Magyar Szó

"Documenting the life of the Hungarian community in New Zealand"
- Az új-zélandi magyar közösség lapja.

Issue 82 - December 2005

January in Hungarian History

January 6 is an important day in the history of the Székely people. The Székelys, also known as Szeklers, came into Transylvania either with or before the Magyars. By the 11th century, however, they had adopted Magyar speech and they later formed one of three privileged nations of Transylvania, the others being the Magyars and the Saxons. With their own military and civil organization, Székelys enjoyed autonomy under the Hungarian crown and were regarded as of noble birth, and therefore exempt from taxation. Sometime in the 13th century the kings assigned them the role of guarding the Transylvanian borders of Hungary and today this part of what is now Romania is known as Szekler Land (Székelyföld).

On that January day in 1764 several hundred Székely women and children were massacred by Austrian troops in the village of Madéfalva (Siculeni). This came about as a result of an order by the Habsburg queen, Maria Theresa, who decreed that the male Székely population was subject to recruitment to serve as border patrols under the command of the Habsburg military authorities. This draft meant between eight and twelve years military service and was, not unnaturally, actively resisted. Many young Székely men fled to neighbouring Moldavia, then a Romanian province. After the massacre at Madéfalva entire Székely villages left the country and settled in Moldavia and Bokovina where they can still be found today. They called themselves csángó which is the Székely-Magyar word for refugee. Each year their descendants make the pilgrimage back to Madéfalva to remember that tragic January day and sing the Székely Himnusz: Such sorrowful a past - our millennia of misfortune, /The ravages of Tatars and Turks, and Austrian yoke.

An equally tragic event is also commemorated in January. The Battle of the Don began on January 12, 1943. The Hungarian 2nd Army, along with other Axis armies, held the Don-front as the German army retreated from the relentless Soviet army. Their position, near the city of Voronezh, was at the eastern edge and was the most exposed of the front. The various divisions that made up the 2nd Army were poorly equipped, especially for fighting in a vicious Russian winter. The Soviet Army with vastly superior equipment and reserves sensed this was the weakest point and attacked accordingly. By the end of January the Hungarian army, with a total strength of 200,000 had casualties of some 100,000 dead and 50,000 wounded, many of whom were taken prisoner. Many of them were not even carrying weapons as they were members of forced labour groups conscripted into the army. No other nation lost as much blood during World War II in such a short period of time, and in numerical terms it was the worst ever defeat inflicted upon Hungarian armed forces.


Paul Hellyer

Magyar Szó Issue 82 - December 2005