December 24-30, 1918. Last week of 1918

Torma Galina

The last week of December was quite eventful: we take a look at how the Revolution affected the stock market, travel to a bank protest, witness a shooting and get mesmerized by French colonial soldiers who were stationed in Budapest.

An exciting day at the stock exchange
There is no other field in the world of business as sensitive to politics as the stock market, and the Stock Exchange Council was eager to announce new regulations when the Revolution ended. On November 3, 1918 at a Sunday meeting they decided to reopen private sales on Monday to stabilize securities. They also banned all deals under the minimum exchange rate which was the closing rate of October 30 (the last day of the market) for each security. The restriction was necessary to prevent securities from reaching extreme exchange rates in such uncertain times. The contradicting and often groundless news and rumors could result in shifting prices and value loss that would damage everyone. The regulation helped to solve that problem, but at the same time people were less eager to buy, and there were almost no securities selling for more than the minimum limit. Permanently of course, deals were made on much lower exchange rates. The Council announced a new minimum exchange rate on December 4, which they tried to adjust to current market prices. It produced some traffic after a month of silence, but it was still relatively insignificant, not because of the regulation, but the fact that production was basically nonexistent in the country.

The first busy day of the market since the Revolution was the penultimate day of the year with buyers especially interested in timber industry securities. Stocks with the highest demand were of timber companies which recently moved their Headquarters to Yugoslavia to join their plants. Several stocks became more valuable by the end of the day and continued growing, which suggested that the regulation might be canceled soon. The Council decided to gradually terminate the restrictive regulation if sales were going to remain consistent.

Trading started on October 30, 1905 at the Stock Exchange Palace on Szabadság tér. Architect, Ignác Alpár did not follow the international trend of putting the main hall in the center which would be illuminated from the court, but designed two identical halls on the first floor with gigantic windows: one for commodities and one for the stock market. In the midsection, offices, meeting rooms, cloakrooms, waiting rooms, cafeterias, parlors, smoking areas, telegraph and telephone rooms were built, and a café opened on the ground floor. The stock exchange remained there until May 25, 1948, and then from 1955 to 2009 it served as the HQ of Hungarian Television. The halls captured by the 100 year old footage were later rebuilt.

The plan of the Stock Exchange Palace


József Diener-Dénes, ex-state secretary of foreign affairs

József Diener-Dénes art historian, writer, journalist and editor of several newspapers spent his university years in Vienna, Dresden, Paris and Brussels. He became an engineer but he also studied physics, chemistry, archeology, philosophy and art history. In 1881 he started a job at the Hungarian National Museum and his studies were published in Hungary and abroad. After a while he became interested in politics and joined the social democrat party. He changed his name to Diener in 1917, which is how he appeared in the Az Est news intertitles, but most of the papers kept using his given name.

 

On November 12, 1918 the cabinet appointed the 61 year old Diener state secretary to lead the new Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After taking office he immediately started setting up the new Ministry: he traveled to Vienna the next day with the new Austrian Ambassador, Ferenc Harrer to go through the details of shutting down the common Ministry of Foreign Affairs and deal with new diplomats and embassies. While selecting new ambassadors, Hungary's economic and trading interests were top priority and he was not particularly interested in old fashioned diplomatic values. The government's most urging case in foreign politics was to establish connection with the entente, and get intelligence on the confederate states' foreign policies and future plans. The state secretary was often criticized in connection with the latter, arguing that the government's lack of success was on his shoulders. Based on the complaints against the Foreign Affairs' leadership, the government decided to bring Ferenc Harrer back from Vienna and ask him to take over the ministry. On December 27 papers reported that Mihály Károlyi was going to take over Foreign Affairs and József Diener-Dénes will become his deputy while keeping the authority of a Foreign Minister. He was also going to be sent to Switzerland on a special assignment for a longer period of time. A day later everyone was talking about the state secretary's resignation, which was accepted by the cabinet, and Diener supposedly left the country the same afternoon. 

Even though he took some heat, his professional skills were still very valuable, and 2 months later on March 8, 1919 the cabinet elected him as a member of the new Council of Foreign Affairs, where his role was to consult the government in theoretical questions. His most important task was to prepare all necessary materials for the upcoming peace talks. He worked in Paris for the Republic, immigrated to the US and later returned to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life.

Laid off bank employees' protest
The Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest (like all the other banks and bigger companies) had to hire temps to replace their employees who went to war. They hired 900 new officials (mostly women) for a daily fee with the condition that they could be let go after a month's pay. Minister of Commerce Ernő Garami later regulated the companies' notice rights and the amount of severance pay, which was more than what their agreement said with 3-6 months of pay for temps. When the war ended, several officials returned to the bank and the number of employees became so high, the bank could not keep them all. There was not enough space and thanks to the economic slump they were losing clients, so they really did not need that many employees. That is why the directors decided to fire some of the temps. 258 employees received their notice on December 27, in which the bank offered double the severance pay regulated by the law. However, the ones who were fired (mostly assistants, copiers and typists) were dissatisfied and on someone's suggestion, they went to work the next morning, like nothing happened. The directors' office already knew about their plan and asked the Minister of Commerce to send police to the building in case a riot would break out. Everyone was stopped by the police at the bank's (later Ministry of Interior) Fürdő utca (now József Attila utca) entrance and did not let anyone in who were let go the previous day. A smaller crowd marched to the Stock Exchange on Szabadság tér to voice their unappreciation. They asked representatives of other banks working in the building and the National Association of Officials of Financial Institution to join their cause. They asked the Police Chief to retreat their police forces; negotiated with the military in their Üllői út base to get their support and talked to the minister, but no one took their side, arguing that the bank was acting rightfully and humanely, and although they have their sympathy, they are simply unable to help them.

Detective Sándor Puskás shoots a misbehaving soldier at Keleti Train Station
Detectives László and Sándor Puskás were having dinner at Nándor Stroch's restaurant on Thököly út on the night of December 26. After closing the place, the detectives left with the owner and his wife, and the four started walking down Thököly út towards Baross tér.  Suddenly a soldier jumped in front of Varga at Keleti Train Station and grabbed his neck, then the detective punched him. It quickly escalated into a minor fight, then five more soldiers arrived from the park to attack the officer. They dragged him to the bushes, held him down and went through his pockets. That is when Puskás arrived to rescue his partner. One soldier was trying to stab Varga in the back with a bayonet, but Puskás pulled out his revolver and fired. He fatally shot one of the soldiers and injured another one. Then his gun broke, so he tried to fight them off with his bare hands. By that time several people joined him who were passing by to fight the soldiers with their canes or fists, who then escaped the scene. Fifteen minutes after Puskás arrived home to his apartment on István út, a military patrol unit was at his door telling him that he will now be shot for shooting one of their men. The detective told them the details of the incident to assure them it was self-defense. The soldiers brought him to the police station, where he reported the attack. He was questioned by Deputy Chief Béla Szentkirályi at the Police HQ alongside other witnesses, who all confirmed Puskás's innocence. The deceased soldier, Jancsi Lovász was a burglar with a criminal record who recently got out of jail. The police went after the other soldiers with full force.

Waiting for the soldiers' riot at Chain bridge
On the last day of the year at 10:00, leader of the Hungarian Communist party, Béla Kun and a couple other men arrived to the 1st army base in Népliget to speak about his party and badmouth Sándor Festetich who was appointed Ministry of Defense on December 29, suggesting he was part of the counter-revolution. Meanwhile, a gun went off somewhere on the second floor, soldiers ran to grab their weapons and the courtyard immediately turned into a battlefield. However short it was, the chaos ended with two deaths and several injuries. Béla Kun left the scene and went to barrack no. 32 on the corner of Üllői út and Ferenc körút. The upset crowd divided into two groups: the communist group of 5-600 people left the base and surrounded the barracks, while those who stayed contacted the Ministry of Defense and the Police Headquarters. The police declared a state of emergency and deployed all their men.

From the Ministry of Defense, Commissioner Jószef Pogány, head of the Military Council visited the 1st base to calm the soldiers. The rebels wanted to march to the Defense Ministry to urge Minister Festetich's suspension. Soldiers of barrack no. 32 already knew what Béla Kun did at the base, so when he arrived to gather more rebels and ask them to join the communist movement, they surrounded and captured him.

 When the rebels of 1st base heard the news, they rushed to barrack no. 32 with grenades and machine guns to save the communist leader.

Police Chief, Károly Dietz ordered extra safety measures to secure the Defense Ministry from the soldiers, and ordered all the police forces of Budapest (around 150 policemen) armed with 16 machine guns to the Headquarters on Ferenc József tér (now Széchenyi István tér), to the Pest side of the Chain bridge and Albrecht út (now Hunyadi János út) which spots the march were probably going to go pass. He put armed police on the back streets and sent detectives to all the other bridges. The Defense Ministry in the Castle was guarded by border patrol units. When soldiers form the 1st base arrived to barrack no. 32 they asked them to join the protest, but seeing how rejective they were they eventually gave up the idea of a protest. Only 50-60 were left who drove around Nagykörút and Rákóczi út with two military trucks and marched down the street with a couple others while shouting "Down with Festetich! Down with the earls! Long live the communist republic!". The march ended at the Radetzky base. The Police Chief and the Ministry of Defense sent police troops to disarm the rebellious soldiers. There was no major disturbance on the streets thanks to the police. Meanwhile, Commissioner József Pogány also went to barrack no. 32 to get Béla Kun. By 15:00 both barracks were operating like nothing ever happened. At the Ministry of Defense on Szent György tér, Sándor Festetich, Prime Minister Mihály Károlyi, Interior Minister Vince Nagy and Vilmos Böhm state secretary of defense discussed the rebellious event, and ordered to investigate the illegal use of arms.

French soldiers in Budapest

The armistice commission ordered Budapest's occupation on November 13, 1918, so the entente could keep order and monitor if the country acted according to the armistice. Three French, one English and an Italian infantry division, a French brigade and 50 thousand soldiers needed accommodation in the capital. The troops arrived to Novi Sad from Belgrade on boats, and it was the Hungarian authorities' task to transport them to Budapest by train.

The first group was supposed to arrive on November 21, but there was not enough coal to send the trains to Novi Sad and people were also suffering from an epidemic. Five days later the French Officer Committee were the first to arrive from Novi Sad to discuss the French regiment's accommodation with the government. The committee included 14 officers and 40 crewmembers and they were led by lieutenant colonel Vyx. The 26 year old soldier also travelled with them, who shortly after arrival caught the Spanish flu and the Est crew filmed his funeral. Lieutenant colonel Vyx, head of the French Armistice Commission along with delegates of the Ministry of Defense and the city, checked out the barracks and schools the French military was supposed to use as temporary housing and offices, and the hotels and apartments where officers were going to stay. They were also looking for people on Andrássy út who would be willing to give up their apartments even by requisition. Citizens of Budapest had mixed feelings about the masses arriving to their city. After the Officer Committee arranged everything, the first troops arrived on December 11. Hundred and seventy infantrymen - mostly Arab soldiers from Marrakech - from French general Gambetta's colonial troops arrived with two officers.

After welcoming the troops at Nyugati Train Station, officers were brought to Hotel Britannia on Teréz körút, while the crew was escorted to the Albrecht base on Lehet út to their temporary accommodation. They made quite the impression marching through the city in their unusual outfits. Citizens were astonished by the brown soldiers in their, green, white and yellow headpieces and unique gears. They were equipped with rifles, cartridge belts, large knives and spoke a strange language which supposedly sounded like someone was knocking on wood. The newspapers took an immense amount of pictures of the troops, and the Est news also did a long segment on the subject as it was the only thing everyone could talk about. The second larger group arrived on December 31 from Temesvár including Spahis, who were colonial light cavalry regiments. Almost 800 men and 400 horses arrived, who were stationed in Rákospalota. According to the armistice agreement the French Officer Committee were allowed to use Hungarian military horses. The horse expert Spahis examined the chosen ones, and a photographer from newspaper Tolnai Világlapja managed to capture the moment.