Fábri & Háber Collection on Alternative Pedagogy
From 1938 until 1978 (i.e. under different political regimes, namely those of Horthy, Rákosi, and Kádár), a unique summer festival of sorts (“nyaraltatás”) was held not far from Budapest on the shores of Lake Bánk (over the course of 40 years, more than 800 children took part in the festivals). It was organized by Eszter Leveleki in the spirit of the reform pedagogy movements of the1920s and 1930s. The festivals were a separate and liberal universe which was shaped by certain cultural (roleplaying) and collective practices. Accordingly, they ignored and implicitly challenged the dominant cultural-social norms. The tangible heritage of the festivals (e.g. various objects and items) has been preserved by the participants, especially by private collectors Ferenc Fábri and Ferenc Háber.
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Provenance and cultural activities
The private collections of Ferenc Fábri and Ferenc Háber preserve the traces of a unique series of summer festivals which took place under different political regimes at the lakeshore of Bánk. People have adopted different approaches to the heritage of Bánk. The original event is inseparable from the personality of Eszter Leveleki, who was the creator and main actor (also the archivist) until 1978, when, due to her poor health and the slow transformation of the atmosphere, she brought an end to the festivals. The camps did not disappear entirely, however, as some participants (Ferenc Fábri among them) organized vacations in the spirit of Bánk (this phenomenon is called “utódtáborok,” or successor camps). Leveleki acknowledged the legitimacy of these new initiatives, though she asked the organizers not to use Bánk as a location for the camps.
The public discovery of the heritage took place before and shortly after the political transition (in the oppositionist atmosphere) emphasizing solidly the oppositional and resistance character of Bánk. Eszter Leveleki consciously paid attention to creating and maintaining a community (which remained a community in the other seasons of the year as well). Accordingly, for the majority, the festivals shaped their identities and the circles within which they moved. With some of the youngsters (especially Ferenc Fábri and Ferenc Háber), Leveleki also had a personal relationship, which lasted all her life. After she passed away, the most important objects and items from Bánk became the property of Ferenc Háber. He spent the most time in Bánk, and he was also the main figure, as signified by his title, “eternal regent” (the regent was the right hand of the so-called Pipec King in the terminology of the camp, and he held this title for life). Finally, a distant part of the legacy was handed over to Ferenc Fábri (e.g. diaries, picture albums, posters) for sorting and preservation. Here, one can see two different strategies: Ferenc Fábri not only preserved this heritage, he also makes active use of it in various activities (the organization of camps and the foundation of the Eszter Leveleki Foundation; he also wrote many articles and edited books on the festivals, etc.). Naturally, Háber and Fabri do not hold the whole heritage of the camps. Many former participants have also kept personal objects (e.g. bear caps or “medvesapka,” quills, etc.). This fragmented and heterogeneous heritage, which is preserved by the former participants, was displayed as such during the exhibition entitled Ellenpedagógia a tóparton (Counter-Pedagogy at the Lakeshore) at the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest. With this public display, the story of Bánk was presented not only as an exclusive memory of a small community, but a story open to the wider public.
Leveleki studied at the Szent Orsolya Teachers’ Training College and then from 1936 she started to work at the private kindergarten of Ms Márta Müller Nemes, who in the 1920s worked together with the Swiss psychiatrist Jean Piaget and gradually became one of the representatives of the reform pedagogy movement in Hungary. Leveleki also followed the pedagogical norms of Ferenc Mérei who was also an important figure in Hungarian social psychology. At the time, Waldorf and Montessori were the best-known alternative pedagogical methods.
The first summer festival in Bánk took place in 1938 under the name “Joyful Vacation” with Vera Mérei (the wife of Ferenc Mérei). After the communist takeover of the country, Eszter Leveleki was blacklisted as a pedagogue (“She is inappropriate for the education of the socialist man,” according to an assessment made by a representative of the regime). As a result, until 1961 she was not allowed to work as a pedagogue. Instead, she worked as a manual labourer. Still, the authorities were not able to deprive her of the opportunity to organize the festivals and create and maintain a strong community. One can distinguish three separate phases within the period of 40 years; 1938-1944, 1945-1956 (1944 was the only year when the festival was not organized, and in 1945 the festival was held in Szilvásvárad instead of Bánk), and 1956-1978. Two historic moments shook the organizers of the festivals profoundly: the Holocaust (several hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported from Hungary in the space of only a few months) and the revolution of 1956, when many participants in the festivals fled Hungary, including Gábor Molnár “Medve,” or “Bear,” who was responsible for the invention of many rituals. Often, however, children of the party nomenclature visited Bánk, which explains how the initiative survived in the harsh political atmosphere. Some of the participants also confirmed that Leveleki’s social capital (e.g. her relationship with high-ranking cultural politician György Aczél) might have helped prevent the public health office (KÖJÁL) from issuing an unfavourable assessment after an investigation. Officially, the festivals were launched by a community of working parents, but it functioned as a private enterprise of Eszter Leveleki.
The prevailing atmosphere at Bánk differed strongly from the military atmosphere of the communist youth camps (e.g. the pioneer camp, the camp of the Hungarian Communist League). The camp was more a world of personal and communal creativity, cheerful role games, and spontaneity. The location was another important aspect. The village of Bánk and the summer house, which was outside of Budapest, is in a rural area with nomadic conditions. The whole camp was an entirely another world. It has its own currency, social-political structures (it was a constitutional monarchy called Pipecland, led by the Pipec king), traditions (an anthem, different kinds of rituals), language, newspaper (called Bánki Béka Brekegi, or “The Bánk Frog Croaks”). Beginning in the 1960s, various types of performances (theatre, opera, fashion shows, military marches) were also staged during the summer. Sometimes, the performances contained criticism (through parodies, travesties) of the regime as well.
 Farkas, Endre, ed. Nyugodtan tegezz! Budapest: Leveleki Eszter Alapítvány – Iskola Fejlesztési Alapítvány – Gyermek Érdekek Országos Fóruma. 1992. 5.
Description of content
After the festivals, there was an array of interesting materials left behind. Most of these materials were preserved by Eszter Leveleki. After she passed away, the most important objects and items came into the possession of Ferenc Háber, for example the totem-wall, which has all the items used by the kids during the camps. A distant part of the legacy was handed over to Ferenc Fábri (e.g. diaries, picture albums, posters) for sorting and preservation. However, many of the former participants preserve personal items (e.g. bear caps, which were used as a reward for the 12 year-olds, or the so-called quill, which campers received when they bid farewell). This fragmented and heterogeneous heritage was presented as such for the first time during the exhibition entitled Ellenpedagógia a tóparton (Counter-Pedagogy at the Lakeshore) at the Museum of Ethnography in Budapest. The materials of the exhibition can be seen at http://ellenpedagogia.neprajz.hu/.
- artifacts: 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- all closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Bódi, Lóránt
Mérei, Ferenc. Az együttes élmény. Budapest: Officina, 1947.
Kovai, Melinda–Neumann, Eszter. Informalitás, politika hatalom és kulturális elit az államszocialista Magyarországon– esettanulmány Leveleki Eszter bánki magánnyaraltatásáról. AnBlokk Kultúra- és Társadalomtudományi Egyesület. manuscript
Ellenpedagógia a Tóparton Néprajzi Múzeum." Accessed January 25, 2018. http://ellenpedagogia.neprajz.hu/magyar.00.html.
Frazon, Zsófia, interview by Bódi, Lóránt, November 21, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Háber, Ferenc, interview by Bódi, Lóránt, November 17, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Ferenc, Fábri, interview by Bódi, Lóránt, November 15, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection