The Hungarian Noble Family That Took in the Exiled Jews

The Hungarian noble Batthyány family claims to have roots reaching back to the founding of Hungary. The family is said to be descended from the famous chieftain Kővágó-Örs, first mentioned in a document from the year 970 AC.

Shaul Greenstein | 18.12.18 |
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Order bearing the secret seal of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary regarding Berthold Elderbach/Ellerbach of Monyorókerék. Buda, 1470.
Count Lajos Batthyány served as Hungary's first Prime Minister in 1848. His image here is from a portrait in the Hungarian National Museum.

The Batthyány Family was an aristocratic family that served as a meeting point of different social classes between the 16th and 20th centuries and contributed greatly to the continuity of the previously Turkish-splintered Hungary, not only with their private armies and bodies of governance, but also through their contributions to Hungarian cultural, educational, political and medical history. In 1848, Count Lajos Batthyány even served as the first Prime Minister of Hungary. Today, the famous “Batthyány tér,” a square in Budapest, preserves the family’s memory.

The Batthyány family’s existence is continuously verifiable from 1398 when the Esztergomer Captain György Kővágóörsi received the estate of Batthyán with the market town Polgárdi from King Sigismund for his services in the fight against the Turks. For hundreds of years, the coat of arms of the Batthyány family was a pelican feeding his chicks with his own blood and a sword carrying lion below it.

Batthyanys Coat of Arm
Boldizsár and Benedek Batthyány’s Coat of Arms received from Ulászló the Second on December 12th, 1500 in Buda

Batthyanys newer Coat of Arms
The coat of arms went through some small changes over the centuries, but its central motif remained the same. Later, the lower part was bordered by a ribbon, that read in Latin, “FIDELITATE ET FORTITUDINE” (with fidelity and courage).

In the second half of the 17th century, when Emperor Leopold the First expelled the Jews from lower Austria and later forbade them from settling in the royal cities, the Batthyánys were among the major landowners, in addition to the noble Esterházy and Zichy families, who welcomed and accepted the Jews, allowing them to settle on their properties in the western part of Hungary as they saw a potential economic advantage in their presence in the local economic life. Typically, once the Jews settled down in the villages of the large estates and in the centers of the capital, they got actively involved in the economic life of the estate.

The first group of Jews came mainly from the Jewish communities of Nikolsburg and Uherský Brod (Magyarbród). The Jews were accommodated and resettled by Esterházy in Sopron county in the well-known “Seven Communities” (Sheva Kehilot) of the Eisenstadt (Kismarton) estate. In Rohonc (Rechnitz), on the Batthyánys estate was established in 1687 the first large Jewish community with more than 30 families. Their lives were governed by a letter of privilege received from the Batthyány landlords. The privileges provided by the Batthyány family, which laid down the duties and rights of Jews, were also used as a model for communities established in subsequent settlements.

Contrary to the seemingly positive attitude of the Batthyány family towards the Jews, the castle in Rohonc has a sad World War II history that is described in the British journalist David R. L. Litchtfield’s article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, as well in Swiss journalist Sacha Batthyany’s book “A Crime in the Family” that was published in 2017. Rohonc had been the property of the Batthyánys since the 16th century, but in the 19th-century, the property was transferred to the possession of the Thyssen family. In the 1930s, Count Iván Batthyány married the Rohonc born Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza and Rohonc returned to the Batthyány family.

In the spring of 1945, a party was held at the Castle of Rohonc on Palm Sunday evening (24th March). One hundred and eighty Jewish Hungarian forced laborers were murdered and buried in mass graves during the party. These 180 Jews were among the 600 Jews brought to the Burgenland settlement in Rohonc for the construction of the south-east rampart with the purpose of holding back the advancing Red Army. The mass shooting of 180 Jewish men who were found “unfit for work,” was ordered by Margit’s lover and Nazi sympathizer Joachim Oldenburg and by Franz Podezin, the NSDAP Commander of Rohonc, who freely and purposefully handed out guns to the partygoers. Fifteen of the Jewish prisoners were left alive and were tasked with digging the mass grave for the victims. After they completed their task, the fifteen survivors became victims and were murdered by Podezin and Oldenburg. With the completion of the shootings, the party guests went back to the castle to continue the celebrations with drink and dance. The otherwise immaculate name of the Batthyánys was disreputed following these events. Margit and her husband lived a long life in Bad Homburg in Germany. After their deaths in 1985 and 1989 respectively, the other members of the Batthyány family did not allow the couple to be buried in the family crypt.

The Batthyány Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Batthyány Collection at the National Library of Israel consists of 76 archival files (ARC. 4* 2013 – Batthyány family collection).

These files include about 200 records in Latin, German, Hungarian and Czech and include letters (correspondence), resolutions, orders, certificates and other administrative documents dealing with properties of all kind created by the Batthyány family members or other European medieval noblemen, kings, emperors and administrative workers between 1470 and 1868. It seems that none of these documents are connected to the Jews or their matters.

The Batthyány Family Collection includes documents from the second half of the 15th century issued by various kings and royal officials. The timeframe of the collection begins with this period and stretches all the way to the second half of the 19th century. The collection includes various paraphernalia, documents on heritage issues and other administrative documents that relate to the family’s elaborate mansions. The correspondence includes not only discussions with the most prominent personalities of the time but also communications with high official servants, domestic serfs and property governors who turned to the landlords during the course of their routine tasks, providing us with documentation of the problems of everyday life of that time. Among the administrative documentation from the 16th and 19th centuries are representations of the Ortenegg, Város-Szalónak, Rohonc, Németújvár, Körmend, Ördöglika, and Hidegkút estates. The documents issued in the 18th century have a political and military character and include several matters regarding the Batthyány family members who were prominent in their national positions.

The majority of the documents are clearly related to the Batthyánys and their affairs, however, there are also a number of private letters and official documents which could not be linked directly to the family. Their possible direct or indirect relation to the family has not been disproven but any attempt to reveal this connection may require a deeper knowledge of the Batthyány family tree and its history.

Despite their age, the documents, written on parchment and paper, are in relatively good shape but some of them will undergo special conservation treatment at the National Library in the near future. Because of the sensitivity of these archival materials to humidity and other climate conditions and because of their high historical value and importance, the Batthyány Family Collection is kept in the Library’s Rare Collections Department.

The collection now found in the National Library of Israel completes the archive of Batthyány family in Hungary, which is massive and well known, serving as a major source of information for many historians.  Unfortunately, the archive suffered many misfortunes including damage caused by Soviet soldiers in Körmend during World War II and fire damage during the revolution of 1956 in Budapest. Today it is kept at the National Library of Hungary in Budapest (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár) including almost 212 meters of archival material created between 1501-1944.

Here are some examples of the interesting historical documents of the Batthyány Family Collection at the National Library of Israel:

Matyas kiraly
Order bearing the secret seal of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary regarding Berthold Elderbach/Ellerbach from Monyorókerék. Buda, 1470.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 02

 

Elisabeth Swetkowitz
An agreement to divide the estate of Elisabeth Batthyány (née Swetkowitz, wife of Kristóf Battyhány) written by the Austrian inheritance advisor Marshal Wilhelm von Puchaim. Vienna, 09.06.1535

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 05

 

Anna Lemberg
Inventory of silver, clothes, garments and other property of Anna Szwetkowitz, widow of Joseph von Lemberg. Ortenegg, 04.03.1558.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 09

 

Balthasar Literatus Schytarocky
Testimony in Latin signed by Balthasar Boldizsár III Batthyány. Nikolsburg, 16.04.1572. Many of his letters are declared lost. Boldizsár had a great passion for books and had about one thousand of them in his personal library.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 14

 

Bethlen Gabor Thurzo Imre
Letter from the king of Hungary and Prince of Transylvania, Gábor Bethlen to Count Betlenfalvi Imre Thurzó, about an event planned for 16.03.1621. The letter mentions, among others, Friedrich V, Elector Palatinate of the Rhine.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 18

 

Komornyik István
One letter from the Bailiff István Komornyik to Count Ádám Batthyány reporting on matters concerning escaped bondservants, cattle, debts, Turkish prisoners, battles, etc. Veszprém, 24.03.1639.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 21

 

Miklós Postákovich
A contract concerning the leasing of family property in Hidegkút involving Ambrosio Ludwig von Reichhardtsperg, Miklós Postákovich, Cristoph Batthyány etc. Koschendorf, 13.06.1696. The document includes a financial redemption for the leased estate (additional text) for 300 florins signed by Augustin Reichhartperg in Güssing on 26.05.1745 (note the difference in years).

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 40

 

Miklós Postákovich
A similar contract concerning the leasing of family property in Hidegkút involving Ambrosio Ludwig von Reichhartsberg, etc. Güssing, 20.08.1696. The document also includes the redemption of the leased estate for a fee of 1000 florins from Augustin Reichhartperg signed also in Güssing on 26.05.1745 (note the difference in years).

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 40

 

Güssinger Zeitung 1930

Güssinger Zeitung 1930
An article in the Güssinger Zeitung newspaper from 21.09.1930 that mentions the redemption of a previously leased (1696) Batthyány family property in Hidegkút for 300 florins in 1745.

 

Batthyány Eleonora
Instructions from Eleonora Batthyány to the Prefect Sámuel Palotai concerning money matters – rental, sale and credit contracts with the Dominican priests in the city of Sopron (Ödenburg), Steinamanger, etc. Vienna, 15.02.1713.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 47

 

László Ignác Bercsényi
A barely legible Hungarian letter from László Ignác Bercsényi to count Ferenc Batthyány concerning a future meeting in Rohonc. Szombathely, 10.05.1714.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 48

 

Galánthai József Esterházy
A letter from Galánthai József Esterházy in Vienna to the Hungarian chancellor Count Lajos Batthyány of Német-Újvár. Cseklész (today Bernolákovo), 15.02.1739.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 51

 

Maria Theresia - Philipp von Batthyány
Imperial mandate signed by the Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresia (Theresa) given to Count Philipp von Batthyány (1731-1795), youngest son of Ludwig von Batthyány, allowing him to serve in the Széchenyi Husar Regiment as Lieutenant Colonel. Vienna, 10.10.1760.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 60

 

Count Philipp von Batthyány
Imperial decree appointing Count Philipp von Batthyány (1731-1795), youngest son of Ludwig von Batthyány, to the rank of Major-General (General Major) and as a member of the Secret Council on a trial basis. Vienna, 08.08.1771.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 65

 

Karl Carl von Batthyány
Notes on purchased property matters written and signed by Karl (Carl) von Batthyány, Lord of Güssing. Güssing, 30.09.1792. On the same document: additional property notes dated 18.01.1827 in Güssing concerning Johann Batthyány and Philipp Batthyány.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 68

 

Gábor Sényi
A letter from Gábor Sényi, prince Fülöp Batthyány’s governor of goods, to the property office in Körmend concerning the rental of the premises of the castle of Körmend and the sale of horses and wool from the lordships of Kanizsa and Ludbreg. Vienna, 18.06.1852.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 71

 

Holic - Goods and Property Administration in Körmend
Two letters from the Imperial Royal Administrative Office in Holitsch (Holíč) to the Goods and Property Administration in Körmend concerning an auction, etc. 09.06.1854.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 73

 

The Batthyány Archive has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.




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Shaul Greenstein

Shaul Greenstein, archivist at the National Library. Married and father of three children, deals with the registration of archival material and catalog. Speaks, reads and writes six languages. A graduate of the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Hobbies: dogs, cycling and more.

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