Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris Collection
The unique resource value of the collection stems from the historical fact that the continuity of Hungarian scouting established in 1910 was in fact maintained by the émigré Hungarian scouting movement worldwide for more than four decades, from 1948 to 1989, in a period when it was prohibited in communist Hungary. According to Hungarian émigré scout leaders, the movement was intended to serve a two-front struggle of cultural resistance: on one hand against the official forgery of “the real” national heritage in communist Hungary; and on the other against the linguistic and cultural assimilation of Hungarian émigré youth within the multi-ethnic environment of some 20 countries of 4 continents worldwide.
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Name of collection
Records of the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris
Provenance and cultural activities
The 1946–1996 records of the central bodies of the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris are a uniquely valuable historical collection that can be found at the Hungarian National Archives–Csongrád County Archives in the city of Szeged in southern Hungary.
The collector of the records was 1945 émigré Gábor Bodnár, who served as the executive president of HSAE for half a century. Bodnár stored the massive amount of papers, altogether 139 archival folders, in the basement of his home in Garfield, New Jersey. Bodnár was the main organizer of the worldwide Hungarian émigré scouting movement as a great patriot and a tireless activist for the Hungarian diaspora in the West. Since the scout movement was prohibited in Hungary throughout the entire communist era in Hungary from 1948 to 1989, preservation of the heritage of the Hungarian scout movement represented a kind of political and cultural resistance. Beginning in 1989, the HSAE also assumed a major role in supporting the rebirth of the scouting movement not only in Hungary, but also among the Hungarian minorities of Slovakia, Subcarpathian Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Croatia.
The HSAE collection contributed to the fact that the relationship between Hungary and the Hungarian émigré community in the West was settled by the eve of major political changes in Hungary. The “homecoming” of the HSAE collection finally took place as a result of some fortune meetings that took place between Hungarians living in Hungary and Hungarians living abroad.
In May 1988, a year before the major political changes in Hungary, the young Hungarian museologist Attila Marosvári set up an exhibition presenting the history of the Hungarian scouting movement at the Ferenc Móra Museum (FMM) in Szeged. The fact that scouting had been strictly prohibited in Hungary throughout the communist era made holding this exhibition all the more challenging. The final event of the exhibition proved to be fairly popular, attracting some 60,000 visitors in a half year. Marosvári also organized a historical conference in late 1988 to which he invited some prominent leaders of the Hungarian émigré scouting movement. Among them was Gábor Bodnár, the executive president of the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris (HSAE), who visited his native land for the first time since leaving Hungary following the Second World War.
Bodnár soon became friends with Marosvári and invited him to his home in Garfield, New Jersey, to research the archival records of the early Hungarian émigré scouting movement as well as the central bodies of HSAE that Bodnár himself had collected and preserved for almost a half century beginning in 1946. In 1993, according to the decision of the HSAE Executive Committee with Marosvári's active participation, the entire collection was donated to the FMM before moving on to the Csongrád County Archives in Szeged. It was Attila Marosvári who took the job of organizing the overseas transport of the collection and all 139 archival folders between 1995 and 2001. Later Marosvári both edited and published books on the history of the early Hungarian émigré scouting movement.
The major challenges of the last century—deep social and political crises, collective traumas and the heroic efforts to overcome them—are well reflected by the history of the Hungarian scouting movement founded in 1910. As is widely known, this voluntary youth movement was launched by Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who had served as a general for the British army in the Second Boer War. The basic idea of this initiative was to recruit young volunteers to serve “God, Homeland and Mankind” in a network of paramilitary troops organized by strict moral standards and in a strong hierarchy, although without weapons. However, instead of a militarized mass movement, the network of scout troops was based rather on the activities of self-organized small groups of boys and young men scouting together, engaging in athletics and craftsmanship and respecting national and Christian heritage. For more than a century, this “well-designed conservative tradition” proved to be surprisingly successful and with its 38 million members has grown into the largest youth movement worldwide. It is active in close to 200 countries on 5 continents.
The Hungarian scout movement was among the first to be established outside the British Empire that adapted Lord Baden-Powell’s organizational model and principles of scouting. Just a year after Baden-Powell’s scouting book appeared in English, it was published in Hungarian as well and by 1910 the first Hungarian scout troops were organized by devoted local teachers, pastors and army officers. By the outbreak of the First World War, the Hungarian scouting movement counted more than 3,000 members. However this number was reduced to around 1,500 by the end of the war as a result of the losses of young scouts who had volunteered to serve as messengers and first aid staff. In addition to those killed on the field of battle, many who had fallen captive never returned from POW camps. However, the movement regained momentum beginning in the early 1920s under the leadership of the conservative prime minister Pál Teleki, who served as the president then honorary president of the Hungarian Scout Association. The national shock caused by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 and the resulting loss of two-thirds of Hungary’s territory and half of its population left a deep impression on scouts as well. In the spirit of revived cultural nationalism, scouts began to focus on the archaic folklore heritage of the lost Hungarian territories and also on some nineteenth-century romantic national myths. In fact, both tendencies survived and can still be strongly felt in the tradition of the Hungarian émigré scouting movement. Hungary’s hosting in 1933 of the World Scout Jamboree at the royal park in Gödöllő was a great success and represented an emergence from the country’s long post-war diplomatic isolation. The threatening expansion of Nazi Germany and the Second World War represented the next grave challenge to the Hungarian scout movement. In 1940, Prime Minister Teleki tried to transform the Hungarian scout movement into a more voluntary, independent, and civilian organization, as opposed to the militarized and compulsory youth movements such as the Hungarian Levente. Teleki also made desperate efforts to preserve Hungary’s “active neutral status” and to prevent the country from entering the Second World War. But to no avail: in April 1941, Teleki committed suicide and the scout movement in Hungary sank into deep crisis. After 1945, the onset of communist rule that Stalin had forced upon East-Central Europe represented the beginning of a difficult period for the Hungarian scout movement. After a three years of hopeless resistance, the scouting association was dissolved in 1948 and forcibly merged with its rival communist youth organization, the pioneers. The scout movement was subsequently prohibited in Hungary for more than 40 years, until 1989.It is doubtlessly the historical merit of the Hungarian émigrés, those of 1945, 1948, and 1956, that they managed to maintain the continuity of the Hungarian scout movement in the West through much struggle and sacrifice and that they finally managed to establish a worldwide association that existed in 16 countries on 4 continents throughout the Cold War era. The reorganization of the Hungarian scout movement was very difficult. The first Hungarian émigré scout troops were organized in 1946 at refugee camps of Austria and Germany, primarily those in Bavaria. A group of young men who called themselves the “Nestless Eagles” proved to be especially adept at recruiting and training new scout troops among the young Hungarians at the camps and soon some senior émigré leaders also took part in the foundation of a new network. However, the worldwide reorganization of the scout movement began only years later, in the years 1951–1952, when most of the Hungarians at the Austrian and German refugee camps were allowed to move to countries in Western Europe, North America and elsewhere. The massive new wave in 1956 of around 200,000 Hungarian refugees, around half of whom were minors and young men under the age of 25, provided the Hungarian émigré scouting movement with further momentum and greater hope for its lasting survival. Many dozens of cities in Western Europe, North America, South America and Australia hosted around 80 Hungarian scout troops, approximately one-third of which are still active more than 60 years later. The scouting movement played a vital role in maintaining émigré community life. Many of the local émigré communities could not have survived without the active and ongoing presence of the Hungarian scouts. Especially in those parts of the world in which the formerly strong and worldwide organizational network of Hungarian émigré associations, newspapers, schools and churches is rapidly vanishing.
Description of content
The records of the central bodies of the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris from the year 1946–1996 are a unique and valuable historical collection that can be found at the Hungarian National Archives–Csongrád County Archives in the city of Szeged in southern Hungary. The collector of the records was Gábor Bodnár, who served as executive president of the HSAE for half a century and stored the massive amount of papers in the basement of his home in Garfield, New Jersey. In 1993, the HSAE Executive Committee decided to donate the entire collection to the Csongrád County Archives in Szeged. Attila Marosvári, a devoted historian and museologist, organized the overseas transport of the collection from the United States to Hungary in between 1993 and 2000. He also prepared a detailed research guide for the collection of 139 archival folders and has both written and edited books on the history of HSAE.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 1000-
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- memorabilia (posters, flyers, stamps, etc.): 100-499
- photos: 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Nóvé, Béla
Marosvári, Attila, interview by Nóvé, Béla, December 15, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection