The Daily Telegraph, June 30, 2014.
Prince Paul Odescalchi was an Hungarian noble who resisted the Nazis in Budapest but was branded a class enemy by the communists.
Prince Paul Odescalchi, who has died aged 90, was one of the last surviving links with “old Hungary” – that was dominated by a handful of great families, the Eszterházy, Andrássy, Apponyi, Széchenyi and Odescalchi dynasties among them.
The power of this aristocracy, based on the ownership of vast estates, was broken by Austria-Hungary’s defeat in the First World War and the resulting Treaty of Trianon, which deprived Hungary of two-thirds of her territory, including many noble estates which became part of the successor states — Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.
Paul Otto Charles Odescalchi was born in Budapest on September 28 1923. His family were comparative latecomers to the ranks of the Hungarian aristocracy – although the Odescalchis had been prominent in the nobility of northern Italy since the 11th century. Benedetto Odescalchi, as Pope Innocent XI from 1676, inspired the formation of the Holy League (consisting of Austria, Poland and Venice) which relieved the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683 and expelled them from Buda three years later.
In recognition of Benedetto’s role, Leopold I, as Holy Roman Emperor, honoured the Odescalchi family by making the Pope’s brother, Livio, a Prince of the Empire and Duke of Szeremség, a title which carried with it huge estates in northern Croatia, then part of Hungary. His descendant and namesake, Prince Livio Odescalchi, who was Empress Maria Theresa’s Marshal of Court, took over these estates in the late 18th century and married a Hungarian heiress, thus founding the Hungarian branch of the Odescalchi family which held a distinguished place in Hungarian society until 1948.
Paul Odescalchi’s mother, Princess Klara (Kaja) Odescalchi, was the youngest granddaughter of Count Gyula Andrássy, a celebrated Foreign Minister of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary from 1871 to 1879 and chief architect of the 1879 Dual Alliance with Germany – a defensive alliance against Russia.
More importantly, perhaps, Paul Odescalchi was also the last surviving link with the small but heroic anti-Nazi resistance movement in Hungary during the Second World War. When the Trianon Treaty swept away the family estates, Paul’s father, Károly (“Carlo”) Odescalchi took up a career in business, becoming in 1935 a member of the board of Ganz, Hungary’s largest industrial enterprise.
In 1940, in return for Adolf Hitler’s assistance in recovering a large slice of Slovakian territory, Hungary joined Germany, Italy and Japan in the Tripartite Pact and was thereby committed to the Axis cause.
The board and management of Ganz was, with the sole exception of Carlo Odescalchi, entirely Jewish and consequently vulnerable. When, in 1941, Hungary entered the Second World War by sending 40,000 troops to join German forces in the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Ministry of War planted agents in all defence-related enterprises, including Ganz, to weed out “unreliable elements” and assign them to duties at, or just behind, the front line, in which their life expectancies would be short.
When the agent assigned to Ganz demanded the removal of a Jewish engineer, a decorated veteran of the First World War who had been overheard making anti-German remarks, Carlo Odescalchi protested strongly and announced that he was himself no friend of Germany. Although threatened with arrest, he mobilised personal contacts to secure the intervention of the Hungarian “Regent” Mikos Horthy, who ordered the transfer of the Ministry’s agent to another enterprise.
After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, Carlo found that his name was at the top of a Nazi blacklist; he consequently kept a low profile, working from home and moving frequently, until the war was over.
He and Princess Klara had divorced before the war. But she too had become involved in helping enemies of Nazism. In particular she aided refugees who had fled to Hungary after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 but before Hungary entered the war on the side of Germany. Polish soldiers who wished to continue the fight were allowed to make their way to western Europe; by 1941, nearly 50,000 had done so. Poles who elected to remain in Hungary were well cared for and Princess Klara served as Vice-President of the Hungarian-Polish Committee for Refugee Care. She gave the Committee office space in her home and supplied the British Ambassador of the time, Owen O’Malley, with valuable political intelligence.
When, in 1941, Hungary’s entry into the war caused the rupture of British-Hungarian relations and a surge of Nazi influence in Budapest, O’Malley warned Princess Klara that she was in imminent danger of arrest. Armed with an exit permit signed personally by Horthy, she was driven by the British Naval Attaché to Dubrovnik.
The plan was that the Royal Navy would arrange her onward journey to Greece by submarine and thence to Cairo. She never made it, being killed in Dubrovnik by an Italian bombing raid on the port – the only such raid of the war.
At the time of his mother’s death Paul was 17 years old and a pupil at the Ferenc Jozsef Catholic gymnasium in Budapest. From there he enrolled in the city’s Jozsef Nádor Technical University to study Engineering Science. After the German invasion, however, he became increasingly impatient to do something, as he put it “to stop us from being Hitler’s last collaborators”.
His search for kindred spirits brought him into contact with two young Hungarian Army officers, Jeno de Thassy and Guido Görgey, who had evaded service at the front and were involved in sporadic acts of resistance.
Despite their youthful enthusiasm, the anti-fascist resistance movement in occupied Hungary was too small and too divided to make much of a dent in Nazi and Arrow Cross (Hungarian fascist) power. Two of the movement’s most effective leaders, the radical democrat Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky and the Communist László Rajk, attempted to unite its various factions under a “Committee of Liberation”; but the Committee was betrayed almost as soon as it had been formed and its members – with the exception of Rajk – were hunted down and shot or hanged.
Odescalchi, as well as carrying out useful work as a courier between resistance groups and in arranging the transfer of Jews and other potential victims of the Gestapo from one safe house to another, was involved in several ill-conceived schemes that were doomed to failure.
He did, however, play a leading role in one successful resistance operation. Having gravitated to a resistance group led by a Staff Captain László Sólyom, he set off, disguised as a workman and carrying explosives in a toolbox. Having made his way to the Gellért Hill, he successfully destroyed four German military trucks in their parking place.
When the siege and bombardment of Budapest began in December 1944, Odescalchi, with de Thassy and Görgey, joined many other members of the capital’s former haut monde in taking refuge in the cellars of the Wagons Lits building on Vörösmarty Square. He remained there, chafing at the enforced inactivity, until, in mid-January 1945, Russian troops burst in and ordered the inhabitants to clear the rubble and debris from the square outside while they, the “liberators”, looted the building.
Word reached Odescalchi and his two colleagues that they should meet László Sólyom who, at the Budapest Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party (HCP), introduced them to János Kádár, who was to be installed as leader of communist Hungary in the wake of the 1956 uprising. Kádár offered his aristocratic guests the opportunity to join the HCP, with the distinction of low membership numbers, in recognition of their resistance activities.
Odescalchi rejected the offer outright; de Thassy and Görgey temporised. Sólyom then offered them the opportunity of serving under him in the newly-formed police force; Odescalchi again declined, “gently but firmly” as de Thassy later recalled, although his comrades accepted the offer. On leaving the building, however, all three were arrested by Soviet soldiers and incarcerated in a nearby cellar. De Thassy and Görgey eventually succeeded in escaping from the cellar, leaving Odescalchi to his fate.
This turned out to be imprisonment, as a “class enemy”, in a Soviet concentration camp near Gödöllö, outside Budapest. Typhus was endemic in the camp and the majority of its inmates died as a result. Odescalchi contracted the disease but survived; he was released in 1946, though he was so physically diminished that his father failed to recognise him.
In 1947 Odescalchi succeeded in securing an exit permit and fled to England, where he read Engineering at Liverpool University and, in 1948, married Zsuzsanna Tamassy, who had followed him from Budapest. He transferred from Liverpool to Bristol University in order to read Psychology and Philosophy.
After graduating, he pursued a career in industrial psychology, working, first, for IBM, for whom he ran a training centre in the Netherlands, and then in Cheltenham, as a consultant. He had in the meantime divorced Zsuzsanna and in 1963 remarried, to Antonina Horne.
In retirement Odescalchi actively supported several charities related to Hungary and Transylvania, work which continued after his second divorce in 1995, and his move to Arles, in southern France, where he lived in partnership with Anne-Charlotte DuChastel.
He was a regular visitor to Budapest and to the village of Tiszadob, where the Andrássy family had owned an estate. As deputy president of Transylvania Direct, he helped to provide transport for Magyar-speaking children in Transylvania so that they could be bussed to Magyar-speaking schools. In 2005 he founded the Gyula Andrassy Foundation to promote the legacy of his great-grandfather.
Paul Odescalchi is survived by a son from his first marriage and by a daughter from his second.
Prince Paul Odescalchi, born September 28 1923, died April 17 2014