Ninety-five years ago, on 6 January 1918, the feast of the Orthodox Christmas, Sándor Kégl, the greatest Hungarian Iranist received a Christmas card on his estate of Szentkirálypuszta.
6 January 1918
Letter from Shcherbakov
Baron Alexander, and to all your family, my deepest esteem. Baron, please, if I received any parcel from home, or a letter, please send it to me. I am now in Albania, and I send my greetings to all the Russians. My address is written [on the postcard]. Please send me an answer. Baron, if you please, I please all of you, to send us a little bit of biscuits. [?] Most humbly, Shcherbakov
Who was this Shcherbakov, to what kind of Russians he sent a Christmas greeting, and why did he think in Albania that the nearest place he can ask for some biscuits from is Szentkirálypuszta in Hungary?
But Shcherbakov was not the only Russian at that time who in smaller or greater cases sought the support of the Kégl family. In the fond containing the above card we also find a number of similar letters.
To: Alexander Kerlovich Kegl
My noble lord Aleksandr Kerlovich, permit me to ask you in writing, be so kind, and when you go to Budapest, buy me a razor and a tool for sharpening it, please do not deny this request.
E.V.B. [highly estimated lord]
I want to borrow thirty crowns from you to the debit of my money in Kiskunlacháza-Áporka, or please hold it back from my payment. I want to use this money to buy … [a word deleted by censorship]
To: Most Honourable Alexander Kerlovich
Merciful Alexander Kerlovich, please permit us to ask you to keep us with you for always to work, among those ten persons whom you want to keep for the winter.
Alexey Tuzkov, Ivan Grishov. I ask you, please, keep us
To Lord János Kégl (post stamp 23 January 1917, Zalaszentiván)
From: Vintsek Sevchak
We are still sitting here in Zalaegerszeg, and we do not know the slightest news about leaving, only that we will have to sit here for a long while. Life in the camp is very, but very hard, and as to the food, it is terrible. So please, Baron, do not leave us alone, and send us a parcel with at least a little bit of bread, which we get only in small quantities.
We greet You, dear Baron, and please give our regards to your sister and brother.
Once more we ask you to remember our efforts when we were at you, and do not leave us in these hard conditions. But even without this we will remember you, how well you provided us for the last time, but hope lives in us, that you would help us this time, too.
Zalaegerszeg. Prisoner camp. Group one, Barrack 4
Nr. 19353 Yan Shishkovsky
Nr. 19354 Vitsenty Shevchak
Nr. 19362 Yuzef Samsonyuk
Nr. 19352 Viadislav Romanyuk
Nr. 19358 Yuzef Shidurkevich
The post address is valid for all, you can send [the parcel] to anyone of us. Nr. 19353 Yan Shishkovsky.
We wish you happiness, dear Baron.
During the First World War, the administration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made it possible – especially for small and medium-sized landowners – to require Russian prisoners of war stationed in the territory of the country to replace the manpower conscripted from their lands. This is how Sándor and János Kégl also did, when, the latest from 1916, they employed a certain number – perhaps 10 to 20 – Russian prisoners of war on their estate.
The exact number of Russians and the exact period of their working on the estate is not known. We are only informed about the landowners’ treatment of them from the letters written back to them after leaving, from various prison camps, which have also been preserved by Sándor Kégl among his letters.
To Lord János Kégli
Please accept our enormous gratitude for your generosity and solidarity in our miserable conditions. I cannot find the words to express my gratitude to you for having been so good to us during the period spent on your estate, and especially on the last day – the day of our leaving…
At this moment we are in Budapest, and we do not yet know where we will be assigned. Please accept our greetings, and we are very grateful to You and to your honorable brother and sister.
The prisoners: Vintsek and the others
To: Lord János Kégly
Igen Tisztelt Úr! [Very Respected Lord!] 1 September 1917 [post stamp: 22 November]
Please accept my gratitude and esteem for your generosity, benevolence and respect towards me during the two years of my service. My esteem also for the fact that I was never harmed, and you were always amiable to me.
I am sincerely grateful for your extreme generosity. I also thank to your sympathetic and kind-hearted sister for her treatment. I am forever grateful, and will always remember the family.
I rest in the camp, in Dunaszerdahely, which You also know.
To be more precise, one thing we learn about the Russian prisoners. Namely that they were not so Russians.
Sándor Kégl, who spoke dozens of languages and, as his notebooks show, practiced them every day, would not have been true to himself if, when requesting the prisoners of war, he ignored their mother tongue. His notebooks attest, that while the prisoners worked on their estate, he continuously learned at least two languages of them, Chuvash and Mordvin, thus taking advantage, similarly to many other European researchers, of the rare opportunity – which had scarcely existed before and soon would absolutely cease to exist for several decades – that the exotic native informers of the Russian empire were delivered to their door.
A significant document of these studies and of the era in general is the two-page poem entitled “Soldier’s song”. This soldier, although he stands guard in the Carpathians, and dies there for the homeland, on the great sorrow of his father, mother and wife, is not Hungarian, as you would expect it – but Russian.
Wind above the sea from East to West / In the valleys of the Carpathians / Rivers of blood are flowing there / from early morning till late night. / Dull detonations are heard: / machine guns are rattling there; / shrapnels and grenades exploding; / mines throw the earth in the high. / Soldiers are fighting for justice; / and the death does not frighten the heroes; / They go to the battle again / under the protection of the Holy Virgin. / And at home the father, in the family / and the mother, weeping with her / read about the warriors in the news, / They want to know about their son. / The comrades write about the son; / tears come to their eyes; / They report: your son has fallen / while fulfilling the war command. / He died in the mountains, on reconnaissance / far from his motherland. / Nobody will know the tomb / of the soldier of the Russian land. / And the young wife at home / leaning above the little children / is crying with bitter tears / while remembering his husband / He left kind-hearted and cheerful, / caressing me again and again / and now a heavy stone is / forever above the heart of the woman. / I cannot see my husband any more, / my children will have no father, / they remain orphans forever, / and life will be always bitter.
And probably not even Russian. In fact, the unknown hand added to the end of the Russian text the first three strophes of the song also in Chuvash. Thus this song might have been the song of the Chuvash soldiers fighting in the Carpathian, just as melancholy, as the song of the Hungarian soldiers fighting against them in the same mountains.
Although this small fond consisting of a few Russian-language letters does not belong to the scientifically important parts of the Kégl bequest, nevertheless it sheds such a light on some traits of the great scholar, that we have devoted to them a separate page in the online edition of the Kégl bequest.