For the third year of the war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed on the battlefields, while injuries sustained in the battles left tens of thousands disabled. Family heads who died on the front left behind war widows and orphans in the hinterland. Significant tasks of the wartime social policy included solving the provision, financial aid and care of these social groups, mostly assumed by the state. While the primary aim of the first years of war was to solve the care and aid of war veterans – at that time war orphans were mostly cared for by orphans’ courts, which operated in peacetime as well –, by 1917, the situation had become unsustainable, military care required a new structure.
In 1915–1916, there were already organizations concerned with the invalides (i.e. soldiers unfit for battlefield service): these were the Welfare Committee for Disabled and Injured Soldiers as well as the Royal Hungarian Disability Affairs Office. Their establishment was justified by the particularly high number of disabled veterans; 20 thousand were registered in April 1915, among whom 12 thousand were paralysed and six thousand were truncated. The responsibilities of these two offices were taken over by the National Military Welfare Office –established by decree – in March 1917, headed by Klebelsberg Kuno. Upon the establishment of the office, Az Est made an interview with Klebelsberg, who reported that the Military Welfare Office would undertake the complex management of people in need of military care, i.e. the disabled, war widows and war orphans. The previous Disability Affairs Office was merged; war orphan and economics departments were set up.
The Military Welfare Office was focused primarily on war orphans, since – as Klebersberg noted – the latest reports counted 86 thousand war orphans in the area of the Kingdom of Hungary. They envisaged to support the orphans through scholarships, agricultural and industrial courses to help them become “useful citizens of society“, but they did not forget about the ones in need of health care either: the government planned to set up health resorts and sanatoriums.
The new office clearly took care of the complete management of the cases of war veterans, offering support in three major areas: annuity provision, medical activities and integration into the civilian life (including training as well). The organization aimed primarily at helping recover the unity of families that face difficult times owing to the loss or disability of the head of the household. The decree defining the organization stated that military care is „a national responsibility that is carried out by the state with the involvement of local governments and the society.”
“Society” was indeed utilized to the very end to fulfil the task. Since no accurate reports were made about the number of potential war veterans, their registration was a primary task. For this purpose, military caregivers were utilized – the ones who applied at the local community’s or city’s magistracy voluntarily as social workers of the age to follow the faith of families/war widows/war orphans assigned to them and help their integration into the war welfare system. They sought to establish an office to coordinate and support the operation of military caregivers at least for each local authority. By 1918, nearly 108 such military welfare offices were established; those in need could visit the one in Budapest in today’s Falk Miksa Street in District V.
They provided different support for the three groups of the needy (war veterans, war widows, war orphans). For war veterans, the focus was on prevention – in this case, specifically to achieve that the incapacity to work owing to disability is temporary and that the disabled would not be put down as someone to be taken care of forever. The treatment of people with disabilities was supported by a number of hospitals and rehabilitation institutions, the number of workshops creating artificial body parts increased. In addition to financial aids, numerous trainings were launched in the field of agriculture and industry to provide an opportunity for retraining. Veterans who were only partially capable of self-support were directed to the so-calledwork plantations where they could lead an independent life and work for their livelihood on a shared plantation – for example the woodworking plant in Kalocsa.
The group of war widows was the least problematic. They were entitled to receive military aid to stabilize the financial status of the broken family. In their case, the focus was on helping them work independently – through work agents or perhaps retraining.
Solving the care of war orphans caused great concerns. Though most of the children left orphaned were only fatherless, i.e. they lived with their mother in family, solving their sustenance and education was not an easy task. The government had three fundamental goals regarding the care of war orphans: 1. all orphans shall receive the care to which they are entitled; 2. live preferably in a family, if all else fails, with adoptive parents; 3. obtain a qualification from which they can sustain themselves in their later life. In theory, this triad would have been sufficient to ensure that war orphans become “socially useful citizens” who “faithfully serve their country“. However noble the intention of the Military Welfare Office – and the supporting state – was, we should not forget their specification regarding the education of war orphans: they supported learning to the extent that the war orphans “would not lose” their natural environment, i.e. would not by any chance rise higher up the imaginary social ladder and would remain in the same group where they were born.
A hadirokkantak, özvegyek és hadiárvák gondozása = Budapesti Hírlap, 1917. március 16.
Klebelsberg államtitkár az Országos Hadigondozó Hivatalról = Az Est, 1917. március 17.
Suba János: Az Országos Hadigondozó Hivatal = Rendvédelem-történeti füzetek, 18. (2010) 21.
Heller Farkas: Magyarország szociálpolitikája. Budapest, 1923.
Written by: Eszter Kaba