VERITAS Research Institute for History and Archives

On May 20th, Minister of Culture Bálint Hóman gave Mackensen an honorary doctorate from Pázmány Péter University. There were two reasons why it was Hóman instead of the rector of the university: 1.) Mackensen’s high rank and 2.) the fact that Mackensen had actually been awarded the honorary degree twenty years earlier, but the handover ceremony could not be held because of the ongoing Great War. The leadership of the university had made the decision at the time to bestow the degrees as part of a larger-scale ceremony that would be held once the awardees had the opportunity to attend the ceremony in person. The leadership was aware that it would probably take place only after the conclusion of the war. Mackensen's presence was also connected with celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of Budapest University. Afterwards, he had a meeting with the commanders and knights of the Maria Theresa Military Order, but by evening, Mackensen had begun feeling unwell and needed rest, so there were no programs scheduled for the following day.

On May 22nd, Mackensen paid a bedside visit to Colonel General Arthur Arz, the last Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Arz had been involved in the victorious campaign of 1915. As commander of the 6th Army Corps, he had played a major role at the successful breakthrough at Gorlice, which was the reason why he had a good personal relationship with Mackensen. After his visit, Mackensen took the Árpád express railcar to Bábolna to see the local stud farm, which was renowned throughout Europe. Mackensen was keen on the ancestry of horses and their selective breeding methods. By all accounts, he enjoyed himself in Bábolna. He then continued on to Magyaróvár, where he met Archduke Friedrich, Supreme Commander of the Austro-Hungarian Army between 1914 and 1916.

Mackensen departed the Kingdom of Hungary on May 23rd, 1935. In Dunaremete, he once again boarded the steamer Zsófia and returned via the Danube River to Passau. The most important and positive development of his trip was that his statements and persona had had a positive effect, nay, a significant emotional impact, on Hungary’s national reputation. For the first time, it seemed that Hungarian revisionary efforts would be supported not only by Italy, but also the German Reich.

Five weeks later, on July 1st, 1935, General Arz died. His funeral at the cemetery on Kerepesi Street was so reverential as to have been a throwback to the days of the Era of the Dual Monarchy. As a consequence of these two events, 1935 is considered as an outstanding year of Hungarian commemoration of the Great War. August von Mackensen's acclaim in Hungary became noticeably greater after his visit. For example, a horseracing track and a street  in Budapest (in 1936) were named after him (today the latter is called Alsó-Svábhegyi Road). As an interesting side note, in the 1920’s, several streets had already been named after German and Austro-Hungarian generals, including Mackensen, whose street (today known as Katalin Varga Street) was located in the Szemere residential area of Pestszentlőrinc.

Mackensen's trip to Budapest preceded Hermann Göring's by a mere thirty-six hours. The fact that two such high-ranking men had visited the Kingdom of Hungary within so little time clearly showed the realization of the importance of Südost Europa to Germany, so much so that a decision was made that the region should be given special treatment from a scientific perspective. The journey of the Minister President of Prussia – which also constituted his honeymoon – continued to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

On May 29th, Mackensen was able to report to Hitler's satisfaction that Horthy had absolute confidence in the German Reich and that German-Hungarian relations, already solid because of the Great War, should be further strengthened. He also spoke of his warm reception and the quality of the Hungarian Army, which reached the Prussian standard of yore. Even though Horthy's first visit to Germany did not take place until 1936, no one doubted that the key to strengthening German-Hungarian relations lay in the matter of territorial revision.

The importance of Mackensen's trip for Hungary was perhaps best captured in a press report:

The recognition of the great war hero raises our internal feeling to the rank of external and competent judgment, and since he also recognizes heroism through his respect shown, he bows to what has always been the greatest strength and pride of the Hungarian nation.

by Dávid Ligeti

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