Obituary: Kalman Benda

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Kalman Benda, historian: born Nagyvarad (Oradea) 27 November 1913; married 1941 Maria Szabo; died Budapest 13 March 1994.

KALMAN BENDA was one of the most productive and versatile of Hungarian historians.

Born in 1913 in Nagyvarad (now Oradea, in Romania), Benda was educated in Budapest where he won a scholarship in the prestigious Eotvos College of Peter Pazmany University. He studied history and geography and completed his education abroad, first in Vienna and Berlin and later at the Sorbonne (1937-38). After a period of military service he first worked for the Hungarian Ministry of Education (1941- 42) and then as researcher in the Pal Teleki Institute.

After the Second World War, Benda became Deputy Director of the Institute of Historical Research but in 1949 he lost his post for political reasons. For a number of years he had no permanent work and only in 1953 did he find a position in a diocese of the Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) Church where he held the post of Archivist. For a short time he regained his old post in the Institute of Historical Research (1957-58) and even after his subsequent demotion he was attached to the Institute for a number of years to follow. In 1980 he became Director to the Raday Collection of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Budapest. In 1989 he was a co- founder of the Hungarian section of the League for Human Rights; last year he was elected Rector of the new Gaspar Karoli Protestant University and he was also on the editorial board of various Hungarian reviews (Szazadok, Historia, Confessio).

Benda's first research interest was the connection between Protestantism and Hungarian national awareness in the 16th to 18th centuries. It was reflected in his book A magyar nemzeti hivatastudat tortencie (The History of the Hungarian Nation's Awareness of its Mission) which came out in 1937, but it was his book on the 16th-century Hungarian nobleman and Prince of Transylvania Istvan Rocskai (1942) that established his reputation. After the Second World War he spent many years working on the history of the Martinovics plot and the Hungarian Jacobin Movement, the result of which were the three-volume collection A magyar jakobinusok iratai (Papers of the Hungarian Jacobins, 1952- 57) and the study A magyar jakobinus mozgalom tortenete (History of the Hungarian Jacobin Movement, 1957). Equally important was Benda's publication of the papers of the 18th-century Hungarian statesman and diplomat Pal Raday, Raday Pal iratai Vols I-II (1955-61). This was followed by another book devoted to Hungarian personalities of the Enlightenment, Emberbarat vagy hazafi (Philanthrope or Patriot, 1978) and by a four-volume edition, an indispensable source for students of Hungarian history, Magyarorszag torteneti kronologiaja (The Historical Chronology of Hungary, volumes I to IV, 1981-82).

Benda's resumed his earlier research interest in the 1980s and produced the volume Habsburg abszolutizmus es magyar rendi ellenallas a XVI-XVII szazadban (Habsburg Absolutism and the Resistance of the Hungarian Estates in the 16th-17th century, 1984). He was also known to have worked on documents concerning 17th-century Hungarian Diets, a collection of which is yet to be


Benda's interest in the linguistic heritage of past centuries was documented by his editorial work on Moldvai csango-magyar okmanytar, volumes I-II (Csango Hungarian Documents from Moldavia, 1989). A member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since 1989, he was later elected head of its Philosophical and Historical Section.

Benda, while a conscientious and hardworking scholar, was also an amiable and engaging person. He led an active life even in his old age and his death was unexpected: returning from a visit to Paris he had a fatal heart-attack at Budapest airport.