Rewriting history: The fate of the Holocaust Memorial Center

The handwriting has been on the wall for at least a couple of months. There were changes in the makeup of the current board of the Holokauszt Emlékközpont (Holocaust Memorial Center). And with the new board it was evident that there would be other changes. For example, the executive director of the center, László Harsányi, would most likely be replaced by someone else who is more to the liking of the current regime. By now, we know at least some of the changes.

It was in January that I first mentioned András Levente Gál, undersecretary in Tibor Navracsics's ministry, who is one of Viktor Orbán's favorites. Rumor has it that Navracsics is out of favor with the prime minister, who talks to him only rarely. Instead he calls Gál, who lately has been described as a man whose ideology is close to that of Jobbik.

Two months later Gál was in the news again when László Harsányi announced that "the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest is under attack." It turned out that Gál had paid a visit to the permanent exhibition at the center and didn't like what he saw there. He announced in an interview that appeared on the official website of the ministry that "part of the exhibit has to be reassessed, because it is set up in such a way that Horthy marching into various cities and regions is depicted … [as having a connection] with the subsequent death marches in which people were herded to their deaths."

After that it was just question of time: László Harsányi, who had been appointed executive director of the center in 2009, was going to be sent packing. On May 19 MTI reported that the newly appointed chairman of the board, György Haraszti, a historian who teaches at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest, relieved Harsányi of his job and temporarily appointed Szabolcs Szita, another historian, to take over his duties. György Haraszti told MTI that the new board has different ideas about the permanent exhibition. Moreover, Harsányi was an economist and Haraszti wants a historian to run the center.

The news spread rapidly. By the next day an English-language article circulated on the Internet with the title "Hungary sacks Holocaust museum chief." Apparently, Harsányi was given no reason for his dismissal. According to the author of the article, "the main bone of contention is a picture of Miklós Horthy, Hungary's leader from 1924 [sic] to 1944, who entered into an alliance with the German Nazis in exchange for the restoration of territories lost in 1920." The author seems to know that Szabolcs Szita is a "conservative historian." Whether he is or not I don't know. I am not familiar with his work. But I find it somewhat worrisome that according to his own admission his knowledge of foreign languages is severely limited. With the fairly low level language examinations he took in German (intermediate) and in English (beginner) I simply can't imagine how he can do serious work on the Holocaust.

As for the new chairman of the board, György Haraszti, his curriculum vitae seems much more impressive. His academic background is unusual since he began his career as a chemical engineer and it was only twelve years later that he decided that after all he wanted to be a historian. There is nothing wrong with his knowledge of foreign languages: English, German, Latin, Hebrew, and Yiddish in addition to Russian and Czech. He wrote several important books and is the author of about eighty articles. As for his political outlook, I noticed a very strong anti-communist attitude in some of his articles I managed to find online.

The story until recently seemed quite straightforward. Gál went to the Memorial Center and didn't like the thrust of the permanent exhibition. About the same time a new constitution was adopted in which the regime claims that–to quote Gál's interview in which he expressed his displeasure over the exhibition–Hungary after March 19, 1944 was "deprived of its legal capacity … [and the] German troops declared the takeover of a puppet government." This is an outright lie. It is true that German troops occupied Hungary, but they were not the ones who appointed the new Hungarian government. It was Miklós Horthy who had enough independence that when the Germans announced that they wanted Béla Imrédy to be prime minister, Horthy asked: "What? That Jew?" and instead insisted on Döme Sztójay. When the Germans wanted a far-right politician for minister of defense, Horthy refused to appoint him. Horthy was not under house arrest; he was naming high commissioners; he frequently appeared in public; he took part in military exercises; and he even knighted Döme Sztójay. So, if the new board and the executive director want to execute the desires of the Hungarian government as far as the history of 1944 and the Holocaust is concerned, they will have a very hard time reconciling historical truth with political expectations.

As for the reasons for Harsányi's departure, it seems to me that in the last day or so the new board and its chairman are trying to change the tune. They don't want to remind anyone of Gál's objections to the permanent exhibition, and they are trying find a more acceptable explanation for "sacking" Harsányi. According to Haraszti, the real problem with Harsányi was that he invited Mária Ormos, the well known historian, to be the key speaker on the Day of Remembrance when "in her opinion the sovereignty of the Hungarian state was partially limited after the German occupation." Do I hear correctly? This is exactly what the constitution and Gál are saying.  Another sin of Harsányi is that he invited Zoltán Kocsis, the world-renowned pianist, to play at the center when Kocsis only recently was widely criticized for claiming that there is no antisemitism in Hungary. Again, do I hear correctly? It doesn't sound believable that these are the reasons for the government's displeasure with Harsányi's activities. There is something fishy here. But at the moment I'm at a loss to explain what's going on.

 

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Johnny Boy
Guest

“would most likely be…”
“Rumor has it that…”
“lately has been described as”
“an English-language article circulated”
“recently was widely criticized”
For what? From where? By whom? By whom? By whom?
Lol.
The essence of your very “analytic” work is summarized by these statements and their value.

Ron
Guest

Johnny Boy:
“would most likely be…” was a rumor which turn to be true.
“Rumor has it that…” remains a rumor as VO will not inform who is out or not.
“lately has been described as” remains a rumor as VO will not inform who is out or not.
“an English-language article circulated”
http://en.hdhod.com/Hungary-sacks-Holocaust-museum-chief_a6602.html
“recently was widely criticized”
http://kultura.hu/main.php?folderID=1&ctag=articlelist&iid=1&articleID=310756
It was easy to find. No lies here from the Professor.

hsan
Guest
In Hungarian: http://es.hu/2011-03-23_az-okok-es-az-okozatok http://www.galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61398%3Aorwell-vilaga-epuel&catid=71%3Aa-napi-apro&Itemid=109 http://www.galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61190%3Aidea-allasfoglalas-gal-andras-allamtitkar-toertenelemismereterl&catid=79%3Akiemelt-hirek&Itemid=115 In English: From the weekly newspaper “168 óra” (168 Hours), March 28, 2011 Official would Rearrange the Holocaust Exhibit In a so-called interview recently published on the governmental internet portal, the State Secretary of Public Administration accuses the permanent exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Center of advocating “a skewed take on history”; he urges a “reassessment” of the exhibit. The incident is related to the personnel changes initiated by the government as well as the issue of Jewish compensation. On the governmental internet portal kormany.hu, an interview appeared recently with András Levente Gál, State Secretary of Public Administration at the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. The author of the interview is unlisted, yet it is written in a question-answer format, in the context of which the state secretary—a lawyer with various legal specializations as well as experience in television editing and media curation—explains his governmental ideas under the title “More Active Consultation with Jewish Communities”. In this connection, he also revealed to us the answer to a previous question our newspaper had posed to him, inquiring about his ministry: what is behind the personnel changes planned at the Páva-Street Holocaust Documentation Center and Memorial… Read more »
Member

hsan, Thank you. THe whole thing sounded so absurd to me, and the only thing that proved that something must be up was Johnny Boy’s senseless comments, but I a just did not get it until I read your quotes
– “it wants to “place in the government’s hands” the research aspect of Jewish compensation issues that are still pending, taking over from the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Public Foundation (MAZSÖK Foundation), ” So, number one is that Orban needs more money than the money he confiscated from the pensions.
– ” the State Secretary wants to change a certain part of the Memorial Center’s permanent exhibition covering the Hungarian Holocaust” I guess if we cannot change history, they will rewrite the books. Rakosi could learn a thing or two from Orban and his gang. (Orban is learning from the Chinese about democracy and freedom as we discuss this. Johnny Boy is about to sign up for the exchange program to China to honour Orban’s new efforts for a free, honest Hungary.)

Johnny Boy
Guest

“No lies here from the Professor”
Maybe no lies. Only low-standard, unfounded, marginal insinuations all over the place, as usual.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“the only thing that proved that something must be up was Johnny Boy’s senseless comments”
Lol, I never thought I could be a so important point of orientation.
But I didn’t even touch the topic of the Holocaust center, so I frankly don’t know where you take your disturbed thoughts from.
To clear things up, however, I must add that as long as you are chewing on such gum bones as this, you don’t have time to take any detrimental actions.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Frankly, I think it is time that someone /our people or an international organization of historians/ buys the Museum. Or at least it’s content. More exactly the Hungarian State should donate the material back free; it has been on a loan of good will to them /how I look at it/. That Museum should not be in Hungary any more. Any ideas, you guys out there?
We the second generation did not forget.
One more word: so far Mr. Orban was my political enemy. If he crosses that particular line: delete the word “political” from the description.
Peter Litvanyi

Member

Johnny Boy: ” I never thought I could be a so important point of orientation.” Oh yes you are. Fools rush in Johnny Boy, and you always do, so we know that Eva hot the nail on the head.
” I must add that as long as you are chewing on such gum bones as this, you don’t have time to take any detrimental actions.” Again, no one can understand what a heck you are talking about.

GJ
Guest

As it stands, the HDKE permanent exhibition proved unpalatable because it was overseen by historians who have dedicated their professional lives to researching the Holocaust. The Secretary of State disputed historical fact. A shift of emphasis is to be expected, which would entail moving the focus from legal measures enacted by the Hungarian state and the Roma Holocaust, toward forced labour and individuals who saved Jews. All are easily verifiable; the point is the focus.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GJ: “toward forced labour and individuals who saved Jews. All are easily verifiable; the point is the focus.”
Sure. Individuals who saved Jews. But the numbers are insignificant in comparison to the inactive or the outright antagonistic. It will be very difficult to switch gear.

lazam
Guest

How many Hungarians saved Jews? Well, I know about thousands of happy citizens who celebrated and asked for Jewish property (houses, shops etc…)
Hungarians should face their nazi past. Instead, this government is proud of this past as we learnt from the new Constitution.
Monday night Kovacs Zoltan told in Washington DC (Kossuth House) that in the 20th century Holocaust was the tragedy of the Jews, Trianon was the tragedy of the Hungarians.
Well if this is an official government statement, we can’t be surprised if the Second Vienna Award and Horthy pics are being removed from the walls.
I thought that the Holocaust was the tragedy of the Hungarians as well, as those Jews were Hungarians.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“One more word: so far Mr. Orban was my political enemy. If he crosses that particular line: delete the word “political” from the description.”
Excellent description of your true self:
1. enemy, not opponent;
2. all-around enemy anyway.
You should go to Gaza and face the Palestinians, they treat you the way you should be. Why stay here?

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Hungarians should face their nazi past”
Just as you should your communist past.
For the nazis, at least there was a Nuremberg trial. I hope we get to hold the same for the communists one day.

lazam
Guest

Johnny Boy
There was no Nuremberg Trial for those thousands of Hungarians who shipped Jews to Auschwitz. I do not even wish a trial, I just want school classes to visit Pava utca as part of their Curriculum and do not want to read antisemitic trash from people close to Fidesz (Bayer, Makovetz) and would like to see Viktor Orban speak up when his friends are bashing Jews.
What do you mean “your communist”. I am not that age group. And do not compare, this argument belongs to the typical Holocaust denial propaganda machine.

Member

Johnny Boy: You are such a hypocrite, you always bring up how OTHERS (not you of course) accuse people or name call (not you), and so forth, but over and over again, here you come, and when you run out of reason and facts (you do not have to much from that to begin with) you start the name calling and accusations. Get a hold of yourself buddy, you are not at dinner in your home or on a Jobbik/Fidesz function. If you do not like what you see here, start your own board (and let see how many of the posters form here would visit. The responses that come up here for your nonsense is not for you, but to put things into perspective to those who visit this board.

Member

I agree with Johnny Boy on one fact, we need more trial and investigation for taxpayers money about people who support the Communist Regimes and openly endorse their doings or support those who do. Exchange program with communist China would be a good start as that is not from the past but current choice of certain people without duress.

Johnny Boy
Guest

lazam: you still don’t get it.
You generally refer to Hungarians as offenders of nazi crimes, and as an answer I mention communists. And your arguments typically belong to the gulag relativizers and communist offenders.
I am neither that age group that could be held responsible for the nazi crimes, yet you address me too.
And I indeed compare. By considering the Holocaust more serious than all others, you prove you don’t care for other genocides and you think your pain is superior to others. I could call you nazi for that. You think you are superior. But you are not.

lazam
Guest

Johnny Boy: I did not say that Hungarians are Nazis, I said that Hungarians should face their Nazi past. Instead of glorifying Horthy, the Second Vienna Award, the gendarmerie and the Waffen SS (see Fidesz celebration in the Castle in February), Fidesz and the country should face the responsibility and crime of these organizations and Horthy. If you play with fire and do not educate about the Holocaust, Jobbik will take your votes at the next elections. Viktor Orban should detach himself from the Bayers and Makoveczs. It is good to work with PR firms and I beleive in the importance of good PR, but even the best PR experts won’t be able to help the country if the government does not separate itself from antisemitism.
Let me quote Pastor Martin Niemoller:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Johnny Boy
Guest

lazam: I am Hungarian and I do not have a Nazi past.
How do you explain that?
Also, I understand you would very much like to see Bayer and Makovecz cast out but they’re not anti-Semites, whatever label you try to stick on them, so that’s not going to happen. Get used to the fact that it’s not you deciding who will get cast out and who won’t.

Member

“I am Hungarian and I do not have a Nazi past.”
… but you have a Nazi future … same thing.

lazam
Guest

Johnny Boy: Yes, you do not have a Nazi past, but if you identify with Horthy, the gendarmerie and the Waffen SS, I am afraid that you are creating a Nazi present.
If you think that Bayer and Makovecz are not anti-Semites, I wonder what is your definition for that word. I just tried to explain that it is very bad for your party and government and even if you do not care about the feelings of Hungarian Jews around the world, at least think about your own interests.

kis fiu
Guest

Is it that difficult? Lets see, Rakosi was a Hungarian and Horthy was a Hungarian and they were both in charge of Hungary. Does this mean that the Hungarian political class was responsible for both men?
If the Hungarian political class had more input in selecting one of these two men (can you guess which one JB?) then the other, then it stands to reason that the Hungarian political class as a whole is more responsible for the actions the one chosen.
If you say fascist Germany and communist Soviet Union were equally evil I could agree with you. But Hungary took part in (at least some) the sins of one (again can you guess which one?) willingly. Therefore in a Hungarian museum and on a Hungarian blog it makes sense to dwell on those mistakes of the Hungarian people (ie political class) rather the those mistakes of Soviet dictators so that those mistakes can be avoided in the future.

kis fiu
Guest

By the way, please dont read my comment as trying to white wash the actions of the Soviets are their puppets. I just dont think the Hungarian people had much of a choice in selecting Rakosi or Kadar. On the other hand, the Hungarian political class obviously was responsible for the first anti-Jewish legislation in europe (Numerus Clausus) and for the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews. (It stands to reason that If Horthy could stop the deportations in 1944 then he could have stopped them earlier as well.)
This doesnt mean that Hungarians today are responsible, but they are being extremely childish and dishonest if they pretend that all that “unpleasantness” was caused by the Germans or when they try and change the subject by claiming someone else was worse.

Ivan
Guest

“I understand you would very much like to see Bayer and Makovecz cast out but they’re not anti-Semites, whatever label you try to stick on them, so that’s not going to happen.” – Johnny Boy
Okay. Right. So could you please definitively explain how the following is NOT anti-semitic:
“Unfortunately, they were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovány.” – Zsolt Bayer

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear “mutt” and “lazam”, thank you both.
For Mutt let me send you some words from Berki Judit:
http://chachorom.nolblog.hu/archives/2011/04/23/Berki_Judit_A_Haza_minden_joerzesu_polgarahoz_szolok/ or
http://www.nol.hu/belfold/_cigany_vagyok__oruletesek_a_mindennapok__
How can we help her?
For lazam:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
One of my favourite quotations and therefore let me repeat it.
No, my late father would have never accepted my suggestion about relocating the Museum. We disagreed at times.
Thanks:
Peter Litvanyi

Kave
Guest

Johnny Boy said “I understand you would very much like to see Bayer and Makovecz cast out but they’re not anti-Semites, whatever label you try to stick on them, so that’s not going to happen.”
You do understand that some of us actually read the editorials written by Bayer, do you not? Do you think we disagree with his foul tone simply because we want to cause harm to Hungary’s reputation or because we feel he himself brings shame on Hungary, or casts Hungarian public opinion in a light that is not generally accepted within modern educated European discourse? If only nobody translated him or told the non-Hungarian speaking world about him, all would be well, right?
Troll Boy, I would be very interested in knowing what you call it when the sun rises over the horizon in the morning. Sunset?

Johnny Boy
Guest

“if you identify with Horthy, the gendarmerie and the Waffen SS, I am afraid that you are creating a Nazi present.”
Please explain how I identify with the gendarmerie and the Waffen SS.
As for Horthy, he was an oustanding statesman.
But you were talking about the Nazi past of Hungarians, and you still owe me the explanation on that.
“if you do not care about the feelings of Hungarian Jews around the world, at least think about your own interests.”
I do care. But almost all of what they are ‘outraged’ for are manipulative lies. Take for example Bayer and Makovecz, your label that they’re anti-Semites is one of these.
I’d so love to see the spokesmen of Hungarian Jews around the world stop using this slander as an argument against everyone who is not their political kin.
“Okay. Right. So could you please definitively explain how the following is NOT anti-semitic:
“Unfortunately, they were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovány.” – Zsolt Bayer”
Very easy. The answer lies in the meaning of “they”. Look it up and post it here. Don’t mislead the readers by implying a different meaning to that word, out of context.

Member

@Johnny Stop this “please explain how was my mother a hamster” postings! This blog is not about you. Antisemitism is rampant in Hungary and you better start working on eliminating it.

Member

Johnny Boy, you should cut the bush, this is absolutely a farce argument to say that Bayer is not anti-semitic. You are truly simple minded if you do not see that. Hate speech is one the biggest challenge in a free and democratic society. THe problem is not the the straight out hate speech because that is easy to squash. The problem is uttarences of stupid speech, the hidden messages, the sliding in and out between good argument as stupid speech, the fighting-words. THe intention to harm social and rational tolerance is a crime, and Bayer is guilty as charged. Just because he is sliding Where you draw the limits between free speech and hate speech says a lot about society and about the people who try to slide the scale. I would insert here something about the Chaplinsky decision that fits Bayers and alike becuase the utterances are no essential part of their exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Jim
Guest

For readers of Hungarian: the issue of Horthy’s never being prosecuted is a puzzle: http://hvg.hu/velemeny/20110526_sebok_horthy_deportalas