When Stephen became King of Hungary on Christmas Day in the year 1000, Pope Sylvester II made him the gift of a crown. Stephen had resolved to raise Hungary to the status of a Christian kingdom, placing it on an equal footing with other European states. This crown became one of the most powerful symbols of Hungarian nationhood.
During World War II, the crown was secretly taken out of Hungary to protect it from the Germans and the Soviets. On May 2, 1945, the Holy Crown and other jewels were handed over by a Hungarian Army General to a U.S. Army Colonel near Egglesberg, Austria. It first went to Wiesbaden, in the American Zone, and was later transferred to the United States Gold Reserve at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. It was not considered as spoils of war; rather, the U.S. Government stored it in hopes of returning it to the Hungarian people one day.
In 1978, the U.S. Government felt that the time was right for the Crown be returned before a whole generation of Hungarians came of age without understanding its symbolism.
The delegation bringing the Crown to Hungary was led by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. It included Senator Adlai Stevenson, Congressman Lee Hamilton, and Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi. On the Hungarian side, the Cardinal, the Chief Rabbi, Protestant Bishops, and leaders of the academic, scientific and cultural communities participated in the ceremony, as well as representatives of the Hungarian state.
As I stood in front of the glass case that housed the crown, it was awesome to think that my country, in understanding the significance of this crown to the people of Hungary, chose to treat it as a national treasure. We protected it for 33 years until it was safe to return it to its rightful home.
It is hard to imagine a war on our own soil that would jeopardize such an important symbol of nationhood for us. The Liberty Bell for example. But, if it did, what country would be there for us? What country would spirit our national treasure away for safekeeping until we could reclaim it?