Refusing to face the past

Until recently critics of the Hungarian attitude toward the past complained only about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians simply refuse to take responsibility for the crimes committed against Hungarians of Jewish origin that resulted in the death of about 400,000 people. The Hungarian attitude is similar to that of the Austrians who gladly dump responsibility for the holocaust within their own country on the Germans who marched into Austria accomplishing the Anschluss that, let's face it, most Austrians fervently desired. The Austrians can point to the fact that no Jewish labor camps or deportations took place in Austria before 1938.

Hungarians hold very similar views. They claim that Hungarian Jews were shielded until Germany occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. From there on what was done was only under pressure from Germany. Of course, the whole deportation process was the work of local authorities.

From here on this Hungarian way of interpreting the events of 1944 will be part of the Hungarian constitution. The state assumed the mantle of historian, decided on one particular historical interpretation, and made it official dogma. The new constitution will state that whatever happened between March 19, 1944 and May 2, 1990 simply doesn't exist. Or, more precisely, it existed but entirely independently from the Hungarians. They are therefore not responsible for anything that happened during those forty-five years.

A number of historians, philosophers, and sociologists raised their voices against this particular passage in the new constitution. Although the Rákosi and Kádár regimes interfered with the work of historians, even the communists didn't go so far as to constitutionally set "the corrrect interpretation" of history. Falsification of history was a serious problem during the Rákosi regime, and with a very few exceptions one could easily throw out all the books written about modern history in those days. However, by the second half of the Kádár regime excellent historical works began to appear that contradict the new official history of modern Hungary set in stone in the new constitution.

The possible consequences of this particular passage in the constitution are immeasurable. One must assume that all textbooks will have to be rewritten that contain any reference to Hungarian complicity in the holocaust. I wonder what will happen to historians who dare to hold a different view on modern Hungarian history. Can they be sued or prosecuted?

There are already certain signs that a massive rewriting of history is under way. There is a Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest which seems to be at the top of the government's agenda. This memorial center has a permanent exhibition entitled "From Deprivation of Rights to Genocide." One of the undersecretaries in Tibor Navracsics's ministry decided to pick this exhibition as his first target. The question is whether Hungarians are responsible for the Hungarian holocaust. The undersecretary notified a representative of the Holocaust Memorial Center that part of the exhibit has to be reassessed because "it is set up in such a way that it depicts Horthy marching into various cities and regions, which is an altogether different sort of thing. It is different because there is no causal connection between the return of Hungarian-inhabited areas to Hungary and Regent Miklós Horthy and the Hungarian army marching in, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the subsequent death marches in which people were being herded to their deaths." According to him this is a skewed take on history that "gives rise to unnecessary tension," I assume between Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians.

To claim that there is no connection between the return of areas from Serbia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia to Hungary and the holocaust is nonsense. It is a well known fact that the Hungarian Jews in the returned areas enthusiastically greeted the Hungarian troops only to find out that they would be stripped of their rights as citizens of their own country. The "Jewish laws" were made applicable to them immediately.

In order to make sure that the exhibit changes its sinful ways and shows the history of the Hungarian holocaust in a manner that is acceptable to the government the Holocaust Memorial Center would need new leadership. Although theoretically the government has no say in the matter, it is clear that the authorities would be happy to see the current director, László Harsányi, go and instead have Szabolcs Szita, a historian who came up with a more acceptable version for the exhibition, at the head of the center.

István Deák of Columbia University, who had a hand in approving the current exhibition, expressed his amazement that the undersecretary, who "is presumably a well read and educated man," can possibly assume that there is no connection between territorial enlargement and the treatment of Hungary's Jewish citizens. Deák is charitable. The government is full of people who are both ignorant of history and rabidly nationalistic; they simply cannot face the fact that one's nation doesn't always behave in the most righteous way. As Deák said, "we mustn't insist on the innocence of the nation under any circumstances." But if you are an ardent nationalist, you will surely insist on the perfection of your fatherland. A dangerous concept.

This morning I received a link to an article in The Globe and Mail with the title "The importance of national shame." It continues this way: "Do you believe that your country is the greatest in the world? Then shame on you. And I mean that literally: I’m increasingly convinced that a crucial factor in the progress of any country is a strong and well-inculcated sense of national shame. To face up to the fallibility and deep wrongs of your country is to reconnect it to the wider world. It also allows you to see the state for what it should be: a sturdy if battered containment vessel for the dreams and ambitions of its citizens, not a golden trophy of preordained rightness."

The Hungarians haven't gotten that far yet.

 

 

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Kirsten
Guest
“I’m increasingly convinced that a crucial factor in the progress of any country is a strong and well-inculcated sense of national shame.” I was thinking about that. Perhaps it is because English is not my mother tongue so I may not have fully grasped the meaning. But I am not convinced of a need for “national shame”. It seems to be the opposite of “national pride” and hence assume a collectively shared fate (in guilt and success). I do not want to deny people their identification with the nation but to be able to deal with some “national disasters” it seems more useful to find out which people did what. In my impression, the bulk of responsibility for “great crimes” can be attributed to some people and institutions and to subsume it all through “national” shame appears to me to be too generous to those that were closest to the decision-making. It blurs responsibility. It also makes it unnecessary for the “small people” to consider what their contribution was or what they would do in similar circumstances now. Translated to what happens now in Hungary one could say it is a “national shame” that the country is “somehow” drifting towards… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Too depressed by recent articles to comment, so I’ll cheer myself up with an off-topic bit of troll-baiting.
Anyone else notice that our resident troll (it appears we only have one, after all) hardly ever appears at weekends?

Member

I think our house pet cannot afford a computer at home …

Member

Shame is not a prerequisite of progress. The lack of the ability to see the past the way it was is just another symptom of immaturity.

ABB
Guest

Mr.Gal should apologize and the Hungarian government should make clear its position on the Pava utca Holocaust Center case. This is Holocaust denial.Deportations began in Northern Transylvania already in 1941 after the Hungarian occupation. (source in Hungarian:http://www.historia.hu/archivum/2004/040203tibor.htm) Not only “Jewish laws”, attrocities and genocide on Szekelyfold.

kormos
Guest
Ron
Guest

ABB: You are right, but it was a one off thing, and it seems only related to non-hungarian jews (20,000 people). However, there were also forced laborers, most of whon died in the Russian winter.
Please find a link of the US Memorial Holocaust Museum:
http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005457

kormos
Guest

Re: I think our house pet cannot afford a computer at home …
You all must realize, that using company computers for blogging, specifically defending present (FIDESZ) politics could lead to termination of employment, and I am not kidding.

Ron
Guest

kormos: It is depending on the office policies/rules. but I agree some people lost their jobs as result of using office equipment for private use during office hours.
Sometimes it is allowed during breaks, or on computers specially made available to go on internet and to sent private messages.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Mr. Gál “forgot” the Novisad/Újvidék/Neusatz pogrom in January 1942 more than two years before the German occupation.
Éva has written about Austria. However when Kurt Waldheim in 1986 was elected as president after an anti-Semitic campaign, Austria had to learn a lesson that it is not an island. Waldheim was put on the USA Watch-list and he was not invited by important European countries. Waldheim was not elected for a second term.
In 1991 the Social-democratic chancellor Franz Vranitzky recognized that while Austria as a state was a victim, Austrian society was not. A national fund was created and all victims of National-socialism received compensation.

Ron
Guest

Refusing to face the past. Is this something resulting from the Hungarian mentality? I found this website about differences between people from the US and Hungarians.
http://www.filolog.com/hungarian_mentality_uncertainty.html
I recognize most of the points, but I am not convinced.

latefor
Guest

Mutt Damon-
…..and the lack of ability to see into the future is just another symptom of….(well, you decide)

oana t
Guest

I posted at 7 am but my post disappeared.Keep up the good work, Eva, enlightening the interested foreigners…excellent read, thanks.

oana t
Guest

As far as national shame….I am pure Romanian, with some 10 % Hungarian in the mix, have lived in the US and now in Hu. All short minded people have national pride, it is not hard to do. To say, I am best, my country is the best and to actually feel it, in not progress or specialness. The Germans did it, the US is doing it. BUT…to actually have national shame requires some introspection, some time spent thinking on: WE are not perfect, we have to admit our wrongs and fix them. I am proud to be a Romanian, when we talk about Hagi, Marian Cozma, and many other success from dirt stories many Romanians share. However, I have plenty of reasons to feel shameful too. So national shame can help, so can national pride…but as usual, in moderation for both.

Member

“using company computers for blogging, specifically defending present (FIDESZ) politics could lead to termination of employment”
Except if you job IS defending the FIDESZ …

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Oana: “I posted at 7 am but my post disappeared.”
Sorry about this. Typepad does interesting things at times.

Member

Sorry for the technical bla-blah but if we are at it: I can never post without going through a proxy server. The message shows up, then I refresh, and it’s gone. I emailed the TypePad support, got an “everything is working fine for me” email and that is it.

Member

@latefor “and the lack of ability to see into the future is just another symptom of..”
I already saw your message yesterday. I can’t be provoked.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Once Fidsz has re-written Hungary’s history to show that they were a truly great moral nation and were responsible for none of the wickedness’s and evils of the past. Ok Odin, turn the irony switch. The way will become clear for the appointment of two new Hungarian saints (St Horthy and that much maligned St Szálasi). The re-written history is to become part of the Hungarian constitution. This will open a whole new ‘can of worms’. Historians working on that period will have to leave the EU and migrate beyond its borders. Why? Because there are denying the history of Hungary as written into the Hungarian constitution. They will be accused of “Libelling the Hungarian Constitution” and “Sedulous Libel”. The Hungarian Government will issue a ‘European Arrest Warrant’. Although Libel itself is not a criminal offence in the rest of the E.U. and those stupid naïve Anglo-Saxons outlawed the crime of “Sedulous Libel” many hundreds of years ago it is still a crime in Hungary so people can be arrested for it. The ‘His Mightiness’ can now gag any historian who denies the teaching of the ‘Great Teacher, Wise Leader and ‘Proto-saint’ Orban. It was reported elsewhere that ‘He’ (OV)… Read more »
Member

Shame. I think the Orban years will go down in history as the “shame years”. All the attempts to gain ultimate power can only be paralleled to nazi era and the communist ear that followed. THe rewriting history, the retroactive laws, the dismissal of competent people using frivolous reasons, the faulty translation of documents, the show trials, the repossessing of private property, the fear from retribution that is injected into society for speaking up against the new status quo, the closing the eyes when minority rights of minorities being questioned or threatened, the severance of respect for Hungarians from other nations with this “we are the best, and I am the We” attitude is in undoing of Hungary.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Someone Ah! This is now Bunkstan!
You write “”we are the best, and I am the We””. We all know what Wee is! I certainly do after a few large beers.

oanat
Guest

I need a frigging “like” button.

Kirsten
Guest

Kormos, I looked at the whole article and I do not seem to have got it entirely wrong. If history classes still teach history as if it were events that all generations (since when?) and all people belonging to a nation share (all were virtually present and doing the same), and the past events can be only glorious, misapprehension is inevitable. I consider any statement such as “our nation has always been the best” futile from the start. That does not preclude holding some events or ideas dear. For Britain it makes sense to reconsider how it views the Empire and how much responsibility Britain (as a state) should take on in trying to appease the situation in some of its former colonies. If “shame” is a starting point for that reconsideration, why not, although I still find it difficult to ask people to feel “ashamed” if they cannot by any means influence (“retroactively”) the past. I would much more ask to accept that history is taught to show how ambiguous the world can be.
Mutt, I apologise for this intrusion but suggest to end with: “limits that humans face”.

Member

Kirsten, I agree with you. I am not convinced that national “shame” is what is required. Perhaps a better word is national “conscience”. After all an individual has a conscience which tells him about right and wrong, anyone without this faculty is a psychopath. Similarly a nation needs a conscience to remind itself of its misdeeds as much as its triumphs. The idea that a nation, or an ethnic group or any other amalgamation in human society has only ever done right is clearly in the realms of fiction.

Member

@Kirsten Did I say anything wrong? Well, yeah, my post looks like those “Confucius Says” type one liners, like “Man in hurry through revolving door is going to Bangkok.” Is that it?
I agree with David. I never felt that my German friends for instance were ever ashamed of their grandparents. Immature may not be the best word on a nation but I can’t think anything better to avoid pissing of a few million of my homies.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

On Globe and Mail’s choice of words. Perhaps “shame” is not the best but I think that the author thinks of such things as the treatment of the Eskimos in Canada, or the Japanese in the United States, or the aboriginals in Australia.

Member

I think the point is that Hungarians are so afraid that if they “admit and apologize” as a nation that would mean that each and one of them admits that he/she or his/her forefathers were guilty. The other issue that in certain circles in Hungary it is actually provides a sense of pride being able to say that they were part of an “army” that tried to stop the Jewish invasion of Europe. Look at Csurka and his band, look at the foaming mouth Morvai (now if there is any case against feminist movements, she is the one), they live in their dreamland of Jews are the bad, and True Hungarians with arrows on their back have been trying to protect their Home Land from the Jews, gypsies, communists and liberals.
Hungarians do not see the bigger picture, and the ones who do see it are being undermined by Orbans and Morvais.

Member

I am not convinced of the merits of national apologies. While moral responsibility on behalf of an individual wrongdoer is usually a relatively straightforward concept, the idea of national or collective guilt implicit in a national apology seems to be taking us in the wrong direction. It is more important to recognise that the Holocaust was wrong and that Horthy’s regime assisted in it than it is to have some sort of symbolic apology.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

David: “I am not convinced of the merits of national apologies.”
I’m in general against apologies. It irritates me to no end when MSZP asks Orbán or some other Fidesz politician to apologize. Or, even worse, resign. They will not apologize and they will not resign. MSZP only makes itself ridiculous with this constant demand for apology.

Kirsten
Guest

Mutt, never mind, it was the end of the sentence of latefor.
I am thinking whether Germans are ashamed of the past. Certainly there are some that are more “conscious” about the past and some that are less. But one would hope that shame is felt primarily by those who lived consciously during the Nazi period. To my great astonishment, the longer this period is ago, the more the injustice felt by Germans, in particular the displaced people but also after 1945 during the Allied rule, seems to be emphasised. From this year on, Germany has an official day to commemorate the hardship endured by the displaced people using a document as a basis that was drafted by the Vertriebene in 1950 and which contains the claim that they belong to those people harmed the most. (There was protest from historians, I found it only in German: http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/index.asp?pn=texte&id=1468)

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