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Vera Hajtó is a social historian. She received her PhD in History from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium in 2013. The manuscript of her thesis, entitled „Migration, Childhood and Memories of the Interwar Belgian-Hungarian Child Relief Procject”, was published by the University Press Leuven in 2016. She is currently a post doctoral research fellow at the KULeuven, Faculty of Arts, History Department, MOSA (Modernity and Society 1800-2000) Research Unit. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Centre for the Humanities, Institute of History, she is engaged in the international CELSA (Central Europe Leuven Strategic Alliance) research project ʻÉmigré Europeʼ on the networks of Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian migrants in the Low Countries. Her research interest lie in the field of social and cultural history, migration, the history of childhood, gender and postmemory.
Abandoned children of Europe and the second Belgian-Hungarian child relief project
The Belgian-Hungarian child relief project, organized between 1923 and 1927, had a great impact on the lives of thousands of communities, families and children. Both Belgian and Hungarian social institutions - private, church and state - participated in the organization of the action, which gave the relief project broad social significance. As a consequence, when the project officially ended in 1927, private organizations and many of the participating families themselves continued to keep in touch with each other. Before the child relief project, news about Hungarian culture, cultural life and political conditions (e.g. the issue of Trianon) was only sporadically or not at all featured in Belgian newspapers, however this changed in the 1930s and 1940s. Hungary and its culture became well-known in Belgian society, especially in the circles of the Catholic Flemish community. Therefore, as a natural response, Belgian families opened their homes to another Hungarian child relief after the Second World War, in 1946, in a more difficult economic and rapidly changing political situation. This second Belgian-Hungarian child relief project is the subject of my presentation.
The Soviet influence, which increasingly took control of Hungarian political life after the Second World War, gradually made it impossible for Hungarian Catholic organizations to cooperate with Western European partners. This is clearly evident from the correspondence and contemporary documents of the project organizers. In the 1920s the Országos Gyermekvédő Liga (Hungarian National League for Child Protection) coordinated the project on the Hungarian side. At the end of the 1940s, the Hungarian branch of the Actio Catholica took care of the organization. The Hungarian state offices (Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc.) rather played an obstructive role in the second child relief, which was therefore short-lived compared to the campaign of the 1920s. In Belgium, the Hongaarsch Kinderwerk (Hungarian Children's Aid), which was established in the 1920s to coordinate the Belgian-Hungarian child relief project, ceased to exist in the early 1930s. Since a new institution was not established to organize relief exclusively for Hungarian children in Belgium, in 1946 Caritas Catholica Belgica, which had been operating since 1932, started with assistance to Hungarian children in addition to German, Austrian, and also to refugee children from the Baltic states. Therefore, the second Hungarian child relief project was not an independent action. It was part of a larger Belgian international aid effort. This is a significant difference compared to the organization during the 1920s. Encouraged by the encyclical Quemadmodum of Pope Pius II. the ʻgood Belgiansʼ came to the aid of “Europe's abandoned children” this time.
Photo: KADOC - Catholic Documentation and Research Center for Religion, Culture and Society