Somogy Tales: Singing the song of Gadany

It takes a lot to describe Gadany to a passing stranger, one with money enough to buy a 0.92 hectare farm in its confines. Usually, what comes out is that its located not far from Lake Balaton, that there is a thermal spring resort nearby, and that you can drive to a Tesco hypermarket in maybe 15 minutes (if the stoplights are working with you).  If the cherries are in season, you may talk them up, or complain about the birds that keep trying to steal the low hanging ones. But really, the thing that makes the farm I’m trying to sell unique is that it sits within an 800 year old village, unsung as the title implies, in a country that has few settlements that are that old.

Buying into a farm in Gadany is buying into that history. (Again, contact Manuela Longo at if interested.)

The story of Gadany is not a 100 percent happy one. Certainly in its formative years, the lives on farms hidden away in woods that may have been filled with fugitives is one that can trigger wistful thoughts of highwaymen and farmer’s daughters (with apologies to the late poet Alfred Noyes, but there simply aren’t that many inns in this part of Hungary), but it also faced the same troubles that many people faced in the 20th century Central Europe. Only when you read through to the close of that history do you begin to appreciate what all the people around here have gone through to become the optimistic and forward-looking village it is today.

So, okay, let’s start. Once upon a time…

Remote village rising from the Crusade Era

Bela III, King of Hungary and Croatia, who first mentioned the existence of the village of Gadany in 1193. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Bela III, King of Hungary and Croatia, stood not only as one of the tallest monarchs of his day, but also as one of the wealthiest monarchs of Europe near the time of his death in 1196. He is said to have spent in an average year more than 130 percent of the total amount that King Phillip II Augustus of France brought in as revenue, and twice that brought in by King Richard I Coeur de Lion of England. Both of these two contemporaries had spent great amounts of money to go on crusade with Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in 1189 to recover Jerusalem from the feared Saladin, while Bela merely feted the Emperor when he passed through Szekesfehervar on his way to the Holy Land, an unfavorable comparison that no doubt stirred guilt in the mind and soul of the prosperous Hungarian king.

Already in his mid 40s, and fully involved with the intrigues of Byzantine politics since the time of his childhood, Bela pledged upon the death of Barbarossa that he too would nonetheless one day raise crusaders to restore Christian rule in Jerusalem. He had been there once, as a pilgrim named “Alexis” a full two decades earlier, before the death of his brother Istvan III created a vacuum in Hungary. His hurry to return home was provoked by the fact that his own mother Euphrosyne tried to fill the throne not with her next oldest son Bela, but rather with the youngest brother Geza (named after the father of Euphrosyne’s three boys).

Bela proved the better strategist in this and other contests set before him, but by the end of his life, he found he could not extricate himself from his internal political troubles to fulfill his promise of a Crusade. He died in late April 1196, leaving to his second son Andras, the deposed Prince of Halych, a large amount of money with which he was to raise the promised crusade in his father’s stead (it would take another two decades before the future King of Hungary would fulfill this wish – unfortunately, not only did he fail to retake Jerusalem, his absence provoked a major struggle for control of Hungary when he returned).

Shield of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In the year 1193, more importantly to this story, Bela issued a document that gave a plot of land, a village south of the western end of Lake Balaton over to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in Jerusalem, the income from which would be used to fund their cause, one of the king’s favorites since his youthful travels to the Holy Land. The name of this village was Gadany.

Gadany, the village, sits in a little valley amid woodlands, through which flows a tributary of the Boronka River. Several littler streams feed this tributary, each of which has its own little hollow. For the people living in these hollows and valley, there was probably not a lot more to life for the people that lived there other than providing tribute to the Knights of St. John. Other than being a Romanesque structure, descriptions even of the church that they prayed at have been lost in the mists of time.

Mongol and Turkish invasions of Hungary

Tatar invasion of Hungary from the Kepes Kronika. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly a half-century after the village was given over to these knights, the first major disaster struck as the Mongols invaded Hungary from the smoking ruins of Kiev Rus, the early Russian kingdom built onto the plains across the Carpathian Mountains. The capital, Kiev, built on a bluff overlooking the Dnieper River in what are today the Steppes of Ukraine, was left a ruin after a handful of defenders fought the Golden Horde of Temujin Khan to their deaths. Bela IV, grandson of Bela III, could expect nothing less should he stand and fight, and his court left its seat of power at Esztergom to the destruction that followed. Only the fortified cities, and those with natural defenses such as the swamps surrounding Szekesfehervar, withstood against the onslaught.

No doubt, the woods that surrounded Gadany helped preserve the town in this great invasion, one that killed off half of the Hungarian population of the time. This is perhaps why it is one of the few villages in its area to have been founded before the mid-13th century.

A century after the Mongol invasion of Hungary, Gadany was given over by King Charles I, the first Angevin ruler of Hungary (his mother was an Arpad, a descendant of the first Hungarian ruler by that name who formed the state from loosely allied Magyar tribes), to the Marczali family based in Pecs in 1338. This family name was said to have been created perhaps only a couple generations earlier when the town of Marcali was founded in 1274, the name being given over to the family who ruled over the estate there. The Marczali rights to the village given by Charles I were formalized more than a century later in 1450 by the Hungarian parliament, then operating under the governorship of John Hunyadi.

However, once formalized, the Marczali family did not hold onto the estate for very long; in 1461, during the reign of Hunyadi’s son, Matthias Corvinus, they sold the village over to the Anthimi family from Tapsony, located further south in Somogy. The Anthimi held onto this land through the Hungarian Renaissance that followed until after the fall of the Hungarian army to the invading Turks at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526. A decade later in 1536, during the Turkish occupation, the little village was given over to Andras Bathori. Oddly enough, in this same year, Keleviz, Gadany’s post-Mongol Invasion neighbor about 3 kilometers away, was given over to Ferencz Fajszi and Berjegi Domokos.

In general, during the Turkish occupation, the religious practices of the villagers were of little concern to the new rulers. However, for some reason, the 13th century Roman-style Catholic Church in the village was demolished during this period. It is possible that the church was destroyed to encourage the villagers to move to one of the designated larger towns, such as Marcali, where the population could be controlled a bit better than out in the forests.

Growth during the Royal Hungary era

Szechenyi family coat of arms. Image via the National Szechenyi Library, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

In any case, the village was given over to a Gyorgy Szechenyi of Sárvár-Felsõvidék (1656-1732, apparently different from the Archbishop of Esztergom, his contemporary), in 1677, during the reign of Emperor Leopold I, apparently after its liberation from the Turks. By 1715, the village was under the lordship of Count Zsigmond Szechenyi of Sárvár-Felsõvidék (1681-1738, great grandfather of the better known statesman Istvan Szechnyi), who sold its estate to Gyorgy Niczky a little over a decade later in 1726. Under Niczky, the village built a school (1743) and a new Gothic-style church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist (1766), both of which still stand today (the school is today the Pannonia Panzio, a village-owned guesthouse managed by the Marton family). Niczky, meanwhile, died a year later.

By 1806, the estate was owned by another member of the Szechenyi family, apparently the home of Count Andor Pal Szechenyi. His family would continue to hold onto the village estate until the abolition of serfdom in 1848.

The decade that followed proved chaotic. As land issues were addressed in court, a wave of cholera spread into Somogy, first hitting in 1849 Kethely, north of Marcali, and then in 1855 the villages around Gadany and Mesztegno. Still, the village suffered two of its most remarkable tragedies only near the end of the 1800s: in both 1888 and in 1890, great fires struck the wooded farming community, destroying nearly every building within it. Other than the two oldest structures standing today, the village had to be rebuilt from the ground up. It would take until 1898 for the Austro-Hungarian government to address the issue of protection of forest lands, after which the forests (such as the 72.3 “cadastral units” of land, or surrounding the village) would be divided into districts, with each district being given a warden to watch over its well-being.

The structures that are seen today, other than the church and the Pannonia Panzio, date from no further back than 1888 and 1890. The village meanwhile, continued to evolve as the world changed around it. By 1893, a new train line was extended only a few kilometers to the east, with the nearest passenger stations in Marcali and in Mesztegnyo (both would close when the line was deactivated in December 2009). Horseless carriages would first emerge from these stations as toys of the wealthy (such as the Fiat Explorer owned by Count Imre Hunyady in Mesztegnyo). The majority of people in the area, though, would remain not far from the lowest rung of the economy and society.

Times of trouble

The war-damaged church at Mesztegnyo after December 1944. Photo via Marta Jager and the Hungarian National Heritage Electronic Educational Dictionary (Nemzeti Kulturális Örökség Elektronikus Oktatási Könyvtára)

This eventually led to problems at the end of the Great War. After the boys returned home victoriously from the east, and not so victoriously from the west, the Aster Revolution erupted a year after the Russian Revolution in October 1918, bringing to power liberal Count Mihaly Karolyi in what was almost a mirror image of Alexander Kerensky’s Cadet government in St. Petersburg. Much like Kerensky, the forces around him spun rapidly out of control: foreign forces occupied large chunks of the Hungarian remnant of the dual monarchy, punishing, as predicted by Lajos Kossuth a half-century earlier, the state for collaborating with the failing Hapsburg monarchy. The resulting fall of the Karolyi government created a vacuum in which Bela Kun tried in March 1919 to follow the example set by Vladimir Lenin a year and a half earlier.

Kun captured the imagination of downtrodden workers in Budapest, peasant farmers in country villages such as Mesztegnyo and Gadany, and Jewish intellectuals all across the country. Unfortunately for these groups, the Hungarian Communists were not as well organized as their Russian counterparts, and by the signing of the Trianon Treaty (which gave large chunks of Royal Hungary to the country’s neighbors), the Whites under Istvan Blethlen and Miklos Horthy established a right-wing government from Szeged (Blethlen as prime minister, Horthy as president) and had retaken the country. White Terror hit squads struck even in Somogy, taking at least one school teacher from Mesztegnyo, Janos Ladik, as a victim.

During the interwar period, the political situation settled briefly as more and more buildings were built in Gadany. In 1927, a number of structures went up, including a building near the town center, and a “crux viator” or memorial cross, erected about 100 meters from the farm. In the meantime, north of Hungary, extreme rightist groups began to march under the Nazi banner in Germany, and soon after the successful election of Adolf Hitler’s party in that country, Jewish families even in Hungarian Somogy began facing threats to their lives. By 1939, Hungary enacted laws that restricted the involvement of ethnic Jews in society, mirroring the Nazi Germans by the start of the war.

(Today, in Marcali’s Hősök Square, you can visit the monument commemorating those Jewish Hungarians, as well as the non-Jewish Hungarian conscripts, who didn’t make it through the years that followed. )

Hungary’s political position at the start of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, was not a position that many appear proud of today. Out of fear that Hitler would favor Romania in the question of who would get Transylvania, the Hungarians committed troops to fight alongside the Germans on the Eastern Front. Conscripts were sent off into Ukraine with the idea that they would be only a few months away from their homes, after which they could return as respected veterans of a war they hadn’t full understanding about.

The entire Second Hungarian Army found out the hard way what the cost of going to fight someone else’s war would be. They were wiped out at Stalingrad while supporting the Axis invasion. For these, there would be no glorious return home. Many would die in Siberian prisoner camps.

Eventually, the fighting ricocheted back and, like an unwanted stray bullet, passed into Hungary’s borders. By Dec. 8, 1944, the fighting was taking place in the area around Gadany. The log of the fighting in the area of the village, maintained by Jozsef Borus, read as follows:

Dec. 11: Soviet Army special forces attacked German positions. The battle raged at Nagybajom (on Highway 61 closer to Kaposvar). At Szenyer (6 kilometers south of Gadany along Highway 68), the Germans attacked, but without much success. At Mesztegnyo (centered 4 kilometers east by southeast from Gadany along Highway 68), occupying Soviet forces collided with the Germans. At Gadany, Soviet forces approached from the south, but the Germans forced them back.

Dec. 12: At Mesztegnyo, German Alpine fighters attacked from the north. Here, Soviet forces stubbornly defended themselves, while German artillery pounded their positions. From Gadany, the Germans moved 2 kilometers to the south and stalled at the northern edge of Mesztegnyo.

Dec. 13: The Soviet Army joined forces in an attack. Fighting took place at Nagybajom, Keleviz (3 kilometers east, the neighboring village), and Mesztegnyo, starting from the south and east with Soviet tanks supporting a new attack against these villages. The front line by the evening was at Mesztegnyo, and had moved 1.5 kilometers southwest.

Dec. 16: For the third time in several days, the Germans tried to retake Mesztegnyo. They attacked the town from several directions, succeeding from the south temporarily, but the Soviets likewise used tanks to suppress them.

Dec. 17: Again, more intense combat operations. The focus of the Soviet attack today was near Mesztegnyo. Starting from that village, Soviet tanks and infantry launched forward, supported by dozens of planes. The Germans that were on the northeastern edge of Gadany (other side of the ridge that the farm sits on), flanked southward along the back edge of the forest to attack positions southwest and northeast of Szenyer.

During this time, the local residents hid in cellars and tried to survive. Children were separated from parents amid the fighting, people (most of whom have by now grown very old or passed away) spoke of horrifying experiences of loved ones being killed by shells or bullets in front of their very eyes, and in the timeline shown here, it was only on Dec. 20 that any sort of evacuation of civilians was tried. There were stories of Christmas spent with drunken Russian soldiers looking for more alcohol and women, and of months being away from home, living with few possessions other than the clothes worn during the wintertime evacuation.

After the fighting passed, many of the structures were left damaged by the passing war front. Unexploded munitions, including mines, found ways to finish the curiosity of exploring children. People sought shelter in any building left standing, even office structures in adjacent towns.

Today, you can hardly see any of the signs of damage. With more than 65 years passing, fortunately, the munitions from those horrifying December days have long since been found and cleared. But the experiences live on in family stories that, if you are lucky, may be told for you in quiet reverence.

Communist and post-Communist eras

Crux Viator, as seen today, near the farm in Gadany. Photo by Ben Angel

After the war, Soviet troops occupied Hungary. After the fighting stopped in April 1945, the provisional government signed documents restoring the 1938 borders of the country, and expatriating all Germans and selected non-Hungarians from the country. Joseph Stalin then carried out plans to orchestrate the Communist takeover of Hungary in such a way that it appeared “democratically elected.” In the end, though, this slow takeover plan was replaced by the outright removal of a stubborn opposition that refused to lose to the communists, and in 1949, Hungary became a socialist state under Matyas Rakosi.

The economy shifted from its traditional agriculture and textiles, favoring instead a more militaristic one, providing weapons and armor to a Soviet military intent on taking Western Europe during Stalin’s lifetime. By 1948, all private schools, such as those affiliated with the Catholic Church, were nationalized.

By 1969, when the economy became less fixated on supporting a military solution to the Cold War, Gadany, Keleviz, and Mesztegnyo had become all part of the same collective farm, producing grains, sugar beets, and legumes for the domestic market. The collective was assigned also to manage the nearby forests. Things had more or less stabilized for local residents.

During the next couple decades, both East and West Germans were allowed by the Hungarian government to spend holidays on Lake Balaton to the north, which let families separated by the Iron Curtain to reunite on holiday. This fostered a strongly German orientation in tourist facilities in this part of Hungary, which can be seen even today. Many happy moments were shared by Germans on the big lake to the north.

After the Soviet withdrawal and restoration of capitalism in Gadany, the countryside suffered significant loss of employment as agricultural concerns took measures to become competitive, rather than simply provide work for everyone. As a result, people were forced to find other means of employment after the former collective farms reduced their workforce. There are still a significant number of people that can be seen any given day on the bus who would be destitute if it weren’t for government support.

For those who were made unemployed, there have been a meager number of new positions made available in the retail sector. Quite a few local residents left for the bigger cities, while some of the more entrepreneurial residents found work in rural tourism. This new sector, trumpeted by officials, has given at least a few Hungarians a chance to showcase the beauty of the countryside and the culture that was created over a period of eight centuries here in Somogy.

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3 Responses to Somogy Tales: Singing the song of Gadany

  1. Pingback: Somogy Tales: The Szechenyi family and Gadany: Part 1 Early Family History | BenStuff

  2. Pingback: Somogy Tales: Sunday, July 22, will be the Kukoricás Ételek Fesztiválja – Gadány | BenStuff

  3. Pingback: Somogy Tales: A translation of the traditional Mesztegnyő yearly calendar | BenStuff

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