The U.S. general who saved the Hungarian National Museum
The members of the Inter-Allied Supreme Command’s Military Mission in Hungary were eating their dinner on October 5, 1919, when an American major came to report that there are Romanian soldiers in the Hungarian National Museum planning to take home its treasures with 14 trucks. The American member of the Mission, General Harry Hill Bandholtz, who was also President of the Day did not hesitate. He immediately went there and drove the Romanian soldiers away, allegedly, with a riding crop. But how did Romanian troops get to Budapest?
One of the most sorrowful periods in the modern Hungarian history started at the beginning of November 1918. While people celebrated victory in Paris, London and Washington, in Budapest the Károlyi-government proclaimed that the
defeated Hungary was going to disband its army
since it had become a pacifist country following Wilson’s Fourteen Points. However, those points were published in January and by the end of the year – instead of the United States – France became the arbiter in the questions of the Old Continent. And France wanted strong allies against Germany in the East since it had lost Russia to the Bolshevik Revolution. Thus, Paris was interested in creating a powerful Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Consequently, Czechoslovakian, Romanian and Yugoslavian troops
overran the historic borders of the Hungarian Kingdom
occupying not only cities populated by their own people but even 100% Hungarian territories. Because of this, the Károlyi-government resigned on March 1919, and a group of Communist radicals gained power ruling cruelly for 133 days in Hungary.
Of course, in the end, for France and Great-Britain, dreading from a world revolution, it was worth almost everything to crush the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Thus, they allowed Romanian troops standing on the left bank of Tisza to cross the river,
to defeat the Communist army and occupy Budapest.
Romanian soldiers tried to take home everything
Communist leaders fled to Vienna while Romanian troops started to consistently loot all Hungarian villages, towns and cities, even Budapest.
According to contemporary reports, they took almost everything they could: factories, locomotives, food, valuables etc. Furthermore, they bugged the offices of the Hungarian government and regularly executed Hungarian civilians.
To prevent this and to make both parties keep the terms of the armistice an Inter-Allied Supreme Command’s Military Mission came to Hungary. General Harry Hill Bandholtz was the U.S. member of it, who was previously serving in the Spanish-American War and WWI , before. In the latter, he created a permanent Military Police Corps so he is widely regarded today as the
‘father’ of the United States Army’s Military Police Corps.
When Bandholtz heard that Romanian troops are preparing to take the treasures of the Hungarian National Museum he did not hesitate to protect them. After driving away the Romanian soldiers lead by general Serbescu, allegedly, with a riding crop, he locked the doors and placed signs that read, “This door sealed by Order the Inter-Allied Military Commission. H.H. Bandholtz, President of the Day, October 5th, 1919.” In one of the rooms of the museum,
visitors can still check the general’s riding crop.
Though the United States was an enemy of Hungary during WWI, this deed resulted in the erection of a statue for General Bandholtz in 1936 in Budapest.
The original idea came from a U.S. major, Eugene Boross, who had Hungarian ancestors, but many American private citizens supported it even with money. Of course, after 1945 the Communists took it away. However, in 1989 it was restored in front of the American Embassy where it can be seen even today.
Photos: commons.wikimedia.org, fortepan.hu