Géza Balthazár was born in 1911 and Magdolna Balogh in 1912, both in Budapest and both into the families of civil servants. Magda’s father was a forestry engineer and a principal ministerial administrator while Géza’s was a head accounting administrator at the Treasury Department. Both families lived in Buda, with the Baloghs on Lipthay Street and the Balthazárs on Batthyány Street. At the time of their marriage in 1940, Magda’s mother was the only one of their parents who was still alive. Géza had two younger brothers (Imre, who later became a head official at the Hungarian Film Office, and József, a lieutenant in the air corps) and had acted as guardian for them from the time of their parents’ deaths until they became adults.
After finishing law school, Géza Balthazár entered military service in 1933 and became a career soldier in 1936. He spent a year in France and then was a military judge candidate starting in 1935, first at the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office and then at the Budapest Court of Justice. He was a deputy prosecutor between 1936 and 1941. During the war, he served in the provinces on several occasions (in Salgótarján between March and October of 1939, in Kiskunhalas between July and November of 1940, and also as a judge in Szeged and Cluj-Napoca), and also spent time in the Soviet theater of operations in the autumn of 1941. From the end of 1941 to January of 1944, he functioned as a military judge in Budapest at the Court of the Chief of Staff (which was created in October of 1941 to punish crimes against the state), and then became an official at the head secretariat preparing the work for the Supreme Council of War (the highest national defense body made up of members of the government and the army).
Magda Balogh graduated from Baár-Madas High School and then studied for a year in Belgium as well as in England. The qualifications she obtained in the 1930s (teacher, stenographer, and typist) make it possible to conclude that she was preparing for a career. As the wife of a military judge, she was a homemaker in the first years of marriage. Based on the correspondence of the married couple and the housekeeping journal Magda kept between April of 1940 and March of 1944, it can be presumed that despite their financial difficulties she would not have been able to take a job so long as the couple wanted to remain in their genteel social circle.
According to the evidence from family correspondence, raising the marital guarantee money required for military officers, which for a lieutenant-military judge amounted to 40 thousand pengős, caused problems for the young pair. The purpose of this guarantee money was for its interest to ensure a living in accordance with the rank of a military officer for the couple or for a widow, since an officer’s salary was not sufficient for the kind of lifestyle expected from officers. Perhaps it is for this reason that the feelings of love that blossomed between the young couple in 1935 after being acquaintances for many years only led to an engagement on the 22nd of October 1939 and then a wedding on the 2nd of March 1940.
In terms of the married couple’s steady income, only the husband’s salary is known for sure. According to the pay notes hidden in Géza Balthazár’s pocket calendar, his monthly salary in 1940 was 197 pengős. In addition to this, he received an additional allowance from the army (91 pengős), an officer’s service fee and family allowance for his wife (12 pengős each), and rent and furniture support of 76 pengős and 29 fillérs, which was rather modest considering the rent for their home (1,500 pengős per year, or 125 pengős per month). After payments into the pension fund (4 pengős and 32 fillérs), the membership fee for the officers’ fencing club, and the subscription fee for the Magyar Katonai Szemle (Hungarian Military Review), Lieutenant Géza Balthazár was paid a net salary of 378 pengős and 97 fillérs in September of 1940. The household expenses in this same month were approximately 500 pengős, even though Mrs. Balthazár was not even maintaining a household in her husband’s absence and was probably living with her mother. It can be presumed that there was also some income from Géza Balthazár’s shares in real estate as well. It can be concluded from certain entries into the calendar that Mrs. Balthazár’s mother, certainly assisted the young couple by providing furniture for the apartment and loans if nothing else. With an increase in Géza Balthazár’s salary and allowances as well as his promotion to the rank of captain, his income at the end of 1941 was about 550 pengős and had risen to about 730 pengős starting in July of 1943.
In addition to his wife staying at home, the genteel lifestyle demanded by the husband’s career included having a three-room apartment and a servant. Military officers had to obtain permission to marry, and during this process the couple to be wed had to prove that they would live in a home worthy of their station. October of 1939, while Géza Balthazár was away, was spent looking for an apartment. “I was in the library on Monday afternoon and looked for apartments with no results at all” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Magda Balogh to Géza Balthazár, 11 October 1939) “A vacant apartment is an unknown concept in Pest.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Magda Balogh to Géza Balthazár, 13 October 1939), is what Magda Balogh wrote to her fiancé, reinforcing her experiences related to the housing situation in Pest at the end of the 1930s. Finally, she was able in this same month to find the apartment with three rooms and servant’s quarters in the Újlipótváros section of the city at 6 Újpesti Embankment where the couple lived for the rest of their lives.
The Palatinus Homes erected to the north of the Pest end of Margit Bridge were built according to designs by Emil Vidor in 1912-1913 by one of the biggest construction companies of the period, the Palatinus Palatinus Építő és Ingatlanforgalmi (Palatinus Construction and Real Estate Market) Co. This group of apartment houses had enclosed courtyards and encircling walkways, but were separated by alleys so there were no units that looked only out upon the courtyard. They included apartments with two, three, and four rooms, as well as larger units with bathrooms, and were referred to as “modern” and “genteel” in advertisements. According to an advertising article that appeared in 1911, “the beautiful enterprise of ‘Palatinus’ stands out prominently from construction projects in Budapest, and they have made it their commendable goal to create genuinely modern homes for the Budapest market thirsting for good apartments in the most beautiful and healthy section of the capital with outstanding views, while being close to the center, satisfying the most demanding customers, and still remaining inexpensive, with prices that are easy to take in today’s difficult rental conditions.” (Modern lakások a fővárosban [Modern Apartments in the Capital]. Az Újság, 17 October 1911, 15)
The Balthazárs’ home suited the housing ideal accepted by middle-class families, but when they signed the lease in November of 1939, neither the building nor the apartments in it were considered up to date. Modern apartments with central heating and central hot water were in demand by this time. These also included a floor plan with an entry hall that embodied the modern apartment, as renters were less concerned with the three-room ideal. In a letter that will be quoted later about a visit to an acquaintance, Magda Balogh mentioned that she would have even leased a nice two-room apartment if she had found one. In this letter written to her fiancé, she indicated that central heating was a part of the idea of the modern apartment. It also comes to light in an account of an acquaintance’s apartment search that the rent for an apartment with two rooms and an entry hall in a new building even without central heating was higher than for the Balthazárs’ apartment, which despite being larger was in an older building. “Mom ran into Zuszi Fiala Dőry’s father, and he complained how hard it was to find an apartment. His daughter is getting married now and they leased an apartment with two rooms and an entry hall at Vérmező Square, but it doesn’t have central heating. They are paying 1,540 pengős, but the rooms are tiny. They leased it because they could not find anything better, but if they do, they will move.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Magda Balogh to Géza Balthazár, 24 October 1939)
The 5th floor apartment of the Balthazárs with three rooms and servant’s quarters faced towards the inner alleyway of the Palatinus buildings. It had a kitchen and pantry, a bathroom, the water was heated with gas, and a gas stove was used to cook, but the living spaces were heated with wood-burning stoves. In the correspondence, a living room and a bedroom with Empire-style furnishings is mentioned, while the third room may have been a dining room. They paid 1,500 pengős annually, or 125 pengős monthly, for the apartment and this amount did not change during the years of war since rents were set at a fixed level from the beginning of 1940, before the war. They spent about 200 pengős per month for living expenses, including rent and heating, gas, electricity, and a telephone. However, in the final months when they maintained their housekeeping journal in 1944, this amount was much greater, around 250 pengős, primarily because of the significant increase in gas and electricity prices.
They presumably moved into the apartment after the wedding in March of 1940. Prior to this in the first months of the year, they may have been furnishing it, but they probably did not cover the entire cost of this. In contrast to what can be read in the letters, only minor acquisitions and repairs are included at this time in their expenses entered in the housekeeping journal the wife maintained from this point forward. In addition to household furnishings of various sizes (e.g. an icebox, a poppy-seed grinder, glasses, plates, a vase), they only purchased a small amount of furniture, particularly minor items such as a coffee table (1941), a teacart (1943), a crib (1944), and they repainted once while maintaining the journal (1942).
Somewhat more becomes clear about the apartment and the furnishings from the correspondence of the engaged and later married couple. Magda Balogh clearly took pleasure in turning the apartment into a home, which did not prove to be a simple task during wartime. She reported enthusiastically and in detail to her distant husband on the search for furnishings and the newly obtained items. “We looked at the cabinets at Mahuka, and they are already finished. They have the same grain as Gubi’s, but the color perhaps is not the same. […] They cost 200 pengős more than those would have been and so we are right where we were. We looked for lamps, but did not find them either because we did not like the wall lights, all of them are so plump and clunky. Nowadays, they cannot be made from bronze.” “Yesterday morning I was in town with mother to look at lamps, but without much success” (Letter of Mrs. Géza Balthazár to her husband, 3 August 1940); “Today, I got a beautiful lamp for the salon. I am so happy about it. […] The one that was in the salon they put in the bedroom because it is Empire and fits there. Now lights can be turned on everywhere. Just do not get sent to the provinces once the entire apartment here is set up.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Mrs. Géza Balthazár to her husband, 12 August 1940)
At first Magda was not satisfied with their new home, finding the rooms small, the apartment in rather poor condition overall, and the Palatinus Co. that owned the building was only willing to renovate it in part. She wrote a few days after their engagement: “This morning we went and looked over the apartment carefully one more time. It is in terrible condition. However, I am particularly happy about this, because due to this they will re-plaster it, while Palatinus usually only repaints otherwise. […] However, we have to have it sprayed [for pests] and they are not providing a stove for the bathroom.” “It is not possible to bargain with them for anything, they only do what they see fit. E.g. the sink is in terrible condition like everything, but they will not provide another one to replace it because it does not have any holes and so it is usable. They will paint the apartment, repair the doors and windows, spackle cracks, and install stoves where there are not any. The rooms are not really big, but they do have good walls.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Magda Balogh to Géza Balthazár, 24 October 1939). The records made in December of 1939 when the handover of the apartment took place only lists a few minor faults, such as fabric blinds missing from the windows, cracked glass in one of the two-leaf doors between rooms, and a lack of shelves in the pantry.
Magda Balogh’s opinion on the apartment quickly changed, perhaps due to the new furnishings she had picked out herself, perhaps due to the few months she had spent there with her fiancé and then husband, or maybe because she stopped living on her own there and moved in with her mother due to her husband’s extended service in the provinces. According to the evidence from the letter she wrote in August of 1940, she had an entirely different view of their home: “Yesterday afternoon, I was at Aunt Terus’s with mother. Her home is very nice. Big rooms, a great arrangement, a beautiful bathroom with a built-in bathtub, if I had found a two-room apartment like this when we were looking, I would have taken it right away. But we cannot complain either, right?” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Mrs. Géza Balthazár to her husband, 25 August 1940) “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the home furnishings market together? I will probably go together with mother. I really like looking at furniture. I look to see which ones we should get to replace ours. Whenever I go home for something, I love looking at our home, even though it is not yet in shape.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Mrs. Géza Balthazár to her husband, 31 August 1940) After a few months had passed, the apartment had turned into a home: “This morning I went home for some stockings. I left our apartment with such a heavy heart, I so would have stayed at home. It would be so good to be there together again.” (BFL XIII.33 Letter of Mrs. Géza Balthazár to her husband, 18 October 1940)
Anikó Lukács (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)
BFL IV.1419.j Budapest Székesfőváros Statisztikai Hivatalának iratai (Documents of the Budapest Metropolitan Statistical Office). Az 1941. évi népszámlálás budapesti felvételi és feldolgozási iratainak gyűjteménye (Collection of Documents Recording and Processing the Census Data for Budapest in the Year 1941). V. Újpesti rkp. 6. 28. sz. lakásív (Entry for 6 Újpesti Embankment Apartment 28).
BFL XIII.33 Balogh és Balthazár családok iratai (Documents of the Balogh and Balthazár Families).
HM HIM (Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzeum) Központi Irattár (Institute and Museum of Military History Central Archives). Balthazár Géza személyi anyaga (Personal Materials of Géza Balthazár).
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