April 15-21, 1919. Propaganda, tales and mobilization a hundred years ago

Torma Galina

While the Governing Council made several measures to help people in poverty, Romanians violated the armistice treaty and attacked Red Army troops at the Transylvanian border. The propaganda film machine was launched.

Nationalizing the Manfréd Weiss empire

Manfréd Weiss, the legendary ammunition manufacturer who built one of Europe's largest steel- and ammunition factory in two decades from zero, embodied everything for the leaders of the Dictatorship that they advertized about capitalists who became rich in wartime, the so-called war millionaires. Unsurprisingly, they saw it as a rightful atonement, when the owner attempted suicide on April 2, 1919. The article published in next day's Népszava perfectly illustrated the sarcastic tone, which papers used at the time while covering the news:

„A most typical exponent of Hungarian capital, one of the biggest seedsman and deathmaster of the dreadful war, the ammunition manufacturer of Csepel, Manfréd Weiss, who grew into a millionaire from all the blood and tears, committed suicide in his home Wednesday morning. He took 5 grams of Veronal and was taken to Park sanatorium in life-threatening condition.

A lord and idol of capital in the person of a Csepel ammunition manufacturer collapsed. Tens of thousands worked for him at his factory, and he took thousands of lives, so he could collect all the goods and assets, luxury, wealth and dazzling lights only for himself, that would have belonged to the laborers. And the thing that makes his growth even more typical and crucial is that he became a lord, a golden idol with the most typical and wildest form of moneymaking: war. He was never afraid to make thousands, hundred thousands, millions drudge with hard work. He saw them as animals, deprived them of all human life's potentials, goods and beauty only so he could shine and live in carefree, unbelievable comfort. He also knocked out other wealthy men by controlling millions of people with his power, turn them against each other and let them be killed. Wealth was necessary for killing, and from those killings, new wealthy men were born. Manfréd Weiss was one of them.

He became master of millions, viewed as an ubermensch, people told tales and miracles about his fortune, mansion, glitz and glamour in which he caroused, while the men who did the grimy, ragged and heavy work in his factories never had the chance to experience even just a little beam of  life's glamorous sea of light. Laborers gave an answer to all the lies, and the giant sledge they used to forge hills of gold and a golden life for Manfréd Weiss, now stroke on the lying, soulless, murderous, slave-keeping wealth, and the idol is shattered and fallen into pieces. Manfréd Weiss does not feel at home in this world anymore - falling from the usurped high of life into the deep: he did not want to live that through. Although he told his employees many times: "Why complain? You have a good life, you should be satisfied!" But he did not want that "good life" now. The lives of working men will become even better, as the stolen fruits of their work will now belong to them. Manfréd Weiss could not accept the fact, that he was going to have to work also, if he wanted to keep up the good life of being rich by others' sweat, tears, poverty and blood. The evil, lying, soul-killing and murderous wealth collapses miserably and cowardly, like an empty shell".

It was important for the Revolutionary Governing Council to nationalize privately owned factories and plants, so on March 26 they issued the following regulation: „The Soviet Republic nationalizes every industrial, mining and transportation businesses larger than a small family business, and will immediately put them under the proletariat's management, and the business employees' supervision.” The Soviet Republic's Social Production Commissariat appointed Production Commissioners to lead the nationalized businesses. The same day a Government Commission issued a decree in Vörös Újság on the nationalization of residential buildings. Manfréd Weiss' factory complex in Csepel was also nationalized, where coin production started on the Revolutionary Government Commission's order. The Soviet Republic viewed healthcare as something the government had to deal with, so they also nationalized all healthcare institutions, and made an effort of opening new ones. They reopened Manfréd Weiss' weekend house in Buda as a mental hospital and appointed psychiatrist Károly Hudovernig hospital director, who was prosecuted by the mayor after the Dictatorship of the Proletariat collapsed, for his role in seizing Bethesda hospital and Manfréd Weiss' villa.

The villa and its park in 1919, which was seized by the government

The papers published fallacious articles about the new mental institution's opening: The city's Public Health Department's management issued an order to merge the mental institution of St. John's Hospital and Manfréd Weiss' villa park at Budafoki út 45 to open the Budapest Mental Hospital.” If we take a closer look at the news footage, it's clear that the villa and its enormous park simply can not be the same place that the newspapers were writing about. They published the wrong address. If that was on purpose, or just a simple slip of the pen, we will never know, but by all means they made it a challenging task to identify the "villa park". We also ruled out the Weiss family home, the two beautiful villas on Andrássy út 114 and 116 while researching, even though several people thought that these were the buildings, which we see on Daisy Weiss' wedding photo.

The villa 100 years later in 2019


Finally a clue led us to Manfréd Weiss' weekend house on Budakeszi út 48. The building still stands today, although it was rebuilt, and now serves as the Gábor Sztehlo Orphanage. The Weiss family offered their villa in 1945 for Gábor Sztehlo evangelical pastor, who was trying to house the hundreds of children who became orphans during war. The pastor opened a children's state called Gaudiopolis (City of Joy) for the kids, with the central building of "Wolf Ranch", the Weiss' holiday home in Budakeszi. The children's state gave the idea for Géza Radványi's 1947 film, Somewhere in Europe, in which a lot of children from the state appeared. In 1950 the mini-state was disestablished, the building got nationalized and was reopened as Vasvári Pál Foster Home. The institution took Gábor Sztehlo's name in 2009. The Lauder Javne school was built in 1996 in this gigantic park, which operates to this day.

But let's go back to 1919 early April. The factory meant everything for Manfréd Weiss and he could not bear the thought of losing what he built. Although he did not manage to kill himself with the poison, he never recovered. He got back his factory after the Soviet Republic fell but shortly after the Romanian army raided him and caused 400 million Krones worth of damages. Even after all that he still had the strength to restart production. With great foresight, he already started preparations during war to manufacture tools people would need when the war ended, such as plowshares and machine tools. He even experimented with cloth manufacturing from the 1920s. Later they made home appliances from pins to refrigerators. The owner of the largest factory plant in Hungary died of a stroke on December 25, 1922. He had a grandiose funeral ceremony, which the family, big names from the economic and social life and the Csepel Manfréd Weiss factory's 4000 workers also attended. His sons and a son in law managed the factory after Weiss passed away.

The Revolutionary Governing Council's solutions to the housing problem

Nationalizing apartment buildings was one of the countless measures the Governing Council tried to solve the housing problem with, which mainly concerned the working class.

Mass housing in Budapest

To provide better housing conditions to working class families, proletarian leaders wished to reform the Housing Office, which in their mind „gave away comfortable, luxurious apartments to do-nothing rascals”. The Council appointed Commissar Tibor Szamuely and Béla Vágó to handle the reform and also take care of any housing matters of the city. The absoluteness of the power was perfectly illustrated by the tone of the command they issued after taking their position on April 8: „With the power vested in us by the Revolutionary Governing Council, we hereby command the Housing Office to halt accepting applications and apartment requisitions for the next three days. Those who abuse their power and issue a requisition, put up a new tenant in any of the apartments, takes part in forcefully occupying apartments at this time will be brought to the Revolutionary Court. And death awaits those applicants, who openly or secretly voice their dissatisfaction, try to revolt or oppose our orders.” Caretakers were ordered to make a list of empty apartments and places that could be turned into living spaces and a list of families who could move in together. Married couples with children could only live in maximum 2 bedroom apartments, families were allowed maximum 3 bedrooms and single men and women could only have 1 bedroom apartments. They did not fail to mention that „union workers enjoyed advantage in applying for a new home”. To serve the propaganda machine, they also often reported on how efficient the new Housing Office was. The following article was published in the Red Army's official paper, Proletár Hadsereg on June 5: „The National Housing Commissariat (Central Housing Office earlier) successfully helped moving 21.613 proletarian families into new homes. There are 3.000 available apartments left at the moment, but the number of applicants is way higher, so the National Housing Commissariat ordered a new apartment registry that will help us find the proletariat appropriate housing. To help proletarian children suffering from lung disease, the Commissariat commandeered the hotel on Svábhegy and 20 other villas with altogether 1500 places. As for every other office, red soldiers and their families enjoy priority, so nobody has to worry on the front whether their families would be left without a home or would be forced to live in miserable circumstances.” Shortly after, there were no more apartments available and the Commissariat temporarily suspended applications until the new registry was finalized.

The Commerce Commissariat was planning on building new homes, which had to be delayed due to the lack of building materials. Even though, the Social Production Commissariat confiscated scaffoldings, materials and tools which they found at construction sites and lumber yards. As a temporary solution, they started working on the baroque hospital at the Mária Valéria estate, - which was opened during World War I. - so that they could build shelters for families consisting of one bedroom, a kitchen and a pantry. It ended up becoming another slum and remained one for 40 years.

Shelters to eradicate poverty

Youth programs for children of the proletariat

Besides solving the housing problem, the Governing Council viewed the "nurturing the bodies and souls of children of the proletariat” as their number one mission. They offered training opportunities at nationalized baths for kindergarten and elementary school students, and opened sanatoriums and hospitals for children with lung problems. To lift their mood and help their cultural education they also ordered the organization of regular youth programs. The Public Education Commissariat entrusted the Hungarian Society of Pedagogues with the pedagogical supervision of youth entertainment, and from early April they started organizing youth programs in schools, theaters and children's hospitals. The first programs were held in the Budapest children's institutions, but the goal was to bring the action to the entire country, so that all children could take part at such events at least once a week. The first event took place on April 5 at 15:00 at the all-girl school in Bajza utca with Bajnok utca elementary school students.

Youth program for sick children

The Workers' Children's Theater opened at Fővárosi Orfeum, where actors were preparing for an early performance. The opening performance was Saturday afternoon on April 19 with more than 1000 children in the audience, of which Érdekes Ujság wrote the following report: „The strong proletarian fist broke into all the cultural institutions, theaters, museums and libraries which were only available for the elite, now opened it for everyone and gently herded in the children of the proletariat, so that fighters of the future could become familiar with the beauties of culture from an early age. Proletarian children are going to theaters now, where they can see plays, stories, scenes and follies written especially for them.” According to the report, the highlight of the day was an actress who arrived with a giant white parrot and went down to the audience singing. From then on, the theater did 4 shows a week for children, who visited the matinees in groups.

 The era's best storytellers and graphic artists entertained the children at these events. The most beloved storyteller was journalist, Oszkár Szalai - Uncle Oszkár for the kids - but they also adored József Szigeti, alias Uncle Józsi. Similar events took place on April 17 at all the Budapest children's hospitals (so that not only healthy children would be entertained), and a couple days later, on April 20, the artists visited the hospitalized children again to celebrate Easter together.

The Romanian's siege and the Dictatorship's reaction

While the Governing Council was working on consolidating their power in the country, finding better living circumstances for the working class, having recruitment parades and organizing the May 1st ceremony, the country was attacked on the Eastern front by Romanians.

On April 18, the Military Commissariat commented on the events in Vörös Ujság with the following: „Even though the Soviet Republic's government - just like its predecessor - honored the conditions of the armistice signed with Entente commanders, the Boyar agency of Entente imperialists still attacked our troops on the Transylvanian front the day before yesterday.” Although the Vix memo was rejected, it was expected that both the Entente and our neighbors would still want to get the territories they wished for, but the attack still came unexpected for the Hungarian army, and the Romanian troops did not stop until they reached the Tisza river, ergo they disregarded the borders of the neutral zone described in the Vix memo.


Recruitment in Népliget

After learning about the April 16 attack, the new recruitment day - which was already being set up - got a new slogan: The Revolution is in danger! The Easter Sunday recruitment day at Népliget was originally organized for those who could not attend the Red Recruitment Day two weeks earlier. And even though the original program did not change, guests and future soldiers could feel that something much bigger was at stake. Several thousand people gathered in and around Népliget, with actors performing, people giving speeches and bands playing revolutionary songs on several stages at once. Six recruitment committees were welcoming people, and the festivities went late into the night.

At the same time the International Alliance of Socialists held a rally at the parliament to draw the international proletariat's attention to the unfairness of the Soviet Republic's attack, interpreting it as the imperialists' attack against the proletariat. Myriad of people gathered there this afternoon – Székelys, Germans, Czechs, Slovakians, Serbians, Croatians, Bosnians, Russians, Rusins, Polish, Romanians, Bulgarians, Turkish, Italians and Jews - and accepted the following proposal:

„The International Alliance of Socialists in Hungary raise their voice against the Romanian Boyar herde's  attack against the Hungarian Soviet Republic, and asks the World's proletariat to obtain all available weapons to fight the imperialism endangering the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Down with predacious imperialism! Long live the proletarian world revolution! Long live the International Soviet Republic!"