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From Revolutionary Hero to Ottoman Pasha: The Adventurous Life of Józef Bem

Hungary Today 2024.03.14.

230 years ago, on March 14, 1794, Józef Zachariasz Bem, known as József Bem in Hungarian, or by his nickname after his famous white beard, “Papa Bem,” was born. He became a hero of the Polish and Hungarian wars of independence, ultimately ending his life in exile as a Turkish Pasha, writes kultura.hu.

Bem was born in Tarnów, in the Austrian part of Poland, into a noble family of landed gentry. His journey to heroism began when he joined the artillery at the age of fifteen during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite his youth, he quickly rose through the ranks, earning the distinction of second lieutenant and participating in Napoleon’s campaign against Russia in 1812, where he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Duchy of Warsaw (green). Picture: Wikipedia

His involvement in an anti-Russian conspiracy in 1822, led to a year’s suspended prison sentence, prompting him to leave military service and move to Galicia (modern day Ukraine).

Bem’s pivotal role in history emerged during the Polish uprising of 1830-1831, where he distinguished himself in battles like the victory at Igane.

His courage on the battlefield was depicted in one of Sándor Petőfi (Hungarian poet; 1823-1849), where he called Bem “the bloody star of Ostroleka.”

Despite heroic efforts, he could not prevent the fall of Warsaw to overwhelming Russian forces. Subsequently, he found himself in exile, teaching mathematics in Paris and surviving an assassination attempt in Brazil.

Generals of the 1848-49 freedom fight with Lajos Kossuth: Artur Görgey, Mór Perczel, Józef Bem, Henryk Dembinszky, and Lajos Aulich. Picture: dka.oszk.hu

The revolutions of 1848, provided a new stage for his heroism. He offered his services to various revolutionary causes, from commanding the guard in Vienna to aiding the Hungarian army under Lajos Kossuth (reformer politician and leading figure of the Hungarian revolution; 1802-1894).

Bem’s leadership and military prowess were instrumental in several victories, notably in Transylvania.

However, Russian intervention and internal strife led to defeat. Bem retreated to Transylvania, where he fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed to the superior Zarist Cossack forces at Sighișoara (Segesvár), sustaining serious injuries.

Forced into exile in Turkey, he converted to Islam and served the Porte in military matters, earning the rank of Pasha.

He died in Aleppo (modern day Syria) amid speculations of poisoning.

Mausoleum of Bem at his birthplace in Poland. Photo: Wikipedia

Despite his turbulent life, Bem remains a symbol of courage and resilience. Revered by his soldiers, his legacy lives on through numerous statues in Poland and Hungary, and his memory continues to inspire, as seen in the demonstrations held in Budapest’s square named after him on October 23, 1956.

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Via kultura.hu; Featured Image: Wikipedia

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