The Hungarian far-right in 1933: The Pécs section of the Turul Association
The other day I found a fascinating pamphlet from 1933. I decided to look around on the website of EPA (Electronic Periodicals Archive and Database), part of the Hungarian Electronic Library (MEK). The Electronic Periodicals Archive has been making available more and more Hungarian periodicals online. As I was browsing among the titles I saw one that truly interested me entitled "Bercsényi Futár." It turned out to be a pamphlet published by the Pécs section of the Turul Association. Miklós Bercsényi was one of the military leaders of the Rákóczi Rebellion (1703-1711) and "'futár" means messenger. As I found out, this was most likely the fourth publication of the association but the three earlier ones have disappeared without a trace. This particular item is a real rarity. Only one copy exists in the archives of the University of Pécs.
To this day Hungarian historiography lacks a serious study of this nationalistic, anti-Semitic organization of university students. We know that it was established in 1919 and that the organization had a very important role to play in demanding the introduction of "numerus clausus" (1920) that restricted the percentage of Jewish university students to 6.2%, that is, their share in the population as a whole. In 1928, when Prime Minister István Bethlen due to international pressure abrogated the 1920 law, the Turul Association demanded the introduction of "numerus nullus." That is, if it depended on the good Christians, no Jew would have been admitted to university at all. The spokesmen of the Turul Association were also "defenders of the race" (fajvédők).
The Association was built up in a pyramid fashion combining Christian and old Hungarian pagan elements. From the little we know about Turul it seems that it was organized along the lines of fraternities headed by a "patron professor" called "magister" and a student "chieftain" (vezér). At least this was the structure of the organization on the regional level.
I was also drawn to the "Bercsényi Futár" for personal reasons because even with a cursory reading of the 30-page pamphlet I found names familiar to me from my childhood. It was especially a shock to discover the name of the father of a classmate of mine from elementary school. Who would ever have thought that Uncle A. belonged to such an odious organization and was capable of writing in a publication that beckoned: "Antisemites, Join the Turul!" Or what about the locally famous professor of internal medicine, János Ángyán, who was one of the magisters? The printer responsible for this pamphlet was situated in the Varga Garage on Rákóczi Street; if I recall correctly, this was the garage where my father had his car serviced. It turned out that the medical students were especially active. Their fraternity, named after Csaba, youngest son of Attila the Hun, even had an office not far from where I spent my childhood. I asked my cousin who still lives in Pécs to look at the pamphlet in the hope that she could identify more people than I did. Indeed, she came up with a teacher known for his sadistic cruelty. She found another doctor whom even my mother visited in his private office in the 1970s and 1980s. She also recognized the names of several store owners who advertised in this rag. One has the feeling that only certain people paid for an ad in a publication that declared: "Buy at our advertisers because then you buy at a Christian store."
The pamphlet was dedicated to Count Lajos Szapáry, Lord Lieutenant of the Counties of Baranya and Somogy, who in the 1920s was a member of the Hungarian Parliament. His speech at the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon was boilerplate. First and foremost, Szapáry repeated that the new borders drawn along ethnic lines are not acceptable to them. They want the restoration of Greater Hungary. "This is the program of all of those who joined the Turul Association." Then the other familiar slogan from the present far-right: "We, orphaned Hungarians, are without relatives." The most important aim of the Hungarians is "to survive," to make sure that Hungary doesn't disappear from the face of the earth. Szapáry seems to have been an admirer of Gyula Gömbös, "our great leader." From what I managed to find out about Lajos Szapáry, it looks as if he moved even farther to the right after 1930. In the 1920s he was a loyal follower of István Bethlen.
The pamphlet tries to recruit more university students although, according to the Bercsényi Futár, "the majority of the medical students are members." In the Csaba Fraternity there were 20 university professors (patronus/patroni), 158 doctors (dominus/domini) and 153 medical students (brothers-in-arms). The number of doctors is truly staggering. One has the feeling that with the exception of Jewish doctors all doctors in Pécs were members! According to the Bercsényi Futár the medical students receive "compulsory military training." Well, that military training must have been undercover, illicit activity because the terms of the peace treaty allowed only a very small professional army. Csaba Fraternity promised to the students that the organization is fighting for their interest and they "want to have a fatherland without parasites." We know, of course, who the parasites were.
Although the medical school seemed to be the most active, the students of arts and sciences also had a fraternity named after Árpád while the law students organized themselves into another fraternity called Verbőczy. István Verbőczy was a jurist and legal scholar in the sixteenth century. More about him here. It is clear where the sympathies of these people lay. They quite openly sided with "the fascism of Mussolini and the brown shirts of Hitler." The Nazi movement is greeted enthusiastically; an anonymous writer called it "the imposing manifestion of German racist energy."
And finally, there was a brief announcement about the appearance of a city publication edited by Lajos Esztergár, city counselor and later mayor of Pécs. He was responsible for social welfare questions. From the publication one could learn that in 1933 unemployment in the city was 49-51%. Twelve thousand people were in such deep poverty that they had to rely on public assistance. The city set up, at Esztergár's urging, a series of workshops for unemployed people. That announcement also carried a personal note for me: my father was hired in 1932 to head the project. While the extreme right complained about "parasites," there were others who tried to concentrate on the really important issues: the economic crisis and extreme poverty.