Welcome to the latest instalment of my family history exploring my Polish roots dating back to the late eighteenth century. My last post started with my Great Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski (born c. 1780s in Poland), in the Polish Partition and Napoleonic eras, then described what happened to his son, also called Theodore (b. about 1812) after the 1830-1 November Uprising and his exile to France. In this post I will explore Theodore II’s possible role in the 1848 Revolutions and how he ended up moving to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire.
Background to the 1848 Revolts
In the year 1848, a number of revolutions known as the ‘Spring of Nations’ swept across Europe. The first was in Sicily, centred around Palermo and Messina, and made Sicily an independent state for 16 months until it was retaken by the royalists. France followed with demonstrations in Paris which resulted in the abdication of King Louis Phillippe in favour of the Second Republic (Gessner, 1998). These successes inspired nationalist uprisings seeking constitutional change further afield; in Italy, Germany (Prussia), the Austrian Empire which included Hungary and parts of what was formerly Greater Poland (Galicia, Belarus, Ruthenia, Ukraine). To a more limited extent, the revolutions spread to parts of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the UK (in the form of Chartism) and even to parts of Latin America. The revolutionaries became a cause célèbre across Europe and participants became known as”Forty-eighters”.
Poland as a sovereign nation had ceased to exist by this time, having been absorbed between the 3 major powers of Russia, Prussia and the Habsberg Austrian Empire after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After the failed Polish Revolt of 1830, thousands of Poles were living in exile, the majority in France (many also in the UK), where they continued to agitate for reinstatement of their homeland through their government in exile, directed from the Hôtel Lambert in Paris.
The Polish exiles were grateful for their refuge in France but typical of refugees’ experience the world over, they were treated with a degree of suspicion and distrust by the authorities and the communities they lived in. Some of the anxiety was, not unreasonably, because there was concern that their political activism might spread and precipitate a further revolution in France. When revolts started spreading outside of France therefore, the French authorities strongly encouraged the exiles to join up.
In 1837 my Great Great Grandfather, Theodore Puchalski, was one of those Polish exiles living in France at Troyes, about 93 miles south east of Paris, but by 1853, he was living in Istanbul in Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It is clear therefore that he was one of those who responded to the call to arms. What his life had been like in the intervening years is not known. He was certainly not a professional soldier at the time of the 1830 Revolt, family legend claims he was from the Polish nobility but later documents reveal him to have been a cabinet maker. As he was about 18 years old at the time of the 1830 Revolt, he may have completed an apprenticeship by then or it may be that this was something he took up on his arrival in France in order to start afresh. In 1848, he would have been about 36 years old.
The exiles in France could have joined any number of different campaigns across Europe so trying to work out which one Theodore was involved in and also proving it, is quite a challenge.
The exiles took their lead from Hôtel Lambert in Paris. For instance, in March 1848, a Polish legion of about 500 men was formed in Rome on the initiative of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz who also recruited volunteers in Paris. Its aim was the liberation of the Italian people from Austrian (Habsberg) rule (Ref: Wikipedia-Mickiewicz Legion). This detachment of Polish exiles was led by Mikolaj Kaminski.
Another campaign took place in Prussia, where the exiles from France joined the Greater Poland Uprising in Berlin with their leader, Prince Adam Czatoryski.
There was also a revolt in Austria. The Polish General Jozef Bem was despatched to Vienna in Oct 1848 with a contingent of Polish volunteers from France and arrived just in time to take charge as insurgent forces took up arms against the city. They held out for just a few weeks before the Imperial army surrounded the city and forced their surrender (Gessner, 1998).
My research has revealed however that the vast majority of Poles who arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1849/50, were those that took part in the Hungarian Revolution. This is further suggested by church records in Istanbul that reveal Theodore was a close friend or associate of a fellow Polish exile, Jozef Ratynski, who is known to have been a participant in this campaign.
The Hungarian Revolution 1848-9
In 1848, the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire but had its own parliament, the ‘Diet of Hungary’, and largely managed its own administration. However liberal idealists drew attention to many of the inequalities in Hungarian society and called for democratic parliamentary representation, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, religious freedom, equality in law and taxation, and the abolition of serfdom and other feudal land rights which privileged the nobility and exempted them from taxation. They also called for Transylvania to be reinstated as part of Hungary, an objective not supported by the majority of Romanians who wanted proportional representation and so sided with Austria.
The Revolution was led by Lajos Kossuth, who secured much support in Vienna where he gave a speech shortly after the Paris uprising. Many of the Polish exiles were drawn to supporting the Hungarian Revolution due to the historical ties that existed between the two nations but also by the fact that the Revolution was directed at two of Poland’s historical adversaries, the Austrians and their supporters, the Russians.
The Polish Legions and the Transylvanian Campaign
In 1848 two Polish legions were established in Hungary under the command of Generals Jozef Wysocki and Jozef Bem. General Jozef Wysocki published a memoire of the Hungarian campaign in 1850, a copy of which is kept at the British Library and is a public domain publication. Although it seems to be only available in Polish, (which means sadly I cannot read it), it lists over 700 Polish officers, soldiers and civilians who made up his Legion. Theodore Puchalski and Jozef Ratynski are not listed which seems to reinforce the likelihood that these two fought under General Jozef Bem instead.
Jozef Bem was born 1794 in Galicia, Poland. He was rather a small man, but he was considered a very charismatic leader. He was educated at the Warsaw military school and joined the Polish division of the French forces. A veteran of Napoleon’s Grand Armée, he was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1813 for his role in the defence of Danzig (Gdansk). He took part in the 1830 Uprising and escaped to France where he was a key player in the activities of the Hôtel Lambert. He was also was a mathematician, teacher and an engineer interested in research, and published works on history, technology and the military.
In 1848, after escaping from Vienna, Bem was put in charge of the Hungarian Székely forces in Transylvania. The reintegration of Transylvania as an autonomous region of Hungary was a key objective of the Hungarian Revolution and the Székely were an ethnic sub-group of Hungarians living in Romania who strongly supported this (Encyclopedia at Theodora.com). This campaign in Transylvania was supplemented by Polish and Italian volunteers.
Although frequently heavily outnumbered, Bem’s forces had some notable victories and recovered Transylvania for Hungary in February 1849. After relieving Transylvania he successfully attacked the Austrian forces in the Southern Banat region around Orşova, but had to return to try to take back Transylvania when Russian reinforcements arrived there. Fierce fighting continued through the summer, but by the end of July his army was annihilated by overwhelming numbers in the Battle of Segesvár (near Segesvár, now Sighişoara, Romania), Bem escaping only by feigning death (Encyclopedia Britannica).
The Revolution was failing elsewhere too. There was an attempt to consolidate all the Hungarian forces for a final push in August, which failed due to the incompetence of the commander in chief, General Dembinski, who was relieved of his command as a consequence (Szabó, 1999). He was replaced by Bem.
The last major engagement of the Revolution took part at the Battle of Temesvár (now Timişoara, Romania), on August 9. When Bem was injured falling from his horse, there was no-one left to take overall command and they were defeated. At this point some soldiers deserted and decided to return home. The Hungarians formally surrendered on 13 August 1849 at Világos in Romania.
According to János Szabó, defeat was followed by a large-scale and brutal put down of the Hungarian rebels by the Austrians, whose commander in chief von Haynau declared:
“I shall uproot the weed. I shall set an example to the whole of Europe of how rebels should be treated and how order, peace and tranquillity should be ensured for a century.”
The retribution started with the execution of Hungary’s former first prime minister, Batthyány, who died before a firing squad on October 6 and the hanging of 13 Hungarian Generals. On Haynau’s orders, more than 100 people were executed, 1,200 Imperial officers fighting on the Hungarian side were sentenced to imprisonment, and an additional 40,000 to 50,000 officers and soldiers were drafted into the Imperial army.
The Fate of the Refugees
The majority of the defeated rebels fled south as a single unit, crossing the Danube to reach the border of the Ottoman Empire around the end of August. Among them was General Bem, who although seriously wounded, managed to escape with his officers. There, about 5000 of the remaining forces, which included Hungarians, Italians and around 1000 Polish volunteers, were offered asylum by the Turks. Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian Revolution’s leader escaped on 17th August by a different route but was picked up and escorted to the same camp by the Turkish troops (Csorba, 2002).
On arriving at the border, the fleeing soldiers were met by Ottoman soldiers and officials who asked them to hand over their horses and weapons. A number of memoirs describe this as a traumatic experience even though the Turks promised that they would be returned. For many this added to the humiliation of surrendering to the enemy and also deprived them of their only possessions. They were interned in a camp in Vidin in Bulgaria while it was decided what to do with them. A number of camp followers including the wives and children of soldiers also made it to the camp and others trickled over the border in the weeks that followed the surrender. They received preferential treatment in the allocation of tents and provisions (Toth, 2014).
However conditions in the camp were terrible. Many soldiers were destitute and for much of the time were cold and hungry. Cholera broke out and many died of this or other disease (Csorba estimates as many as 400-600). The camp was strictly guarded and only the higher ranked officers and civilians were allowed to enter the town of Vidin for any kind of respite. The rest had to spend their time kicking their heels or playing cards (Toth, 2014). About 50 Hungarians tried to escape but were recaptured and brought back. When threatened with court martial for desertion they replied:
“We left, as it were, because we preferred to be shot to death at home rather than die here of hunger, cold or the cholera.” (Veress, quoted in Toth, 2014).
Negotiations with the Austrians and Russians were tense and protracted but it was eventually agreed that the rank and file could return to Austria on condition that the men were conscripted into the Austrian army. On 21 October, about 3156 Hungarian, Polish and Italian soldiers returned home under the Austrian terms (Csorba, 2002).
Apostasy – the Islamic Conversions
An amnesty for General Bem and his officers was however definitely not on the cards. The Austrians demanded their extradition and if they had got their way, then these men would almost certainly have been tried and executed for treason. Instead under international rules, if they converted to Islam and assumed Turkish citizenship they could not be returned. In all, around 250 refugees took this step including 216 Hungarians, 7 Polish and 15 Italian. They included Bem who took the name Murad Pasha and around 15 women who were camp followers (Csorba, 2002).
The Polish community was strictly Roman Catholic and the decision of some refugees to convert to Islam was not received favourably by their countrymen, at home or abroad, for whom such an action was beyond the pale. It was also seen as a denial of their Polish identity. Many of the converts were derided and ostracised thereafter. General Wysocki forbade any of his soldiers from converting saying it would stain Polish honour for generations to come (Dominik, 2015).
As it happened, the Sultan advised the converts that they would be free to convert back to Christianity in due course but in practice few did because in return, the Turks gave them lucrative positions in the Ottoman military and administration. Jozef Bem was made a Pasha and given the Governorship of Aleppo. He died there of malaria in 1850 but was eventually buried in his birthplace of Tarnow in Galicia.
Moving On: Exile and Settlement
In early November 1849 the remaining Polish and Hungarian refugees were moved from Vidin to Shumla (Shumen, in Bulgaria), while the Italians were transferred to Gallipoli.
Eventually, it was agreed to settle the Hungarians in the Turkish interior where they could not easily make their way back to the Russian and Austrian borders. They were sent to Kutahya and Konya. One of Kossuth’s key concerns was that the Hungarian refugees should not be dispersed. Their revolution, like the Poles, had been one of national identity and culture as much as constitutional change and dispersal would have encouraged assimilation. He wanted to establish a Hungarian colony near Izmir like the one the Poles had established near Istanbul as Polonezkoy but this never came to pass. Kossuth and 50 of his comrades left Shumla in February 1850, arriving in Kutahya in April. Shortly after the American Congress invited them to the USA and about half left including Kossuth. Many also moved to the UK (ibid).
Meanwhile the remaining Poles were directed to leave the Ottoman Empire altogether. The majority of refugees however stayed in Shumla with support from the Ottoman Empire but others made their way to Istanbul. Some of these went to the small Polish colony of Polonezkoy or Adampol which had been established by Michał Czajkowski in 1842 with land bought by Prince Adam Czartoryski from the French Lazarists community near Istanbul.
In 1853 my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski turns up in the records in Istanbul as a Polish exile along with Jozef Ratynski. It seem probable that both would have been interned at Vidin and Shumla and come to Istanbul via that route, although some soldiers may well have escaped individually or in small groups and made their own way inland. There is no record of either having lived at Polonezkoy.
So why did he not return to his homeland after an amnesty was offered, or return to France, his original place of refuge? I think the answer must be that many of the Polish exiles still clung to the hope that they might yet get another chance to fight and also many of those who had rebelled back in 1830 did not believe they would be safe returning home. The Ottoman Empire had had many run-ins with Russia and was much closer geographically to the disputed territories for those hoping to fight on. As for France, presumably Theodore did not have any dependents or ties there.
Csorba, György, (2002), Hungarian Emigrants of 1848-9 in the Ottoman Empire, Ankara.
Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.
Encyclopedia Britannica at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jozef-Zachariasz-Bem
Encyclopedia at http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/b/josef_bem.html
Gessner, P.K. (1998), General Josef Bem: Polish and Hungarian Leader (1795-1850). Website: http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/bem.html
Szabó, János B. (1999), Hungary’s War of Independence. Military History, August 1999. (reproduced at History.net).
Letter: A E Callus to Frank Callus dated 11 June 1965, pp 1-6, c/o Mr A. Callus.
Tóth, Heléna (2014), An Exiled Generation: German and Hungarian Refugees of Revolution, 1848-1871, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38-9.
Wysocki, J. (1850), Pamiętnik Jenera
ła W. dowodzcy Legionu Polskiego na Węgrzech z czasa Kampanii węgierskij w roku 1848 i 1849. British Library Historical Print Collections.