According to GLOBS Magazine, the story that leads us to the pampas of Argentina starts at the end of the 18th century in the Habsburg Empire, more specifically – in Transylvania. A certain Johann Czetz of the Armenian community in Transylvania joins the hussars and marries a Szekler girl. The main character of the story is his son, General János Czetz, who ends up in Argentina at last.
János Czetz was born in the same year as the famous Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi. He was a good student, an excellent scientist and a brave soldier. He was a world traveller, whose adventurous life and stories could even be a compulsory reading for the youth, but this is unfortunately not the case. The general of the Transylvanian military operations and his fellow fighters – as against the legendary General Bem – don’t form part of the Hungarian historical remembrance. Many of his descendants still live in Transylvania, they regularly commemorate the general and guard his relics among the treasures of the family. Even though his memory is also guarded in Budapest by a street and a plaque, he became a national hero somewhere else: thousands of kilometres away from the Transylvanian mountains – in Argentina.
But let’s start from the beginning. When his father suddenly passed away, the upbringing of the child, who was already highly interested in natural sciences, was taken over by the family and the patrons. He continued his studies in Kézdivásárhely and Bécsújhely at the military academy, where the best soldiers of the monarchy were trained and where admission for a Transylvanian-Hungarian orphan was a huge honour and opportunity. One can consider that a strict institution like this is not a pleasant place at all. But the atmosphere of the Academy of Bécsújhely was very inspiring for young soldiers. At least this is how János Czetz described it, saying that it was the best eight years in his life. Czetz became a real infant prodigy.
He mentioned quite proudly in his memoir that during the 95 years of the academy, he was the second person who passed all of his exams with excellent results.
At the age of 24, when Petőfi wrote János Vitéz (John the Valiant), Czetz also wrote a book titled ‘Hungarian Military Grammar’. He advanced quite quickly in the hierarchy and was admitted to the Viennese general staff, which was quite sensational with his young age. He would’ve been in a glorious military career as the young lieutenant of the imperial army, but it turned out to be the last time that he was in the imperial city as the Hungarian war of independence intervened. Lázár Mészáros, leader of the newly set up Ministry of Defence, invited the young expert to help in setting up the army. First, he worked in office and made procession plans and then, he passed the battle baptism in Délvidék. Although Hungarians lost the battle, Czetz performed well. In time of the crisis at the end of 1848, Kossuth sent Czetz to Transylvania as the chief of staff. By that time, Transylvania was mostly controlled by the imperial forces and their allies, the Romanian rebels. It was the task of Lieutenant-General Bem and Chief of Staff Czetz to bring the region under the control of the revolutionary government. Even though the imperial forces led by Puchner outnumbered them, Czetz was able to stop the marching troops of Puchner.
Bem promoted him to colonel on the 12th of February, 1849 and he received the third order of the Hungarian Military Merit on the 8th of April. He achieved great successes in the occupation of Nagyszeben (11th of March, 1849), so Bem proposed his promotion to general, which was approved by the Hungarian Defence Committee in May. János Czetz became the youngest general of the Hungarian defence forces. In the absence of Bem, he was the leader of the victorious Battle of Medgyes on the 2nd of March. The battle was the peak of Czetz’s military career, because he served as an independent commander in the first line. Besides his strategic preparedness, he was also able to attest his leading skills. Then, he was the assigned commander of the Transylvanian army during Bem’s campaign in the Bánság. At the age of 26, János Czetz became the youngest general of the Hungarian defence forces – it was an incredible career, even if promotions happen quite quickly during revolutions.
However, after the surrender at Világos, the young general had to flee from the country.
He went to Miskolc, Kiskálna and Barsendréd – he was housed by his acquaintances, friends and local landowners. In the end, he decided to leave the country. Being a brave young man, he chose the most dangerous way to escape: he walked across the newly inaugurated Chain Bridge. Thanks to his presence of mind, he didn’t get caught. He believed that fortune favours the brave so he continued his way on a similarly dangerous path: instead of fleeing through the Turkish Empire, he went straight to the imperial city, from where he left on train to the west forever.
In the course of his emigration, he lived in several places: Paris, Turkey and Switzerland, where he worked at the construction of the Most Cenis railway. In the course of his travels, he met his future wife in Spain, who was the daughter of a Spanish general. This established his relationship with the Hispanic community.
He took an active part in the political and military activities of the ‘48 Hungarian emigration. He was among the organisers of schemes that aimed to free his homeland. They wanted to use the Crimean War to liberate Hungary. On the side of György Klapka he held successful talks with the Turks in Istanbul concerning the line-up of a potential Hungarian league against Russia. But this plan failed due to the Austrian army not going into war. He also took an active part in the organisation of a Hungarian unit in Italy, but after the Treaty of Villafranca (11th of July, 1859), he was so disappointed that he left Europe with his family and settled down in Buenos Aires for good and all.
His decades-long wandering ended in 1860, when he found a new home in Argentina thanks to his wife.
He married the daughter of General Prudencio Ortiz de Rosas, Basilia, whom he had met in Seville. Prudencio Ortiz de Rosas was the brother of Juan Manuel de Rosas, governor of the province of Buenos Aires between 1835 and 1852 and basically the leader of Argentina. From that moment, he took an active part in the Argentinian military-technical life as Juan Fernando Czetz, but he didn’t ever get his general rank back, he could only serve as a colonel due to his Hungarian origins. (Due to the regulation of the Argentinian armed forces, only those born in Argentina can become generals). Several of his activities wrote his name into Argentinian history books since he was the one who explored the country’s regions bordering Paraguay and Brazil, and he was also the head of many railway constructions. He founded the Argentinian Military Geographic Institution, under the command of which he discovered the territory of whole Argentina. He was the director of the Buenos Aires Military Academy for five years. Czetz was good friendof Sándor Asbóth, the onetime adjutant of Lajos Kossuth, who reved as the first American Ambassador to Argentina and Uruguay between 1866 and 1868 (until his death in Buenos Aires).
After a long and eventful career, he retired in 1895. In 1896, when the faraway homeland was in a Millenial fever, the onetime general was invited to return home. But he was very old, his sight was quite bad so he didn’t take on the long voyage. After his death in 1904, a man-sized ore statue was mounted in front of the Military Academy in Buenos Aires to honour his memory.