Trianon Memorial at Nagykanizsa
Erika Papp Faber
Erected in 1934, it is over 30 feet in height. In addition to statues symbolizing traditional national themes, on this monument can also be seen the coats of arms or shields of all 63 pre-Trianon Counties. Those Counties which were cut off from the mother country by the treaty are represented by blank shields; those which were partially removed have coats of arms that are half blank.
The monument was designed by architect Hübner Tibor, who several years later was also involved in the design of Nagykanizsa’s city hall.
Sponsorship of the monument was unique in that is was commissioned by a private citizen, Schlesser István, born into a family of bookbinders in the city in 1885. He did not follow the family profession, however, choosing instead to pursue his studies at Debrecen. He became director of the cement factory at Kralován (located at the confluence of the Árva and Vág Rivers) in Upper Hungary, then worked for the Skoda Works, one of Europe’s largest industrial conglomerates at the time.
In 1918, the Czechs set fire to Schlesser’s apartment and deprived him of his assets, so that he was forced to flee. He then returned to his native city. The Communist dictatorship which had been set up in Hungary after World War I was unable to provide employment for the people. Schlesser saw a solution to the problem: He established a construction cooperative which, in one week, hired and employed 400 workers.
Instead of appreciating his contribution to the people’s welfare, his cooperative was denounced before the national work commissariat for not functioning on Communist principles. His bank account was seized and his money ran out. Having neither Communist Party identification nor union membership, he could get food neither in a grocery store nor in a restaurant. He was forced to move abroad. Being an Austrian citizen on account of his father, he settled in Austria.
There, he lived from the income of several inventions, which included artificial marble, wood that would not burn below 1,200 degrees C, fire and frost resistant roofing slate, an oven using powdered Austrian soapstone, high pressure cement pipes, grid-plaster bandages for medical use. Many of them were utilized for military purposes in World War I. He made his fortune from marketing his inventions. His patents brought profits in 16 countries.
The sum he donated for the Trianon memorial came from the sale of one of his patents in Switzerland. This became a thorn in the side of Austria: he was accused of creating international tension because he, being an Austrian citizen, had spent his own money on erecting an irredentist type of monument on Hungarian soil! The ensuing lawsuits totally depleted his finances, so that – for the third time in his life! – he had to start all over again, this time in Germany. Now he was aided by Swiss and Dutch syndicates who appreciated his genius. He moved to Vienna in the 1950s, and died there on December 23, 1962.
When criticized for not spending on the poor the money he donated for the Trianon monument, he said:
”If I distributed the money intended for the monument among the poor, that would run out in a week or two, and the needy person would continue to be destitute. And there would be no trace left of my donation in the life of the nation. But I have not forgotten about charity either. Last Christmas I distributed 3,000 Schillings among the needy. This time, I do not wish to engage in charitable work, but wish to erect a memorial in my native city, on the Trianon border, to the idea of historic Hungary. I was born in Kanizsa, from there I started out toward a career, that is where I absorbed the spirit of Hungarian history, that is where I learned to bow down before the beauty of the Hungarian soil, that is where I first saw waving fields of wheat, that is where I saw my first geraniums bloom in the windows of the little white-washed houses, that is where I heard the first song of a lark. It was from there that I started out, on foot, with a child’s enthusiasm, to visit the Hungarian battlefields – Piski, Kenyérmező, Mohács. I know every nook and cranny of every region within the old borders of St. Stephen’s land, its gold yielding mountains, its ancient cities, its plains with their mirages. The thousand-year old Hungary lives in my every limb, every memory, every dream, and I have to see that the current Hungarian generation soon won’t know even the names of the 63 Counties. Over time, it won’t have any idea of the totality of the Hungarian homeland’s history. This is what I wish to express in the irredentist monument at Kanizsa. I can not express how I feel in any other way than by immortalizing the ideology of St. Stephen’s crown in its former glory.”