Legitimating Power? Inaugural Ceremonies of Charles VI

Stefan Seitschek
Institute of Austrian Historical Research /Austrian State Archives
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 1  (2021): 35-72 DOI 10.38145/2021.1.35

The paper focus on the inauguration ceremonies of Charles VI in the Austrian lands. The time span of these inaugurations from 1711 to 1732 and the fact that Charles received the tribute in person is of interest to describe the relationship between the ruler and the estates and the significance of these ceremonies as a whole. The paper will focus especially on the formal oath taking, the confirmation of privileges by the sovereign and where and when these ceremonies took place. For example, were the privileges confirmed in advance of the inauguration ceremony? Were oaths or other forms of affirming the good will of the sovereign like traditional ceremonies (Carinthia) required by the estates? Were there any differences? Who was involved and why were these expansive journeys and ceremonies staged almost two decades after assuming power?

Keywords: Charles VI, Inaugural ceremonies, Homage, Erbhuldigung, estates, Viennese court

This paper deals with inaugural ceremonies,1 more precisely, hereditary homages (in German Erb-Huldigung) in the Habsburg territories during the rule of
Charles VI (1711–1740). It does not deal with coronations in the Holy Roman Empire (Frankfurt), Hungary, or Bohemia.2 In a discussion of such ceremonies or rites, one has to consider their effects on the participants. These events were chances for elites to communicate with the sovereign and illustrate their own roles within the ruling groups. Every act of demonstrating their own status was, at the same time, a chance, as one ran the risk of losing one’s place in society. That is why the rank of the individual members of the estates was discussed at length in the runup to these ceremonies, including conflicts which couldn’t be solved at all. Such (inaugural) ceremonies were not only important as a means of making the rule and the assumption of power by the sovereign visible. They also represented the early modern hierarchical society as a whole (see below). “Bei symbolischen Kommunikationsakten stand daher stets die ganze soziale Existenz der Personen und das gesamte Ordnungsgefüge auf dem Spiel.”3 Of course, these conclusions, which have been reached over the course of the past several years of research, focus not only on the ruler and the administration but also on the role of the estates.4 As Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger puts it, “Aus der Reziprozität, Kollektivität und Performativität von Kommunikation folgt, daß Kommunikationsakte immer auch Akte der Konstituierung und Selbstverständigung einer Gruppe sind.”5 As will be discussed, the confirmation of the privileges of each province was an important element of the inaugural ceremonies. “It was precisely the existence of these estates and their vital role in the state apparatus that necessitated special rites of investiture establishing mutual rights and duties between the estates and the prince and warranting the continuation of their collaboration.”6

Charles VI was the last sovereign to attend a significant number of inaugural ceremonies in the Austrian lands in person. He attended ten inaugurations (excluding the Spanish inaugurations and those in the Inner Austrian cities) in person, making him one of few members of his family to reach this number.7 Homage was paid to Charles in Innsbruck in 1711, and he was crowned Hungarian king in Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia) in 1712. After these ceremonies, in Vienna towards the end of 1712, almost two decades passed before the coronation in Bohemia (1723) and the inaugural ceremonies in Inner (1728) and Upper Austria (1732). The costly journeys involved complex travel arrangements.8 This is remarkable, because Charles’ brother Joseph I avoided such ceremonies after his coronation in Hungary (1687) and in Frankfurt (1690) as young boy.9 There are numerous sources concerning the inaugurations of Charles VI in the Austrian hereditary lands. In addition to the sources created by the central administrative bodies (Obersthofmeisteramt, Hofkammer), there is also an array of materials in the archives of the estates. Elaborately printed volumes complete with symbolically important engravings by the estates offer impressions of these ceremonies from the perspectives of the local representatives and exemplify the interest these representatives had in promoting their participation in these events.10 Several accounts were written by the court chamber’s councilor Johann Adam Heintz, including a detailed description of the coronation in Bohemia in 1723.11 Of course, newspapers at the time, such as the Wienerisches Diarium12 and the other organs of the media which offered historical overviews, provide additional information and sometimes depictions of the ceremonies.13 The significance of Huldigungen, furthermore, was already noted by scholars at the time.14

This paper focuses on three main goals with regard to these inaugural ceremonies. It begins with a description of the “typical” steps of such homages to the ruler according to the events in the early eighteenth-century Habsburg monarchy. The second part focuses on the ceremonies themselves, providing an examination of the ceremonies with which the estates paid homage and took oaths and, similarly, the ceremonies and procedures according to which the ruler granted privileges. In other words, I seek to explore the ways in which the mutual dependency of the two groups was expressed symbolically. The third and final part deals with the time and place where the ceremonies were held in the different Habsburg territories, which was important in no small part because these ceremonies also helped establish an order of succession. It is not a coincidence that the engraving of the welcome given by the estates to the imperial couple under a tent near Graz shows the young Archduchess Maria Theresia too.15

Győry von Nádudvar made the following contention concerning the declining demands of the estates and the enforcement of the Habsburg rule by Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III in the Austrian provinces: “Die Forderungen derselben vor den Erbhuldigungen verblassen zu einfachen Vorstellungen und die Erbhuldigung selbst wird zu einer jener glänzenden Ceremonie.” (Their demands in the runup to the inauguration faded and the ritual expression of homage itself became a splendid ceremony.) Thus, the question arises: were those inaugurations “mere spectacles?”16

Preparing an Inauguration

To what extent were these ceremonies set up by the court, and how could the estates influence the course of events? Apart from the travel arrangements, including arrangements for the staff or the necessary supplies, above all the details of the ceremony and the exact course of the procedure had to be determined. The process was based on the previous events. On the occasion of the voyage in 1728 to Inner Austria, the journey taken by his father Emperor Leopold I in 1660 functioned as a model, and for the inauguration in Linz, the ceremony which was held in 1658 was used as a point of reference. The court asked the estates involved to send appropriate documents concerning the previous inaugurations and the current situation in advance of the journey.17 One reason for this was that the court was given all relevant information in the runup to the inaugurations. Of course, there were reports about the past ceremonies in Vienna, but the court officials seem to have wanted to avoid surprises during the negotiations with the estates in the day(s) before the ceremony. In addition, the names and families of the hereditary office holders could change quickly because of the death of a family member. Already in 1712, the emperor required information regarding the inauguration in Lower Austria from the estates in Vienna. On June 27, 1728, Charles VI required again that the Carinthian estates notify the court of the arguments concerning the proposition and possible problems which might arise in advance of the inauguration, as there would be little time in Klagenfurt itself for negotiations and the preparatory meeting would take place only one day before the ceremony.18 The extensive correspondence between the court offices and the representatives of the estates during journey to Inner Austria cannot be presented in detail at this point. In the runup to the journeys to the provinces of the Habsburg monarchy, roads were renovated and new roads were constructed along the travel route. In 1728, Montesquieu described the improvements which were made to the road to the south. He enthusiastically wrote about the landscape of Styria and the improved road from Vienna to Graz, including the newly built Semmering route. According to his account, the construction of this road was relatively inexpensive (43,000 golden coins). He mentioned, for the sake of comparison, the Via Carolina between Karlstadt and Bakar (Buccari), which previously took five to six days to complete on horseback, with difficulty. Now, the trip could be made in one day by carriage.19

It is worth taking a closer look at some of the negotiations which were held between the imperial representatives and the estates before the inaugurations in the Austrian provinces. The ceremony held by the Lower Austrian estates constitutes a special case.20 Due to the lack of spatial distance between the court and the estates in Vienna, the estates were directly involved in preliminary negotiations. After deciding to accept the inauguration in Lower Austria in 1712, the emperor ordered the high steward Anton Florian of Liechtenstein (1656–1721) and the Court Chancellor Johann Friedrich Freiherr von Seilern (1646–1715) to serve as imperial commissioners and conduct the negotiations with the estates. The last inauguration in Vienna had happened only a few years earlier, in 1705. Liechtenstein and Seilern conferred with the Lower Austrian Marshal Otto Ehrenreich Graf von Abensberg und Traun and a committee of the estates in the room of the high steward on October 2 and 3. The committee consisted of two deputies of the prelates, two of the lords, and two of the knights, together with the Landschaftssyndicus. They discussed the course of the inauguration in detail, which they agreed would be based on the Anteactis. The day of the ceremony would be determined by the emperor on November 8. The Chancellery would inform the hereditary officeholders (Erbamtsinhaber) of their duties. In addition, the high steward would take the appropriate precautions. The emperor approved the proposals. The invitations are dated October 12.21 A summary of past inaugurations was written by the chancellery and the high steward’s office, and it was read and accepted by the imperial commissioners, the land-marshal (the head of the estates), and the deputies of the estates during a meeting.22 On October 18, the estates notified the court of their complaints. They demanded the abolition of unfair taxes, the expulsion of Jews from the lands of Lower Austria, the expulsion of not resident people or decrease of dear regarding damages caused. In particular, they asked the court to confirm the Lower Austrian immunities and liberties. The emperor replied to this letter on November 4 and offered a guarantee of the privileges of the estates, but not a proper confirmation in advance, there were no traces in the existing documents from previous inaugurations of any such confirmation having been given in the past. All fourteen objections raised by the estates could not have been addressed in the short time remaining before the inauguration ceremony anyway. However, the emperor insisted on being provided information on the ceremony and the hereditary offices from the archives of the estates.23

In 1728, the journey through the Inner Austrian lands was coordinated by a conferential assembly (Konferenzialversammlung) of the Inner Austrian privy department (Geheime Stelle). Court Vice Chancellor Johann Friedrich (II.) Graf von Seilern wrote to the burgrave in Carinthia and shared with him the latest information on the Kurialien (framework of the solemnity) and the ceremony (Graz, July 29 and August 7, 1728). In the Inner Austrian provinces, conferences were set up in advance to arrange the necessary measures (road repairs, food supplies, wood supplies, etc.). In addition, the estates tried to circumvent the Konferenzialversammlung in Graz to protect their own rights. The estates of Carinthia, Carniolia, and Gorizia refused the proposal to send a deputation to Graz for the scheduled arrival of the emperor on June 23 to coordinate with the inaugurations in the other Inner Austrian lands. They explained their refusal with reference to their ancient rights, the little time left, and the organization of the inaugurations in 1660 as a precedent.24

The sovereign usually convoked a Diet which would pay homage to him by means of a general patent.25 As in the other Inner Austrian provinces, the estates complained about the declaration of the sovereign’s intention through general patent. According to their point of view and tradition, a particular Land-Tags-Deliberation was necessary to hold an inaugural ceremony. In addition, all members of the estates had to be invited particulariter. It was even pointed out that the emperor had already been reminded of this fact on November 14, 1726. Still, the ceremonies through which homage was paid to Ferdinand IV and Leopold I had been implemented accordingly, though both rulers guaranteed the privileges of the provinces by a revers or, more precisely, indemnification (“that the ignoring of the estates should be of no disadvantage and mischief to them/besides should not have no effects in future/but should be carried out in the traditional way by announcement of a Diet”).26 The patent of announcement of the inauguration (March 20) contained a reference to the assurance of “alt-hergebrachten Freyheiten.” In addition, the patent stipulated that the general invitation should not be prejudicial. The reason given was the necessary extent of letters which couldn’t be realized at the time.27 The already promised reverse was demanded in an announcement issued by the Diet on April 2,28 and the emperor followed the example which had been set by his father and issued it.29 The letter included information about the departure (June 20). The dates of the ceremonies in the provinces were to be communicated later. For example, the Carinthian and Carniolian estates received instruction to pay homage at the end of June in 1728.30 After receiving information, the Carinthian estates informed their members about the time of the inauguration and invited them to come to Klagenfurt.31

How was the procedure of the inaugural ceremonies in the Inner Austrian provinces established? In 1728 in Graz, two imperial commissioners negotiated with deputies of the estates. With the arrival of the court in Graz, direct contact was established with the other countries. Therefore, the presence of the emperor made Graz an important point of information for the Inner Austrian countries. The estates were informed about the travel routes, and information about the inaugurations, such as the identities of the people who held the hereditary offices, was required.32

In Klagenfurt, the inaugural ceremony was debated the day before the event. The sources33 provide an overview of these (August 21). In the morning, the Huldigungsproposition was discussed by the estates and two imperial commissioners who were invited by deputies of the estates in the Landhaus (local parliament). In the Landhaus, two chairs on a stage under a canopy were prepared for the imperial representatives. At the beginning, the sovereign’s proposition for the Diet and the imperial credentials of the commissioners were read aloud. The first representative referred to the merits of Charles VI in his speech and informed the estates of the intention of the emperor to confirm the country’s privileges. In his response, the burgrave mentioned the hope of confirming these rights too and the issuing of a corresponding drafted instrument in time. The commissioners then left the Landhaus. The estates deliberated on the documents which had been submitted. In the end, they declared their intention to hold the inaugural ceremony, but they again insisted on having the old customs and privileges confirmed. For this reason, they complained about the convocation by means of a general patent and expressed the desire for a corresponding Schadlosverschreibung (indemnification; sub aurea bulla). The estates insisted on the traditional inaugural ceremonies at the Karnburg and the Herzogsstuhl on the Zollfeld, including a physical Jurament and the awarding of fiefs afterwards.

Figure 1. Detail from map of Carinthia by Johann Baptist Homann (around 1720)


Were the emperor to request exemption from these ceremonies, the estates were prepared to grant Charles VI a dispensation out of respect for his imperial dignity. As in 1660 in the case of Charles VI’s father Leopold, the estates asked for an affirmation that this consent would have no impact on future ceremonies. In addition, the emperor was to confirm the privileges of the estates verbally, and the estates asked for an appropriate instrument on this matter, as noted above. They also demanded that Carinthia should always be referred to as an archduchy in spoken or written declarations. In the afternoon, a deputation of the estates went to the conference led by the court chancellor Philipp Ludwig Graf von Sinzendorf (1671–1742). They were led by the burgrave. According to the session, the actus was to be set ad normam of the Styrian estates, and the general directory (Generaldirectorium) for the ceremony was to be done accordingly. The Generaldirektorium was then read, and it was met with criticism regarding matters of rank. As a consequence, it was rewritten with respect to the procession order to the churches and of the admittance order to the hand kiss, but unfortunately further information is missing. Nevertheless, the sources indicate that there were certain differences compared to the ceremony in Graz. For instance, the idea of welcoming the emperor under a tent before the city (was cancelled as in Graz).

In comparison, in Ljubljana the Landtagsproposition took place two days before the inauguration. The estates of Carniola requested the holding of the ceremonies as before and the confirmation of the country’s rights and liberties, but they retracted the stipulation that the emperor take an oath. In Gorizia, the proposition was declared by imperial commissioners just two days before the inauguration.

Even for the organization of the inauguration ceremonies in Linz in 1732 several conferences were held to make the necessary travel arrangements and plan the event.34 The second conference took place in Carlsbad, where the date of the trip from Prague to Linz was fixed. The emperor and his retinue was to arrive in Linz on July 23. After some hunting trips and other diversions in the area around Linz, Charles VI would return to Linz on September 6. September 10 was proposed as a date for the inauguration in order to leave sufficient time for the necessary preparations by the conference. Charles VI approved in his decision September 10 or 11 as possible days of the inauguration. The last conference took place in Linz on August 28. The main topic was the inauguration ceremony including details such as the procession order. Concerning the Toisonisten (members of the Order of the Golden Fleece) and their role with respect to the hereditary officers, Charles VI referred to the past inaugurations in Vienna, Graz, and Klagenfurt, where they had awaited him at the church. He requested similar arrangements for the ceremony in Linz. The exact ceremony for the inauguration would be compiled by the Councilor Johann Georg of Mannagetta (1666–1751), the Landsyndicus Maderer, and a court secretary. It would be submitted to the conference with the estates afterwards. The composition of the group is of particular interest because it illustrates the important role of the court. Only the Landsyndicus represented the point of view of the estates. Finally, the production of commemorative coins was discussed at this last conference. The casting and presenting of coins on such occasions was rather common.35 In addition to these preparatory conferences in Vienna, Carlsbad, and Linz, deputies of the estates also discussed the course of the inauguration. The High Steward Sigmund Rudolph Graf von Sinzendorf (1670–1747) and the Court Chancellor Philipp Ludwig Graf von Sinzendorf served as imperial commissioners.

To summarize, the court required information from the estates in the runup to the inaugural ceremonies. The ceremonies were based on the model of the preceding inaugurations in the different countries. In Inner Austria, the welcome ceremony held in Graz functioned as the model (ad normam). Although negotiations were held between the estates and the sovereign’s representatives, the ceremonies were outlined by the court authorities (as shown in Vienna, Linz, and Klagenfurt) and negotiated by experienced commissioners.36 The estates could request minor changes and indemnifications, but the scenery of the different celebrations was pretty similar. It is worth mentioning that not all problems could be solved. Conflicts arose due to overlapping spheres of power of the ruler or the countrie´s representatives.37 As shown, switching role during the ceremony was one way to overcome such inconsistencies by the hereditary officeholders, not taking part another. Decisions were made and the estates received letters of indemnity for untraditional proceedings. Of course, symbolic communication was an essential element which made it possible to organize such complicated ceremonies, but this kind of communication is not always clear but rather leaves some room for interpretation (for both sides).38

Schemes of Inaugural Ceremonies

The inaugural ceremonies in the Austrian lands were quite similar under the reign of Charles VI. 39 The sovereign was welcomed at the border of his land by a delegation of the estates, and there were additional “entry” ceremonies at the bigger cities (a welcoming ceremony, the handing over of city keys, etc.). Finally, the emperor (and his family) reached the site of the inauguration. At a distance of roughly half an hour from the town, the emperor was usually welcomed by a delegation of the estates, again under a tent. At the gate to the city, the magistrate greeted him by handing over the keys to the city. A procession moved to the main church, where the emperor was welcomed by the clergy. There, a mass was celebrated. Finally, Charles VI and his accompanying family members moved into their quarters.

Godsey speaks of a Trias involved in the inauguration: the sovereign, his councilors and the estates. During the ceremonies, the role of the councilors was assumed by the hereditary officeholders, who were grouped around their ruler.40 The estates gathered in their official meeting place (usually the Landhaus) in the morning (usually about 7 o’clock) on inauguration day. They then moved, led by the head (capo) of the estates, to the sovereign’s quarters. Costly regalia, such as scepters, were produced for the hereditary offices to be worn during the ceremony and presents were given to the officeholders. Indeed, the insignia were only presented during the ceremony, but they were not used as they usually were in coronations. The hereditary office holders were given their insignia by the court dignitaries taking up their offices.41 The estates awaited the emperor in front of his private apartments according to their rank, and they accompanied him to the main church of the town. Considering the fixed procession orders in the ceremonies which have been made the subject of research, the top of the column was usually formed by a group of servants of members of the court and/or the estates, trumpeters and drummers of the estates, Läufer, and so on. In 1728, the “imperial Livereè” and squires (Edelknaben) were at the head of the procession. This group was followed by the deputies of the cities, imperial court officials, councilors and the members of the estates. Hereditary offices (Erbamtsinhaber) without insignia joined the latter group. Then followed the hereditary officers with insignia. After them came the governor (Landeshauptmann). Then came the herald and, directly in front of the emperor on horseback, the land-marshal carrying the sword. Charles VI was regularly accompanied by the guard captains. After the sovereign came the hereditary chamberlain and chamberlains in service, followed by the remaining court servants. The train then was brought to a close by military units.42 The clergy walked with the other estates to the imperial quarters but left from there before the departure of the emperor. The right moment to leave the scene was indicated by a court official (Hoffourier). The clergy awaited the sovereign at the church, accompanied by the Toisonisten. They accompanied Charles into the church to his seat near the altar in the choir area. If it rained, the conference recommended that the Toisonisten accompany Charles VI on his way to the church on foot via a covered walkway in Graz in 1728.

Looking at the seating arrangements in the church during the “Hl. Geistamt” (Veni Sancte Spiritus) in 1712 (Vienna), 1728 (Graz, Klagenfurt) and Linz (1732), one notes that Charles VI sat on the left (Gospel side). The hereditary office holders and the captains of the guards (Trabants and Hartschiers) were placed around him. The officeholder of the hereditary land-marshal’s office stood to the right, near the emperor on the third tier, and other office-holders stood on the other tiers (only the third step on the left was empty). The division was slightly different in Lower Austria. For example, the marshal was standing to the left of the emperor, but still on the scales. The remaining hereditary officeholders were arranged on the left and right sides of the throne, between the Gospel und Epistle side. Usually, the herald was standing to the right of this group near the center of the church (in Klagenfurt, he was positioned on the left side). It is worth noting that the clergy was usually seated opposite the emperor. On the left (Gospel) side of the church, the benches of the Toison knights were usually arranged next to the emperor. Right after the knights sat the privy councilors, chamberlains, and the other members of the estates, usually separated by barriers. The court protocol of the ceremonies (Zeremonialprotokoll) of 1728 mentions that the seating arrangements would be modified to fit “today’s style” compared to 1660.

After the “Hl. Geistamt,” the procession returned in the same order to the imperial quarters. The clergy remained at the portal of the church, took off their ecclesiastical robes, and returned to court by themselves. The emperor was accompanied by the members of the estates and the holders of the hereditary offices until he reached his private quarters. In the retirade,43 he was then asked by a committee to accept the welcome shown by his subjects.

At this point, the imperial representatives (primarily the court vice chancellor or court chancellor) gave oral confirmation of the rights and liberties of the estates. The speech was answered by the head of the estates, e.g. the land-marshal, the most senior of the lords, or the burgrave in Carinthia, who again referred to the confirmation of the rights and liberties. The emperor then assured the estates of their rights and liberties himself. As in Graz, the emperor had to take an oath in front of a few members of the estates to respect the country’s rights and liberties.44 This had also been part of the procedure in 1660 (see the chapter below).

Charles VI then moved from the retirade into the inauguration room, where a throne had been prepared for him under a baldachin. Like the church, the hereditary land-marshal stood to the right of the emperor at the third level (Fig 2). On the left, the top stage remained empty (as in the cathedral in Graz). A similar division of the office holders can be observed in Linz, but the empty space to the left of the emperor was filled with the hereditary land-bannerholder. In Linz and Klagenfurt, the remaining hereditary office holders stood around the throne to the right and left of Charles VI, whereas in Graz, the governor (Landeshauptmann), the bishop of Seckau, or the prelates were positioned to the right. At the end of this group, to the right of the emperor towards the center of the room the Austrian herald usually stood. The remaining estates, which were led by the hereditary land-marshal in person in Graz, the burgrave in Carinthia, or the most senior lord in Linz, were facing the throne.

To the left of the emperor, facing the estates, the court chancellor or vice chancellor gave a speech to the estates and thanked them for their willingness to pay homage to their sovereign. This speech was usually answered by the capo of the estates. This was followed by the oath of allegiance and the ceremonial act of kissing the hand of the emperor in a specified order. After the ceremony, the court chancellor then submitted the signed confirmation of the country’s rights and liberties to the estates, which was initially confirmed by the sovereign (see the chapter below).

After the inauguration, the emperor was accompanied by the estates and the court members into the chapel of the Imperial quarters, where a Te Deum was celebrated. The procedure in 1712 resembled the procedure in 1732. The emperor again took his seat on the Gospel side. To his left stood the hereditary land-marshal. The other hereditary officeholders sat on the left and right sides of the chapel. The herald stood near the center of the room. This church office and the associated blessing were intended to strengthen the bond between sovereign and his subjects after the inaugurations.

After the Te Deum, Charles VI returned to his private quarters. He and the members of the imperial family who were present left the retirade for the table where a banquet was held. They were served by the holders of the hereditary offices. At this point, in Graz and Linz the emperor was presented with the commemorative coins by the hereditary land-mint-master. After the emperor had finished eating and returned to his chambers, the hereditary officeholders went to their own tables which were provided by the court with food. The officeholders were usually allowed to invite eleven people. In addition to these tables, there was a Freitafel (free table), in Carinthia an additional table for the family of the so-called ducal peasant (Herzogsbauern), and in Tirol for the representatives of the peasantry. The inaugural ceremonies came to an end with these meals.45

The inauguration ceremonies also included what could be described as sound effects. The town cannons and the arms used by military or civil units were fired on three occasions during the inaugurations: the welcoming show of homage and the act of kissing the emperor’s hand, the Te Deum, and the first drink taken by the emperor, who had just been confirmed as ruler, at the table. This could then be accompanied by a ringing of all the bells of the town. The bell ringing was carried out even during the processions to the church, as in Vienna or Klagenfurt. The exuberant atmosphere was described in Tyrol (“sich mit Schreyen und Juchzen lustig gemacht”).46 The day after the inauguration or coronation, Charles VI mostly promoted a group of members of the estates and declared them councilors or chamberlains.47

However, there were other forms of inaugurations. In some of his territories, Charles VI did not take part in the ceremonies in person.48 Usually the governors-general were delegated to appear at the inaugurations in Milan, Mantua, Brussels, and Ghent.49 Most important were the Duchy of Brabant and the County of Flanders in the Austrian Netherlands, where the governor-general usually took part in the inaugural ceremonies, including reciprocal oath-swearing. In the case of Governor Prince Eugene, his minister Marquis de Prié (1658–1726) undertook this task. Still, the sovereign was present. A portrait was displayed on a throne under a baldachin.50 The Wienerisches Diarium describes the entry and homage ceremony in Ypres, which was accepted by the general and councilor of state prince of Ligne. There, the magistrates and deputies of the country towns took their oaths separately.51 In 1728, the substitute Count Strasoldo accepted the show of homage in the palace. There, he addressed the estates with his hat on, only taking it off and bowing (Knie-biegende Reverenz) when mentioning the emperor’s name. His speech was answered by the vice-land-marshal. The oath was read aloud in German and Italian (Welscher Sprache) by a privy councilor standing to the left of the count. The estates replied with their hands raised and fingers extended.52

In Milan, Prince Eugene was welcomed by the Marquis of Castiglione and was presented with the keys to the city on April 16, 1707. In return, Eugene distributed jars with water and soil as a symbolic gesture with which he expressed that he had taken over the territory in the name of Charles (III).53 In the recently occupied territory of Banat, local notables and officeholders (Senior, Oberknese, Provisor) paid homage to representatives of the sovereign, as is mentioned in the so-called Einrichtungsprojekt of the Banat (1717/1718). This project paper dealt with the establishment of an administration in the new province. A second oath would be inappropriate according to this draft.54

I want to stress several aspects of the ceremonies. First, the ceremonies of welcome and homage were structured by speeches and replies,55 but the presence of the sovereign provided opportunities for the estates and office-holders to request audiences and submit gravamina.56 Already in 1725, the Styrian officeholder Herberstein spoke with Charles VI and complained of the country’s difficult situation, and Charles even made a note of this in his diaries.57 Usually, the central ceremonies of the inauguration ceremonies took place indoors.58 In 1711, the ceremony took place in the Burgsaal in Innsbruck. In Vienna, the ceremony was held in the Ritterstube of the residence. In his journeys, this ritual took always place in the imperial quarters. The Carinthian estates even dispensed with the traditional places of an inauguration at the Karnburg or Herzogsstuhl. In short, this important moment of paying homage took place in the sovereign’s rooms. In Gradisca, the sovereign’s representative accepted the homage in the Kaiserl. Pallast.59 During the reception and inaugural ceremonies for the sovereign, he was confronted with delegations of the estates (for instance as part of the welcome ceremonies at the borders of the provinces, at the moment of entry into a town, etc.) and the corporative body as a whole (during the masses and the ceremonies surrounding the taking of the oath). We can trace a reciprocal relationship. The shows of welcome and homage were answered with the confirmation by the emperor of local rights and liberties.

Confirming Rights and Liberties, Taking Oaths

In Klagenfurt (Carinthia), in 1728 the ducal peasant (Herzogsbauern) almost missed the emperor when he moved to his private quarters according to the description provided by Linsee. The Cabinet Secretary Johann Theodor Freiherr von Imbsen informed the Herzogsbauern that Charles VI was already leaving for the retirade. The Herzogsbauern ran to the ruler and touched his coat. When Charles turned around, the Herzogsbauern kneeled to present the document concerning his rights and liberties, but at that moment, he dropped the document accidentally. Charles laughed and promised to confirm the rights and liberties.60 This may be little more than an apocryphal anecdote, but the scene described is rather interesting. A representative of the province begged the sovereign to confirm his rights and liberties in the runup to the inauguration. Such attempts and assurances were also part of the inaugural ceremonies described above.

“Far from being acts of unilateral submission, they served the purpose of mutual recognition and obligation through reciprocal oath taking. The estates acknowledged their ruler and promised loyalty, and in return, the ruler confirmed the estates’ rights and liberties.”61 Speeches and symbolic gestures were essential parts of an oath. Klaas Van Gelder points out that some Diets were able to intertwine the question of inauguration and taxes, and this gave them a stronger position in the negotiations.62 This is all the more interesting from the perspective of the relationship between Gottesgnadentum and emerging ideas of a social contract. “At the same time, supported by cameralist and Enlightenment thinkers, the concepts of the social contract and popular sovereignty gained increasing influence, and the notion of ‘the state’ or even ‘the nation’ came to replace ‘the prince’ as the sole source of law and legitimate power.”63 Rohr focuses extensively on the oaths and confirmation of rights and liberties before, during, and after the inaugural ceremonies. Rohr refers to the assurance of the confirmation of the privileges by the emperor or his chancellor when the request was made by a committee of the estates for the emperor to accept their show of homage in the emperor’s private quarters and at the beginning of the ceremony in the room in which proceedings were held. The representative of the estates then replied and asked the emperor of his representative to confirm the privileges of the local bodies.64 The scribes of the estates who described the inaugurations and, in particular, these elements of the ceremonies (such as Peritzhoff or Deyerlsberg) offered similar accounts. This is not a coincidence. Rather, it illustrates the importance of these events for the estates. As a consequence, the moment was the privileges of the estates were assured is of particular interest, because it reflects the relationship between the sovereign and the estates. Usually, it took place immediately before the show of homage. Why? When were these documents actually issued? It is worth mentioning that the members of the estates serving the emperor were relieved of their offices during the inauguration. Of course, this demonstration of independence was only theoretical, and it shows how the interests of the sovereign and his subjects were intertwined.65

It is worth taking a closer look to the situation in Lower Austria in 1712, which can be understood as having served as a model. After returning to his private quarters, the hereditary high chamberlain asked Charles VI in the name of the most senior lord to give him and a committee an audience. They were invited to the council chamber (Ratsstube), where they were awaited by Charles, who was standing under a baldachin. To his left stood the court chancellor. The senior lord asked the emperor to accept their show of homage and to confirm the provinces’ rights and liberties. The court chancellor answered in the name of Charles, thanking them for the invitation and announcing the ceremony in the Ritterstube. In the Ritterstube, Court Chancellor Seilern thanked them for the numerous demonstrations by the estates of their will to pay homage to their new ruler. In return, Charles VI was prepared to confirm common customs and the rights and liberties of the estates.66 As described above, the land-marshal answered on behalf of the estates and confirmed their willingness to pay homage. Still, he required a verbal confirmation of the provinces’ rights and liberties. Indeed, Charles stood up and promised such a confirmation. Afterwards, the court chancellor announced that the oath would be read aloud, and the members of the estates were to repeat it.67 While the estates took this oath, Charles VI took off his hat. After the oath had been taken, the court chancellor handed over the sealed confirmation of the rights and liberties of the Lower Austrian estates to the land-marshal.68

The inauguration ceremonies in Tyrol (1711),69 the Inner Austrian provinces (1728), and Upper Austria (1732) were rather similar, but there were slight differences in the stages identified above. After the mass, Charles VI retired to his quarters. There, in his retirade, he was usually invited by a delegation of the estates to receive their show of homage, and they reminded him to confirm their rights and liberties in return.70 At this point, the court chancellor answered instead of the emperor and confirmed his will to do so.71 Although the inaugural ceremony in Graz served as the model for the 1728 ceremony, this ceremony was unique at this juncture. A committee from the estates was given an audience in the Wohn-zimmer of the sovereign. They underlined their will to show a show of homage on behalf of the estates, but they themselves required an oath (Juramentum) taken by the sovereign. Charles replied that he would do so according to the example set by his ancestors72 and the alten Modum in the runup to the Homagio, including a confirmation of the provinces’ rights and liberties. This oath was taken privatim by the emperor in the presence of a small committee of the estates before the inauguration in the retirade. Charles VI removed his right glove, raised his hand with three fingers extended, and took the oath. The beginning of the text of the Juramentum was read aloud by the governor, who referred to the confirmation. The court vice chancellor, who was present as was the High chamberlain, held another written example of the sovereign’s Juramentum. Charles replied, “As was read to us, we swear with this oath to all local people of the principality of Styria to preserve everything so help me God, Maria, and all Saints.” It is not surprising that the estates paid for a costly print of the inaugural ceremony that included a detailed engraving of this scene. Petr Maťa has pointed out that the depiction of the emperor taking an oath in front of members of the estates in Graz is unique.73 The commission informed the estates in writing that the emperor had taken the oath. Looking at the text of the oath, Charles VI bound himself, and he referred, in the text of this pledge, to God, the Virgin Mary, and all saints.74 As in Carinthia (see above), the estates showed respect for the sovereign’s imperial dignity when receiving his oath in private.75

The ruler then moved to the prepared room, where the show of homage was held.76 The emperor was located under a baldachin surrounded by the hereditary office holders according to their ranks and duties. These schemes were documented in the written reports of the ceremonies by the court and the estates.

A representative of the ruler, usually the court chancellor,77 gave a speech referring to reasons for the delay of the inauguration and mentioning the confirmation of the rights and liberties of the estates.78 Only in Tyrol did Charles address the estates at this point himself.79 The representative of the estates then answered, usually referring again to the confirmation.80 In Görz, there was a conflict about the person who held the office of the hereditary land-marshal, who assumed an important task during the inaugural ceremony in close proximity to the sovereign. It is not surprising that this office was then assumed by the senior of the college of Deputies (Verordnete). This situation was even described by Charles in his diary: “estates in the city prior to 9, not by foot but riding due to the long hill, mass as usual very hot […] senior function, here 10 ½, afterwards homage, as usual me speaking, Te De(um) in castle chapel.”81

Charles refers not only to the senior but to his speech “as usual” during the inaugural ceremonies in this entry. Indeed, in most cases Charles now answered the estates himself, reaffirming his commitment to confirm the liberties of the provinces.82 In Klagenfurt, Charles gave thanks for being exempted from the act of taking an oath. Although the traditional elements of the Carinthian inauguration (Herzogsstuhl, Karnburg) were left out, the court protocol referred to inaugural ceremonies in the usual manner there (more consueto).83 As in Klagenfurt, the estates in Carniolia dispensed with the oath before the show of homage, which Peritzhoff describes in detail. The sovereign had to issue a revers for this concession (August 30). Peritzhoff explains, referring to Charles V, that delegates accepting a show of homage should not be included in such a dispensation.84

The oath taken by the estates was then read aloud and repeated by their members, who raised their hands with three finger extended.85 For instance, in Linz Charles lifted his hat during the reading of the oath as a reference to the presence of God. Of course, there were slight differences. In Trieste, the nobles, patricians and members of the city council represented the city. The vice court chancellor held a speech in German, which was answered by a representative of the city in Italian. The oath was read aloud by a Referendar (‘senior councilor’), and it was repeated by the representatives in Italian with their hands raised and fingers extended. Heintz stresses that Charles did not speak on this occasion in Trieste.86

In some case, such as in Lower (1712) and Upper Austria (1732), the estates were then given the written confirmation of their rights and liberties. In Tyrol, it took time for the document to be presented due to the coronation of Charles in Frankfurt, but in a rescript (issued in Innsbruck on December 27), he assured the estates again that he would confirm their rights and liberties as soon as possible.87 The Carinthian estates had to demand their confirmation after the departure of the emperor, and they had to wait for it for several years. It was then backdated.88 It is remarkable that Starhemberg already received the written confirmation of the rights and liberties in Linz (as had happened in the case of Lower Austria).89

It is worth comparing the situation with circumstances in other territories. In Milan (1707), Mantua (1708), and Parma/Piacenza unilateral oaths were taken.90 As in the other provinces, oaths were taken in the Austrian principalities of the Netherlands, as already noted. The prince confirmed the privileges of the territories, and the estates swore their loyalty. The small district of the Retroceded Lands was gained in 1719 from France and had lost its assemblies. As a consequence, only the representatives of the territory swore an oath to the prince, and taxes could be imposed without their consent.91 Maťa refers to an episode in Moravia which illustrates that there were talks about an inauguration there (1726). The estates were asked by a staff member of the Bohemian Chancellery if they required the emperor’s presence, because if not, a commissioner would be sent.92 The Silesian territories represented another special case. In these territories, which were a conglomerate of principalities or lordships, some (Habsburg) rulers accepted ceremonial shows of homage in Breslau (including Frederik II of Prussia),93 which consisted of oaths by particular subjects and corporations. Some estates of the Silesian hereditary principalities demanded to take oaths within their borders. Sometimes Habsburgs accepted recognitions in person if possible. Otherwise, commissioners were sent.94 To hasten Charles’ return, Count Leopold Adam Strasoldo was delegated to accept the show of homage in the county of Gradisca in 1728.95

Finally, shows of homage also played a part in the inaugurations of kings. In Bohemia, a show of homage was introduced after the transformations caused by the Verneuerte Landesordnung (1627). This ceremony took place one day before the coronation. Indeed, the ceremony was quite similar to other ceremonial shows of homage, except that it was not as splendid as the ceremonies in other provinces. The obvious reason for this was that the ceremony took place in the runup to the coronation. The ceremony was held in the Landstube. The estates were addressed by the hereditary high steward (the Obristerblandhofmeister, not the court chancellor), the Oberstburgraf answered. Afterwards, the court chancellor kneeled in front of the sovereign and listened to his answer, which he then repeated to the estates, including the sovereign’s proposition, which was read aloud in Czech and German. Afterwards, the sovereign addressed the estates himself and assured them that he would confirm their rights and liberties. The burgrave thanked the ruler and declared the will of the estates to take the oath. The oath was then read aloud in German and Czech and repeated by the estates. The show of homage was noted in Charles’ diaries: “nacher in landt stuben, landtt(a)g, huld(igung), ich r(e)dt, nach 11 nach haus.”

To summarize, the ceremonies involved in the inaugurations and the shows of homage to the ruler had numerous common (repeated) elements, such as the speeches held by the capo of the estates, the gesture made by the emperor when he lifted his hat on certain occasions, and oaths taken in spoken languages (German, Italian, Czech). Speeches and gestures were elementary parts of the ceremony of taking an oath. The sovereign assured his audiences that he would confirm their rights and liberties verbally and in written form after the inauguration. It is noteworthy that the inaugurations were held indoors. Charles dispensed of the traditional ceremonies at the Herzogsstuhl and Karnburg in Carinthia outdoors because he felt that they were unnecessary given his imperial dignity. Looking at the sites, it can be noted that the homages took place in the imperial quarters, usually the imperial residence or the bishop’s palace. The ruler usually replied verbally to the claims made by the estates at some point during the inauguration. In most cases, this happened after the speeches held by the estates just before they took their oath. Only in Graz was Charles forced to take an oath at the beginning of the ceremonies. In Tyrol, this happened after the speech held by the chancellor and before the answer given by the governor, which was even noteworthy in the descriptions.96 Of course, Charles was prepared to accept the gravamina of the estates too on the occasions of his stay. The ceremonies described illustrate the (at least theoretically) contractual character of the relationship between the sovereign and the estates. In particular, the personal oath taken by Charles VI in Graz stresses this fact.97 The ceremonies are of interest because we can determine that both sides entered into a commitment by verbal oaths and by written confirmations of these oaths.98

Timing of the Inaugural Ceremonies

With regards to the inauguration ceremonies of the first half of the eighteenth century, it must be pointed out that emperor Joseph I only was given a show of homage in Lower Austria (1705). Maťa points out that Joseph already started avoiding inaugurations during the reign of his father by not assuming the Bohemian crown. In addition, Maťa stresses that the Austrian estates remained rather reserved in insisting on an inauguration, and they held their Diets. Only the Carinthian estates received a letter of indemnity, and the Silesian “princes and estates” asked that a delegate be sent due to the difficult times.99 Of course, Joseph’s rule lasted only six years during the War of Spanish Succession. Money and time for such costly ceremonies and travel were consequently scarce goods during his reign. The emperor may have felt that the Lower Austrian case should be adequate to demonstrate the assumption of power in the Austrian provinces as a whole. William Godsey traces a supra-regional reference to the Lower Austrian inaugural ceremony.100 “What began as an exception in Moravia with Leopold I developed into standard practice, although it remains difficult to determine whether the abandonment of investiture rites was a dynastic program at this stage or merely the result of contingencies and financial shortcomings.”101

The inaugurations of Charles in Tyrol in 1711 and in Lower Austria in 1712 took place in a transit station or directly in the town of the imperial residence and therefore the court. In any case, they were both demonstrations of the rule of the Spanish King and Emperor Charles VI (III of Spain) and his ascent to power in his new capital. In the same year in which he was crowned in Hungary, Elisabeth Christine was promptly crowned upon their arrival from Barcelona in Pressburg, in 1714. After these two inaugurations, the next inaugural ceremony took place more than a decade later (the coronation in Bohemia in 1723). The next show of homage in the Austrian provinces only happened 16 years later, in 1728. Returning from the health resort of Carlsbad and Prague in 1732, Charles was given a show of homage by the Upper Austrian estates in Linz. In particular, the journeys of 1723, 1728, and 1732 were expensive. It is hardly surprising that, in their speeches, the court officials usually referred to the difficult times and wars as explanations for the late inaugurations.102 It is surprising, however, that Court Chancellor Sinzendorf already mentioned this reason in his speech to the estates of Tyrol in 1711. Charles had just arrived from Spain,103 and his brother had died only months before. This can perhaps be interpreted as a late excuse for the failure of the deceased Joseph to hold the ceremonies. In any case, we can trace this topos in the speeches to the estates during the reign of Charles VI.

So why were these costly ceremonies even held after 1720 and until 1732? Klaas van Geldern underlines that some of the estates of the Austrian Netherlands were able to postpone shows of homage and were even able to force Charles VI to accept their demands in return for their consent to taxes. That is why most of the shows of homage in the Austrian Netherlands were carried out only in 1717.104 Although the subsequent years were filled with numerous conflicts and negotiations with European powers, the inauguration in Bohemia (1723) or in the Inner Austrian lands in 1728 seems to have taken place relatively late. Of course, finances in the Habsburg Monarchy were always strained, but this was true in later years as well, when the court decided to travel. The question of costs and the sequestering of the necessary funds in advance of travel were topics of extensive discussion (for example in 1723 and 1728). The conference justified the journey in 1728 with reference to the long period of time since the last show of homage had been made in 1660. The court officials feared disadvantages in fief affairs due to this long term if the inauguration were not accepted by the emperor in person or by a representative of Charles VI in the same year. Consequently, taking part in the inaugural ceremony in Styria meant that Charles would have to do the same in the other provinces.105 In addition, it should be considered that Archduke Charles was feoffed with the Austrian (Habsburg) fiefs only in 1728.106 So there may have been a strategy concerning the Austrian inaugural ceremonies and plans to revive them to secure succession.

“The death of a prince and the subsequent assumption of power by his or her successor remained critical moments.”107 In connection with the long period of time between the inaugurations, one should note the importance of the issue of succession in these years as a reason for these journeys.108 On the one hand, there was the legend according to which only a crowned Bohemian king would be born heir. The announcement of another pregnancy of Elisabeth Christine in Prague in 1723 seemed to confirm this. On the other hand, it was a reply to Bavarian and Saxon claims to parts of Charles’ rule.109 Both trips gave the opportunity to present the emperor’s oldest daughter Maria Theresia to the estates, though she remained in Graz in 1728.110 The Pragmatic sanction had been approved by the estates of the Habsburg Monarchy at the beginning of the 1720s, which is why these trips and the personal presence of Charles VI perhaps can be understood as a sign of appreciation and ultimately strengthened the acceptance of him as ruler by the estates. Rohr refers to the fact that at such inaugurations possible successors sent their delegates to demonstrate their titles.111 Of course, any inauguration of Maria Theresia was impossible due to the fact that there were still hopes for a male heir.112 Still, Charles tried to secure the succession of his son-in-law in the Holy Roman Empire.113


Prima facie, it is important to stress that the (personal) inaugurations described above maintained their importance and were not just mere spectacles, as William Godsey has already shown in his study of the Lower Austrian case:

“Im Übergang von der ständischen Herrschaft zum Frühparlamentarismus in Österreich büßten die tief in der ständischen Tradition verwurzelten Krönungen bzw. Erbhuldigungen weder für den konsti-
tutionellen Staat noch für die politische Öffentlichkeit ihre staats­rechtliche Bedeutung ein.”114

Inaugurations afforded an opportunity to demonstrate baroque splendor,115 but it is worth mentioning that the imperial authorities and Charles himself advised the estates not to waste too much money. Of course, the estates organized costly ceremonies, but ideas of economic efficiency or just necessity were already present. Holenstein describes the shows of homage as phenomena of a “longue durée.”116

At the end of their existence in some countries, such as Styria and Carinthia, the inaugural ceremonies began to show a certain degree of uniformity. The Lower Austrian inauguration served as a model or at least an important point of reference. Even in 1732, in addition to the documents about the shows of homage to Leopold I in Linz in 1658, the documents concerning the Lower Austrian example pro aliquali norma were also consulted.117 Due to the organizational framework, it is no surprise that the Kurialien (ceremonial framework) for the inauguration in Graz served as a model for the other ceremonies held in Inner Austria. It seems that the inaugurations of Leopold I after the Thirty Years War were an important milestone in this development. In spite of the affirmations or indemnifications of Leopold, the changes became a very important reference point for the ceremonies which were held for his son.

The inaugural ceremonies were embedded into local Diets to which the members of the estates were invited. Convoking the estates by means of a general patent could give rise to complaints, as has been shown in the case of Inner Austria. It is of interest that Charles’ father Leopold did the same in 1660. A great deal of the implementation of the shows of homage in the Austrian provinces in 1728 and 1732 was determined in the preparatory conferences in Vienna.118 The court corresponded with the estates and asked for the submission of information on the previous ceremonies, but the estates had little scope for raising objections. This was all the more true because the court required all the relevant information of the estates in the runup to the journeys too. The marginal resolutions of the emperor concerning the proposals of the conferences offer insights into the ruler’s decision making process. Of course, the estates had the chance to negotiate shortly before the inaugurations, but the scope for negotiation was limited due to the little time left before the date of the inauguration. Basically, however, it should be noted that the Viennese court had to respect the setting of the past inaugural ceremonies. The course of the day on which the ceremonies were held was organized according to these examples from the past.119 If information was lacking due to missing references in the records (Vorakten), records of inaugurations which had already been held in the other countries were consulted. In the case of the inaugurations in 1728, there was no reference to the movement of the clergy from the court to the church. The course was set according to the example of the ceremony which was held in 1712 in Lower Austria. Even the emperor referred to the previous inaugurations as models when it came to the participation of the Toisonisten in 1732. Concerning traditional elements of the inaugurations, certain ceremonies were still of relevance, but few of these ceremonies were actively practiced during the reign of Charles VI. In Carinthia, Charles was exempted from the traditional ceremonies at the Karnburg and the Herzogstuhl.

So why were these costly ceremonies still held? Of course, they had to be in the interests of both the sovereign and his subjects (“as stakeholders in the monarchical enterprise”).120 However, it is difficult to determine what reasons the sovereign may have had, or more precisely, the reasons for which the sovereign chose at times to take part in person in such inaugurations or to avoid them are best explained by the existing circumstances.121 Certain inaugurations usually happened at the beginning of the rule of the sovereign.122 In his first years, the proclaimed Spanish King Charles, who was then crowned emperor, was crowned in Hungary and then treated to a show of homage in Lower Austria (1712) and Tyrol (1711). His father had used his journey to Frankfurt to be inaugurated in Linz by the Upper Austrian estates in 1658 too (as Charles did on his return from Prague in 1732). So these inaugurations sometimes formed part of a greater journey. Of course, the ceremonies were held before audience sometimes large, sometimes comparatively small, and they were then made part of public discussion through newspaper articles, engravings, medals, etc.123

Inaugurations had two important functions: the establishment and consolidation or, more precisely, perpetuation of power relations.124 One interest of Charles in his late years was to secure his succession by legitimating his own rule. A suggested reason for his decision to undertake the journey to Inner Austria was the long-term enfeoffments in the provinces. Were the emperor to refuse the journey, his councilors advised him to send a delegate in his stead to Inner Austria in order to avoid legal disadvantages (see above).125 The most important issue was the confirmation of the country’s rights and liberties by the prince and the timing of this confirmation. Mentions of these affirmations in the correspondence before the inauguration and the multiple mentions in the speeches of the representatives and the ruler himself illustrate their importance. Usually, there was a verbal assurance before the show of homage, and a written copy was delivered immediately or within a certain period of time after this. Only in Graz did the emperor have to take a personal oath before a small group of representatives of the estates, as had been done in 1660. In Carinthia, the traditional form of the oath on the Herzogstuhl had already been abandoned because of the imperial dignity of Charles VI (as in 1660).

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger describes rites suitably as ceremonies with which past acts are remembered and commitments are made to fulfill specific acts in the future.126 As shown in this discussion, both elements were of importance for the people involved. They mattered for the emperor because of his succession order, and they were important to the estates because of their need to maintain old customs and reassert their rights and liberties.

Archival Sources

Bayrisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Munich

Ministerium des Äußeren, 39392

Kärntner Landesarchiv, Ständisches Archiv (StA Ktn.)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (ÖStA)

Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv (AVA)

Adelsarchiv (Adel)

Reichsadelsakten (RAA)

Finanz- und Hofkammerarchiv (FHKA)

Alte Hofkammer (AHK)

Hoffinanz Innerösterreich (HFIÖ)

Sonderbestände, Sammlungen und Selekte, Sammlungen und Selekte (SUS)

Handschriftensammlung (HS)

Varia des Hofkammerarchivs (Varia)

Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (HHStA)

Hofarchive, Privat- und Familienfonde (HA)

Obersthofmeisteramt (OMeA)

Zeremonialprotokolle (ZA-Prot.)

Handschriftensammlungen (HS)


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[Anonymous]. Libell, Und Außführliche Beschreibung / Was nach erfolgtem betaurlichisten Todtfall Weylande Ihro Röm. Kayserl. Majestät Josephi I. Gewesten Lands-Fürsten zu Tyrol, Biß zu der Von dessen Herrn Brudern, Carolo Dem Sechsten diß Namens [...] angetrettener Regierung vorgegangen [...] zu Ablegung der allgemeinen Lands-Huldigung Auf 20. Monaths Novembris 1711. nacher Ynsprugg. Innsbruck: Jacob Christoph Wagner Hofbuchdrucker, 1711.

Georg J. Edler of Deyerlsberg. Erbhuldigung, welche dem allerdurchleuchtigist-großmächtigisten und unüberwindlichsten Römischen Kayser, Carolo dem Sechsten, zu Hispanien, Hungarn und Boheim König, etc. etc. als Hertzogen in Steyer, von denen gesamten steyrischen Landständen den sechsten Juli 1728 [...] abgelegt. Vollständige originalgetreue Wiedergabe des kaiserlichen Prunkexemplars aus dem Besitz der Steiermärkischen Landesbibliothek am Joanneum mit einem Kommentarband. Edited by Ulrike Müller. Adeva: Graz, 1980.

Mair of Maiersfeld, Johann Baptist. Beschreibung was auf Ableben Weyland Ihrer Keyser. Majestät Josephi, Biß nach vorgegangener Erb-Huldigung, welche dem Allerdurchleuchtigst-, Großmächtigst- und Unüberwindlichsten Römischen Kayser Carolo [...] Als Erz-Herzogen zu Oesterreich die gesamte Nider-Oeserreichische Stände [...] abgelegt. Vienna, 1712.

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1 Petr Maťa uses the term “inaugural rite” to include coronations and shows of hereditary homage. See Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 30; Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 4. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger defines a rite as a normed, many-faceted, and symbolic sequence of actions with a specific effectiveness. Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 503.

2 On the Hungarian coronations, see Forgó, “Zu den Möglichkeiten und Grenzen”; Soltész et al., Coronatio Hungarica. On the situation in Bohemia, see Berning, “Nach alltem löblichen Gebrauch”; Vácha et al., Karel VI. & Alžběta Kristýna; Vokáčová, “The Bohemian Coronation.” On the coronation in Frankfurt, see for instance Wanger, Kaiserwahl und Krönung. Several medals were coined commemorating the coronation in Frankfurt: Förschner, Frankfurter Krönungsmedaillen.

3 Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 522.

4 On ceremonies and rites of passage as symbolic acts, forms of political communication, and their performative character in the early modern period, see for instance Gestrich, Absolutismus; Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe; Stollberg-Rilinger, “Zeremoniell, Ritual, Symbol”; Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation”; Stollberg-Rilinger, “Herstellung und Darstellung”; Stollberg-Rilinger, Rituale; Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 1–4, 11–13. On inaugurations in general, see Holenstein, Die Huldigung der Untertanen. For the court of Charles VI, see Pečar, Die Ökonomie der Ehre. This research field has been worked on intensively in recent years. In addition, considering the role of the estates within the composite Habsburg Monarchy, it is relevant to refer to the role of the monarchy itself as fiscal-military state, as shown for instance in the research of William Godsey: Godsey, The Sinews of Habsburg Power. On the estates in the Habsburg Monarchy, see for instance Ammerer, Bündnispartner und Konkurrenten.

5 Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 496.

6 Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 3. Andreas Gestrich classifies them as “reziproker kommunikativer Akt” (Gestrich, Absolutismus, 118–20; Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 11: “reciprocal communicative acts”). Or “Dem Huldigungsakt unterlag die Struktur der Mutualität und Reziprozität,” Holenstein, Huldigung, 507. On the role of the traditional laws as commemorative constitution in short, see Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 265–67. In general, Holenstein, Huldigung.

7 See Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 33–34, 46–47. He refers to the Spanish inaugurations in Catalonia (1705), Valencia (1706), Trieste, and Fiume (both in 1728, see below) as not included in this number. In addition, in Parma/Piacenza a unilateral oath was taken (1738).

8 In general Rausch, “Die Hofreisen Kaiser Karls VI”; Mikoletzky, “Hofreisen unter Kaiser Karl VI.” On the journeys taken in 1728 and 1732, see Seitschek, “Die Erbhuldigung 1728 in Kärnten”; Seitschek, “Verhandlungssache?”

9 See Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 43–45.

10 On 1728, see Maťa, “Der steirische Landtag.” Some sources: [Anonym], Libell, Und Außführliche Beschreibung / Was nach erfolgtem betaurlichisten Todtfall Weylande Ihro Röm. Kayserl. Majestät Josephi I. Gewesten Lands-Fürsten zu Tyrol, Biß zu der Von dessen Herrn Brudern, Carolo Dem Sechsten diß Namens [...] angetrettener Regierung vorgegangen [...] zu Ablegung der allgemeinen Lands-Huldigung Auf 20. Monaths Novembris 1711. nacher Ynsprugg. Innsbruck: Jacob Christoph Wagner Hofbuchdrucker, 1711; Georg J. Edler of Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, welche dem allerdurchleuchtigist-großmächtigisten und unüberwindlichsten Römischen Kayser, Carolo dem Sechsten, zu Hispanien, Hungarn und Boheim König, etc. etc. als Hertzogen in Steyer, von denen gesamten steyrischen Landständen den sechsten Juli 1728 [...] abgelegt. Vollständige originalgetreue Wiedergabe des kaiserlichen Prunkexemplars aus dem Besitz der Steiermärkischen Landesbibliothek am Joanneum mit einem Kommentarband, ed. Ulrike Müller (Adeva: Graz, 1980) Johann Adam Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus in Inner-Öster-Reich idem Steüer, Cärnthen, Crain, Grötz [!], Triest und Fiume. Wie solcher Anno 1728 etc. (ÖStA FHKA, SUS HS 101); Johann Adam Heintz, Relation und Beschreibung der Von Dem Allerdurchläuchtig-. Großmächtig- und Unüberwindlichsten Römischen May. Carolo Sexto […] Anno 1732 Von Wienn über Prag nacher Carlsbaad in Bohaimb zur bedienung der dasigen Baad Cur nach dessen beglikhter beendung aber zurück nacher Prag in Österreich ob der Enns nacher Lüntz zum Empfang der Daselbstigen Erbhuldigung (ÖStA FHKA SUS Varia 40/1 [alt 22a/1], fol. 1–209); Johann Joseph Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff der dem allerdurchleuchtigsten, großmächtigst- und unüberwindlichsten Römischen Kayser Carolo VI […] von Denen gesamten Geist- und Weltlichen Ständen gemeiner Landtschafft des Erzherzogthums Cärnthen Im Jahr 1728 den 22ten Monathstag August allerunterthänigst geleisteten Erb-Huldigung etc. (Kärntner Landesarchiv, Ständisches Archiv Ktn. 458 Nr. 1, fol.1–330); Johann Baptist Mair of Maiersfeld, Beschreibung was auf Ableben Weyland Ihrer Keyser. Majestät Josephi, Biß nach vorgegangener Erb-Huldigung, welche dem Allerdurchleuchtigst-, Großmächtigst- und Unüberwindlichsten Römischen Kayser Carolo [...] Als Erz-Herzogen zu Oesterreich die gesamte Nider-Oeserreichische Stände [...] abgelegt (Wien 1712); Carl Seyfrid of Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigungs Actus im Hertzogthum Crain etc. Adam Friderich Reichhardt Landschaftdrucker: Laibach, 1739. It is important to keep in mind, when analyzing these sources, who wrote the descriptions and who commissioned the composition and illustration of the source. See for other printed descriptions Gugler, “Feste des Wiener Hofs.”

11 Johann Adam Heintz, Ausführliche Beschreibung der Anno 1723 von Sr. Kayserlich- und Catholischen Mayestatt Carl dem Sechsten Mit Ihro Mayestätt der Regirenden Kayserin Elisabeth Christina auch Durchleuchtigsten Jungen Herrschafft von Wienn Nacher Prag in Böhaim verrichteten Reis Daselbst abgenohmenen Erb-Huldigung. etc. ÖStA HHStA, HS Weiß 525; other versions are preserved in the Austrian National Library: Cod. 2706, 2707.

12 On the Inner Austrian journey the Styrian newspaper Posttäglich-Grätzerisch-Außfliegenden Mercurius is of importance and shows similarities to the news in the Wienerischen Diairum. See Golob, “Mediale Reflexionen,” 11–17.

13 See the volumes Deß Neu-eröffneten Historischen Bilder-Saals by Andreas Lazarus of Imhof or the Theatrum Europaeum.

14 Rohr, Einleitung zur Ceremoniel-Wissenschaft, 657–81.

15 Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, engrav. Nr. 2.

16 On inauguration ceremonies in the Habsburg Monarchy see, Van Gelder, More than Mere Spectacle.

17 For the Inner Austrian provinces Charles issued a rescript on February 28 that was forwarded from Graz to the other provinces at the beginning of March. In it, information concerning the ceremonies was requested, and the estates were invited not to spend too much money on the preparations. See Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 3–4; Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff, fol. 11v–13v; Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 79–81. Even in 1806, the Bavarian authorities consulted information concerning the previous shows of homages in the preparatory work for a possible inauguration in Tyrol (Munich, Bayrisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Ministerium des Äußeren, 39392; thanks to Ellinor Forster for calling my attention to this source).

18 StA Ktn. 458/1, 1, fol. 147v–148v: “Alwo [148r] wür dann in jeden Land gleich am folgenden tag unserer dahinkunfft vormittag den landtag halten, nachmittag aber respectu deren ceremonialien zur abhandlung schritten lassen und den tag darauf den actum homagii gnädigst vornehmen warden.” (Where a meeting will be held the day after our arrival in the morning. In the afternoon, the ceremonies should be discussed and the show of homage should take place on the next day.) See Seitschek, Erbhuldigung, 135.

19 Montesquieu, Meine Reisen in Deutschland, 58–59. Even in Vienna, the city municipal authorities ordered that the area around the St. Stephan cathedral and the residential area be cleaned and the streets of the area be repaired. ÖStA HHStA, HA OMeA ZA-Prot. 7 (1710 bis 1712), fol. 181r–v. “Der Stadtmagistrat ließ in den Tagen vor der Huldigung den Burgplatz, den Kohlmarkt und den Graben bis nach St. Stephan säubern, soweit notwendig pflastern, mit Brettern belegen und Sand bestreuen.”

20 On the Lower Austrian case in general, see Godsey, “Herrschaft und politische Kultur.”

21 Nádudvar, “Kaiser Karl VI.,” 86.

22 On the preliminary sessions, see ÖStA HHStA, HA OMeA ZA-Prot. 7 (1710 to 1712), fol. 176r–v.

23 Nádudvar, “Kaiser Karl VI.,” 87f.

24 On these preparations in 1728, see Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 130–38, 245–48; Seitschek, “Erbhuldigungsreise,” 50–68. For 1660 in Graz, Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 272–78.

25 In 1711, he addressed letters to the prince-bishoprics of Brixen, Trient, and the governor (Landeshauptmann) of Tyrol. The other estates were convoked by a printed order (Milan, October 31) which was sent to them according to [Anonym], Libell, 24–26. The proposition ibid., 31–33 (Innsbruck, November 21).

26 Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 6–8 (“daß sogeschehene Ubergehung der Landschaft an ihrem alten Herbringen / und Gewohnheit ohne Nachtheil und Schaden seye / auch kuenftig in keine Consequenz gezogen / sondern disfalls in ein- und anderem der alte Modus und Stylus mittels Ausschreibung eines Land-tags gehalten”). The estates already complained about this procedure in the sixteenth century; see Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 270. For 1660 ibid., 274–75. The Carinthian and Carniolan estates demanded such indemnifications too (Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff, fol. 93v–98r; Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 176–77; Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 147, 168–69). This claim was denied in case of the Carniolian estates referring to the traditional forms (Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 41; Rausch, “Hofreisen,” 130).

27 Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 10. The announcement was forwarded from Graz to the other provinces, for instance Carinthia and Carniola, on March 22. Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 8–10; Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff, fol. 29v–32r; Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 86–87. For similar critical observations concerning the invitation in Carinthia, see Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 137, 147, 168–69.

28 Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 10–11.

29 Ibid., 11–12.

30 Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 167–71; Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 168–69.

31 StA Ktn., box 458/1, 1, fol. 180r–182r. See Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 137. Compare Rohr, Einleitung, 660–61.

32 Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 130–17 (for Carinthia); Seitschek, “Erbhuldigungsreise,” 50–68, 77–79. It is worth mentioning that the sovereigns tried to place confidants within these groups, for instance the intimate of Charles count Althann (including his family) was declared hereditary cupbearer in the Empire (since 1714; Pečar, “Favorit ohne Geschäftsbereich,” 342–43. For Lower Austria, see Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 175–77.

33 Johann Adam Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus; Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff. See Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 145–49.

34 Rausch, “Hofreisen,” 143–46; Seitschek, “Verhandlungssache.”

35 For instance, Soltész et al., Coronatio; Förschner, Krönungsmedaillen.

36 On Lower Austria, see Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 167–68.

37 This conflict between hierarchies of different systems (military, court, church) is rather typical. Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 522–24.

38 Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 499–502, 506, 514, 522. (”Gerade die Unschärfe symbolischer Botschaften, hinter der unterschiedliche Situationsdeutungen zum Verschwinden gebracht wurden, ermöglichte vielfach erst kollektives Handeln.”)

39 On inaugural ceremonies in the Habsburg Monarchy, see Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 30–33; Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 1–28. The following description is based on the afore mentioned sources on the inaugural ceremonies and the accounts in the court protocol of ceremonies. In general, see Rohr, Einleitung, 660–77.

40 Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 143, 173.

41 Maťa points out that there were (even specially produced) insignia, but these insignia weren’t used to inaugurate the sovereign such as by putting a crown on his head. Even the archducal hat that was brought from the monastery Klosterneubrug just was presented during the Lower Austrian inaugural ceremony. Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 30–32. These insignia were presented to and by the hereditary office holder during the ceremonies.

42 Of course, there are several differences. For instance, the chamberlain walked within the hereditary officeholders or certain other officeholders assumed a special role.

43 These were the private rooms of the imperial couple (literally the ‘retreat’).

44 On the oath in Styria, see Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 267–72. Generally, this was not a unique situation. Rohr describes the situation in Portugal and Aragon, where the king had to swear to observe the laws and privileges as printed in Saragossa. Only then came the show of homage. Rohr, Einleitung, 667–68. The Carinthian and Carniolian estates exempted the emperor as a show of respect for his imperial dignity (see below).

45 See Haslinger, “Der Kaiser speist en public.”

46 WD 869 (December 1, 1711). These high spirits are described at the table of the ducal peasant in Carinthia too. This may be another topos.

47 In 1711, Charles appointed 46 privy councilors, including cavaliers from Milan and Napoli (WD 869, December 1, 1711). The same thing happened for instance in Carniola (promotions to the positions of secret councilors and chamberlains: Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 62).

48 Rohr referred to the reason for the state to decide whether the sovereign should take part in these ceremonies in person or be represented by a delegate (Rohr, Einleitung, 658).

49 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 46.

50 Van Gelder, “Inaugurations,” 171, 182. On the inaugurations during the reign of Charles VI, see 182, table 6.1. Van Gelder explains the greater interest in these principalities not only as a consequence of their populations but also as an indication of their fiscal importance. This was a rather common means with which to make the sovereign present, see Rohr, Einleitung, 663.

51 WD 1733 (March 9, 1720). During the banquet, a painting of the emperor to the right and another one of the Governor Prince Eugen to the left were presented. This event was recognized by the court. For instance, these inaugural ceremonies in 1720 were mentioned by Sigmund Graf von Khevenhüller in his diaries. On these diaries, see Breunlich-Pawlik, “Die Aufzeichnungen.”

52 WD 75 (September 18, 1728).

53 Rohr, Einleitung, 662–63 (referring to Europäische Fama 66, 413).

54 Roos, Providentia Augustorum, 99–100.

55 On the importance and topoi of such speeches at Diets in general, see Braungart, Hofberedsamkeit. 124–36; Helmrath and Feuchter, “Einleitung.”

56 Indeed, gravamina played an important role in negotiations before the inaugurations. On Lower Austria, see Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 169–73.

57 Charles was staying in Mariazell (August 19, 1725): “aud(ienz), Steyer landshaubtm(ann), Herberst(ein) stadhalter, ein redt, er widter aud(ienz), er nb landt ubel, infomiren, ich stark zu redt.”

58 Only in the Austrian Netherlands were costly stages built outdoors. Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 32; Van Gelder, “Inaugurations,” 170–71.

59 WD 75, September 18, 1728.

60 Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus, fol. 59–60.

61 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 36. Compare Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 153–54; Brunner, Land und Herrschaft, 423–25.

62 Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 11.

63 Ibid., 14. On the social contract with further literature, see Klippel, “Staatsvertrag.”

64 Rohr, Einleitung, 667–76. He refers to another custom in certain Catholic territories where the sovereign’s delegate had to swear to preserve the privileges of the churches too. Ibid., 671.

65 See Braungart, “Hofberedsamkeit,” 126 (referring to Zedlers’s Universal-Lexicon 16, 1737, Sp. 578). Imperial ministers and councilors were relieved of their duties during the inauguration to take part “libere.” ÖStA FHKA AHK HFIÖ Akten June 26, 1728. On 1660, see Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 274. A request from the Carinthian estates (June 2) was renounced because of missing examples in the documents of previous acts. Linsee, Gründtlicher Endtwurff, fol. 141v–43r.

66 Charles VI had already confirmed his intention in a letter from November 4 (see above, Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 155).

67 According to the description, the members of the Fourth Estate were expected to raise three fingers during the oath.

68 A written confirmation before the homage was denied due to the lack of previous similar cases. See Nádudvar, “Kaiser Karl VI.,” 88, 93–94. In general, see Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 153–56.

69 The first steps in announcing the arrival of Charles VI were taken by his mother and regent Eleonora Magdalena. See [Anonym], Libell, 1–23.

70 Delegations for instance in Ljubljana, Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 51. In 1732 in Linz, the deputation was led by the most senior of the lords, Count Gundacker Thomas Starhemberg in the council room. ÖStA HHStA, HA OMeA ZA-Prot. 15 (1732 to 1734), fol. 109r.

71 This happened in Vienna (Lower Austria) and Linz (Upper Austria) in 1712 and 1732.

72 Leitner, “Die Erbhuldigung,” 127–29. The estates demanded that the indemnification should include a reference to the abandonment of the sovereign’s confirmation of the provinces’ privileges in public out of respect for the sovereign’s imperial dignity. On Styria in general with further literature, see Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen.”

73 In detail, see Maťa, “Landtag,” 178–80; Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 47–48. On the Jurament, see Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 79–81 (“Als Uns jetzt vorgelesen ist / schwören Wir mit Unserem Eyd / allen Land-Leuten des Fürstenthums Steyer alles stät / vest / und unzerbrochen zu halten / treulich ohne alles Gefährde / als Uns Gott helffe / und die gebenedeyteste Mutter Gottes Maria / und alle Liebe Heilige”). The oath in the presence of five to six members of the estates was already determined in the ceremonial outlines (Kurialien) before the inauguration. It is interesting that Deyerlsberg’s description mentioned that the emperor took the oath with his hat on (“bedecktem Haupt”) but the print offers a different image. There, the hat is on a table to the right of the emperor.

74 Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 80. This including of the confessional element was a common part of the texts of oaths. See Holenstein, “Seelenheil und Untertantenpflicht.” Rohr, Einleitung, 672–74. In general for instance Luminati, “Eid,” 90–93; Prodi, “Der Eid in der europäischen Verfassungsgeschichte.”

75 Leitner, “Erbhuldigung,” 127–29.

76 For instance, Vienna (1712): Imperial Palace, Ritterstube; Innsbruck (1711): Imperial Palace, Riesensaal; Graz (1728): Imperial residence, Ritterstube; Klagenfurt (1728): Rosenberg palace; Ljubljana (1728): bishop’s palace; Trieste (1728): bishop’s palace.

77 During the Inner Austrian journey and the inaugurations that were held as part of the journey, the court vice chancellor assumed this role.

78 On Tyrol: WD 871 (December 8, 1711). Charles had already promised to confirm the estates’ rights and liberties in the proposition ([Anonym], Libell, 33). See [Anonym], Libell, 41–43. After the speech, the proposition was read aloud by Johann Georg of Buol (1655–1727). On Styria, Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 83–84; Carinthia: Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 152; Carniolia: Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 53.

79 For the speech [Anonym], Libell, 44–46 (“mittels einer sonders lang-zartmütig und recht vätterlichen Red/ darauff sich bezogen; welche Rede/ da sie nicht allein von Ihro Kaiserl. und Catholische Majestät/ als Kaisern/ König/ und Landesfürsten/ sondern als einem wahren und rechten Lands-Vatter beschehen/ all Anwesende mit Verwunderung und Erstaunung angehöret”). Not quite comparable, but at this juncture a speech was held in Bohemia; see below.

80 Tyrol: governor/Landeshauptmann, [Anonym], Libell, 46–48. In Graz, the hereditary land-marshal handed over the sword, moved from the right side of the emperor to the side of the estates, and replied to the speech of the vice chancellor, referring to the assurance of the confirmation of the provinces’ rights and liberties. Afterwards, he moved back to the emperor’s side, taking up his hereditary office again (Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 84f.). In Klagenfurt, the burgrave replied the speech of the vice court chancellor (Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 152–55). In Ljubljana, the hereditary land-marshal answered in the name of the estates, who switched roles for this act (Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 53). It is interesting that in Linz the officeholder of the hereditary land-marshal-office Count Starhemberg entrusted this office to his son during the ceremony and didn’t switch between the role of the most senior lord and his hereditary office. On the show of homage in Linz see ÖStA HHStA, HA OMeA ZA-Prot. 15 (1732 to 1734), fol. 108v–122r.

81 Entry September 5 (“stendt hirauf, vor 9 in die statt, all nit fus wie, sondern geriten weyl weit berg; ambt wie sonst; sehr warmb, […] alt verord(neter) funct(ion) ma(c)ht, herüben 10 1/2 na(c)her huldigung wie sonst ich r(e)dt, te De(um) in schlos capl(en)”); about the diary in general, see Redlich, “Die Tagebücher Kaiser Karls VI.”; Stefan Seitschek, Die Tagebücher Kaiser Karls VI. See Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus, fol. 80v–81r.

82 For Klagenfurt: Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 155f.; Ljubljana: Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 53f.

83 See Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 148–58.

84 Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 53–55, 205–7; In addition, for the ceremonies in Ljubljana WD 74 (September 15, 1728 appendix). The schedule of the show of homage and especially the revers for dispensing with the oath were already set in the preparatory conferences. Ibid, 41.

85 Tyrol: [Anonym], Libell, 48–49. The lords and knights raised their hands, the delegates of the towns raised their fingers too. It is astonishing that the newspaper referred to the notable situation in Tyrol, where the peasantry formed part of the estates. In Graz, the vice court chancellor held the text of the Iurament. See Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 85–86. This raising of the hand was rather common (Rohr, Einleitung, 675). For Klagenfurt Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 155; Ljubljana: Peritzhoff, Erb-Huldigung, 55, 207f.

86 For Trieste Hahn, “Zwei Besuche im österreichischen Litorale, 76–77. Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus, fol. 92r. In Fiume, the representatives of the city were received in the city castle by Charles. Again, the court vice-chancellor started the ceremony with his speech, which was answered by the city judge. Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus, fol. 101r. Heintz stresses that the show of homage was held according to the ceremony in Trieste.

87 [Anonym], Libell, 58–59.

88 Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 168–69. This seems to have been a common case. The Styrian estates already had to wait in 1631. Gmoser, “Die steirischen Erbhuldigungen,” 271–72.

89 In the files of the imperial chamber we can determine the process according to which the documents were produced. The revers for the estates written on parchment with the seal in a capsule made of silver on a golden string cost 66 gulden (ÖStA FHKA HFÖ Akten, box 2.452, September 11 and 12, 1732). The document is dated September 10 (for instance ÖStA FHKA SUS Varia box 40/1 (1732), fol. 177v–178r).

90 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 49.

91 Van Gelder, “Inaugurations,” 169–70.

92 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 47. These negotiations are important because even Charles’ father Leopold left out the Moravian inaugural ceremonies. Ibid., 42–43.

93 Frederik took part in several inaugural ceremonies from 1741 to 1743. Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 8.

94 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 37–38.

95 WD 75 (September 18, 1728); Heintz, Erb-Huldigungs-Actus, fol. 80r. The inaugural ceremonies were performed accordingly.

96 Charles again promised to confirm the provinces’ rights and liberties at the end of his speech. For the speech [Anonym], Libell, 44–46.

97 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 47.

98 Stollberg-Rilinger describes the significance of symbolic communication compared to the growing importance of written contracts with their exact but less flexible interpretations. Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 515–17.

99 See Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 43–45. Compare Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 145.

100 Godsey refers to the participating noble families representing other Habsburg provinces too. Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 150–52.

101 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 45.

102 E.g. in Graz Deyerlsberg, Erbhuldigung, 83–84.

103 Sinzendorf refers to the aid given to his Spanish supporters, the long Spanish War, and the inclination to these territories of the new ruler. WD 871 (December 8, 1711); [Anonym], Libell, 42–43.

104 Van Gelder, “Inaugurations.”

105 Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 130.

106 ÖStA, AVA, Adel RAA Österreich, Karl Erzherzog zu Österreich, April 9, 1728. Compare Mikoletzky, “Hofreisen,” 267–68. The Austrian enfeoffment is mentioned by Heintz, which refers extensively to antecedents (1530, 1572, 1597, 1613, 1620, 1652, 1663) in his description of the inauguration in Linz (1732). ÖStA FHKA SUS Varia, box 40/1 (1732), fol. 3r–5v.

107 Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 9.

108 For instance, Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 149; Seitschek, “Verhandlungssache,” 199–200.

109 Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 9. In the preparatory conferences the participation of Maria Theresia on the journey to Prague as possible future ruler was suggested (December 16, 1722). See Rausch, “Hofreisen,” 59–60.

110 Montesquieu mentioned that the empress was so bored in Graz that she planned to move back to Vienna. Montesquieu, Reisen, 53.

111 Rohr, Einleitung, 670–71.

112 Maťa, “The Care of Thrones,” 45–47; Seitschek, Tagebücher, 126; Seitschek, “Verhandlungssache,” 199–200. Even diplomats thought about the possibility of a new marriage of the emperor after the death of Elisabeth Christine (Backerra, Wien, 319f.; Göse, “Es wird die Freundschafft,”103, note 70). In this context it is worth mentioning that Maria Theresia and Franz Stephan had to renounce in favor of a possible male heir before her marriage with Franz Stephan, which the emperor even noted in his diaries (February 1 1736: “ganz vomit(tag) 10 ¾ func(tion) in gehaim rath, renunci(ation) Teres, herzog, Ter(es)l nb gut gem(ac)ht”). See ÖStA HHStA, HA OMeA ZA-Prot. (1735–1738), fol. 118r–119v.

113 Neuhaus, “Die Römische Königswahl,” 43–44.

114 Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 143.

115 Holenstein, Huldigung, 511: “aus einer Feier mit politisch-rechtlichem Charakter entwickelte sich ein barockes Fest.” Rohr explained that the more splendid the festivities organized by the subjects were, the more this was understood as an expression of their devotion to their new sovereign. Rohr, Einleitung, 658.

116 Holenstein, Huldigung, 507.

117 ÖStA FHKA SUS Varia box 40/1 (1732), fol. 21r.

118 On this conferences in detail, see Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 130–38, 145–48; Seitschek, “Verhandlungssache,” 200–8.

119 Such a framework respecting tradition was rather common, see Rohr, Einleitung, 659–60.

120 Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 10.

121 See the papers in the volume Van Gelder, More than mere spectacle, and summarizing Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Coronations and Inaugurations.”

122 The early date of the Lower Austrian homage is significant, as Godsey demonstrates: Godsey, “Herrschaft,” 141–77, 147–48. In the case of Charles VI, the Lower Austrian inaugural ceremony was exceptionally not the first because it was preceded by the show of homage in Tyrol in 1711 and the coronation in Hungary (ibid.). See Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 5–6. Some coronations, such as the coronation in Frankfurt and even the coronation in Hungary and Bohemia, were even held during the lifetime of the ruling king, thus securing succession.

123 In general: Gestrich, Absolutismus. On the inaugural ceremonies in short, see Van Gelder, “Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Coronations and Inaugurations,” 13–14.

124 Holenstein, Huldigung, 508.

125 Seitschek, “Erbhuldigung,” 130. Rohr refers to enfeoffments as a possible part of such inaugural ceremonies. Rohr, Einleitung, 658–59.

126 Stollberg-Rilinger, “Symbolische Kommunikation,” 504.


Figure 2. Homage in Graz
(Austrian State Archvies, Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv, Bibliothek C-320, Deyerlsberg)




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)

Bécsi levéltárakból kiszolgáltatott iratok [Records given out of Viennese Archives], Kabinettsarchiv. Hungaricana aus der Privatbibliothek S. M. Franz I. (I 50)

Regnicolaris levéltár [Regnicolaris Archives], Archivum palatinale

Archivum locumtenentiale Alberti Ducis Saxoniae (N 13)

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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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.


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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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.


From Collaboration to Cooperation: German Historiography of the Holocaust in Hungary

Ferenc Laczó
Maastricht University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 530-555 DOI: 10.38145/2020.3.530

This article provides an overview of German research on the Holocaust in Hungary. Its first part sketches four larger contexts of the professional study of the Holocaust in Germany to show why, though it was one of the major chapters of the genocide against European Jews, the Holocaust in Hungary has not emerged as a preoccupation among German historians. The second and longer part examines the premises, conclusions, and reception of the three most relevant German-language monographs on the Holocaust in Hungary and immediately adjacent subjects. I argue that the Holocaust in Hungary has only been discovered in German historiography as a result of larger shifts starting in the mid-1980s, and the number of specialists in Germany dedicated to its study and the level of cooperation between scholars in the two countries has remained surprisingly limited. Nonetheless, German historiography has been responsible for path-breaking and widely discussed monographs regarding Hungary, with the publication of Götz Aly and Christian Gerlach’s Das letzte Kapitel in particular serving as the subject of a transnational quarrel among historians in the early years of this century. I close with the stipulation that, with the further development of all-European perspectives on the Holocaust and growing interest in the last stages of World War II, the Hungarian case might be a more frequent subject of discussion in scholarly contexts that would ensure increased international visibility and attention in the future.

Keywords: Historiography, Hungary, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, German-Hungarian relations


This study offers an overview of German-language research on the Holocaust in Hungary with a focus on historical monographs published in Germany (but not in other countries where German is the most spoken or one of the official languages). Its core section analyzes the methods, conclusions, and reception of three major monographs on relevant subjects.1 The books in question are, first and perhaps most importantly, Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly’s Das letzte Kapitel: Realpolitik, Ideologie und der Mord an den ungarischen Juden 1944/45. Originally released in 2002, Gerlach and Aly’s book has been widely discussed internationally and, especially since its translation in 2005, also in Hungary.2 German-language publications on Hungary with clear bearings on our subject also include two perhaps somewhat lesser known but similarly substantial monographs from the late 1980s, namely Margit Szöllösi-Janze’s history of the Arrow Cross, entitled Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn. Historischer Kontext, Entwicklung und Herrschaft,3 and Rolf Fischer’s study of Hungarian anti-Semitism until shortly before the genocide against Hungarian Jews, entitled Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn 18671939: die Zerstörung der magyarisch-jüdischen Symbiose.4 I chose these works in part because they are arguably the most significant recent scholarly accomplishments in the field, but also because the focus on monographs enables the study of their varying receptions and the occasional interaction between scholars in the two countries.

After offering a brief summary of the key arguments of the major scholarly contributions in question and a discussion of their transnational reception, I embed the German scholarship on the Holocaust in Hungary in its broader contexts. I begin by sketching four such larger contexts to explain why the Holocaust in Hungary did not emerge as a more important subject in German historiography.5 These contexts are the emergence and changing priorities of contemporary history writing in postwar (West) Germany; the increasingly detailed and nuanced explorations of Nazi mass violence; growing attention to the main settings of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe in recent decades; and the place of Hungary in the regional-comparative study of Central and Eastern Europe.

What this paper cannot offer (though the subject would certainly merit a similarly detailed study) is an exploration of German public remembrance and its evolution over time with a focus on the various roles Hungarian actors have played in shaping it, for instance by contributing to major postwar trial as witnesses or experts or critiquing key German products of self-documentation and self-examination (see, perhaps most notably, Krisztián Ungváry’s response to the first major exhibition on the crimes of the Wehrmacht in the mid-1990s). Nor do I intend to sketch the reverse of my current subject here, i.e. the role Hungarian historians have played in Germany and how their research has drawn on and may have influenced German scholarly discussions.

Major Contexts

The early postwar years saw the institutionalization of contemporary history writing (Zeitgeschichte) in the Federal Republic of Germany.6 The intention to deal with the Nazi past served as a major impetus behind the establishment of a decentralized field, with the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte founded in 1949 emerging as its key institutional setting.7 Though (unsurprisingly) more attention has been devoted to the postwar period since the early postwar years, the twelve years of the Third Reich have remained one of the central foci of German contemporary history writing in the seven decades since.

The agenda of dealing with the Nazi past has generated a multifaceted process over time. However, despite the central location of Nazi Germany within historiographical discussions of the contemporary era in the Federal Republic, the attention devoted to Nazi mass crimes has shown significant variation over time, with more recent decades seeing a massive increase. As Ian Kershaw insightfully remarked, long into the postwar period, West German historians seemed more interested in accounting for 1933 than attempting to explain 1941–42. In other words, they tended to devote much more attention to the origins of the Nazi dictatorship than to the origins or crimes of the Holocaust.8 As Frank Bajohr has put it, in the first decades after the war, German scholars preferred merely to interpret rather than actually research the history of the latter.9 Important scholarly accomplishments from earlier decades notwithstanding, the emergence of the Holocaust as a seminal subject in German historiography can be considered a relatively recent phenomenon which began no earlier than the mid-1980s.

Due to the presence of significant numbers of Jewish “displaced persons” in Germany after liberation, documenting and interpreting the Holocaust (avant la lettre) on German soil actually started practically immediately at the end of World War II.10 This exceptional situation in the immediate aftermath of the war was soon over though, and it is fair to state that no major early Holocaust historian with longer-term international impact was active in the two Germanies of the early postwar period.11 Despite its devoted and professional focus on Nazi Germany, when it came to research on the Holocaust, the discipline of history in Germany thus lagged significantly behind the study of history in other countries, including the writings of a number of prolific “survivor historians” in Poland, France, Hungary, the United States, or the newly established State of Israel.12

Triggered by a new generational constellation and partly also by the Eichmann trial and especially the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial of 1963–65,13 both of which had significant though understudied connections to the new understandings of the implementation of the Holocaust in Hungary and the experiences of survivors, the 1960s and 1970s brought about a first wave of substantial scholarly works on Nazi mass violence.14 Even so, German historians continued to devote—in retrospect, surprisingly—little attention to the genocidal aspects of Nazi rule, and key aspects of the Holocaust continued to be practically ignored.15 The breakthrough of Holocaust historiography did not take place until the 1980s and especially the 1990s.16 In his recent overview of the development of what he has called a difficult field, Ulrich Herbert identified the years between 1985 and 2000 as the period of most intense engagement with this darkest chapter of German history.17

Perpetrator research has remained one of the special strengths of local historiography. Inspired partly by the groundbreaking works of scholars from outside Germany such as Christopher Browning,18 the 1990s saw a whole host of refined and detailed research projects into concrete aspects of the implementation of the Holocaust and elaborate debates regarding its major and more “ordinary” perpetrators.19 These research endeavors led to a substantial transformation of the image of Holocaust perpetrators from within German society and across the continent, not to mention an expansion of their numbers. No longer was this group reduced, in the scholarship, to a small minority of fanatical Nazis. The category of Holocaust perpetrator now came to be applied to hundreds of thousands. The process has also resulted in a reconceptualization of the context of and motivations behind the perpetrators’ deeds.

In this period (between 1985 and 2000), several new subfields of professional Holocaust historiography also emerged. Perhaps most importantly, in contrast to the previous decades, German scholars started to devote themselves to the study of the perspectives of the persecuted as well.20 Such a boom in Holocaust research in the late twentieth century notwithstanding, the fact that for a long time the massive growth of German scholarship did not lead to the establishment of major centers or independent chairs devoted to Holocaust Studies remained rather conspicuous in international comparison.21 While there have been attempts to develop such centers in recent years, German historians of the Holocaust continue to be active at diverse institutions, and the established historians of contemporary times, unlike in North America, for example, have rarely been exclusively or even primarily devoted to the study of this subject.22

In the meantime, the end of the Cold War and the fall of communist regimes not only resulted in the unexpected and sudden unification of the two Germanies but also brought crucial changes in the basic circumstances of the study of the Holocaust. The postwar decades, when, from a West German point of view, the central locations of the Holocaust had practically all been “behind the Iron Curtain,” were now over. Crucially for historians, the new accessibility of the major theaters of World War II and the Holocaust meant that local archival materials were now much more easily available. The dramatic political changes would thus lead to a new temporal and geographical focus in the study of Nazi Germany too: a profound interest in the second six years of the regime and the appearance of numerous publications which offer nuanced local contextualization of its major crimes.23 Such attempts at local contextualization have often (and with direct bearing on our subject) also highlighted the pronounced roles played by non-German perpetrators.24

Despite this notable “eastward” shift to the actual settings of the implementation of the genocide, much of the German historiography has not only continued to insist on the allegedly “unique” features of the Nazi period, but has remained primarily interested in the history of the German state and society during those twelve years.25 In other words, the increasing internationalization of Holocaust research and the Europeanization of the subject of research notwithstanding—processes to which German scholars have actively contributed—comparative and transnational approaches to the Nazi period have been rather slow to develop.26

In this context, new specialized studies on the involvement of East European states and actors offered a significant corrective to the practically exclusive focus on German Nazis familiar from previous decades. As Dieter Pohl put it, the new “common sense” among scholars is that East European states pursued radical programs of ethnic homogenization during World War II, and these programs included an “anti-Semitic consensus” which, however, aimed at realizing somewhat different goals than Nazi Germany: whereas a politics of extermination was being implemented by the latter, the policies of the former typically aimed for expropriation, exploitation, and expulsion under Europe-wide circumstances largely but not exclusively created by Germany.27 As Pohl has added, in practice, there was substantial overlap between the two agendas though, which eventually meant that the East European states and societies became actively involved in perpetrating genocide.

In more recent years, the very term “collaboration” has also been contested, partly because of its clear moral undertones but also because it implies a rather strict hierarchy among actors. The more neutral-sounding concept of cooperation, which also allows for more impactful forms of local initiative, has repeatedly been suggested as a potentially more adequate alternative. The discussion among German historians regarding the relative merit of the two terms is ongoing. Its outcome is likely to have important consequences for the ways in which the deeds of East European actors will be conceptualized in the future, and the history of the Holocaust in Hungary could potentially provide intriguing evidence for discussions and debates concerning this question.28 However, Hungary’s trajectory and transnational connections admittedly continue to occupy rather peripheral places in German historiography of the Holocaust; as a matter of fact, German historians continue to draw on Hungarian-language primary sources and scholarship originating in Hungary only in rather exceptional cases.

To move to the fourth major context of German historiography on the Holocaust in Hungary, German historians often prefer to place Hungary into a broader regional perspective. In this perspective, Hungary, like Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia, figures as a state in the Nazi sphere of influence with notable levels of independent agency.29 A key interpretative thrust concerning these countries has aimed to explore the connections between their foreign policy considerations and their “Jewish policy” during World War II.30 The gist of the argument here could be briefly summarized as follows: their trust in a German victory after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union made these countries cooperate avidly with the Axis, partly in order to curry favor with the imperial giant at one another’s expense. Their trust also made them swiftly radicalize their anti-Jewish drive in 1941–42 to the point of active involvement in genocide. However, the change in the tide of the war in 1942–43 turned them into much more cautious or even unwilling satellites.

This interpretation is, by and large, applicable to both Romania and Slovakia. However, the special timing of the main phase of the Holocaust in Hungary in 1944–45, i.e. after the main phases of the Europe-wide genocide and the clear reversal of fortunes on the Eastern Front, means that such links are rather tenuous in the case of Hungary. Hungarian actors had on several occasions committed mass murder against Jews in Hungary or in Soviet territory before 1944, and they had initiated deportations from Hungary shortly after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in 1941,31 but the main phase of the Holocaust in Hungary (the deportation of approximately 437,000 persons from Hungary, the very large majority of them to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the course of less than two months) coincided with the beginning of what turned out to be the last year of the war in Europe.32

1944–45 amounts to a highly specific phase of World War II and of Nazi German history too. As compared to the impressive efforts historians made to account for the origins of the Nazi Endlösung decades ago,33 these last waves of Nazi violence have begun to be studied in comparable detail only recently.34 The further radicalization of the Nazi regime in the last stages of the war could indeed be usefully studied in combination with the most similar case of Hungary, not to mention the need to uncover in more detail the decisively important interactions among the representatives of the two countries and the members of the two societies in the same period.

To summarize, contemporary history writing emerged early in postwar West Germany, and this growing field has produced substantial and increasingly nuanced explorations of Nazi mass violence. However, only in recent decades has there been a closer focus on the actual settings of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, though without the Holocaust in Hungary emerging as an important preoccupation for German historians.

Key Contributions

Having sketched four major contexts of the German study of the Holocaust in Hungary, let us now turn to the most significant achievements of German historiography regarding this subject. Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly’s Das letzte Kapitel is in my assessment the towering achievement in this regard. In his most recent volume, Tim Cole, a leading British authority on the Holocaust in Hungary went so far as to place Das letzte Kapitel next to Randolph Braham’s seminal The Politics of Genocide,35 calling the book one of the two comprehensive, internationally available histories.36 At the same time, Cole contrasted these two major works in several respects, pointing out that whereas Braham drew “in the main on national level Hungarian state archives,” the German authors drew “primarily on German documents.”37 Perhaps more importantly, Cole asserted that the two overviews crucially diverge in their understandings of why the Holocaust was carried out in Hungary: “In what approaches the playing out of the so-called intentionalist vs. functionalist debate that dominated Holocaust Studies in the 1970s and 1980s in miniature, these authors differ over whether a Nazi master plan for deportations was implemented in Hungary, or greater importance should be assigned to the local dynamic in the radicalization of measures.”38

Das letzte Kapitel not only constitutes the sole monographic study on the subject in German, it can also be considered innovative in several respects. Gerlach and Aly’s book devotes substantial attention to the prehistory, motivating factors, and background of the Holocaust in Hungary. Following a theoretically- and methodologically-oriented introductory chapter, the book analyzes Hungarian–German relations in the interwar years, the socioeconomic situation of Hungarian Jews, and the anti-Semitism of the Horthy era. The coverage of these themes is in turn followed by a discussion of the key reasons behind and an analysis of the concrete manner of implementation of the German occupation; the composition and functioning of the occupying apparatus; state-organized economic expropriation and redistribution; and the decision-making process and policies of annihilation. Last but not least, the book covers the persecution of Hungarian Jews after the major wave of their mass deportation in May, June, and July 1944 as well as their main survival strategies, including their sufferings as slave laborers.

Das letzte Kapitel was authored by two well-recognized German scholars who have published several other important works on Nazi rule, the Holocaust, and extreme forms of violence.39 Götz Aly and Christian Gerlach were first recognized for their studies on the planners of annihilation and the connections between the German war economy and genocide, respectively, which were published in the late 1980s and 1990s.40 In recent decades, Aly has arguably come to shape the German debates on Nazi mass violence and its origins perhaps more than any other author.

In her review, Heidemarie Petersen highlighted that their joint monograph from 2002 might be viewed as Aly’s and Gerlach’s attempt at combining their previous explanatory models.41 Their monograph indeed approached Hungary as a case study to explore political, socioeconomic, and military historical connections, and it provided the first such complex study of a much neglected major chapter of the Holocaust. As it was written by two prominent scholars with established reputations, Das letzte Kapitel was arguably bound to be rather widely received in Germany and to shape the reigning conceptions of the Hungarian chapter of the Holocaust. Several scholars with important contributions of their own to the historiography, such as Frank Golczewski, Thomas Sandkühler, Tatjana Tönsmeyer, and Michael Wildt, have indeed offered summaries, contextualizations, and assessments of the book on the pages of scholarly journals and in major daily newspapers.

The book has also been widely received and debated in Hungary. Upon its release in Hungarian translation in 2005,42 it was reviewed in various scholarly forums, including non-historical venues such as the journal on social policy Esély (Opportunity) and Közgazdasági Szemle (Review of Economics), as well as Hungarian mainstream dailies and weeklies, such as Népszabadság and Élet és Irodalom. Gerlach and Aly’s approach, furthermore, could be usefully compared to those used by some of the most promising young Hungarian historians of the Holocaust of the time (who now belong to the middle generation), such as Gábor Kádár, Zoltán Vági, and Krisztián Ungváry.43

Tellingly, social policy expert Dorottya Szikra reviewed Kádár and Vági’s book on the economic annihilation of Hungarian Jews alongside the Hungarian translation of Das letzte Kapitel (the two were published at almost exactly the same time), lauding them as milestones in the secondary literature which mark the start of a new epoch in the study of “social policy.”44 As Szikra maintained, such innovative works explore the links between questions of foreign and domestic policy as well as sociological and political economic factors, on the one hand, and racial policy and persecution, on the other, to reveal the dark side of modern social policy.45 At the same time, Szikra contrasted the works of the two author duos by highlighting that Gerlach and Aly remained focused on states and their international relations, whereas Kádár and Vági also devoted attention to the actual mechanisms of expropriation and violence on the local-societal level.46

This important difference was arguably the key factor behind the criticism leveled against Das letzte Kapitel by Gábor Kádár and Zoltán Vági in their review, entitled “‘Racionális’ népirtás Magyarországon” (“Rational” Genocide in Hungary).47 Kádár and Vági praised Das letzte Kapitel for its presentation of the Holocaust as a complex series of events and for its elaboration of a multicausal explanatory scheme. They categorized the book as a post-functionalist synthesis, which asserted the primacy of pragmatic considerations but integrated elements of both the functionalist and the intentionalist schools of interpretation. Kádár and Vági by and large agreed with Aly and Gerlach that the plan and the implementation of the Holocaust in Hungary were generated, above all, by unsolved problems related to the economy and financing of the Third Reich and a looming crisis in supplying German society. At the same time, a key aim of their review was to offer a critical assessment of Gerlach and Aly’s conception of German and Hungarian intentions and their depiction of the steps taken by the two sides to acquire the wealth of Hungarian Jews. Drawing on their own research, Kádár and Vági concluded that the persuasive power of the book was weakened by significant interpretative mistakes. In other words, they maintained that the approach was persuasive, but the authors’ specific interpretations were less convincing.

Kádár and Vági claimed that there was a tremendous gap between plans and their actual implementation, and they contended that by failing to address or explain this gap, Gerlach and Aly had not succeeding at grasping the practical mechanisms of expropriation.48 As specific agencies, such as ministries and local administrations, were ultimately responsible for the exact manner of implementation, cases of embezzlement and theft proliferated, enabling significant segments of Hungarian society to profit from robbing the persecuted without the Hungarian government managing to inject the decisive part of so-called “Jewish wealth” into the “Hungarian” economy or channel it into the state budget.49 Moreover, Kádár and Vági challenged Aly and Gerlach’s contention that the occupying German forces had remained largely uninvolved in this dimension of the genocidal process: instead of a neat division of labor as postulated by them, the Germans’ actions to acquire “Jewish wealth” in Hungary led to numerous conflicts and raised serious tensions between them and their local partners, according to Kádár and Vági.

Beyond such criticisms of a more empirical bent, Kádár and Vági also complained that Gerlach and Aly had interpreted the events through somewhat narrowly defined concepts of rationality and irrationality. As the reviewers pointed out, “Christian Hungarians” may have aimed to make economic gains, but the mass deportations in fact significantly damaged the Hungarian economy and disrupted public supply. As these aspects were neglected in their book, the German authors did not realize or address the fact that the deportation of hundreds of thousands caused a decline in production and had a deleterious effect also on the economic situation of “non-Jews” in Hungary.

Beyond Kádár and Vági’s review of the German original of Das letzte Kapitel in Buksz, the leading Hungarian-language journal devoted to scholarly reviews, Gerlach and Aly’s key theses were also scrutinized by László Karsai, one of the doyens of Hungarian Holocaust historiography.50 If “‘Racionális’ népirtás Magyarországon” was penned by scholars explicitly sympathetic to Gerlach and Aly’s post-functionalist agenda even if they also questioned the more specific interpretations in their book, Karsai proved much more critically disposed: he essentially argued that Gerlach and Aly’s ambition of reinterpreting the Holocaust in Hungary failed to yield convincing results.51 In his “A holokauszt utolsó fejezete” (The last chapter of the Holocaust), Karsai explained that the two key novelties of the book were, first, its arguments that the Sztójay government played the role of initiator and actively shaped the implementation of the Holocaust and, second, that the stolen wealth of Hungarian Jews significantly contributed to financing the war economy and stabilizing the quality of life for the rest of the population.

Karsai agreed with Gerlach and Aly that the Germans may not have arrived with a detailed plan of deportation in March 1944, but he emphasized that it must have seemed unnecessary to them to prepare such an elaborate blueprint in writing. In other words, the lack of evidence regarding detailed German planning did not imply that the Germans had not been preparing to murder as many Hungarian Jews as they possibly could. Karsai thereby contested the claim that ideological factors had played only secondary roles in the genocide, and he made considerable efforts to demonstrate that a comprehensive plan of deportation was formulated early on during the German occupation. In his assessment, the fact that the Germans and Hungarians responsible for deporting Hungarian Jews created six zones of deportation before the end of April 1944 contradicts Gerlach and Aly’s conception of the three main stages of interactive decision making.52 Moreover, like Kádár and Vági, Karsai emphasized that registering, storing, and “redistributing” so-called “Jewish wealth” in an orderly manner proved beyond the capacity of Hungarian authorities, and that Das letzte Kapitel failed to survey Holocaust-related costs incurred by the authorities to arrive at a more precise balance sheet.53

Karsai concluded that the explanation according to which the Hungarian authorities practically forced the deportation of the large majority of Hungarian Jews on the Nazi Germans amounted to no more than “baseless speculation” and “a harsh accusation.” In short, the primarily intentionalist interpretation that Karsai reiterated went hand in hand with his suggestion of the clear primacy of German responsibility, whereas Kádár and Vági’s greater appreciation for the (post-)functionalist position also implied more ready acceptance of the Hungarian side’s grave culpability.

It is worth comparing these critical Hungarian-language assessments with the reception of Das letzte Kapitel in German. Frank Golczewski, German and Eastern Europe expert and professor at the University of Hamburg, thought the book offered a radical reinterpretation that presented the Hungarian Shoah as an act “largely justified and implemented” by Hungarians save for the actual acts of murder.54 Intriguingly, Golczewski asked whether access to further sources in Hungarian would have made Gerlach and Aly reconsider some of their conclusions, claiming that this was “difficult to judge,” but then adding that “this might not be the case to a large extent.”55 Thomas Sandkühler, a noted expert on the Holocaust in East Galicia and, as of 2009, professor for Geschichtsdidaktik at Humboldt University in Berlin, similarly explained that Gerlach and Aly’s book revealed a division of labor between Hungarians and Germans which was used due to partly overlapping and partly divergent motives when short-term German calculations met longer-term Hungarian plans.56 Sandkühler also thought that one of the main findings of the book was how eagerly Hungarians participated in the genocide, and he expressed no reservations or qualifications concerning this conclusion. His only notable criticism concerned Gerlach and Aly’s strong emphasis on “reformist social policy.” Sandkühler thought that, in this respect, the authors effectively reproduced contemporary Nazi propaganda slogans.

Unlike his aforementioned colleagues, Jürgen Zarusky, a researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History, formulated more encompassing criticisms of Das letzte Kapitel. Zarusky shared the view that anti-Semitic obsessions alone could not account for the Holocaust and questions regarding the economic rationality of the genocide deserved to be raised.57 However, he took serious issue with Gerlach and Aly, claiming that the connections on which their book was meant to focus were not properly illuminated: they did not really manage to explain the relationships between various causes and impacts, Zarusky asserted, nor did they explain which motives were of decisive importance for different actors. Zarusky’s review ultimately argued that “economic rationalizations” played a limited role in Nazi policy making towards the end of the war, and there could be talk neither of the primacy of production logics over anti-Semitic considerations nor of the efficient use of the labor force.

What all the aforementioned German reviews have in common is that none of their authors could claim research expertise regarding the history of the Holocaust in Hungary.58 The criticisms they offered thus tended to be milder and diverged from the detailed empirical rebuttals made by Kádár and Vági or Karsai by focusing more on questions of theory and overall interpretation. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the general assessments of Aly and Gerlach’s approach and explanations ranged from positive to negative in both countries.

As Regina Fritz recently remarked, the history of fascism and that of the Arrow Cross movement, party, and regime in particular have long remained rather poorly researched within Hungarian historiography, despite or perhaps because of all the political discourses surrounding them.59 It may be true that around the time of Fritz’s writing in 2013, two new Hungarian-language monographs were just about to be published that arguably substantially improved the situation.60 Until then, however, Margit Szöllösi-Janze’s Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn. Historischer Kontext, Entwicklung und Herrschaft (The Arrow Cross movement in Hungary. Historical context, development and rule) could be considered the only major work of history on the Arrow Cross in any language, other than Éva Teleki’s somewhat dated work from the 1970s.61 Based on the author’s dissertation from 1986 and awarded the prize of the German Society for Southeast European Studies (Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft) in 1987, Szöllösi-Janze’s Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn was eventually published in 1989.

More specifically, Szöllösi-Janze’s book offers an original exploration of German, British, and American archival materials as well as documents drawn up or used by key Arrow Cross functionaries, while also drawing on the secondary literature in German and Hungarian. The book devotes some eighty pages to describing the socioeconomic and political scene of interwar Hungary to illuminate the broader context of the emergence of the Arrow Cross. Szöllösi-Janze subsequently provides more focused analyses of the sudden rise, social support, changing fortunes, and major failures of the Arrow Cross movement between 1935 and 1945.62

As Thomas Schlemmer and Hans Woller argue in their overview of the evolution of fascist studies, Szöllösi-Janze’s book might be viewed as part of a third wave of research into fascism when researchers began to explore indigenous movements outside the “core Axis states” of Italy and Germany in greater depth.63 However, as Schlemmer and Woller highlight, such important additions to the study of fascism could count on significantly less public interest in West Germany than those that were originally published during the great wave of the 1960s and 1970s.64 At the same time, the German reception of Szöllösi-Janze’s work was generally positive, as illustrated by Hungarologist Holger Fischer’s review, which praised Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn as an impressively documented and logically structured work “entirely worthy” of the prize it had been awarded.65 Gyula Borbándi, one of the leading personalities of the Hungarian émigré intellectual scene in Germany, also praised the work as “the most detailed” and “best documented” one on its topic which thus filled a significant gap in the scholarly literature.66 Borbándi’s review highlighted two original aspects of Szöllösi-Janze’s approach in particular, namely its detailed analysis of the social bases of the Arrow Cross and its descriptive-analytical tone, i.e. an absence of evaluative statements (with which Borbándi did not take issue).67

Szöllösi-Janze had a familiar connection to her subject which could potentially have made the international reception of the monograph’s neutral approach and tone more polemically charged (even if this family relationship was not explicitly highlighted in the scholarly discussions). Nicholas Nagy-Talavera, a leading expert on Central and Eastern European fascism at the time, for instance, found Margit Szöllösi-Janze’s Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn to be an “impressive study.”68 At the same time, Nagy-Talavera not only pointed to the special and rather unfortunate timing of Szöllösi-Janze’s research during the last phase of the Cold War and communist rule, i.e. shortly before much sensitive archival material would have become available. As a witness to the events depicted in the book, he was also convinced that, no matter how commendable Szöllösi-Janze’s detachment may have seemed from a professional point of view, she had thereby unduly neglected crucial aspects of the period.

Leading British Habsburg historian R. J. W. Evans thought that, beyond providing a reliable but not terribly innovative description of the advances of fascist organizations and of the supporters and breakthrough of the Arrow Cross in the Hungary in the 1930s, Szöllösi-Janze managed to break new ground in two areas in particular: by providing a balanced appraisal of the Arrow Cross worldview and by examining the party’s attempts to implement its policy ideas.69 However, like Nagy-Talavera, R. J. W. Evans found Szöllösi-Janze’s dispassionate approach insufficient to convey a real sense of key personalities and a convincing account of the horrible drama they unleashed. It might be worth noting that, rather differently from the recognized country and regional experts Nagy-Talavera and Evans, German-British historian Francis L. Carsten praised Szöllösi-Janze’s book for providing a mass of original detail and a thorough description of Arrow Cross rule in 1944–45, and his only major criticism related to what he saw as Szöllösi-Janze’s insufficient explanation of the temporary decline of the Arrow Cross during the years of World War II, when Germany still appeared victorious.70

Rolf Fischer’s Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn 1867-1939, the third major German-language monograph on Hungary with a bearing on the history of the Holocaust, was published in 1988 and could thus be seen as part of the same broader wave of interest in the persecution and extermination of European Jewry observable after the mid-1980s.71 Like Szöllösi-Janze’s history of the Arrow Cross, Rolf Fischer’s book received some international attention. Soon after its release, Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn 1867–1939 was reviewed by both István Deák and Hillel Kieval, two eminent authorities on Habsburg and post-Habsburg Jewish history in the United States.72 The contemporaneous international reception of this book in fact seemed less critical than that of Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn, though its reviewers did not appear convinced of the true originality of Fischer’s approach or findings.

István Deák thought Fischer’s key thesis concerned the abrupt end of a Hungarian-Jewish symbiosis in 1918–19, which inaugurated a process of officially supported dissimilation and supposedly culminated in the Holocaust of Hungarian Jews. Deák called Rolf Fischer’s book a “well-documented study,” but he also had several critical remarks. He thought Fischer did not quite give an adequate impression of the phenomenal rise of Hungarian Jewry under the Dual Monarchy, and he noted that some of the crucial roots of a Hungarian revolt against capitalism, liberalism, and modernity lay in the period before 1914.73 Moreover, Deák saw Fischer’s work as unduly one-sided in some of its critical insights: he thought Fischer overemphasized the anti-Semitic thrust of right-wing counter-revolutionary violence in 1919 without illuminating the larger context. Deák also questioned what he saw as Fischer’s construction of a straight path leading from Horthy-era anti-Semitism starting in 1919 to the deportation and murder of Hungarian Jewry’s large majority in 1941–45.74

Hillel Kieval also argued that the narrative of Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn 1867–1939 revolved around the decisive turn when Hungary pivoted away from being an inclusive country, in which a “liberal national consensus” reigned, to one that committed itself to a “Christian-nationalist” course and threatened to exclude its Jews, irrespective of their levels of assimilation.75 As Kieval is primarily an expert on Jewish history in the Czech lands, it should perhaps come as no surprise that he commented on specifically Hungarian matters somewhat less elaborately than Deák. Nonetheless, he went on to offer more frontal criticisms of Fischer’s book, complaining about its lack of originality, even predictability, and rather narrow source base. Again in contrast to Deák, Kieval assessed the overall interpretation of the book as laudably balanced: he thought Fischer focused on the internal dynamics of Hungarian anti-Semitism while also emphasizing what he called “partial pressure” from Nazi Germany and the impetus deriving from the Nazi Anschluss of Austria and the Munich accords of 1938.76

Even so, the main impression one gains from the reception of Fischer’s Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn 1867–1939 is that, unlike the two monographs discussed above, this solid work of scholarship fell short of exerting a significant impact on wider discussions of its topic. Whereas the historiography of the Holocaust in Hungary and the Arrow Cross movement would be significantly poorer without Das letzte Kapitel and Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn (their debatable aspects notwithstanding), the interpretations of the history of Hungarian anti-Semitism are likely to have proceeded along rather similar lines without its most important German-language exploration to date.


In conclusion, our assessment of the contribution of German historiography to the study of the Holocaust in Hungary has to be rather mixed. On the one hand, for partly understandable reasons, this major chapter of the Europe-wide genocide has not emerged as an independent preoccupation among German historians. The Holocaust in Hungary and adjacent topics, such as the history of Hungarian anti-Semitism or the Arrow Cross, have only really been “discovered” in German historiography as a consequence of a larger temporal and geographical shift of focus which began around the mid-1980s. However, even today, there are no experts employed at German universities or research institutions whose primary research focus concerns the Holocaust in Hungary. Moreover, there has been only limited direct cooperation among researchers of the Holocaust in Germany and Hungary, and cross-fertilization among their scholarly works has also remained surprisingly modest.

On the other hand, for a historiography that lacks specialists and seems interested in the Holocaust in Hungary only as part of larger debates on the genesis of the Holocaust and questions of collaboration and cooperation in its implementation, German historiography has produced two path-breaking and rather widely received monographs. Margit Szöllösi-Janze’s Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn from 1989 can be considered one of the major works on the history of the Arrow Cross in any language. Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly’s towering Das letzte Kapitel from 2002 has exerted an even greater impact both internationally and within Hungary. Even if some of its specific arguments have been contested by leading local historians of the Holocaust, Gerlach and Aly’s book, published at the beginning of the twenty-first century, succeeded for the first time in making the case of Hungary a reference point in broader discussions on the Holocaust among German scholars.

Based on ongoing attempts to Europeanize the historiography of the Holocaust as well as current discussions regarding the latest phases of the war in 1944–45,77 one might reasonably expect growing interest in the Holocaust in Hungary. If so, a puzzling paradox of postwar German approaches to the Holocaust could finally be overcome: even though postwar German discussions have recurrently used the name Auschwitz as a metonym for the German-led destruction of European Jewry, German scholarship has not yet devoted earnest attention to the single largest group of victims of this most infamous camp complex, Jews from Hungary.


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Schlemmer, Thomas, and Hans Woller. “Politischer Deutungskampf und wissenschaftliche Deutungsmacht: Konjunkturen der Faschismusforschung.” In Der Faschismus in Europa: Wege der Forschung, edited by Thomas Schlemmer, and Hans Woller. Munich: Oldenbourg, 2014.

Stone, Dan. Histories of the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Streit, Christian. Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen. Munich: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1978.

Szikra, Dorottya. “Új ablak a magyar szociális ellátások történetére: Fajüldözés és szociálpolitika a legújabb kutatások alapján” [A new window on the history of Hungarian social provisions: Racial persecution and social politics on the basis of the newest research]. Esély, March 2006, 110–15.

Szöllösi-Janze, Margit. Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn: Historischer Kontext, Entwicklung und Herrschaft. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1989.

Teleki, Éva. Nyilas uralom Magyarországon [Arrow Cross rule in Hungary]. Budapest: Kossuth, 1974.

Tönsmeyer, Tatjana. Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei 1939–1945. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2003.

Ungváry, Krisztián. A Horthy-rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus Magyarországon [The Horthy System on the scales: Discrimination, social policy, and antisemitism in Hungary]. Pécs: Jelenkor, 2012.

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

Wildt, Michael. Generation des Unbedingten: Das Führungskorps des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes. Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2002.

Yablonka, Hanna. The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann. New York: Schocken, 2004.

Zarusky, Jürgen “Lag dem nationalsozialistischen Judenmord in Ungarn wirtschaftliches Kalkül zugrunde? Zum Buch von Christian Gerlach / Götz Aly: Das letzte Kapitel. Der Mord an den ungarischen Juden.” Forum für osteuropäische Ideen- und Zeitgeschichte 8 (2004): 1, 295–301.

Zimmermann, Susan. “Christian Gerlach-Götz Aly: Az utolsó fejezet. Az európai történelem része – egy úttörő könyv a magyar zsidó holokausztról” [Christian Gerlach-Götz Aly: The Last Chapter. A part of European history – A pathbreaking book on the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust]. Eszmélet 16 (2004): 69–71.



1 Regina Fritz’s more recent monograph Nach Krieg und Judenmord on Hungarian history politics related to the Holocaust constitutes another seminal German-language contribution which analyzes its topic in greater detail than any of its Hungarian-language counterparts. See Fritz, Nach Krieg und Judenmord. As this paper was originally conceived and written as part of a Yad Vashem project entitled Trauma and Rehabilitation, where a separate paper was meant to tackle the case of Austria, Regina Fritz’s book, which was written by an Austrian scholar not based in Germany, shall not be discussed below. (I have reviewed the book in Hungarian in Korall, 53, 212–15.)

2 Gerlach and Götz, Das letzte Kapitel. The book has appeared in Hungarian translation as Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly, Az utolsó fejezet – a magyar zsidók legyilkolása, trans. by Gábor Kerényi (Budapest: Noran, 2005). More on its reception below.

3 Szöllösi-Janze, Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung.

4 Fischer, Entwicklungsstufen. The history of anti-Semitism may have received monographic treatment in Hungary in the 1970s, but the focus was on its early manifestations in modern times. See Kubinszky, Politikai antiszemitizmus Magyarországon.

5 Tellingly, only one edited volume devoted to the topic has been published in German: Mihok, Ungarn und der Holocaust. Based on a conference held at the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung in October 2003, this rather brief volume included, with the expection of Wolfgang Benz’s “biographical notes” and editor Brigitte Mihok’s reflection on patterns of Hungarian remembrance, only scholars from outside Germany, most of them from Hungary. Beyond this volume, the German-language contributions of Franz Horváth on the Holoucast in Northern Transylvania merit mention. Revealingly, in important German-language volumes such as the pathbreaking Dimension des Völkermords, the chapter on Hungary was, exceptionally in the context of the volume, penned by László Varga, an author from the country in question. See Benz, Dimension des Völkermords. German historiography’s treatment of various Hungarian historical topics has been the subject of a valuable German-language collection by Márta Fata, Das Ungarnbild.

6 Zeitgeschichte was famously defined by Hans Rothfels, a major agent of the institutionalization of the field, as “the epoch of contemporaries and its scholarly study.” On Rothfels, see Eckel, Hans Rothfels. The officially anti-fascist communist state of East Germany may have heavily invested in acts of symbolic politics related to the Nazi past, including at major Nazi concentration camps within its territory such as Buchenwald, but it had not developed an internationally noted tradition of research into the history of the Holocaust and will therefore not be treated separately here.

7 The Institute, originally launched as the Deutsches Institut für Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Zeit (German Institute for the History of the National Socialist Time) in 1949, was renamed Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute of Contemporary History) in 1952. For a monograph focused on the activities of the institute in a critical manner, see Berg, Der Holocaust und die westdeutschen Historiker.

8 Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship.

9 Bajohr, “Elvont rendszerviták.”

10 On this, see Jockusch, Collect and Record!

11 Joseph Wulf, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, constituted a significant but only partial exception. As Klaus Kempter has shown in his detailed biography, Wulf could at times be rather visible and successful in the German public sphere, but he nevertheless remained on the margins of the German historical profession. Kempter, Joseph Wulf. On “Survivor Historians and the Holocaust” (with my contribution on Jenő Lévai), see the special issue (no. 1–2, 2015) of Holocaust Studies. A Journal of Culture and History edited by Boaz Cohen and Tom Lawson.

12 It is rather telling that within Germany, jurists had for decades been more actively engaged with the subject. On this, see Pohl, “A holokauszt, mint német és kelet-európai történelmi probléma.”

13 See Pendas, The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, and Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann.

14 As a major example, see Broszat et al., Anatomie des SS-Staates. The late 1970s also saw the release of a major monograph on the treatment of Soviet POWs: Streit, Keine Kameraden.

15 Rather characteristically, a major exception from the 1970s studying the Reinhardt murder facilities was based on documentation from German trials. See Rückerl, Nationalsozialistische. A first major German-language monograph on the Reinhard death camps was published no earlier than 2013. See Berger, Experten der Vernichtung.

16 The airing of the American series Holocaust on German television in 1979 brought the term Holocaust into widespread use in West Germany. The shock waves it sent indirectly also generated much new interest among researchers. For a transatlantic study on such matters, see Eder, Holocaust Angst.

17 Herbert, “Holocaust-Forschung in Deutschland,” 31–81.

18 Browning, Ordinary Men.

19 Innovative works on perpetrators include Herbert, Best. Biographische Studien and Wildt, Generation des Unbedingten.

20 See, for example, Löw, Juden im Getto, and Meyer, Tödliche Gratwanderung.

21 German historical studies of the Holocaust tend to be intimately connected to and are typically embedded in the study of Nazi Germany and World War II, even though several recent institutional changes, notably the creation of a department for Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich and the establishment of the first chair for Holocaust Studies in Frankfurt a.M., have pointed toward the emergence of a largely independent field. This, however, has not made Germany entirely comparable to the United States or Israel, where rather large and separate institutions and programs in Holocaust Studies have emerged, and have done so significantly earlier.

22 Such institutions include university departments, research centers, and memorial sites (Gedenkstätte). I ought to add that this decentralization does not mean that the level of institutionalization would be unsatisfactory. See Gerlach, “A tömeges erőszak nemcsak politikatörténet.”

23 See the discussion of this trend in Stone, Histories of the Holocaust.

24 To mention only some of the most important publications: Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde; Tönsmeyer, Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei; Dieckmann, Deutsche Besatzungspolitik; Korb, Im Schatten des Weltkriegs. In more recent years, the case of Romania has been the subject of several important works: Heinen, Rumänien, der Holocaust; Geissbühler, Blutiger Juli; Glass, Deutschland und die Verfolgung. Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly’s Das letzte Kapitel can be usefully placed alongside these works.

25 For a major recent effort to compare beyond the totalitarian model, see Geyer and Fitzpatrick, Beyond Totalitarianism.

26 Such a transnational turn has been proposed in Patel, “In Search of a Second Historicization.” Comparative fascism studies have also been pursued outside Germany more than within. This was partly due to the rather prevalent thesis on the uniqueness and incomparability of the National Socialist regime and its crimes. On comparative studies, see Iordachi, Comparative Fascist Studies.

27 See Pohl, “A holokauszt mint német és kelet-európai történelmi probléma.”

28 For an elaboration of this point, see my article, “The Radicalization of Hungarian anti-Semitism.”

29 This statement applies to Slovakia and Croatia as well, two countries that have often been conceived as mere “puppet states.” See especially Tönsmeyer, Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei, and Korb, Im Schatten des Weltkriegs.

30 See, perhaps most characteristically, the recent monograph by Case, Between States which is admittedly not a German work of scholarship but reflects transnational approaches.

31 See chapter two of Kádár et al., The Holocaust in Hungary in particular.

32 By this time, Auschwitz-Birkenau had emerged not only as the main center of the Nazi concentration camp system but also as the main annihilation camp and central stage of the Holocaust. Now see Wachsmann, KL. A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps.

33 See, among many other works, Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution. See also Gerlach, “The Wannsee Conference.”

34 See Kershaw, The End. Hitler’s Germany. On the concentration camps in the last year of the war and thus with special relevance to the scholarly study of the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, now see Hördler, Ordnung und Inferno. On the death marches (which were closely connected to the deportations from Hungary), see Blatman, The Death Marches.

35 See Braham, The Politics of Genocide.

36 The years later saw the release of Kádár et al., The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide.

37 Cole, “Prologue.”

38 Ibid., 3.

39 See Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies; Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde; Gerlach, Krieg, Ernährung, Völkermord; Aly and Heim, Vordenker der Vernichtung; Aly, “Endlösung”; Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat; Aly, Die Belasteten; Aly, Europa gegen die Juden. Alongside Aly’s coauthored book on the case of Hungary, another three of Götz Aly’s books have also been translated into Hungarian.

40 See, in particular, Aly and Heim, Vordenker der Vernichtung, Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde.

41 Petersen, “Rezension von: Christian Gerlach / Götz Aly: Das letzte Kapitel.”

42 Gerlach and Aly, Az utolsó fejezet.

43 By the latter, see especially Ungváry, A Horthy-rendszer mérlege, which significantly draws on Götz Aly’s pathbreaking explorations.

44 Szikra, “Új ablak a magyar szociális ellátások történetére,” 110; Kádár and Vági, Hullarablás.

45 More specifically, Szikra recommended the study of the two sides of social redistribution (the “contributors” and the “recipients”), with particular attention to “racial” distinctions.

46 Ibid., 113.

47 Kádár and Vági, “‘Racionális’ népirtás Magyarországon.”

48 As they explained, the Hungarian government may have declared principles of redistribution, but it proved unable to develop comprehensive legal framework in 1944.

49 In other words, they claimed that the state-led campaign of robbing the dead had been executed much more efficiently than that of redistributing wealth.

50 Karsai, “A holokauszt utolsó fejezete.”

51 Rather characteristically for Karsai’s “rejectionist” take on the book, a section of his elaborate critique was entitled “A List of Mistakes.” The pages that followed were meant to demonstrate Karsai’s profound knowledge of key primary sources, sources he claimed Gerlach and Aly often misread.

52 It is worth noting that Kádár and Vági have released a volume on the stages of Hungarian-German interactive decision making in the spring of 1944 since. See Kádár and Vági, A végső döntés.

53 His line of reasoning was that the deported masses were simply too large, the time period too short, and the property left behind too enticing for thieves on the lower levels of power hierarchies, so the Hungarian state could not succeed in acquiring and putting to new use the otherwise notable wealth that the Holocaust might have generated.

54 Golczewski, “Das letzte Kapitel.”

55 Ibid.

56 Sandkühler, “Arbeitsteiliger Massenmord.”

57 Zarusky, “Lag dem nationalsozialistischen Judenmord.”

58 The only scholar with expertise in Hungarian history to have reviewed the book in German is Árpád von Klimó. However, Klimó is not a Holocaust researcher either. See von KIimó, “Der ungarische Judenmord.”

59 Fritz, “Zwischen Dokumentieren,” 30. As a significant exception, Regina Fritz could refer to Zoltán András Kovács’s study of the Interior Ministry of the Szálasi government. Kovács, A Szálasi-kormány belügyminisztériuma. Important Hungarian scholarship on fascism from earlier decades include works by Miklós Lackó and Mária Ormos. See Lackó, Nyilasok, nemzetiszocialisták, Ormos, Nácizmus – fasizmus. The prolific Ormos also published biographies of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

60 Paksa, Magyar nemzetiszocialisták, Paksy, Nyilas mozgalom Magyarországon. There are now also two Hungarian-language biographies of Ferenc Szálasi, one by Paksa and one by Karsai.

61 For Teleki’s earlier work in Hungarian, see Teleki, Nyilas uralom Magyarországon.

62 The years 1935 to 1944 receive slightly more attention than the months of Arrow Cross rule in late 1944 and early 1945 (180 as opposed to 150 pages).

63 See Schlemmer and Woller, “Politischer Deutungskampf,” 11. Die Pfeilkreuzlerbewegung in Ungarn could thus be seen as the Hungarian counterpart to Armin Heinen’s Die Legion “Erzengel Michael” in Rumänien. Soziale Bewegung und politische Organisation. Ein Beitrag zum Problem des internationalen Faschismus, a near contemporaneous German-language monograph on the Iron Guard. See Heinen, Die Legion.

64 See Schlemmer and Woller, “Politischer Deutungskampf,” 11.

65 Fischer, “Margit Szöllösi-Janze.”

66 Borbándi, “Margit Szöllösi-Janze.”

67 More specifically, Borbándi was unsatisfied with the categorization of certain Hungarian political forces, maintaining that Szöllösi-Janze’s characterization of Gömbös’ attempt as “fascism from above” was unconvincing. Indeed, this label struck him as a contradiction in terms.

68 Nagy-Talavera, “Margit Szöllösi-Janze,” 456–57.

69 Evans, “Margit Szöllösi-Janze,” 260–61.

70 See Carsten, “Margit Szöllösi-Janze,” 363–64. It might be worth adding that, despite such reservations from abroad regarding her award-winning dissertation and unlike Christian Gerlach (who has been appointed to a tenured position at the University of Bern in Switzerland) and Götz Aly (who has established himself as an extraordinarily successful independent historian in Germany), Margit Szöllösi-Janze, who has subsequently specialized in the history of science, became a professor first in Salzburg and then also in Germany, in Cologne and more recently in Munich. Her dissertation on the Arrow Cross may not have been a decisive reason behind these appointments, but it clearly has not constituted a hindrance either.

71 Herbert, “Holocaust-Forschung.”

72 Deák, “Rolf Fischer,” 712–13.

73 Ibid., 712.

74 Ibid., 713.

75 Kieval, “Rolf Fischer,” 1236–37.

76 Ibid., 1237.

77 See, for instance, Kershaw, The End; Hördler, Ordnung und Inferno; Blatman, The Death Marches.


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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Alison, Miranda, Debra Bergoffen, Pascale Bos, Louise du Toit, Regina Mühlhäuser, and Gaby Zipfel. “ ‘My plight is not unique’: Sexual violence in conflict zones: a roundtable discussion.” Eurozine, 2009, 1–18. http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2009-09-02-zipfel-en.html

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.

Baer, Elizabeth R., and Myrna Goldenberg. Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

Barna, Ildikó, and Andrea Pető. Political Justice in Budapest after World War II. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015.

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.

Beck, Birgit. “Rape: The Military Trials of Sexual Crimes Committed by Soldiers in the Wehrmacht, 1939–1944.” In Home/Front: the Military, War and Gender in Twentieth Century Germany, edited by Karen Hagemann, and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, 255–74. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2002.

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.

Caplan, Jane. “Gender and Concentration Camps.” In Concentration Camps in Nazi German: The New Histories, edited by Jane Caplan, and Nikolaus Wachsmann, 82–107. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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.

Goldenberg, Myrna. “Review: ‘From a World Beyond’: Women in the Holocaust.” Feminist Studies 22, no. 3 (Autumn 1996): 667–87. doi:10.2307/3178144

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

Grzebalska, Weronika. “Between gender blindness and nationalist herstory: The history of Polish women in WWII as the site of an anti-modernist revolution.” Baltic Worlds 4 (2017): 71–82.

Hájková, Anna. “The Holocaust is Having a #Metoo Moment.” Tablet (October 8, 2019). Accessed December 30, 2019. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/292226/holocaust-metoo-moment.

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.

Kovács, András. “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism.” In Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Vol. 19, Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilage, edited by Ezra Mendelssohn, 124–57. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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.

Laczó, Ferenc. “Introduction” to Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary. Canada: The Azrieli Foundation Press, 2019.

Lorentzen, Lois, and Jennifer Turpin. The Women and War Reader. New York: NYU Press, 1998.

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.

Novák, Attila. Átmenetben. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2000.

Ouzan, Francoise S. How Young Holocaust Survivors Rebuilt Their Lives: France, The United States, and Israel. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Pető, Andrea. Elmondani az elmondhatatlant: A nemi erőszak Magyarországon a II. világháború alatt. Budapest: Jaffa Kiadó, 2018.

Pető, Andrea, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska. “Introduction” to Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

Pető, Andrea. “The Future of Women’s History: Writing Women’s History in Eastern Europe: Towards a ‘Terra Cognita’?” Journal of Women’s History 16, no. 4 (2004): 173–81. doi:10.1353/jowh.2004.0087.

Pollin-Galay, Hannah. Ecologies of Witnessing: Language, Place, and Holocaust Testimony. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.

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.

“Reproductive health.” World Health Organization. Accessed September 11, 2020 https://www.who.int/westernpacific/health-topics/reproductive-health.

Ringelheim, Joan. “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research.” Signs 10, no. 4 (Summer 1985): 741–61.

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.

Stone, Dan. The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

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.


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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.”