Top: Gate of Loyalty (Hűségkapu) finished in 1928, Fire Tower (Tűztorony); Center: museum, ruins of Roman bastion; Bottom: ornate façade; street scene, with Fire Tower in distance
This is the story of the insurrection that saved Sopron and some of the surrounding area from falling into Austrian hands, as decreed by the nefarious Treaty of Trianon.
In November of 1918, before an armistice had even been reached, before the peace treaties had been drawn up, the Austrian state council presented its detailed proposal for the annexation of Hungarian areas it claimed on the basis of German ethnicity. Although Austria had dragged Hungary into World War I despite Hungarian opposition, it was a fellow loser of the war, and now wanted to take over the cities of Pozsony and Sopron, parts of Vas County and part of the Fertő tó area. Hungarians were infuriated! But the Treaty of Trianon, forced on Hungary by the Allies, confirmed the Austrian demands – of a loser taking from a fellow loser!
Even before the points of the Treaty (signed on June 4th, 1920) could be carried out, the Austrians were already printing postcards and maps showing Sopron as Ödenburg, capital of Burgenland province.
As early as April 1919, groups of volunteers – many of them officers and veterans of World War I – formed what became known as the Rongyos Gárda – the Ragged Guard. Their purpose was to preserve Sopron and its surrounding area as part of Hungary, and to return any territories that would be torn away by the peace treaty.
Transfer of Sopron and its vicinity to Austria was scheduled for August 27th , 1921. Hungary reluctantly withdrew its national troops from the area, and sent a transitional gendarme battalion to preserve order.
As the regular Hungarian troops withdrew, members of the Ragged Guard, together with agricultural workers and students who had fled from Selmecbánya (Upper Hungary) engaged the entering Austrian gendarmes at Ágfalva, and put them to flight on August 28th.
Fighting broke out also at Pinkafő, where 20 insurrectionists, with the help of the local population, beat back an Austrian force of 200. Further, they fought at Felsőőr, Alhó, Fraknó and Németgyirót, beating back the Austrians who were marching to take over. For a month and a half, they carried on guerilla warfare along the entire 200 kilometer border stretch, to defend their land from Austrian annexation.
On September 8th, 1921 they confronted Austrian gendarmes for the second time at Ágfalva, who now outnumbered them four to one. The battle lasted for four hours, at the end of which the Austrians fled by train. There were three Hungarian casualties, and contemporary sources put the Austrian casualties between 15 and 30.
On October 4th, the Ragged Guard declared that the area was to be known as the independent state of Lajtabánság to which the Treaty of Trianon did not apply. Felsőőr was declared to be its center. But it was never recognized as a separate entity, and was dissolved on November 5th.
At this point the victorious powers realized that some compromise was necessary. In October, a conference was held in Venice to resolve the thorny problem. With Italian mediation, a plebiscite was finally agreed upon.
On November 23rd, 1921, regulations governing the plebiscite were published. They provided for a secret ballot. The inhabitants of Sopron were to vote first, to be followed by those of the villages of Fertőrákos, Balf, Kópháza, Fertőboz, Nagycenk (where Széchenyi István’s estate is located), Harka, Bánfalva and Ágfalva.
Despite the fact that over half its inhabitants were of German descent, on December 14th, 1921, Sopron voted 78.2% to stay with Hungary, earning for itself the name “Civitas fidelissima” – the most loyal city. This title was then added to the city’s coat of arms. Of the rural areas, Nagycenk, Kópháza and Fertőboz voted to stay with Hungary.
In 2001, the Hungarian government declared December 14th the Day of Loyalty.
Early in 1922, several more villages were able to hold plebiscites. In this way, Narda, Felsőcsatár, Vaskeresztes, Horvátlövő, Pornóapáti, Szentpéterfa and Ólmod were also able to return to Hungary. Szomoróc (today known as Kercaszomoróc) did not have it so easy: it had to resort to insurrection in order to stay with the homeland.
In spite of the dictates of the Treaty of Trianon, this restricted, small area was the only section of Hungary where people were able to decide their fate for themselves, where President Wilson’s principle of self-determi-nation was actually permitted!
(Most of this information was taken from the 2014/8 issue of the historical magazine Rubicon.)