Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hungarian History through Monuments

From 1997 to 1999 I served as a missionary in the Hungary-Budapest mission, and its people and their history is near and dear to my heart. So, when we visited Hungary this past May, I wanted to make sure to share the history with Jennifer and Craig. Hungarian history is beautifully told through the many monuments and statues that have been erected around Budapest.

So where did Hungarians come from? Are they related to the Huns? Are they Slavic? German? Well, Hungarians are actually Magyars, an ancient people who migrated to the Carpathian Basin (Hungary) around 896 A.D. This monument at Hősök Tér, or Hero Square to you non-Magyar speakers, was built in 1896 to celebrate the 1,000 year anniversary Hungary

Here at the base of the main column are the seven chieftains of the ancient Magyars, lead by the grand-daddy of all Hungarians, Árpád! Legend has it that they followed the mythical Turul bird, which dropped a sword where the Magyars were to settle down.

The seven chieftains are flanked by two colonnades with some notable Hungarian kings and statesmen. This is Szent István, or Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king. He is the grandson of Árpád, who converted to Catholicism and had the pope crown him. He then shared his new found religion with his subjects, who either joined or were killed. Szent István's success as a missionary impressed the pope so much that he was given the Apostolic Cross.

Skipping over a few kings, we come to King Béla IV. He is remembered for driving the invading Tartars out of the country. Being at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the Magyars weren't the only ones to invade Hungary. First came the Tartars, and later the Ottoman Turks, then the Nazis, and finally the Soviets. King Béla is known as the second founder of Hungary.

This is Nagy Lájos, who expanded Hungary's territory to its historical maximum, which included parts of Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Boznia-Herzogovina and even an attempt to take over Naples.

Next comes Hunyadi János, who won the Battle of Belgrade. He ruled in the 1400's, which were dark times for Europe. Constantinople had fallen to the Ottoman Turks, and they set their sights on taking over the mighty Hungarian kingdom. The Sultan Ottoman Mehmed the Conquerer rallied his forces and they lay siege against János and his forces in Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár in Hungarian). In a surprise move, János and his forces came out in open battle against Mehmed, wounding him and forcing the Turks to retreat. This decisive victory established peace along Hungary's southern border for a century and a half.

During the 1500's, the Turks came back, and eventually occupied Hungary for almost 150 years. In 1686, the Hungarians struck a deal with the Hapsburgs. In exchange for help in defeating the Turks, the Hungarians would give the crown to the Hapsburgs who ruled from Austria. This worked great - except that the Austrians used Hungary as a buffer zone against invaders and retained most power in Vienna. The Hungarians fought Austrian rule through a few civil wars. Kossuth Lájos, pictured above, was one of the leaders of a failed revolution. Eventually, the Hapsburgs relented, and Hungarians were granted control over the eastern half of the country, which created the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even though Kossuth Lájos failed to usurp the Hapsburgs, he is still revered for fighting the good fight. A bust of Kossuth Lájos is one of two non-Americans to be in the United States Capitol building today.

Next up in the list of invaders are the Germans. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the losing side of World War I, and lost about 2/3rds of its territory in the Treaty of Versailles. During the 1920's and 1930's, fascism began to take hold in Hungary, and the Hungarians joined the Axis powers and participated in the invasions of USSR and Yugoslavia with the Germans and Italians. However, they weren't loyal to the Germans, and secretly began negotiating an armistice agreement with the U.S. and the U.K., Upon discovering this, the Germans kidnapped the Hungarian leader's son, forcing him to abdicate and then a dictator backed by the Nazis took over. The headquarters of the Nazi secret police (and later the Soviet secret police) is pictured here.

The Nazis weren't around long enough to erect any monuments, but they did leave an impact. An estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during WWII. About 20,000 or so are buried here. When the Germans knew defeat was imminent, they went on a killing spree. They rounded up as many Jews as they could to this courtyard of the synagogue and opened fire.

Today, this weeping willow, in the form of an upside-down Menorah, stands as a memorial of the Hungarian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

After the Germans came the Soviets. They stuck around long enough for a few statues. This one shows a Hungarian worker welcoming a Soviet soldier.

At first, things in Hungary were pretty good under Soviet rule. Eventually, however, Stalin brought about many hardships, including confiscating land, shipping enemies off to prisons, and bankrupting the country. Huge military parades would march in front of statues of Stalin until Hungarians had enough, and in 1956, cut down Stalin at his boots.

Led by the reluctant Nagy Imre, Hungarians tried to negotiate more autonomy from Moscow. However, tensions escalated and finally broke when the Soviet-controlled police opened fire on protesters. The 1956 uprising lasted for 19 days, when, on November 10th, Soviet tanks rumbled into the streets of Budapest and crushed any resistance. Nagy Imre was killed in a prison camp, and buried face-down in an unmarked grave.

After 1956, the Iron Curtain fell and Hungary was isolated from Western European countries. 

Gradually, Hungary gained more autonomy and, in 1989, bid a final farewell to the occupying Soviet forces and Hungary became the modern country that it is today. Here we are, holding hands with one of the Americans who helped oust the Soviets, Ronald Reagan.

Check back soon for more blogging on Hungary!

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