On Thursday Hungary’s flag was hoisted then lowered to half-mast in front of Parliament in a state ceremony in the morning to mark a national day of mourning in memory of martyred leaders of the Revolution of 1848-49.
The ceremony was attended by President János Áder, diplomats, representatives of state agencies and political parties.
On October 6, 1849, thirteen officers of the Hungarian military were executed in Arad, now Romania. On the same day, count Lajos Batthyány, prime minister of the first Hungarian government, was executed in Pest, in Austria’s retaliation for the revolution and war of independence.
Why so significant?
One may wonder what makes this such a black day in Hungarian history, whereas other conflicts, like the French revolutions, had much harsher repercussions, often with hundreds of high profile executions, not to mention some of the 20th Century wars.
The main reason for this is that most of the Hungarian revolutionaries were promised amnesty by the interventionist Russian army’s leaders, to whom they surrendered. Czar Nicholas I had even sent a bitter letter of complaint to the Austrian government upon learning about the executions, as he felt his word had been compromised. The other reason is that in this part of Europe the execution of the defeated army’s officers was in fact considered cruel and unusual punishment. Typically, they were set free if they complied with the conditions agreed upon.
The Austrian leadership, however, was furious that the Hungarians capitulated to the Russians and not to them, resulting in a loss of prestige and strengthening the significance of the Czarist forces. Therefore, since basically all of the Hungarian officers had served in the Habsburg Emperor’s army prior to the revolution, they were accused of breaking their oaths not to ever fight their ruler. Weakening this argument is the inconsistency in the Austrian approach elsewhere, like at the Fort of Komárom, the very last revolutionary holdout. In this case, Hungarian commander György Klapka and his 18,000 defenders, officers included, managed to cut a far better deal. They were able to leave free, get one month’s military salary, and passports, if they wished to leave the country.
Yet another reality is that the Komárom arrangement was a special case. Many other lower rank officers were also executed before as well as after the date of October 6, 1849. The prevailing cult of remembrance, however, has been attached to the 13 generals: the Martyrs of Arad.
And why didn’t Hungarians clink with beer for 150 years after this day? Find out in our feature article posted earlier this year.
It is also rather interesting to observe the ethnic backgrounds of these officers. Although they died for a very Hungarian cause in a war of independence where ethnic tensions had also played a role, most of them were born into non-Hungarian speaking families. Hungarians have nevertheless embraced them for their heroism and they are remembered as some of the greatest patriots this nation has ever known.
Among the 13 generals executed in Arad, four had German ancestry, two were Armenian-Hungarians, furthermore there was one Austrian, one Serbian, one Croat, and only four “full-blooded” Hungarians, if such a term exists at all.
This also says a lot about the strong anti-imperial sentiment in a very multi-ethnic historic Hungary, and helps ease the blame on the Hungarian revolutionary leaders accused of arrogance toward other ethnicities.
Names and family backgrounds of the 13 Martyrs of Arad
- Lajos Aulich (1792-1849) – born into a German middle class family
- János Damjanich (1804-1849) – born into a Serbian military family
- Arisztid Dessewffy (1802-1849) – from a Hungarian noble family
- Ernő Kiss (1799-1849) – born into an Armenian-Hungarian major landholder family
- Károly Knézich (1808-1849) – born into a Croatian military family
- György Lahner (1795-1849) – born into a German middle class family
- Vilmos Lázár (1815-1849) – born into an Armenian-Hungarian aristocratic family
- Károly Leiningen-Westerburg (1819-1849) – born into German high nobility
- József Nagysándor (1804-1849) – born into a Hungarian noble family
- Ernő Pöltenberg (1813-1849) – born into an Austrian major landholder noble family
- József Schweidel (1796-1849) – born into a German middle class family
- Török Ignác (1795-1849) – from a Hungarian smallholder aristocratic family
- Károly Vécsey (1807-1849) – born into Hungarian high nobility