a homogenous national assembly.

The Diets of Austrian hereditary provinces are not uninteresting to this discussion either, although due to their smaller size and limited roles they may only be partly compared to the Hungarian Diet. It is a well-known fact that the parliament of the Austrian Empire, established in 1804, only came to existence in 1861, after the prior events of 1848, but the individual meetings of its provinces formally persisted from the early modern period of the estates, though they had limited authority and not much weight. The assembly of Tirol prepared issues on the agenda by dividing into “quarters,” but the members of these quarters came from different estates and the decision was made collectively. The Landtags (Provincial Diets) of all the other provinces had three or four curiae (Vorarlberg had two), which held their discussions not separately but as groups in the chamber of the Landtag. The curiae were physically separated from one another in the benches of the chamber. They voted individually—in order by estates or by taking turns—in a way that the votes of cities were always cast at the end.19 The hall of the Styrian provincial meeting was arranged diagonally: the speaker’s table, where the minutes were kept, too, stood in the corner, the clergy’s benches by the wall on the right, and the benches of the other estates surrounded the middle part of the hall in a quadrangle shape.20

General Characteristics of the Use of Space by the Hungarian Diet

For members in the Hungarian Diet, the elongated shape of the chamber used did not lend itself to a horseshoe-shaped arrangement. The shape would not have ruled out the possibility of using the British Westminster style seating arrangement either, but it could not really prevail here. The arrangement conforming to the two-party alternating governments system, as well as to the parliamentary role of the king and the nation was considered so specific in Europe and suited the Hungarian public law system, still in a feudal state and not acknowledging the parties officially, so little, that its introduction was not even an issue back then.21

The Hungarian Parliament used three buildings between 1790 and 1848. The building in Buda shaped for this purpose only hosted two and a half Diets (1790, 1792, 1807) of the fourteen held. On the first occasion, the second half of the meeting took place in the old Landhaus in Lange Strasse in Pozsony (Pressburg, today Bratislava, Slovakia), the venue for the 1796 Diet for the entire duration of the assembly. From 1802 to 1848, the Diet used the parliament converted from the financial management building in Michaelstrasse in Pressburg. In all three buildings, the chamber of the Lower House had an elongated, irregular rectangular shape. The halls designated for the Upper House could have been more suitable for meetings, but few of the authorized participants actually attended the sessions.22

Between 1790 and 1848, the Hungarian Diet maintained the previously designed seating plan. Besides division by estates, discussed below, this traditional arrangement also reflected the mindset of the political dualism of the king and the estates.23 The chambers of the Diet were given a linear arrangement: in both houses the speaker representing the king sat at the short end, while along the entire length of the hall there sat the subjects, the estates constituting the political community, on both sides of a long line of tables, one line in the Upper House and three in the Lower House. From the speaker’s seat, as if he were sitting at the head of the table, one could see the entire chamber without having to turn one’s head. This solution was in accordance with the idea of head and body, and may also seem, at first glance, to be a practical one, corresponding to the shape of the hall. Of course, this meant that some members sat very far from the presidium and those sitting at the opposite ends of the table could barely hear one another. It is no wonder, then, that having a strong voice was a vital prerequisite for attending these meetings, and soft-spoken, gentle souls like Kölcsey had but the weight of their personal reputations to ensure them the attention of the gathering.

Another distinctive feature of the arrangement, in contrast with the European customs emerging at the time, was that deputies were seated by large tables on comfortable portable chairs, instead of closed rows of benches. In the early twentieth century, journalist Károly Eötvös, drawing on the memoires of contemporaries, highlighted that more than any modern seating plan, this arrangement better suited the convenient, patriarchal circumstances of reputed noble members, who would have objected to being forced to sit at “school desks.”24 Indeed, portable chairs facilitated freer movement; Kossuth, for example, regularly gave his speeches at the last Diet by turning towards the presidium while standing behind his chair and holding its backrest.25 This had a special significance because, as opposed to the clergy who spoke while sitting, members of both the Upper and the Lower House indicated their request to speak by standing up and staying upright.26

In both houses, the place of the members was clearly determined by the authority of the estates, grouping by status within the estate, and, in the Lower House, customs defined by geographical distribution as well. Similarly to the universal historical particularities mentioned above, the seats considered most prestigious were the ones on the right of and closest to the chairperson.27 In this case, too, the seating plan indicated the rank of the estates and the prestige of members. There was another difference deriving from these arrangements, though, as compared to the later parliamentary period: both in the Lower House and partly in the Upper House as well, members were sat next to one other not on the basis of their political or party affiliation, but according to their place in the status hierarchy.

The Seating Arrangement in the Upper House

In the House of Lords, the palatine (always a prince of the dynasty from 1790 on) sat at the head of the table, which was placed in the middle of the chamber and ran its entire length. To his right, the whole right side was reserved for the first estate, the prelates; right next to the palatine there sat the most prestigious high priest, the prince primate of Esztergom; then the archbishops of Kalocsa and Eger, and then all the bishops. Among them, the exact place of the diocesan bishops was determined by the date of their consecration, as part of the principle of authority. Titular bishops, who were elected but not yet consecrated or had no operating diocese, sat farther down. Superiors of the ecclesiastical convents in bishops’ ranks, abbots with mitre, the arch abbot of Pannonhalma, the grand provost of Zagreb (at the same time, the prior of Vrana), and the grand provost of the Premonstratensians of Várad sat at the far end of the table.28

The left side of the table was reserved for the barons holding high offices. Their first group was divided according to the rank of their office: the lord chief justice (judex curiae) was followed by the ban of Croatia, the master of the treasury (magister tavernicorum), and then, the court officials, in accordance with the date of their appointment (magister janitorum, mg. pincernarum, mg. dapiferorum, mg. agazonum, mg. curiae regiae). Further down there sat the county governors: supreme comites (lord leutenants or county high sheriffs), first hereditary and sempiternal, then the other in the order of their inauguration, and finally the governor of Fiume, and the deputy of Croatia in the Upper House. Until 1840, orthodox archbishops and bishops, who were granted participation in the Diet only in the late eighteenth century, also sat at this section of the table. The row of the high priests turned back to the side of the secular members of the Upper House at the end of the table.29 It must be noted, though, that many of the bishops and the office-holders did not stay continually at the venue of the Diet, and this was even more so the case with those lords who did not hold any offices but had titles by birth, such as dukes, counts, and barons.30 For this reason, discussions were sometimes held in smaller rooms, in a more informal way even. In January 1826, for instance, due to the low number of participants and the cold, the palatine held the meeting in his own chamber; and there is also some evidence of chairing from one’s sickbed.31 Titular (non office-holder) lords only had some single chairs without tables with no precise arrangement on both sides of the chamber, right in front of the rail dividing the assembly and the audience.32 There were, however, some signs of seating arrangement according to agreement in opinions among titular peers: those of the same view often favored sitting close to one another, and those remaining for a longer time customarily preferred using the same seat. But the somewhat stubborn lords were not really willing give up some of their independence and function in a more disciplined manner, like a party, or were only willing to do so towards the end of the era, so their seating arrangement, or the lack thereof, may be considered a tendency prevailing only to a degree and not a rule per se.

Not only did the seating plan have a symbolic meaning but it also determined the degree of influence on decisions; the palatine could best hear the speech of prestigious members among all the speeches considered from the perspective of rank, so the voices of those sitting in the far end of the chamber did not count much as compared to those of regni barones and officeholders. Men of the court and the royal government thus had an opportunity to monopolize discussions and decisions. Partly due to the principle of authority and the court policies, and partly because of most lords being loyal to the court, it was rather surprising when a member of the Upper House, especially one without an office, acted individually and expressed his opinion.33 The Transylvanian Bölöni, too, described the members of the Upper House as obedient to the royal authority:

“The palatine comes out of the adjoining room, followed by the primate, and all the lords, frightened like pupils, run to the table and sit down in silence. The host of bishops settle on one side of the long table, the dignitarians on the other side, the ‘regalists’ at the back […] The subject is finally discussed, if we may refer to the speaker’s will and the bishop’s approving bow as a discussion, and soon […] the submissive bill concerning the serves is ready.”34

The seating plan in the Upper House, imposed strictly at the table but less formal in the back, was eventually modified. Rearrangement took place in 1843; the main aim was to isolate the audience from the decision makers and drive them out of the chamber, although they were later allowed to take the empty seats.35 A considerable transformation was made at the end of the era, but several customs connected the seating plan persisted. According to the magazine reporting on the Diet of 1847–1848, the long table in the middle was kept (b) but, running parallel with it along the chamber, three rows of six long tables were placed on each side, gradually ascending and having a gap in the middle (c and d), to be used by the supreme comites and high priests who could not get any seats at the middle table. The rest of the seats were given to lords without an office. A bit farther back from the presidential seat (a) there were two smaller tables perpendicular to the others: orthodox bishops were seated at the table on the right (e) and the archivist at the one on the left (f). Right behind the palatine’s chair in the middle, by the wall, sat his officials (E) and, on their two sides, the shorthand writers (g and h). Four out of five window niches were given to newspaper reporters (k). Along the long side of the chamber overlooking the courtyard, members of the Lower House could be present as audience on a stand behind a rail (l), while by the wall opposite the presidency, likewise separated by a railing, the audience could sit in ascending rows (m).

Figure 2. The seating plan of the Upper House after rearrangement in 1843 (1847–1848) (“Országgyülési rajzok 1,” Ábrázolt Folyóirat January 8, 1848, 12.)

The Seating Arrangement in the Lower House

In the Lower House, the duality of the monarch and the estates, status within the estate, and geographical considerations likewise determined the distribution of seats. The seat of the chairing personalis (chief justice of Royal Court of Appael) was positioned on a wide podium, a few steps above the floor, at the corner-stoved end of the rectangular chamber. Right behind it, members of the Royal Court of Appeal, formulating the documents of the Diet, had a table, standing on its own before 1832. Perpendicular to the speaker’s table, three rows of tables reserved for the delegates were lined up along the entire length of the chamber.36 As seen elsewhere, the “upper seats,” i.e. the ones closest to the speaker on his right were reserved for the clergy, the representatives of chapters. At the middle and left-side tables, close to the speaker, there sat the delegates of the nobility, elected by the general assemblies of the noble counties, two from each county. The upper seats of the middle table were taken by delegates from counties situated along the Danube River in the western part of the country, while delegates from the eastern region, from counties by the Tisza River, sat at the table on the speaker’s left. The two delegates of each Danubian county customarily sat next to each other, while the ones from the Tisza region always sat opposite each other. However, this had no political significance whatsoever.37 In the previous century this was the usual seating arrangement for chapters and counties, so the only divergent seating plan, which was used at the 1741 Diet, is considered to have been an exception, perhaps a mistake made by the source recording the meeting.38

Groups that had a collective privilege but no individual noble titles were placed farther from the speaker, in accordance with their lower rank.39 This way, the secondary status of cities was indicated by the fact that their delegates sat at the far end of the counties’ tables. The only exception was the two delegates of each privileged free district incorporated in 1791 (Jászkunság and Hajdúság), who sat right after the chapters’ delegates, at the farther end of the right-side table.40 The few empty seats at this table were given to delegates of absent members of the Upper House; this, however, did not indicate their rank but the roles customarily attributed to them. As a matter of fact, although under the law these delegates also had a voice in the Lower House, in the nineteenth century, the delegates of the counties did not even let them speak, let alone vote. The noble deputies of the counties looked at the latter with jealousy and disdain, considered them “servants” of the lords, and contested their legitimacy as participants. The most these delegates could do was inform the lords they substituted, who had the right to vote in the Upper House anyway, and so the lower nobility tried to neutralize the influence their lords had through them.

A change in the situation of delegates sent by absent members of the high nobility is likewise interesting: while in the first half of the eighteenth century they were seated closer to the speaker, between the counties-chapels and the cities, i.e. they were higher in rank than the latter, after 1790 they were pushed to the far end of the chamber. Opposite the speaker’s podium, in the other end of the long chamber by the angled short wall, there was another part separated by a railing. From there, a staircase led up to the gallery reserved for the audience, below which the rest of the audience and the delegates of the high nobility with no room at the table were crowded together.

The Impracticability and Rearrangement of the Seating Plan

As noted earlier, this arrangement, which conformed to the shape of the chamber and to power relations among the estates, was not without problems. For those seated far from the speaker, the unfavorable position hindered their effective participation in the discussion; furthermore, since decisions were often made not by counting the votes but by the speaker listening to the participants’ opinion and considering it on the basis of their rank, the influence of those sitting in the back was limited during decision-making as well.

Partly due to the objection of those in a favorable position, their contemporaries recognized the impracticability of the seating arrangement. Sometime between 1820 and 1833 Palatine Archduke Joseph as the President of the whole Diet had a floorplan made to rearrange the two chambers in Buda41 but as the king chose Pressburg, the estates eventually stuck to the traditions because of the temporary circumstances. Thus, however, repeated complaints were made about the seating arrangements. On November 27, 1830 delegates of Temes and Torontál (characteristically two counties that were liberated from Ottoman rule late and reincorporated even later, so their delegates were seated at the far end), asked the president to “do something about the placement of the delegates seated far, as because of the distance they could not always hear the speech of those sitting in the front, and thus could not effectively participate in the discussions of the Diet. A host of similar complaints were made by the other delegates who were seated far from the speaker owing to customary laws,”42 but eventually rearrangement was postponed to the next Diet.

These complaints may have been the reason for the palatine’s aforementioned attempt to rearrange the chamber in Buda, but the issue came up at the beginning of the 1832 Diet in Pressburg as well. The palatine suggested that the impracticable seating plan of the chambers be transformed based on the experience of the previous Diet.43 Presumably, the estates felt it was necessary to protect and express their autonomy from members of the Upper House, which would also indicate the significance of the differences between the estates, and they did so by rejecting the palatine’s initiative: they “sent back” the palatine to the members of the Upper House, saying that they had the right to sit wherever they wanted to. This was obviously an exaggeration, as customs strictly limited them in this respect as well, so in the end they implemented the changes by mutual agreement.44

In the new seating arrangement (1833), delegates of the clergy were placed on the speaker’s platform, at separate tables on the two sides of the Royal Court of Appeal.45 The reason for this was partly because the palatine and the president intended to help them out in their difficult situation in the increasing debates on ecclesiastical policy, and separate them from the delegates of counties, who often attacked them.46 As for the three long tables, the one on the speaker’s right was still reserved for the free districts and delegates of those absent, the now free seats of the clergy were given to some deputies of the Danubian counties, and those representing the counties by the Tisza were sat at the inner side of the table.

Figure 3. The chamber of the Lower House after 1833. Groitsch, A. J.
(Hungarian National Gallery)


Farther away from the presidium, the counties were given the seats of the chapters at the right-side table and were seated as follows: the Danubian counties of Sopron, Nógrád, Komárom, Hont, Baranya, Esztergom, Tolna, and Turóc on the outer side; Sáros, Szabolcs, Borsod, Torna, Máramaros, Csanád, Torontál from the region of the Tisza and the Slavonian Verőce (Virovitica) county on the inner side. On the left, the rest of the counties from the Tisza sat opposite each other, as usual. This was important because the delegates first in rank sat on the right, and those elected at second place were placed on the left. Also, back then the records of the Diet did not specify the name of the delegates, but only a number and the name of the county they represented. It was only after 1839 that the two delegates of a county were regarded as equal.47 The delegates sat at this table in the following order: Abaúj, Zemplén, Ung, Szatmár, Szepes, Gömör, Heves, Bereg, Ugocsa, Bihar, Csongrád, Békés, Arad, Temes, and Krassó, Pozsega (Požega) County in Slavonia and the district of Turpolje. By the table in the middle, delegates of some Danubian counties followed the old traditions and sat (in contrast with delegates from the Tisza region) next to one another: close to the speaker on his right sat the delegates of Pozsony county, then of Vas, Zala, Somogy, Győr, Fehér, Moson (all Danubians), followed by the two delegates of Bács, originally seated on the other side due to having been organized belatedly and thus having to make do with the seats they received here. On the left side of the middle table, the seats were given to the rest of the counties by the Danube: Nyitra, Trencsén, Liptó, Bars, Veszprém, Zólyom, Pest, and Árva. At the end of the table, facing the delegates of Bács, there sat the two delegates of Szerém county, similarly demilitarized and established late from its earlier position as a frontier region.48 The rearrangement did not help two complaining counties much, as Temes and Krassó could only come two seats closer to the speaker. The new seating plan gained significance also due to the fact that the order of chairing at the non-official “circular” meetings of the Lower House, which were always led simultaneously by one Danubian delegate and one from the Tisza instead of the personalis, was determined by the seating arrangement. From 1833, these preparatory meetings, which were reminiscent of the Committee of the Whole House in Britain, were relocated to the plenary chamber due to the stuffy air at its previous location, and from that date on they were held in the same order as the official plenary except the presidency.49 What did not change at all, however, was the situation of cities, free districts, and the delegates of absent members of Upper House.

The next rearrangement in 1843 was a big step towards a more practical central arrangement, although it was not fully implemented.50 The conditions of the meeting were considerably improved but the custom of seating by the principle of estates and regions still prevailed. The presidium, the Royal Court of Appeal, and the clergy were moved to a long narrow platform with rails, erected by the longer wall of the chamber overlooking the courtyard. In the corner on the right, the gallery was reserved for the ladies, while the other galleries could be reached through a door in the corner of the other shorter end of the chamber. Next to the stove standing in the corner to the speaker’s left, a staircase led up to the lords’ gallery. On the lower level, at both ends of the chamber, there were two large podiums with rails taking up almost one-third of the area which were also set aside for the audience. The first two rows on the left were given to the delegates of absent members of the Upper House, who were now distinctly separated from the inner section of the chamber where the discussions took place to indicate their roles as observers, not decision-makers. The window niches provided room for the desks of reporters, as well as of the palatine’s and the chancellor’s commissioners. Finally, the speaker and members with the right to speak and take part in decision making in the middle two-thirds of the chamber could hear one another much better.

On the platform running the length of the chamber, the two rows of seats on the right of the presidium were reserved for the members of the Royal Court of Appeal, while the other two on the left were given to the delegates of Croatia and then the chapters. At the table behind the Croatian delegates and by the side of the second row of chapters, the secretary of the president prepared the minutes during official and circular meetings too. Those with important roles, i.e. the delegates of counties, cities, and free districts, sat at thirteen tables positioned crosswise in the long chamber, perpendicular to the president’s table. Two of them, somewhat wider than the others, stood in the middle with seats on both sides; while the other, more narrow tables (six on the right and five on the left) only had seats on one side so that the delegates would face the middle of the chamber.

The arrangement by estates and geographical regions, on the other hand, was left unchanged. In a random order, the Danubian counties were seated at the inner tables on the speaker’s right side of the chamber, and the counties from the two regions by the Tisza had seats at the inner three tables on the left. Behind the Danubians sat the delegates of the three Slavonian counties, as well as of Fiume and Buccari, while the free seats at this table and at three others behind them were given mainly to delegates of the free royal cities from the Danubian regions. Behind the counties by the Tisza and next to the delegates of Jászkun and Hajdú free districts, some seats were left empty for the counties and regions reannexed from Transylvania. These, however, could not be taken by those authorized, due to being hindered in their activities as delegates by the government. Most of the seats here and at the other two tables behind them could be taken by cities situated in precincts by the Tisza. Delegates of Croatian-Slavonian cities were placed in the railed area at two tables on each side, far from one another, probably on the only seats left.

From several perspectives, the new arrangement followed traditions and customs, but could still modernize the seating plan: separating the audience more strictly and pushing the deputies of the Upper House to the galleries made the process of negotiating clearer and posited the circle of the actual decision-makers spatially. Delegates with a more significant and populous background of voters were seated in the inner two-thirds of the chamber, so they could hear the speaker and one another much better and discuss issues more effectively. Still, even in this tight circle, prestige ranks persisted among the estates: in the middle there were the counties, then the districts, and then the cities at the peripheries. This arrangement reflected the weight of the actors, which derived from their position in the estate system.

The weak status of the cities found expression not only in their unfavorable placement at the peripheries but also in the fact that, corresponding to their geographical position, they were seated in two times two and a half rows far from one another. Thus, their delegates could hardly hear the colleagues speaking in the other end of the chamber, and the two groups could not communicate and negotiate with each other during the meetings. In the case when united action was discussed at preliminary private meetings, separateness was not a problem, but if something unexpected happened during the plenary it was considerably more difficult to react consistently. Earlier they were placed at the end of two long tables but at least close to one another, but now they were seated far from one another, so the rearrangement, which indeed had a positive effect on the whole of the assembly, in their case led to disadvantages from the perspective of representing the interests of the estate.

In the rearrangement of the seating plan, certain elements of the practices used in Western-European parliaments were slowly introduced: separating the audience, combining central and linear arrangement, and creating ascending rows facilitated discussion in the Upper House as well. Nevertheless, despite overall beneficial modifications resulting in a more practical arrangement of seats, the seating plan, still greatly influenced by traditions, showed no signs of modern political dividedness following the new trends. Although all those recollecting the period mention the presence of party-like formations and groups in the body of delegates, it was not manifested in the seating arrangement. The delegates believing in the same notions or making the same efforts did not yet sit close to one another. The traditional expectation of consensus among the estates, denouncing “division” and “discord” were not yet overridden by the beginning of the development of a modern party system made visible in the seating arrangement.

Archival and Pictorial Sources

Das erste deutsche Parlament in der Paulskirche zu Frankfurt. Die Lithographie nach der Zeichnung von Paul Bürde (1819–1874). Druckfarbe, Papier, Radierung, koloriert. Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Gr 2004/85.

Första kammarens plenisal i Gamla riksdagshuset, Stockholms Stadsmuseum. Riksdagen i Gamla Riksdagshuset på Riddarholmen. Interiör av plenisal med ledamöter. 1890–1905. Fotograf: Wiklunds, Ateljé. Wiklunds Ateljé BILDNUMMER: C 3236 Stadsmuseet i Stockholm.

Groitsch, A. J. The chamber of the Lower House in Pressburg. Colored copper engraving, 1836. Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Grafikai Osztály [Hungarian National Gallery].

Grund-Plan vom Innern der Pauls-Kirche, mit Angabe der Plätze sämmtlicher Mitglieder der deutschen National-Versammlung. 1848. Frankfurt Freie Stadt, Deutscher Bund, 1848. Deutsches Historisches Museum. Do 95/55.

Janet, Gustave. Konungens sista afsked af Rikets ständer i plenum plenorium på Rikssalen den 22 juni 1866. Lithographic print, Ny Illustrerad Tidning, 27. July 7, 1866.

Wolff, Johann Heinrich. Frankfurt a. M., Paulskirche, Obergeschoß nach A. Liebhardt, Grundriß. 1788. Museumslandschaft Hessen-Kassel, Inventar nr.: L GS 12545.

Projectum Conclavium Tabularum Statuum Regni Hungariae. Lithography of Josephus Trentsensky. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives Budapest Archives] BMT. 89.

A pozsonyi “főrendek terme” karzatának javítási terve [Plan for the repair of the gallery of the “Hall of Lords” in Pressburg (early 1830s)]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Plans excepted from fonds of the government authorities. Ministry of Commerce Plans. (T 14) No. 2/Sz/39/1–4.

A méltóságos főrendek termének belső elrendezése iránt készített tervek [Plans for arrangement of the Hall of Lords]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Various blueprints. (T 15) No. 42/1–4.

Planum exhibens modernam et projectatam mensarum-tabularum-sessionalium dislocatione in sala incly. statuum et ordinum, una et projectum calefactionis. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Various blueprints. (T 15) No. 42/5.

A tekéntetes karok és rendek szálájábann a táblák helheztetése terve Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye 1832 Erdélyi Josef alaprajz [Plan for the placement of the tables in the hall of the esteemed faculties and orders, Pressburg, the building of the Hungarian Royal Chamber, cite of the Parliament, Josef Erdélyi’s 1832 blueprints]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Various blueprints. (T 15) No. 42/6

Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye, ülésterem [1830] alaprajz [Pressburg, the building of the Hungarian Royal Chamber, cite of the Parliament, session room blueprint, 1830]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Various blueprints. (T 15) No. 42/7–10.

Erklärung der Numern in dem beiliegenden Plan Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye, ülésterem [1830] [Explanation of the numbers in the attached plan Pressburg, the building of the Hungarian Royal Chamber, cite of the Parliament, session room blueprint, 1830]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Tervtár [National Archives of Hungary, Plan Library] (MNL OL), Various blueprints. (T 15) No. 42/11.

Határozat az üléseknek a karok és rendek teremébeni elrendelése iránt [Resolution concerning the arrangement of the faculties and orders in the chamber]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary] (MNL OL), Regnicolaris Archive, Archivum Regni, Diaeta anni 1843–44. (N 68) Fasc. L. No. 22. l) (fol. 28.)

Határozat a karok és rendek teremének rendezésére nézve hozott végzések módosítása eránt [Resolution concerning the amendment of the decisions on the arrangement of the chambers of the faculties and orders]. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary] (MNL OL), Regnicolaris Archive, Archivum Regni, Diaeta anni 1843–44. (N 68) Fasc. L. No. 22. m) (fol. 39.)


Printed sources

Az 1843–44-ik évi magyar országgyűlési alsó tábla kerületi üléseinek naplója [Records of the district sittings of the Lower Table of the Hungarian Parliament in 1843–44]. Vols. 1–6. Edited by Ferenc Kovács. Budapest: Franklin, 1894.

Becker, Hans-Jürgen, ed. Der Reichstag zu Regensburg: Historische Ansichten aus dem Jahre 1786. Regensburg: Pustet, 2003.

Bertha, Sándor. Országgyűlési tárcza 1830-ról [Parliamentary feuilleton from 1830]. Pest: Trattner és Károlyi, 1843.

Bölöni, Farkas Sándor. Napnyugati utazás: Napló [Trip west: Diary]. Arranged for publication by Samu Benkő, and Sándor Maller. Budapest: Helikon, 1983.

Churchill, Winston. “Speech by in the House of Commons.” The meeting was held on October 28, 1943 in the House of Lords instead of the building of the House of Commons, which had been bombed. International Churchill Society. Accessed March 24, 2021. https://winstonchurchill.org/resources.

Felséges első Ferdinánd austriai császár Magyar-és Csehország e néven ötödik koronás királya által szabad királyi Pozsony városába 1843-dik évi május 14-kére rendelt Magyar-országgyülésen a méltóságos főrendeknél tartott országos ülések naplója [The national sittings of the honored high orders of the Hungarian National Parliament ordered on May 14, 1853 in the city of Pressburg by His Majesty Emperor Ferdinand the First of Austria and by this name the fifth crowned king of Hungary and the Czech Republic]. Pozsony–Pest, 1844.

Eötvös, Károly. “Hogy üljenek a követek?” [How do the delegates sit?]. Pesti Hírlap, May 16, 1906.

Eötvös, [Károly]. “Hogy üljenek a követek?” [How do the delegates sit?]. Pesti Hírlap, May 17, 1906.

Eötvös, Károly. “Hogy üljenek a követek?” [How do the delegates sit?]. Pesti Hírlap, May 19, 1906.

Kossuth, Lajos. Országgyűlési Tudósítások [Parliamentary reports]. Vol. 1–5. In Kossuth Lajos összes munkái [The complete works of Lajos Kossuth], vols. 1–5, edited by István Barta. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1948–1962.

Kölcsey Ferenc levelezése Kende Zsigmonddal [Correspondence of Ferenc Kölcsey with Zsigmond Kende]. Arranged for publication by Ernő Taxner-Tóth. Budapest: Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum, 1983.

Kölcsey, Ferenc. Országgyűlési napló [Parliamentary diary]. Arranged for publication by Orsolya Völgyesi. Kölcsey Ferenc minden munkái [The complete works of Ferenc Kölcsey], series edited by Zoltán G. Szabó. Budapest: Universitas, 2000.

Paget, John. Hungary and Transylvania: With Remarks on their Condition, Social Political and Economical. Vol. 1. London: Murray, 1839.

Pardoe, Julia. The City of the Magyar, Or Hungary and her Institutions in 1839–40. Vols. 1–3. London: Virtue, 1840.

“Opening of the first Italian parliament.” Vasárnapi Újság, April 7, 1861.

“Országgyülési rajzok 1” [Parliamentary drawings 1]. Ábrázolt Folyóirat January 8, 1848.

“Országgyűlési rajzok 2” [Parliamentary drawings 2]. Ábrázolt Folyóirat January 15, 1848.

Pulszky, Franz. Mein Zeit, mein Leben. Vol. 1. Pressburg–Leipzig: Stampfel, 1880.

Staël, Madame de. Considérations sur les Principaux Événements de la Revolution francaise. Paris, 1843.

Stollberg-Rilinger, Barbara. Des Kaisers alte Kleide: Verfassungsgeschichte und Symbolsprache des Alten Reiches. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2013.

Széchenyi, István. Napló [Diary]. Selections by Ambrus Oltványi. Budapest: Gondolat, 1978.

Szemere, Bertalan. Utazás külföldön: Válogatás Szemere Bertalan nyugat-európai útinaplójából [Travel abroad: A selection from the Western European travel diary of Bertalan Szemere]. Edited by Ágota Steinert. Budapest: Helikon, 1983.

“Az uj képviselőház gyülés-terme” [The Hall of the New Parliament]. Vasárnapi Újság, November 19, 1865.

Vaszary, Kolos. Adatok az 1825. országgyűlés történetéhez [Data on the history of the 1825 parliament]. Győr, 1883.


Secondary literature

Borsos, László. “A régi budai Országháza” [The old Buda Parliament]. Építés –Építészettudomány. Az MTA Műszaki Tudományok Osztályának közleményei 5, nos. 1–2 (1974): 55–93.

Brandt, Hartwig. “Die deutschen Staaten der ersten Konstitutionalisierungswelle.” In Handbuch der europäischen Verfassungsgeschichte im 19. Jahrhundert: Institutionen und Rechtspraxis im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, vol. 2, 1815–1847, 823–78. Bonn: Dietz, 2012.

Dobszay, Tamás. “Az országgyűlés bizottsági rendszerének előzményei a reformkorban” [Antecedents to the parliamentary committee system in the Reform Era]. In Historia Critica: Tanulmányok az Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem Bölcsészettudományi Karának Történeti Intézetéből [History Critica: Studies from the Historical Institute of the Faculty of Arts of Eötvös Loránd University], edited by Orsolya Manhercz, 199–212. Budapest, 2014.

Gergely, András. “Ungarn.” In Handbuch der europäischen Verfassungsgeschichte im 19. Jahrhundert: Institutionen und Rechtspraxis im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, vol. 2, 1815–1847, edited by Werner Daum, Peter Brandt, Martin Kirsch, and Arthur Schlegelmilch,1041–76. Bonn: Dietz, 2012.

Horler, Miklós et al. Budapest műemlékei [Monuments of Budapest]. Vol. 1. Edited by Frigyes Pogány. Magyarország műemléki topográfiája, edited by Dezső Dercsényi. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1955.

Lupkovics György. A magyar rendi országgyűlések, 1608–1848 [The Hungarian feudal parliaments, 1608–1848]. Kassa: Szent Erzsébet ny., 1911.

Molnár, András. Batthyány Lajos a reformkorban [Lajos Batthyány in the Reform Era]. Zalaegerszeg: Zala Megyei Levéltár, 1996.

Pajkossy, Gábor. “Ungarn.” In Handbuch der europäischen Verfassungsgeschichte im 19. Jahrhundert: Institutionen und Rechtspraxis im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, vol. 1, edited by Werner Daum, Peter Brandt, Martin Kirsch, and Arthur Schlegelmilch, 944–77. Berlin: Dietz, 2006.

Pálmány, Béla. A reformkori országgyűlések történeti almanachja, 1825–1848 [Historical almanac of reformdiets, 1825–1848]. Vols. 1–2. Budapest: Argumentum, 2011.

Paulinyi, Oszkár. “A m. kir. belügyminisztérium budai várbeli székházának története: Adalék Buda topográfiájához” [The history of the seat of the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Interior in Buda Castle: Data on the topography of Buda]. In Tanulmányok Budapest Múltjából 6 [Studies on the history of Budapest], edited by Károly Némethy, Jusztin Budó, 16–61. Budapest: Budapest Székesfőváros, 1938.

Révész, László. Die Anfänge des Ungarischen Parlamentarismus. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1968.

Ruszoly, József. “A német tartományi rendi képviselet történetéből” [On the history of German provincial feudal representation]. Acta Universitatis Szegediensis – Acta Juridica et Politica 39 (1990): 207–24.

Schulze, Winfried. Reich und Türkengefahr im späten 16. Jahrhundert: Studien zu den politischen und gesellschaftlichen Auswirkungen einer auseren Bedrohung. Munich: Duncker & Humblot, 1978.

Siklóssy, László. “Országházak” [Parliament buildings]. Tükör 7, no. 9 (1939): 689–96.

Mat’a, Petr. “Der steirische Landtag in Raum und Bild um 1730: Symbolische Ordnung und visuelle Darstellung.” Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereines für Steiermark 104 (2013): 163–218.

Szente, Zoltán. “A korai rendi gyűlések fő jellemzői és intézményei” [The main features and institutions of the early feudal assemblies]. Parlamenti Szemle 2, no. 1 (2017): 5–25. 

Szijártó, M. István. A Diéta: A magyar rendek és az országgyűlés 1708–1792 [The Diet: The Hungarian estates and the parliament, 1708–1792]. Keszthely: Balaton Akadémia Kiadó, 2010.

Vajnági, Márta. “A Reichstag és a diéta” [The Reichstag and the Diet]. In Rendiség és parlamentarizmus Magyarországon a kezdetektől 1918-ig [Feudal order and parliamentarism in Hungary from the beginnings until 1918], edited by Tamás Dobszay, András Forgó et al., 187–99. Budapest: Argumentum, 2013.

1 Speech by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. The meeting was held on October 28, 1943 in the House of Lords instead of the building of the House of Commons, which had been bombed. Accessed on March 24, 2021, https://winstonchurchill.org/resources.

2 Bölöni, Napnyugati utazás, 114–15.

3 Szemere, Utazás külföldön, 127.

4 Ibid., 267.

5 Ibid., 388; Bölöni, Napnyugati utazás, 181.

6 Grund-Plan vom Innern der Pauls-Kirche, Deutsches Historisches Museum. Do 95/55; Wolff, Paulskirche, Obergeschoß, Grundriß, Museumslandschaft Hessen-Kassel, Inventar nr.: L GS 12545; Das erste deutsche Parlament, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Gr 2004/85.

7 “Opening of the Italian parliament.” Vasárnapi Újság, April 7, 1861.

8 Brandt, “Die deutschen Staaten,” 859.

9 Szemere, Utazás külföldön, 266.

10 Bölöni, Napnyugati utazás, 251–53.

11 See the speech cited in the first footnote.

12 Szente, “A korai rendi gyűlések,” 22 and 25.

13 Bölöni’s outline of 26 points to the rules of the French Parliament, Napnyugati utazás, 136–37.

14 Képes, “Az 1809. évi svéd alaptörvény,” 196, 203; Janet, “Konungens sista afsked af Rikets.” The chamber for the nobility was arranged in this way even in 1900: Första kammarens plenisal i Gamla riksdagshuset, Stockholms Stadsmuseum. Riksdagen i Gamla Riksdagshuset på Riddarholmen. Interiör av plenisal med ledamöter. 1890–1905 Fotograf: Wiklunds, Ateljé. Wiklunds Ateljé BILDNUMMER: C 3236 Stadsmuseet i Stockholm.

15 Vajnági, “A Reichstag és a diéta,” 189–91.

16 Stollberg-Rilinger, Des Kaisers alte Kleider. For an analysis of the order for the Worms period, see the chapter entitled “Ordnung der Personen in Text und Raum,” 32–46. For the exact allocation of seats in the Regensburg mixed meetings, see the figure on page 197. On the expression of rank and authority in the last stage of the history of the assembly see 300–5; Schulze, Reich und Türkengefahr, 337, 348.

17 On the chambers of the individual curia and the joint sitting: Becker, Der Reichstag.

18 Madame de Staël’s description of the opening of the assembly, supported by contemporary depictions: Considérations, 100. l.

19 Ruszoly,A német tartományi rendi képviselet,” 219.

20 Mat’a, “Der steirische Landtag,” 163–218.

21 In contrast, in 1865, the newly built Hall of Representatives was designed in the English style, but due to its poor acoustic conditions, it was soon converted to a horseshoe layout. “Az uj képviselőház gyülés-terme,” Vasárnapi Újság, November 9, 1865.

22 Borsos, “A régi budai Országháza,” 55–93; Kelényi, “A budai országház,” 36–42; Paulinyi, “A m. kir. belügyminisztérium,” 16–38; Kumlik, Adalékok, 4–5; Horler, Budapest műemlékei, vol. 1, 413–15; Siklóssy, “Országházak.” 689–96.

23 Gergely, “Ungarn,” 1050–51. On the Diet in general, see Pajkossy, “Ungarn,” 947–51.

24 Eötvös, “Hogy üljenek a követek?” Pesti Hírlap, May 16, 1906.

25 Eötvös, “Hogy üljenek a követek?” Pesti Hírlap, May 19, 1906.

26 Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, vol. 3, 227–28.

27 Szijártó, A Diéta, 101–4.

28 Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, vol. 3, 218–19; Paget, Hungary and Transylvania, vol. 1, 174–75; Kovács, 1843–44-ik évi alsó tábla kerületi napló, vol. 1, 55; Lupkovics, A magyar rendi országgyűlések, 36–37; Pálmány, A reformkori országgyűlések, vol. 1, 14–15, 23.

29 Pulszky, Mein Zeit, mein Leben, vol. 1, 220–21; Vaszary, Adatok, 8; Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, vol. 3, 239–40.

30 Paget, Hungary and Transylvania, vol. 1, 178. On the frequent absence of more famous personalities, see Pulszky, Mein Zeit, mein Leben, vol. 1, 240.

31 Széchenyi, Napló, 449; Szijártó, A Diéta, 141.

32 Kovács, 1843–44-ik évi kerületi napló, vol. 1, 56.

33 The boring meetings of the upper table were only enlivened by speeches made by the opposition: Pulszky, Mein Zeit, mein Leben, vol. 1, 221.

34 Bölöni, Napnyugati utazás, 99. On the solemn and ceremonial atmosphere, see Paget, Hungary and Transylvania, vol. 1, 177.

35 Molnár, Batthyány, 76; Révész, Die Anfänge, 39; X. [orsz.] ülés a Fő RR-nél június 24-én 1843. A főrendeknél tartott országos ülések naplója, 5–6.

36 Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, vol. 3, 220. Paget, Hungary and Transylvania, vol. 1, 28.

37 Lupkovics, A magyar rendi országgyűlések, 37–38.

38 Szijártó, A diéta, 570–73. The exception: 472.

39 Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, vol. 3, 221.

40 Kossuth, Országgyűlési Tudósítások, vol. 1, 23.

41 Borsos, “A régi budai Országháza, 90; Trentsensky. Projectum Conclavium Tabularum. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Budapest Főváros Levéltára. BMT. 89.

42 Bertha, Országgyűlési tárcza, 196–97.

43 Plan for the repair of the gallery of the “Hall of the Lords” in Pressburg (early 1830s). MNL OL Plan Library, plans excepted from fonds of the government authorities. No. Ministry of Commerce Plans (T 14) No.2/Sz/39/1–4.

A méltóságos főrendek termének belső elrendezése iránt készített tervek. MNL OL Plan Library, Various blueprints (T 15) No. 42/1–4.

Planum exhibens modernam et projectatam mensarum-tabularum-sessionalium dislocatione in sala incly. statuum et ordinum, una et projectum calefactionis. MNL OL Plan Library, Various blueprints (T 15) No. 42/5.

A tekéntetes karok és rendek szálájábann a táblák helheztetése terve Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye 1832 Erdélyi Josef alaprajz. MNL OL Plan Library, Various blueprints (T 15) No. 42/6.

Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye, ülésterem [1830] alaprajz. MNL OL Plan Library, Various blueprints (T 15) No. 42/7–10.

Erklärung der Numern in dem beiliegenden Plan Pozsony, a Magyar Királyi Kamara épülete, országgyűlés színhelye, ülésterem [1830]. MNL OL Plan Library, Various blueprints (T 15) No. 42/11.

44 Eötvös, “Hogy üljenek a követek?” May 17, 1906. Kossuth and Kölcsey both mention the reorganization of the sitting order, but neither mentions the conflict with the palatine. Kossuth, Országgyűlési Tudósítások, vol. 1, 14. (Sitting of December 19, 1832); Kölcsey, Országgyűlési napló, 15–16, 21.

45 Pardoe, The City of the Magyar, 220.

46 Eötvös: “Hogy üljenek a követek?” May 17, 1906.

47 Révész, Die Anfänge, 101.

48 On the allocation of seats for the three tables, see Pulszky, Mein Zeit, mein Leben, vol. 1, 221–22. On the different seating arrangements for the delegates from the Tisza and Danube, see Révész, Die Anfänge, Ibid., Kossuth, Országgyűlési Tudósítások, vol. 1, 24.

49 Pálmány, A reformkori országgyűlések, 26–27. Gergely, “Ungarn,” 1048; Ferenc Kölcsey’s letter to Zsigmond Kende, Pozsony, May 17, 1833. In Kölcsey Ferenc levelezése Kende Zsigmonddal, 99; Kossuth, Országgyűlési Tudósítások, vol. 1, 391; Paget, Hungary and Transylvania, vol. 1, 164–65; Pulszky, Mein Zeit, mein Leben, vol. 1, 223. On the British parallel to the district meeting, see Dobszay, “Az országgyűlés bizottsági,” 201–2.

50 The most detailed description of the layout was given by Ferenc Kovács, who indicated the exact location of each stone. Kovács, 1843–44-ik évi kerületi napló, vol. 1, 109–18. “Határozat az üléseknek a karok és rendek teremébeni elrendelése iránt” és annak módosítása. MNL OL, Regnicolaris Levéltár. Archivum Regni. Diaeta anni 1843–44. (N 68) Fasc. L. No. 22. l) (fol. 28.) and m) (fol. 39.)



Figure 1. Groitsch, A. J. The chamber of the Upper House in Pressburg, 1836.

(Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest)


Figure 4. The seating plan of the Lower House after the rearrangement of 1843 (1847–1848) (“Országgyűlési rajzok 2,” Ábrázolt Folyóirat, January 15, 1848, 20.)



Bor Forced Labor Service as Reflected in Diaries

Tamás Csapody
Semmelweis University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 391-407 DOI: 10.38145/2020.3.391

Military forced labor service was introduced in Hungary during World War II. Men who were unreliable from the aspects of origin, religion, nationality or politics were conscripted for forced labor. Initially, forced laborers constructed primarily military objects on the home front, while later they were also dispatched to the battlefield. They had no weapons or uniforms, their provisions were poor and often they had to do building or mine clearing in the most dangerous areas. Hungary sent a total of approximately 6,000 forced laborers to work in the southern operational territories in 1943 and 1944. They had to undertake forced labor in the mining district of Bor in Yugoslavia, which was under German occupation. The majority were Jews, but there were also Jehovah’s Witnesses, Reform Adventists and Nazarenes. They lived under Hungarian military supervision and worked under German management. The locations of forced labor, the durations of time spent in the mining district, the experienced sufferings, etc. were very different. The forced laborers themselves were also different, for example with regard to their origins, occupations, and age. Several Jewish forced laborers wrote diaries and some of them managed to take those home. Later diaries written in Bor had a particular fate. Some were lost for a time or have remained in fragments, while others with important additions were deposited in archives or taken abroad by the diarists. All the diaries analyzed in the study testify to the survival of their writers. However, they mostly bear witness to the everyday life of forced labor service in Bor (otherwise difficult to learn about) and the behavior of those who held them, as well as the forced laborers’ sufferings, faith and hope. At the same time, they speak about the entirety of forced labor in Bor alongside its personal stories. The diaries are ego-documents, yet also historical sources. Their factual descriptions and subjective approaches augment our knowledge gained in the past. The six diaries written in Bor and analyzed in this study are personal confessions with significant source value.

Keywords: World War II, forced labor, Jews, diaries, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bor, Holocaust, ego-documents

Diaries written in Bor occupy a special place in the history of the Bor forced labor service. They were written during World War II, but they cannot be classified as typical war diaries. True, they were not written in the hell of war, during a retreat or on the home front. Yet they were still penned under conditions of war, confined between fronts, in theaters of military operations, far from the Hungarian border, in a foreign land, and often also under infernal circumstances. Although those who wrote the Bor diaries in forced labor service were subordinated to the Hungarian and German military, their diaries cannot be regarded as soldiers’ diaries or work diaries, even though they contain descriptions of places of work.

It was not prisoners treated as prisoners of war but forced laborers in captivity who wrote the diaries in secret. Although most of the diaries contain descriptions of journeys and the texts also record forced and frequent changes of place, they naturally cannot be called travel diaries. Though the fear of destruction appears repeatedly in the descriptions, since the shadow of death was present in the diarists’ lives due to accidents at work, illnesses, beatings, murders, and executions, they cannot be regarded as camp diaries written in concentration or extermination camps. In truth, we can say that they were written by victims of the Holocaust in forced labor camps.1 They simultaneously represent letter, camp, prisoner, and travel diaries. The Bor diaries found during my research are ego-documents written by Jewish forced laborers, more or less regularly and chronologically recorded, which are fragmented and which contain personal notes.2

The Known Bor Diaries

At present, we have knowledge of six diaries that were written at least partly in Bor.3 Of the six, only four can be appropriately described, since two have survived only in fragments. Those two have more content missing than what exists (László Faludi) or what can be accessed at present (György Szöllösi). The content that is known of them deserves far more than just a mention, yet it is clearly insufficient to allow a comparison with the four that can be read in their entirety (the diaries of György Laufer, Imre Pártos, Béla Somló, and Lajos György).

The diaries cover durations of varying lengths. Information about the call-up for forced labor service in Bor is the earliest initial point of time (May 31, 1943), while arrival at the authors’ place of birth in Hungary and accounts of subsequent experiences mark the latest (April 3, 1945). However, the diaries were written over very different time spans between the two time limits. Time frames are defined essentially by “external” circumstances, such as who was called up for forced labor service in Bor, when (1943 or 1944), and which group (the first or second “stage”) the person left Bor as part of. “Internal,” subjective differences also played a role in terms of from when and until when the diaries were written. Differences defined as “internal” and “external” were naturally closely connected, since, for example, the forced marches and mass murders which were common during the first stage made it impossible to record the events. This was very different from the situation of those who were dispatched from Bor in the second stage and had plenty of opportunity to write diaries in the period following liberation after they arrived in Temesvár (Timişoara) or Szeged, which both represented freedom and calm for them.

Three of the Bor diaries are held in public collections, while I was able to study or was informed about the other three from contacts of former Bor forced laborers or their descendants. All of the diaries, except for one, are unpublished.

László Faludi’s Diary

One of the two diaries that cannot be studied in full was written by László Faludi.4 His hand-written diary is of unknown length.5 However, the existing numbered eight pages suggest that its length must have been some 100 pages. His notes written in a grey pen on lined pages are clearly legible.

László Faludi, whose permanent residence was in Budapest, was a forced laborer in Páhi. From there, his unit was ordered to Szeged and then to Bor. According to his diary, the steamer which transported them to Serbia was sailing between Titel and Belgrade along the Danube on July 14, 1943.6 They reached Belgrade at night, after having experienced a huge storm lasting an hour. The following day, they reached their destination, the port of Prahovo on the Serbian side of the Serbian-Romanian border along the Danube. The journey by rail to Zaječar and then to Bor took two days. The 3,000 forced laborers arrived in Bor on July 17. He was held captive in Bor in the camp called Berlin for exactly 14 months to the day, until September 17, 1944.

The accessible (presumably) one tenth of the diary suggests that he wrote about three major themes: the forced labor in Bor, the past labor movement and the communist future, and his personal life. Employing the diary genre, Faludi wrote an autobiographical memoir, which is not at all unusual in such literature. He used his diary as a memoir and as a result it has a retrospective character.

His diary is explicitly for posterity. It is addressed not only to those who might find his notes, but to “the future generation who will appreciate”7 his writing. Thus, for Faludi, writing a diary was an activity intended for a larger, anonymous readership rather than any specific individual or, at least according to the text, the author himself. It is a message for the youth of the future, written amidst the suffering of forced labor service. It is full of pathos and is ideological, almost with an overtone of propaganda.

Considering the proportions of the fragmented diary, the largest section is a description of the past labor movement. The text clearly shows that Faludi came from the organized labor movement, in which he was socialized, started to read literature, and found his best friend. He defined himself as a skilled worker in a cotton mill and a proletarian who “struggled against the infringements of capitalism” and engaged in anti-war propaganda both inside and outside the mill. He believed in “the matter of liberty, equality, brotherhood, peace, work, and bread,” and his soul “was united with the souls of other proletarians.” “Socialist poets” became his “soul mates” in the movement, and he mentions Endre Ady, Attila József, and Sándor Petőfi by name. Influenced by their writings, he himself began writing poems and short stories. His younger brother became his colleague in the movement, and Faludi refers to him as always being the “best comrade and brother.”8 Faludi also recounted two experiences of key importance connected to the labor movement: reading something9 and May 1, 1938.

Faludi was sent back from Bor in the first group, and he must have escaped somewhere on the way while still in the Serbian mountains. He joined Tito’s partisans.10

Nothing more could be found about László Faludi in Hungarian archives, and only tiny bits of information were accessible in online data bases. His brief letters were usually published in the letters section of dailies and weeklies. They suggest that he remained on the left and maintained his critical attitude and sensitivities in terms of public life and his positive vision of the future.11

György Szöllösi’s Diary

The author of the other Bor diary that cannot be read in full is György Szöllösi.12 His hand-written diary exists in full, yet it cannot be accessed at present. Neither the few pages at my disposal nor the diary extract sent by György Szöllösi’s son13 provide sufficient information to analyze the diary.14 However, Szöllösi’s life and, within it, the period of forced labor service in Bor can be reconstructed on the basis of a video interview recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History15 and his testimony in one of the trials held by the people’s tribunal.16 Although it is impossible to get closer to the notes in the Bor diary, we still learn that Szöllösi was taken to the Bregenz subcamp in the spring of 1944. In the one and a half months he spent there, he experienced instances of “tying” (being hung from his hands after they had been tied together behind his back) ordered by the military detachment, and he witnessed the mutilation of two of his fellow laborers following their unsuccessful attempt to escape. Later, Szöllösi was ordered to work in the mines from a railway construction, and thus he ended up in the Straflager (punishment camp) in Bor. Here, he did not live under the supervision of the Hungarian military but rather of German soldiers. Since he did not get there as a form of punishment, he was far better off than he had been in the Bregenz subcamp. In the end, he was sent home as part of the second group.

Tito’s partisans liberated him on September 30, 1944. Like many of his fellow forced laborers, he first went to Temesvár and then to Budapest, which had been liberated in the meantime. (Subsequently, he probably wrote his diary from spring 1943 to the beginning of 1945.) Following his return home, he became an assistant police inspector in Sopron in the summer of 1945. After spending a short time in Germany and France, he left for the United States in May 1947. He settled in Chicago, changed his name to George Brent, and became a businessman.

György Laufer’s Diary17

At present there are four Bor diaries which can be accessed in full. The first note in György Laufer’s18 36-page hand-written diary, which is now part of a public collection,19 was written more than two and a half months after his arrival in Bor on October 5, 1943. His last note was recorded ten days before the first group left Bor on September 7, 1944. So the diary starts “too late” and finishes “too early,” including a duration of almost 11 months to the day: a large proportion of the nearly 14 months he spent as a forced laborer in Bor. With regard to its total length and the number of entries, the diary can be described as “brief.” Laufer wrote his diary continuously, but not daily. The longest gap, which lasted nearly two months, occurred between January and March, 1944. It was presumably cause by an illness which lasted for five weeks. Like László Faludi, Laufer was in the Berlin camp, and he also worked in the limestone quarry in the village of Krivelj to the north, as well as in Bor, but in Bor, he worked as a photographer.

His diary touches on the series of changes which occurred in the life of the Berlin camp beginning in early 1944. When the new chief commander of the camp, lieutenant colonel Ede Marányi,20 arrived in this period, the life of forced laborers changed dramatically. As Laufer noted in his diary, prisoners were treated more and more strictly. Individual and group “tying” took place regularly and frequently, and as a result, more and more people tried to escape. From his notes, it is possible to reconstruct precisely to the day the time when 15 “lads” fled on March 27, 1944. More people were able to flee within a few days. Of those who tried to escape, 10 were captured the same week. Ede Marányi had two of them executed on Sunday, April 2, 1944. In his diary, Laufer reported the death of a “Jehovah’s Witness” escapee (April 11, 1944). Although he does not mention names, the dates of the deaths agree with the data in the official records of military graves.21 However, the attempts to escape were motivated not only by the increasingly common practice of “tying,” but also by other forms of abuse. Laufer noted that from the beginning of April 1944, prisoners were only allowed to receive letters from their parents or wives, but not from girlfriends.

György Laufer identifies August 29, 1944 as “the most exciting and eventful” day of the time he spent in Bor. This was because, as he writes, “we were called upon to be ready to march because we could expect the order to set off at any moment.”22 The following days were spent waiting, although Laufer had only recently ended up in Bor as a photographer. A one-line note in his diary was made at 4:50 a.m. on September 7, 1944 saying, “Alert! My God be with me.”23 However, the alert was not followed by marching orders at that time. He had to wait another ten days, though there is no record of this in his diary.

The diary comes to an end here, but Laufer’s story in Bor, of course, continued. He was dispatched from Bor in the first phase. He did not write his diary during the marches. He was shot in the head in Cservenka (Crvenka/Tscherwenka) in western Bačka or its vicinity, but shockingly, he survived, and after he had recovered, he returned to Budapest in April 1945.24 The effects of György Laufer’s severe head injury inflicted in the vicinity of Cservenka accompanied him throughout his life.

Little is known of the photographer György Laufer who finally settled down in Budapest and started a family after his years in Szeged. Taking the circumstances of the period into account, the fact that his name is included in the list of profiteers published in the Bulletin of the People’s Tribunals in its issue of March 1946 does not tell us anything about him.25 He became an active member of the Bor group, and his name appeared in the documents of secret investigations in connection with the death of Miklós Radnóti (1967–1975).26

Imre Pártos’s Diary27

Law graduate Imre Pártos and economist Béla Somló belonged to the older generation among the Bor forced laborers. Pártos was 42 years old and Somló was 41 when they reached Bor in 1943. They were taken to Bor in the same group as the much younger György Szöllösi and Lajos György, who also wrote diaries. Pártos and Szöllösi presumably knew each other, since they were taken to the same subcamp.

From the day of joining his unit (June 5, 1944), Imre Pártos recorded something in his diary every day up to the last day of the year. He wrote entries in his diary for a total of 210 days, regardless of which Bor camp he was in or which way he had to take after liberation. He spent four months in Bor camps and two months wandering, marching, and fleeing between Bor and Szeged. He then spent two months in the liberated city of Szeged.

He generally summed up the events of a given day in three concise sentences. An obvious reason for being concise was that he wrote his diary in a small notebook (the only one among the Bor diaries) which offered him only a limited amount of space. Unlike the other diarists, he did not have to do physical work. From the very beginning to the very end, he was a clerk, and he was aware that this was a privilege. He was not held in contempt for being a legally qualified clerk, and if he had anything to fear, it was only the members of the detachment outside his unit. Enjoying the trust of both the detachment and his fellow forced laborers, he became president of the “welfare committee.”28 His estate29 includes an original document that indicates an income of 10,092 pengős and expenditures of 4,469 pengős. This suggests that a self-help social support system was organized with the approval of the camp commander in the Bregenz subcamp. However, Imre Pártos was able to take home both this unique document and a possibly complete list of names (497 in all) of those in the subcamp.

Pártos and the other forced laborers alongside him were liberated by the partisans from the second group setting off from Bor. This meant that he was finally freed from Bor, yet neither had the war come to an end nor was he no longer in danger. The story of his march with the partisans and his escape from the Germans is unusual but, thanks to his diary, we know it. Pártos did not advance in the direction of Arad or Temesvár, as one would have expected, but traveled instead to Szeged via Nagybecskerek (Zrenjanin). He arrived barely two weeks after Szeged was liberated. One day, he was still threatened by the horror of public work and “malenkij robot,” while the next day he was already working as a detective with the Szeged police. Although the diary provides information about the increasing workload at the police, it does not reveal details. It is also known only from a note which was written after he had stopped regularly writing in his diary that he was appointed as Szeged tribunal prosecutor on June 6, 1945. Pártos worked in both job in which he had both political and professional competencies for 16 months, until October 31, 1946, when he was relocated to Budapest.

The files of the people’s tribunal and the local press provide a fragmented picture of Imre Pártos’s work as a prosecutor. Newspapers in Szeged and its vicinity reported on some 35 people’s tribunals for which Pártos served as prosecutor.30 During the trials, he acted as prosecutor in cases in which charges were brought against particularly important war criminals and “anti-people” criminals, such as the commander of the former ghetto of Szeged, the former chief of police, the former Lord Lieutenant, the former deputy mayor, and the former guard commander of the Csillag Prison. In several cases, Pártos was the people’s prosecutor in the trials of military superiors of Jewish forced laborers. As a tribunal prosecutor he participated in at least two cases when the people’s tribunal passed sentence on former detachment members in Bor.31

After almost exactly two years spent in Szeged, he was appointed to the position of people’s prosecutor in Budapest (October 31, 1946) and deputy chief people’s prosecutor eight months later (June 6, 1947). This took place at a time when the Communist Party was seizing power. The people’s tribunals often played a role in this. Pártos represented the prosecution during certain phases of the trials of the Arrow Cross chief of press Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa,32 minister from the Smallholders’ Party Endre Mistéth,33 and social democratic leader Károly Peyer.34

After the people’s tribunals ceased to function, the government appointed Pártos deputy chief state prosecutor (January 27, 1950).35 About five years later, the Presidential Council of the Hungarian People’s Republic awarded him the “Order of Merit for Socialist Labor” in “recognition of his excellent work in the Chief Prosecution Office.” At the time, Pártos was the prosecutor of the main department of the Chief Prosecution Office (December 24, 1954).36 Following the suppression of the 1956 revolution, he did not participate in the show trials.37 Pártos began his career as a solicitor before the war and retired as a legal counsel from the Budapest Contractors’ Company on December 31, 1966.

Béla Somló’s Diary

The author of the longest diary known among this admittedly small group was Dr. Béla Somló.38 The text, which exists in a typed transcript in a public collection, is several times longer than any other Bor diary.39 The manuscript is a typical example a work with a retrospective character which is not “intact,”40 since in the absence of the original hand-written diary, it cannot be established whether subsequent changes were made and what expectations the author wanted to comply with in relation to any potential changes. Béla Somló passed on to succeeding generations all of his diaries about marches into the regions of the southern borders of Hungary and to Ukraine in the same way.41 At that time, the anti-Jewish laws had not yet affected Somló, and he participated in the reinforcement of the occupying troops as a soldier of the Pécs mechanized division.

Somló’s diary written in Bor is a source of abundant information about the lives of forced laborers who were taken to the Rhön subcamp in the second group. After his fortunate liberation, he provides a uniquely rich description of the colorful life in Temesvár, a city which survived the war with relatively little damage and had already been liberated. It was an urban center in which Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, and Russians lived together.

The bulky file of surveillance documents kept by the State Security Authority reveals more about Béla Somló’s post-1945 life than any other source. Somló, who was not a party member, spoke several languages and liked music. He was kept under surveillance on suspicion of spying for six years between 1950 and 1956. The suspicion was unfounded, and his case was closed.42

Lajos György’s Diary43

The author of the sixth Bor diary which has survived in full44 is Lajos György. While I had to make inquiries about László Faludi and Béla Somló and about György Laufer’s authorship, the opposite was true in the case of György. Also, he was the only person among the Bor diarists with whom I was able to meet in person.45 His son, aesthetician Péter György, first mentioned the existence of the diary in a biographical essay published in the literary journal Alföld in 2010.46 A year later, in his essay-novel Apám helyett47 (Instead of my father), which met with considerable interest, the story of his father’s forced labor service in Bor and his Bor diary played essential roles in the first seven chapters.

Lajos György’s Bor diary can be divided into three distinct sections based on chronological and topographical aspects: Bor, liberation and wandering, and finally, being home in Budapest. Regarding its themes, it is a historical and a personal diary. The personal thread is intense in the sections written during his time in Bor and during the period he spent wandering and also in the notes made after he had returned home, although in the latter, the proportions are naturally turned around completely. The narrative changes from a war-time forced labor camp diary into a “travel diary” and a personal one. It is the diary of a year in the life of a young man who was 18 and then 19 years of age and who was taken to a forced labor service, compelling him to cross international borders, pass through theatres of military operations, and learn about the old and new systems from close-up, and yet György was barely able to separate from his parents. In addition, he was in love. So the text is also a diary documenting his turbulent emotional life over the course of a single year of his first love. Moreover, the diary has another important layer. The text is a document which sheds light on the ways in which his attitude towards the communist idea developed via practical trials. Thus, Lajos György’s diary can clearly be regarded as a diary of transformation, mobility, and the process of becoming an adult.

Lajos György wrote his diary between May 31, 1944 and April 3, 1945. The section on Bor embraces a shorter period, and it also contains entries written during and about the liberation and the events of the months after György had returned home. It begins when he was drafted to work as part of the forced labor service, and the diary contains entries kept over the course of a year, almost to the day. Over the course of this period of time, according to his entries, György slept in a total of 58 places, starting with Jászberény, the location specified in the summons he received, followed by the locations in Bor, and on the way home following liberation as far as to his residence in Budapest.

György’s diary contains drawings, which is not unusual in diary literature, though his is the only one among the Bor diaries that contains drawings. Tiny sketches in red ink are found in the margins and, in some instances, at the top of the pages. They are connected to the texts. György drew a castle, rails, mine carts, piles of bricks, a red star (with “Long Live Tito” underneath in Serbian), a hammer and sickle, a red cross, tanks, books, a watch (with the word “watch” in Russian underneath), a Christmas tree, and a traditional Hungarian Christmas cake.48 In the same red ink, he underlined titles, sub-titles, some dates, and words or names which he regarded as important, presumably when he reread the diary later.

Lajos György was placed in the Laznica camp, which was, relatively speaking, the best in Bor. It was the only subcamp of Bor that was situated inside a village and was not surrounded by a fence due to its location. It was the furthest Hungarian subcamp from Bor and it was not along the busier north-south main road. Last but not least, the commander of the camp, ensign Jenő Halász, had a comparatively humane attitude.49 Yet later, Lajos György encountered a member of the detachment named János Császár in the Berlin camp.50 The cruelty of this sergeant major had the same negative effect on him as it did on the other diarists. Later, like László Faludi, György Laufer, and György Szöllösi, Lajos György also participated in the people’s tribunal trial of János Császár.51


On the basis of the number of diaries which have survived, even if in some cases only in fragments, one has the impression that very few of the forced labor service men in Bor wrote diaries. Two of the authors of the surviving six diaries were taken to the Berlin camp with the 1943 group and spent 14 months in Bor. The others arrived a year later and were held captive in different subcamps in the mountains. The diaries clearly show how differently the diarists experienced their forced labor service, depending on their ages, qualifications, assignments, and the conditions in the camps. Nothing was previously known about how a forced laborer lived and thought during his time in Bor if he worked inside the camp, for instance in the kitchen, or he was a photographer or a clerk or if he had been in the organized labor movement. The Bor diaries provide us with a few impressions of the experiences of forced labor in theaters of military operations or under Hungarian and German control. Notes made in the present tense at the locations and the later transcripts make it possible to draw a more nuanced picture.

Another perspective from which the diaries may offer a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of people assigned to forced labor camp service involves the so-called “Jewish question” in the camp. As György Laufer writes in his diary (which is the only source known so far which touches on this), the Jewish forced laborers were marked with “the Mogen Dovid,” which was daubed in “oil paint” on their chests and their backs (Laufer writes about this in the entry from March 30, 1944).52 So from then on, the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers held as prisoners in the Berlin camp were compelled to wear the Star of David on their clothing until the liberation. Béla Somló dealt most with the situation of the Jews in the camp. He was preoccupied with the difference between the position of “whites” and “yellows” (the term “white” referred to people who were born Jewish but converted to the Christian faith. They were officially considered Jews). He often wrote about the distinction between “white” Jews and non-baptized “yellow” Jews. Thus the anti-Jewish laws carried weight in acts of discrimination even in Bor. Those with yellow armbands could not be cooks, nor could they work in the kitchen. Moreover, they could not be workers within the camp or be present in the office. They had to turn in their boots and wear the Star of David. Béla Somló, Imre Pártos, and Lajos György had white arm bands, as did the poet Miklós Radnóti and the philosopher Sándor Szalai, who were also taken to Bor.

With one exception, the Bor diaries did not end in Bor. They record the liberation and the experience of encountering the partisans and Russian soldiers. They also describe what the forced laborers experienced during their escape, on the way home, and at the locations where they stayed. After having survived Hungarian and German captivity, they were still exposed to threats from the partisans and the looming danger of falling into Russian captivity. The diaries show precisely how the war, its consequences, and the temporary situations affected them. Arrival home also presented them with losses, since they learned that many of their relatives had perished in the Holocaust. They had to rethink their lives, including their personal lives. In different ways, they participated in the emergence of a new world, including the rise of a different dictatorship, the complex circumstances of which they themselves struggled with later.53


Primary sources

Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára [Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security] (ÁBTL)

Béla, Somló. 3.1.5. O–9054.

Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives] (BFL)

Nb.206/1945. 160–161. Lajos György

Nb.3281/1945.80. András Tálas

XXV.1.a. 3757–1947, Károly Peyer

XXV.2.b. 13981–1945, Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa

Holocaust Emlékközpont [Holocaust Memorial Center]

Károly, Koltai. 2011.360.1.

Honvédelmi Minisztérium Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzezum [Ministry of Defence Military History Institute and Museum Military History Archives] (HM HIM HL)

PGy 2826. Béla, Somló. Diary. The participation of the Pécs motorised heavy vehicle division IV/2 in entering the region to the south of Hungary’s border in 1941 (1980)

PgyM/368 and M/368. Béla, Somló. Diary (Bor, 1 June 1944–Temesvár, 19 October 1944). Diary (Temesvár, 19 October 1944–Budapest, 27 February 1945).

TGy 2811. Béla, Somló. Diary. The participation of the column of the Pécs motorised vehicle division IV/2 in the rapid deployment force of the military campaign in Russia (1941).

Hadisír Nyilvántartó [Records of Military Graves], http://www.hadisir.hu/hadisir-nyilvantarto

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Csongrád-Csanád Megyei Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary Csongrád and Csanád County Archives] (MNL CSML)

Szeged Nb.206/1945. Trial of cadet sergeant János Császár

Szeged, Nb.1106/1945. Lance corporal Mihály Palócz’s war crime

Szeged, Nb.1200/1945. Captain István Vida’s anti-people crime.

Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum [Hungarian National Museum] (MNM)

Legújabb Kori Iratgyűjtemény [Collection of Contemporary Documents]

83.242.1. Faludi, László. Diary of a Bor forced laborer

Történeti Fényképtár [Department of Historical Photographs]

78.386. Faludi, László. Three camp postcards

Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár [Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives]

B/327 L2_E4_75. Laufer, György. Diary written during Bor forced labor service

Visual History Archive (VHA)

USC, Shoah Foundation, George Brent, interview 19753, 1996.

György, Lajos. Diary. 31 May 1944–1 April 1945. The original copy of the diary is with Lajos György’s widow, Otília Vass (Budapest), while the copy seen by me is in Péter György’s ownership.

Magyar Közlöny [Hungarian Official Gazette], 124.12.1954, no. 106, 754.

Magyar Közlöny [Hungarian Official Gazette], 16.02.1950, no. 28, 1.

Nemzeti Emlékezet Bizottsága [Committee of National Remembrance] (NEB)

Datebase. https://perek56.hu/ords/f?p=1051:1

Pártos, Imre. Diary. The original diary and Imre Pártos’s documents connected to his forced labor service in Bor are in the ownership of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter (Budapest).

Somló, Béla. Diary (Bor, 1 June 1944–Temesvár, 19 October 1944). Diary (Temesvár, 19 October 1944–Budapest, 27 February 1945). The originals are owned by Márta Koczka Sántháné (Debrecen).

Szöllösi, György. Diary. The original copy of the diary is owned by Dennis Brent (Dallas).


Secondary literature

Anonymous. “Itt a feketézők, valutázók, árdrágítók második hivatalos listája” [The second official list of black marketeers, illegal dealers in foreign currencies, and profiteers]. Világosság, March 3, 1946.

Csapody, Tamás. “Laufer György naplója” [György Laufer’s diary]. Múltunk 64, no. 1 (2019): 184–224.

Csapody, Tamás. “A naplóíró Somló Béla” [The diary writer is Béla Somló]. FONS 24, no. 3 (2019): 339–402.

Gyáni, Gábor. “A napló mint társadalomtörténeti forrás: A közhivatalnok identitása” [The diary as a social history source: The identity of a public servant]. In Gyáni, Gábor, Emlékezés, emlékezet és a történelem elbeszélése [Remembrance, memory and the narration of history], 145–60. Budapest: Napvilág Press, 2000.

György, Péter. “Az amnézia-terápia: A Kádár-korszak fausti egyezsége” [Therapy of amnesia: The Faustian pact of the Kádár era]. Alföld 61, no. 1 (2010): 64–69.

György, Péter. Apám helyett [Instead of my father]. Budapest: Magvető Press, 2011.

Kunt, Gergely. Kamasztükör: A hosszú negyvenes évek társadalmi képzetei fiatalok naplóiban [Reflections of adolescents: Social ideas of the long 1940s in diaries of young people]. Budapest: Korall Press, 2017.

Sinclair Jr., Upton Beall. Kutató Sámuel [Samuel the Seeker]. Translated by Dezső Schöner. Budapest: Népszava, 1913.

1 The roughly 6,000 Hungarian forced laborers in total taken to Bor in Serbia in 1943 and 1944 included 161 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 19 Reform Adventists, and 9 Nazarenes. We do not know if any member of the minor congregations kept a diary.

2 On the diary as a historical source, see Gyáni, “A napló mint társadalomtörténeti forrás: A közhivatalnok identitása,” 145–60.

3 The chronological framework of the study extends from the draft for forced labor service to the individual’s return to his permanent residence. There are several memoirs which are regarded as Bor diaries by posterity. See, for example, Károly Koltai’s memoir, which according to the official records of the Holocaust Memorial Centre is a “hand-written diary and memoir.” Holocaust Memorial Centre 2011.360.1.

4 László Faludi (mother’s name: Sarolta Fingerhút; Budapest, December 19, 1920–Budapest, after 1980). Unit V/4. Special labor unit V. supplementary battalion; identification number: 3006.20.3432. Skilled textile mill worker in Budapest.

5 Diary of a Bor forced laborer. MNM, Collection of Contemporary Documents 83.242.1. Pages 29–32 and 81–84 of the diary survived. Parts of the diary were displayed at the exhibition held in the Hungarian pavilion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 1979. Three camp postcards written from Bor, which László Faludi wrote to his parents and siblings in Budapest, and one sent to Bor, which he received from his mother, also exist. MNM, Department of Historical Photographs, 78.386.1–4.

6 The steamer transporting László Faludi and its towboat departed from Szeged towards the south on the River Tisza and reached the Danube at Titel.

7 Faludi, Diary of a Bor forced labourer, 32.

8 Ibid., 83.

9 He was reading Upton Beall’s Kutató Sámuel.

10 László Faludi handed over two certificates made out in the Serbian and Croatian language by the Yugoslav partisans to the Museum of the Hungarian Labor Movement (MMM), a legal predecessor to MNM. Acknowledgement of receipt: none. Budapest, October 4, 1978. The certificates cannot be found at present.

11 His brief contributions were published in Népszabadság and Új Tükör between 1976 and 1980.

12 György Szöllösi (George Brent) (mother’s name Mária Weisz; Zilah, April 2, 1926–Dallas, January 24, 2001) was a violinist, assistant policeman, member of the French Foreign Legion, and businessman.

13 Dennis Brent (mother’s name Anita Myerson; Houston ?–December 1950) was a writer, retired editor, producer living in Dallas.

14 In addition to the cover, I was able to see only four poorly scanned pages of the diary. The school exercise book with a checkered cover and pages could be a total of approximately 30–40 pages. Dennis Brent’s email to Tamás Csapody. Dallas, August 24, 2006. (For years, I asked Dennis Brent to show me the full diary, but in vain.)

15 VHA USC, George Brent, interview 19753, 1996.

16 MNL CSML, Nb.206/1945, János Császár’s trial at the people’s tribunal. Record of testimony. Acknowledgement of receipt: none. Sopron, June 7, 1945. 36–38. Records. No. of acknowledgement of receipt: Nb.206/1945.17. July 30, 1945. 49–50.

17 The diary was published in full. Csapody, “Laufer György naplója,” 184–224.

18 Laufer, György (mother’s name Róza Somogyi; Budapest, August 9, 1920–Budapest, September 30, 1995). Unit V/4. Special labor unit V supplementary battalion. Identification No. 3009.20.2796. He was a photographer, press worker, motorcycle delivery man, leather goods artisan, and self-employed plastics craftsman.

19 Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, B/327 L2_E4_75. Documents Collection connected to the Holocaust, Laufer György Diary written during Bor forced labor service.

20 Marányi, Ede (mother’s name Katalin Dörgő; Pétervárad, October 7, 1896–Markdorf, Germany, September 20, 1985). His fictitious data: Antal Fehér, Komárom, March 5, 1900 was a special corps lieutenant colonel, off-duty Arrow Cross Party colonel, and commander of the camp group in Bor.

21 The two executed forced laborers were Sándor Friedmann (Budapest, 1907–Bor, April 2, 1944), Special Labor Unit battalion V. Resident of Budapest, and Tibor Béla, about whom there is no data in the official records of military graves. The Jehovah’s Witness was István Besenyei [András Besenyei] (mother’s name Borbála Nagy; Kisléta, November 28, 1911–Bor, April 11, 1944), special labor unit 801. According to the file of official records of losses, he “died during a collapse of earth.” HM HIM Records of Military Graves, search by name: http://www.hadisir.hu/hadisir-nyilvantarto (last accessed September 21, 2018).

22 Laufer, Diary, August 29, 1944.

23 Laufer, Diary, July 9, 1944.

24 BFL, Nb.3281/1945.80. Trial of cadet sergeant András Tálas at the people’s tribunal. György Laufer’s testimony. Budapest, October 30, 1946. No. of acknowledgement of receipt: 619/1946.

25 Anonymous, “Itt a feketézők, valutázók, árdrágítók második hivatalos listája,” 5.

26 ÁBTL, 3.1.5.-16476. File codenamed Abda murderers. The appearance does not have any significance since György Laufer did not go with the marchers after Cservenka.

27 Dr. Imre Pártos (mother’s name Malvin Freidlander; Budapest, March 27, 1902–Budapest, September 30, 1973) was a solicitor, people’s prosecutor, deputy people’s prosecutor, deputy chief prosecutor, and legal counsellor.

28 Pártos, Diary, July 4, 1944.

29 The original diary and Imre Pártos’s documents connected to his forced labor service in Bor are in the ownership of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who reside in Budapest.

30 Primarily Szegedi Népszava and Délmagyarország, less frequently Szegedi Kis Újság, Makói Népújság and Szentesi Lap published some news in connection with Imre Pártos.

31 MNL CSML, Szeged. Nb. 1200/1945. Captain István Vida’s anti-people crime. Sentence: two years imprisonment. Also: MNL CSML, Szeged. Nb. 1106/1945. Lance corporal Mihály Palócz’s war crime. Sentence: ten years hard labor by the court of first instance, changed to three years by the court of second instance.

32 Dr. vitéz (“the Valliant”) Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa (mother’s name Margit Kolosváry; Kolozsvár, June 27, 1896–Budapest, December 6, 1946) was a journalist, editor, titular state secretary, and member of parliament. BFL - XXV.2.b - 13981–1945.

33 BFL - XXV.1.a - 2815–1948, Dr. Endre Mistéth (mother’s name Emília Konstantinovics; Buziásfürdő, September 10, 1912–Budapest, July 12, 2006) was a bridge construction engineer, state secretary, and minister.

34 BFL - XXV.1.a - 3757–1947, Károly Peyer (mother’s name Katalin Frank; Városlőd, May 9, 1881–New York, October 25, 1956) was an ironworker and minister, member of parliament.

35 Magyar Közlöny, 1.

36 Magyar Közlöny, 754.

37 He is not included in the 1956 data base of the Committee of National Remembrance (NEB) in any form. https://perek56.hu/ords/f?p=1051:1. (Last accessed June 18, 2019.)

38 Dr. Béla Somló [Béla Schwartz] (mother’s name Körpel Ilona; Budapest, July 14, 1903–Budapest, April 2, 2000) was a chartered economist, agrarian economist, bank clerk, and photographer in Budapest.

39 HM HIM HL, PgyM/368 and M/368. His Bor diary consists of two large units. The section written in Bor consists of 49 pages. The other section, which was written in Temesvár, comes to 64 pages (Bor, June 1, 1944–Temesvár, October 19, 1944 and Temesvár, October 19, 1944–Budapest, February 27, 1945). The author later transcribed the texts for the Archives of Military History in 1979 and 1982.

40 Kunt, “Kamasztükör,” 15–20.

41 HM HIM HL, PGy 2826. The participation of the Pécs motorized heavy vehicle division IV/2 in entering the region to the south of Hungary’s border in 1941 (1980). Also: HM HIM HL, TGy 2811. The participation of the column of the Pécs motorized vehicle division IV/2 in the rapid deployment force of the military campaign in Russia.

42 ÁBTL, 3.1.5. O–9054. Béla, Somló.

43 Dr. Lajos György (mother’s name Emma Schwitzer; Budapest, April 16, 1926–Budapest, November 1, 2008) was a physician, editor, writer, environmentalist, ecologist, and doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

44 The original copy of the diary is with Lajos György’s widow, Otília Vass, who resides in Budapest, while the copy seen by me is in the possession of Péter György.

45 Email communication from Lajos György to Tamás Csapody. Budapest, September 13, 2005.

46 György, “Az amnézia-terápia,” 64–69.

47 György, Apám helyett, 2011.

48 A total of 13 drawings including signatures in two places. There are also three words and remarks written in the margins in the same red ink (“гладам сам” [I am hungry], “B.U.É.K.” (the Hungarian abbreviation for Happy New Year), and “Hungária”).

49 Reserve ensign Dr. Jenő Halász was a teacher in Újvidék (Novi Sad). Two pieces of news spread about him among the forced laborers (he fled and joined the partisans, and he did not return after his official time off). He was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in Yugoslavia after 1945. The second commander of the camp was lieutenant Béla Nagy from Szeged.

50 János Császár (mother’s name Judit Burkus; Medgyesegyháza, April 17, 1905–Szeged, August 3, 1945) was a sergeant major and a member of the detachment in the Bregenz and Rhön subcamps and then in the Berlin camp. The Szeged people’s tribunal sentenced Császár to death for war crimes in 1945 and he was executed.

51 BFL Nb.206/1945. 160–61. Lajos György’s handwritten, signed submission without any date. The registered date is June 19, 1945. János Császár’s trial at the people’s tribunal. No. of acknowledgment of receipt: 1542/1945.

52 Diary, March 30, 1944. Mogen Dovid: Star of David, in Hebrew Magen David.

53 I would like to thank everyone in the public collections and private archives who helped me in my work, as well as those who contributed to the process of creating accurate typewritten versions of the diaries.


The Corporeal Continuation of the Holocaust: A Look at Miscarriages

Alexandra M. Szabó
Brandeis University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 408-429 DOI:10.38145/2020.3.408

Scholarship on women’s experiences is recently surfacing to understand a broader and more nuanced picture of Holocaust history. This case study wishes to add to the currently emerging interpretations of gendered experiences through the events of miscarriages that persecuted women experienced before, during, and after the Shoah. While the topic of miscarriages is only a segment of the larger subject of pregnancy, this research aims to offer a methodological example of including corporeal experiences into the gender analysis of the examined time period. This case study thus presents its relevance in bearing the ability to alter previous scholarly understanding on the demographics of Jewish communities after 1945 by showing that women’s reproductive and fertility experiences have not been included in social scientific discussions.

Keywords: Women and the Holocaust, gendered experiences, gender analysis, pregnancy, miscarriages, Jewish women.

In this paper, I examine experiences of miscarriages caused by the Holocaust in order to present the idea that defined timelines of history and demographic indicators do not necessarily align to the social reality of corporeal and gendered experiences. Originally, the wider scope of my research was about returning Holocaust survivors who had been deported from Hungary,1 and the initial step was to review demographics concerning the Jewish population from the immediate postwar period in comparison to the past decades of the twentieth century, especially the interwar period. My examination of the demographic data led me to the discovery that Holocaust survivors are mainly treated as a homogenous group in Hungarian scholarly work, and this failure to draw distinctions among them has led to some unexplored ground in the history of survivors.2 The aim of this paper, therefore, is to look deeper into the social history of the Hungarian Jewish population in the so-called transitory period of the early postwar years in Hungary from liberation in 1945 to the beginning of Communist rule in 1949.3 The purpose of such a case study about a specific group of people within a specific timeframe is, ultimately, to provide a lens we can glean insights into societal changes from a wider but also from a closer perspective. Therefore, this paper is going to complement quantitative research with a qualitative approach. Through this examination, I seek further explanations and a more nuanced understanding of alternate realities that lay behind macrosociological knowledge with the help of a feminist approach.4

Such an approach provides further questions about the context and actors of a given societal reaction or change, especially about women and their role. Given the outstanding shifts in the demographics of the Jewish community in Hungary post-1945, sociological and historical analyses specifically highlight the low amount of live births, which becomes an even more so focused aspect when taken the contemporary general claim into consideration that it became the Jewish woman’s social duty to recuperate the lost souls of the Holocaust.5 Therefore, the aim of this paper is to turn towards the survivors with an inquiry that allows us to understand further possible reasons of the low statistics through a qualitative approach instead of a quantitive one, yet with the aim of integration. Consequently, my examination has led me to the understanding that women miscarrying in this era was just as significant, if not greater, as in other contexts. However, claiming definite causality is not the aim of this paper, in that the traumas of the Holocaust affected all of the women’s reproductive health and led to high rates of miscarriage; the intention is rather to present that such casualties did happen, as by nature, such explanations are omitted from the statistics.


Demographics after Survival

As Viktor Karády’s extensive work on the Hungarian Jewry after 19456 clearly shows, the main change in the social structure of survivors was the high demographic losses due to casualties (illnesses and the poor physical state of survivors, self-destruction, and even pogroms), conversion, emigration, and mixed marriages. Moreover, a significant upsurge can be observed in terms of Jewish marriages, and a change in family structures. Given the importance of the latter two shifts, I have chosen to consider the realities of starting a new family, as such decisions amount to and represent significant social changes.

The demographic boost in marriages within the surviving Jewish community in Hungary in the immediate post-war period becomes significant in comparison to before and during the active years of the Holocaust. This compensatory demographic process is noteworthy if we seek to understand familial choices, at least in part, as fundamental coping strategies of Holocaust survivors on a macrolevel. A prevalent response was to (re)marry, and this led to a surge of approximately 1,000–1,200 more Jewish marriages in 1946 than in 1943/5, and more than 2,200 Jewish marriages were held in Budapest in 1947.7 The demographic upswing is extraordinary if one considers the growth of the numbers of Jewish marriages to the stagnant number of marriages among people of other faiths in this time period in Budapest.8

The tremendous growth in the numbers of new marriages did not, however, mean a similar upward trend in birth rates. The demographic recuperative tendency of Jewish communities in Hungary, according to Karády, is not significant in other than getting (re)married; recuperative fertility is thought to have lessened or ceased due to several reasons, such as the destruction of households, losses of property and wealth, psychological effects of persecution, etc.9 The female experience of not being able to bear a child for psychological reasons, physiological reasons, or a complex combination of the two, and further realities, remains unexplored. Therefore, after carefully presenting the demographic data on the number of live births, I will turn my attention to those mothers who are not counted in the statistics due to unsuccessful pregnancies.

I find this dimension extremely important because it constitutes an essential, if not overlooked, component of the social history of Holocaust survivors; it shows that the trend of Jewish births after the Shoah, compared either to the number of Jewish marriages or the live birth rates among couples of other faiths, is not exclusively due to inherent structural differences in Jewish families. My discussion of some of the reasons behind the numbers will show that, at the time, this was a silenced social reality, and it remains a silenced part of the past to this day. This is true in part because women who lost pregnancies or were unable to conceive are not included as distinct categories in demographic data and in part because sociological inquiry on the Holocaust has, in general, failed to include gender as a perspective.

I will complement my discussion of the background of this social history with elements of oral history by concentrating on the voices of women about intimate topics related to the establishment of families. I thus focus on the unexplored and rather unarticulated topic of miscarriages as one of the many almost unmentioned events in the lives of women survivors and the several different responses with which miscarriages were met and the outcomes they had. My paper will show that miscarriages were (and are) a hidden yet significant topic and that pregnancy losses changed the responses and roles of women even after the Holocaust. My discussion thus also adds to the theoretical literature on how gender is a fluid social category and women do not have an “essential nature” under any circumstances.10

Women and the Holocaust

To begin an inquiry from the perspective that women survivors did not consistently respond in “typical” or expected ways to pregnancy or a miscarriage is to suggest that women should be studied independently in Holocaust history. The historiography on women in the Holocaust follows an evolution of thought, beginning with an insistence on distinguishing women from men, since history and the study of history have been largely influenced by men, yet men have had different sets of experiences than women. This starting point includes emphasis on allowing women to speak for themselves and also to be seen and heard.11 However, gender analysis in Holocaust scholarship has been a rarity, though a more recent trend of studying women separately in the Holocaust follows the same route as studying women in general history, and this has made women somewhat more visible in Holocaust studies.12

Feminist scholarship on war and women, moreover, has gone beyond conclusions based on simple gender dichotomies and has been able to shed light on new realities while deconstructing myths that limited further knowledge production.13 A crucial distinction which has been drawn is that war affects women, and it affects women in different ways than men in terms of torture and murder (for instance), an aspect which has been marginalized by the standard that war is “men’s business.”14 Yet, there are several experiences that easily debunk this standard. For instance, a specific form of psychological torture as a result of wartime rape affected only women, namely being made pregnant by one’s rapist, who was also the enemy in the larger conflict, and then being stigmatized within one’s own group. Moreover, women in the wars of the twentieth century constituted a significant share of direct casualties as civilians due to the strategy of so-called total war, which drew no distinction between combatants and civilians,15 while Jewish women, together with Jewish men, were “nonpersons” unworthy of life according to Nazi ideology.16

Nazi ideology was genocidal based on racial distinctions, thus it might seem as it took no consideration of gender, but it has already been established that Nazi practice was not gender neutral,17 so it is important to note that it was so because Nazi policy never neglected the aspect of gender, rather it added to the complexity of its power structures. The Holocaust was inherently a gendered process, wherein the forced changes of location, forms of forced labor, forms of treatment, etc. were all gender based and thus had formative effects on experiences, survival, and death.18 A significant example includes the initial selection upon arrival in the camps, which determined the fates of the persecuted based on gender. Visibly pregnant women and women with children were immediately sent to their deaths.19 Those who were not sent to the gas chambers after arrival were then segregated, also based on gender, which then marked the differences in how women and how men faced hardships and experienced the modes of survival.20

Moreover, specific strategies applied in genocidal practice are gender-focused, such as sexual assaults and other means of targeted attacks on reproductive abilities, which coheres to the main aim of annihilating an ethnicity and culture.21 Women’s bodies could function as a weapon of war, as raping women who were regarded as part of the “enemy” group had the effect of stripping their husbands and fathers of their masculinity and destroying their status as protectors within their communities.22 This practice was also part of the Holocaust, although the policy of Rassenschande under the Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor might suggest otherwise, given that it prohibited sexual relations with anyone identified as Jewish.23 Whether the rapes which were committed during the Holocaust were part of a military strategy or acts prompted in part by the genocidal desire to dehumanize, historians agree that sexual violence against their did happen and is an important part of their experience.24

Survivor accounts also inform us that the fear of suffering any sort of sexual violence was constantly present, and sterilization is a central theme in many of the women’s memoirs.25 However, accounts in which experiences of sexual assaults, menstruation, pregnancy, etc. are elaborately discussed are rather scarce. Women did not talk about them in part, as Joan Ringelheim comments in her discussion of interviews with Holocaust survivors, because the assaults were seen as having “no significance within the larger picture of the Holocaust,” even by the victims themselves.26 Whether this is the result of a male-dominated memory of the Holocaust or of the stigmatization mentioned above, the silencing added to the exclusion of female experiences from the history of the Holocaust. And although not every woman may have suffered any or every form of sexual assault or gendered violation, the sources concerning practices of sexual assault in some camps suggest these experiences were more common than not. For example, in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, the methodologically planned steps against menstruation were coffee-like drinks which contained bromide, and as in other camps, invasive sterilization methods were used to prevent pregnancy, while infants and children were sent to the gas chamber.27

A Feminist Framework

Study and discussions of exclusively female experiences are not intended to measure the sufferings of women and compare them to the sufferings of men, but rather to learn about fertility before, during, and after the Shoah in order to gain a better understanding of the success or failure of the coping strategies of survivors regarding family structures. Much as women’s responses to experiences are not universal, the timelines of physical and psychological recuperation were not either. Therefore, when discussing miscarriages specifically happening to survivor women, I refer to fetal loss as a possible corporeal continuation of the Holocaust to strengthen the need to include this aspect not only to sociological analyses but to an overall historical understanding. The basis of this approach is Lenore J. Weitzman’s and Dalia Ofer’s sequential framework, which offers a methodological scheme to understanding women’s responses to the Shoah in Holocaust historiography.28

The sequential framework complements the continuity and the disruptive frameworks by inviting Holocaust historians to broaden their view of women in a timely manner, which in my interpretation means looking at the “longue durée” of women’s lives, to follow the shifts in responses and behavior through the entire course of the Holocaust, and not statically.29 This framework is divided into three stages: 1) the general reaction of the continuity model at the beginning of the Nazi assault on Jews, 2) the in-between stage of coping strategies changing into disruptive patterns as Nazi measures intensified, and 3) the tipping point, when change came about in the women’s perspective, and the “new me” was born, usually due to a fatal trigger (e.g. a miscarriage, the death of a loved one, etc.).

I have chosen the sequential model to put survivors’ testimonials that mention instances of miscarriages into a framework because of the attention this model devotes to time. The other frameworks either consider the roles of women from the prewar period as mothers, wives, and homemakers as roles which were kept up or roles which retained their relevance30 or they focus on forms of female behavior that were or are considered discontinuous, i.e. the dramatic ways in which women abandoned their prewar roles and conventions eventually to engage in activities that would have been unthinkable prior to their experiences of the reality of the Holocaust.31 The main argument of this paper about miscarriages concentrates on the time aspect in a sequential sense, i.e. that it is not only characteristic of the female experience during the Holocaust statically, in singular point(s) of time ending 1945. According to this view, I find it important to reconsider the sociological findings on the population of Hungarian Holocaust survivors in the immediate postwar setting and, more specifically, to explore the underlying reasons for the low number of live births in a retrospective manner.

Demographics Revisited

As a demographic examination of the Jewish population shows, although there was a high compensatory upward trend in the immediate postwar years in Hungary, this was mainly visible in the number of marriages but less so in the number of births.32 In 1945, the number of Jewish births (529) was about half what it had been in 1944 (1,164). This figure rose significantly to approximately 1,500 births by 1946/7, but this meant only a return to the prewar figures (1,540 births in 1938).33 Moreover, the main argument of Karády’s chapter on reproduction and the family structures among Holocaust survivors is that after the compensatory upward trend of demographics, in the long run, the Hungarian Jewish population returned to its tendency towards decrease.34 This statement fits the overall thesis of Jewish social studies about a general trend of decline in terms of Jewish populations most commonly due to a low number of live births, conversion, and mixed marriages, etc., namely, that there is a threat of “Jewish disappearance.”35

However, conclusions concerning a “Jewish disappearance” as a general trend turn out to be too vague and lack a qualitative approach for more precise consideration, offering explanations borrowed from history through the lens of statistical data as decontextualized pieces of information.36 Even if changes in demographics concerning a decreasing Jewish population is worrisome at a given time, the interpretation of a “Jewish disappearance” does not work in all cases. In this respect, other, deeper analyses of given set of demographic data could show that the numbers have been decontextualized and this decontextualization explains why social histories fall victim to general conclusions concerning loss or “disappearance.” In a study on Breslau Jews, for instance, Till Van Rahden shows that the linear understanding of intermarriages leading to integration was not applicable to the Jews of the city. Rahden demonstrates how this understanding or assumption (that intermarriage leads to assimilation) does not do justice to the complex identities of the Jews of the city and that choosing a Gentile partner did not always represent a break with the Jewish tradition, since in many instances, the intermarried spouses continued to follow Jewish religious practice, and in several cases they did so with the children born to the mixed families.37 Similarly, the decreasing demography in Hungary after 1945 can hold further realities which offer other explanations for low birth rates.

When contextualizing the declining numbers of births, Karády elaborates on the possible reasons for this drop by reviewing the corporeal explanations. He reviews the statistics from a vast societal starting point on an annual basis, and he includes a list of the psychological effects of persecution alongside a more detailed explanation of the consequences of migration, political shifts (the increasingly powerful Communist Party, the rise to power of which caused a new wave of shock among Hungarian Jews), the disproportionately large number of women aged 0–20 in comparison to men, and the structural changes of families in terms of trends (having one or two children after the war instead of seven or eight, which had been typical before the war).38 However, Karády does not include, in his discussion, the possibility that some couples had other underlying reasons, or that women were not able to become or remain pregnant, though in some cases, this inability to bear a child would constitute a further effect of the Holocaust which did not cease with liberation.39

I contend that a woman’s inability to have a child after the Holocaust must be included among the possible reasons for low birth rates among Jews and must also be studied if we seek to arrive at a nuanced understanding of women’s sexual vulnerability and the potential consequences of the experiences of persecution that Jewish women suffered during (and in this case also after) the Holocaust. These are issues which remain largely unexplored in the secondary literature.40 In order to initiate such an understanding, I have conducted qualitative research based on oral history using the Visual History Archive of the USC Shoah Foundation. When I searched for survivor testimonies using the indexing term “miscarriages,” I found 16 accounts in English, which I have chosen to use as the basis for the present case study. A larger sampling could be achieved by adding further indexing terms and by including other resources and databases, which is an aim for further extended research on the topic, wherein I can go beyond identifying miscarriages as an additional explanatory point, and achieve a deeper understanding of the extent of miscarriages, its direct and indirect effects on the population, its scope in connection to the era’s politics of reproduction, and other related questions. Nonetheless, given the framework of the paper, I corroborate my argument about the urgency of identifying the survivor women’s reproductive issues by using the results found in the narrower search of the VHA testimonies.

It is important to note the time scope of the oral histories examined. The survivors’ accounts were videotaped in the 1990s and early 2000s, and a very small number at the end of the 1980s. This might, of course, mean that elements of memory and remembrance are problematic, since over 45 years had passed since the actual events had taken place, yet in the specific case of miscarriages, I believe that being embedded in the social matrix of the time of speaking is of greater impact. In case of the VHA Shoah Foundation interviews, women talking about pregnancies can be articulate, but surely not as emphatically as today, when there is a more assertive mindset and vocabulary with which to talk about sexuality (or the vulnerability of sexuality, for that matter). This might further explain the low number of testimonies in which women discuss their experiences of failed pregnancies. The majority of the searched testimonies, moreover, discuss the event of a miscarriage before or after the Holocaust, and there are less recollections of pregnancy losses during the murderous Nazi persecution when forcibly removed from home.

Instances of miscarriages during the Holocaust, either in ghettoes, camps, or in hiding, are more silenced due to the fact that the pregnancy itself had to be kept a secret for the woman in question could thus avoid being murdered immediately or, because of the lack of medical help, the mothers passed away after the miscarriage. Here, the risk of comparing experiences before, during, and after the Holocaust might arise. Any attempt to measure or quantify sufferings, in my assessment, would be misguided, as each of these three time periods was unique for its own reasons. Moreover, each experience is distinctive and unmeasurable since these events happened to individuals, much as, more generally, the pain and torments suffered by woman cannot be meaningfully compared to the pain suffered by men and children.

Qualitative Research: After the Holocaust

Of the 16 testimonies, one is a duplicate (possibly a system error of the search engine), so the actual number of interviews on which I based my case study is 15. Of the 15, two accounts were told by men about their wives and their lost children. Almost half of the people (seven) mention miscarriages that happened after liberation, while two mention miscarriages which took place before ghettoization in Poland and six speak of miscarriage which took place during the active years of the Holocaust, out of which four happened in Auschwitz and two in hiding. Although the quantity of the testimonies is too narrow to be of representative value of an entire society, it does include these different sets of experiences that allow the sampling to be an indicative case study, i.e. miscarriages occurred in this period and thus its examination needs to be elevated into the historical inquiry, however small a number of witnesses testify.

One of the male interviewees claims that he and his wife were constantly trying to get pregnant and his wife had several miscarriages for about twelve years after liberation, during which time they migrated to Israel, and they were only successful in their attempts at childbearing later, in Canada.41 This indicates the complex circumstances of the aftermath of the Holocaust in a survivor’s life, which might illustrate the different tolls this complex new reality might have had on restarting life. Another male Holocaust survivor speaks about his wife’s miscarriage after their marriage in 1956.42 Considering the over ten years that had passed since liberation, discussing this miscarriage in terms of Holocaust trauma might rather be of a speculative nature but especially because Charles does not elaborate further on the fatality. Nevertheless, this testimony is also of crucial importance in the discussion of miscarriages as it instigates the question how far can we think in terms the continuation of the Holocaust in women’s bodies if 1945 cannot be declared as an end point, and whether such a question could be sufficiently examined at all.

Similarly, the women who speak about miscarriages which took place after 1945 note that they lost several pregnancies, some at a late stage. Two female survivors mention multiple miscarriages which took place in 1947–1948. One of them gave birth in 1946, right before making Aliyah, but her baby died in infancy.43 Another mother, Tobi was seven months along when she had a miscarriage.44 Tobi got married to her husband in Canada in 1950, after which she had a miscarriage when she was in her seventh month (the child would have been their first born). When seeking medical attention in the local hospital, she was told by the doctor that she would have to start trying to have another baby immediately and not spend too much time grieving.

Seven months after the loss of her first pregnancy, Tobi gave birth to her son, who weighed five pounds. Similarly, her second child was born prematurely at six months and was kept in an incubator for seven weeks. The hospital required payment for the child to grow strong while in the incubator, which was a financial burden for Tobi who had her firstborn child at home while his husband earned $45 a week. As she had to pay rent and feed her family, Tobi offered the hospital a deal: “or you gonna take 15 dollars from me per month or you keep the baby. And when I’m gonna have money, I’m gonna come for the baby to take it home. And he was ‘Ok, ok, 15 dollars…’.” She thus managed to pay for the intensive care her baby needed in a year’s time, spending $1,000 to save her children.

Tobi’s recollections about the beginning of a new (family) life after having survived the unthinkable shows the politicized significance of a woman survivor from a social and biological viewpoint. She was to bear a child, not mourn the loss of a pregnancy, to fulfil her familial desires, and perhaps a social, and even a religious duty.45 The demographic indicators, as well as the interview questions (embedded in the framework of VHA’s interview methodology in 1996) do not allow us to extend this investigation further, and thus leaves room only for speculation. For the “business” of keeping her child alive, she was the primary caretaker and the primary executive power concerning the financial aspects of the necessary healthcare in an emergency situation, thus reversing the prewar gender differences of spatial orientation within the family structure. Her husband was earning the income for the household, but it was she who had to negotiate for the future life and health of their children, outside of the home.

However, the multiple and late miscarriages from the sampling of this case study show that stability was trembling in women’s bodies to the extent that even successful childbearing did not guarantee life for the newborn. One of the stories told symbolically invokes the sensation of trembling, possibly a result of a seemingly never-ending persecution: Lena,46 Jewish Holocaust survivor born in Thessaloniki, got pregnant again around 1947 after her husband arrived back from deportation, at a time when they were living in a small room in their previously confiscated apartment with several Greek strangers. Once, while she was having a shower, one of the men pushed the door in and entered the bathroom to which Lena’s sudden reaction resulted in her falling to the floor, and losing her child, a baby girl. “I fell down, and I had miscarriaged. And was a girl. A little girl. And I start to cry, all the time, I was crying because they took me in the hospital, to clean me, to do whatever it was, it was a miscarriage, it was not like normal. And I was all the time crying that it was a girl, it was a girl, a little girl, a little girl. That was the problem.”

Lena’s account shows that the underlying psychological effects are in a complex relationship with physical fear that could have resulted fetal loss in such a direct way because of falling, but presumably also in indirect ways. The underlying reasons of fear can be not only complex in its nature but caused by a number of causes, such as the stress of having to live in a previously confiscated apartment with others, the justifiable or unjustifiable threat of Gentiles in the early postwar period, or that of antisemitism that was prevalent in several countries even to the extent of newly occurring pogroms47, and possibly several other factors depending on the time and space (in Greece, for example, the overshadowing of the Holocaust and the survivors returning to Greece by the Greek Civil War48).

Pregnant women were also exposed to unsafe conditions since they were often on the move, as emigration was one of the most common coping strategies for previously deported Holocaust survivors, and this also constituted a risk to a healthy pregnancy. Maria W., for example, was on her way to make Aliyah when, in Marseille, she had a miscarriage. As she did not speak French, she felt even more vulnerable and was rather an observer of what was happening to her. After she had spent some days in the hospital, she was taken to a DP camp, where she was left lying on the floor for two weeks. Only later, after having arrived in Israel, was she given the professional medical attention that a miscarriage would necessitate.49 Maria never had a child after this experience. In her recollections, she does not elaborate on not having had children, i.e. she does not indicate whether this was for physiological or psychological reasons. However, it becomes clear that for all the women whose accounts I read, the circumstances of childbirth were rather difficult, often even harsh. Women had to deal with the continuation of the Holocaust in their bodies, both mentally and bodily, and they also had to address the circumstances and environments in which they found themselves at a moment of emergency.

Qualitative Research II: Before and During the Holocaust

The sources indicate different reactions to the growing tension and hostility during the period leading up to the Holocaust as well and to the changing structures of family lives. Some of the findings offer significant examples of the experience of unsuccessful pregnancies due to the growing tensions of Nazism in Poland in the 1930s. One account is about a neighbor who was pregnant, while another survivor talks about her own story. Chronologically, the first incident happened before ghettoization, but when German soldiers were already strolling in the streets of Kazimierz (a district of Kraków) in Poland. One day, soldiers entered a store-holders’ property and were greeted and served by the store-holder’s daughter, who had recently gotten married and was pregnant with their first child. For unknown reasons to the narrator, the pregnant daughter was kicked in the stomach by one of the Nazi soldiers, causing her to miscarry. After having lost her child, the mother also passed away. The acquaintance of the storyteller remembered this regrettable event specifically because the funeral which was held for both mother and child was the first funeral she had ever attended.50

Similarly, when more drastic measures of persecuting Jews were implemented in Poland, a woman named Fay lost her father to “some gangsters” in their town, and later her mother also died during the German invasion. Fay remembers the Germans entering Grodzisko Dolne, the small village in which they lived, with their huge motorbikes and cars. According to her account, the fear she experienced caused her to miscarry. “I was so scared,” she said, “I lost a baby.”51 Although Fey was not directly attacked by any of the Nazi invaders, the fear of the unknown preceded the actual events of aggressive persecution, and it may have been this fear (as she herself seems to have thought) that caused the death of her unborn child. This is the only information she provides in her testimony in 1988, without further comment. She does not talk about the emotional aspects of this experience or of her grief. Her articulate but hardly detailed account offers an example of one way in which a Jewish woman felt it acceptable or appropriate to speak about the loss of a pregnancy.

Of the fifteen testimonies, two tell vividly detailed stories of miscarriages which took place while the mothers were still in the camps. Marika, a Hungarian Jewish woman held in Ravensbrück, formed a close relationship with a woman named Elvira in the camp, and Elvira eventually told her story. 52 Marika had become pregnant in the previous concentration camp she had been taken to in Frankfurt am Main (Elvira hints that Marika may have been a victim of rape). Marika did not tell anyone anything of her pregnancy, but she started to become very sick, and eventually, she could not eat or stand anymore. Those in the same barrack with her realized that she was pregnant when the older women interpreted these signs as clear indications of pregnancy. The miscarriage happened when she was lying on the top bunk. Elvira and the other women saw blood flowing down onto the floor from the top bunk, so they took her down (“And we had to drag her down from the top”). They wrapped her in a blanket and took her to an isolated part of the camp where corpses were lying and they left her there, crying out in pain. According to her account, Elvira went back to where Marika lay several times, possibly tormented by the (a)moral decision they had made, against the other girls’ warnings not to return. Eventually, she left her there. Elvira said several times that there was nothing they could have done for her, but she also showed doubt as to whether the decision to abandon Marika, who was presumably in the midst of losing her baby, was the best choice.

The act of giving an account of this event, whether as an intentional compensatory act or not, seems to have been critically important for Elvira throughout her testimony. And her account is, indeed, an important part of Holocaust history, as it demonstrates the extent of secrecy that pregnancy called for in camps and how a pregnant woman would attempt to tackle such a situation in order to escape immediate murder at the cost of (unanticipated) pain (not to mention offering an example of one of the reactions of those in her immediate surroundings). Marika’s attempt to keep her pregnancy a secret as long as she could tragically suggests that similar events (pregnancies and miscarriages) during camp life remain not only untold but unexplored.53 Although I find the tendency towards reticence on this subject common among the different survivor groups for the abovementioned reasons, the secondary literature on the world of the concentration camps is again outstanding in this respect, i.e. in its failure to explore this subject, much as it has largely failed to explore the subject of rape as a sexual and not just violent act.54 It is crucially important, therefore, that Elvira told Marika’s story, as it now offers textual evidence of Marika’s tragedy (and thus makes her part of Holocaust memory), even if by telling it, Elvira risked moral judgement.

Another miscarriage that we know of happened in Auschwitz, where initial secrecy was just as much a factor, but here the mother’s life was saved by some medical attention. The story of the woman involved, Eszter, perfectly illustrates the lack of adequate medical treatment and hygiene. She managed to keep her pregnancy a secret until giving birth to her son on December 5, 1944, when she was taken for medical care to one of the healthcare facilities in Auschwitz. After the birth, her placenta did not come out, and a Polish woman attending to her (not a Jewish woman, yet it is not quite clear who the personnel were from the testimony) did not call the doctor for medical attention and help. Though she was bleeding continuously, the doctor arrived only two hours later and pulled the placenta out, when the bleeding finally stopped. Eszter recalls that the people treating her did not wash their hands, though she did not come down with an infection. The people who knew about her childbirth did not put her back in the barracks, because then she would have been sent to the gas chambers, so they gave her a job in the hospital.55

Although the medical staff saved Eszter’s life by keeping her pregnancy a secret, the mistreatment she had to undergo put the health of her reproductive system and indeed her very life at risk. Most definitely such events in the camps had an impact on the women’s future ability to bear children, but if one accepts the definition of health (including reproductive health) found in the preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization, according to which health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,”56 the health of women who did not have miscarriages during the historically defined timeline of the Holocaust were also affected, not necessarily at a specific moment of the Shoah, but throughout it.


Overall, I find that though we have only a small number of sources which touch on miscarriages suffered by victims and survivors before, during, or after the Shoah, it is important to examine them closely in order to gain some insights into the personal stories which demographic statistics alone do not offer. After having reviewed the sociological findings with the inclusion of survivor testimonies, I found that sociological analyses do not suffice in achieving far-reaching conclusions. The damaged state of women’s reproductive systems could easily constitute as a significant reason for the lower rate of childbirths in Hungary in the period of 1945 to 1949.

This conclusion suggests that in order to add nuance to our understandings of societies which were strongly influenced by the Holocaust, we should expand the scope of our inquiry to include groups and forms of trauma which have been largely overlooked. This is not an easy task. The difficulty is caused by the intimate nature of women’s experiences and the fact that their experiences were not given voice or were actively silenced for so long. Therefore, unsurprisingly, sexuality, sexual vulnerability, or miscarriages specifically and the sufferings they caused were not easily brought up, nor were questions specifically concerning miscarriages asked by the interviewers. My findings, however, could be grounds or directives for further research on the allocation of resources for the study of testimonies and ego-documents as well, which could complement sociological findings and offer a wider perspective and more intimate knowledge of the continued traumas of the early postwar era. Such a wider scope of investigation could even result in a historiographical rebalance which would put more trust (back) into memoirs as primary historical sources, a concern which has been resurfacing in the works of other historians as well.57 Without meaning to overstate the potential implications, it is perhaps unsurprising that by including women’s voices through a feminist approach to a structural rethinking of history, one may draw more attention to and encourage more interest in survivor narratives.

Finally, after we have discussed these experiences and allowed gender analysis to inform “the memory of violence and the destinies and decisions made by those targeted for annihilation.”58 it would be important to analyze modes of expression. Further research could explore how the narratives were formed, what this entails, and how potential results could add to the conventional narratives of the Holocaust and of other genocides. Women’s narratives shed light on experiences which have been left untold, and they offer new perspectives even when describing the same events. A significant example could be emotion as a determinative factor59 due to the unique connection between gender and memory.60 This would represent just one of the additions further research could offer towards the general aim “to give women the voice long denied them and to offer a perspective long denied us.”61


Primary sources

Baruch K. Interview 54511. Segments 100–102. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Charles K. Interview 53904. Segment 130. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 2003.

Elvira N. Interview 10705. Segment 20, Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Eszter K. Interview 52181. Segments 9–10. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1990.

Ethel K. Interview 54163. Segment 12. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1989.

Fay W. Interview 54432. Segment 12. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1988.

Kertész, Imre. Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért. Budapest: Magvető Kiadó, 2003.

Lena H. Interview 55046. Segments 93–107. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1991.

Maria W. Interview 55436. Segments 102–105. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Sonia H. Interview 54151. Segment 104. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1990.

Tobi B. Interview 54504. Segments 161–167. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.


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Apor, Péter. “The Lost Deportations and the Lost People of Kunmadaras: A Pogrom in Hungary, 1946.” The Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 3 (2013): 566–604.

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Barna, Ildikó, György Csepeli, László Csősz, István Dancs, Anna Deme, Róbert Hermann, Gábor Kádár, András Pásztor, Attila Szakolczai, and Zoltán Vági. “Társadalmi és etnikai konfliktusok a 19–20. században – Atrocitások, pogromok, tömeggyilkosságok, népirtások.” In Digitális Konfliktus Adatbázis. Accessed 30 May 2018. http://tarsadalominformatika.elte.hu/tananyagok/dka/lecke22_lap1.html.

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Bemporad, Elissa, and Joyce W. Warren. Women and Genocide: Survivors, Victims, Perpetrators. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Borggraffe, Henning, Akim Jah, Nina Ritz, and Steffen Jost. Freilungen: Rebuilding Lives. Child Survivors and DP Children in the Aftermath of the Holocaust and Forced Labor. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017.

Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfgang Wippermann. The Racial State: Germany 1933–1945. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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Don, Yehuda, and George Magos. “The Demographic Development of Hungarian Jewry.” Jewish Social Studies 45, no. 3–4 (Summer–Autumn 1983): 189–216.

Ephgrave, Nicole. “On Women’s Bodies: Experiences of Dehumanization during the Holocaust.” Journal of Women’s History 28, no. 2 (Winter 2016): 12–32. doi:10.1353/jowh.2016.0014.

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Gross, Jan T. Fear: Anti-semitism in Poland After Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation. New York: Random House, 2006.

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Hart, Mitchell B. Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Horváth, Rita. “A Magyarországi Zsidók Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottsága (DEGOB) története.” MAKOR (Magyar Zsidó Levéltári Füzetek) no. 1 (Summer 1997): 11–63.

Kaplan, Marion A. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kaplan, Marion. “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust History.” In Women and Genocide: Surivovrs, Victims, Perpetrators, edited by Elissa Bemporad, and Joyce W. Warren, 97–110. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Karády, Viktor. Túlélők és újrakezdők: Fejezetek a magyar zsidóság szociológiájából 1945 után. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2002.

Karwowska, Bozena. “Women’s Luxury Items in Concentration Camps.” In Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges, edited by Andrea Pető, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska, 64–76. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

Katz, Steven T. “Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape and Rassen[s]chande during the Holocaust.” Modern Judaism 32, no. 3 (2012): 293–322. doi:10.1093/mj/kjs025.

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Králová, Kateřina. “The ‘Holocausts’ in Greece: victim competition in the context of postwar compensation for Nazi persecution.” Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History 23, no. 1–2 (2017): 149–75. doi: 10.1080/17504902.2016.1209837.

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Mühlhäuser, Regina. “The Historicity of Denial: Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the War of Annihilation, 1941–1945.” In Gendered Wars, Gendered Memories. Feminist Conversations on War, Genocide and Political Violence, edited by Ayşe Gül Altınay, and Andrea Pető, 29–55. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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Rahden, Till van. “Intermarriage, the ‘New Woman,’ and the Situational Ethnicity of Breslau Jews from the 1870s to the 1920s.” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 46 (2001): 125–50.

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Saidel, Rochelle G. The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

Sinnreich, Helene. “ ‘And it was something we did not talk about’: Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust.” Holocaust Studies 14, no. 2 (Autumn 2008): 1–22.

Stark, Tamás. Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után (1939–1955). Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 1995.

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Szabó, Alexandra. “The Return and New Beginning for Hungarian Holocaust Survivors, 1945–1949.” MA thesis, Central European University, 2018.

Turpin, Jennifer. “Many Faces: Women Confronting War.” In The Women and War Reader, edited by Lois Lorentzen, and Jennifer Turpin, 3–18. New York: NYU Press, 1998.

Waxman, Zoe. Women in the Holocaust: A Feminist History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Weitzman, Lenore J., and Dalia Ofer. “The Sequential Development.” In Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges, edited by Andrea Pető, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska, 27–63. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

1 For my thesis work at the Central European University, see: Szabó, The Return and New Beginning for Hungarian Holocaust Survivors, 1945–1949.

2 Several recent works examine different experiences among different groups of survivors, for example child survivors, see: Borggrafe et al., Freilegungen: Rebuilding Lives – Child Survivors and DP Children in the Aftermath of the Holocaust and Forced Labor; Ouzan, How Young Holocaust Survivors Rebuilt Their Lives; several biographies and testimonies of LGBT Holocaust survivors show differences in coping mechanisms and life after the war; marked differences among survivor groups can also be traced based on the places of resettling, see Pollin-Galay, Ecologies of Witnessing.

3 This investigation is mainly based on post-1945 Hungarian sociological works: Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők; Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után 1939–1955; while political histories have already addressed the period of 1945–1949, see Novák, Átmenetben; Kovács “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism”; Barna and Pető, Political Justice in Budapest after World War II; Horváth, A DEGOB Története.

4 The aim is to go beyond presenting gender dichotomies, yet with the approach of a gendered view, see: Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust”; Lorentzen and Turpin, The Women and War Reader; Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research”; and further feminist works cited in this paper.

5 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 115.

6 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 67–135.

7 Ibid.

8 The numbers, however, are rough estimates in the case of Budapest and unknown in the case of the rest of the country.

9 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 83–87.

10 Turpin, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War,” 13.

11 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 3–4.

12 Pető, “Writing Women’s History in Eastern Europe,” 173–83.

13 Lorentzen and Turpin, The Women and War Reader, xii.

14 Ibid., xi.

15 Turpin, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War,” 4.

16 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 669.

17 Ibid., Burleigh and Wippermann, The Racial State, 242–66.

18 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 114; Caplan, “Gender and Concentration Camps,” 82–107.

19 Ibid., 79.

20 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 671.

21 Bemporad and Warren, Women and Genocide, ix.

22 Alison et al., “My plight is not unique,” 4.

23 Sinnreich, “And it was something we didn’t talk about,” 2.

24 Sinnreich, “‘And it was something we didn’t talk about’”; Beck, “Rape”; Katz, “Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape”; Mühlhauser, “The Historicity of Denial”; Ephgrave, “On Women’s Bodies.”

25 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 672.

26 Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust,” 745.

27 Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, 210–11.

28 Weitzman and Ofer, “The Sequential Development,” 27.

29 Ibid., 35–38.

30 Ibid., 28–32.

31 Ibid., 32–34.

32 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 83–92, and Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után 1939–1955, 77–90.

33 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 86.

34 Ibid., 83.

35 See Don and Magos, “The Demographic Development of Hungarian Jewry,” and for criticism on the topic see: Hart, Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity.

36 Ibid., 2.

37 Rahden, “Intermarriage, the ‘New Woman’.”

38 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 85–87.

39 About the process of liberation simplified to “the happy end of the Shoah,” see Stone, The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath.

40 A conclusion to which Zoe Waxman also arrived in 2017, see: Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 126.

41 Baruch K., interview 54511, segments 100–102.

42 Charles K., interview 53904, segment 130.

43 Sonia H., interview 54151, segment 104.

44 Tobi B., interview 54504, segments 161–167.

45 Religious duty comes to mind as Tobi is registered to have practiced Orthodox Judaism before the war, but her postwar religious affiliation and practice remains unclear for that section of the biographical profile is empty.

46 Lena H., interview 55046, segments 93–107.

47 The most outstanding examples include that of Kielce in Poland (see Gross, Fear), but there were several cases of atrocities all over Europe. For pogroms in Hungary, see Barna et al., Társadalmi és etnikai konfliktusok a 19–20. században; Apor, “The Lost Deportations.”

48 See Králová, “The ‘Holocausts’ in Greece.”

49 Maria W., interview 55436, segments 102–105.

50 Ethel K., interview 54163, segment 12.

51 Fay W., interview 54432, segment 12.

52 Elvira N., interview 10705, segment 20.

53 For instance, obstetrician Gisella Perl’s case shows that intended abortions also happened in camps and were told, see: Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 672.

54 See Sinnreich, “‘And it was something we didn’t talk about’”; Mühlhauser, “The Historicity of Denial.”

55 Eszter K., interview 52181, segments 9–10.

56 “Reproductive health.”

57 Laczó, Confronting Devastation, xviii.

58 Bemporad and Warren, Women and Genocide, 9.

59 Ibid., 1.

60 Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research,” 105; see further: Leydesdorff et al., Gender and Memory; Horowitz, Gender, Genocide, and Jewish Memory.

61 Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research,” 106.


Place Attachment in a Concentration Camp: Bergen-Belsen

Heléna Huhák
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 430-451 DOI: 10.38145/2020.3.430

In this paper, I examine ego-documents created by two Hungarian deportees regarding the Bergen-Belsen concertation camp: Margit Holländer’s diary and Magda Székely’s letters to her father, Károly Székely. Holländer’s diary sheds light on two periods of Bergen-Belsen. The letters offer insights into experiences in two different parts of the camp at the same time. These sources include details about the everyday lives, thoughts, perceptions, and feelings of the inmates in the most extreme space of persecution. I argue that, with its focus on the attachment to place, by which I mean the emotional bond between person and place (an important concept in environmental psychology), Holländer’s diary reveals how she reflected on the different spaces in the camp and how her emotions regarding the physical and natural environment shifted depending on the situations of camp life. Magda Székely’s letters to her father reveal how the different sectors of the camp influenced the emotional bonds between father and daughter. I also argue that the attachments that these individuals seem to show to some of the sectors of the camp suggest that there were emotionally “positive places” in an otherwise negative environment. The illegal world of the camp, the secret act of letter writing, meetings in the “positive places,” and the exchange of goods on the black market are all indications of the very limited freedom of space usage, which continued after the liberation of the camp.

Keywords: Hungarian Holocaust, Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, ego-documents, place attachment, emotional history

Margit Holländer had a pleasant surprise at the third stop of her “lager journey”1 in the Salzwedel concentration camp (after Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen). She wrote about this experience in her diary: “[...] I was taken along with many others to block no. 2. I could not believe my eyes. This cannot be true. A real desk, chairs, wooden bunk beds covered with blankets. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen! Heaven after hell. I tried the chairs right away. It was so good to sit on them after four months, considering that I have not even seen any chairs so far, only from afar, in the rooms of the barracks leader. Everything seemed more humane here.”2

The furnishings in the barracks of the concentration camps were minimal. The interiors were dark and had little more than three-story bunks. Holländer, who was drifting among places completely unsuitable for housing humans for months, felt as if she has regained some of her humanity at the sight of a desk and a few chairs. The diary entry cited above highlights the role of furniture as a sign of stability and the impact of the material environment and spaces on an individual’s emotional wellbeing.3

In this paper, I examine ego-documents created by two Hungarian deportees who were writing on the Bergen-Belsen concertation camp: Margit Holländer’s diary and Magda Székely’s letters to her father, Károly Székely. These texts further an understanding of the inner world of the camp society that be more subtle and nuanced than the understanding we glean from other sources. First, the diary and the letters touch on life in different sectors inside the camp at different periods of the war. Second, they include many details about the inmates’ everyday lives, perceptions, and feelings in and about the most extreme space of persecution.

In the Holocaust historiography, there are several volumes about ghettos,4 camps, train journeys, and death marches5 that approach the subject from the perspective of space and experiences of space. The works dealing with the concentration camps focus on the structure and development of the camp system from the perspective of operators, organizers, and architectures.6 In comparison, relatively few studies focus on the social dimensions of the inmates’ daily lives.7 However, the strategies used by the inmates were also influenced by the physical features of the camp. I argue that space-related experiences were key elements of everyday life in the camp, and perceptions, understandings, and uses of space were essential to survival in the camp.

By analyzing the deportees’ texts from the perspective of attachment to place, which is a primary concept in environmental psychology, we can see how complex this use of space and, in connection with this, the organization of everyday life was. Place attachment is considered “the bonding of people to places.”8 We find signs of these attachments in the notes and drawings, which suggest that the prisoners reflected on their built and natural environments. The inner world and the closed society of Bergen-Belsen and the similar concentration camps and forced labor camps were shaped by the diversified systems of relations among individuals and groups. The prisoners, however, did not connect to other people only. Inevitably, they formed attachments to the places themselves, including the built and natural environment, the objects, sounds, noises, and even the weather. The physical environment created a certain emotional environment around the individual. What kind of bonds evolved between the spaces of the camp and the prisoner’s emotions? How did the physical features and the symbolic meanings of the environment influence their way of thinking?

The personal stories which unfold in the ego-documents I examine in this article suggest that the prisoners should be viewed not simply as victims of SS terror, but also as actors.9 According to this broad assumption, the spaces of the camp could be characterized not simply as tools of repression in the hands of the SS, but also as spaces within which the prisoners had some (admittedly limited) opportunities to adapt. From this perspective, one can raise the question, how did the deportees use the spaces of the camp for their benefit? Were they free to use the spaces in various, even if limited ways? I search for answers to these questions in my discussion of Holländer’s diary and Magda Székely’s letters, but before presenting their stories, I offer a brief overview of the place where they were forced to spend some months in 1944–45.

The Camp

The implementation of the so-called Final Solution, i.e. the attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe, can be examined as a spatial process.10 The persons concerned were deprived of their homes and new places were established for them, including ghettos, collection points, and labor, concentration, and extermination camps. The world of the camps was a completely new spatial experience for those who ended up there, something they had never seen before.11

Bergen-Belsen was one of the largest Nazi concentration camps.12 This camp has a very complicated history and a special place in the web of Nazi camps because of its unusual mission. Bergen-Belsen functioned as a “residence camp” (Aufenthaltslager) from 1943, and this fact had a great impact on the history of the Hungarian Holocaust, too.

Having acquired Adolf Hitler’s consent, in the spring of 1943 Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of a collection camp for Jews who might be used in prisoner exchanges or permitted to travel to neutral territory in return for money. He made clear that the conditions in this camp should be such that the Jewish prisoners “are healthy and remain alive.” These “exchange Jews” were placed in the special sector of Bergen-Belsen, the Sonderlager.13

The passengers on the so-called “Kasztner train” from Budapest were housed in the Hungarian camp (Ungarnlager) inside the Sonderlager in the summer of 1944. They left the camp and arrived in Switzerland in August and in December 1944. Then a next transport came from Budapest with 2,001 people. Forced laborers were added to this group, Károly Székely among them, on December 14. The passengers in total 582114 on these trains were placed in the Hungarian camp, where the conditions were better than in the other camps. Families were kept together, they weren’t taken to do forced labor, and they were permitted to keep their luggage.15

In the summer of 1944, Bergen-Belsen went through a huge transformation. It went from a site for the “exchange of prisoners” to a reception camp for inmates from other camps, mainly sick forced laborers.16 Several transports brought inmates from Auschwitz (for example Margit Holländer) and other concentration camps. Thousands of Hungarian prisoners were placed in the barracks in the camp for normal prisoners (i.e. prisoners who were not treated differently by the camp authorities). The overwhelming majority was placed in the women’s camp (Frauenlager) and a smaller number was put in the men’s prison camp (Häftingslager).

As a result of the evacuation of the other camps because of the Soviet advancements, the population of the Bergen-Belsen grew from 15,000 to 44,000 by March 1945. In March, 18,000 people died of famine, hypothermia, sickness, and a typhus outbreak which had begun in February. According to the estimates, the death rates were highest in the women’s camp, where Magda Székely became one of the victims of the epidemic. By the last months, the camp where the prisoners who were being held for potential exchange and therefore were being given somewhat better treatment also became a site of mass death. The Hungarian camp was evacuated only a few days before the arrival of the British-Canadian Army, and the prisoners were liberated in Theresienstadt, Hillersleben (where Károly Székely was being held), and Tröbitz.

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by the 8th Armored Division of the British Army. They were greeted by the sight of 53,000 emaciated prisoners and more than 10,000 corpses. Those who were liberated in Bergen were waiting for repatriation in the displaced persons (DP) camp established in the military camp. Holländer was one of them.17

The differences in the perspectives from which the personal stories are told are explained in part by the different statuses of the deported groups (“exchange Jews” and the ordinary prisoners). Margit Holländer was brought from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in August 1944. She was transferred to Salzwedel to work in a factory in early October, where she was liberated in April 1945. Three months later, she was brought back to the DP camp which had been established in Bergen-Belsen in the meantime, from where she returned home in October. Károly Székely and Magda left Budapest in December 1944, but they did not arrive at Bergen-Belsen at the same time, and they were held in two different sectors of the camp, Károly in the Hungarian camp and Magda in the women’s camp. The letters they exchanged were written between December 1944 and March 1945, when Károly was evacuated and Magda died.


Diary and Letters

The story of Bergen-Belsen is mainly known from the narratives of its liberation.18 The secondary literature and the testimonies of the British-Canadian Army and the members of the medical teams offer impressions of the period (April 1945) when the history of Bergen-Belsen as a concentration camp came to an end, albeit the history of the site and the life stories of the inmates had not come to an end. The accounts of the people who suffered deportation, however, are conspicuously absent from the international (mostly English language) publications.19 This is particularly true in the case of the Hungarian Jews and political prisoners.20

Margit Holländer’s diary21 includes five handwritten notebooks 10.5 x 15 cm. In addition to the manuscript, which comes to 97 pages, there is a typewritten transcription which was made in 1962 and which contains supplements.22 Holländer did not start her diary in Bergen-Belsen, but in Salzwedel in April 1945, and she continued writing entries in the DP camp in Bergen-Belsen. Thus, her notes about the time before the liberation are technically not referred to as a diary but rather as a recollection. Some diaries survived from the Hungarian camp, where the conditions were much better from the perspective of an inmate’s ability to keep a written record of the events, as I mentioned above.23 In comparison, similar sources from the prisoners’ camps (i.e. sources that were written at the time and not decades later) are very rare. As far as I know, only two texts were written by Hungarian deportees in the prisoners’ camp and based on original diary notes, or at least only two survived.24

This mixed genre, which includes reminiscence and contemporary notes, is very typical among the personal sources. The survivors got their hands on paper and pencils after or around the liberation and started to record their time in the ghetto and the camp. At one point, the memoir turns into a diary because the story catches to the moment of writing.

Holländer wrote her notes at a time when she was quite close to the events of summer and autumn 1944. Moreover, the inmates in the Hungarian camp, including the authors of the diaries, were mainly intellectuals and members of higher social strata. Holländer came from a poor peasant family. Before she was deported, she had been working as a factory laborer and, later, a maid. Thus, she had a different background and point of view compared to the perspective of the diary writers from the Hungarian camp.

Her diary is also interesting because it includes 39 drawings, floor plans, and maps of the camps. She made drawings of places which were significant for her for some reason, inducing both positive and negative associations: the Auschwitz bathhouse, the Salzwedel barracks, the environment of the DP Camp, and the route of the funeral procession after the liberation. These drawings could not be called maps. They are neither accurate enough nor precise enough from the perspective of scale to enable someone to identify the locations, so the term befitting them is a “mental layout plan.”

Magda Székely’s letters are also a rare surviving source. While there are numerous indications of communication and letter writing inside the camp in testimonies, the letters themselves were not saved. So far, I have found only one other example of a letter that was sent by a Hungarian prisoner inside the camp.25 In comparison, the Székely bequest includes 14 letters.26 The messages, which were written on shapeless pieces of paper and sent between the two barracks between December 1944 and March 1945, put the authors at serious risk since they would have been killed had the letters been discovered. Magda Székely died, so only the letters her father wrote have survived, as they were saved by him. The letters are, in part, about the women’s camp and, in particular, about how it was connected to the Hungarian camp. None of the prisoners knew both camps from the perspective of the prisoner, but these letters refer in a certain way both of them.

The diary and the letters represent the history of the camp from unique perspectives. Furthermore, the texts are related to the different sectors of the camp and cover different periods, so they further a more subtle understanding of the complicated history of the camp.

The Story of Margit Holländer

“March 6, 1942, is a day that I will never forget. It was the day I came to Újpest, not even thinking about how far I will go from my home village.” The first entry in the diary reports a change of location. At the time, Újpest, a working-class neighborhood close to Budapest (since 1950 part of Budapest), was still a faraway land for a girl growing up in a little village Doboz in southeastern Hungary. Three years later, in October 1945, during her homecoming journey of 1,000 kilometers from Bergen-Belsen, Holländer presumably thought differently about distances.

The 18-year-old Holländer was deported from the ghetto in Újpest in June 1944.27 She was taken to three different concentration or extermination camps, though this meant being held in a total of five different camps, as the functions of the individual sites changed: Auschwitz (camp B III), Bergen-Belsen (the women’s camp), the Salzwedel forced labor camp, the transit camp for people who had been liberated in the same location, and, finally, the Bergen-Belsen DP Camp.

The journey is an important part of the Holocaust narrative. It is related to the loss of home, and the physical circumstances of traveling. This is true of Holländer’s diary. From a practical perspective, the conditions of the terrain over which the prisoners were forced to move on foot between or inside the camps were not irrelevant. When Holländer was punished, she had to kneel on the ground of Lagerstrasse, which was covered with sharp stones, but it was not easy to walk on the ground either, as the small stones injured her feet.28

Open spaces such as Lagerstrasse and the Appellplatz easily became sites of dangers compared to the shelter of the dark and crowded barracks.29 Prisoners were often beaten, and the guards would hit them with sticks when they did not walk fast enough or if the guards felt that they were in the way. As Holländer notes in one of her entries, they struck her during one of the marches. Her feet were size 37 (US 6.5), but she was given a pair of men’s boots that were so big that she was unable to walk in them at a normal pace.30

The road is mentioned in different entries. Holländer was at the same sites first as a prisoner, later as a free woman in the DP Camp, and then as a mourner commemorating her dead companions. Her account suggests that, as she revived memories of people walking down Lagerstrasse in September 1945, the different experiential layers of the timelines and the journey piled one on top of the other:


A little girl came half an hour later, saying that there will be a headstone unveiling in the death camp. Boriska and I went there. On the same road on which we had been walking exactly a year ago on this day. We met three Jewish boys on the way. One of them told us that he had been brought here a few days before the liberation, the whole road was full of trees and electric lines. The over-exhausted people had to get through these obstacles. If any of them dropped to the ground, they were taken into the woods. They heard a shot and it was over.31


Holländer’s entries and drawings also describe or depict the buildings in the camp. One of the drawings is of the Auschwitz bathhouse, the Brezinska.32 The notes describe the devices in the rooms (clothes racks, partition grilles, windows, furnaces), their functions, i.e. what was happening in the given space (“the depilated body parts were anointed with some acrid fluid”; “we had to put on the clothes while walking in front of the men”; “they painted an X on our backs with yellow oil paint”), and where the men were standing compared to the girls who were going along the route marked by arrows.

The women, who had not had a bath for two weeks at the time, saw the clothes racks in the first room as accessories of the civilized and cultured process of undressing. However, the huge windows in the hallway did give them any light. Rather, they let in the cold and the wind. The most significant aspect of this space, however, was the clothes and the process itself of being forced to undress, having one’s clothes taken from one, and being given prison clothes.33 The depiction of the hallway leading from the undressing room is long in the drawings. It may indeed have been long, but the distance between the two rooms on Holländer’s mental map may have been increased by the feeling of humiliation caused by the fact that she was forced to march naked in front of men.34 Thus the clothes and the site itself (the disinfection building) were associated with the ritual and the emotional process and impact of becoming a prisoner.

Holländer’s feelings regarding the Bergen pine forest are more complex.35 Emotional attachment to place is a complex phenomenon. Holländer’s diary entries offer accounts of three different experiences regarding the trees which are related to three different times and different states of mind. Upon arrival, the sight of the pine forest created a bad feeling inside her due to a fear of the unknown:


We are walking down the road in rows of five with armed SS soldiers with dogs on either side. There are woods are either side, and it’s getting darker and darker. The leaves on the trees are moving, and you can see strange mounds and holes among the trees. Everyone is overwhelmed with bad presentiments, such a fearful sight this forest was. I started seeing graves in my mind. I was getting really scared. This is death, I thought to myself. They will execute us right here.36

Somewhat later, when she considered her situation more tolerable (compared to Auschwitz), the pine trees intensified Holländer’s desire for freedom while she was in a state of apathy. After she had survived the first encounter with the forest, nature no longer seemed to symbolize death to her, but rather came to embody freedom which was the opposite of the built environment of the camp:

We were heading back to the lager. The road goes through the forest, our grievous procession was marching while we were surrounded by armed men. There was a nice smell of pines among the trees standing in line along the road. I was overwhelmed by the desire if only I could walk alone freely once again!37


Entries written after the liberation of the camp contain descriptions of the forest which present it as a picturesque landscape. No longer the backdrop for scenes dominated by the fear of or a symbol of freedom, the pine forest finally turned into what it would have been without the lager: it appeared as a pleasant natural environment at the edge of a populated area.


I love wandering around together with Manci. There are so many beautiful landscapes and nice forest trails in the camp. It is vast. The camp is like a city at the edge of the forest. Especially in the evening, when the lights are lit along the fine asphalted roads.38

The drawings in her diary show the areas of the camp with which she was familiar at the given time. After liberation, when she was given the freedom to move around at will, the horizon grew. The windows became one of the central places of daily life in the DP camp because they opened onto the noises of the “street” and offered views of the neighboring barracks and social life outside. The diary entries written at this time suggest that it was a period filled with relatively positive emotions. The former prisoners were able to socialize with one another freely. The young women and girls joked while sitting on the window sills, and Italian and Russian prisoners of war and British and Hungarian soldiers came over to chat with them and court them: “We were under a real Italian invasion.”39 Although the diary suggests that the women and girls sometimes enjoyed the attention that they were paid by the men, some entries also suggest that they did not want to let everybody get close to them and that the autonomy over the spaces even entailed shutting out certain groups:


We have a habitual place where we go near the stables, that’s where Manci and I usually go. We sit there for hours. One day, there was a German nurse and a German Red Cross soldier at the place, so we wrote a note and nailed it to the tree with the following text: Ferbotn Dautcsh Fherflhuhte. Kaput Hitler.40

Holländer indicated the location of the episode in one of her drawings, and she did a drawing of the sign.41

However, these descriptions of vivacious social life touched only on the surface of life in the DP camp. In addition to the challenges of physical recovery, almost all of the inmates were grappling with mental and psychological traumas.42 The physical and mental burdens which were endured by members of the Jewish families who were deported had begun, in many cases, before the deportations. The story of Károly and Magda Székely takes us back to Budapest in 1944, to the events which resulted in the letters written by Magda several months later in Bergen-Belsen.

The Székely-family

Károly Székely (1898–1965) grew up in a lower-middle-class Jewish family in Budapest. He earned a living as a chemist-perfumer. He lived together with his wife Katalin Stern, their daughter Zsuzsanna (born in 1943), and Magda, who had been born in 1921 from his first marriage. Rózsi Günsz, Zsuzsanna’s nanny, was also part of the smaller family. They lived in Király Street, in the seventh district of Budapest, which was known as the traditional “Jewish quarter” of the city.

The first shock to their family life was the conscription of the head of the family into the labor service in 1942.43 Beginning in the spring of 1944, the women in the family went through the stages of discrimination against Jews in Budapest. In the summer of 1944, Károly Székely served in a forced labor service camp in the capital, separated from his family. In June, Katalin and the others were relocated to a so-called Yellow Star building.44 Until the Arrow Cross Party took power, however, they were not in any immediate danger of death. On a winter’s day, they were all taken to the bank of the Danube, where the paths of women’s lives parted. Katalin and Zsuzsanna were taken out of the queue by a “more humane” Arrow Cross member (or a Zionist rescuer in disguise), who released them and warned them to “get lost quickly.”45 However, until the liberation of the city by the Red Army, they had to struggle with the inhumane conditions in the Pest ghetto. Magda and Rózsi, however, were not as fortunate. They were expecting to be shot into the river with the members of the group lined up on the pavement of the riverbank. All we know for sure is that the Arrow Cross members, who were often acting on ad-hoc decisions, forced them to do work removing rubble in parts of the city that had been bombed.46

A new twist in their story occurred when, in December 1944, Károly, Magda, and Rózsi were deported to Bergen-Belsen, though not at precisely the same time. Károly was taken to the Hungarian camp as a member of the so-called protected forced labor unit.47 Magda and Rozsi were put in the women’s camp, so they essentially ended up in very different living conditions, but Károly and Magda found each other again.

The tools used for written communication, i.e. the paper and the pencils, came from the Hungarian camp, and that is how they ended up in the system of information exchange and news circulation within the women’s camp. The messengers were probably people who brought food or other prisoners with functions which enabled them to move more freely between the different parts of the camp. Since clothes and foods were changing hands not only on the camp market48 but occasionally between the correspondents as well, the letters can also be considered as a report on objects migration within the camp. Magda mentions socks and bread as concrete items, and she even managed somehow to get her hands on some cigarettes, which were like currency in the camp. The prisoners were given cigarettes in the Hungarian camp for a while, which were, in a way, more valuable for non-smokers, as they could more easily exchange the cigarettes for other items than people who craved tobacco. The father was a heavy smoker, but he did without cigarettes, getting them instead to Magda and Rózsi in order to enable them to trade them for clothes and food.

The letters report on failed and successful attempts to meet and seem mostly intended to soothe Károly. Movement within the camp was adapted to the expected meetings by the fence, and thus, the spot by the fence had a central role in the daily lives of the Károly and Magda. Károly had more freedom to move around due to the internal autonomy of the Hungarian camp, and the girls were also able to move some, as they had to do forced labor in their part of the camp only occasionally. By late 1944, the camp had become so crowded that it became easier for Károly and Magda to meet, and they were less likely to get caught.

Attachment to place is not always positive. Some research emphasizes the plurality of emotional bonds to places, bonds which include negative feelings as well as positive.49 Despite the harsh and inhumane conditions in the camps, prisoners still developed attachments to some specific sites.50 Since the Holocaust involved the displacement and murder of individuals and the destruction of communities, one might well assume that the only emotional attachments which were formed to the spaces within the camps were attachments involving abstraction, separation, and apathy. However, in the case of Magda, optimism, the will to live, and mental integrity have also created “positive places.” The meetings among Károly and Magda created a “positive place” in a negative environment. This was possible in this hostile place, where inmates were deprived of freedom and rights because place attachment behaviors are not necessarily territorial. Territoriality is based on ownership and control of space, but attachment to places is an affective, proximity-maintaining bond that can be expressed without the underlying purpose of control.51

The meetings by the fence had an undoubtedly enormous emotional resonance for Károly and Magda. This site came to embody the hope each must have cherished to see the other again. The quarantine meant increased restrictions on movement and thus effectively eliminated the “positive places” within the camp. Magda wrote about the quarantine on February 28:

Unfortunately, we can’t leave this place at all for a while. This is a so-called quarantine barrack. I do not know why they brought us here, because t. [thank] God, we are fine. I would love to fly into your arms, but there is a gate here with a German guard, no one can leave this place, not even for work. I don’t know how long it will last.52


The thoughts were written with few words but with much more emotional resonance. Positive exaggeration is frequent means: “Our appetite is great, we eat everything”; “The hot water was marvelous”; “The air is great”; “The sock is wonderfully warm.” Besides love and her desire for her father, gratitude is the most common feeling the sentences refer to; every letter has a “thank God” phrase.53

Regarding liberation, Magda often refers to their hopes that her father will go and rescue them from the barrack. The vision of freedom becoming a reality was linked to a vision of Károly as a savior figure:


We think about you a lot, about going home as soon as possible. This keeps us going. When the moment comes, please, I want you to come for us, because that is a lot safer. We are waiting for you like the Jewish people for the Messiah.54

Due to the specificity of the situation in Bergen-Belsen, the euphemistic exaggerations and expressions of gratitude and the appreciation in Magda’s letters may not have been entirely sincere. Rather, they may have been intended to provide some comfort for her father, who Magda must have thought undoubtedly feared for his daughter’s wellbeing (and life). She may also have feared that he felt helpless, and she may have sought to assuage this fear. Károly indeed may have felt a terrible sense of helplessness, given the divided world of Bergen-Belsen, which consisted of different spaces that provided fundamentally different opportunities for survival. People in the Hungarian camp were aware of the conditions in the prison camp. György Bognár, who was held in the same barrack as Székely, wrote the following: “K[ároly] Sz[ékely] is talking about his family. Everyone is crying at such times, I was crying too. My daughter, he says, we left Teleki Square together and now she is in the other camp. They are treating her worse than me, why are they treating her differently? And then he begins weeping and crying.”55 However, the existence of the Hungarian camp also made it possible for Károly to provide some support for Magda and Rózsi, who, as young women, could have even survived the adversities with the clothes, foods, and cigarettes (which they could use to trade for more food and clothes) that they received from Károly if the typhus outbreak hadn’t claimed their lives.56

Magda’s last letter, written March 5, seems full of desperation and fear. Though at the beginning of the letter she writes, “thank God we are fine” (perhaps in an effort to comfort her father), she then offers an account which seems dire:


Rózsi is dying. The last minutes. Daddy, only you can help us. I don’t know what will happen. There’s an epidemic too. My feet are swollen, I can barely walk. We can’t drink any water here, but we are always thirsty. This is terrible. I say your name at night, can’t you hear it? Daddy, help me! I am waiting for you in terrible desperation. Hugs and kisses from Muki [a pet name for Magda].57

In spring 1945, father and daughter were separated again. Károly Székely was taken from Bergen-Belsen on the occasion of the evacuation on April 7. After the liberation, he traveled from the DP camp in Hillersleben to Bergen-Belsen in the hopes of finding Magda, but he did not know anything about her whereabouts. He found his wife, their daughter Zsuzsanna, and his mother-in-law unhurt in Budapest in June. However, regarding the fate of Magda, months of uncertainty followed for the Székely family. Finally, in 1946, they received the official announcement of her death by the International Red Cross.58


According to Edward W. Soja, “thirdspace” is the combination of the physical world around us and our conceptions of and thoughts about this physical world. The third, lived space is the reality experienced by the subjective consciousness “here and now,” in the given moment. These three spaces are closely connected to and mutually affect one another. Every space is physical, imagined, and lived at the same time.59 In the personal sources, Bergen-Belsen figures as a “thirdspace.” The environment meant the physical setting and the symbolic meanings of this setting in Margit Holländer’s diary. We can see that the bath and the process of being compelled to strip were physically and mentally difficult for her. Later, a few basic accouterments of normal life, such as a table and chairs, made her more hopeful. Finally, in the DP Camp, the window of their flat served as a backdrop for her acquaintanceship with the young Russian and Italian prisoners of war and had a strong psychological effect on girls and boys companies.60

Though one may have an understanding of the camps as isolated built areas, the natural environment also figures in Holocaust stories. In testimonies, “nature functioned both materially and imaginatively during the Holocaust.”61 Men and women developed emotional attachments to the plants and weather. One recurring motif in the testimonies is referenced to nature as the last thing that the Germans did not take from the prisoners. One of Margit Holländer’s drawings captures this. The drawing is of the prisoners standing on the Appellplatz, but it includes the sun shining down on them.62

Holländer also mentioned in her entries how her feelings about the natural environment changed according to the situation. In the extremity of the deportation, the forest was a source of potential danger.63 In the normal, safe situation it was the place of relaxing and enjoyment. What happened in the built environment, between the fences, on the camp roads, on the Appellplatz, and in the barracks meant the reference point of her feelings about the natural environment. Emotional attachments to the spaces in the camp (sectors of the camp and the fence between them) are also a key element of the Székely-letters. These texts draw our attention to the emotion-filled points of the space. Some of the spaces were sites of trauma, but others had positive associations, such as the barbed wire fence where Károly and Magda saw each other.

The coincidence of one member of a family being incarcerated in the prisoner’s camp and another in the Hungarian camp was not rare. There are hints of this in other testimonies, though with very few details. Magda Székely’s letters show how difficult this separation was for the two people who were related, mainly for a father who knew that his daughter was being held under worse conditions on the other side of the camp. The separation of the physical spaces of the camp (due to the special status of Bergen-Belsen) determined the emotional bonds between the father and the daughter.

The illegal world of the camp, the secret letter writing, meetings at the “positive places,” and the exchange of goods on the black market are evidence of prisoners’ capacity and room for maneuvering. However, the camp inmates’ opportunity was very limited compared to the power of the SS. This depended on the circumstances and the physical environment every time. The open camp road could become a site of danger because of SS aggression, but at other times, it could be a site where prisoners had an opportunity to talk and meet. The meanings of the spaces of the camp and its surroundings changed after the liberation when for Margit Holländer the forest became a place with positive associations and she dared post an announcement banning Germans from going to their favorite spot. However, the Magda Székely’s letters make clear that the use of space was still limited. Károly was not able to change his daughter’s circumstances meaningfully, and while he had advantages as a prisoner who was being held in the Hungarian camp, these minimal advantages did not enable him to save his daughter.


Primary sources

Holokauszt Emlékközpont [Holocaust Memorial Center]

2011.555.1. The diary of Margit Holländer

2011.25.1. The diary of György Bognár

2011.169.1-4. The diary of Sándor Zinner

Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen [Bergen-Belsen Memorial]

BO 4173 1. The diary of Gabriella Trebits

Memorial Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry (Safed)

C.2208. Magda Reichfeld’s letter, Bergen-Belsen, Autumn 1944

Zsuzsanna Székely, interview by Heléna Huhák and András Szécsényi, April 1, 2014, Budapest, Hungary. (In the possession of the interviewers)


Abadi, Ervin. Elmondom… my story1942–1945. Budapest, 1974.

Berney, Leonard, and John Wood. Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp: a Personal Account. Leonard Berney, Middletown, 2015.

Flanagan, Ben, and Donald Bloxham, eds. Remembering Belsen: Eyewitnesses Record the Liberation. Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2005.

Hanna Lévy-Hass. Diary of Bergen Belsen: the Story of How One Woman Survived the Holocaust. Chicago, Ill.: Haymarket, 2007.

Hardman, Leslie H., and Cecily Goodman. The Survivors: The Story of the Belsen Remnant. London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1958.

Hargrave, Michael John. Bergen-Belsen 1945: A Medical Student’s Diary. London: Imperial College Press, 2013.

Herzberg, Abel J. Between Two Streams: a Diary from Bergen-Belsen. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2008.

Holländer, Margit. Lágerutazás: Holländer Margit feljegyzései a vészkorszakról és az újrakezdésről (1945–1946) [Lager journey: Margit Holländer’s notes on the Holocaust and starting anew, 1945–1946], edited by Heléna Huhák, and András Szécsényi. Budapest: Jaffa, 2017.

Huhák, Heléna, and András Szécsényi. Táborok tükrében: A Székely-család levelei a munkaszolgálat és a deportálás idejéből [As seen from the camps: The letters of the Székely family from the time of forced labor and deportation]. Budapest: HDKE, 2014.

Lantos, Péter. Parallel Lines: a Journey from Childhood to Belsen. London: Arcadia Books, 2013.

Laqueur, Renate. Diary of Bergen-Belsen: March 1944–April 1945. Hannover, 1999.

Perl, Gisella. I was a doctor in Auschwitz. New York: International Universities Press, [1948]

Polak, Jaap, and Ina Soep. Steal a Pencil for Me: Love Letters from Camp Bergen-Belsen, Westerbork. Scarsdale: Lion Books, 2000.

Reichental, Tomi, and Nicola Pierce: I was a Boy in Belsen, Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2016.

Stadler, Aranka. Mosaics of a Nightmare. 1995.


Secondary literature

Blatman, Daniel. The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide. Cambridge–Massachusetts–London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. doi: 10.2307/j.ctvjnrvg1.

Belk, Russel, W. “Attachment to Possessions.” In Place Attachment, edited by Irwin Altman and Setha M. Low, 38–62. New York–London: Plenum Press, 1992. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-8753-4_3.

Celinscak, Mark. Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. doi:10.3138/9781442668775.

Cole, Tim. Holocaust City. The Making of a Jewish Ghetto. New York: Routledge, 2003. doi:10.4324/9780203951255.

Cole, Tim. Holocaust Landscapes. London–Oxford–New York [etc.]: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Cole, Tim. “Nature Was Helping Us”: Forests, Trees, and Environmental Histories of the Holocaust. Environmental History 19, no. 4 (2014): 665–86. doi:10.1093/envhis/emu068.

Cole, Tim. Traces of the Holocaust. Journeying in and out of the Ghettos. London–New York: Continuum, 2011.

Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály, and Eugene Roschberg-Halton. The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. doi:10.2307/2067526.

Csősz, László. “The Origins of Military Labor Service in Hungary.” In The Holocaust in Hungary: Seventy Years Later, edited by Randolph, L Braham, and András Kovács, 75–104. Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2016.

Dwork, Debórah, and Robert Jan van Pelt. Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. New York: Norton; 2002.

Fritz, Regina, and Catherine Novak-Rainer. “Inside the Ghetto: Everyday Life in Hungarian Ghettos.” The Hungarian Historical Review 4, no. 3 (2015): 606–39.

Frojimovics, Kinga, and Éva Kovács. “Jews in a ‘Judenrein’ City: Hungarian Jewish Slave Laborers in Vienna (1944–1945).” The Hungarian Historical Review 4, no. 3 (2015): 705–36.

Giaccaria, Paulo, and Claudio Minca, eds. Hitler’s Geographies: The Spatialities of the Third Reich. Chicago–London: The University of Chicago Press. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.jhg.2016.08.008.

Gigliotti, Simone, Marc J. Masurovsky, and Erik B. Steiner. “From the Camp to the Road. Representing the Evacuations from Auschwitz, January 1945.” In Geographies of the Holocaust, edited by Kelly-Knowles, Anne, Tim Cole, and Alberto Giordano, 192–226. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Gigliotti, Simone. The Train Journey: Transit, Captivity, and Witnessing in the Holocaust. London: Berghahn Books, 2009. doi:10.2307/j.ctt9qd53n.

Guiliani, M. V., and R. Feldman. “Place attachment in a developmental and cultural context.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 13 (1993): 267–74. doi:10.1016/S0272-4944(05)80179-3.

Huhák, Heléna. “Bergen-Belsen a deportált magyar zsidók élettörténeteiben: A túlélők elbeszéléseinek helyközpontú vizsgálata” [Bergen-Belsen in the life stories of the Hungarian Jewish deportees: The place-centered examination of the survivors’ narratives]. In Tanulmányok a holokausztról IX [Studieds on the Holocaust IX], edited by Randolph L. Braham, 243–95. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2018.

Jaskot, Paul B., Anne Kelly Knowles, Chester Harvey, and Benjamin Perry Blackshear. “Visualizing the Archive Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem.” In Geography of the Holocaust, edited by Anne Kelly Knowles, Tim Cole, and Alberto Giordano, 158–91. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Kádár, Gábor, and Zoltán Vági. Self-financing Genocide: the Gold Train, the Becher Case and the Wealth of Hungarian Jews. Translated by Enikő Koncz, Jim Tucker, and András Kádár. Budapest: CEU Press, 2001.

Kelly Knowles, Anne, Paul B. Jaskot, Benjamin Perry Blackshear, Michael De Groot, and Alexander Yule. “Mapping the SS Concentration Camps.” In Geographies of the Holocaust, edited by Anne Kelly-Knowles, Tim Cole, and Alberto Giordano, 18–50. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Kelly-Knowles, Anne, Tim Cole, and Alberto Giordano, eds. Geographies of the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Lattek, Christine. “Bergen-Belsen: From ’Privileged’ Camp to Death Camp.” In Belsen in History and Memory, edited by Jo Reilly, David Cesarani, Tony Kushner, and Colin Richmond, 37–71. London: Frank Cass, 1997.

Megargee, G. P., ed. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945. Bloomington–Washington: Indiana University Press and USHMM, 2009.

Pingel, Falk. “Social Life in an Unsocial Environment: The Inmates’ Struggle for Survival.” In Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany: The New Histories, edited by Jane Caplan, and Nikolaus Wachsmann, 58–81. London–New York: Routledge, 2009.

Prenninger, Alexander. “The Camp Society: Approaches to Social Structure and Ordinary Life in Nazi Concentration Camps.” In Interpreting in Nazi Concentration Camps, edited by Michaela Wolf, 25–42. New York–London–Oxford–New Delhi–Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

Reilly, Joanne. Belsen: The Liberation of a Concentration Camp. London–New York: Rutledge, 1998.

Scannell, Leila, and Robert Gifford. “Defining place attachment: A tripartite organizing framework.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 (2010): 1–10. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.09.006.

Schulze, Rainer. “Forgetting and Remembering: Memories and Memorialisation of Bergen-Belsen.” In Belsen 1945: New Historical Perspectives, edited by Suzanne Bardgett, and David Cesarani, 217–35. London: Portland, OR: V. Mitchell published in association with the Imperial War Museum, 2006.

Shephard, Ben. After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen. London: Jonathan Cape, 2005.

Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996.

Vági, Zoltán, László Csősz, and Gábor Kádár. The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2013.

Wachsmann, Nikolaus. KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.


1 I borrow this phrase from the title of her published diary: Holländer, Lágerutazás.

2 Holländer, Lágerutazás, 180.

3 Csíkszentmihályi and Roschberg-Halton, The Meaning of Things, 59–60.

4 Cole, Holocaust City; Cole, Traces of the Holocaust.

5 Baltman, The Death Marches; Gigliotti, Train Journey; Gigliotti et al., “From the Camp to the Road.”

6 Some examples: Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps; Megargee, Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos; Dwork and van Pelt, Auschwitz; Jaskot et al., “Visualizing the Archive Building”; Kelly Knowles et al., “Mapping the SS Concentration Camps.”

7 Pingel, “Social Life in an Unsocial Environment,” 71.

8 The theories and findings of environmental psychology can be used in Holocaust studies. Scannell and Gifford, “Defining place attachment.”

9 Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, 22; Prenninger, “The Camp Society,” 39–40.

10 Some examples for edited volumes of the geographical approaches: Kelly-Knowles et al., Geographies of the Holocaust; Cole, Holocaust Landscapes; Giaccaria and Minca, Hitler’s Geographies.

11 Cole, Holocaust City, 19–20.

12 See its summary in Shephard, After Daybreak, 18–26.

13 The Sonderlager had several separate parts where Polish, Dutch, Greece deportees and citizens from neutral countries were held. Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, 345–50.

14 We have name lists about the inmates of the Ungarnlager but we do not know the exact number of inmates of the other camp sectors. The Gedenkstätte cumulative name database includes 15,423 people were deported from Hungary to Bergen-Belsen (on September 14, 2020). I thank Bernd Horstmann (Bergen-Belsen Memorial) for the data.

15 Kádár and Vági, Self-financing Genocide, 209–19.

16 Lattek, “Bergen-Belsen. From ’Privileged’ Camp to Death Camp.”

17 The Wehrmacht/SS military stone barracks were a mile away from the barracks of the lager. The latter were destroyed in April and May of 1945 under the leadership of the British army. Schulze, “Forgetting and Remembering,” 217–19.

18 For instance, Shephard, After Daybreak; Celinscak, Distance from the Belsen Heap; Bardgett and Cesarani, Belsen 1945; Reilly, Belsen. Testimonies: Flanagan and Bloxham, Remembering Belsen; Berney and Wood, Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp; Hargrave, Bergen-Belsen 1945; Hardman and Goodman, The Survivors.

19 Some example of translations of testimonies by authors from other European countries: Laqueur, Diary of Bergen-Belsen; Reichental and Pierce, I was a Boy in Belsen; Herzberg, Between Two Streams; Lévy-Hass, Diary of Bergen Belsen.

20 Only a few Hungarians’ testimonies have been published in English, for example three memoirs: Perl, I was a doctor in Auschwitz; Lantos, Parallel Lines; Stadler, Mosaics of a Nightmare; and a collection of drawings: Abadi, Elmondom… my story1942–1945.

21 The original diary is in the possession of the author’s daughter, a copy can be found in the Holocaust Memorial Center, and it was published in 2017 by Jaffa Publishing Company. Holländer, Lágerutazás.

22 The publication released includes the diary, but it is distinctly separated from this text, and also where we considered it reasonable, we inserted supplementary parts from the typewritten transcription. When we quoted from the latter in the text, we indicated this with italics in all cases. This is true for parts quoted here too.

23 In the different collections and at private owners, I found six diaries, those were written by authors from the Hungarian camp.

24 The diary of Sándor Zinner, Holocaust Memorial Center, 2011.169.1-4; The diary of Gabriella Trebits, Bergen-Belsen Memorial, BO 4173 1.

25 Magda Reichfeld’s letter, Bergen-Belsen, Autumn 1944. Memorial Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry (Safed) C.2208. (I read a copy of the letter in the Archive of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial, BA 1012.) A Dutch example of letter writing in the camp: Polak and Soep, Steal a pencil for me.

26 Károly Székely’s bequest ended up in the collections of the Holocaust Memorial Center in April 2013 thanks to Zsuzsanna Székely through donation, published in 2014: Huhák and Szécsényi, Táborok tükrében.

27 On the ghettos in rural parts of Hungary (meaning outside of Budapest): Cole, Traces of the Holocaust; Fritz and Novak-Rainer, “Inside the Ghetto.”

28 Definitions of sense of place have a three-component view which weaves together the physical environment, human behaviors, and social and/or psychological processes. However, the role of the physical environment is often neglected. Stedman, “Is it really just a social construction?”

29 Many places in the camp were dangerous for the inmates because they were not aware of the design and the geographical features, and the SS used this knowledge against them. Jaskot et al., “Visualizing the Archive Building,” 185.

30 Holländer, Lágerutazás, 61.

31 Ibid., 116.

32 Ibid., Figure annex no. 6.

33 Belk, “Attachment to Possessions,” 51–54. The psychological importance of one’s own clothes was proved when the inmates were brought to select dresses for themselves in the clothing store after the liberation. As the women received clothes, their social personalities would return. Shephard, After Daybreak, 99.

34 “My Goodness, how awful it was walking naked in front of the men, they were watching us like we were stave woods. As we were proceeding slowly, we arrived at a long, narrow hallway. Some part of it was separated with a metal grid. I saw some kind of furnace there, and men in striped clothes, who were busy working on some garments.” Holländer, Lágerutazás, 36.

35 She even glued a tiny leafy branch from the forest into one of her booklets as a memory.

36 Holländer, Lágerutazás, 57.

37 Ibid., 59.

38 Ibid., 89.

39 Ibid., 91.

40 The correct spelling of the text in German would be: “Verboten Deutsch Verfluchte. Kaputt Hitler.” It means: Prohibited for damned Germans. Hitler is dead. Holländer, Lágerutazás, 102.

41 The diary of Margit Holländer, 4th booklet.

42 Shephard, After Daybreak, 108–12.

43 Hungarian Jewish men were conscripted into the unarmed labor service (munkaszolgálat) in Hungary. Csősz, “The Origins of Military Labor Service in Hungary.”

44 Instead of establishing a centralized ghetto, the authorities in Hungary created so-called Yellow Star buildings for Jewish citizens in Budapest.

45 Zsuzsanna Székely, interview by Heléna Huhák and András Szécsényi, April 1, 2014, Budapest, Hungary.

46 On the story of Hungarian Jews in Budapest in 1944: Cole, Holocaust City; Vági et al., The Holocaust in Hungary.

47 Protected Labor Service companies whose members were under the diplomatic protection of a foreign country in 1944–45.

48 Each concentration camp had its own underground economy. On the black markets, bread, shoes, cigarettes, pins, thread, and many other things changed hands. Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, 394–97.

49 “The places where Nazi lagers were located are certainly ‘places’ with a strong emotive value, in particular for Jewish people. Would they say that they are ‘attached’ to them?” Guiliani and Feldman, “Place attachment in a developmental and cultural context,” 272.

50 Some inmates accounted that they got some calmness when they sat down by the wall of the barrack and enjoyed the sunshine; others often visited those places where they met their acquaintances earlier.

51 Scannell and Gifford, “Defining place attachment,” 4.

52 Huhák and Szécsényi, Táborok tükrében, 93–94.

53 Ibid., 85–86.

54 Ibid., 93–94.

55 The diary of György Bognár. Holocaust Memorial Center, 2011.25.1. 88–89. Péter Lantos and other inmates of the Ungarnlager wrote about the wrong conditions is in the other camp sectors. (Further examples: Huhák, “Bergen-Belsen a deportált magyar zsidók élettörténeteiben,” 243–95.)

56 The typhus epidemic was spread by lice, which were spread with the exchange of goods in the camp, mostly clothes, and also among prisoners via contact and on the camp black market.

57 Huhák and Szécsényi, Táborok tükrében, 95–96.

58 Székely interview.

59 Soja, Thirdspace, 53–82.

60 We find numerous stories about this in the accounts of the liberators and members of the medical team, too. One example: Shephard, After Daybreak, 111.

61 About the complex connection between the Jews and the forest see: Cole, “Nature Was Helping Us.”

62 Holländer, Lágerutazás, Figure annex no. 5.

63 Cole, “Nature Was Helping Us.”


Hungarian Holocaust Testimonies in Global Memory Frames: Digital Storytelling about “Change” and “Liberation”

Edit Jeges
Central European University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 452-469 DOI 10.38145/2020.3.452

This article provides a comparative and intersectional analysis of East-Central European Holocaust testimonies by women survivors narrated in writing at the time of the Shoah and recorded five decades later by the USC Shoah Institute’s Visual History Archive. The comparison explores both the continuities and changes particularly in the beginning and end of the persecution, which are usually associated with the terms “occupation” and “liberation.” I suggest that these conceptualizations prominent in the archive collide with survivor testimonies from the region in that survivors do not interpret Hitler’s rise to power and the German occupation as formative events of the persecution against the local Jewry. Further, I provide a typology of liberation narratives arguing for a multiplicity of interpretation based on survivor narratives countering the popular consensus of liberation as a carefree moment in time. Lastly, I conclude that the regional approach is particularly useful in understanding Holocaust memory in Hungary today as it is conducive to highlighting the specific relation of the global to the local.

Keywords: testimony, framing, East Central Europe, digital storytelling, intersectionality

This article explores the ways in which the global nature of the USC Shoah Institute’s Visual History Archive (further: VHA) shapes Holocaust testimonies. The thematic focus is the analysis of the intersection of global and local memory frames, which becomes manifest in the sections of the testimonies pertaining to the beginnings and the end of the Holocaust. I argue that the archive is unwelcoming to the marginal or even taboo narratives in the canonized memory and conducive to memorializing standardized narratives. Several memory frames collide and merge with one another in the digital testimonies: the “Americanizing”/personalizing1 and the “Germanizing”/denationalizing2 Holocaust interpretations, the interpretation of “invasion/occupation” and “liberation” in line with the local memory cultures, and the counter-narratives emphasizing continuities of persecution. Regarding the beginnings of the Holocaust, the testimonies analyzed in my research stress the continuities of local anti-Semitism or relativize persecution and thus contrast with the overarching interpretation offered by the VHA, which defines the beginning of the Holocaust as the single event of Hitler’s rise to power. Regarding the topic of liberation, I point out that the VHA’s conceptualization of liberation follows the common interpretation of liberation as a joyful moment, and this constitutes another contrast with narratives by survivors from East Central Europe.

Holocaust history has entered the “era of the witness,” and digital storytelling will influence Holocaust memory in decades to come.3 The process of the “institutionalization” of memory in the online archive involves an element of standardization, therefore it is imperative to analyze what memories are created and disseminated for future generations. The VHA is the primary global repository of Holocaust testimonies, with its 52,000 digital narratives, and its rationale has been the collection of authentic stories (with an emphasis on first-person accounts and, preferably, eye-witness testimony) for the public record (with the conceptualization of testimony as chronological sequence instead of associative process). It has been characterized as offering a “dichotomous view”4 as an “archive of survival”5 because of its focus on Jewish regeneration after the war, which has the overtones of a Hollywood-style happy ending.

I analyze the interaction between local and global memory frames (i.e. how women survivors with East Central European origins6 narrate their testimonies in an “American” archive) by considering these frames not as cultural opposites but as interdependent.7 As the nation-based interpretative framework would be anachronistic to the multiethnic communities of the region8 at the time of the genocide9 and the countries in the region are also similarly situated in terms of the legacy of the socialist memory cultures, I adopt a regional approach. In this analysis of narratives by women survivors, I analyze gender as a relevant vehicle of representation.10 The aim of my gendered Holocaust analysis will be to “interrogate its very assumptions.”11

In my dissertation research, I compare 25 pairs of testimonies by women survivors from East Central Europe written at the time of the Holocaust and then recorded five decades later by the VHA.12 My sample consists of what I term exemplary and unexemplary narratives taking into account the status of the hic et nunc and the video narratives. In doing so, I build on Noah Shenker’s categorization who identifies three types of testimonies in the VHA based on the archive’s internal ratings: exemplary testimonies are the ones deemed most dramatically compelling, unexemplary testimonies are considered the least compelling, and circulating testimonies are displayed in their educational materials to highlight the foundation’s mission. In my typology, the exemplary testimonies include those that became canonized both as written narratives (published and widely popularized in most cases) and as video testimonies (included in the VHA’s online selection13 and incorporated in their educational materials in most cases), whereas the unexemplary sources are the unknown written (unpublished diaries and memoirs collected as a consequence of local archival efforts14 in most cases) and the uncirculated video testimonies (sporadically indexed and in the local languages in most cases). In this article I discuss a section of my findings which focuses on twelve video testimonial narratives in detail, half of which are exemplary and the other half of which are unexemplary. The names of the witnesses in the case of the first six are Aranka S., Gerda K., Halina B., Jane L., Olga L., and Vladka M. The names of the witnesses in the case of the second six are Erzsébet G., Halina M., Lidia V., Margita S., Piroska D., Olga K. Half of the survivors self-identify as Hungarian (Aranka S., Erzsébet G., Lidia V., Olga K., Olga L., and Piroska D.).

I suggest that the VHA identifies the beginnings of persecution with change and characterizes the end of the Holocaust as spontaneous joy. The beginning of the Holocaust, according to this definition, is premised on the assumption of historical discontinuity. In other words, it is assumed that the survivors would narrate the beginning of persecution as a clean turning point. In the video testimonies analyzed in my research, this can either result in productive tension or interpretative conflict between the interviewers and interviewee survivors.

Narratives of the “Beginnings”

The VHA’s interpretation of the beginning of the Holocaust rests on a notion of abrupt change caused by Hitler’s rise to power. To quote the Foundation’s Interviewer Guidelines, “[t]he interviewee is asked to speak about his or her experiences under German occupation.”15 In other words, the central question of this thematic block is how Hitler’s rise to power affected the survivor’s life personally. This implies three thematic foci: the assumption of change, the centrality of personal experience, and the equation of the beginning of persecution with Hitler’s rise to power. According to my findings, however, these foci, as assumptions on the basis of which experiences are to be narrated, do not fit the narratives by survivors from the East Central European region for three reasons:

1) survivors narrate the persecution suffered during the Holocaust as a manifestation of the continuation or intensification of local anti-Semitism, and therefore not as a novelty or change;

2) survivors from the region do not narrate Hitler’s rise to power as a decisive moment or a turning point; rather, they narrate their experiences of persecution within local contexts;

3) the VHA’s focus on personal experience and more specifically on eye-witness recollection can be contrary to the survivors’ interpretations of persecution, which can be narrated within a collective, relational framework.

Variations on the questions and suggestions which present the beginning of the Holocaust as a moment of change include: “[w]hen was the big change in inverted commas,” (Lidia V., s.79), “[w]hen did things change,” (Mania G., s.20), and “[l]et us move to the first signs that there was danger ahead” (Halina N., s.34).16 In Helena M.’s video testimony, the interviewer asks about the change in attitude towards Jews in Poland. Helena is of the view that there was no such change. She replied, “the Poles have been anti-Semitic before,” and she considered the political changes as a continuation of general Polish attitudes rather than as a German influence, as reflected in her contention that “it has always been happening in Poland” (s.12). In Halina M.’s video testimony, in response to the interviewer’s question “[w]hen did the situation start to worsen for you,” the survivor explains that “it did not worsen at all,” given that she had had a very happy childhood up until the fall of 1939 (s.42). Although Helena M. and Halina M. have diametrically different messages for future generations (the former stresses the importance of tolerance and the fight against anti-Semitism, whereas the latter voices sentiments of religion-based Judeophobia when she blames the local Jewry for the Holocaust), neither of them follow the suggested narrative of historical discontinuity.

Variations on the question pertaining to Hitler’s role in the persecution of Jews include the following: “[h]ow did Hitler’s rise to power affect your life personally,” (Vladka M., s.4), “[w]hat things did you observe as Hitler rose to power in 1933,” (Gerda K., s.31), and “[h]ow was Hitler’s rise to power perceived in your community” (Halina K., s.30). These questions often lead to interpretative conflicts between the interviewers and survivors, which becomes evident in Vladka M.’s testimony. The thematic block dealing with her wareness of prewar anti-Semitism leads to a series of follow-up questions as to whether the subject of the discussion is conditions “before the war,” “before Hitler came to power,” “before Hitler came to Poland,” or, as the interviewer, insists “before Hitler became chancellor” (s.4–5). Vladka M. emphasizes that in her understanding, anti-Semitism is rooted in Polish society and the Catholic Church and was not a Nazi German specificity.

However, the interviewer, Renee F., continues to ask provocative (or leading) questions: “[H]ow do you explain that Poland was a stronghold of Jewish culture,” “[b]ut Jewish culture flourished in this country which was anti-Semitic,” and
“[s]o when did you begin to really feel the change” (s.6). Finally, in response to the last question, Vladka M. complies with the expectation to narrate a change in the persecution of Jews which was specifically linked to Hitler’s rise to power: “As soon as Hitler was settling in Germany, the stronger the anti-Semitism was felt and seen in Poland” (s. 6). Most of the survivor testimonies from East Central Europe analyzed in my research17 do not depict any connection between Hitler’s personal responsibility with and their the survivors’ Holocaust experiences.

Variations on the question emphasizing personal experience include
“[c]an you describe how external events started to impact your lives,” (Olga L., s.53), “[d]id you notice that trouble was looming, any signs,” (Dora S., s.12), and “[d]id you also sense that Jews were being persecuted” (Piroska D., s.94). Some responses to these questions point to the perceived continuity of local discrimination and anti-Semitism, for instance as Dora S. put it, “Jews could live but not thrive” (s.12). She narrates the intersection of gender-based and ethnicity-based discrimination in instances when “the Jewish girl could not be best student” (s.12). This meant that though she was the best student in class and even in the whole school, she was not recognized with any distinctions and instead the second-best gentile students received acclaim.

Other testimonies offer evasive responses, as the survivors refer to their gender, social status, or age as an explanation for their lack of awareness. For instance, in response to the question “[h]ow did Hitler’s rise to power affect your life personally,” Jane L. responds that “[i]t did not affect my life personally, in 1933 I was only 9 years old” (s. 28–29). Jane’s testimonial narrative about the prewar and wartime years focuses on her involvement in a youth organization, and her personal experiences are wrapped up in a relational framework. However, the interviewer’s questions, which are more tailored to the survivor’s experience (“[w]hat do you remember about the day your town was occupied” and
“[w]ho occupied it”), elicit the story of her personal experience of hiding in the nearby woods with her family, which is narrated as the first event pertaining to her Holocaust experience (s.31). The archive’s focus on personal experience is an effort to enhance the “authenticity” of the survivor testimony, yet personal experience is not necessarily central to the accounts given by East Central European women who survived the Holocaust.

Narratives of Liberation

The questions outlined in the Interviewer Guidelines18 pertaining to the topic of liberation focus on the day of liberation, the first day of being free, and often even more specifically on first catching sight of the liberators.19 I suggest that the VHA conceptualizes the topic of liberation as a “rapturous moment in time” (to borrow the phrase used by Dan Stone in his characterization of Red Army films and popular films like Life is Beautiful and Schindler’s List),20 and, more specifically, as the single event defining the end of the Nazi genocide. However, survivors, and even in some cases interviewers, voice offer counter-narratives to this interpretation.21. I identify four frameworks of narrating for the narratives of liberation by the Red Army: sexual vulnerability, glossing over or elusion, continuation of persecution, and spontaneous joy.

The narrative framework of sexual vulnerability

The most prevalent narrative framework in the liberation narratives by East Central European Jewish women survivors is sexual vulnerability, the threat of sexual abuse or violence, evasion, and instances of liberator violence, although when it comes to this subject there is still a lacuna in the scholarship on liberation.22 I suggest that the narratives about sexual vulnerability are glossed over in the VHA’s video testimonies, which can be attributed to the institutionalization of Holocaust memory in the online archive.23 This means that the narratives of vulnerability appear either as matter-of-fact stories or as atypical short stories within the narrative style of the interviewees, the majority of which are not indexed as “sexual violence.”

Liberation in Lidia V.’s testimony appears in the context of sexual vulnerability. First, she quickly mentions the liberators as those whom they merely passed by. However, when she returns to the topic, her narrative style changes. She becomes hesitant, and the pace of her speech slows down as she narrates the following:


Lidia: On the following day [i.e. after liberation], as I told you, we met the Soviet soldiers. They were behaving [pause] fortunately [pause] very nicely with us. [Pauses and tilts her head]. They gave us food [pause] and in first days helped us get accommodation. It was not always easy, we could not always get accommodation. (s. 395)

Nina: When did you start going home?

Throughout the eight-hour long interview, the interviewer, Nina W., asks follow-up questions to the topics to which Lidia alludes, though she reverts to a question pertaining to chronology. This can be partly attributed to the fact that the VHA’s interviewers were instructed to devote approximately 25 percent of the length of an individual video testimony to the years after the war, i.e. beginning with liberation.24 Some suggest that as a consequence of this the VHA testimony is prone to become a more directed conversation, the interviewers ask increasingly polar questions (generally about marriages, children, and the rebuilding of lives).25 The fragmentariness of the narrative can also be attributed to what Pető terms “silence as the built-in element of narration”26 in interviews by victims of rape by Red Army soldiers. This appears in this narrative on two levels in that the story itself is interrupted by pauses and the “experience” of sexual vulnerability is glossed over.

The survivor Margita S.27 was interviewed by Robert S., whose interviewing presence is strong. He asks a variety of questions following the archive’s framing, the local context as well as his own conceptualizations.28 Due to his probing interviewing technique, two modes of narrative about liberation (spontaneous joy and sexual vulnerability) appear in the testimony. Regarding Margita’s liberation, he first asks a question following the archive’s focus on first-person experience: “[D]o you remember the first time you saw an American soldier?” She replies by narrating her spontaneous joyful reaction and starts recounting her journey home. As Neustadt-Glewe was liberated by more than one allied force, Robert S. raises other questions:


Robert: Were there differences between the liberators?

Margita: The Russians behaved very badly.

Robert: Did they steal from you?

Margita: No, they raped the girls in Neustadt-Glewe, so in one of the rooms we had to put a cupboard in front of the room so that they could not enter, but then they received an order that it is not allowed [...] they were afraid to come near us.

Robert: They were afraid?

Margita: Yes, yes, they were not allowed to enter our barracks. (s. 50)


The interviewer’s technique here is indicative of his previous knowledge or assumptions about certain characteristics of liberation by the Soviet army (i.e. his association of “bad behavior” with looting), and despite the fact that he is offering an interpretation of the events to the survivor, he is contributing to the unfolding of a narrative that otherwise might have remained untold. Margita’s story is a succinct one, in which she curiously alternates between the third-person plural and the first-person plural as a manner of distancing. Her use of the third-person and the first-person plural could be described as characteristic features of narratives of evasion, as they make a given experience seem either collective, not individual.29

Narratives of sexual vulnerability do not harmonize with the expectations of the agents who were crafting the archive, something that becomes especially pronounced in Olga L.’s testimony, which is highlighted with the indexing term “liberator sexual assault.”30 The interviewer, Nancy F., asks generic questions regarding liberation and freedom suggested by the Interviewer Guidelines, and in response, Olga narrates her experience of attempted sexual violence in a village near the Auschwitz camp by the Soviet liberators. The “troupe de choc” arrived in town during the night “in search of enemies” while Olga and her two friends were sleeping. One of the soldiers handcuffed and dragged Olga out to the courtyard with “evident motives.” They struggled, moving back and forth between the courtyard and the room, and eventually the soldier bit off Olga’s wristwatch and she fell into the cellar in the middle of some feathers and Polish locals who were hiding (s. 37). Despite the suggestiveness of Olga’s narrative (or maybe precisely because of it), Nancy F. focuses on the interrelation of freedom and liberation, as if insistently committed to the generic focus of the archive:


Nancy: When did you know that you were liberated, that you were really free?

Olga: Next day, because the Russian came and occupied the village and every woman who was in the village was violated and raped that night but bear in mind that troupe de choc it was not the real Russian army, I don’t want to defend them, but that is the fact. [...] A few days later I was called to Russian headquarters about this [pointing at her wrist]. He advised don’t complain about the Russian to the Russian, so I said this was an accident, how they treated me. [...] I went back and in this house, I had the first day of liberation.

Nancy: What did freedom mean to you?

Olga: [...] that I am not in the concentration camp [...] I had food, I had bread, it was paradise. (Italics mine, s. 38)

Olga speaks of sexual violence as an inevitability of war, though she also emphasizes the role of the army hierarchy in policing (and interpreting) these instances, as does Margita. She initially resists the interviewer’s attempt to frame her experience of liberation by narrating her meeting with a senior officer. Although the chronology of her story is askew, the significance of her narrative, from the perspective of this discussion, lies in her mention of sexual vulnerability as a determining experience of the “first day” of liberation. This echoes Levenkorn’s assertion that “for some Jewish women, the liberation began with rape by the liberators.”31 Olga uses her account of “the first day” to some extent in a metaphorical sense to represent her first moment of freedom, which is not identified as a moment of joy.

The narrative framework of the continuation of persecution

In these testimonies, liberation is narrated as a continuation of persecution in the widest sense of the term. Persecution continued, according to the narratives, in the form of discrimination against Jews, oppression by the liberating/invading Soviet Armed Forces, and the persecution of the nation. This narrative mode of liberation, which offers a counter-narrative to the VHA’s conceptualization of liberation, is particularly characteristic of the narratives by Polish survivors.32

Jane L.’s liberation narrative is a very special and rare testimony by a resistance fighter who smuggled Jews from Poland via Slovakia to Hungary. Jane and other members of her group were liberated by the Soviet partisans, who flew them to Moscow, where in the end she was sentenced to four years of forced labor in Siberia as a “dangerous element.” In her testimony, persecution continues even after liberation in that her Jewishness was questioned and ridiculed by the Soviet authorities who did not consider her Jewish because she did not know Yiddish (s.193–194).

In Halina M.’s33 testimony, when the interviewer asks about “future message,” she indicates that Polish anti-Semitism must be understood in the context of the isolation of Polish Jews, i.e. expressing traditional anti-Semitic sentiments and delineates two options for the Jewry: either assimilation or emigration (s.251). Furthermore, she stresses the continuity of the persecution of the Polish nation, first by the Nazi Germans and then by the invading Soviets. Thus, her narrative fits in (and strengthens) the framework of Polish national martyrology34 (s.249–250).

In the case of Olga K.’s testimony, the interview does not always follow a strict chronological order thanks to the interviewer, Anita Cs., who follows instead the survivor’s associative narrative style. In some instances, however, Anita introduces topics that have not yet been raised in the interview, for example when she asks whether some women were raped in the concentration camps (s.102), to which Olga responds in the negative, though she offers the following narrative pertaining to the period of liberation:


Olga: Violence happened when we were liberated two weeks later and we were taken to the Soviet zone 40 km away on trains […] and we were handed over to the Soviet soldiers. These things did happen there unfortunately, to young Jewish girls, to one or two of them, but there were people who saved them.

Anita: How did you spend your way home? (s.103–104)

Unfortunately, the interviewer does not follow up on the survivor’s fragmentary story in which the experience of sexual violence is merged with liberation, nor does she offer an open ended question along the lines of “what happened next?” Instead, she steers the narrative back into a chronological trajectory. As a result, not only is liberation not narrated as a specific and joyous event, it is not even discussed in detail in the testimonial narrative. Moreover, since Olga’s narrative of liberation is prompted by a question about sexual violence and is contains clear references to the threat of sexual violence, it might be suggested that liberation is narrated as a continuation of persecution in terms of sexual vulnerability in her testimony. Thereby, the continuation of persecution is premised on Jewish identity, national identity, and gender identity in the three testimonies analyzed above.

The narrative framework of glossing over

Narratives that do not offer a detailed account of liberation as an action initiated by external agents, i.e. the liberators, offer a variety of counter-narratives, starting from narratives of self-liberation, through quick allusions to liberation as part of a chronological recollection, and finally to the total omission of liberation as a specific event from the testimony. The variety of these narrative frameworks can partly be attributed to the different life trajectories and Holocaust experiences of the survivors, yet if we take the most extreme narrative type as an example, the omission of liberation, it cannot be said that there was a correlation between a lack of a historical event and its omission from the narrative. Instead, I suggest that the glossing over or outright omission of any references to liberation in its traditional understanding can be attributed to the recurring themes (such as Jewish resistance and sexual vulnerability) and, broadly speaking, to the Archive’s commitment to thematic coherency.

Lidia V. narrates the first day of freedom as a distinct and separate experience from the event of liberation. The first day of freedom for her was the day on which the camp administration fled the area. As Lidia puts it, “we were the conquerors of town” and “we didn’t need any liberator” (s. 391). She further develops her conceptualization of liberation by calling it “our self-liberation” (s. 392). This concept certainly acknowledges the agency of Jewish survivors in regaining their freedom by starting to organize life anew. According to the VHA’s interpretation “liberation is typically characterized by the arrival of Allied forces.”35 In Lidia’s atypical narrative, the first day of liberation included “self-liberation,” while the second day brought about the threat of sexual vulnerability, as discussed previously in this article.

In Vladka M.’s testimony, her involvement with Jewish organizations is the continuous thread which links the prewar, wartime, and postwar years. This is equally true of her narrative on liberation, which is part of a chronological recounting of events, an intermezzo before her involvement with the community continues. In particular, the liberation of Warsaw, her return to Warsaw, and her subsequent move to Łódź are all a matter-of-fact listing of events which culminate in her reuniting with the Jewish community and organizing the first events for survivors there (s.28–29). The interviewer, Renee F., does not raise any provocative questions in these segments of the interview, in contrast with their dialogue about the beginnings of persecution analyzed earlier in this article. Instead, she leaves space for the interviewee’s thematic focus. Thus, Vladka’s narrative points to the conceptualization of liberation as a process instead of a “rapturous moment in time” (to borrow Stone’s phrase again). As a result, liberation as an action by the Allied Forces is omitted from the testimony.

The return to the community in Aranka S.’s testimony is even more central to the narrative in which the traditional interpretation of liberation is similarly glossed over. After being liberated from Bergen-Belsen, she joined the men reciting the mourner’s Kaddish over the dead (s.34). In so doing, the survivor initiated a double border crossing: she returned to her Jewish community and crossed the gendered boundary to recite the prayer for the dead, from which women are traditionally excluded. At the same time, as Aranka was reciting the Kaddish literally over the heap of dead bodies, she tells of the “first sympathetic caress” by an American Jewish soldier, who put his arm around her in an effort to comfort her (s.35). Aranka’s narrative of liberation follows her interpretation of the events, in which the focus is on her symbolic reunion with the Jewish community and her processing of the loss of her loved ones, which is enabled by Leslie B. F.’s attentive interviewing practice.

The topic of liberation is entirely omitted from the discussion in Halina B.’s testimony, which is an out-of-the-ordinary narrative in that it was filmed on site instead of in Halina’s home, first at the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and then in front of the entrance to the Auschwitz camp. The interviewer, Adelle Ch., draws attention to the extraordinary choice of location by asking Halina, “please [to] tell us why you chose this place so that there was a cross there, please tell us why that is so important now” (s.114). This question gives an opportunity for Halina to explain her message for future generations, after which she continues her short narrative about her time in Auschwitz, which comes to an abrupt end with her mention of the forced march (s.135). The interview ends with segments shot outside the camp. Any discussion of liberation is omitted from her testimony, which offers an alternative ending to the majority of testimonies recorded by the VHA.

The narrative framework of spontaneous joy

Associations of spontaneous joy with liberation appear in the testimonial narratives in three variants: joy as a stock-feature of the narrative, joy over the return to the (political or religious) community, and the joy of romantic love.36 Erzsébet G.’s narrative offers a perfect example of an expression of joy as a stock feature of an account of liberation. Erzsébet exclaims, “[t]hanks may be given to the liberators even after fifty years!” (s.91). This exclamation was part of her testimony written right after the war and part of what she read out loud during her video testimony.37

Joy over return to the community is often narrated by survivors who identified with communist ideals. However, their specific life trajectories color the narratives in that liberation as joy is narrated in a different way, for instance, by a communist Hungarian Jewish woman who was a concentration camp prisoner (Piroska D.) and by a communist Polish Jewish woman who was a partisan fighter during the Holocaust (Mania G.). In Piroska D.’s38 narrative, May 1 appears as a repeated reference: “So well it is 1st of May, I would not have thought I would be free then” (s.221). She associates this date, when the camp administration fled, with freedom. Liberation, strictly speaking, happened on May 2. Erzsébet offers the following description of her encounter with the Soviet liberators on this day: “There were three Russian soldiers and these skeletons jumped on them and started kissing them” (s.224). Thus Piroska’s narrative about liberation contains an expression of spontaneous joy, which, however, is not depicted as an apolitical feeling or as a genderless one, considering her references to International Workers’ Day (May 1) and the women survivors’ reaction when they caught sight of the liberators.

Only one survivor in my sample, Gerda K., offers in her narrative an expression of spontaneous joy at the sight of the liberators. Gerda claims to have met the love of her life that day She recounts that after having been told that the war was over, the next day she met two American Jewish soldiers. When one of these two soldiers held the door open for her and restored her humanity, this was “the greatest moment of my life” (s.116). Thus, Gerda’s narrative is compliant with the VHA’s intended focus on liberation as a joyous first meeting with the liberators and its emphasis on a happy rebuilding of life after the war.

In this article, I offered a “view from below” of the Hungarian Holocaust by examining narratives given by Jewish women survivors. I offer this discussion as a complement to the more prevalent areas of Holocaust research in Hungary, namely that of perpetrator history and the involvement or collaboration of the gentile population. Local and global memory frames meet, merge, and clash in survivor testimonies from the online digital archive that at best provides productive tension between the archival expectations and survivors’ testimonial narratives, and at worst results in interpretative conflict. The VHA’s volunteer interviewers were trained by the VHA in recording chronological life story interviews for historical and educational purposes, which in some cases resulted in their perseverance in asking questions closely following the archive’s interpretation of the Holocaust. In contrast, in other cases, they molded the Interviewer Guidelines to the specific survivor’s narratives and their styles. The emergence of alternative memories and counter-narratives is reliant on the dialogue with the interviewer and the “impact” of this dialogue on the testimonial narrative in the ways in which they approach the archive’s interpretation of the beginnings and the end of the Holocaust.

I argue that the VHA’s assumption about change, a turning point in the beginning of the Holocaust, rests on a thesis of historical discontinuity, which is a long debated topic in research on the relationships between anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The account given by most of the survivors from East Central Europe whose testimonies are analyzed in this article do not fit this interpretative framework. Instead they constitute counter-narratives of the survivors’ experiences in the region. The narrative analysis of liberation may contribute to the bypassing of this interpretation inherited from the Cold War, a tradition which still affects Holocaust memory. This analysis offers alternative interpretations to the common understanding of liberation in several ways. In terms of agency, liberation can be conceptualized following survivors’ understanding of self-liberation instead of an action via external agents. In terms of temporality, liberation can be approached as a process instead of a “rapturous moment in time.” In terms of its emotive impact, liberation was remembered by some of the survivors as the continuation of persecution and sexual vulnerability, rather than as an event of spontaneous joy. Moreover, as the four narrative frameworks identified in this article intermingle in the testimonies, intersectionality as an analytical tool is especially useful in that the categories of Jewishness, gender, and political identification co-create Holocaust memory in the online archive.


Primary sources

Aranka S., Interview 8423. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Dora S., Interview 791. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Erzsébet G., Interview 50910. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 2000.

Gerda K., Interview 9725. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Halina B., Interview 702. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Halina K., Interview 25555. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Halina N., Interview 6258. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Halina M., Interview 23424. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Helena M., Interview 1797. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Mania G., Interview 14288. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Jane L., Interview 8508. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Lidia V., Interview 38936. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1997.

Margita S., Interview 23563. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Piroska D., Interview 50843. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 2000.

Olga K., Interview 50556. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1999.

Olga L., Interview 46138. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1998.

Vladka M., Interview 15197. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.


Secondary literature

Bartov, Omer. “Eastern Europe as the Site of Genocide.” The Journal of Modern History 80, no. 3 (2008): 557–93. doi:10.1086/589591.

Hirsch, Marianne, and Leo Spitzer. “Testimonial Objects: Memory, Gender and Transmission.” Poetics Today 27, no. 2 (2006): 353–83. doi:10.1215/03335372-2005-008.

Johnson, Lonnie. Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Levenkorn, Noemi. “Death and the Maidens: ‘Prostitution,’ Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War II.” In Sexual Violence, edited by Sonja M. Hedgepeth, and Rochelle G. Saidel, 13–29. Chicago: Brandeis University Press, 2010.

Levy, Daniel, and Natan Sznaider. The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

Mühlhauser, Regina. “The Historicity of Denial: Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the War of Annihilation, 1941–1945.” In Gendered Wars, Gendered Memories: Feminist Conversations on War, Genocide and Political Violence, edited by Ayse Gül Altinay, and Andrea Pető, 29–54. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Nutkiewicz, Michael. “Shame, Guilt, and Anguish in Holocaust Survivor Testimony.” The Oral History Review. 30, no. 1 (Winter–Spring, 2003): 1–22.

Orla-Bukowska, Annamaria. “New Threads on an Old Loom: National Memory and Social Identity in Postwar and Post-communist Poland.” In The politics of memory in postwar Europe, edited by Richard Ned Lebow, Wulf Kansteiner, and Claudio Focu, 177–210. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Pető, Andrea. “Memory and the Narrative of Rape in Budapest and Vienna in 1945.” In Life after Death: Approaches to Cultural and Social History of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s, edited by Richard Bessel, and Dirk Schumann, 129–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Pető, Andrea. “A Holokauszt digitalis emlékezete Magyarországon a VHA gyűjteményben” [The digital memory of the Holocaust in Hungary in the VHA collection]. In Holocaust in Hungary, edited by Randolph L. Braham, and András Kovács, 220–29. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2016.

Pető, Andrea, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska. Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

Shenker, Noah. Reframing Holocaust Testimony. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2015.

Stone, Dan. The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath. New York: Yale University Press, 2015.

Wieviorka, Annette. The Era of the Witness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Wolf, Diane L. “Holocaust Testimony: Producing Post-memories, Producing Identities.” In Sociology Confronts the Holocaust: Memories and Identities in Jewish Diasporas, edited by Judith M. Gerson, Diane L. Wolf, 154–74. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Interviewer Guidelines of the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, 2012. http://dornsife.usc.edu/vhi/download/Interviewer_GuidelinesAugust10.pdf.

Wistrich, Robert. “Nationalism and Anti-semitism in Central and Eastern Europe today.” In Anti-semitism in Post-Totalitarian Europe, edited by Jan Hanul, and Michael Chase, 35–50. Prague: Franz Kafka Publishers, 1993.

1 According to the “Americanizing” interpretation, the focus of the survivor testimony is personal experience, i.e. witness testimony. Wieviorka, Era of Witness.

2 According to the “Germanizing” interpretation, the primary responsibility for the Holocaust lies with Nazi Germany and in particular with Hitler.

3 Pető, Digital Memory, 222.

4 Wolf, Holocaust Testimony, 174.

5 Wieviorka, Era of Witness, 115.

6 Translations of the video testimony excerpts from the original languages are mine, from Hungarian: Dora S., Erzsébet G., Piroska D., Olga K., Olga L.; from Polish: Halina B., Halina M.; from Slovak: Margita S. The other testimonies analyzed in this article were recorded in English.

7 Levy and Sznaider, Holocaust and Memory, 10.

8 East Central Europe is a dynamic historical concept. The exact understanding of the area as a geographical space is subject to change over time, suffice it to say that it more or less encompasses the current territories of Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, excluding Germany and Austria. The elusive delineation of the region relies on certain criteria, as developed by Johnson, two of which I identify that specifically speak to the period of World War II: the experience of multiethnicity and the acceptance of Western Christianity.

9 Bartov, Eastern Europe as the Site.

10 Hirsch and Spitzer, Testimonial Objects, 368.

11 Peto et al., Women and Holocaust, 16.

12 This article presents a fraction of the findings from my dissertation research.

13 The VHA Online collection contains more than 3,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. The full collection can be viewed at access points all over the world.

14 This includes the Holocaust Memorial Center’s collection in Budapest and the Jewish Historical Institute’s (ŻIH) collection in Warsaw.

15 Interviewer Guidelines, 7. Emphases mine.

16 However, some interviewers did not refer to change in these segments of the testimonies. A notable example is Halina B.’s interviewer, Adelle Ch., who asks the following question instead: “[C]ould you please explain what the relations were between the Jews and the Catholics, that is the Poles?” (s.25).

17 The only survivor in my sample who expresses a connection with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 is Gerda K., whose native tongue is German, born in Bielitz/Bielsko-Biała (s.31). This may suggest that German-speaking survivors from East Central Europe constitute a specific sub-group in terms of their Holocaust narratives.

18 https://sfi.usc.edu/content/interviewer-guidelines.

19 In these segments of the interviews, questions about feelings are often asked, which is in contrast with the approach to emotions in the archive in that such questions are not recommended by the Interviewer Guidelines in general and are consequently rarely asked.

20 Stone, Liberation, 2.

21 Most of the survivors whose testimonies are analyzed in my research were liberated by the Red Army. Others were liberated by the British and US Armed Forces. Some camps were liberated by both armies, in which case I took into account both the survivor’s narratives and the archive’s documentation practices.

22 Stone, Liberation, 3.

23 Contrary to the prevalent assumption that survivors start to speak about their experiences of sexual vulnerability in their video testimonies, survivors who had been outspoken in their written testimonies at the time of the genocide were unwilling to discuss the topic in their video testimonies recorded in the 1990s. According to Nutkiewicz, the VHA’s leading historical consultant, it was possible to discuss sexual violence during the wartime years, however the topic eventually became traumatizing and taboo in Holocaust memory (Nutkiewicz, Shame).

24 Wolf, Holocaust Testimony, 170.

25 You can read more about this in Wolf, Holocaust Testimony.

26 Pető, Memory and Narrative.

27 Margita’s self-identification both prewar and postwar is complex. Several languages were spoken in her home, and thus she did not identify as specifically Hungarian or Slovak. She is a perfect example of the multi-ethnic self-identifications of East Central European Jewry at the time.

28 The interviewer first asks questions related to events in Germany: “[D]id your father follow what’s going on in Germany?, [d]id people talk about it?, [s]o you did not follow the political situation?” The interviewer then asks questions more focused on the local political context: “[a]fter the disappearance of the Slovak state, did things change for you, for example people’s attitudes” and “[d]id you personally see Masaryk” (s. 12–16).

29 Mühlhauser, Historicity of Denial, 36.

30 There are about 1,000 testimonies by Jewish survivors out of the 52,000 that contain indexing terms related to sexual violence, which include for instance “sexual assault” and “coerced sexual activities.” However, there are numerous instances when sexual vulnerability is discussed in the video testimony, but no such indexing term is applied.

31 Levenkorn, Death, 18.

32 This narrative framework of liberation was not characteristic of written testimonies, as the main motivation of the survivors was to inform the world about the genocide. These themes do appear elsewhere sporadically in the written autobiographical narratives, however, in the form of factual descriptions.

33 Halina M. was first persecuted as a Warsaw Jew during the time of ghettoization and, later, as a Polish resistance fighter in a POW camp. Polish self-identification characterizes other Jewish women who participated in the Polish resistance, for instance Halina K., though it is most pronounced in Halina M.’s case. Since she is identified as a Jewish survivor by the archive and this does not contradict her self-identification, I also consider her as such.

34 Orla and Bukowska, New Threads, 179.

35 https://sfi.usc.edu/content/liberation

36 Spontaneous joy over liberation as a narrative framework appears with the same intensity and in similar metaphors in the written testimonies from five decades earlier.

37 In this article there are two such testimonies by Margita S. And Erzsébet G. in which the survivors read excerpts from their written testimonies out loud. These testimonies which are indexed as “literary recital” in the VHA.

38 Piroska D. offers a rare combination of religious and political identification in her testimony. She considers herself a liberal Jew and a communist who was persecuted because of her political activities during the Holocaust. Indeed, she was incarcerated in Ravensbrück as a political prisoner. However, she is identified as a Jewish survivor by the VHA, and since this does not contradict her self-identification, I also consider her as such.