The album “The 7th Division in Budapest”, 1919

Modern History
Photography, printing, binding
H = 41 cm, W = 30 cm
Workshopr Cservenka es Társa, Budapesta

    The album “The 7th Division in Budapest”, 1919

    Text: Cristina Păiușan-Nuică; Photo: Marius Amarie; Restoration: Cristina Petcu

    The Romanian army during the 1919 campaign 

    On 1 December 1918, unified Romania entered in history. It was the moment when all the territories inhabited by Romanians were united in a single kingdom. The long way to acknowledging the Union of the Romanian Kingdom also started in December 1918, when the questions arose: would Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia ever unite de facto with the Romanian state? How would these provinces with a peculiar structure, specific for the empires they had belonged to, adapt to the institutional structure of the unified Romanian Kingdom, set free from the German-Austrian-Hungarian-Bulgarian-Turkish occupation?   

    In Transylvania, the Governing Council, which functioned as a temporary government of the province, had to facilitate this actual administrative and institutional union, as the Country Council did in Bessarabia between 1917 and 1918. 

    One of the main problems that had appeared as early as November 1918 was related to the abuses, robberies, rapes and murders committed by the anarchized Hungarian troops after the armistice and the fall of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire on the Transylvanian territory, in the attempt to prevent the unification with the Romanian state. Among their victims, there were both Transylvanian leaders and peasants.

    The Romanian population in Transylvania was demanding the support of the Romanian Army for protection against the violence and the abuses of the Hungarian Bolshevik troops, and the Romanian Government and Governing Council of Transylvania decided to help it. 

    The 7th Division was brought to Transylvania from the north of Moldavia, starting from Piatra Neamț. Its vanguard followed the itinerary Piatra-Prisăcani-Borsec-Toplița-Ditro, crossed the Carpathians in November 1918 and took control over the railway in the upper Mureș valley, establishing its camp in the region Toplița-Ditro-Gyorgy-Miklos, together with the 1st Division,  which reached the Csik Szereda region. The 7th Division marched on and, in the second half of November 1918, occupied the Târgu Mureș-Bistrița region, whereas the 1st Division occupied the Odorhei-Sighișoara-Brașov region. 

    After 1/13 December 1918, the 7th Division occupied the Ciuc and Mureș-Turda districts in the upper Mureș valley. With the allies’ consent, the 7th Division went on and occupied the Dej-Cluj-Turda region, being welcomed in Cluj by the local population on 11/24 December 1918. 

    On 11 December 1918, the General Headquarters of Transylvanian Troops were created in Sibiu, where the Governing Council was also located, and its appointed commander was General Traian Moșoiu, hero of the Great War.   

    The 1st and 7th Divisions of hunters were sent to Transylvania and placed on the boarding line established by the Allies on the Mureș river (the armistice of Belgrade, 13 November 1918), leaving outside their protection large parts of Crișana and Maramureș. The 6th Division was added to the other three. On 15 January 1919, the Romanian army occupied the crests of the Apuseni Mountains. 

    The dramatic events that Hungary had experienced led to the proclamation of the proletariat’s dictatorship in Hungary on 21st March 1919, when the power was taken by the Bela Kun government. The union of the Hungarian Bolshevik forces with the Ukrainian and Russian ones could destabilize Central and South-East Europe for years. 

    The Romanian delegates to the Peace Conference in Paris presented to the Council of Four the atrocities committed by the Bolshevik groups, whose victims were the Romanians in the regions that were still under the Hungarian administration, and showed that the population was asking for the help of Romanian state, within which they were now.  

    The Romanian delegates asked the Supreme Allied Council (made up by Woodrow Wilson, the president of the USA, David Lloyd George, the prime-minister of Great Britain, George Clemenceau, the prime-minister of France, and Victor Emanuel Orlando, the prime minister of Italy) to give them permission to occupy the entire Transylvania and eliminate the Bolshevik threat. 

    The Allies decided to start the negotiations with the Bela Kun government and installed a blockade in Hungary, and the Supreme Allied Council sent to Budapest the South-African general Smuts, in order to evaluate the situation and send information.  

    Nevertheless, the crisis was aggravated, as the Bolshevik army constantly attacked the Romanian troops and civilians. 

    On 12 April 1919, the command of all the forces in Transylvania was entrusted to General G.D. Mărdărescu (1866-1938, the Commander of the Superior School of War in 1915-1916, a close collaborator of General Alexandru Averescu; commander-in-chief of the 3rd and then the 2nd Army, a reorganizer of the 2nd Army in the spring of 1917, who took part in the battles of Mărășești and Oituz), whereas General Ștefan Panaitescu was the chief of staff.  

    The forces of the Army in Transylvania were divided into two large groups: the Northern Group, under the command of General Traian Moșoiu, made up of: 1) The mixed troop General Olteanu: the 5th Brigade of Roșiori, the 3rd Battalion in the 14th Regiment of Infantry, 1 battalion of infantry in the Transylvanian 16th Division and a battery in the 4th Regiment of Artillery; 2) the 2nd Division of Cavalry, the 2nd Division of the 1st Regiment of horse artillery, the company of cyclists, the 2nd Group of motor machine-guns; 3) the 7th Division; the 6th Division and the Transylvanian 16th Division and the Southern Group, under the direct command of General Mărdărescu, made up of: the 1st and the 2nd Divisions of Hunters and the Transylvanian 18th Division.  

    The first fights between the Romanian Army and the Bolshevik Army took place on the night between 15 and 16 April 1919, when Bela Kun’s army attacked the positions of the Romanian army, thus leading to the beginning of its offensive. Two weeks of fierce fights followed, during which the Romanian troops got to the left shore of the Tisa River, reconquering the territory occupied by the Bolshevik army, at the expense of heavy casualties. In April 1918, the 7th Division advanced towards Carei and Satu Mare, then, on 20 April 1919, the 6th and 7th Divisions arrived in Oradea Mare, being welcomed by the population of the city with flowers and joy.  

    On 1 May 1919, the Romanian Army got to the Tisa River, but Romania was warned by the Supreme Allied Council not to cross the river or get on the Hungarian territory. 

    The Bolshevik troops had also attacked the new Czechoslovakian state, whose weak resistance led to the occupation of large territories. Facing these military actions, the Council gave an ultimatum to the  Bela Kun government to withdraw from Czechoslovakia. 

    On 2 May 1919, the Kun government asked for an armistice with Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, demanding the immediate cessation of hostilities in exchange for recognizing the claims of the three states for their national territories, which were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Romanian Government signed the armistice that provided, among others, the disarmament of the Hungarian Bolshevik troops. Romania refused to directly negotiate with the Kun government, which it did not consider representative for the Hungarian nation.   

    On 17 May 1919, the Romanian troops entered Arad and were welcomed by the population with flowers. 

    After a respite, on 20 May 1919, the Kun government attacked the Czechoslovakian forces, less numerous and unprepared, and the Czechoslovakian military commander required the support of Romania, which the General Headquarters decided to grant. 

    When the Romanian troops crossed to the West of the Tisa River, the Bolshevik army in Czechoslovakia stopped its offensive, but the situation did not improve because of the scarcity of military forces that this state had. The intervention and the pressure from the Supreme Allied Council led to a new armistice between Bela Kun and the Czechoslovakians, on 23 June 1919. 

    On 26 June, the Kun government declared the general mobilization and, under the pretext that the Romanian Army did not demobilize itself, prepared the attack on the Tisa River. Knowing the preparations made by the Bolshevik army, the Romanian Headquarters grouped on the battlefield on the Tisa River the best divisions it had, the 7th Division being one of these.   

    The attack of Bela Kun’s army took place on 20 July 1919 on the Tisa River, on the entire length of the demarcation line, in the direction of Szolnok-Debrețin-Oradea Mare, facing the resistance of the Romanian Army. The Bolshevik army advanced 50 kilometers up to Oradea. After a week of fierce fights, with losses on both sides, the Romanian Army in Transylvania, under the command of General Mărdărescu, managed to re-occupy the lost positions and returned to the line of the Tisa River, starting to chase the enemy across the Tisa River. 

    After crossing the Tisa River, the 7th Division concentrated in the area of Heves-Atany-Komiko-Tarna Szt Miklos, ensuring to the North the liberty of action for most of the Romanian troops formed by the group of General Holban and the group of General Moșoiu. 

    The 7th Division occupied the area of Kamilo-Heves. Then, it became a part of the left flank, together with the 2nd Brigade of Roșiori, and, marching on, caught by surprise the enemy forces, from behind, thus preventing them from withdrawing to Budapest and systematically advancing towards the capital of Hungary. On the way, 38 locomotives, railroad cars and ammunition. 

    On the evening of 2 August 1919, the great units of the Hungarian army sent their representatives for capitulation. On 3 August 1919, General Gheorghe Rusescu, the commander of the 4th Brigade of Roșiori entered Budapest, with three cavalry troops from the 4th Brigade of Roșiori, without fighting. It was the day when another part of the Romanian Army entered Timișoara. 

    At the same time, the group of General Holban advanced towards Budapest, the 2nd Division of cavalry occupying a bridgehead to the West of the city, while the 1st Division of Hunters entered Pesta and took steps to restore order, chasing away the Bolshevik troops. On the evening of 4 August 1919, it occupied the entire city and marched on the Andrassy Boulevard, watched by General G.D. Mărdărescu and General Holban, who was appointed the governor of Budapest. 

    On 4 August 1919, the new Hungarian government led by Gyula Peidl invited the Romanian Army to negotiations for the cessation of hostilities. These negotiations started on 5 August 1919, but the government collapsed, as it did not have the people’s support, and, on 7 August 1919, was replaced by the government led by Istvan Frederick, which had an anti-Bolshevik program.  

    For negotiations, the Romanian government sent to Budapest the Minister Plenipotentiary Constantin Diamandy (1868-1931), as a high official. 

    Shortly after, an inter-allied mission, appointed by the Supreme Council, reached Budapest, under the command of four generals: an American one, a French one, an English one and an Italian one – whose role was to guarantee the maintenance of order and to avoid any excesses. After vehement protests and threats of the Supreme Council towards Romania, after the interdiction to enter Budapest, the Allies understood that the Romanian Army was, at that time, the only one that could re-establish the order in Hungary. 

    Constantin Diamandy, the special delegate of the Romanian government, who came to negotiate with the Hungarian government and, at the same time, with the Allies’ Mission in Budapest, was a skilled and intelligent diplomat, who said that “through the way in which the operations were led and the bravery of the troops, the action of the Romanian army was quickly taken and completed and Romania is aware that it made a great service to the peace work intended by the Conference”.  

    C. Diamandy and General Holban, the military governor of Budapest, together with the Romanian Army, administratively reorganized Hungary and Budapest, disarmed the scattered Bolshevik troops, pacified the territories occupied by them and provided food to the Hungarian population, under the guidance of the allied generals’ Commission. There were excesses and bloody incidents, but they were isolated and quickly punished by the Romanian commanders. 

    The album “The 7th Division in Budapest, September - October 1919”

    The album entitled “The 7th Division in Budapest, September - October 1919” is an epoch document that reflects the activity of this division in the capital of Hungary. The album has 123 pages and contains as many photos of the commanders, officers and soldiers from the 7th Division, taken during the period in which they were stationed outside Budapest and then in the city, as well as images of the allies’ representatives who had come to Budapest. 

    The document, made when the army was quartered in Budapest, also played a propagandistic part, showing the way in which the Romanian “occupation army” was welcomed and perceived by the population of this large city that had experienced anarchy, Bolshevism, robberies, rapes, Bolshevik occupation, starvation and then the occupation of the Romanian troops. 

    The album document was made in Budapest, in the Cservenka es Társa Workshop, 41 József Körut Street, during the months when the Division was quartered in the city and its surroundings. The photos were taken by professionals of the camera, which can be seen at a first analysis of the 123 images.

    The album contains suggestive images for the life of a division, narrating, through carefully chosen photographs, the events that took place during the two months when the 7th Division was stationed in Budapest and on the outskirts of the city.

    The history in images begins with the division’s leaders, extending to all its ranks, brigades, regiments, and reflects the way in which the officers and the soldiers in this division interacted with each other. The figures of the Romanian soldiers and the officers are serene, smiling and have a special tranquility, which shows that the war after the war was over and there were times of peace. The 123 sepia photos, attached to the pages of the album, fall into three categories. The first contains the photographs taken at the headquarters of the 7th Division, at Hotel Hungaria and Hotel Britania, where the officers were quartered. In these photos, the division’s leaders are shown as sitting in the office, in a gala uniform with decorations. The troops are photographed in the Nador barracks in Buda, in the Honveds’ barracks, in the Ferencz Jozsef barracks, in the Andrassy barracks and in the Tűzer-Laktanya barracks in Budapest.

    The second category includes the snapshots taken during the marches and parades  of the Allies’ representatives, sometimes moving photos that give authenticity and veracity to this album-document.

    The third category is represented by the images that present the civilian population of Budapest, the most expressive being those with the canteens organized by the Romanian Army for the poor women and children of the Hungarian capital, who had been starved during the previous months by the Bolsheviks.

    The album-document kept in the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History has the inventory number 162074 and a format of 41/30 centimeters, 123 pages and two covers. A similar album is in the patrimony of the Museum of History and Archeology in Piatra Neamț, being classified by Dr. Mihaela Cristina Verzea, but this one has only 113 photos.

    On the cover of the album there is a note “Lieutenant Colonel C. Stănescu, commander of the 16th Regiment of Infantry Fălticeni”, and on the pages 53 and 54, next to the photographs representing “The 16th Regiment of Infantry in the barracks of the Honveds in Budapest”, there is another note, identical on both pages, “The regiment commanded by me, Lieutenant Colonel C. Stănescu “. These notes show that the album, which is today in the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History, belonged to Lieutenant Colonel C. Stănescu, commander of the 16th Regiment of Infantry Fălticeni.

    In 2019, the piece was restored, rebound, the photographs and the parchment sheets on which the photos were glued were cleaned, the damaged covers were restored, without affecting the inscription on the first cover, a meticulous process done with skill by Cristina Petcu, a restoration expert within the Restoration Section of MNIR.

    The album opens with the group photo entitled “Officers of the 7th Division’s Command in Budapest at the Hungaria Hotel in Budapest”, which depicts the officers of the division posing in front of the hotel where they stayed. The second photo is that of General Dumitrescu Constantin, the commander of the 7th Division, in uniform, working at an elegant desk. The third photo is entitled “Commander of the 7th Division with the Chief of Staff in the office” and shows General Dumitrescu Constantin and Lieutenant Colonel Ion Stănescu, the Chief of Staff of the 7th Division.

    The series of photographs continues with: Colonel doctor Mihăilescu, the head of the health service of the Division, Lt. Col. Protopopescu, the head of the Intendance service, then the heads of the veterinary services, organization, services, information, topographic section, post office. The following photos depict the brigades and battalions of the division.

    These photos are today the historical testimony of those who belonged to the 7th Division, capturing the features of the characters and containing significant elements for each character or group. For example, decorated officers wear their decorations, the chief physician is surrounded by nurses, the head of the cartographic service has maps around.

    When it comes to photos from marches, parades or other events that took place in September-October 1919, a period that the Division spent near and then in the capital of Hungary, the scenario changes. Personalities such as the representative of the Romanian government, the diplomat Constantin Diamandy, the general Dumitrescu Constantin, the commander of the 7th Division, as well as the members of the Inter-allied Mission, unnamed, are frequently presented.

    Moreover, there are some group photos taken in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in front of Hotel Britannia, where the officers of the 27th Regiment of Infantry stayed, as well as in the Honveds’ barracks, where the 16th Regiment of Infantry was established.

    Out of the 123 images, only one, on page 57, represents the “The 7th Battalion of Pioneers. Escorting 2 Bolsheviks”, in the picture being several Romanian officers and soldiers escorting two disarmed Bolshevik soldiers on a street in Budapest, whilst the servicemen and civilians on the street are watching.

    The moments captured by this album cover the period September-October 1919, when the whole territory of Hungary was pacified, and the Bolshevik fortresses were annihilated. 

    The photos depicting the population of Budapest are on page 38 – “The 15th Regiment of Infantry distributes food to poor women and children from Rakospalota in the presence of Mr. Minister Diamandy”-, on pages 39 and 40 -” Hungarian children from Rakospalota fed by the 15th Regiment of Infantry”- on page 58 - “ The 7th Battalion of Pioneers giving food to poor children from Peezel in the presence of General Dumitrescu” and present scenes in which the Romanian soldiers help the large poor population.

    Photos with the representatives of the Inter-allied Mission are on page 98 –The arrival of some members of the inter-allied mission -, on page 99 - General Gratiani and General Panaitescu talking to a part of the Inter-allied Mission -, on page 100 – the Inter-allied mission waiting for the troops’ parade. Pages 110 and 111 show the members of the Inter-allied Mission waiting for the troops to march.

    Aspects of daily life can be found on: page 23 - Kitchens of the 1st Battalion of the 15th Regiment of Infantry -, and, on pages 92, 93, 94, 95 and 96, the field bakery of the Division making bread, the bread ovens, the bread warehouse, the trucks that transported the bread. Some photos were not taken in Budapest, but in some localities near the Hungarian capital, which are today parts of it. Thus, on pages 21, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, there are photos with “Officers of the 15th Regiment of Infantry at Ràkospalota”, which was back then one of the localities near the capital, today part of district XV. On page 39 there are “Hungarian children from Ràkospalota fed by the 15th Regiment of Infantry”; on page 22 - “The 1st Battalion of the 15th Regiment of Infantry at Rakosfalva”, which, in 1919, was a locality around Budapest, today part of district XIV. On pages 24, 25, 26, 28 there are photos of “Officers of the 2nd Battalion of the 15th Regiment of Infantry in the Ujpest barracks”, “The 2nd Battalion of the the 15th Regiment of Infantry in the Ujpest barracks”, The 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry Regiment in the Ujpest barracks”, and on page 28, “The Regimental Train of the 2nd Battalion from the 15th Infantry Region in the barracks in Ujpest”, in 1919 Ujpest being a locality close to the capital, today in district IV of the city.

    The 123 photos refer to the time spent by the 7th Division in Budapest and are today among the few pictorial testimonies regarding the presence of the Romanian troops in Budapest, unique documents through the informational value they offer, by their impact on the way we perceive today the Hungarian campaign in the spring-summer of 1919. The pride of the victory is read on the faces of the Romanian officers and soldiers, the photos being suggestive of the atmosphere in which the Hungarian campaign took place.

    The best known photograph in this album is on page 46 and depicts “The 27th Regiment of Infantry in front of the Hungarian Parliament, being the emblematic document-image of the victory obtained by the Romanian Army. In the square in front of the Hungarian Parliament, the 27th Regiment of Infantry lined up its entire force, with the officers in the foreground, whilst in the background there are several carts drawn by horses, a soldier and a horse. On the left side of the picture, the civilian population is shown watching the alignment of the Romanian regiment, while another group of civilians is on the left, just next to the steps of the Parliament. The photographer took snapshots of the smiling Romanian soldiers, with an orderly and proud outfit, with the officers aligned less strictly and the atmosphere of victory given by the presence of this regiment in the heart of the Hungarian capital.

    Romania’s war effort continued after the end of World War I, due to the need to stabilize the new borders of the United Romania, to respond to the permanent challenges and abuses committed by the Bolshevik troops in the territories of Crișana and Maramureș and to remove the Bolshevik threat from the vicinity of the Romanian state. 

    Through the Allied Supreme Council, the Allies had an oscillating attitude towards this conflict, which had started with the attack on the Romanian as well as Czechoslovakian territories by Bela Kun’s Bolshevik Army, passing from the warnings and ultimatums given to the Romanian Army not to intervene beyond the demarcation line drawn on the Mures River to the summons given to Bela Kun’s Bolshevik army. At the end of the campaign, the Allies realized that the actions of the Romanian Army had removed a danger to Europe and brought Hungary back to the group of European countries they could negotiate with.

    The victory of the Army and then of the Romanian diplomacy was the fruit of strategy, courage and, to the same extent, of the desire for stability and unity of a nation that, for hundreds of years, had dreamt and fought for its unity.