Martyrs' Memorial. Budapest Gendarme Garrison, 1928.
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The Hungarian Royal Gendarmerie never took part institutionally, officially or unofficially in the execution of the Holocaust, the nature of which did not even become known until after the deportations from Hungary already took place. Please read our article, The Gendarmerie and the Jews. We condemn in the strongest possible terms anti-Semitism and all forms of fascism, racism, and extremism. We condemn all organizations that seek to falsely associate the Gendarmerie with any of these ideologies, as either a means to attack the Gendarmerie (from the Left) or to advance these doctrines (from the Right).
The Hungarian Gendarmerie, known as the Csendőrség, was responsible for the public safety and the maintenance of law and order in rural Hungary from its formation in 1881 until its dissolution at the end of WWII.
The Csendőrség was a small force of about 11,000 enlisted men and officers, which was increased to 22,000 during the course of the Second World War to meet the needs of the reclaimed territories and to help reinforce the heavy losses sustained by the regular army (Honvédség). Whether in peacetime or in wartime, the Csendőrs fulfilled their duties according to their motto, “Híven, Becsülettel, Vitézül” (faithfully, honorably, valiantly).
The Csendőrség initially recruited men from the Honvédség. They were very selective,and only those with exemplary service records were permitted to transfer to the gendarmerie. Here they received additional training, and upon the completion of a probationary period and successfully passing a written exam, they were accepted as full members. Officers were trained at the Ludovika Military Academy and then went on to additional training at the Csendőr officer’s training center. Upon successful completion they were commissioned as Second Lieutenants. About 40% of them held doctorate degrees in law.
The Csendőrség was dispersed throughout Hungary in small garrisons of 5 to 15 men with one non-commissioned officer in charge. All investigations and law enforcement was carried out by the enlisted personnel. They were very effective in the apprehension of criminals with about a 90% successful rate. Officers provided training, supervision, and administration.
The most distinctive feature of the Csendőr, whose uniform was nearly identical to that of army soldier, or honvéd, was a large rooster feather plume affixed to the left side of a black bowler hat. The plumage became so identified with the Csendőrség that they were often referred to as the "rooster feathers" ("kakastollasok").
With the end of WWII, the newly formed Hungarian communist government decreed the break-up of the csendőrség and declared all csendőrs, past and present, to be war criminals. Those csendőrs who fell within the sphere of communist control were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured by the ÁVO (secret police) and many were beaten to death or executed. It was only after 1989, with the fall of the communist regime, that any credit was given to the significant law-enforcement contribution of the csendőrs. In spite of this, the csendőr name still evokes negative emotions in many as a result of 45 years of anti-csendőr propaganda on the part of the communist government.
Many of the csendőrs, who escaped the advancing Red Army and the communist leaders of the new emerging Hungarian government, fled West and surrendered to the Allied Forces. They were placed in Displaced Persons’ Camps scattered throughout the various occupation zones, from where many immigrated to a country willing to sponsor them. During this interval of time, Pál Jegenyés, Sergeant-Major and garrison commander, with six of his fellow csendőrs established the Magyar Csendőr Bajtársi Asztaltársaság (Hungarian Csendőr Veterans Table Organization) on June 21, 1947, in Graz, Austria. In 1948 they began to publish the Bajtársi Levél, the official newsletter of the organization with articles relating to the csendőr’s past, and news of the csendőrs at home and abroad. A year later, the organization changed its name to Magyar Királyi Csendőr Bajtársi Közösség (MKCsBK, Hungarian Royal Gendarme Veterans Association). Initially, its main mission was the material support of those gendarmes and their families in Hungary who were stripped of their pension and livelihood, and the support of those gendarmes abroad who had to establish livelihood in a new country. It has also been, to this date, maintaining the contact among former csendőrs and their descendents and friends throughout the world, publishing current news relating to the csendőrs, working towards the exoneration of the csendőr legacy, supporting historical research of the past, and preserving documents and artifacts that survived the war. With many of the csendőrs passing away, the MKCsBK evolved to include csendőr descendents, honorary csendőrs, and sympathizers of their cause. In recent years, a quarterly newsletter (Körlevél) and the web site took over the role of the previous publication.