János Esterházy, a leader of Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian community between the two world wars, was “a martyr who fought against both Nazism and communism and gave his life for his faith”, the head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee said on Sunday, marking Esterházy’s 120th birth anniversary.
Addressing a commemoration event of the Rákóczi Association, Zsolt Németh said in a video message that Esterházy had been “a friend of the Poles”, committed to cooperation among the Visegrad countries, and “a standout fighter for human rights”.
Németh highlighted Esterházy’s role in Hungary’s admission of Polish refugees during the second world war, along with his commitment to the representation of Christian ethics in politics.
In Warsaw, suffragan bishop Michal Janocha celebrated holy mass in Esterházy’s honour, for his beatification and peace and cooperation among central European nations. The mass was attended by Zsuzsanna Orsolya Kovács, Hungary’s ambassador to Poland, and other dignitaries.
Ahead of the mass, the officials laid wreaths at Esterházy’s memorial in Warsaw.
Count Esterházy (1901-1957), the sole Hungarian deputy in the Slovak Parliament before 1945, was a firm advocate of the ethnic Hungarian community, raising his voice against any violation of minority rights and against discrimination.
Czechoslovak authorities arrested him in 1945 under the charge of war crimes, and turned him over to the Soviet military authorities. In 1947 he was sentenced to 10 years of forced labour in Moscow and handed a death sentence in absentia in Bratislava on trumped-up charges. Two years later, the Soviet Union extradited the ailing Esterházy to Czechoslovakia, where the president commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. The count died in a prison in Mirov in March 1957. His ashes were identified in 2007 in Prague’s Motol cemetery.