VERITAS Research Institute and Archives

Field Marshal August von Mackensen, one of the most successful military commanders of the First World War, made a 10-day visit to Hungary in May 1935. The general’s trip played an important role from both a diplomatic and emlékezetpolitika* point of view: the Nazi regime, having come to power two years earlier, wanted to consolidate ties between the Kingdom of Hungary and the German Reich through Mackensen's trip. With that in mind, the trip was scheduled for the twentieth anniversary of the breakthrough at Gorlice and the subsequent campaign. The eighty-fifth anniversary of the visit and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the general's death offer us a good opportunity to recap what happened on the trip.

Born in 1849, August von Mackensen had a brilliant career in the military. During the First World War, he served exclusively in the eastern theaters of the war and took part in the fighting in East Prussia in 1914. He was one of the planners of the counterattack in 1915. After the breakthrough at Gorlice, he was promoted to field marshal. In autumn 1915, the forces of the Central Powers occupying Serbia were under his leadership. In 1916, he fought against Romanian-Russian forces in Dobruja and also played an important role in the defense of Transylvania after successfully bogging down important Romanian forces in this theater of war. By the end of 1918, he had withdrawn his troops from Romania, but he himself was interned by Count Mihály Károlyi’s government and handed over to French military forces.

One of the main objectives of the Hungarian invitation in 1935 was to make up for this action, which was deemed incompatible with Hungarian honor and camaraderie. Mackensen had declared during his internment: “This humiliating treatment is the thanks I get from the Hungarians for saving their country three times from enemy invasion."

Emblematic of the situation was what Világ, a newspaper loyal to the Károlyi regime, had written in December 1918: “Generals are not our ideals. We hated the war. We have to say, however, that Mackensen's internment was a painful, embarrassing and merciless task for us. At the Battle of Gorlice, his troops freed Hungary from the pressure applied by the troops of Czarist imperialism while his soldiers drove Boyar Ferdinand von Hohenzollern’s imperialist troops out of Transylvania. Field Marshal August von Mackensen understood his craft well. We would have loved to give him a decent sendoff. Foreign occupiers, however, ordered us to intern him and his army."

Vitez Miklós Kozma von Leveld (Head of MTI, the Hungarian Telegraphic Office) traveled to Germany on Mackensen’s eightieth birthday in 1929 to wish him well and invite him to Hungary. Kozma had fought in the First World War as an officer in the k.u.k. 10th Hussar Regiment under the field marshal, whose veterans were called Mackensen’s Hussars. This occasion demonstrated that the popularity of the hero of Gorlice had not faded since the war, as he had received some three thousand congratulatory letters from Hungary. Former comrades and supporters hailed him with a commemorative publication on the outstanding occasion. The 65-page commemorative book honored the elderly field marshal "as a model of the finest military virtues". The regiment owner welcomed the hussars with delight and reported to Kozma: “You can tell them back home that with the help of the Lord, I am still strong and healthy in my eightieth year, and I hope that I have a few good years yet to live. Even today I still ride in every type of weather; I am no slouch. Everything is fine with me." This time, however, the aging general did not accept the invitation.

Five years later, in December 1934, Kozma – now as Minister of the Interior – invited the general again, this time including Miklós Horthy's invitation: "We would all be honored if Your Excellency chose to inspect the German Embassy in Budapest more closely, for example, in the wonderful month of May."

While no particular diplomatic aspect had arisen in relation to a possible Mackensen visit in 1929, the situation had changed by 1934, when the field marshal's reputation in Germany grew considerably following President of the German Reich Paul von Hindenburg's death on August 2nd. With Hindenburg’s passing, the hero of Gorlice became the doyen of German imperial forces. The trip to Hungary finally began taking shape on April 30th, 1935, after Hans Georg von Mackensen, one of the field marshal's sons and German envoy in Budapest, was informed of the go-ahead of the German Foreign Ministry.

* Emlékezetpolitika literally means the “politics of memory”. That is, how a historical event is memorialized / commemorated by a nation.


by Dávid Ligeti

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