János Esterházy

Count János Esterházy (Nyitraújlak, then Hungary, March 14, 1901 – Czechoslovakia, March 8, 1957) was the most prominent ethnic Hungarian politician in former Czechoslovakia.

He was the only member of the Slovakian Parliament in 1942 who voted against expelling the Jews, setting an example which few dared to follow in the parts of Europe controlled by Adolf Hitler's Germany. He was detained by the Nazis and died in a communist prison. The saviour of hundreds, officially he is still classified as a war criminal in Slovakia, as courts have rejected requests for his rehabilitation.


Son of Antal Mihály Esterházy, he was born into one of Hungary's most distinguished aristocrat families, the Esterházys, in the Galánta branch originated from Transylvania. His mother, Elisabeth Tarnowska 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 land which Hungary was forced to cede to Czechoslovakia in the treaty closing the first world war. On October 15, 1924 he married countess Lívia Serényi. They had two children, János and Alice.

In politics

In 1931 Esterházy became the leader of the Hungarian League of Nations League in the Czech Republic, an organization which operated within the League of Nations. On December 11 of the following year he was elected president of the National Christian Socialist Party. He won parliament mandate in Košice at the elections in 1935. 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." He also supported the claims of ethnic Hungarians for autonomy within Slovakia. The Hungarian MPs supported the successful bid of Edvard Beneš for president of the republic.

Head of the United Hungarian Party

Hungarian parties founded the United Hungarian Party at their congress held in Nové Zámky on June 21, 1936, and Esterházy was elected the new party's acting president. He rejected an offer by Beneš to take a post in the Czechoslovakian government. One of his political objectives was a revision of the Trianon Treaty which led Hungary to losing two thirds of its territory and population, including millions of ethnic Hungarians. Esterházy got support from the Hungarian government in this effort, while he also became an agent of Hungarian secret services.

In 1938 he met the head of the British mission, Lord Runciman several times. He also held talks in Hungary, Poland and Italy. On March 17 and 18, during talks in Poland, he backed Hungary's proposal to return the territory of Slovakia to Hungary. He also wanted to take part in the negotiations about the two countries' borders in Komarno, but the head of the Czechoslovakian delegation, Jozef Tiso, rejected his request.

His political activity in Slovakia

After the Vienna Awards giving back to Hungary part of the territories lost earlier, Esterházy welcomed Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy as the MP of Kosice (then Kassa), but he settled in the former Hungarian land kept by Slovakia and founded the Hungarian Party in Slovakia to defend the interests of the 70,000 ethnic Hungarians there, while he also called for the Hungarian government to respect the rights of the ethnic Slovakians who lived in the regained Hungarian territories (and he also urged a reform of land ownership in Hungary). He published a daily, Új Hírek (fresh news) in Bratislava, but it was banned and Esterházy was drawn under police surveillance. Later he established a new daily, the Magyar Hírlap (Hungarian Newspaper). His party rejected Nazism. He negotiated with Slovakian president Jozef Tiso about the rights of ethnic Hungarians several times and also spoke for those rights in parliament (in which he was the sole Hungarian MP). On March 14, 1939 he welcomed the establishment of independent Slovakia in a radio speech. In Bratislava he founded a publisher company and backed the operations of Szemke, an ethnic Hungarian cultural organization which was banned but restarted in 1942.

His views on "the Jewish issue"

The Slovak parliament approved on May 15, 1942, the 68/1942 constitutional law about expelling the Jews from Slovakia. Esterházy was the only MP who voted against the bill and he immediately became the target of fierce attacks in the Slovakian press. To defend his views, he said. "The Slovakian government has strayed onto a dangerous path when it submitted the bill about expelling the Jewish, because by that it acknowledged that simply ousting a minority by the majority is lawful... As a representative of the Hungarians here, I state it, and please acknowledge this, that I don't vote in favour of the proposal because as a Hungarian, a Christian and a Catholic I believe that this is against God and humanity." János Esterházy helped hundreds of Jewish, Czechs, Slovaks and Polish in 1944 to escape from being prosecuted. He was interned for a short period and the German Gestapo declared him wanted.


After the Soviet army ousted German troops from Bratislava, they interned Esterházy, but released him after 12 days. Later he negotiated with Gustáv Husák who represented the interim Slovakian government and complained for the prosecution of ethnic Hungarians. On the order of Husák he was arrested and handed over to the Soviet secret service. He was kept for one year in the feared Lubyanka prison in Moscow, and then, on the basis of fabricated allegations, he was sentenced to ten years work in Siberia. The Slovak National Court in Bratislava on September 16, 1947 sentenced him in his absence to death for alleged collaboration with fascism. In 1949 the Soviet Union extradited him to Czechoslovakia. 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 in 1957.

Efforts for his rehabilitation

His daughter, Alice Esterházy-Malfatti, ethnic Hungarian politicians in Slovakia and politicians in Hungary have been trying since November 1989, supported by the Hungarian government, to achieve the rehabilitatation in Slovakia of János Esterházy. The effort has not been successful so far. In 1994 his daughter initiated a new legal procedure, but a court rejected that, referring to the assessment of his role by Slovakian and Czech historians. 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, a staunch advocate of friendship between Hungarians and Slovaks, 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.


  • [1] Eduard Nižňanský a spol, Kto bol kto za I. ČSR (Q111 Brat. 1993)
  • [2] Dušan Slobodník, Hanobenie Slovákov ako program (Literárny týždenník 20/2001)
  • [3] Jozef Kamenec, Osobnosť Jánosa Esterházyho a jej kontroverzné interpretácie (Ľudia ľuďom bez hraníc, Helsinské občianske združenie v SR, Nitra 2000, s. 34)
  • [4] Alice Esterházy-Malfatti, Bálint Török, Esterházy János Emlékkönyv (Pamätná kniha Jánosa Esterházyho) (Századvég Bp. 2001)
  • [5] František Mikloško Žurnál Rádia Twist 12. 3. 2001
  • [6] Ladislav Deák, Politický profil Jánoša Esterházyho (Ministerstvo kultúry Slovenskej republiky vo vyd. Kubko Goral 1995, šírený zdarma a vydaný súčasne i v anglickej a maďarskej jazykovej mutácii)
  • [7] Jerguš Ferko, Vodca-zvodca János Esterházy (Maďarské sebaklamy, Matica Slovenská 2003, s.127-129)
  • [8] Bohumil Doležal: Yehuda Lahav úr vitájához, Lidové noviny, April 21, 2001.
  • [9] Augustín Marko, Pavol Martinický, Slovensko-maďarské vzťahy

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