Many people are aware of the stubborn but fatal resistance of the Hungarian ‘freedom fighters,’ against their Communist overlords, from October 23rd through November 20th, 1956, known as the ‘Hungarian Freedom Revolt’ which received international attention, a nation who sought for Western aid which never came, leaving them to throw stones at the tanks of their enemies, once their ammunition was depleted.
On this day, beginning on July 6th through the 9th, in the year 1552, Capt. Gyorgy Szondi, with only 146 men, held out against an opposing force of some 12,000 Ottoman Turks, at Castle Dregely, on a volcanic escarpment in Hungary. Some 30 fortresses would fall in Hungary during that one year alone, as the Turkish-Muslim forces attempted to carry out a jihad or ‘holy war’ against the Christians of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, which would continue until the Turks were halted at the ‘Siege of Vienna’ in September of 1683.
Szondi and his forces would ‘die to the last man’ on July 9th, but unlike other previous engagements between Muslim & Christian forces in Eastern Europe, the ill-fated Magyar captain received an honorable burial by his opponents, for his stalwart & heroic defense, which is still commemorated annually today, in Hungary at the very location of the conflict.
Some of my fondest memories, are sitting at a kitchen table, in northeast Philadelphia, with the late Irene & George Lukacs, immigrants from Hungary, who’d fled Communist oppression in their native land, having hid in the American Embassy in 1965, until they could secretly cross the Hungarian border and ultimately arrive as exiles in the United States with their children.
The love of their land and its rich heritage was evident, as the Lukacs family spoke often of their country’s historical & folk heroes, from Janos Hunyadi or Corvinus, the 15th-century ‘Hammer of the Turks,’ who helped save Central & Eastern Europe from Ottoman domination, to such colorful individuals as Toldi Miklos or Michael Toldi of poetic & Medieval fame, to Arpad, their ancestral leader who led the Magyar tribes into Europe from Central Asia. Statues to these and many other Hungarian figures were long ago erected, and are visited today by thousands of tourists who visit the city of Budapest.
Hungarians are no strangers to America or to Pennsylvania. Stephen Parmenius, a Hungarian poet, linguist, historian and explorer, traveled with the famed English adventurer, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, on his voyage to Newfoundland, in 1583, with Parmenius serving as a chronicler for the expedition, and who would later lose his life during his exploratory ventures.
Lajos or Louis Kossuth (1802-1894), Governor of Hungary, freedom fighter & patriot, would tour the United States in 1851 & 1852, traveling to Pittsburgh as well as speaking in Philadelphia at Independence Hall. The city of Kossuth, Clarion County, Pennsylvania, is named for this Hungarian statesman.
The collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, are no strangers to Hungarian or Magyar materials as well. Manuscript collections like that of the Gondos Family Papers (1895-1978); Philadelphia & Vicinity Hungarian Sports Club Records (1977-78); as well as newspapers, such as the Magyar Hirado (1917-1919, 1924-25), published in Pittsburgh, to that of the Magyar Herald or Magyar Hirnok (1915, 1922-1951), of New Brunswick, NJ, printed in both Hungarian & English are to name only a few that are available at the Society.
Issues of the Hungarian Quarterly, Hungarian Studies Newsletter, and the Magyar Hirek (1962-1976), the latter publication being in the Magyar language all are part of HSP’s ‘Balch Collection’ of ethnic materials, while the Hungarian encyclopedia or dictionary, Magyar Neprajzi Lexikon, in five volumes, is a valuable source for researchers of Hungarian culture as well.
Once again, as we reflect upon our own heritage of freedom and liberty, inherited by us vicariously from the ‘Founding Fathers’ or through the struggles of our own ancestors, let us not forget the many minority ethnic groups, such as the Magyars or Hungarians, who have also contributed their own blood, sweat & tears, both on American soil and their ancestral homeland.
Hungarian or Magyar history, serves as an acute reminder, that ‘freedom’s formula’ has always required ‘sacrifice’ and ‘suffering,’ by those who are brave and self-less enough to fight for it, be it for themselves or in behalf of their posterity.