Mihály Károlyi is a heavily disputed figure of 20th Century Hungarian history. With his statue recently removed from the side of the Parliament, the ‘Red Earl’, who became first Prime Minister, later President of the Hungarian Republic after WW1, but whose wobbliness also led the country to the Proletarian Dictatorship, is still looking for his place in the contemporary history writing of Hungarian. One thing is certain however: his burial memorial is a masterpiece of funeral architecture, evokint centuries-long associatons.
After returning to political service from 1945 and remaining loyal to the government until mid-1949, when the Communist turn was long ago obvious, Károlyi retired in France and died there in 1955. His reburial in 1962, organized by the new, after-1956 government led by János Károlyi, was intended to be a symbolic act of reconciliation with the past, as Károlyi, although undoubtedly a left-wing politician, was a member of a noble family.
The place chosen for Károlyi’s resting place is in the central cemetery of Budapest, halfway between the Proletarian Pantheon and the imposing sepulchral vault of Lajos Kossuth, leader of the 1848-1849 revolution. For the design, the party asked no less than the director of KÖZTI, the country’s biggest state-owned architectural office. Lajos Skoda was not a well-known architect, but a respected bureaucrat. The Károlyi vault is probably his best work. The simple metal dome, standing on a pleasantly elevated surface, evokes some earlier masterpieces of funeral architecture, such as the Newton cenotaph by Étienne-Louis Boullée. The 1966 edifice is a masterpiece of the post-war funeral architecture in Hungary, where personal cult was less present compared to other Central European states.