Hungarian Children trains

Hungary (Hungarian national hymn)

The peace treaty of Trianon after the first world war was a disaster for Hungary. It lost two thirds of its land. Because of this the economy was distorted and landed in a deep crises. On top of this many Hungarians found themselves in hostile foreign country: Checoslovakia, Yougoslavia and especially Roumania. Many of these foreign Hungarians fled to Budapest where they lived in bitter poverty. The remainder stayed and were regarded as an ethnic minority.
Hungary is since the making of a saint of King Stefanus in the 11th century a catholic country and defended its borders and those of Europe against the Mongols and the Turks. Because of this the Hungarians have been focussed more on western Europe then the slavic people to the east. This also is because their language and culture is totally different than in the surrounding countries.


In Flanders in the second half of the 19th century a catholic reveil appeared. The neogothic style ( The replication of the catholic Middle Ages) became the norm for churches, convents, castles, jails and even pessenger buildings. This religion controlled life from birth to the grave, this remained so until the sixties of the previous century. The Flemish church with its large contingent of clergy (probably the highest percentage all over the world)  was indespensible for the fight against poverty and illness in the country side. In contrast with the Walloon provinces which was industrialised, there was no upcoming Socialism. Only after the second world war the new social  laws did change and the citizens did not have to seek help from the priest and cloisters.

After the first world war the world, e.g. The Red Cross,became aware of the poverty in Hungary and neigbouring countries. A few Flemish priests went to visit Hungary and alerted the Flemish public opinion. I presume that the Hungarian authorities with the creation of shelters could not face the problem. The only solution seemed to be to evacuate the Hungarian children. They came to the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, England and Switserland to recover. In Flanders the priest read a letter from the bishops in church requesting and convincing the worshippers for taking Hungarian children into their home.These requests were also done in the french speaking parts of Belgium (Brussels and the Walloon provinces) but with much smaller success.The upcoming of socialism in the industrial areas had raised a struggle between the church and society. The Flemish search for more self-government in a country ruled bij de French minority made de polarisation of the society complete.

25000 (!) Hungarian children came by special train to recover in Flanders.They were to stay for a period of 6 months. There was no intention to emigrate and therefore no need to register. It should be seen as a holiday. They were given a medical checkup before leaving Hungary so that contagious diseases (especially tuberculosis, the illness of the poor) could not be brought over. It is likely that only children of active worshipping catholics were sent to Flanders. Much children came several years on holiday ans some stayed for ever.
The children had arrived in Flanders where the governing and education in schools were mainly in French. The official documents they had with them from Hungary were in French and Hungarian, not in Flemish. They did settle with affluent Flemish families, priests and convents. In Flanders where the Flemish had been oppressed many times, the Hungarian children recognised their own history. The majority of  Hungarian children were girls and 10% stayed for ever. At that time girls older than 14, at the end of the elementary school, did not continue to go to school and it was acceptable for them to help in the households. The Flemish girls did household services for the french upper-crust but this was not the case for the Hungarian girls. They remained with their guest family until finally freed mainly by marriage. The alternative for Flemish and Hungarian girls was to enter a convent; and this happened often. The third option of going to work in a factory had such a bad reputation that it really in the end was not a option.Only a very few children were adopted.

Of the few Hungarian boys who came to Flanders, Stefaan Regoczi is certainly the most remarkable
By the 1930 the children actions came to a stop, not because there was no more poverty in Hungary but because of the upcoming of poverty in the west and the coming of the deep depression of the economy.

The Hungarian drs. Hajtó Vera, university of Louvain [Belgium], who we met in 2006 at the celebration of the 50the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution is preparing a Ph.D. on this subject.