Pink postcards 9

[21 December 1914]
Name of the sender: K. Timó, Budapest, 1st Infantry Regiment
Address of the sender: 3rd March Battalion, 4th Section

Address: To the honored Miss Antónia Zajác
3rd district, Kis-Korona Street 52

My dear son!
Excuse me that I have not yet written, but now I write news that is better. I am still here in the barracks, and will even be home for Christmas. They guard us so much that we are not even allowed into the yard, but perhaps for the feast they will let us go home. If not, come here in the afternoon of the first day, go to my parents and come with them. We have already received all the food for the battlefield, and now we got the command to eat it, because it will go bad. We were in such a state of uncertainty, they even woke us up in the night, and we slept on benches. How are you, do you feel well? and your mother and sisters?
Until next time embraces and kisses from your d.-J-w

Previous letters (indicated in gray on the map):

Budapest, 11 December 1914
Budapest, 2 December 1914
Budapest, 28 November 1914
Budapest, 27 November 1914
Budapest, 18 November 1914
Budapest, 27 October 1914
Debrecen, 25 September 1914
Szerencs, 28 August 1914
[The carrier of the good news arrived here three days earlier. Perhaps the writer of the letter, Károly, could not have received any better news. In the middle of uncertainties and turmoil, he received a little reprieve from fate.

Perhaps all of us have memories when on Christmas eve we were far away from our loved ones. In a suburban barracks it is not easy to stay calm even in peacetime, next to a makeshift Christmas tree; the thoughts are roaming far beyond the wire fences.

The newspapers report on the bright triumphs of Limanowa. The weather report woven into the war correspondence of Pesti Napló seems to anticipate the day’s weather: “I never followed our troops with so proud hopes, as in these days of great importance in December, which play with the soft breeze of spring.”

However, the 1st Infantry Regiment of Budapest is struggling with the Russians almost at the same place on the ridge of the Carpathians. “In the Carpathians, the situation has not changed significantly”, says a brief report by Major General Hőfer, Deputy Chief of the General Staff.]

“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York…”


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The eternal city

By order of Illustrious Monsignor Presidente delle Strade, it is prohibited for any person to throw filth in this place, under the penalties included in the decree of 8 September 1759.

By order of Illustrious and Reverend Monsignor [Paolo] Passionei Presidente delle Strade, it is prohibited for any person of any rank to throw or cause to be thrown in this site and place filth of any kind, and make it a rubbish-pile, under penalty of twenty-five scudi each time, as well as the other penalties imposed by His Illustrious Lordship, included in the bulletin by Urban Notary [Gioacchino] Orsini on 23 September 1762.

By order of Illustrious and Reverend Presidente delle Strade, it is prohibited for any person to make a rubbish-pile and to throw garbage in this place, under the penalties included in the edict issued in the bulletin of 5 June 1761 by Urban Notary [Gioacchino] Orsini.

By order of Illustrious Monsignor Presidente delle Strade, it is expressly prohibited for all and every individual of any rank to dare to throw or cause to be thrown filth under any pretext both in this place and in its surroundings, under the penalties contained in the announcements and in the edict published and posted here on 26 October 1741.

By order of Monsignor Presidente delle Strade, it is prohibited to make a rubbish-pile in this place, under the penalty of fifteen scudi, and other penalties in accordance with the edict issued on 22 May 1761.

Please do not throw garbage here

We beg you not to throw here any kind of material. This is not a rubbish-pile. Thank you.

Please collect your own excrements.

Do not leave the garbage here. It will be full of mice. The garbage is collected door to door. Thank you.

New Year in Prague

“The next morning earely, being the sixth of July [1636], from thence [Český Brod] to Prague to dinner, being five Dutch miles [ca. 30 kilometers], passing first thorow very pleasant plaines and meddowes, untill we came neere the citie, which is encompassed on both sides with rocks and hils, all planted with vines, having three townes belonging to it, Newstadt, Oldstadt, and the Slostadt; [Schloßstadt / Castle Town] at Newstadt wee entred in at a faire gate, passing thorow into Oldstadt, to his Excellencies [Sir Thomas Howard’s] lodging, which said Stadt is inhabited chiefly by Jewes, who have there foure Synagogues, and in one I saw there a Rabbi circumcise a child, here we were told that all their fruits in the further parts of the countrey were spoyled, as corne, vineyards, and the like, by the aforesaid thunder and lightning with hailestones as big as ones fist, and also divers cattell were then lost: betweene this and the Slostadt runneth a pleasant river called the Muldow, and over it standeth a faire Bridge of stone, as long as London Bridge, over which his Excellencie passed, going to view the Castle, being a stately large built Fort, seated on a high hill within the Slostadt, called Ketschin, [Hradschin/Hradčany] in which the King of Bohemia lived; first wee passed thorow three faire Court-yards, having at one of the gates a guard of Souldiers in which Court-yard there is a statue of S. George on horse-backe in brasse, and a fountaine, then entred we into a spacious hall, having many faire shops in it like unto Westminster, but that their Courts of Iudicature are in other roomes by it: from hence wee went up and passed thorow many faire roomes well hung, and pictures in them, and one roome furnished with English pictures of our Nobilitie, which the King of Bohemia [Frederick, Elector of Pfalz, 1619-1620] was forced to leave.”

prag prag prag prag prag prag prag prag prag

The detailed program of our New Year Prague trip has been composed. For a lucky start and similar continuation of the new year, we set out immediately after recovering from New Year’s Eve night, and on the weekend from 2 to 4 January we visit everything what Sir Thomas Howard, Ambassador of the English King, and his secretary William Crowne saw in their trip of 1636. And even much more, all that the following nearly four centuries have added to Prague.

In this first occasion of our Prague urban exploration series we walk through the historical center, house to house: the Old Town, with a special focus on the former Jewish quarter, the Lesser Side, the streets under the Castle, the little-known world of Pohořelec and Nový Svět. Our focus is on the structure and historical changes of the city quarters, the medieval “Royal Road” from the Powder Tower to the Hradčany, the stories of the medieval and Renaissance houses, the large-scale city planning in the late 19th and early 20th and its results, and the sites of the commercial, literary and social life around the turn of the century, with special respect to the disappeared German and Jewish inhabitants. In the former Jewish district – the current palace quarter around Parížská and Široká streets – we reconstruct the disappeared, centuries-long structure, history and life of the neighborhood with old maps, photos and reports. Of course, wherever our path leads us, we will not keep silent on the themes planned for our later walks: the buildings of early 20th-century architecture, the sites of Nazi and Soviet occupation, or of late 20th-century and contemporary literary and cultural life. And since it is expected to be cold, we will often sit down in some more or less known traditional coffee houses, pubs and restaurants, where we will learn about the history and offerings of the place. And whatever has been lost since the time of Sir Thomas Howard and William Crowne, we will call to life in situ with old photographs and drawings.

I have already booked the accommodation for those registering this far, but for a short period it is still possible to join us at The participation fee is 110 euro (two nights in four-star hotel with breakfast + guide), single room supplement 40 euro. Those who, before 1914, failed to see a Prague that has disappeared since then, can now catch up.

Bergoglio's List

On 24 March 1976, the army in Argentina seizes power. On the pretext of a fight against the far-left guerilla organizations, they introduce dictatorship, and carry away – “sniff in”, as contemporaries say – from their homes, jobs, the streets, or even from the churches, those tinged with the slightest shadow of suspicion of disagreement with the system: students, workers, trade unionists, social workers, catechists and priests working in slums, as well as their relatives. The vast majority of those deported are tortured, and then thrown from airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1976 and 1983 – until the dictatorship falls in the inglorious Falklands War – an estimated thirty thousand desaparecidos disappeared in this way.

The leaders of the Argentine Catholic Church, who were also afraid of the strengthening of the pro-Communist movements, did not openly act against the abuses of the junta, which they considered the less evil, or even the savior of the nation. This is why they have been severely criticized after the fall of the dictatorship by of the resurgent Argentine democracy. The persons criticized also include Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who also had an important position in the hierarchy of the Catholic church in Argentina, as the Argentine provincial of the Jesuit order. Although the court investigating the sins of the dictatorship has repeatedly declard him clear of suspicion of the collaboration with the regime, the press still publishes various statements, according to which he could have at least stood up more vigorously for those persecuted by the regime, including the Hungarian Jesuit Francis Jálics, who spent several months in detention for his work done among the poor.

This photo, with the falsified caption “Bergoglio administers sacraments to the Argentine dictator General Videla”, was for many years one of the clichés of the anti-Bergoglio press. Although it has long been established that the priest in it is not Bergoglio, it still regularly appears – though, with no caption – as an illustration of the articles attacking Bergoglio.

On 13 March 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected Pope Francis, these reproaches gain a new impetus in the international press. This inspires Nello Scavo, journalist of the Italian daily Avvenire, to investigate the truth of these charges. And in the course of a series of detailed interviews with the former acquaintances of Bergoglio, he reaches a startling conclusion. Not only did the Jesuit provincial not assist the dictatorship, but, by building an extensive secret network, he even saved, regardless of their political affiliation, several hundred people who faced the risk of deportation and death by the regime. He usually gave shelter to them in the Jesuit house of Buenos Aires on the pretext of “spiritual exercises” for a few days, while he organized a way to secretly get them over to Brazil, where his acquaintances working in the embassies assisted them in acquiring European visas.

The title of the book – Bergoglio’s List, which, after appearing already in eight other languages, has now my Hungarian translation has also been published by the Academic Publisher – obviously refers to Schindler’s List. The Hungarian reader will probably browse with special interest the chapter on Francis Jálics, because since the election of Pope Francis, the Hungarian press, otherwise uninterested in South America, loves to warm up the many-year old canned news of the international press. According to the charge spread by journalist Horacio Verbitsky from New York Times to the Argentine Página 12 – which he finally publicly withdrew –, it was the Provincial who denounced the two Jesuits, Jálics and Orlando Yorio, working in the slums; or, in another, mitigated version, he only “cut off his support” of them, thereby facilitating the job of the dictatorship. However, Jálics clearly states in this chapter: “Yorio and I were not denounced by Bergoglio”, and in the nineties he concelebrated a public Mass with Bergoglio to silence the accusations. Without much success, it seems: sensationalism is always more exciting than reality. Which latter was in this case, as this chapter documents it in detail, that Bergoglio personally intervened with the representatives of the dictatorship, threatening with the pressure of the Jesuit order and the Vatican, for the release of the two Jesuits, which eventually took place. As an amazing rarity, in fact, since the regime was well known to leave no witness alive, and once it sniffed in someone, he or she would never come to light any more.

In this volume, Nello publishes only a dozen of his interviews made with the several hundred survivors on “Bergoglio’s List”. But from these few, it is apparent that Bergoglio, as a Jesuit Provincial during the dictatorship, confessed and did the same as after the election as Pope: stood on the side of the poor and persecuted.

Field post

“The baggage cart advances with a painful squeal in the deep, bottomless mud and drizzling rain. An old blue-shirted soldier drives it, while smoking his pipe. The one sitting next to him, unshaven, in gray uniform, is urging the cart on by cursing in three languages. He’s a Hungarian, who three months earlier still examined the peaceful packages in a Budapest post office, to see whether they were properly stamped. It is possible, and even probable, that next year, if the weapons fall silent, he could do the same. But for now, he is a soldier. With a sergeant’s yellow collar patch, but instead of stars, a little horn indicates his appointment.

At the rear of the cart, the rain beats down on a field post soldier. This is how the field post advances, along with oncoming animals with luggage, carts, the wounded dragging themselves. The road is not easy, and not short. Up until the border town, the consignment was brought by automobile, the ordinary Bosnian mail car, but from then on no delivery can be made by motor. You need horses, two or rather four, because the cart is carrying the post for a whole division, about twenty-five thousand soldiers and craftsmen of all kind. In the sealed bag, the letters to the proud hussar officer and the long-bearded Moravian mountain gunner get on well with each other. They contain the letter as eagerly expected by the gold-bespectacled camp rabbi, as by the Croatian soldier soaking up there in the muddy hills…

How many letters, oh my God. Pink, green, yellow cards, white letters, dirty paper rags mixed with fragrant envelopes addressed in elegant feminine characters. How much desire, how many sighs, the amount of love and pain of life rests in those packed bags! But the road does not get any easier, nor the horses any calmer, so that the dear burden of the baggage cart, the only peaceful happiness for the soldier at war, the field post could get sooner to its goal. But you see, once it gets there. Some shabby little houses along the road and on the hillside, of two or three only the blackened beams are left, and carts, horses, tents all around in the field – this is the division headquarters. The baggage cart stops moaning in front of a little hovel which used to be a bakery and butcher’s, and a few soldiers come out and start to unload the wagon. This is the field post office. It even has a proud sign that indicates: “Field post office”, it’s just missing a mailbox beside the door. Of course, by entering the “office”, you hardly meet the hygienic comfort of domestic post offices. An ugly little lair, you cannot take more than one or two steps, for it is full of matted yellow suitcases. Actually, these few boxes are the field post office: one is the counter, the other the printed form storage, and so on. When the division post office is moving, the stands, chairs, stamps, letters are put in the boxes, the boxes on a cart, the two post officers – in the rank of first leutenant – sit on their innocent little horses, and the office goes on, into another hut, or perhaps only a tent. The bags are thus dumped, and the bundles of letters come to light. They are processed by regiment, but sometimes the post of Budapest brings bundles, which are sorted by battalions and batteries. A superhuman work. A separate bundle contains the newspapers. Whoever can, rushes to see them and looks for the latest news, although they do not have to be examined too closely, for they are printed in large boldface type.

As the post is laid out and sorted, the clients gradually come. The assistant of His Excellency; the big-mustachio’d field policeman; the Reverend Gentlemen – with no denominational distinction –; then come some reckless representative of the non-fighting branches, who make an effort to come here for the post, where sometimes a piece of shrapnel hits between the cows tied to stakes and the smoking furnaces. But these reckless ones are also accompanied by armed soldiers on the left and right, a revolver at his side, and his heroic sword in his right, which uselessly trembles from the desire to bathe in the blood of the enemy. In a few hours, the officers responsible for taking over the post arrive from every regiment. The money and parcels are only given to officers, the letters can be also taken by under-officers to certain stand-alone units. During this time, the field post is lively, and news is exchanged.

The members of the division staff listen in religious awe to an artillery officer, who rides fifteen kilometers every day to carry the post to his battery, which is fighting in the front line. The lieutenant smiles at the terror caused by a few bullet striking here.

“Just come visit us”, he encourages the postmen, “just listen the «Kalimegdan» and the «Sveti Nikola».” (This is what they call the two largest guns of the Serbs.) Of course, the post does not go there, it would not even be appropriate, and the postmen are satisfied with the enemy’s “zünders” received as gift. The sorting of the mail carries on, the letters to be sent are brought. The majority of the letters are written on unbelievable paper. Yes, the stock of postcards soon runs out, and any kind of paper does it. Many ask for blank paper from home, so they can write back. But the field post takes everything, even if undeliverable, and badly addressed letters are returned to the addresse, as if we were at peace. On the letters coming in, sometimes only a meagre clue is given to the postmen, but this single letter is enough to find the addressee, if he is still alive… for there are some, to whom mail can no longer be delivered. On such letters the unit writes that he is «deceased», and on the next day it is already carried by the post back to his home far away. The baggage cart is creaking again in the mud, the horses sweating, the post soldier is smoking his pipe at the rear of the cart, and the letters are joggling along, to villages and towns, to worried parents, crying wives, sad sweethearts. They are carrying the hearts of the warriors.”

In: Csataképek a nagy háborúból (War landscapes from the great war). Composed and introduced
by Endre Nagy. Budapest, 1915, Singer and Wolfner. (From Káfé Főnix)

Field post traffic at the Isonzo front

We have written many times, and will write many more, about field posts, both from the First and the Second World War, and from both sides of the front. The great wars created a new genre. The millions of men living far away from their families, for a period of years, in constant mortal danger, wrote home hundreds of millions of censored postcards, in which they could virtually write nothing about what surrounded them every day, only about that which took place inside: the nostalgia and affectionate longing, that they are healthy and endure, and they still have hope that they will return home alive.

Thousands of families still keep tens of thousands of similar letters from grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and in fortunate cases, they also have the responses that were brought home with them.

“…we are well, we are here at one of our passes, and we guard the thousand-year old border… We are convinced that no enemy will pass through here, across the Árpád Line!”

An exploded bunker of the Árpád Line, from the mountains above the often mentioned Yasinia, from the Wikipedia entry “Árpád-vonal”. Below: the Árpád Line built out 600 kilometers long on the old Hungarian border, from here.

Lieutenant Doctor Zoltán Kovács, to his bride in Kolozsvár/Cluj, on his conviction about the safety of the Árpád Line just two days before Romania switched to the Soviet side, and thus the Soviet army could occupy the positions from the rear, through Romanian territory. This is the last postcard which survives from him, in the collection of János Fellner.

The field postcards kept by the families are rarely available to outsiders, perhaps only on the occasion of an exhibition. Whatever we know about field letters, we mainly know thanks to passionate collectors who fish them out and save them from antique shops and flea markets, philatelic and auction sites, to preserve these less conspicuous pieces of orphaned legacies. And they also share them on the web, including on the Facebook site dedicated to the field post, from where I received the postcards of Zoltán Kovács through the group administrator János Fellner.

Field butchers on the front page of a hand-made field postcard, 1914

By the time the field postcards get to the collectors, they are usually bereft of the personal stories, which a family may still remember about the senders and addressees of the letters in their possession. This is made up to a certain extent by the great amount of the published cards, which already enables serious typological and historical statistics, as well as by the in-depth knowledge of the collectors commenting on the cards. We find, for example, many new examples of the slow postal-snails, dragging along, which we had already encountered before, and János Fellner confirms, that this motif does not occur on postcards before the release of the famous song by Katalin Karády in 1942.

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Letters in fact move slowly over Russian land. From the press review of  Huszadik Század

The post cards may also contain some different representations of the Russian lands, which are not drawn by hand, but centrally printed, and intended to inspire and encourage the soldiers. Like this one from 1942, where the brave Hungarian lad has already cut the Red Army-head of the dragon, which resembles Stalin, and only the ruefully twinkling Jewish head is left.

In a lucky case, the brave Hungarian lads who failed to cope with the dragon, could also continue writing field postcards. The group has published plenty of POW postcards from Russia, from both world wars. Moreover, we also find a telegram sent to “Asian Russia”, Samarkand, by the prisoner’s father, accompanied with some money. Of course, in the First World War, letters went more quickly over the Russian land.

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Some of the postcards become interesting, or even gruesome, if we are able – as do the experienced collectors – to decode the field post numbers in cipher, and uncover the story behind them. This postcard, for example, was written by the commander of the labor camp in the Serbian Bor, where the great Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti was a prisoner, who wrote it to his wife in a suburb of Budapest. The text is the usual: he is looking for free leave, he misses her, it is a beautiful autumn weather. Actually, the same as what was written from the same place by Radnóti in his “Letter to my wife”, of course each of them in its own way.

But to avoid finishing our review with such a tragic final word, we also find in the common collection the earliest known examples of field postcards from the years of blessed peace. Soldiers complained then, too, how could they not? They did not know yet, that their sons happily möchten ihre Sorge haben.

“My letter is written in Budapest, 20 December 1888. My dear beloved mother and dear brothers, I let you know about my fate and condition, that my sort is not the best, because I am in the hospital with my ear, and I do not know when I would leave, now I cry now I swear that I am at this point, Christmas will be long here, and also poor, because what they cook here, I cannot eat, it is as bad as garblings”

János Fellner encourages the collectors of field postcards to join the group, and share their treasures. We also encourage on our part those who still have their family postcards, and can illustrate them with stories and other documents and pictures, as we do in the “Pink Postcards” series.

The Ghost Fiddler

This essay was first published in Czech on the web site His Voice: Magazine of Alternative Music, as part of the ongoing column “Field Notes.”
Recently one evening, I was walking along Celetná Street in the Old Town. The yellowish lights of the shops spilled out onto the old street, and spread a golden varnish over the peaks of the cobblestones, which rustled with the whisper of many feet, the sound of the throngs who are nearly always to be found there. It happened to be the last day of October, the Eve of All Saints, an unusually warm evening for the autumn, perfectly suited for a long aimless walk. This is a date long connected with ghosts, masks, make-believe, and things being not quite as they appear. The Anglo-Celtic Halowe’en recalls the old belief that the yearly harvest is followed by a liminal time during which the spirits of the departed can more easily pass among the living.

I was nearing the Municipal House when I began to hear a high-pitched, ghostly, ringing music, somewhat difficult to locate precisely, with a sound that resembled either a breath instrument, or a stringed one. This eerie sound, I found, was seeping out from the midst of a small gathering of tourists, at the nucleus of which stood a man performing a tune reminiscent of Mozart on a verrilion, also known as a water glass harp. He held his audience completely in thrall.

The verrilionist was standing at a table with a perhaps two dozen wine glasses of various sizes, each containing a quantity of clear water. With unerring technique, he repeatedly dipped the pads of his fingertips into these tiny ponds, and with a practiced stroke pressed on the rim of a glass, a gentle and precise friction that sounded a note by exciting the vessel into ringing vibration. His performance was seamless, with chords, arpeggios, crescendos and glissandos, a wall of ethereal sweetness that, in spite of the perhaps cloying nature of the medium, held a fascination for its morbid, other-worldly quality, which enchants as much as it entertains. It is probably for reasons like this that the instrument has sometimes been called the ghost fiddle. In the 18th century, similar instruments enjoyed a certain vogue, and legends from this time caution us not to indulge in it too much, either in listening or playing, because those who are sensitive to melancholy were thought to be at risk of insanity because of its strange, sad sound.

The supple hands of the ghost fiddler fluttered like little hummingbirds over the glasses’ halos, seeking the sweet essence of the music, and the fairie-like ring of it was a sheer delight. The tourists were recording the performance on mobile phones, paying homage to the performer by tossing coins into a pot laid before him. A lake of sweat grew on the musician’s upper back, soaking through his sweater. He gave the performance every possible nuance of gesture and force. That night, he seemed to be playing in peak form. The audience stood, jaws slack, eyes wide; the eyes of some glistened with tears. There is a reverent hush of awe, as they listened, rapt.

It was a little after ten o’clock when I retreated back down Celetná, toward Old Town Square. I approached the spot where, for nearly 300 years, stood the Marian Column, until 1918, when it was pulled down by a mob, who saw it as a symbol of Austrian oppression. The location of the former column is now marked on the pavement by memorial slabs of granite with epitaphic inscriptions in four languages that read, “Here stood and will stand again the Mary’s Statue.

Years ago, on my first visit to this spot, I had noticed that, curiously, some later vandal had chipped away selected words from each of the inscriptions in an effort to neutralize the affirmation that the column will stand again. It is clear that the site still evokes strong feelings, and some apparently wish that the monument never again stand, opposing the aspirational inscriptions that explicitly call for its rebuilding.

But on this evening, as I approached the spot, I was a bit startled to see a young nun in a traditional black habit, holding in her arms a bouquet of white lilies, a symbol of resurrection. Her head was bowed solemnly in prayer. As she was about to kneel and lay the bouquet on the memorial where the column once stood, I took out my camera and quickly made an image, taking no time to adjust the settings. I intended to make a series of better exposures, but it was too late. The nun had already noticed the presence of a photographer. I could see the surprise and alarm on her face. Before I could take another picture, she dashed off, cradling the the lilies in her arms as if protecting an infant from the rain, and disappeared into the crowd.

Ghost fiddler Robert Tiso playing Smetana’s Vltava

Another, less epic, but just as sympathetic ghost fiddler playing the same right above Vltava, on Charles Bridge