The history of erecting the monument dates back to the National Assembly in 1920 when Prime Minister Károly Huszár solemnly commemorated the heroes who lost their lives as martyrs of state order in the battles for the future of the nation during 1918-1919. At the same time, he made a vow that the names of the heroes would not be forgotten. The leaders of the White House Comrade Association, which was founded in the fall of 1918 and was active against revolutions, remembered this promise and, hoping for financial support, decided on 2 January 1929 - approaching the tenth anniversary of the Hungarian Soviet Republic - to erect a monument to the martyrs of the 1918-19 revolution, proletarian dictatorship and the Red Terror.
Prime Minister Károly Huszár (Source: National Heritage Institute)
A National Committee was established, in which several members of the government and prominent public figures, including the architect Jenő Lechner, took a role. The capital also promised a larger sum for the costs, although it was still necessary to organise a nationwide fundraiser. Lechner had already outlined his plans at the founding meeting of the Committee on 22 January 1929, so he was entrusted with their detailed elaboration. The meeting point of Nádor, Vécsey and Báthory Streets next to Kossuth Lajos Square was chosen as the location, because when viewed from Szabadság Square, the small square is located exactly symmetrically with the Batthyány eternal flame. Thus, the martyrs of 1848-1849 and 1918-1919 were symbolically placed next to each other.
Jenő Lechner with the first model of the monument (Source: Kiscelli Museum of the Budapest History Museum)
Lechner asked Richárd Füredi to create the sculptural elements of the monument since the two of them were already a familiar duo. Their first great success was achieved in 1906 at the tender announced for the tomb of Ferenc Rákóczi II, and the following year, they also started a business dealing with the design of artistic tombstones. Their most significant joint work was the tomb of Mór Jókai, which was also built in 1929 in the Fiumei Road Cemetery.
Lajos Szentgyörgyvári Gyenes: Sculptor Richárd Füredi (Source: MTA Research Centre for The Humanities, Institute of Art History)
That year was therefore quite busy for them, the memorial of the Great Storyteller and the Monument of National Martyrs were made in parallel. Lechner also designed the architectural part of the latter, which was actually a high pedestal. The basic features of the work reminded us of The Cenotaph on Whitehall in London, as a sarcophagus lay on top of the column. Another common feature was that thanks to a platform with a few steps, it stood out from its surroundings, thus increasing the monumental effect.
The forerunner of the memorial could be The Cenotaph standing on Whitehall in London (Source: en.wikipedia.org)
On the other hand, the Budapest monument has decorations only on the upper third: the top of the column is surrounded by a row of sedge leaves as a sort of crenellated decoration. The leaves standing at the corners are higher and consist of several layers. From this decorative row, bull's heads emerge on both sides, which evoke the shape of the drinking trough of an archaeological find from the migration period, the so-called Nagyszentmiklós treasure. As Ödön Lechner's nephew, Jenő was also interested in the idea of a national architectural design language, which he tried to achieve not with folk art motifs, but with references to ancient Hungarian memories.
The Monument of National Martyrs in the 1930s (Source: Fortepan/No.: 129779)
The stone coffin placed on top of the pillar - which symbolises martyrdom - was covered by a Hungarian flag with a coat of arms in the first plans. According to the drawings and the recordings of the model, in this version, the female figure personifying Hungary stood in a somewhat uncertain posture in front of the monument. The statue had already been carved by Füredi when the Fine Arts Committee of the Capital refused the necessary permission for its installation as it was not suitable for public work from an artistic point of view.
Among the plan versions of the Monument, the original can be seen on the far right (Source: Az Est, 21 June 1929)
The problem was primarily with the message: she should not have lamented in grief but glorified the nation that emerged stronger from the difficulties. Füredi created a new statue in the spirit of this, in which Hungária was already standing as a soldier, with a spear in her hand and the Holy Crown on her head. A commemorative plaque was attached to the plinth with the inscription "A Nemzet Vértanúinak 1918-1919" [For the Martyrs of the Nation 1918-1919]. Behind the monument was an allegorical composition from the badge of the White House Comrade Association: the male figure personifying Hungarians fought with the dragon representing communism. The Association also appeared on its pedestal: "It was raised by the Hungarian nation at the initiative of the White House."
The Monument seen from Szabadság Square (Source: Fortepan/No.: 39244)
Füredi had previously prepared the latter for the tombstone of one of the most famous martyrs of the struggle against the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Captain Jenő Lemberkovics, and the tombstone itself was designed by Jenő Lechner. Led by the military officer, an armed uprising broke out at the Ludovika Academy on 24 June 1919, but the coup attempt was quickly crushed by the armed forces, and Lemberkovics lost his life in a shootout. He was laid to rest in the Rákoskeresztúr cemetery, from where in 1927, at the initiative of the White House Comrade Association, he was moved to plot 26/1 of the Fiumei Road Cemetery. On the occasion of the reburial, Füredi and Lechner were entrusted with the preparation of the grave monument, which can therefore be considered a precursor to the Monument of National Martyrs.
The tomb of Jenő Lemberkovics (Source: Kiscelli Museum of the Budapest History Museum)
The pedestal of Jenő Lechner and the stone coffin from the work in front of the Parliament were moved to the designated location in 1930, but the sculptures did not take their final form until four years later, so the covered Hungarian-style column stood in the corner of the square for a long time. By the beginning of 1934, Richárd Füredi created the figures of the monument, which were used to complete it, and it was inaugurated on 18 March 1934 in a ceremonial setting. After that, the small square was also named Vértanúk Square.
The unveiling of the Monument on 18 March 1934 (Source: András Zsuppán (ed.): A Nemzet Főtere [The Main Square of the Nation], Országház Publishing House, 2020.)
However, the work was later expanded in two stages: the names of the victims were already determined in 1930, but they were only engraved on the side of the plinth in 1936, and its official inauguration took place after that, on 6 August 1936. The 497 names were listed in alphabetical order by settlement, among them, the name of the martyr Prime Minister István Tisza was highlighted in the first place, and the dead of the Catholic Church, the Ludovika Academy and the gendarmerie were also included in a separate group. After the historical changes, in 1942, the list was expanded to include those who died during the revolutions in the areas that had been rejoined in the meantime (in 1938 the southern part of Upper Hungary, in 1939 Transcarpathia, in 1940 Northern Transylvania, and in 1941 Bácska returned to the motherland). Due to its anti-communist message, it was removed in the framework of the action against statues organised in 1945, which was also reported by the film news. After that, the square took the name of Endre Ságvári.
The recreated Monument nowadays (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)
In 1996, the statue of another martyred prime minister, Imre Nagy, standing on a small bridge, was placed at the intersection of the three streets. Finally, as part of the Imre Steindl Program aimed at the reconstruction of Kossuth Lajos Square, the work was moved to the northern end of the House of Representatives, so that in 2019 the Monument of National Martyrs could be returned to its original location. The work, which can still be seen today, praises the talent of the sculptor Imre Elek and differs from the work of the Lechner-Füredi duo in that the name of the White House Comrade Association is no longer written under the statue of the Dragon Slayer, but instead a plaque remembering the communist victims after the World War II.
Cover photo: The Monument of National Martyrs nowadays (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)