January 14-20, 1919. Hungary awaits peace

Torma Galina

An American peace commission visits Budapest to prepare rightful and reasonable circumstances for peace; university students protest again to keep the country's territorial integrity and Hungary launches its first air mail service. This is what happened in 1919 mid-January.

The US peace commission in Budapest
To prepare for the winning Entente countries' January 18, 1919 peace conference, an American peace commission traveled to Vienna on January 5 to study the political, economical and social relationships of the late Monarchy states and surrounding areas. Vienna was the commission's base; from there delegates were sent to Prague, Budapest, Zagreb and Warsaw. The train transporting the US political and military commission from Vienna to Budapest was 5 hours late and arrived to Keleti Train Station at 10:45 on January 15, 1919. State secretary Ernő Baloghy representing Mihály Károlyi and the government welcomed them at the train station. Leader of the commission, Archibald Cary Coolidge, a history professor at Harvard University assured him they will handle their business in the most genuine and reasonable way possible.

Other members of the commission were Mr. C. M. Storey, Major Laurent Martin, Lieutenant Philip Goodwin, Mr. Parker, Coolidge's secretary, E. H. Davidson, a stenographer and a courier. They were all staying at Hotel Dunapalota, where they also put up temporary offices to conduct meetings from early morning till late night. During their stay, Government Commissioner Emil Zerkovitz - brother of the most famous hit composer of the era, Béla Zerkovitz - chaperoned the commission members, managed their agenda and made sure they had an overall pleasant stay. Pictures and films were both recorded of the group on front of the hotel, and a picture published in Vasárnapi Ujság helped us identify a long forgotten footage we found amongst the newly discovered cuts and musters of Est news.

The Sándor Fellner and Aladár Sós designed Hotel Dunapalota was built between 1910 and 1913 to replace another building as the next hotel of the Danube promenade on Eötvös tér. It was called Ritz after its English owner until 1916, when Dreher group bought and renamed it Dunapalota. The 5 storey luxury hotel had 120 apartments, studies, event halls, a winter-garden, a roof-garden, café, restaurant, bar and a grill room. In early 1945 the building was hit by a bomb and burned down completely. A new, modern hotel was erected there in 1981, called InterContinental Budapest (the late Forum Hotel). The dance scene from the long lost 1914 silent film, "The 300 year old man" was also shot here.

Professor Coolidge, head of the commission spent only 5 days in Budapest, while other members stayed a little longer to discuss political, military, religious, national, cultural and economical affairs with leaders of the country and other delegates, to have the broadest possible picture on Hungary's post-war state.

The university students - who already protested for the country's territorial integrity on January 6, which we mentioned in our previous episode - saw the American commission's stay as another opportunity to give voice to their demands and handed a memorandum to their leader. The memo asked all university students in the world to help them in securing Hungary's rights. Professor Coolidge was amused by the movement, saying their enthusiasm reminded him of his youth. 

Footages of the protest reveal a sign with a slogan and emblem which became popular in the Horthy era after Trianon, as part of the revisionist propaganda. However, there is a little difference between the two images. The original design of No! No! Never! was made by Ernő Jeges for the National Propaganda Commission after the Aster Revolution. Hungary's outline follows the historical border on both designs, but there is a small difference on the center image. The earlier drawing shows the border of territories with different nationalities, which were occupied by Czech, Romanian and Serbian troops, and the latter one shows the new sections shaped by the Treaty of Trianon. In an effort to avoid battle with the border-crossing occupying forces, the Károlyi government decided to emphasize the importance of the country's territorial integrity while preparing for the peace conference. They were aware of the winning sides' intention to rearrange borders based on the nations' self-determination right theory, ergo it would have been more reasonable to fight for only those territories where Hungarians lived, but they chose to stand with the public's wish to keep the country's original borders.

After finishing their busy schedule, the American guests spent their last night together at the Opera. When they arrived during the second act of Traviata, the audience noticed and greeted them with wild ovation. Dezső Zádor, director of the State Opera also welcomed them in person before the third act. The next day on January 19, Professor Coolidge spent his last morning in Budapest with meetings, then visited the Museum of Agriculture in Városliget with the other commission members and Barna Buza, Minister of Agriculture. Then they had a small commemoration at the close-by Washington statue. Albert Apponyi, who later led the Hungarian peace delegation, invited the professor for lunch to discuss the country's state for one and a half hours. The leader of the peace commission spent his last hours in Budapest with work and left to Vienna on the evening train.

The peace conference in Paris began the day before and the first reports from US commission members, who visited the late Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's territories arrived 10 days later, on January 28. Negotiations went on for one and a half years and ended with the Treaty of Versailles, of which the Treaty of Trianon was born to specify Hungary's new borders.

The first air mail of Hungary
Air mail service in Hungary started in July 1918 during the war, which was not an established one just yet, as the rather pricy service was only available on a temporary route for "war telegram bonus" between Budapest and Vienna for a couple days. But those who saw the opportunity of a faster way of communication were fired up by the idea, hoping that the post office will launch a permanent air mail service soon.

"The new legends' machine turul"

The first mail plane took off on July 4, 1918 from the Hungarian General Machine Factory's airport in Mátyásföld. A crowd of illustrious guests gathered around József Szterényi Commerce Minister, waiting for the first plane's departure. Two bags labeled „Mátyásföld, air mail" containing 520 letters and 1300 telegrams were brought by car from the main post office. On front of the striped mail planes stood a larger war veteran Berg scout biplane, which was made by the Hungarian Airplane Factory in Albertfalva. Minister Szterényi blessed the first mail plane before departure which carried a thank you note to the king, who made this historical experiment possible. „May the first airmail service be a sign of the intense progression we all need when peace arrives.” The first plane took off at 10:35 and landed at the Aspern airport at 12:38. The trip took 2 hours and 3 minutes due to poor weather conditions.

 Departure of the first mail plane

The Budapest-Vienna line was only used until July 23, as on July 13 and again on the 21st the mail plane crashed, taking 4 pilots lives, which ended the airmail program. However, the first real airmail service launched a couple months later in November 1918 after the Revolution, although mostly for propaganda causes. After the Mátyásföldi airport, the 2nd airmail base opened at the Albertfalva Airplane Factory. Interesting fact: 6 months ago the Est news reported about a fire at this factory, but they had to keep the location a secret during war. But now in peacetime, they were ready to show the entire place to the audience.

 Joke of the week: a "trusted man" in II. c.

After the Revolution, numerous advocacy groups were formed to protect laborers' rights with their employers. Laborers elected members to be the so-called "trusted men" - some institutions, offices and schools still use the same system in some form, but hundred years ago this expression was subject to mockery. So it may come as no surprise that many cartoonists grabbed their pencils when christian socialist teachers brought up the idea of introducing the trusted men system in all schools, including all girl schools. Tibor Pólya's cartoon was published in Borsszem Jankó on January 19, 1919, which is almost identical to Vértes' cartoon he made for the Est news. The question of which one was influenced by the other remains unanswered.