Újpest has a long tradition of commemorating the 1943 Don disaster, as the city (which was an independent settlement before 1950) knows of at least 660 soldiers and conscripts born in Újpest who did not return from the banks of the Don River.
As soldiers of the Hungarian Second Army, they had to maintain a 200-kilometre front line in World War II under the control of the Germans. When the Russian attack began against them eighty years ago, on 12 January 1943, they had no chance to defend themselves in summer uniforms and lack of heavy weapons. 100,000 to 120,000 people lost their lives in the fighting and during the retreat, and they are buried in the central military cemeteries in Voronezh and Rudkino, next to the Don River.
Among them is a military doctor from Újpest, Dr Béla Bernolák, whose memory has been recalled several times in recent years in the film made about him, as well as in photo exhibitions and lectures.
The Hungarian Defense Forces Heritage Preservation Association provided a guard of honour at the inauguration of the Don River memorial in Újpest (Photo: ujpestmedia.hu)
In 2022, the Újpest Local Council declared 12 January as the day of remembrance for the victims of the Újpest military and labour service who fell in the Don River fight. Also last year, the council of representatives accepted the proposal according to which, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the tragedy in Voronezh, a public memorial to the fallen soldiers and servicemen will be erected in the 4th District.
The monument was inaugurated on 20 January 2023, in the park bordered by Eötvös József–Mikszáth Kálmán–Mikes Kelemen Streets. According to the report of ujpestmedia.hu, at the inauguration Deputy Mayor Norbert Trippon said: the fallen Hungarian soldiers must be considered both victims and heroes by posterity, who "loved their country, their families and saved each other's lives as true comrades, and as long as they could, they protected their positions with heroic self-sacrifice so that the suffocating veil of grief and painful silence falls on hundreds of thousands of families". He added: "The Don disaster and World War II were the life and often death of our grandparents and great-grandparents, a human and family tragedy that must not be forgotten."
They laid a wreath at the monument (Photo: ujpestmedia.hu)
Ujpestmedia.hu also reported that at the event, sculptor Dávid Tóth briefly explained the artistic idea behind the symbolism of the monument. This was also rooted in his family experience: his grandfather fought as an artillery captain along the Don, and it was only thanks to luck and the ingenuity of one of his comrades that he did not suffer the sad fate of the other officers: an immediate shot in the back of the head in Soviet captivity.
"Luckily, he came back. That is how I was able to get so many things from him that would be difficult to list," said Dávid Tóth, who added that many people were not so lucky, and this sad fact provided the guiding thread of his work. Viewed from the front, "from the side of life", the monument shows the last marching column of the soldiers walking far into the distance, while on the back, "from the side of death", five soldier graves mark the end of the earthly journey of the heroic dead - the local site quotes the sculptor.
In the 4th District, visitors can find several works by the sculptor Dávid Tóth. On 27 January 2022, a statue was erected to Lipót Aschner, who was the founding father of Hungarian light bulb production and development, the flourisher of the Tungsram brand, and the president and patron of the Újpest Gymnastics Association (UTE). The bronze statue was placed on Aschner Lipót Square in Újpest.
In 2011, a bust of Olivér Halassy, born in Újpest, who was an Olympic water polo champion and European swimming champion, was unveiled in front of the entrance of the Halassy Olivér Sports and Leisure Centre on Pozsonyi Street, named after him. A bust was erected in memory of Dr Emil Wolf, the founder of the Chinoin Pharmaceutical Factory, at the corner of István Road and Nyár Street in 2010.
Cover photo: The Don River memorial was inaugurated in Újpest (Photo: ujpestmedia.hu)