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A Short History of Polish-Hungarian Friendship

Caption: Invitation to the III Polish - Hungarian Friendship Day in New York; State seal of Queen Jadwiga (Hedvig); State seal of Louis of Hungary as Polish king; Portrait of Queen Anne Jagiello in coronation robe; Portrait of King Stephen Báthori; Portrait of General Józef Bem; Arcaded courtyard at the Wawel Royal Castle; Tombstone of Queen Anne Jagiello; Tombstone of King Stephen Báthori.  

A Short History of Polish-Hungarian Friendship

 Charles Bálintitt Jr. 

Not long before the Mongolian invasions of 1241, Kinga, the daughter of King Béla IV of Hungary, married a Polish duke, who would become the High Duke of Poland in 1243, later known as Boleslaw V the Chaste.  Approximately 15 and 13 respectively, at the time of their marriage, they were both very religious and took a vow of chastity; so they never had children.  She became known as Kinga of Poland and at the age of 45, upon the death of her husband, she sold all of her worldly possessions, gave the money to the poor, and became a Poor Clare nun.  In 1690, she was beatified by Pope Alexander VIII and five years later she was named the chief patroness of Poland and Lithuania.  She was canonized by the Polish Pope John Paul II on June 16, 1999.  It is also interesting to note that her aunt was Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (canonized in 1235) and that her sister became Saint Margaret of Hungary (she was canonized in 1943 after earlier attempts in 1640 and 1770).

From 1370 to 1382, the Hungarian King Louis the Great also became the king of Poland.  He was named heir to the throne by his mother’s brother, King Casimir III the Great, since he had no sons.  This initial union did not go over so well with the Polish nobility.  They did not want to be ruled from Hungary, so after the death of Louis, they chose his younger daughter Jadwiga (Hedvig, in Hungarian, and also known as Jadwiga of Poland, and later Saint Jadwiga – she was beatified on August 8, 1986 and canonized on June 8, 1997 by Pope John Paul II) to be their new Queen.  Her older sister, Mary, became the Queen of Hungary.  Both ascended to their respective thrones in their youth and neither reached the age of 26.

The two countries were united again from 1440 to 1444 when Wladyslaw III of Poland also became the King of Hungary as I. Ulászló.  And then in 1572, when the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus died without any heirs, there was a dispute over the succession.  One faction wanted Maximillian II, the Holy Roman Emperor, from the House of Habsburg, while others wanted a Polish king.  In the end they asked the Prince of Transylvania, Báthory István, to marry Anna Jagiellon, the sister of King Sigismund II Augustus.  Thus in 1576, Báthory István became king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.  He brought some of the customs of Transylvania with him, as well as introducing Poland to some good Hungarian wines and saber makers.  At the time, the saber, in Poland, was called the “Hungarian saber” (later renamed after a couple of Polish kings).  He also formed the first unit of Polish hussars.  There are other connections as well, and the intermarriage of many members of the nobility.

Before the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 and the creation of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland shared a common border for hundreds of years.  They also helped each other many times over the years.  In the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Polish General Józef Zachariasz Bem (Bem József), who was already a national hero in Poland, became one in Hungary as well, when he came to the aid of the Hungarians in their battle against the Habsburgs.  During the Polish-Soviet War (1919-21), Hungary offered to send troops to Poland, but when this turned out to be impossible in the aftermath of World War I, they found a way to send them ammunition instead.  After Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland, in late 1938 and the subsequent return of southern Slovakia to Hungary, a Polish Hungarian border was restored, also with diplomatic assistance from Poland.  Then in 1939, when Hitler wanted to go through Hungary to invade eastern Poland, Admiral Horthy refused as a matter of honor because of the old friendship with Poland.  Later, when the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland, as many as 120,000 Polish troops were allowed to escape through the new Hungarian border.

The Poznan workers’ protest that began in Poland in June of 1956 may have actually been the catalyst that led to the Hungarian Uprising in October of 1956.  When news reached Budapest, students and workers showed their solidarity with their Polish brothers by gathering at the statue of General Józef Bem, eventually making their own demands for similar reforms in Hungary.  On October 23rd, after Hungarian protesters were fired upon by soldiers and the Revolution began in earnest, over 11,000 Poles gave blood and sent other medical supplies to help their Hungarian friends.

Hungarians and Poles have a lot of similarities in their cultures.  The above mentioned events are just a few examples of what has drawn these two societies together over the centuries.  A dear friend of our family, de Görgey Guido (who would have turned 100 this year and is a descendant of the famous Hungarian General, de Görgey Arthur), was married to a wonderful Polish woman, Maria (born Maria Gieysztor, who actually wrote 2 cookbooks that can still be found online, about Polish and Lithuanian cuisine).  Both have departed this world, but I still remember some of my good conversations with Maria.  Every time I would mention something that was invented by a Hungarian, she would always say something like: “You know that the Polish actually invented it first.”      

There are a couple of sayings, or short poems, that date back over 200 years, with each country having a slightly different version.  Here I am just giving a literal translation, to maintain the meaning; but the rhyme is evident in each original version:


      Polak, Węgier — dwa bratanki,*      
      i do szabli, i do szklanki,      
      oba zuchy, oba żwawi,      
      niech im Pan Bóg błogosławi.      
      Polish, Hungarian - two brothers*      
       And to the saber and to the glasses,      
      Both courageous, both lively      
      May God bless them both!      

(*brat is brother, bratanki can also be translated as “nephews”) 

      Lengyel, magyar – két jó barát,      
      Együtt harcol s issza borát,      
      Vitéz s bátor mindkettője,      
      Áldás szálljon mindkettőre.      
      Polish, Hungarian – two good friends,      
      They fight together and drink their wine,      
      Gallant and brave are they both,      
      May blessings fall on them both!      

As a result of the great history of comradery between these two nations, on March 12, 2007 the Hungarian Parliament, by a unanimous vote, declared March 23rd to be Polish-Hungarian Friendship Day.  The Polish Parliament did the same four days later.  Since then, this day has been celebrated in both countries.  The main celebration is held in each country on alternating years.  This year the President of Poland was scheduled to come to Hungary, but the trip was cancelled due to the Covid19 pandemic.  In New York, the celebration has taken place a few times at the New York Hungarian House and at a Polish venue in alternating years, but often at a later date, generally sometime in April.  Celebrations also take place in various cities around the world, where Poles and Hungarians have a presence, such as Minneapolis, Minnesota or Perth, Australia.

Charles Bálintitt Jr. is a working Customs Broker in Lawrence, NY and a member of the Magyar News Online Editorial Board.


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