December 10-16, 1918. Budapest a hundred years ago

Torma Galina

100 years ago film news reported on major political changes, the career of an imaginative international scam artist, a murder that caught the excited public's attention and a football game between jockeys and referees.

After the cabinet meeting The new government had a lot on its plate after the Aster Revolution; numerous cabinet meetings were held to discuss the country's home- and foreign affairs and elect new personnel. Most of these meetings started in the evening and ended late at night.

The recording must have been made sometime before the 7th of December 1918, as Béla Linder, who appears on this footage stepped down on the 6th as Minister without Portfolio responsible for peace talks preparations, which was accepted on the 7th at a cabinet meeting. Linder said he had to give up his post as he found the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office more suitable for the task. 

Two cabinet meetings were held on November 29, one from 11:00 which ended early afternoon, so it is possible that the footage is from that day. Cabinet members were discussing the details of a consensus between Oszkár Jászi, Minister without Portfolio responsible for national affairs and members of the tót national council, which they started preparing after meeting with Milan Hodža, newly appointed Czechoslovakian ambassador the day before. Jászi wanted autonomy and confederation for all nationalities living in Hungary, which by the middle of January seemed to have failed as the invasion of Romanian, Czech and Serbian troops made that impossible for nationalities living in the occupied areas. The minister then resigned arguing that he would serve the country better as a journalist. The paper, Városok Lapja was thrilled about the news of Ferenc Nagy's appointment to be Minister without Portfolio responsible for public supplies: „This is the first ministry including an ex-mayor, Ferenc Nagy, who used to be mayor of Miskolc. The fact that something like this could happen, proves that these are indeed different times, which fills one's hearth with utter joy. We sincerely hope to see more citizens in leading positions, which would abolish the old tradition of only appointing country-men.” The newly appointed minister started working on the most urgent issue on the 1st of November by organizing the catering of soldiers and citizens. The government was facing difficulties on that front (also) while transitioning from war to peacetime. The shortage of basic food supplies meant overpriced and hard-to-come-by goods. The most important project was to drop prices and start production, which called for immediate measures. Ferenc Nagy kept his position until January 18, 1919 when a new cabinet was formed. Márton Lovászy Minister of Education and Religious Affairs was Editor in Chief at newspaper, Magyarország until his nomination. His main goal both as a journalist and a minister was Hungary's independence. He bid farewell to his loyal readers with the following lines: „Today we reached the goals we worked for. Now we have to secure and strengthen these results to build an independent and democratic Hungary. It breaks my heart, but I made the decision to leave the newspaper behind and put on an incredibly demanding job in the government, so now I have to say farewell to our readers. I can not be grateful enough for they understood, embraced and brought to triumph the ideas I was fighting for.” Lovászy held his position for less then 2 months and handed in his resignation on December 23 due to an ever growing disagreement in the government on foreign- and internal affairs. Before the Revolution, Béla Szentkirályi was the most respected official at the Budapest Police, an outstanding detective, who mostly worked on "intellectual crime" cases. When László Sándor became Budapest's Police Chief, Szentkirályi became Head of Crime Division to work on cases involving war crimes, frauds and soldiers, and led the infamous scam artist, earl Champvans' interrogation on the summer of 1918. He quickly made a career for himself at the police and became a counselor. When the war ended, he turned to politics and led the police movement on October 29, during which Budapest officers of the Hungarian Royal State Police, detectives and guards joined the National Council. Mihály Károlyi wanted to make him Budapest's Police Chief, which Szentkirályi did not accept and instead took the position of Deputy Police Chief. In February 1919 when the communists invaded Népszava, Szentkirályi was the one to arrest Béla Kun and the other communist leaders. But while Károlyi thought about said communist leaders as political prisoners, in Szentkirályi's mind they were just a bunch of criminals. He was eventually pushed out of the party which broke his career. He got arrested several times in the Republic for being associated with counter-revolutionary organizations. After the commune fell, he was stripped from his badge for his actions during the Revolution, and three years later he fell ill and died at the age of 47. He never got over the fact that he could not be a police officer any longer, so much so that he tried to hide it from his own mother until his last day on Earth.

The Budapest garrison's protest against Defense Minister Bartha

After Béla Linder Defense Minister stepped down on November 9, Albert Bartha lieutenant colonel took his post. When the armistice was signed, Bartha immediately started building a new army with as many soldiers as the entente allowed to secure the country's defense. By early December, soldiers of the Budapest garrison were becoming dissatisfied with their environment, especially with the barracks' condition, which were infested with vermin. But for them, the most aching problem in the army's democratic transformation was Bartha himself, who intended to use the Budapest regiments to march for his personal political ideas. They unanimously denied that, started a movement, organized a protest against him for December 12 and decided to include their complaints and ideas in a memorandum which they would deliver to Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi.
Soldiers of barrack no. 1 left their base at Népliget at 09:00 and marched down Üllői út to barrack no. 32, where their regiment joined them. Altogether 6 thousand soldiers joined the protest from the two barracks and the massive crowd marched down the streets in exemplary order - armed and unarmed marched separately in a disciplined, closed order, officers leading their own platoons and companies. They held up two banners at the front saying „Hail Károlyi!” and „Down with the Defense Minister!” They also had four machine guns. The soldiers marched down Nagykörút all the way to Oktogon, where they stopped to wait for artillerymen of the 40th cannon regiment who also joined with roughly a thousand people and two gun batteries. The march continued on Andrássy út, down Fürdő utca (József Attila today), through Chain bridge up the Castle to Sándor Palace.  


When they arrived to Szent György tér, Károlyi went down to greet the cheering soldiers. Regiments lined up, and their representatives, the so called „trusted men” handed the PM their 7 point memorandum, of which the most important was to fire Bartha and elect a civilian Defense Minister to take over his duties, which would guarantee that the new army will be organized in a democratic manner. Mihály Károlyi agreed that a careful organization of police force is necessary to keep everything in order, especially when there is an enemy at the border. He also promised to do everything in his power to provide them with better living conditions, but he had no knowledge about Bartha's self-serving acts, and therefore he wanted to hear out the accused first before making a decision. He welcomed the troops who lined up at the PM's palace from the balcony. Vince Nagy state secretary also made a speech, then the soldiers left while hailing Károlyi. Albert Bartha Defense Minister handed in his resignation the same day, which Károlyi accepted at the late night cabinet meeting. Vince Nagy was offered the position first, but he did not want to work in defense, so instead he was appointed Interior Minister replacing Tivadar Batthyány, and Mihály Károlyi permanently took the post and asked Vilmos Böhm state secretary to manage the defense department.  

Earl Champvans, the scam artist
Frigyes Hahn, or Fréderic Ferdinand Alphonse Marie André, Ernest, Guigue Marquis Champvans de Faramond as he liked to be called at saloons all around the globe, was born in Vienna in 1886 to an everyday normal family. He quickly realized that his parents were never going to satisfy his luxurious needs, so he convinced an impoverished French (or Cuban) marquis in Vienna to adopt him, which did not come with any financial gains, but provided him with a title which allowed him to join the elite. After the war broke out, he started appearing in Budapest as a Hungarian citizen at derbies and casinos. His favorite spot was Gerbeaud, he always sported luxurious outfits and spent ridiculous amounts of money. He enjoyed painting himself as a French landowner and bragged about his immense amount of titles. He used his Spanish, German, Bulgarian, Turkish, Portugese, Cuban and pontifical honors to pick up actresses, seamstresses and ladies, who he often proposed to. After the proposal, he lamented about his financial problems, took their money and disappeared on the day of the wedding.
A cheated operetta prima donna reported the marquis and with the help of detectives they managed to catch him. During questioning he revealed how he made his fortune to keep up that lavish lifestyle. He started the lucrative profession in Vienna before the war, and by counting on the vanity of millionaires he traded with ranks and titles. His main targets were those who became rich during the war and he had a lengthy list of priced exotic titles. He unlawfully acquired several honors and decorations through his connections for which he was sentenced for 18 months in prison. He escaped to Budapest, where he was rearrested, then he escaped again. After that he had a couple of carefree years, during which he proposed to 29 women and broke just as many hearts.
The series ended with his arrest on the summer of 1918. Besides his titles, the detectives discovered a surprising amount of fake documents and military papers in his apartment. Turns out he was a private of the 32nd infantry regiment and walked around in a volunteer uniform with a fake license. The imposter earl was released on the 4th of December and did not wait too long to strike again. A couple days later he dressed up in a decorated French uniform to act like he was a representative of the Cuban Red Cross who arrived to Budapest to inspect wounded French soldiers. First he stayed at Hotel Imperial, then at Hotel Esplanade on Zsigmond utca, accompanied by a lady who he proposed to after meeting her on a tram. The hotel's concierge got suspicious and notified the nearby marines, who after checking the so-called French major's identity, called the detectives and arrested the outraged earl once again. Although he was only released a couple days earlier, he still managed to take part in fraudulent activities in such a short period of time.
The earl's interrogation started on the morning of December 12, and although they could not convict him of fraud, he was labeled a dangerous shirker and was sent to the vagrant courthouse's jail on Mosonyi utca. He was released a couple days later when he proved that he receives a monthly 900 krones from his mother in Vienna and works at the Czech leather factory, for which he receives a monthly stipend of 500 krones. Then he disappeared from the public eye for several years, when he was most probably hiding Austria, and reappeared in Paris in the 1920s. That is when the infamous imposter slash international spy's career took a major turn. Each and every year he made a list of the parvenu and with a great psychological sense he sent them his catalogue of titles with a price list attached. Later he found himself a much more profitable scheme by selling authentic citizenship documents and diplomat passports for emigrants who fled their troubled countries, and he also became an international spy. By that point he acquired a considerable amount of fortune and felt ready to settle down.
He married a woman to have successors he could bring up as real marquis'. But on the summer of 1936, twenty years after his incident in Budapest, an old enemy thought it was time for revenge. He scammed earl Champvans, who got arrested for a 100 Frank bribery for a crime he would have only given a couple months in jail. But the master of schemes knew that this was just an excuse to finally put him away for good. The papers did not report anymore about the earl. His name appeared in Pesti Hírlap for the last time in 1937: „In Paris at the XV. district on Rue Charles Weiss 6 you'll find the French Institute of History and Escutcheon. But do not be fooled by the good sounding title, as it is not an institution but a private business owned by a so-called Marquis Frédéric Guigue de Champvans de Farémont, a supposed member of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate Conception, the Tiberis Academy and Academy of Arcadia, an honorary Doctor of Law, secret counselor to the King of Montenegro, a member of the Cadiz Hispanic-American Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters and so on. 

Murder in Népliget

On October 6, 1918 Sunday morning a couple steps from lamppost no. 13629 in the "White Ship" area of Népliget, III. József Bence policeman found the body of a 40 year old laborer in a bush. After he notified the Police Headquarters, policemen rushed to the location. The victim was identified by a paper bag found in one of his pockets; the bag had his surname written on it, and inside they found his wages from the factory he used to work for. The other clue they followed was a tattoo on his arm with the initials N. J. and the date 1870–1893 - his initials, the date of his birth and the year he joined the army, the detectives thought. Based on the aforementioned clues, Detective Reich found out that from the 24 thousand men with the same last name, our victim was most probably János Nagy, a 48 year old belt manufacturer born in Hörnying, who worked at Hirmann's Váci út factory as a workshop manager, and lived in a rental at Bethlen utca 11. His flat mates later also identified him. After an on-site inspection the police surgeon found a deep cut on the victim's forehead, which was probably caused by a sharp object such as a sword or an axe. He had marks of strangling on his neck, broken ribs on his right side and marks suggesting he was kicked on the right side of his chest and groin. János Nagy was probably killed in the area and was dragged to the bushes afterwards. The detectives took samples from the footprints surrounding the body. They also managed to build a timeline based on witness statements, as he was seen last night drinking spritz at a restaurant in Garay utca. He left the place saying he would return shortly to play some cards, but he was never seen again. The case was considered an armed robbery until they found some loose change around the body and his silver watch and chain on him, so revenge became a more possible motive in the detectives' mind. The police found out that shortly before the incident took place, the victim was trying to sell a dark blue suit, which the police could not find while conducting a search at his apartment, ergo the deal probably took place. Interestingly, he reported earlier that someone stole 500 krones from him. The detectives also found out that János Nagy knew several townswomen who caroused with him and sometimes even spent the night at his place, and he also enjoyed delving into conversations with maids around Keleti Train Station. But who knows if these facts had anything to do with his murder, if it was a murder at all? Two days after the body was found, the pathologist came up with a new theory that the victim might have been in a car accident as this type of injury could have been caused by a drive shaft. However, the public was amused by the unusual incident, and months later the police were still unable to close the case.  

A football game between jockeys and referees

A charity game for war widows and orphans took place at the MTK Football Club's field on Hungária körút on October 9, 1918 at 15:00. Such games were quite popular and members of the elite were often in attendance. The jockeys played against acrobats the previous year and they offered all the proceeds for charity, which was more than 3000 krones. This year the jockeys were to play against actors, who did not manage to have a full team in time, so they decided to go with referees instead. They put their team together 2 days prior to match day.  

The game's referee was (once again) the famously large comic of Magyar Színház, Dezső Gyárfás, who the crowd absolutely adored. Last year they tried to bring him back to the locker room at the end of the game, but could not lift him up. He said: „Don't strain yourselves, kids! I'll try to lose some weight until next time.” He allegedly went on a diet after that - an obviously unsuccessful one, based on this footage. He started the game by asking for a chair which he put on the midline, then sat down and blew the whistle from there, but later stood up to race the players like a real referee would. The referees' team was more at home on the field, which comes as no surprise considering that they all used to be professional football players. But the jockeys also did a remarkable job and got an enormous ovation from the crowd when they scored their second goal. The referee's goalkeeper wandered out on the field and that's when the jockeys stroke. The first half ended with 3:2, the referees scored 4 more goals in the second half, while the jockeys could only score one penalty, which their goalkeeper did so beautifully, his colleague did not even try to defend the goal post. The final score was 7:3, a win for the referees.  

This week's joke: cross section of a smuggler woman

Probably none of the other industries evolved as much as food smuggling during the World War. It required exceptional resourcefulness to cheat the border patrol with their ever growing forces and refined techniques in spotting illegal goods during raids. They were most concerned about the Budapest-Vienna route, but later had to start patrolling the entire border between Austria and Hungary. Most of the people smuggled flour, lard, bread, meat, eggs and animals, for which they received cash, clothing or shoes. On the Budapest-Vienna train inspectors always hopped on at Győr to conduct their rigorous search for the rest of the journey. Everyone was allowed to pack 3 days worth of food and a lot were trying to convince the police that they packed the geese, salami, the 3-4 loaves of bread and several dozen eggs for themselves. It was easy to deal with the less skillful smugglers and find the goods hidden under seats, on the top of the wagon or between the wheels.  

A cartoon from the past century  

The real challenge was to catch the professionals, who would go as far as imagination does: tin-lined hats with lard containers, waistcoats lined with 17 kilos of flour; someone even made a hunch for himself by strapping flour on his back under his caftan. The inspectors had more difficulties with the ladies as the etiquette forbade them from conducting a thorough investigation, which meant that they could only rely on their experience and random movements to find anything under their skirts and coats. But the most notorious crooks were soldiers, who smuggled millions worth of food through the border with official delivery notes. Those who lived in border towns also found their calling in the illegal trade and they even hired kids and animals as laborers. There was a legendary little black poodle, which cheated the border patrol numerous times and managed to smuggle multiple kilos of saccharin through the Swiss border. Marcell Vértes was not the only cartoonist enchanted by this story as we can see on the picture above.