[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] COUNT JANOS ESTERHAZY



The Origins of Count Janos Esterhazy and

the Beginnings of His Political Career

Much of this Part will be focused on Janos Esterhazy, it is in order therefore to begin with a discussion of his origins and his first appearance in public life.

Janos Esterhazy was the scion of one of the most prominent Hungarian families, the Esterhazys of Galanta, which has produced many outstanding men of nationwide, indeed, Europe-wide fame.

It is not the purpose of this study to look at the history of the entire family. It would require a separate volume to examine all branches of the Esterhazy family. Still, to obtain a clear image of the character and persona of Janos Esterhazy, it is necessary to have at least a sketchy look at the origins of the family before we take a closer look at its Csesznek branch where he came from.

The Esterhazy family traces its origins to Mokud (Mocud), a military hero of the Salamon clan, who was also a landowner in the Csallokoz region of Western Hungary, and a Pristaldus, a judicial functionary in the court of King Bela III (1148-1196).

Ancient records show that in 1239 the family owned an estate at Alsohidja in the Csallokoz, in 1242 at Vatta and Salamonfalva, and in 1248 at Salamon.

The name Esterhazy was first used by Benedek Esterhazy. He also assumed the title of Galanta after the dowry of his wife, Ilona Bessenyei. His son, Ferenc, married Ilona Illeshazy and was elected chief executive of Pozsony County in 1580. The highly respected and wealthy Ferenc Esterhazy saw to it that his four sons received the best education. Daniel established the Csesznek branch of the family, Pal became the founder of the Zolyom branch and Miklos of the Frakno branch.


Count Pal Esterhazy (1635-1712) of the Frakno branch was elevated by Austrian Emperor Leopold I to be a Prince of the Empire on December 7, 1687, when Leopold's son, Joseph I, was crowned King of Hungary in Pozsony (Bratislava). The title was passed on from generation to generation to the first-born son. Then, on July 11, 1783, King Joseph II extended it to all male and female descendants of Prince Miklos-Jozsef Esterhazy.

Ferenc (1641-1683), the youngest son of Count Pal who was named the first Prince Esterhazy, founded the Frakno branch of the Count Esterhazys. Following the death in 1758 of Chief Treasurer Ferenc Esterhazy, his branch of the family split into two, headed by his sons, Ferenc and Miklos (171121785), the latter a Custodian of St.Stephen's Crown and Minister to St.Petersburg, and the one who started the Cseklesz branch of the family.

The Csesznek branch split once again with the two sons ofJanos and his wife Erzsebet Berenyi. The older branch was headed by General lmre Esterhazy, the younger, or Transylvanian branch, by Daniel Esterhazy.

The title Csesznek came from the fortress Csesznek in the Bakony Mountains which was given with the surrounding estate to Daniel Esterhazy by Austrian Emperor Ferdinand II in 1636. The fortress was built by the Csak family and then came into the possession of the Garay family. During the Turkish occupation of Hungary it occupied a key strategic position in the Bakony Mountains. The Turkish pashas of Simontornya and Buda kept taking turns plundering Csesznek and the surrounding estates.

Field Marshal Mihaly Esterhazy (1640-1686) died a martyr's death at the siege of Buda. Previously, he fought in the battle of Szentgotthard and the siege of Zerinvar fortress. In the battle of Vezekeny, on August 16, 1652, seven members of the Esterhazy family lost their lives, including Gaspar, son a Daniel Esterhazy of the Csesznek branch.

General Janos Esterhazy of Gyor and his son were captains-in-chief of Csesznek for life. A contemporary record refers to Csesznek as a kuruc *159 garrison. Later on, the fortress fell into labanc hands.

Mihaly Esterhazy's son, Daniel, followed his father's footsteps and chose a military career. In 1691 he became a Colonel and in 1703 he joined the kuruc army of Ferenc Rakoczi. In 1704, he shared with Sandor Karolyi the command of the Transdanubian Army under very difficult circumstances. He reported on April 4 that, having been


betrayed by Istvan Torok and Istvan Fekete, his cavalry suffered a severe defeat, with some of his troops forced into a swamp. General Bercsenyi reported that Esterhazy had fought very bravely against the overwhelming imperial forces until he was captured and imprisoned in Sopron.

Mihaly Esterhazy (born in 1783), son of Janos Esterhazy, Governor of Veszprem County and Agnes Banffy -- who became great-grandfather of Janos Esterhazy, chairman of the Hungarian Party in Slovakia -- was a devoted follower of Lajos Kossuth, leader of the 1848-1849 Hungarian War of Independence against Hapsburg rule. Mihaly Esterhazy became a member of the Revolutionary Committee in 1848 and was subsequently imprisoned for five years by the Hapsburgs.

Istvan Esterhazy, grandfather of Janos Esterhazy, served as a Captain of the Hussars in the Hungarian revolutionary Honved army in 1848-1849. He, too, became a prisoner of the Hapsburgs, but following the restoration of the Hungarian Constitution, Istvan Esterhazy was named Governor of the city and county of Pozsony. He was a military hero and a great patriot ready for any sacrifice who had inherited his father's loyalty to the Hungarian nation. In the Honved army he served as aide-de-camp to commander-in-chief Arthur Gorgey, always fearless in the thickest of every battle.

It became Istvan Esterhazy's sad duty, along with Count Gergely Bethlen and Captain of the Hussars, Count Kalman Schmideg, to deliver Gorgey's message of surrender to Count Rudiger, commander-in-chief of the Russian Imperial Army which had come to the rescue of the Hapsburg forces as they were about to be defeated by the Hungarians.

Following the surrender came a period of persecution and humiliation. Istvan Esterhazy was forced to serve as a private in the Hapsburg imperial army. Ultimately, he married Baroness Gizella Jeszenak, daughter of Janos Jeszenak, a martyr of the War of Independence, whose wife was well-known for her charity work. Baron Janos Jesrenak, born in 1800 in Pozsony, was Governor of Nyitra County. Following the defeat of the War of Independence, he was imprisoned in the fortress Kufstein. On October 10, 1849, the Austrian General Haynau had him shot to death.

Istvan Esterhazy had two sons. Janos, born in 1864, who was to become the father of Janos Esterhazy, chose a military career. As Captain of the Hussars, he became aide-de-camp to Archduke Otto. He married Erzsebet Tarnowski, daughter of Count Sanislo Tarnowski, Ph.D.,


a privy councilor and president of the Krakow Academy of Science. The patriotic officer bequeathed loyalty to the Hungarian nation to his children. He died in 1905 in Nyitraujlak.

Gyula, the second son of Istvan Esterhazy, was born in 1868. He fought in several World War One battles in Bukovina. He died in 1918 of injuries suffered in the battle of Dobronoutz.

Captain Janos Esterhazy had three children. Lujza, born in 1899, was to play a very active role in helping to maintain Hungarian national consciousness in Slovakia. His only son, Janos Esterhazy, was born in 1901 and a second daughter, Maria Zsofia, in 1904.

Count Janos Esterhazy was born on March 19, 1901 in Nyitraujlak. He married Livia Serenyi who died on October 5, 1961 in Budapest. Their children, Janos and Alice, live with their families in Australia and Italy, respectively. *160

Janos Esterhazy lost his father very early, at age four. He recalled in a speech that he had been summoned to the deathbed of his father's whose final words to the young boy were, "Always be a faithful Hungarian!" "I could not have understood my father's parting words to me, had it not been for my mother whom I wish to thank second only after God. She helped me understand my father's last utterances. Even though she was not a native Hungarian, she had become so deeply Hungarian that her every heartbeat belongs to the Hungarian cause." *161

The parting words of his father left an indelible mark in Janos Esterhazy's heart. No wonder that he decided early in his youth that after completion of his studies he would enter politics in order to serve the Hungarian cause.

The period of 1918-1920 which had brought so much suffering to his nation left an impact beyond description on the young man. Overnight, his native land came under foreign rule. His grief over the loss of his homeland brought the 19-year-old young man into trouble with the Pozsony police. In December, 1919, he was arrested and locked up for eight hours for singing patriotic songs in the Baross Cafe.

Much of Esterhazy's Nyitra estates was taken away by the Czechoslovak land reform of 1926. He had to struggle very hard to retain what was left of the land because the retroactive taxation had brought him to the brink of financial ruin. He had to spend much of his time negotiating with finanacial institutions in Pozsony and Prague. That gave him an opportunity to become acquainted with the leaders of the Hungarian minority.


Esterhazy's activities on behalf of National Christian Socialist Party, along with his outstanding talents and his willingness to sacrifice, earned him the undivided gratitude of the party. As a result, on December 14, 1932, at the Otatrafured meeting of the national party leaders, he was elected to the chairmanship.

The young man, not yet 31, enjoyed great popularity in all circles. He even earned the sympathy of the Slovak Peoples Party because he supported that party's efforts to gain Slovakia autonomy. He often told his Slovak friends about King St.Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state. Esterhazy told them that it was St.Stephen who 900 years ago introduced the concept of administrative pluralism among various groups speaking different languages. He said repeatedly that the Hungarian government was prepared, on the same basis, to grant the Slovaks territorial autonomy.



From the Period of 1918-1920 to March 1939

Hungarian Views on the Peace Treaty of Trianon

Before going into greater detail about this highly significant event in the life of Janos Esterhazy, it is necessary to take a sketchy look at conditions in Hungary at the time. That will make it easier to understand the extraordinary driving force behind Esterhazy's unrelenting devotion to the Hungarian cause. In this Part, we will examine the events and problems from the Hungarian perspective.

We noted in Part One that there are sharp differences between the Czechoslovak and Hungarian views with regard to the Peace Treaty of Trianon. Czechoslovakia has approved the decisions of the peace treaty and found them just and fair. The political line espoused by Benes who had been a kind of godfather to the Treaty of Trianon has been to resist by tooth and nail even the most modest revision of the treaty.

The Hungarian view, on the other hand, has been that the peace treaty was, in fact, a peace dictate, with the victors dictating to the vanquished without even permitting them to be present at the peace negotiations. This, notwithstanding the fact that in a June 7, 1919 note to the Hungarian Revolutionary Governing Council, the participants at the peace conference declared: "It is the intent of the Allied Powers to invite representatives of the Hungarian Government to appear before the peace conference so that they may be informed of the principles regarding the just borders of Hungary." *162

This invitation turned out to be just a tactical maneuver because, despite the promises to the contrary, this crucial question of Hungary's borders was settled without a hearing given to Hungary's representatives, but with the full partipation of Czechoslovakia.


The peace dictate of Trianon completely ignored the right of self-determination, totally distorting historic and demographic facts and without asking the people involved, indeed, contrary to their wishes, transferred 1,070,772 Hungarians to the newly created Czechoslovakia. It is little wonder then that the Hungarian people in their entirety, regardless of age, gender, religion, social status or political standing, unanimously condemned this unfairly created and unjust peace dictate. This is how the world-famous Hungarian author Gyula lllyes, who has never been regarded a political "rightist," summed it all up: "More than three million Hungarians have been detached from Hungary without asking about their desires; that is, without a plebiscite, by a dictate and not by a lawful peace treaty. *163

Even more bitterness was generated by reports leaked from the peace negotiations to the effect that Benes was permitted to present his demands before the "Council of Ten" without any objection. It had not occurred to anyone that the task was not to increase controversy and tension but to find a long range solution for the future. Even if such a solution would not have been the answer to every single problem, it would have created a more conciliatory atmosphere between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. As we have noted earlier, this could have been accomplished easily by the great powers because they had possessed the ability to exert pressure. Unfortunately, pressure was applied only on the vanquished. This total lack of political foresight was to pave the way for the nations of the region into adventures with dire and long-lasting consequences.

It also came to light that Benes had demanded a corridor between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. This question also came up during the Prague talks between President Masaryk and British General I. C. Smuts. The Yugoslavs themselves were rather cool to this idea. Smuts himseff was opposed to it. Moreover, he condemned the Czech demands for territories inhabited by Hungarians. Masaryk, at that time, was prepared to revise the Czech position regarding the Csallokoz region with its Hungarian population. On other occasions, too, he had repeatedly hinted at the possibility of revising the border between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But all suggestions of revision were opposed by the Czechs, especially by Benes.*164

Thus, the excessive demands against Hungary were apparently instigated by Benes ignoring the principles advocated by the more humanistic Masaryk. It was Benes who wanted to deport the national minorities in order to transform Czechoslovakia into a Slavic national state, instead of working for reconciliation in Central Europe.


According to the Hungarian view, the very fact that the new Czechoslovakia included both the Slovaks and the Sudeten Germans was an internal contradiction. As political scientist Istvan Bibo wrote:

"The historical and geographical factors that have been invoked to claim that the Germans living within the cradle of the Carpathian mountains continue to belong to historic Bohemia, could have been invoked with just as much justification by the Hungarians to claim that the Slovak people living within the cradle of the Carpathian mountains should remain within the framework of historic Hungary. The Czechs who should have chosen between historic Bohemia or a Slavic state of Czechoslovakia wanted to have both. As a result, both the Sudeten Germans and the Slovaks became hostile or indifferent toward a political union with the Czech people."

Bibo, one of the greatest thinkers with the best-honed mind in recent Hungarian history, had this to say of the critical events of Munich: "In Munich, the Czechs had to experience all at once not only the geopolitical consequences of the Munich Pact but, more importantly, the hatred of the Sudeten Germans, the malicious glee of the Hungarians and the Poles and, what may have been the hardest to take, the indifference of the Slovaks." *165

Instead of working for reconciliation, the policies of Benes were aimed from the beginning at the creation of an alliance which would include only the victorious successor states of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This alliance was intended to take the place of the Monarchy and, at the same time, completely isolate Hungary.

In those early postwar years, neither Germany nor Italy would have been an obstacle to the evolution of more natural links among the Danubian states. But that was not the goal of Benes' policies. On the contrary, he tried to crush any Western initiative to promote integration in the Danubian Basin.

Of the various proposals that had been advanced, perhaps the Millerand-Paleologue plan would have been the most important as far as Hungary was concerned. The plan would have brought Hungary under French influence, giving her a key economic position in the Danubian Basin. The plan's provisions included protection of the national minorities, as well as certain revisions of the borders established by the Treaty of Trianon.


French Plans for the Danubian Basin:

Economic Union Followed by Confederation

After French Premier Clemenceau's death in January 1920, Millerand, wbo became his successor, and Secretary General Paleologue suddenly realized that the policies of Benes were in conflict with the interests of France. By dividing the Danubian Basin between victors and vanquished and perpetuating this situation with a political and military alliance, sooner or later the vanquished nations would be inevitably pushed into the orbit of Germany. Recognition of this danger led to the development of the concept that instead of replacing the former Monarchy with an alliance of the victorious small powers, an economic union should be established under French influence. Ultimately, this union would evolve into a political confederation. As envisioned by the French politicians, this plan would have been centered on Hungary.

There were secret talks held between Hungary and France in early 1920 and, as we have noted earlier, in addition to the question of economic aid, there were indications that the Trianon borders might be revised.*166 However, news of these confidential talks was leaked prematurely by the supporters of Benes and the talks were broken off. Subsequently, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia signed a treaty of alliance in August 1920.

Following the fall of Paleologue, the French government began to support the policies of Benes once again. The attempt by King Charles IV to return to Hungary prompted Rumania to join the Czechoslovak-Yugoslav alliance. Thus, with French support, the Little Entente came into being.

As a result of Benes' politics, the nations of the Danubian Basin had lost all the opportunities which would have made rapprochement possible in the 1920s. Later, in the 1930s, the strengthening of the Axis Powers diminished these opportunities because they no longer had unrestriced freedom of action.


The member nations of the Little Entente became willing to alter their exclusionary policies only after they realized the bankruptcy of the foundations of those policies by the mid-1930s. The security system built solely on the the Little Entente and Western Powers collapsed like a house of cards when the first crisis arose.

By that time the Little Entente was willing the negotiate with Hungary. However, it was too late. Central Europe had come under the control of the Axis Powers and nothing could be accomplished without their approval. Consequently, the Bled agreement which was signed after 18 months of negotiations between Hungary and the Little Entente, could no longer enter into force.


Some Revisionist Notions of Masaryk and Benes

While discussing the possibility of revising the borders established by the Treaty of Trianon we have mentioned the Millerand-Paleologue plan in early 1920, regarding a French scheme for revision. Similarly, we have referred several statements by Masaryk in this regard. We should also note the negotiations in Bruck and Marienbad in 1921, where certain revisionist notions were also put forward, surprisingly, by Benes.

As a result of talks between members of the Czechoslovak government and Count Szapary, unofficial representative of the Hungarian government, Castle Harrach, near Bruck, was chosen as the site for negotiations between the two governments. According to Hungarian notes taken during the negotiations on March 14-15, 1921, both parties were considering alternate solutions before the ratification of the Treaty of Trianon. This could account for Benes' proposal that in exchange for the establishment of autonomous linguistic enclaves in Hungary, Czechoslovakia would be willing to transfer certain territories with a Hungarian population in order to establish a numerical parity between the two national minorities. (Benes' proposal was based on the presence of 300,000 Slovaks in Hungary and 521,000 Hungarians in Czechoslovakia.) *167

The Bruck meeting appointed four task forces. The work of the four task forces was evaluated on June 23-24 in Marienbad. The task forces were scheduled to meet again in early October, thus nothing was done until the Brno meeting between Hungarian Foreign Minister Banffy and Benes. The matter of settling the question of national minorities came to a standstill in the fall of 1921. The draft treaties prepared up to that time by both parties were focussed largely on education issues.

The Czechoslovak willingness to return certain territories inhabited by Hungarians, as proposed by Benes in Bruck and mentioned repeatedly by Masaryk, was brought up only by the Hungarians


at the commercial and trade negotiations about the implementation of the Treaty of Trianon.*168

It is clear from the foregoing that both Masaryk and Benes did not seem to be opposed, at least in principle, to a certain revision of the borders, on several occasions they suggested it themselves. Still, it appears that they used these initiatives as negotiating tools toward the accomplishment of some of their goals.

Seen from the Hungarian point of view, the mere fact that the main instigators of the Treaty of Trianon, Masaryk and Benes were not always in opposition to revision, at least in principle, is very significant because it demolishes the frequently stated opinion that the very mention of revision is a criminal offense against the inviolability of the supposedly sacrosanct borders. *169 The Hungarians spoke only of peaceful revision.

As far as the Hungarians living in Slovakia were concerned, protection of their minority rights was their second most important concern, next to the peaceful revision, based on mutual agreement, of the border which, in their opinion, had been drawn unjustly.


Protection of Minority Rights

and Their Systematic Violation

The treaty to regulate the rights of national minorities in Czechoslovakia was signed by Czechoslovakia and the Entente Powers on September 10, 1919, in saint-Germain-en-Laye. More than three million Germans represented the largest group of these minorities, followed by the Hungarians of Slovakia and the Subearphatian Ruthenia, whose number was set by the 1910 census at more than a million. 272,000 Slovaks remained in post-Trianon Hungary but the 1920 census counted only 142,000.

According to the Czechoslovak Memorandum Number 5 which had been submitted to the Paris Peace Conference, 860,000 Hungarians lived in the territories claimed by Czechoslovakia, while it estimated the number of Slovaks south of the proposed border at 630,000. *170

The main significance of these statistics is that Benes and his followers justified the transfer of contiguous territories inhabited by Hungarians to Czechoslovakia mainly by claiming that the size of each other's national minorities would be about the same. In reality, as the figures just cited show, this was not true. This misleading interpretation of population statistics has been one of the consistent cornerstones of Benes' policies. It was not difficult to mislead the great powers which were not familiar with the situation and refused to permit knowledgeable Hungarian experts to present the true facts.

One of the weakest elements of the system established to protect the rights of national minorities was the privilege granted Czechoslovakia to review grievances submitted by the minorities to the Council of the League of Nations and forward the complaints with its own comments attached to them. This procedure provided Czechoslovakia with a measure of judicial authority because it was able to declare the grievances unfounded. In fact, this is what happened.*171


The treaty signed on September 10, 1919, obligated Czechoslovakia not to enact laws in violation of the rights of national minorities guaranteed by that treaty. The treaty guaranteed these rights "for every inhabitant of the country." However, the Peace Treaty of Trianon made the exercise of such rights in some cases contingent on citizenship which could be granted only by the assent of the republic. That resulted in a significant reduction of the number of inhabitants entitled to their minority rights. Moreover this system gave the government significant discretionary rights. This discrimination extended to several aspects of national minority rights.

The discriminatory nature of these measures was not only seen but also felt by the Hungarians of Slovakia. They were being deprived of their rights virtually from the moment the new Czechoslovak state came into being. Large masses of Hungarians were made stateless by Decree No.4397/1919, dated August 2, 1919. Initially, some 26,000 were affected but by 1930, this number rose to more than 90,000 in Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia.*172 Very large numbers of people lost their jobs, including the civil servants who also lost their pension rights. There was nothing else left but to leave Slovakia and flee to Hungary.*173 Some 101,907 Hungarians were expelled between 1918-1921, although this number is believed by many to have been much higher.

The authorities suspended the autonomous governing authorities that had been previously established; dissolving the district, county and municipal legislative bodies. They were replaced by commissaries and unelected legislative councils, appointed from among members of the governing coalition parties.

The same situation prevailed in the churches. The estates of the Catholic Church were placed under government control, the autonomy of the Protestant churches was restricted and government functionaries were put in charge.

The same fate was shared by the chambers of commerce, trade associations and bar associations.

A 1922 decree reduced the self-governing cities and towns to the rank of a large village. Since many Hungarians were city dwellers, they were the most affected by this measure.

The establishment of parliamentary electoral districts was also guided by a definite anti-Hungarian bias. A Hungarian candidate needed 40 percent more votes to be elected than candidates in the Slovak districts.


The Hungarians were hurt particularly grievously in the field of education. Hungarian lectures were immediately halted at the University of Pozsony (Bratislava). The Prague government consistently neglected the Hungarian schools but, at the same time, countless Slovak schools were established through the Slovenska Liga.

In 1921-1922 there were 727 Hungarian language elementary schools in Slovakia, with 101,268 students. Total Hungarian attendance in elementary schools was something over 120,000 at the time. That means that some 20,000 Hungarian children were enrolled in Slovak elementary schools. The Slovenska Liga made a conscious effort to turn the Hungarian children into Slovaks.

Slovak schools were established in villages with a vast Hungarian majority. In Eberhard, for example, whose population in 1921 consisted of 891 Hungarians and 14 Czechoslovaks, two years later a Slovak school was opened. In Machaza, with 159 Hungarian and 10 Czechoslovak inhabitants, Slovak was introduced as the school language. And so on.*174

Based on its numerical ratio, the Hungarian minority in Slovakia would have been entitled to 87 junior high schools, but they had only 11. The number of students in the Czech and Slovak language junior and senior high schools was more than 50 times greater than the student body of the Hungarian language schools of the same kind, even though, according to the 1921 Czechoslovak census, the Czechoslovak population was nine times larger than the Hungarian.

Three important senior high schools (gymnasium) were closed after 1918 in Leva, Rozsnyo and Ungvar, towns with a largely Hungarian population. In 1931, of the republic's 274 senior high schools only eight -- 2.9 percent -- were Hungarian even though the Hungarians were entitled to 14 such schools. The number of teachers of Hungarian nationality decreased by 600 in a nine year period.

Law Number 122, passed on February 29, 1920, regulated the right of language usage. This law was wide open to abuse through the skillful manipulation of the so-called 20 percent ratio. The language act decreed that in those counties and municipalities where the minority population is at least 20 percent, members of the national minorities may use their native tongue, both in writing and orally, when dealing with the courts and governinent agencies. But the authorities did all they could to keep the ratio under 20 percent by various pressure tactics. resettlement, or through the rearrangement of county and municipal boundaries.


The 1919 law of land reform provided the framework for acts of lawlessness against the Hungarian and German minorities. Under the terms of this law, more than four million hectares of agricultural land, 29 percent of the total, were appropriated. Some 325,000 hectares of arable land were taken in the territories inhabited by Hungarians.

The colonization program led to the establishment of Czech, as well as Slovak, settlements in Hungarian regions. The harmful effect of this program was felt by the Slovak peasants, too. The settlements were established mainly in those parts of Slovakia which were inhabited by Hungarians, with the obvious goal of breaking up the contiguous Hungarian regions. That is why the largest Czech and Slovak settlements were established in the purely Hungarian Csallokoz and Tiszahat regions and a whole chain of settlements came into being from Ersekujvar through Ogyalla, all the way to the Danube River. In Csallokoz alone, 22 new villages were set up. The settlers had a military and police function, as well. And, with the help of the Slovenska Liga, new schools were built with the goal of depriving the Hungarian youth of their national identity.*175

Nothing demonstrates more the political purpose of the settlement policy than the fact that it was carried out largely in the Csallokoz region whose purely Hungarian character has been acknowledged by both Slovak and Czech scholars. Alois Sembera did so in 1876, Emil Stodola in 1919 and Anton Granatier in 1930. It is characteristic that while there were no Slovaks in the Csallokoz in 1880, the Slovak islands -- results of a carefully executed settlement program -- were clearly visible on the Czechoslovak ethnographical maps of 1930.

These anti-Hungarian measures were attacked even by the Hungarian-language Communist newspapers. For example, we can read in volume I, number 8 of the paper Ut: "Each of the settlements is wedged into national minority regions. In regions where 80-90 percent of the inhabitants is Hungarian, we can find a total of 73 settlements, each the size of a village.*176 The so-called "remnant land" which had been appropriated but not distributed was given to persons loyal to the Czechoslovak state, thereby preventing Hungarian applicants from receiving land.

As a result of endless official measures the standard of living of the Hungarians continued to decline. Massive inflation made their money worthless. Inheritance taxes imposed a heavy burden on those who had inherited real estate. Railroad freight charges on goods from


the Highlands were set higher than in the western parts of the country. Farmers were forced to pay higher workers' insurance premiums because, unlike the Czech and Moravian farmers, they had to pay for accident insurance, as well. This had greatly increased the production costs of the Hungarian farmers.*177

The list is endless, we could continue forever. Still, this superhuman struggle fought by the Hungarians of Slovakia for their very survival, had a highly positive result: the burdens equally shared by all had brought them much closer together. The walls separating social classes had disappeared and there developed an exemplary solidarity among them. The unconditional acceptance of the common fate became the driving force of this new spirit. And this spirit manifested itself in all aspects of minority life.

In 1920, the Czechoslovak government called parliamentary elections. The Hungarians remaining in Slovakia immediately recognized the vital importance of participating in the elections so that they might give voice to their positions in Parliament.


The Formation of Hungarian Minority Parties

in Czechoslovakia

The intense Hungarian political activity led to the formation of two major parties. Both parties emerged from previously existing organizations.

The forerunner of the National Christian Socialist Party was founded by Sandor Giesswein in 1907. In the eastern parts of the country, Lajos Kormendy-Ekes, Barna Tost, Gyula Fleischmann and Geza Grosschmid were among its founders. In the west, the founders included Jeno Lelley, Janos Jablonitzky and Denes Bitto. At its first Congress, on March 23, 1920, Jeno Lelley was chosen the party's national chairman. Much emphasis was laid in the platform on Slovakia's autonomy. Later, in July 1920, the National Christian Socialist Party established its workers' organization.

The other major party was a successor to the National '48 Independent Farmer's Party,*178 founded by Istvan Nagyatadi Szabo. It was renamed National Hungarian Smallholders Party. The party had two centers. One was in Komarom, established on February 17, 1920, by Kalman Fussy and Janos Mohacsi. The center at Rimaszombat was permitted only after the parliamentary elections. Jozsef Szent-lvany and Jozsef Torkoly organized some 20,000 farmers in the Farmers' Association of Gomor-Nograd which had been banned for a short period. On Whitsunday, 1920, the Smallholders Party held its organizing Congress in Leva and elected Jozsef Szent-lvany its national chairman. The Smallholders Party opened its ranks to craftsmen and agricultural workers, as well.

In order to promote harmonious cooperation, the two parties established a joint Steering Committee and opened a Central Bureau. Their leaders were well prepared to fight for the destiny of their people and saw to it that the outside world be also kept informed of their problems. Their review on minority rights, Minorite Hongroise, published in Lugos, jointly with Hungarian minority leaders in


Transylvania, played a very important role in safeguarding Hungarian national interests. There was also a task force about the joint problems of the Highland and Transylvania. Its members, Geza Szullo, Elemer Jakabffy, Jozsef Szent-Ivany, Jozsef Wilier and Erno Flachbart, did similar yeoman's work.

As early as June 2, 1920, the Hungarian parties issued a Declaration which was read by Lajos Kormendy-Ekes in the Prague legislature. It stated the only reason the Hungarian parties had decided to participate in the parliament of the new republic: "This is how they believe they will be able to secure the opportunity to raise a resounding voice of protest against the unprecedented, severe international injustice and the systematic deprivation of basic rights inflicted on them." The Declaration stressed that the Hungarians of the Highlands were transferred to Czechoslovakia without anybody asking for their consent. And it concluded with this firm and dramatic statement: 'We will never, under any circumstances, give up our right to self-determination; we insist on this right and we demand this right."

On September 24, 1920, speaking in the budget debate, Jozsef Szent-Ivany, a newly elected member of the National Assembly, made this important declaration: 'The Hungarians of the Highland will never recognize the right of mutilated Hungary's rump National Assembly to ratify (the Treaty of Trianon) on its own. We have never consented to this peace treaty and we will never give up our right to shape our own destiny." In a speech in Leva, Szent-Ivany said, among others: "Our position is that the peace treaties proved to be the shame of humanity, treating us like a herd, throwing us at the mercy of foreign powers, granting us minority rights of a dubious value, effectively depriving us of our human rights."

The Allied Opposition Parties of the Highlands also attempted to remedy their grievances before an international forum. In 1923, they addressed a memorandum to the League of Nations, called "La Situation des minorites en Slovaquie et en Russie-Subcarpathique' Memoire a la Societe des Nations, 1923. But it was of no avail.*179

Count Janos Esterhazy emerged out of this group of tireless men who were well prepared and ready for any sacrifice. We have noted earlier that as young man he was active in the Hungarian Christian Socialist Party. His speech at the June, 1932 Congress on National Minorities in Vienna may have been the first major event where he became exposed to the international spotlight.


Esterhazy delivered highly effective speeches on November 18, at the Pozsony meeting of the Hungarian Association of the League of Nations and, on November 26, at the Parkany district meeting of his party. The Pragai Magyar Hirlap, the newspaper of the Hungarians in Slovakia, editorially hailed him as "someone in whom we proudly see every promise of the new generation of the Hungarian minority, his tough resilience against every trial of fate, readiness to work, wide European vision and unbending Hungarian courage."*180


 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] COUNT JANOS ESTERHAZY