Joint illustrated article series by the Capa Centre and Fortepan
2022. March 30.
Summer Camps the Hungarian Way
World Scout Jamborees in Gödöllő in the 1930s
Chief Scouts, royal princesses, and governors followed in each other’s heels in the Royal Palace Parks of Gödöllő in the 1930s: Hungary hosted two large-scale world Scout jamborees in that period, one of them took place in the summer of the fateful year of 1939. The young people attending the events were making friendships and having fun while people following the events, especially the leaders of the movement regarded and celebrated them as the token of a peaceful future. Then, two weeks later, World War II broke out.
“The Scout Movement is a voluntary non-political educational movement for young people based on religious elements,”—this was the first sentence of the founding document of the scouting movement, which started out at the turn of the 20th century with outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and sports events. From the 1920s on, large-scale international events also took place in order to educate the younger generation. The founder of the movement, Robert Baden-Powell found these world jamborees important because they provided opportunities to meet and make friendships for young people from all over the world, and thus, he hoped, these meetings could have served as an antidote for the upcoming war…
The 4th World Scout Jamboree was hosted by Hungary between 2 and 15 August 1933 in the Palace Parks surrounding the Gödöllő Royal Palace, with 25–30 thousand participants from 52 countries. The motto of the event was “Go, Miracle stag!,” as the symbol of the event was the stag from Hungarian mithology. After a world war, it would have certainly been economically unviable to organize such an event, unless the main goal was to promote the country and show the best side of Hungary. Thus, the ministries and counties involved managed to get together the financial basis for the event: some brand new, flawless roads were built around Gödöllő, along with a camping site in the park of such outstanding quality that the Scouts had never seen before.
Thousands of people took part in building and organizing the event; a sports facility, a restaurant, a post office, and a pastry shop opened for the summer, along with a large shopping city for the participants and the visitors. Newsreels reported that 25 kilometers of electric cable and an arc-lamp system for illuminating the camp in the night were set up by skilled worker Scouts who also worked on the plumbing of the camp—for free. Actually, they even paid for it, as every Hungarian Boy Scout attending had to pay a camp fee.
There were doctors, firemen, and policemen looking after the campers, and interpreters also played a key role . Both the Hungarian Scouts (about 10 thousand people), who were the first ones to settle in the camp, and the other foreign groups arriving later decorated their tents with folk art motifs in order to distinguish them and to clearly mark what region they were from. The Czech participants built a full Carphathian village, those from Siófok (Hungary) imitated a fisher village on Lake Balaton, and we can also see in one of the photos a replica of the church of Nyírbátor.
Like an Olympic event, the scout programs were covered in the newspapers in sections titled “News from the Jamboree.” Commendably, reporters made an effort and after the usual obligatory comments typical of the era, went on to report interesting details on everyday life at the gigantic camp. Of course, the opening ceremony and the official visits took place according to plan: Pál Teleki, Honorary Chief Scout of the Hungarian Scout Association and Commander of the Gödöllő Jamboree took care of everything; Lord Baden-Powell, World Chief Scout, settled in time in his tent decorated with embroideries and wood carvings of Hungarian folk motifs and opened the ceremony on August 2, 1933, with the assistance of Miklós Horthy, the Governor-General of Hungary, who held a muster in the camp riding his white horse.
Let’s keep the focus on everyday life at the camp. Competition was of utmost importance . Which team could raise a tent the quickest? And which one was the most beautiful tent? Who was the best at athletics, theater performances, music, and games of dexterity? Apart from these activities, huge parades, performances and shows, campfires, movie nights, and even sightseeing trips on open trucks to Budapest, Kecskemét, and Győr took place during the jamboree. Food was said to be good; on the opening night the menu was goulash with noodles. And the boys could expect some extras too: one day, farmers from Kecskemét donated several hundred pounds of apricots, covered one by one in plastic.
In the afternoons, the public could enter the premises of the camp to take a look around with a ticket. Pál Teleki early on asked the public to wear suitable, strudy shoes with thick soles, and to carry umbrellas, because they could not simply rush into the tents, not even if there was a sudden shower. The fact that the famous Pester (or perhaps Gödöllő) sense of humor was instantly triggerred by the events is well illustrated by the following story: Visitors at the jamboree: —Look, this Baden-Powell guy has turned completely gray. —No wonder, he must have taken the suburban rail to come here…
In Gödöllő, it was all about the jamboree those days. The whole city was trying to take a sneak peek around the Palace Park. A carpenter, when asked by a reporter, answered the following: “Look, there is no unemployment in Gödöllő or the vicinity; we wish the jamboree lasted forever.” But it only lasted until August 15. On the closing day, the shopping city offered a huge discount on its last treats, which made the Boy Scouts very happy, and soon the transport trucks arrived.
According to a reporter of the periodical Keleti Újság, “These young people have a calling to redo all the wrong that has been done by the former generations chased into the perdition of war. They are the promise of a brighter future, ” The Kolozsvár-based (today, Cluj-Napoca in Romania) newspaper wrote this in spite of the fact that in another article it reported about the inconveniences that the scout groups coming from the succession states of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had to endure during the extremely strict and thorough custom inspections upon their return from Gödöllő…
But where are all the girls? The girls who had been actively demanding their participation from the onset of the movement and very soon managed to join: in the 1910s and 20s, all around the world, including in Hungary, Girl Scout associations were founded. On 1 August 1939, the first Girl Scout Jamboree called Pax Ting was kicked off in Gödöllő.
The host site was chosen mainly because of the successful 1933 World Jamboree event. “Pax Ting” is a Latin–English compound meaning peace conference. The opening ceremony took place at the Erzsébet Park sports center, where scout police girls directed the attendants to their seats and after the speeches of the governor of Hungary and the president of the Hungarian Girl Scout Association, Lindenmeyer Antónia, a parade and national costume shows followed.
About 4–5000 girls gathered around the campfire in the night, representing every Hungarian city and 33 countries. “From Australia, 18 girls crossed the hemisphere by boat, traveling for almost one and a half month (…), South Africa is represented by three chocolate brown little girls; the smallest group is from New Zealand, comprised by two attenders,” wrote Sefeddin Sefket bey, the enthusiastic reporter for the newspaper Uj Magyarság, also sharing a nice little story.
At the Keleti Railway Station, a Hungarian girl ran towards a group that arrived from Finland, holding up a photograph of a girl and shouting “Kerttu! Kerrtu!” “A few minutes later, a flaxen blonde with ponytails looked out the window of the train, the original of the photo held up in the air, and started to cry back to the girl ‘Ilonka, Ilonka!’ The two girls had been pen pals for years. (…) they hugged with immense joy, never to let from that point on each other’s hands.” They were not the only ones to arrive. The Royal Princess of Sweden, Sybilla, the Leader of theWorld Girl Scout Organization and Archduchess Anna of Hungary also came to the jamboree. They were lodged in two adjacent tents and they all took part in the work around the kitchen.
Locals remembered the most the collectedness of the slender English girls, the elegance of the French ones, and the huge luggage of the Polish ones, containing all sorts of books, handicrafts, and trinkets. The Hungarian girl scouts wore a brown uniform, while the foreigners wore a blue one; only their hats, scarves, and pins were distinctive.
Everyday life in camp was similar to the boys’ routine. Morning shoe cleaning, banner-mending, shows, and competitions. Mária Ruzitska, a literary translator who wrote field reports for the periodical Uj Idők caught a lovely conversation: “Today, we had corn for lunch. Most people had never had corn before, but they all liked it. One of the Norwegian little ‘chefs’ was worried: ‘These grains are cooked through outside, but the inside is still stiff….'”
Ruzitska could not have known that in a few weeks, the devastation of World War II would start; she felt that “they will save the world. Six thousand happy and healthy future mothers, and thousands and thousands more, in London, Warsaw, Kassa [Košice], the Bermudas, Chamonix, Malta, Kenya, Sidney, Jamaica, Bombay, Szeged, who are now thinking longingly of Gödöllő, unable to attend personally because they lacked the money to cover travel costs, or their parents were too concerned with the news of world politics to let them attend. By the time these girls have grown-up children, the blessed sunlight of eternal peace will shine on the world. One takes away this firm belief coming home from the Gödöllő jamboree.”
The following sources were consulted during the writing of this article: Arcanum Digitheca, cserkesz.hu, godolloimuzeum.hu, and lexikon.katolikus.hu.The collection of the Hungarian Scout Association is on permanent view at the Gödöllő City Museum. Both the association’s library collection, which is open for the public, and its archive, which is open for registered researchers, can be consulted in the Gödöllő City Library. A thematic walk is also available and recommended in the city, starting at the museum and ending at the cemetery, at Count Pál Teleki’s tomb.
Text: Zsolt Lukács | Photo Editor: István Virágvölgyi | Translation: Nóra Vörös [The original article was published in Hungarian]The Weekly Fortepan blog is a professional collaboration between Fortepan and the Capa Center. The original Hungarian article can be found at: https://hetifortepan.capacenter.hu/en/scout-jamboreesIf you have a family photo to share with Fortepan, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.