A history of two statues

Whenever I go hiking in the Bucegi mountains, this statue is the first thing I see when I step out of the railway station of Buşteni. Its grotesque figure is impossible not no notice. It tells a story.

He is Corporal Constantin Mușat. Born in a peasant family, after the five classes of elementary school he worked as a tailor’s assistant in Bucharest, but the First World War radically subverted his peaceful life. When the Great War of Unification (that is, of the former Romania with Transylvania to be conquered from Hungary) broke out, Muşat served in the forces around Predeal.

Treceti batalioane române Carpaţii

The text of the famous Romanian march changed somewhat over time, but there is still no man with military experience in the country who does not know it. Young people nowadays sing it as an excursion song, usually without a political shade, as the text calls to the peaks of the Carpathians.

Treceti batalioane române Carpaţii
La arme cu frunze şi flori
V-aşteaptă izbânda, v-aşteaptă şi fraţii
Cu inima la trecători

Ardealul, Ardealul, Ardealul ne cheamă
Nădejdea e numai la noi
Sărută-ţi copile părinţii şi fraţii
şi-apoi să mergem la război

’Nainte! ’Nainte cu sabia-n mână,
(in some versions: spre Marea Unire)
Hotarul nedrept să-l zdrobim
Să trecem Carpaţii, ne trebuie Ardealul
De-o fi să ne-ngropăm de vii.

It could be roughly translated as:

Romanian battalions, cross the Carpathians,
with leaves and flowers around your weapons,
victory and your brothers are waiting for you,
you are expected to come there, over the mountains.

Transylvania, Transylvania is calling you
you are her only hope:
kiss your children, parents, and siblings
and then go to war.

Ahead, ahead, with sword in the hand
(or: for the Great Union)
crush this unjust border,
let us cross the Carpathians, for Transylvania I do not mind
if we have to bury each other today.

At the news of the unexpected “Wallachian break-in”, as it was called in Hungarian historiography (27 August 1916), the 82nd Infantry Regiment, composed of the Székelys, the Hungarian ethnic group living in the easternmost zone of Transylvania, was commanded from the Russian front back to defend their native land.

The text of the soldier’s song, originally composed for the Russian front, was thus somewhat modified:

We do not know the way to Romania.
Mr. Sergeant, lead us to there.
I will lead you, my sons, I also go with you,
only God knows who will come back with you.

And they made a display of their courage. The counterattack of the Central Powers by the end of October fully drove back the Romanian troops to their starting positions. Corporal Muşat defended the pass at Predeal until he could, then he was commanded to the Moldovan front, where he was badly wounded. In December 1916 they had to ampute his left arm. He could have left the service, but he officially asked to be let back to the front. The Székelys also suffered heavy losses in the battles.

Ellőtték a jobb karomat… (My right arm was shot off). First World War soldier’s song

Ellőtték a jobb karomat, folyik piros vérem
Nincsen nékem édesanyám, ki bekösse nékem
Gyere kisangyalom kösd be
Sebeimet, s gyógyítsd meg a bánatos szívemet.

My right arm was shot off, my red blood is flowing
I do not have my mother who could dress it for me.
Come, my beloved, dress it
dress my wounds and heal my sorrowful heart.

By 1917 the united Romanian and Russian troops lost the control over Wallachia, the southern part of the country, due to the series of the German-Turkish-Bolgarian victories (here fought also the young Erwin Rommel). The last battles in Romania were fought in Moldova, against the Romanian troops reorganized by taică Bertalau (“Daddy Bartholomew” – the French General Berthelot) among which the most important ones were those around the Pass of Oituz, Mărăşti and Mărăşeşti.

The places marked on the map, from top to bottom: Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), Pass of Oituz, Pass of Tömös. This latter is the border of Predeal, the selector of the rivers Tömös and Prahova. The 2508 meters high peak marked here is the Omu of the Bucegi range.
In the autumn of 1916 major battles were fought along several other passes of the Carpathians as well.

This is how in the summer of 1917 both the 82th Székely regiment and the troops of Corporal Muşat met on the two sides of the Oituz Pass. According to the story, Corporal Muşat was fearlessly throwing grenades with his intact arm on the fearless Székelys, until in the heavy machine gun fire he died a heroic death on 14 August.

László Mednyánszky (Hungary): Soldiers

Aurel Baeșu (Romania): The attack

In 1917 a statue was inaugurated in the Székely town of Székelyudvarhely (now Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania) in memory of the victims of the 82th Infantry Regiment. It was carved of moss-capped oak wood, but covered with iron scales. Both because of this and of the valiant struggle of the Székelys, it was named the Iron Székely.

Archduke Joseph von Hapsburg was also present at the inauguration ceremony. Around the base of the statue the following verses were read:

Gyopárt a Hargitáról hozzatok,
a székely hősök halhatatlanok
Ojtuznál, Volhina síkjain, s ott lenn Doberdón,
ismeri az ellenség a puskatusom
A trón, s a haza védelmében vassá válik a székely,
s hősi, csodás tettét hirdeti a hon, s a világ
Magyar testvéreink, ne féljetek,
míg napkeletnél állanak a székelyek

Bring edelweiss from the peaks of the Hargita
the Székely heroes are immortal.
My gun’s butt is known by the enemy
at Oituz, in Volhinia and down there in Doberdò.
The Székely defending the throne and the homeland
is made of iron, his deeds are widely known.
Our Hungarian brothers, do not worry
as long as the Székelys keep guard at the east.

After the peace of Brest-Litovsk, Romania was left no choice but to quit the war, by signing the treaty of Bucharest (later called as “robber peace”) and thus breaking their promises to the Entente (just as the Entente was unable to keep their promises made to Romania). They came to war again only on the penultimate day of WWI.

No international agreement could defend the Iron Székely from the Romanian troops entering Transylvania in the autumn of 1918. Under the guise of the curfew in February 1919, unknown perpetrators sawed off his gun, reminding of the battles of Oituz. Later a coffin was placed on it, and the students who took it off were beaten by the Romanian soldiers. And finally on 9 February the statue was torn down from the base, symbolically executed with rifle shots, and then made cut in pieces with the locals. The Romanian officers’ dinner was cooked over its wood that evening (source).

After the war, several monuments were erected to the victims of the Great War of Unification. The valor and patriotism of Corporal Muşat became a symbol for the Romanians, so no less than three cities – Brăila, Bârlad and Buşteni – erected a statue in his honor.

This one here, at the Buşteni railway station, was inaugurated in 1928 with the support of the paper industrialist Otto Schiel. Even Queen Mary of Romania took part at the inauguration. It is called Ultima grenadă a caporalului Mușat, Corporal Muşat’s last grenade.

The cult of the Iron Székely was also kept alive for several people, including my grandfather who, as a naive wood carver, made a number of small copies of the destroyed statue until the end of his life. Several other folk artists did the same, producing by the dozens similar works of art in the 1980s:

The tale of the statues had a new turn on 15 March 2000, when a new statue of the Iron Székely, this time cast of bronze, was re-erected in the main square of Székelyudvarhely, less than a hundred meters from its original location.

Its base has only this couplet out of the original four:

“Bring edelweiss from the peaks of the Hargita
the Székely heroes are immortal.

This is the Iron Székely, resurrected from the dead, at the gate of the Hargita mountains.

I come back from hiking in the Bucegi, where Corporal Mușat is standing over the former Hungarian border. I pass in front of the Iron Székely on the main square of Székelyudvarhely, now Odorheiu Secuiesc. This is how the two statues make one complete story to me.

8 comentarios:

Pawel dijo...

Thank you for the interesting article and for the music describing and enriching the text. The Romanian March, "Treceti batalioane române Carpaţii", always reminds me one Polish song from the WWI "Szara piechota" (The Grey Infantry). Actually the melodies are almost the same. As I have found the Romanian version is probably earlier, despite the fact that some Polish sources give as an author of the tune a Polish composer Leon Łuskino. But in my opinion both versions are loosely based on the older and quite known Russian song "Эх, распошёл".

languagehat dijo...

An amazing story -- how complicated, sad, and interesting history can be! A minor correction: "unknown perpetrators saw off his gun" should be "unknown perpetrators sawed off his gun."

I too was reminded of some Russian war song, but not "Эх, распошёл." Of course, all such marching songs tend to sound similar, and they were passed back and forth across the frontiers, so who can say what was the original?

Pawel dijo...

Just another "Russian trace" could be an old 19th-century ballad "Крутится, вертится шар голубой". But who knows?

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks for the correction, Language, and thank you for the parallels, Pawel. Yes, the Polish march is actually the same, while the melody of Эх, распошёл is similar enough to be the model of both marches. In any case, there is some unusually Russian-like in the Romanian march. It is possible that its origins reach back to the Balkan wars of 1877-78, when the Russian troops fighting against the Turks in Bulgaria stationed in the territory of Romania. Крутится, вертится шар голубой seems to me a far more distant version of the same melody. It would be good to trace back this history. We try to check it the Romanian literature, but is there no good Polish source about it?

Pawel dijo...

I will check the Polish literature. But as far as I have found the Polish sources indicate Leon Łuskino as a composer of the song. (e.g. this, quite well documented, site: http://www.bibliotekapiosenki.pl/Piechota ).

Pawel dijo...

By the way, Leon Łuskino before the WWI was an officer in the Russian Army. He finished a military school in Odessa in 1892 and fought in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. So, the Russian trace seems correct. Best regards.

Grimpix dijo...

The correspondence with polish march is amazing, so I have made a small research on the romanian web, but have found almost nothing. Only here (http://www.worldwar2.ro/forum/index.php?showtopic=5954&st=0) got a debate on this topic, but seems to be only assumption. Resum:
- the romanian version is available at 1915.
- there is also a bulgarian version, but they could not name the song.
The russian trace is feasible for bulgarian version too (Balkan war)

I am not the right person to make any assumption, I don't even understand the lyrics of Эх, распошёл, but don't you think, that if three march-like songs root to russian origin, there should be somewhere a march version in russian too?
Anyway, I will ask some of my romanian acquaintance too, and will return if some news emerge.

MOCKBA dijo...

război sounds very familiar too