14 March 1901|
Nyitraújlak, Nyitra County, Kingdom of Hungary
|Died||8 March 1957
|Spouse(s)||Countess Lívia Serényi|
|Parent(s)||Antal Mihály Esterházy
Countess Elżbieta Tarnowska
Count János Esterházy (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈjaːnoʃ ˈesterɦaːzi]; Nyitraújlak, Nyitra County, Kingdom of Hungary (today Veľké Zálužie, Slovakia), March 14, 1901 – Mírov, Czechoslovakia, March 8, 1957) (Slovak rarely: gróf Ján Esterházi) was a prominent ethnic Hungarian politician in mid-war Czechoslovakia and later in the First Slovak Republic. Member of the Czechoslovak Parliament and of the Slovak Assembly. After the Second World War he was illegally deported to the Soviet Union, sentenced on trumped-up charges at a show-trial, and imprisoned. In the meantime he was sentenced, in absentia, to death by the National Court in Bratislava on the charges of High Treason to the State, collaboration with enemy, the breaking-up of Czechoslovakia, and his participation in an anti-democratic regime as a deputy of the Slovak Assembly. The sentence was not executed as a consequence of a Presidential pardon, following his return to Czechoslovakia from Soviet Union. He died in prison in 1957.
The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities named him as hero for saving Jews during World War II, on the other hand, the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Slovakia published official attitude about János Esterházy and rejected efforts to present him as “democratic, antifascist fighter and fearless savior of Jews”.
- 1 Family
- 2 Political career
- 2.1 Czechoslovak republic
- 2.2 Slovak republic (1939-1945)
- 2.3 Prison and death
- 3 Efforts for his rehabilitation
- 4 Historical interpretations
- 5 Political controversies
- 6 Awards
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Son of Antal Mihály Esterházy, he was born into one of Hungary's most distinguished aristocratic families, the House of Esterházy, in the Galánta branch originated from Transylvania. His mother, Countess Elżbieta Tarnowska, daughter of Professor Stanisław Tarnowski, was Polish. He was four when his father died. He went to secondary school in Budapest and after studying commerce he returned to his estate in an area of Hungary which the Treaty of Trianon had ceded to Czechoslovakia after World War I. On October 15, 1924 he married Countess Lívia Serényi. They had two children, János and Alice.
The political policy of János Esterházy was first based upon Christian-Nationalist ideas, which later became influenced by his relations with those who held more developed liberal positions. In the '20s he became a member of Provincial Christian-Socialist Party (Országos Keresztényiszocialista Párt; OKszP). In 1931 he became the leader of the Hungarian League of Nations League in the Czechoslovak Republic, an organization which operated within the League of Nations. On December 11, 1932 he became a chairman of OKszP. He won a parliament mandate in Košice at the elections in 1935 and was a deputy for that constituency in the Czechoslovak Parliament until 1938. In his first speech in parliament he said: "As we have been attached to Czechoslovakia against our will, we demand that the Czechoslovak government fully respect our minority, language, cultural and economic rights." The policy of both Hungarian opposition parties (Provincial Christian-Socialist Party and Hungarian National Party) was politically influenced and directed from Budapest. Esterházy's political ideas were influenced by contemporary irredentism and aspirations to restore Hungary to her pre Treaty of Trianon borders.
Esterházy maintained close contact with Hungarian government by means of visits in Budapest, through diplomatic channels via the Hungarian Embassy in Prague, and through the Hungarian Consulate in Bratislava. This contact included written reports for the Hungarian government for which he used pseudonyms such as "Tamás", "Matyás" and number 221. These reports covered not only issues of ethnic minority policy, but also information about the internal political situations, concepts and strategies for weakening Czechoslovakia, and the politics of other countries against Czechoslovakia. From 1933 Hungary coordinated actions against Czechoslovakia with Nazi Germany. In June 1933, the Hungarian prime minister Gyula Gömbös visited Germany and together with Adolf Hitler concluded that Czechoslovakia was the main obstacle for "rearrangement" of central Europe; that the Czechoslovak Republic should be internally dismantled, isolated internationally, and then eliminated by military power. Hungary requested not only the only alteration of borders, but "justice on historical principle". In August 1936, Miklós Horthy negotiated with Adolf Hitler and form this emerged the idea of a common attack against Czechoslovakia to "remove (the) cancer tumor from the heart of Europe".
Hungary supported the idea of a Slovak autonomist movement which was seen as a tool for weakening the State and facilitating the potential disintegration of Czechoslovakia. Successive Hungarian governments tried to influence the autonomists and to win them over to a pro-Hungarian re-orientation, but in this they were not successful in the long term. Esterházy also supported idea of Slovak autonomy and played the role of a mediator between the Hungarian government and Slovak People's Party (HSĽS). Before the elections of 1935 he tried to form an autonomist block with HSĽS. The Hungarian government intended to provide him 100,000 crowns for this purpose, but in the event failed so to do at last moment. Later, as an executive chairman of United Hungarian Party he asked for financial support to offer financial inducements to leading politicians of HSĽS. After negotiations with HSĽS in spring 1938 he described his goals, in a report to the Hungarian government, as an "overriding obligation of Hungarians to break (the) republic with the help of others".
In 1935 the Hungarian MPs supported the successful bid of Edvard Beneš for the office of President of the Czechoslovak Republic. Edvard Beneš promised concessions to the Hungarian minority.[note 1] He accepted funding from the Office of President to support Hungarian students and “against Hungarian irredentism”. The office of President Beneš paid this in four instalments; the total amount 144,000 crowns. This was a part to his attempt to gain the favour of a younger generation within OKszP. In 1936, Beneš proposed to Esterházy political cooperation with government and offered him a position as a government Minister-without-Portfolio, but Esterházy did not accept.
After urging on the part of the Hungarian government  the Hungarian opposition parties united and founded the United Hungarian Party (Egyesült Magyar Párt; EMP) at their congress held in Nové Zámky on June 21, 1936. This new party was headed by Andor Jaross (executed later in Hungary as a war criminal) and Esterházy become executive leader.  The unification of the parties was not perceived positively, however, by all members and Esterházy asked Hungarian government for a donation 15,000 crowns to “disarm the infringers of the order”.  During police questioning in 1945, he quantified the yearly support received from the Hungarian government as having amounted to 2,500,000 crowns annually. The allocation of such funding was decided by himself.
The programme of the new party emphasized the autonomy of Slovakia. In 1936, representatives of the United Hungarian Party considered fusion with Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei, SdP). as negotiated by the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kálmán Kánya with German government circles in Berlin. On April 15, 1937 cooperation between both parties was agreed. On November 30, 1937 Esterházy and Jaros were delegated to negotiate with SdP about issues of German minority in Slovakia.
In the summer of 1937 Esterházy disclosed intelligence relating to the Czechoslovak Army and informed the Hungarian government about the building of military fortresses and the related budget. In the autumn of the same year he wrote a report on defense projects near Lučenec and the Ipeľ river.
1938 saw the new party receive a majority of the votes cast by ethnic Hungarians. Now was the time when the party made clear their declared request to join ethnic these Hungarian territories to The Kingdom of Hungary.
Critical year 1938
In 1938 Esterházy participated in several negotiations in the capitals of the states primarily determined upon the weakening and ultimate elimination of Czechoslovakia (Berlin, Budapest, Warszawa, Rome), where he acted as a semi-official mediator for the Hungarian government. During Hitler's visit to Italy in May 1938, he was notably invited to intimate lunch with Führer. In May 1938 he informed the Hungarian government of Nazi's plans with regards to Czechoslovakia, which information he had obtained from the leader of the Sudeten German Party, Konrad Henlein. According to his report Czech lands would to be occupied by Germany and Slovakia should be re-joined to Hungary. On the other hand, he (as a member of parliament who had taken the parliamentary oath) did not inform the Czechoslovak authorities.
In June 1938 he negotiated with some Polish representatives and asked them to use their influence with Slovak politicians from autonomist movement to adopt the Hungarian solution to the Slovak question (annexation of Slovakia by Hungary). Esterházy was aware that this idea is extremely unpopular in Slovakia because of previous Hungarian policy. Poland as a Slavic and Catholic state might play the helpful role of referee during the communications with the pro-Polish wing of HSĽS. Slovakia was to receive a similar status as Croatia had enjoyed in Austria-Hungary. This proposal presented more of his own ideas than the official attitude of the Hungarian government. Poland, which also had an interest in the breakup of Czechoslovakia, was willing to provide guarantees but the Hungarian government decided to maintain a waiting position and did not initialise the first steps expected by Poland. Moreover, such an idea was strictly rejected by the leader of Slovak pro-Polish wing of HSĽS Karol Sidor who declared: "We do not trust Hungarians and there cannot be a single word about a return to them". This statement was published in both the Polish and Slovak press. According to Esterházy's concept Slovakia was to receive autonomy within Hungary following upon its territorial division. After the occupation of Carpathian Ruthenia the eastern border should be adjusted to the west, to as great a degree as possible, and the southern part separated.
He was informed about plan of Sudeten Germans to sabotage negotiations with Czechoslovak government. He discussed this situation with Hungarian government and received instructions to work out on such program which could not be fulfilled. Contrary to Sudeten Germans, he refused excessive radicalization to prevent unnecessary bloodbath. In 1938 he met the head of the British mission, Lord Runciman several times, and to whom he prepared a memorandum on the position of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia.
Esterházy welcomed the Munich Agreement and together with a pro-Hungarian deputy of HSĽS, J. Janček, he immediately traveled to Budapest in order to prepare the ground for a rejoining of Slovakia and Hungary. He also wanted to take part in the negotiations about the two countries' borders in Komárno, but the head of the Czechoslovakian delegation, Jozef Tiso, rejected his request. After the failure of bilateral negotiations in Komárno during the course of which Hungary refused several Slovak proposals (autonomy for Hungarians in Slovakia, cession of Great Rye Island, balanced minorities in both countries), Esterázy participated in preparation of the First Vienna Award (currently null and void as an act of international violence). The arbitration was mediated under leadership of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy; Esterházy having been sent to Rome during the preparation phase by Hungarian government as an expert on Slovak-Hungarian border. In this capacity he contributed to annexation of Košice by Hungary. The Italian government was informed of his participation directly by the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs, who also gave Esterházy instructions concerning the territorial demands of Hungary and the other potential participants.
On November 11, 1938, in his capacity as the MP of Košice (then Kassa) he welcomed the Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy. In his speech, he asked for the same rights for Slovaks in the annexed territory as were expected for Hungarians in Slovakia. Admiral Horthy welcomed Slovaks in their "thousand year old homeland" and promised to respect their national and cultural rights. Contrary to speeches of both politicians, Hungary immediately started persecution of the non-Hungarian population in the annexed territory. Minority rights were reduced to below the standard enjoyed under democratic Czechoslovakia; rights which had been criticized as inadequate by Esterházy in previous years. Esterházy's property remained on non-annexed part of Slovakia. According to his words he stayed there to defend the interests of the ethnic Hungarians. Due to violation of the ethnic principle, which was previously emphasized by Hungary as a "correction of injustices of Trianon", the size of Hungarian minority shrank to about 67,000 people.
Esterházy was surprised by the behaviour of the Hungarian state authorities in the annexed territory - behaviour which was very much opposed to his own political principles. He tried to achieve voluntary return of Slovaks to Kingdom of Hungary, but the Slovak public reacted very sensitively to the persecution of Slovaks in Hungary. He believed that this rough-handed form of assimilation made their return to Hungary much more difficult. Following a bloodbath in the occupied village Šurany he intervened in Budapest strongly declaring that such brutality damaged Hungarian cause and made his and the Hungarian position in Slovakia untenable. However, he refused to distance himself from Hungarian policy publicly, fearing that such action might damage the interests of Hungary. For similar reasons he criticized negotiations in Komárno before the First Vienna Award. According to his point of view, excessive territorial demands damaged Hungary as they furnished a strong dissuasive to Slovaks to entertain an Hungarian re-orientation.
After the Munich Agreement the situation in Slovakia became radicalized and the democratic system collapsed. Beside HSĽS, only the German Party and Esterházy's United Hungarian Party remained legal. In rigged elections in November 1938, HSĽS placed Esterházy in an attractive 17th place on "common list of candidates" and he thus became a member of new Slovak Assembly.
In December 1938, he visited Poland again. According to memoir of Polish diplomatic corps and politician, Jan Szembek, Esterházy judged the results of the First Vienna Award as insufficient. He complained also of the failure with regard to a planned action against Trans-Carpathian Ruthenia (still part of Czechoslovakia), which was subsequently attacked on 20 November 1938 by terrorist groups of Polish and Hungarian voluntaries (they performed several diversion actions against Czechoslovakia with the goal of her destabilization). Esterházy declared that it necessary to prepare new "energic decisions" and promised his personal engagement in regard to Carpathian Ruthenia and in favour of Hungary. He also noted that such actions would be secured by his parliamentary immunity.
On 23 January 1939 the autonomous Slovak government created a commission which was to propose the first anti-Jewish laws. On 26 January Esterházy advised Hungarian government to adopt anti-Jewish law faster or in more radical form than Slovakia. This, he believed, would strengthen the position of Hungary in support of her claim to Slovakia after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. In his report he expressed the wish that "thus we can hopefully achieve that Berlin will turn away from them completely and we will benefit if Berlin decides to solve Czechoslovak issue definitely".
He published a daily, Új Hírek (fresh news) in Bratislava, but it was banned and Esterházy fell under police surveillance. Later he established a new daily, the Magyar Hírlap (Hungarian newspaper) in which he urged the necessity for land reform in the annexed territory.
Slovak republic (1939-1945)
Activities in the Assembly
The First Slovak Republic was founded as a secondary product of Nazi aggression against Czechoslovakia on March 14, 1939. Esterházy tried to persuade Nazis that Slovaks are for unity with Hungary during his visit in Berlin in February 1939, but he officially welcomed the establishment of "independent" Slovakia in a radio speech. He presented creation of the new state as a liberation from "Czech slavery" or from "Czech yoke" as he did on the first anniversary. Shortly after breakup of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia was attacked by Hungary without declaration of war. Head of Hungarian military intelligence Rezső Andorka states in his memoir that he met with Esterházy day before Hungarian attack and Esterházy expressed great enthusiasm to this idea.
Esterházy was a member of the assembly transportation-technical committee which did not discuss laws of higher political importance. His political activities were driven by pragmatic interests and were politically inconsistent. He helped to create anti-democratic and totalitarian regime, but he expected that the same regime will behave in humanistic and tolerant way. He positively evaluated role of pro-fascist Hlinka Guard, but criticized its violence and emerging labor and internment camps. Among other anti-democratic laws, he appreciated restriction of press freedom and the censorship in November 1939. He involved himself in discussions who is more loyal and who better serves Nazi Germany among German satellites. He disputed with strongly pro-nazi newspapers accusing Hungary to be unreliable ally. According to his opinion, Hungary had irreplaceable role in the "creation of new European order" because of deep roots of German-Hungarian friendship and stood close to Axis states in their "giant struggle for better future of Europe". Similarly, he reasoned orientation on Germany and Italy for Hungarian prime minister.
He also returned to his political activities in mid-war Czechoslovakia. Hungarian politicians who collaborated with Czechoslovak governments were marked by him as traitors and he confirmed that he will not perform "such activities as against Czechoslovakia". As he stated, Czechoslovakia was understood by him as a state without any right for existence and he wished to break it already as a deputy of Czechoslovak parliament.
In Bratislava he founded a publishing company and backed the operations of SzEMKE, an ethnic Hungarian cultural organization that had been banned but restarted in 1942.
Esterházy was the sole deputy in the Slovak Assembly representing the Hungarian minority. His speeches were focused mainly on problems of Hungarian minority rights and Slovak-Hungarian relationships. All of his 19 parliament speeches were held in Hungarian language, in accordance with rules of procedure of the Slovak National Assembly. His nomination was understood as an accommodating step in accordance with the declared principle of reciprocity. Slovakia expected that Hungary will proceed the same way for Slovaks. He accepted nomination on government list of candidates as an expression of officially sympathies for Slovak emancipation compliant with his strategic goals.
Authoritative Slovak regime applied principle of reciprocity as the only one effective tool to prevent persecution of Slovaks on territory occupied by Hungary. The principle was included in new Slovak Constitution and it bound minority rights of Hungarians in Slovakia to rights of Slovaks in Hungary. Esterházy represented minority which played role of hostages with risk that situation will proceed with extreme. Also for the sake of Hungarian community in Slovakia, he tried to enforce minority rights for Slovaks in Hungary already in November 1938, but he did not succeed. Slovak government had also tried to create offices of state secretaries for minorities where Esterházy should represent Hungarian minority, but it was not successful because of unwillingness of Hungarian government. He personally intervened for permission of Slovak catholic and cultural association Spolok svätého Vojtecha in Hungary what was condition of Slovak government to allow Hungarian cultural association (Szlovenskózi Magyar Kulturegyesulet - SzEMKE).
In 1940, United Hungarian Party was renamed to Hungarian Party in Slovakia (Szlovenskói Magyar Párt). Due to the principle of reciprocity, his party was officially registered only in 1941 when Hungarian government had officially permitted the activities of the Party of Slovak National Unity.[note 2] Esterházy requested help of Hungarian minister of foreign affairs Csáky to persuade Teleki already in December 1940. Teleki refused Slovak delegation on February 1941. On March 1, 1941, Slovaks in Hungary published memorandum demanding permission of Slovak party. Esterházy supported and urged their requests in Hungarian government, which was not successful yet.  On July 10, 1941, he delivered memorandum about injustices against Hungarians in Slovakia to Slovak prime minister Vojtech Tuka  asking also for permission of Hungarian party in Slovakia. Shortly after (July 15, 1941) Emanuel Böhm (leader of Slovaks in Hungary) addressed memorandum similar by content and form to Hungarian prime minister as a reaction. Böhm and Esterházy met on informal meeting in Budapest and they exchanged both memorandums.[note 3] Repetition of all Esterhazy's steps (submissions, newspaper articles, appeals, etc.) was then used by Slovaks in Hungary as a new tactic. Vojtech Tuka and László Bárdossy agreed on reciprocal registration of minority parties at the end of 1941 after German intervention. In October 1942 Esterházy held speech on presidency of Hungarian United Party and asked for improvement of situation of Hungarian minority. He also addressed additional memorandum to Slovak government. This Esterházy's speech was again translated and paraphrased by Böhm. Böhm tried to publish it as demands of Slovak minority in newspaper Slovenská jednota, however article was banned by Hungarian censorship.
Involvement in the anti-semitic policy
Esterházy as a member of Slovak Diet voted for several anti-democratic laws including antisemitic laws leading to Jewish tragedy. He did not only agreed with the measures against Jews but also supported them actively by his presentations. In his parliamentary speeches, he repeatedly declared support for antisemitic policy of government. On 28 November 1939, when he discussed Hungarian minority rights he commented also the first trials for "aryanisation" of Jewish property. He did not criticize fact that government nominated commissars to manage Jewish companies but the low number of Hungarians who were allowed to participate. He also declared that three such commissars were nominated thanks to his repeated intervention.
In the spring 1940, the assembly discussed the first "aryanisation" law. The law was finally adopted on April 25, 1940 in Esterházy's presence and without any objections or amendments to the text from his side. The law restricted foundation of new companies by Jews, restricted ability to dispose with their own property and allowed to close their companies or to sell it to "qualified Christian prospects".
In Jun 1940, Germany ordered changes in the Slovak government which strengthen position of radicals and accelerated solution of the "Jewish issue". On September 3, 1940 Esterházy voted for the constitutional act which entitled the government to "take every measures necessary for the exclusion of the Jews from the Slovak economic and social life and to transfer the property of the Jews into the ownership of the Christians".  Shortly after adoption of this law, several antisemitic regulations were issued during the same month. Jews lost right to drive motor vehicles, they had handed over passports (lost last chance to emigrate) and the government created central organization for all Jews (Ústredňa Židov). Until September 16, Jews had to deliver inventory of their property. Also in this situation, Esterázy publicly agreed with government antisemitic policy and attacked Jews in the assembly. In his speech from October 8, 1940, he welcomed special categorization of Jews during incoming cenzus and declared that "Hungarian salesmen over decades and centuries were suffering as much from Jews and Jewish frauds as the Slovak were". On the other hand, he protested against harming Hungarians under the cover of "the legitimate fight against Jews". He also positively evaluated "real and fast measures" against Jews to retire them from the economic life.
Social and economic exclusion of Jews, demonstrably supported and agreed by Esterházy in the assembly, led to the creation of large socially dependent group whose members lost their jobs and property. This degraded Jewish community to undesirable "social burden" and the government found "solution" in deportation of Jews outside the country's borders.
Esterházy's views on anti-semitic policy presented in the assembly did not oppose official policy of the state until May 15, 1942. In this time, most of the Jewish population was already deported and the assembly discussed so called "deportation law". Events associated with this law are frequently misinterpreted and Esterházy is incorrectly presented as the only one who disagreed with deportations or the only one who voted against the law. The adoption of the law did not start the deportation process what is usually ignored and not mentioned by Esterházy admirers and it is considered to be controvert (not exclusively negative or positive) step by historians dealing with holocaust in Slovak Republic (1939–45). The assembly refused to legalize deportations already in March (when the deportations began) despite strong pressure of radicals. After unsuccessful trials to stop deportations and failure of negotiation with pro-Nazi prime minister Vojtech Tuka, the chairman of the assembly Martin Sokol concluded with some other deputies that existence or non-existence of the official law has a none impact on the fact that Jews are deported, but its adoption can save part of them. The law retroactively legalized existing deportations but defined legal frame to protect certain groups.
The exact process of voting can be nowadays hardly reconstructed. Esterházy did not vote against, but unofficially abstained (the voting process did not allow abstain officially or to vote against). A group of deputies left the assembly hall on a protest before voting, beside several Slovak deputies also German deputy for Deutsche Partei Jozef Steinhübel. Another group proposed to extend the list of protected people also for parents of Jews who will receive exceptions. Esterházy did not propose any change request, did not hold any speech and during voting he simply did not raise his hand. His gesture became known because of articles in pro-fascist press who attacked him immediately. However, the press intentionally concealed all mentions about other deputies, what was observed already in that time also by the Nazi intelligence agency.[note 4] Thanks to these events Esterházy become the only one among the members present for whom it was obvious that he did not vote and the only one who did it in a public and demonstrative way.
This positive gesture came relatively late. Only cca 15.000 out of 57,628 Jews deported in 1942 were deported after adoption of the law. Esterházy did not wish to declare his opinion publicly, but he did it in private conversation with Martin Sokol before voting. Later, he explained his reasons also in the letter for Hungarian government. He declared that the law is bad and not human, but he also confirmed his antisemitic orientation "from early childhood" and expressed his will to remain antisemitic. He reasoned his motivation also by the fact that he as a minority politician cannot vote for a law which grants majority right to deport minority.
The case of deportation was one of his last active steps in the Assembly. From the second half of 1942, he moved to more passive and alibistic position. This was the same or similar process which could be observed also for many members of ruling party.
Help to persecuted people
Esterházy preserved his contacts with Poles from interwar period. During war, Slovak-Hungarian border become territory with high importance for Polish resistance movement. Most of courier and traffickers lines between occupied Poland and Hungary passed through southern Slovakia. This channel was used to preserve connection between home resistance and exile leaders. Poles were in contact with several in pro-polish deputy of Slovak's People Party represented by Pavol Čarnogurský who acted as contact person to cross Hungarian border as well as with János Esterházy. Esterházy used his parliamentary immunity to transfer Poles in his car and he also intervened to help captured Poles who were issued to Germans. 
According to Janek, Esterházy secretly arranged Visas and passports for Jews. The Hungarian government disagreed with his operations therefore László Bárdossy prohibited him from saving Jewish people and others, however he continued in his actions. He states that he saved a lives of a lot of Jews, Slovaks, Czechs and Poles.[vague].
Lost of immunity and end of war
Esterházy together with leader of Carpathian Germans Franz Karamasin led in number of request for prosecution and cancellation of parliamentary immunity. Most of cases were related to violation of traffic rules and prosecution was not approved by assembly. The only one exception was incident in train station in Poprad on October 22, 1943.[note 5] Immunity committee then recommended to allow permission for prosecution, what was agreed unanimously with massive applause of other deputies. After lost of immunity, he spoke in the assembly only twice – in debate about state budget for 1944 and in debate about law of defense of state in February 1944. 
Since 1943, his political activity declined in the context of internal political changes and turnover in the war. In October 1944, he protested against occupation of Hungary by German army. When the fascist Arrow Cross Party came to power, he was asked to transform his party to its local branch but refused. The Arrow Cross Party regime interned him for a short time and the German Gestapo subsequently declared him wanted. He hid before German as well as before Czechoslovak authorities until the Soviet troops arrived.
Prison and death
After liberation of Slovakia, he started to restore activities of Hungarian party. He criticized post-war persecutions of Hungarian minority, liquidation of Hungarian occupation regime in southern Slovakia and participated on memorandum against The Government Program of Košice. He was arrested by Czechoslovak bodies and investigated for his activities.
He had to be judged on The Slovak National Court as all members of the Slovak Assembly, but he was illegally deported by Soviet Army in summer 1945. Esterházy was kept for one year in the feared prison of Lubyanka in Moscow, and then, on the basis of fabricated allegations, he was sentenced to ten years work in Siberia. In the meantime, The Slovak National Court in Bratislava on September 16, 1947 sentenced him in his absence to death for breaking up Czechoslovak state, collaboration with fascist regime and for his participation as a deputy of the Slovak Assembly. In 1949 the Soviet Union extradited him to Czechoslovakia. Esterházy was already seriously ill in that time. He was not executed as a presidential pardon commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. Over the next years he was transferred from prison to prison in Czechoslovakia. He died in Mírov prison hospital in 1957 on March 8, 6 days before his 56th birthday.
Efforts for his rehabilitation
On January 21, 1993 the Russian justice rehabilitated János Esterházy after evaluation that his deportation into the USSR, passing a sentence and imprisonment was unlawful. Materials on the rehabilitation were passed to Hungarian Government even if he was not a citizen of Hungary during his political career.
His daughter, Alice Esterházy-Malfatti, ethnic Hungarian politicians in Slovakia and politicians in Hungary, have been trying to achieve the rehabilitation in Slovakia of János Esterházy since November 1989, supported by the Hungarian government. The effort has not been successful so far. In 1993 the appeal to the Town Court of Bratislava was raised to permit re-opening trial of János Esterházy with the goal to achieve the statement of innocence. A year later, proceedings took place to decide if reopening of trial is justified and based on new facts which can bring new aspects to original lawsuit. The Town Court performed extensive evidence including examination of witnesses in Bratislava and Budapest. The court also requested for expert opinions from the Historical Institute the Slovak Academy of Sciences, from several historical institutions from Hungary, from historian with dealing the history of the Hungarians in Slovakia and two Czech historians. In 1994, the initiator changed original appeal and withdrew the issue of reopening. Through her attorney she addressed the General Prosecution to cancel the original sentence due to infringement of the rights of accused. The European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg refused her complaint against legality of original trial because its competency towards Slovakia starts only on March 18, 1992.
There is a letter from Simon Wiesenthal to Dr. Peter Samko, chief judge of the Town Court of Bratislava, published in the newspaper of Új Szó, 1993. In his letter Wiesenthal strongly defends Esterházy and offers witnesses on his behalf (Új Szó Daily also published: on the testimonial of the Schlesinger family of Pozsony, saved by Esterházy). The American Hungarian Federation has also worked to exonerate Esterházy and has published the Wiesenthal letter along with additional letters from Yad Veshem and historians Ádám Magda and Istvan Deak, Seth Lowe Professor Emeritus from Columbia University's Department of History (Deak's statements related to the supposed standpoints of the modern Slovak and Czech republics contradicts several official documents and declarations).[note 6]
In 2012, the World Federation of Hungarians tried to rehabilitate Esterházy in the Czech Republic through a petition that was delivered to the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. Committee on Petitions dealt with the petition, but rejected it on the grounds that judicial rehabilitation by Czech courts is not possible, because he was tried by the National Court in Bratislava and there is not enough materials for other type of rehabilitation.
Mainstream Hungarian histography
János Esterházy belongs to the most typical examples of different views and interpretations of personalities in the common Slovak and Hungarian history. Hungarian and Slovak historians did not achieved compliance in their experted opinions requested by court during trial for reopening his case.
The collective of Hungarian historians declared that prosecution of Esterházy was unfounded. Provincial Christian-Socialist Party and Hungarian United Party were national-conservative parties and they had not Nazi orientation. Hungarian Party founded by Esterházy during the first Slovak republic was "even more anti-Nazi and had everyday antifascist practice" within which it supported persecuted people. It was only hardly tolerated organization which is proven by its late registration in 1942. Esterházy had objections against revisionism of Hungarian governments and he had tried to apply Hungarian minority within Czechoslovakia until 1938. During crisis in 1938, he did everything to prevent violent actions. Esterházy supported Slovak autonomism and he constantly worked in favor of Hungarian-Slovak friendship and cooperation. Usage of cover names was evaluated as a common diplomatic practice. According to their opinion, nobody has ever found any document which authorizes whoever to accuse Esterházy of intelligence activities or to indicate it. Because of these reasons, they characterized accusations related to breakage of Czechoslovakia and collaboration with fascism as unfounded.
Hungarian historian István Janek sees the reason of his death in his "fight for European values, human and minority right and mutual tolerance among nations". According to his opinion, he was sentenced in absence to prevent presence of unwanted witnesses during his trial and real reason of his conviction was to intimidate the Hungarian minority. Esterházy was arrested and handed over to the Soviet secret service on the order of Gustáv Husák. Esterházy as a west-oriented politician kept his distance from Berlin and from Moscow and also because of that he did not become fascist. His antisemitism is also questioned and antisemitic statements are explained as "expected by those who held power". Esterházy is presented as a humanist, democrat and politician who can be an example for cooperation between nations in the Central Europe.
According to memoir of his sister Lujza and some modern Hungarian historians like Molnár or Janek, Esterházy helped Slovak general Rudolf Viest (later leader of the Slovak National Uprising) to escape to London in 1939.[note 7]
Imre Molnár states that Esterházy was not antisemitic as his publications did not contain antisemitic statements. Molnár denies Esterházy's participation on approval of antisemitic laws. He states that Esterházy did not vote for the first "aryanisation" law because he was not present during the assembly meeting. However, he does not mention that assembly voted about this law twice, because it was returned to the assembly by president Jozef Tiso. Esterházy's absence applied only to the first voting and during the second voting he was present. According to Molnár, Esterházy employed Jewish journalists at newspaper of Esti Újság as long as he could. He also declares that is not true that Esterhazy voted for laws against Jewish people because the "Jewish Codex" (Regulation 198/1941 about legal status of Jews) was accepted by the government and not by the assembly and the assembly voted only for supplement provisions in connection with the Codex. This theory is not supported by the fact that not all legal norms were issued by government. The assembly was not obliged to agree on the "Jewish Codex", because deputies (including Esterházy) explicitly delegated responsibility to exclude Jews from social and economic life by the constitutional law.Template:Podolec
Mainstream Slovak and Czech histography
In contrast with Hungarian historians who highlight his national, Christian and humanistic values, Slovak and Czech historians came to conclusion that by some positive features of Christian-democratic politician, his activities against Czechoslovakia were unambiguously hostile.
Czech historian Jaroslav Valenta noted that the goal of Esterházy's negotiations in Poland was not improvement of situation of Hungarian minority represented by him, but realization of greater-Hungarian policy and attack against integrity and independence of Czechoslovakia. His role of minority politician was completely in the background and he voluntary acted as an emissary and mediator of Hungarian government. This kind of participation on negotiation of two states with the goal to divide or eliminate third country (more if he was citizen of this country) was evaluated by him as a clear treason of the state. Valenta points out that Esterházy performed activities against existence of Czechoslovakia also in time when he voluntary decided for Czechoslovak citizenship. He finds very unusual Esterházy's interpretation of parliamentary immunity as a tool for preparation of aggression against the state which provides him this privilege. Valenta questioned method used by Hungarian historians to prove Esterházy's loyalty for the purpose of reopening of his case. According to him, the same method can be used also to prove loyalty of leader of Sudeten Germans Konrad Henlein. Regarding to their theory about lack of documents confirming his activities against Czechoslovakia, he noted that they did not bother to study documentation from Polish sources which are available for years.
Slovak historian Ivan Kamenec interprets Esterházy's role both as a creator and a victim of totality regime which was built with his support. Esterházy had to decide between democratic Czechoslovakia with her shortcomings and the national principle. He decided for the second way which was already directed by Nazi Germany and paid high personal and political price for his decision. Fact that Esterházy was not a Nazi did not prevent his collaboration with Nazis in the real world policy. His tragic life is not a reason to ignore critical views.
Another Slovak historian Ladislav Deák points out that Esterházy supported idea of Slovak autonomy only as a preliminary step for her later incorporation to Hungary. He criticizes tendencies to misinterpret his political activities and trials to understand him exclusively as a Hungarian patriot, defender of justified rights of Hungarians, humanist and martyr. According to Deák, Esterházy's political views goes beyond this line and are clear from his documents addressed to Hungarian politicians and the government. As other Slovak authors, he reminds his anti-democratic and anti-Semitic activities, but positively evaluates his moral gesture during voting about deportation law. However, this moral gesture came too late and could not change anything about tragic fate of Slovak Jews.
Ferdinand Vrábel does not speak only about ignorance of historical documents proving Esterházy's anti-state activities by Hungarian historians, but he openly speaks about lies. According to his opinion, providing of intelligence information or Esterházy's participation on negotiations in Rome before the First Vienna Award is far from standard diplomatic practice. He criticizes work of Imre Molnár as something which ignores current knowledge in the several fields and he sees conflict of interest between Molnár's position of chairman of society which has goal to rehabilitate Esterházy and his scientific work. Theories and interpretations of Imre Molnár are criticized as naive, e.g. theory that he came to negotiations in Rome as a "private person" on fighter plane provided by unspecified government. As he noted, "false accusation" about Esterházy's participation on adoption of anti-Semitic laws are not confirmed only by Slovak historians, but also by historians of other nationalities and representatives of Slovak Jews.
Research of Holocaust in Slovakia did not confirm Esterházy's unique role on rescue of Jews. Slovak historiography recognizes that almost all members of the ruling elite had they "own" Jews under protection. Except help for particular people (i.e. lessees of his property) and open possibity to discover new documents, massive Esterházy's help for Jews is considered to be poorly documented and unreliable theory. During the war, Slovak Jews formed illegal organization Working Group and tried to rescue Slovak and other European Jews. This group organized also trafficking of Jews from Poland to Hungary, where Esterházy could play positive role thanks to his contacts. However, known collections of documents do not contain any mention about his collaboration with this organization.
His supposed help for general Rudolf Viest is not supported by Viest's biographies by Slovak and Czech authors  and it is criticized as a factual mistake. This theory is also against own Viest's memoir written before he was captured by Germans and died probably in Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Theory about role of Gustáv Husák in his handing over to the Soviet service is criticized as based mostly on journalistic literature. Ladislav Deák points that Soviet security authorities arbitrarily deported dozen thousands of Czechoslovaks and such situation was not something exceptional. The dossier on Ministry of foreign affairs shows that Slovak authorities and Ministry of foreign affairs wanted to ensure Esterházy's presence during his trial. Confidential letter addressed to state secretary Vladimír Clementis in the case of requesting him back from USSR from August 14, 1947 presents his imprisonment by Soviets as an action of Russian military patrol without participation of Czechoslovak authorities. More, photocopy of this document is published also by Imre Molnár. In Husák's letter to Clementis from August 21, 1947, Husák expressed opinion that "it would be good if Esterházy is issued to our authorities".
Esterházy is sometimes refereed as an Hungarian agent or directly as a spy. His supposed objective was the revision of the Treaty of Trianon. According to István Janek from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, such accusations are not supported by contemporary documents, due to the lack of official documents about his position and tasks.
In "reaction on glorification" of János Esterházy, Institute of History of Slovak Academy of Sciences published in 2011 a memorandum about his political profile, signed also by directors of other Slovak historical institutes. Among other, the memorandum declared that presenting him as a democrat, humanist and selfless savior of persecuted persons is in contrast with historical facts and his decision to not vote for deportation cannot be used as the only one and determining criterion for all his political activities. Instead of glorification and building memorials, they recommended rational discussion about his life and actions.
On his 100th birthday, Hungary's parliament held a memorial session in the presence of then president of the republic Ferenc Mádl. On April 20, 2007, President László Sólyom also urged Esterházy's rehabilitation. "How comes that everybody respect a "war criminal", politicians officially stand by him, while legally and in documents he is still burdened by the most severe possible condemnation?" - Sólyom said in a speech delivered at a conference organized by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to remember Esterházy's death. This action of Hungarian parliament caused contradictory reactions in Slovakia, increased by attendance of politicians from Party of the Hungarian Coalition and František Mikloško from Christian Democratic Movement. Other negative reactions came during placing his statues and busts in southern Slovakia. In 2011, such action led to conflict between organizers and some citizens in Košice.
In August 2011, newspaper of Slovak Union of Anti-Fasist Fighters interviewed president Ivan Gašparovič about his views on national uprising and opinion to unveiling busts of contemporary politicians János Esterházy and Ferdidand Ďurčanský. Gašparovič refused building busts of "politicians involved in misery of that time" as improper, labeling Esterházy as follower (vyznávač) of Hitler and fascism. This raised sharp negative reactions in Hungary. According to Hungarian deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjén, Esterházy always committed to the teachings of the Catholic Church and there is no coincidence that his beatification is being considered. Hungarian parliamentary party Politics Can Be Different declared that such words are not only offence of Hungarian minority but of whole Hungarian nation.
Esterházy's family and supporters tried to achieve Righteous Among the Nations award for him, but their long term effort was unsuccessful. In 1991, Dr. Moshe Bejski, Chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous and confirmed reception of testimonies and documents for the rehabilitation of János Esterházy and paid tribute to his work and life. Later, Yad Vashem refused his nomination after consideration of all available documentation, but expressed thanks for help to particular groups of persecuted people. The positive part of the acknowledgment was referenced by Anti-Defamation League which presented the Jan Karski Courage to Care Award to Esterhazy on November 3, 2011. The award was assigned despite active protests of Jewish community in Slovakia and without any consultation with local historical institute. On November 13, 2011 representatives of Jewish community in Slovakia protested against award in open letter addressed to director of Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman. They criticized that "despite they great effort" ADL refused to take into account opinion of community affected by contemporary persecutions and reminded his participation on creation of significant number of antidemocratic, totalitarian and antisemitic laws. They criticized several opinions stated during presentation of award as incorrect. They disagreed with argumentation that "Esterházy as a catholic could not agree with Nazi ideology and collaborate with totality regime" and pointed that several Catholic priests were politicians in that time (including president Jozef Tiso) and making references to Christian principles was also typical for leaders of fascism in Slovakia. They alerted that almost all members of the ruling elite had they "own" Jews under protection, including president Tiso or the most radical antisemites. In the conclusion, they expressed opinion that ADL came under long term lobbying of family of János Esterházy (and some politicians) that has understandably effort to give him into positive light and hope that such "mistakes" will not be repeated in the future.
- Similarly, this election was supported also by the Slovak Peoples' Party. The votes of these parties proved unnecessary as, in the end, Bohumil Němec withdrew his candidacy before the election.
- The principle which allowed to refuse registration of minority party if Slovaks do not have similar right in opposite country was included to constitution on July 27, 1941.
- Emanuel Böhm notes in his memories that Esterházy was astonished by content and after clarification he promised to intervene. In the evening of the same day he called to Böhm that László Bárdossy is expecting request for registration of Slovak party and positively inclines to deal.
- Von der Presse wurde natürlich nicht veröffentlicht, dass sich auch einige Geistliche bei der Abstimmung von der Abgabe ihrer Stimmen zurückhielten.
- When elite train of railways (Tatranský expres) got broken, it was replaced by regular train. According to police sources, disenchanted Esterházy screamed about six times that "this is fake as everything in this state". This was evaluated as especially incendiary by attendees, because it was said by well-known public official in authoritative state.
- Istvan Deak claims in his letter that "virtually no Czech and Slovak statesman has apologized for the highly efficient “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” in the two states" and "blaming János Esterházy will not solve the Slovak historical dilemma". However, the Slovak National Council and the Slovak Government published common declaration related to this topic already on December 20, 1990 (13 years before his letter) during the same year as the first democratic elections occurred after collapse of communism. (Declaration of The Slovak National Council and Government of the Slovak Republic about deportation of Jews). "Non existing" (according to Istvan Deak) apologize for expulsion of German minority was approved by The Slovak National Council on February 12, 1991. (Declaration of The Slovak National Council about expulsion of Germans). On the Czech side, this topic is covered by Article No. III of the Czech-German declaration about mutual relationships and their future development (Czech-German declaration about mutual relationships and their future development) Istvan Deak criticizes that Esterhazy was "sentenced by the Czechoslovak court for having endangered the existence of Czechoslovakia, but between 1939 and 1945 there was no Czechoslovakia". On the contrary, Retribution Act No. 33/1945 Col. of Slovak National Council explicitly contains declaration that crimes are not bound to period referenced by Istvan Deak (§1 a), §2 a) and b)).
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- Eduard Nižňanský a spol, Kto bol kto za I. ČSR (Q111 Brat. 1993)
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- Bohumil Doležal: Yehuda Lahav úr vitájához, Lidové noviny, April 21, 2001
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- Imre Molnar, Esterhazy Janos, 1901-1957, Nap (1997), ISBN 978-8085509373
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