Today we commemorate the 13 Martyrs of Arad who were executed on October 6, 1849. Let us not forget that it was Emperor Franz Joseph of Habsburg who sent the generals of the Hungarian rebels to their graves on the anniversary of the Vienna Revolution, October 6. Should we not remember that he was the monarch who dragged Hungary into World War I some 65 years later?
Let us never forget that General Görgey Artúr, the one who surrendered and laid down the arms of the last intact Hungarian field army in Világos, was not among those executed. After he surrendered, the Hungarian army, attempting to regroup in Transylvania, was massacred on the roads. They believed Görgey was safeguarding them during this process. His soldiers whom were allegedly saved from certain death, perished in Austrian uniforns on the battlefields of Italy, and the reassembling Hungarian army in Transylvania was slaughtered along the roads. They thought that Görgey was protecting them while they were regrouping…
Despite this, modern historical research has absolved Görgey of any wrongdoing. He lived a long life and sent a basket of fruits to Vienna every year for the Emperor’s birthday. Modern histography washed Görgey’s name clear, though.However, I stand with Vörösmarty Mihály, the famous contemporary Hungarian poet, who cursed his name in his poem.
The first punishments
In 1849, there were unprecedented reprisals in Hungary that outraged European public opinion. These executions began in January 1849 and continued until the generals were put to death on October 6th of that year. Today, only the names of the generals and the Prime Minister Batthyány Lajos are remembered by the public. The 189-year old Emperor wrote to Haynau:
“…the greatest severity for the people who are concerned. Many heads must fall like prominent poppy heads when one rides over them.”
From the spring of 1849 onward, the troops of the emperor who entered Hungary executed civilians in several instances after one battle, holding summary trials. For instance, on June 29, 1849, during the conquest of Győr, Haynau put to death Adolf Woititz, a 21-year-old Jewish teenager, and Rotias Szwelka whom he alleged had attempted to lure imperial soldiers to defect. On July 12th, two priests, a Catholic church pastor (Mannsbarth Antal) and a Reformed pastor (Szikszay János), were put to death in Nagyigmánd.
They were punished for speaking out about the Declaration of Independence in public. On 23 July, a former Czech Royal Army officer was killed in the National Museum garden at night. The following day at noon, another military officer from Szatmár County was executed there.
Starting in the fall of 1848, Hussar soldiers stationed overseas attempted to flee and defend their homeland. In May 1849, members of the Nádor Hussar Regiment tried to cross into Hungary, but only one of the three groups succeeded in returning home. The other two were caught and, as punishment, 13 Hussars were executed by being shot in the head.
Thirteen people were executed after investigations and court martial proceedings during the time of Haynau’s predecessors, under Windisch-Grätz and Welden. The victims were mostly ordinary citizens. Only two members of the political-military elite suffered reprisals for providing the Hungarian army with soldiers and food – Major Witalis Söll, commander of the Tyrolean hunting party and a veteran of the Vienna Revolution, and Petőcz György, deputy governor of Pozsony County.
When Haynau arrived, he changed the tactics used in the reprisals.
Regular executions by hanging were put into place, with the Field Marshal sending two officers to the gallows as a deterrent to others. On June 5th, Hungarian public opinion was outraged when Haynau had Major-General Baron Mednyánszky László and Captain Gruber Fülöp hung in Pozsony. The Hungarian government, following Görgey’s suggestion, chose not to retaliate.
In Pozsony, six more people were killed by court martial for encouraging the Pozsony National Guard to fight, which included Lutheran preacher Rázga Pál. Pál’s prayer before his execution showcases unimaginable faith:
“Lord, please take away my suffering cup if it is possible. Not my will, but your will be done! As I stand before you, Lord, facing the rising sun and reflecting on my life, I’m in agony but my spirit is at serenity. I give blessings to all that my eyes see. I bless the citizens of Pozsony, my beloved community. I bless my innocent children and my dear wife. I also bless the Emperor and those who have found me guilty. I bless my precious country and hope for her quick freedom and happiness.
The Székesfehérvár martyrs were victimized by Haynau after Klapka’s break out in Komárom on August 3, 1849. The news of the event triggered an uprising in Székesfehérvár, during which the popular insurgents came into armed conflict with the imperialists. Six people who took part in the uprising were caught (“Gáncs Pál”, “Havelka Ferenc”, “Hübner András”, “Kuczka Mihály”, “Uitz Ignác” and “Varga Mihály”) and executed by being shot in the head behind the New Building in Pest on August 14, 1849. In August 1888, a commemorative pillar was put up in their honor in the city.
Before October 6, 1849, General Haynau killed three more Imperial officers who switched sides during the War of Independence. The Czeczh Major Hruby Gyula, who used to work for Görgey, and Major Murmann Sámuel from Sopron were executed in Temesvár, and Colonel Ormai Norbert in Arad. They used the punishment of civilians to stop further defiance.
Kantsur András, a pastor from the Reformed church, got shot in his head. The reason for this was because a group of guerrilla fighters deposited a chest containing money they had taken from an imperial courier. Additionally, Schweitzer József, a printer, and Fülöp György, a notary, both residents of Dunavecse, were killed because they hid weapons. The parish priest Streith Miklós of Vértesboglár got arrested and sentenced to death because he tried to protect his chaplain Kőnig Mór from arbitrary actions by the authorities.
On October 6th, 1849, Count Batthyány Lajos, the first constitutional prime minister of Hungary, was killed in the courtyard of the New Building in Pest, and 12 Hungarian generals and a colonel, the Martyrs of Arad, were executed in Arad.
Török Ignác suffered a heart attack before he could be executed. The sentences, manner, and order of executions were carefully planned. Despite Damjanich causing the most irritation to the Imperialists, Haynau’s personal grudge took precedence, and Count Vécsey was ultimately placed last.
Death by gunpowder and bullets (at 5.30 a.m.): the shooting to death of four Martyrs of Arad
Lázár Vilmos (colonel),
Dessewffy Arisztid (general),
Kiss Ernő (general),
Schweidel József (general)
Twelve soldiers stood up armed with loaded guns. Their commander waved his sword and they all fired shots. Every soldier dropped lifeless except for Kiss Ernő, who was only shot in the shoulder. Three soldiers moved in front of him and fired shots again.
Died by hanging (after six in the morning)
Knight Poeltenberg Ernő (general),
Török Ignác (general),
Lahner György (general),
Knezić Károly (general),
Nagysándor József (general),
Count Leiningen-Westerburg Károly (general),
Aulich Lajos (general),
Damjanich János (general),
Gróf Vécsey Károly (general)
Vécsey Károly had to watch as his companions were executed, which made his punishment even worse. He was the final one to be hanged after all the generals had left, leaving him with no one to bid farewell to. According to legend, Vécsey went to Damjanich’s body and kissed his hand, although there is no contemporary evidence to support this.
After the execution, the bodies of those deemed guilty were put on public display as a warning. On the evening of October 6th, the generals who were shot were buried in the trenches, and the martyrs who were hanged were buried at the execution site. As the executioner was required to wear the clothes of the executed, the bodies of those who were hanged were stripped and placed at the base of the gallows, and the posts of the gallows were tilted against them.
Tsar Nicholas I tried to convince his 18-year-old relative, Francis Joseph, to show mercy and expressed his disapproval of the executions. He was upset by the latest report of widespread military executions in Hungary. The Tsar felt personally hurt because these severe measures were taken against the same people for whom he had pleaded mercy from the Emperor.
More martyrs of Arad
Haynaun’s revenge against Hungarian officers did not start in Arad. As mentioned earlier, on August 20, Major Hruby Gyula, a former aide-de-camp of General Görgei Artúr, was shot in Temesvár. On August 22, 1849, Colonel Norbert Ormai, who led the Hungarian Hunting Regiments, was known as the first martyr of Arad. On October 25, 1849, Colonel Kazinczy Lajos, son of Kazinczy Ferenc and the fifteenth martyr of Arad, also died. Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig Hauk, aide-de-camp to General Bem József, passed away on February 19, 1850. Major General Lenkey János died in Arad dungeon, not from execution, but because he had gone mad while in prison.
Hegyesy Péter, the prosecutor, gathered false accusations against Batthyány. He was questioned ten times from February 12 to March 26, to prove the charges. In the court trial in Olmütz on August 16, 1849, Batthyány was initially given imprisonment and property confiscation. Later, under pressure from Schwarzenberg and the Viennese court, he was sentenced to death by hanging, but the condemned man was offered to the Emperor’s mercy.
Batthyány was taken to Pest to transfer his right of pardon from the Emperor to Haynau. Haynau approved the death penalty and ordered Batthyány’s hanging on October 3rd. During the last authorized visit, Batthyány’s wife smuggled a small dagger to him. He used it to inflict serious neck wounds, which he survived. His wounds led to the sentence being commuted to a bullet wound. He was then executed on October 6th in the courtyard of the New Building (Neugebäude) in Pest.
By October 6th evening, he was under the influence of different stimulants and walked to the disaster site on his own feet. He felt relieved seeing there was no gallows there. The commander of the Pest-Buda military district, Lieutenant-General Johann Kempen von Fichtenstamm, who became an honorary citizen of Pest in 1863, understood that under these circumstances, hanging Batthyány was impossible. However, he didn’t want to postpone the punishment’s execution. He decided to order the execution of Batthyány, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who had suffered a severe blood loss and was with two other men. Batthyány knelt on one knee in front of the firing squad and shouted, “Long live the homeland! Come on, Hunters.”
The nationality of the Martyrs of Arad
When we commemorate the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49, we should pay attention to the fact that we are not only talking about Hungarians, but also about several nationalities that shared this homeland with us. They considered Hungary as their homeland and themselves as ” Hungarus”, a Latinist term born during the Hungarian Renaissance.
Of the 13 generals executed in Arad, only four were Hungarians. Here are their names and last words (I use the oriental order of names):
Aulich Lajos a German general, (1793–1849)
“I have served, served, always served. And I will serve even with my death. My warmly beloved Hungarian people and my country, I know that they understand this service.”
Damjanich János, a Serbian general (1804–1849)
“We have conquered death because we have been ready to endure death at any moment.”
Count Dessewffy Arisztid, a Hungarian general (1802–1849)
“Yesterday they needed heroes, today they need martyrs… So commands the service of my country.”
Knezić Károly, a Croatian general (1808–1849)
“How odd that Haynau is both a Christian and a judge, just like me. It seems that only the devil could have mixed up the cards in such a way.”
Kiss Ernő, an Armenian general (1799–1849)
“My God, will today’s young people grow up to be fully formed men? O glorious saints of the Árpáds, watch over the youth of Hungary that their hearts may be Christ’s and their lives their country’s.”
Lahner György, a German general (1795–1849)
“The cross of Christ and the gallows are so related. And next to the divine sacrifice, my sacrifice is so small.”
Lázár Vilmos, an Armenian colonel (1815–1849)
“Who should be held responsible for the destiny of Hungary? The apostles’ souls have matured into apostles at the foot of Christ’s cross, and the Hungarian souls must become revolutionaries at the foot of the gallows.”
Count Leiningen-Westerburg Károly, a German general (1819–1849)
“The world will wake up when it sees the work of the executioners.”
Nagysándor József, a Hungarian general (1803–1849)
“But it would be terrible to die now without achieving anything in my life. I humbly thank God for making me a hero, an upright man, and a good soldier.”
Knight Poeltenberg Ernő, an Austrian general (1808–1849)
“We were brought here by the angry revenge of the enemy.”
Schweidel József, a German general (1796–1849)
“Today’s world is Satan’s world, where honour is rewarded with the gallows and treachery with power. Only a true revolution, the new revolutionary humanity of the world, can sweep away this cursed, corrupt world.”
Török Ignác, a Hungarian general (1795–1849)
“Soon I will stand before God’s highest court. My life is but a tiny weight, but I know I have always served Him.”
Count Vécsey Károly, a Hungarian general (1803-1849)
“God gave me the heart and soul that flamed for the service of my people and my country.”
Also, let us add Baron Major Ottrubay Hruby Gyula, a Czech auxiliary officer of Görgey (1826-1849) who was executed in Temesvár on 20 August 1849.
There was a saying that was made up from their initials:
„Pannonia, Vergiss Deine Toten Nicht, Als Klager Leben Sie.” („Pannónia, ne feledd halottaid, vádlóként élnek ők” meaning: “Pannonia, do not forget your dead, as accusers they live”)
Had the Hungarians not been mortally weakened during the anti-Ottoman wars, the Habsburgs couldn’t have gained the upper hand. It is why the age of Ottoman wars is so important regarding Hungary’s history. It was the time when the Habsburgs took control of the country, under the pretext of defending it from the Ottomans.
Sources: Ezerszínű Világ, Dunavölgyi István, Wikipedia, and my thoughts
You can read more about the history of Arad on my page: