Habsburg Empress’ Posthumous Donation Benefits Refugee Children

Tuesday 21, April 2009 Budapest, 21 April 2009 – These days, a school in Budapest will receive a donation of more than EUR 8000 from an unexpected corner – from Elisabeth (or Sisi), the popular wife of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, and Queen of Hungary. Sisi has been dead […]

Tuesday 21, April 2009

Budapest, 21 April 2009 – These days, a school in Budapest will receive a donation of more than EUR 8000 from an unexpected corner – from Elisabeth (or Sisi), the popular wife of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph, and Queen of Hungary. Sisi has been dead for 111 years, but in her will she stipulated that profits from the sales of a book she wrote should be used to aid political dissenters in the Habsburg Empire.

In present day terms, political dissenters are refugees. So the Austrian Academy of Science Press approached UNHCR in Budapest to name a project. The UN Refugee Agency selected the Dob Utca Bilingual School, and for very good reasons. It was the first school in Hungary that admitted refugee students and it even runs a special pedagogic programme for them. The school comprises primary education and a vocational school for catering. More than half of the pupils are migrants, refugees or come from ethnic minorities.

Empress Sisi who is often referred to as the “Lady Di of the 19th century”, kept a diary which was only published decades after her death. Today, the book Das Poetische Tagebuch is still being read by historians and numerous fans of the glamorous Empress. The proceeds of the last edition, over 8,000 Euro, will now be used to rehabilitate an arts room in the school that is aptly located in the Budapest district of Elisabeth Town, named after the Empress.

Once the new classroom is finished, Dob Utca School plans to develop a performing arts programme, offering theatre, ballet and music classes to the students. The children are very excited about the donation and plan to inaugurate the renovated room with a dance and music performance.

As of next school year the school plans to hold Sisi Days every year. The children have already started dreaming about an appropriate programme: songs from the successful musical Elisabeth. It tells the beautiful Empress’ story from her early marriage with Emperor Franz Joseph through the tragedies of her life all the way to her assassination in Geneva in 1898.

Motivated by the unexpected donation, the school now hopes to raise another EUR 2,500 from other sources for a foldable stage to transform the room into a full-fledged school theatre.

“Our children are very happy about this historic connection”, said Eva Barna, Headmistress of Dob Utca School. “Elisabeth was Queen of Hungary, she loved this country and to this day she is revered by Hungarians, young and old. We will name our new arts room after her.”

By Melita H. Sunjic

UNHCR Budapest