The Ákos Kertész affair

I guess we have to talk about it, although I really think that it is a trumped up scandal. The Hungarian right can point to Ákos Kertész’s bitter words as proof that “Jews” look down on poor downtrodden Hungarians. You see, they think that they are better. This case is somewhat similar to the “Landeszmann case” of 1993 that kept the Hungarian nationalistic right excited for a very long time.

György Landeszmann was a rabbi who, after hearing István Csurka’s seemingly endless antisemitic rantings, got tired of the tirades and said something not too flattering about Hungarian culture without the participation of Hungarians of Jewish origin. The reaction was incredible. Heti Magyarország, the right-wing paper of the day, published a whole book in which Károly Alexa, the editor, collected all the articles dealing with the subject. Believe it or not, there are 266 pages filled with the stuff that followed a couple of ill-chosen sentences. Let me add that Landeszmann was right about the enormous contributions that Hungarians of Jewish origin have made to modern Hungarian culture in general, at least in the last one hundred years. By the way, in the end Landeszmann emigrated to Canada.

And now about Ákos Kertész. He was born in 1932 and finished high school in 1950 but because of his “bourgeois” origin couldn’t enter university. So, he worked on the bodies of Ikarus buses for twelve solid years. On the side he managed to finish university at night. Between 1966 and 1992 he worked at Mafilm where he was a screenplay writer. On the side he wrote several novels which were translated into multiple languages. Between 1994 and 1997 he was editor-in-chief of Élet és Irodalom. He received several prestigious prizes, including the much coveted Kossuth Prize. He was also given the freedom of Budapest. Today, after his bitter words about Hungarians who don’t seem to be yearning for freedom and dignity but who let themselves be enslaved by a party and a government Kertész finds abhorrent, Jobbik wants to strip him of his Kossuth Prize and István Tarlós, who in my opinion talks too much and about things he shouldn’t, wants to get back the key of Budapest.

 

When his article that caused so much trouble appeared in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava (August 29) I happened to be battling with “Irene” and therefore the news got to me a few days late. My own memories of Ákos Kertész were somewhat spotty. I remembered an interview with him on Zsófia Mihancsik’s Hétzáró, a two-hour political program on KlubRádió, a program that unfortunately no longer exists. I loved that program and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. After a while I began to correspond with Zsófia Mihancsik. Every time there was a memorable or intriguing interview I jotted down a few words recording my impressions. All that happened quite a few years ago. After all, Hétzáró went off the air in 2007. However, I recall that I wrote to Mihancsik after she had an interview with Kertész. I complained that I found him too much to the left for my taste. Mihancsik wrote back something to the effect that yes, but he is such a decent, nice man.

Then this morning I vaguely remembered something about Kertész’s Catholicism and, indeed, with the help of Google I found what I was looking for: an article that appeared in Népszava on June 17, 2010. The title of the article was “God cannot allow such an abomination.” Kertész was devastated by the two-thirds majority and the role the Hungarian Catholic Church played, which for the most part Kertész found far too reactionary. He mentioned as a possible exception Asztrik Várszegi, arch-abbot of Pannonhalma, a liberal churchman.

From the article we find out that indeed Kertész has a Jewish background but with an interesting twist. His father, because of the numerus clausus that restricted the number of Jews allowed to enroll in Hungarian universities, couldn’t continue his studies. Thus he attended “free university” courses where he met Vilmos Juhász, a historian and journalist and a Catholic convert from Judaism. Under his influence Kertész’s father converted and the two of them started an organization called Hungarian Holy Cross Assocation that represented Jewish converts from the early 1930s until 1945. The leader of the organization was Dr. József Ijjas, who later became bishop of Kalocsa (1969-1987). Among his father’s friends was Sándor Sík, the Catholic poet and provost of the Order of the Piarists.

Whether a believing Catholic or not, the elder Kertész was considered to be a Jew and taken to a series of labor camps. He even saw the camp in Bor in which Miklós Radnóti, the poet Zsolt Bayer likes to point to as a perfect Hungarian patriot, was shot to death. Radnóti was also a convert and a student of Sándor Sík.

To make Kertész into an anti-Hungarian Jew who feels superior to the servile Hungarians is quite a feat, but when the Hungarian right sets out to ruin someone they do it with a vengeance. The liberals also find Kertész’s few sentences faulty. First, they complain about his generalization, but I wonder whether he would have fared better if instead of speaking about Hungarians in general he had said “most Hungarians.” I doubt it. Others, like Ákos Mester of 168 Óra, find the text “ghastly.” Or they point out that his description of the role of Hungarians in the Holocaust is inaccurate. After all, Kertész finds “Hungarians alone responsible for the Holocaust.” But what they neglect to point out is the second half of the same sentence: “because the Hungarian people (as opposed to the Germans) didn’t confess their sins and never asked for forgiveness.”

Those who think that Kertész is speaking about Hungarians in the second-person plural and therefore doesn’t consider himself to be Hungarian are really stretching it. Consider this sentence, “I see it with desperation that I am closed into the jail of my mother tongue and nobody needs what I know and nothing happens if my works appear and also nothing happens if they don’t appear.” Kertész is a very bitter man, and I for one sympathize with him.

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Jano
Guest
“First, they complain about his generalization, but I wonder whether he would have fared better if instead of speaking about Hungarians in general he had said “most Hungarians.” I doubt it.” I again have to violently object. He could have said: Forces in Hungary with strong support by a part of the public… Again, please drop the double standard. You’d surely despise of anyone that describes the gypsies as something and something not very flattering, even if it’s true for the majority or a very large fraction of them. So’d I. The bigger problem is – as I think Kirsten has already pointed out – that he didn’t try to explain anything, more precisely, his only explanation was a genetic argument (and we know very well who those people are who argue like this) followed by an arrogant intellectual masturbation. I’m sorry but I’m as Hungarian as I could be,I worked and studied my ass of throughout my whole life. And I’m certainly not responsible for the Holocaust. I’m also very bitter about how my country is right now. I don’t think Orbán is a dictator and that democracy is over in Hungary but I do think that he’s a… Read more »
HungarianJew
Guest

I agree with Akos Kertesz. It is very difficult to understand why Hungarians are not ready to apologize and face what they did during World War II.
Most Hungarians see Jews and Gypsies as non-Hungarians while Hungarian Jews and Hungarian Gypsies are assimilated citizens. Their mother tongue is Hungarian. While we can see German and Polish governments and citizens face what their fathers and grandfathers did, Hungarians pretend that the Holocaust in Hungary was the result of the German occupation. It is shame that we can see this idea in the New Hungarian Constitution as well. And in the speaches of Hungarian politicians (Zoltan Kovacs, Andras Levente Gal, Zoltan Balog, Gabor Vona, Istvan Tarlos etc.). This attitude worsens Hungary’s image in the World. Hungary is an antisemitic country.

Member

@Jano “I worked and studied my ass of throughout my whole life. And I’m certainly not responsible for the Holocaust”
That’s great …
But just because you didn’t close any box car doors you don’t get off the hook this easy. You are responsible to raise you voice against falsification of history, against antisemitism and racism and against the denial of the sins of our ancestors. The truth in short.
About Eva’s double standard. YOU are making this a Jew vs. Hungarians case. I see it as a bitter Hungarian about Hungarians case.

Jano
Guest

Mutt: “You are responsible to raise you voice against falsification of history, against antisemitism and racism and against the denial of the sins of our ancestors.”
And so I do whenever I that there is something I step up against. Even if it’s your ignorant apologist behavior right now. At least I’m not arrogant enough to tell other people what they are responsible for. And I don’t have to add a “truth in short” line just to boost my ego what a tökös csávo I was:)
“About Eva’s double standard. YOU are making this a Jew vs. Hungarians case. I see it as a bitter Hungarian about Hungarians case.”
Jew vs. Hungarian??? Point out where I made any reference to Kertész’s origins and I’ll finance you’re alcohol consumption for the next year. Good luck. And what does this have to do with double standards anyway??

Guest

Please see ‘Persecution of the Jews’, pps 284-, in Kristián Ungváry’s “The Siege of Budapest”. In these pages one can see the attitudes towards Jews and the actions taken against them. It seems the demoralized Hungarian population simply allowed the Arrow Cross free reign. I presume that this is at least in part the Holocaust that Kertész refers to. I defer to others here who may have other information to add.

Jano
Guest

Me: “And I don’t have to add a “truth in short” line just to boost my ego what a tökös csávo I was:)”
Sorry, this is not my style, I take it back.
Gretchen: Yes you’re absolutely right, but this is not why Kertesz’s article is very wrong.

Member

The “tökös csávó” is “ballsy guy” in English. No need to apologize. I took it as compliment. Regarding the financing of my year’s alcohol consumption let’s just say I don’t want to ruin you financially … 🙂
Now my turn to apologize. Sorry if I came off a bit offensive. My point is the same as yours: he IS Hungarian. So in this case there is no reverse analogy, there is no “versus”, hence there is no reason to “drop the double standard”.
Cheers!

Member

PS: csávó (guy) is a gipsy word. The male counterpart of the word “csaj” (gal).

Member

I do not agree with Kertesz’ article in its current form. THere are Hungarians who tried to save Jews, who do not agree with the direction of the democracy in Hungary is taking and so forth. THere are people who did and do speak up, and the article is not specific enough to call out the “guilty” and offends everyone else with its generalization. It actually empowers the extremists and those who Kertesz truly wants to tell off, because if gives them an “I told you so” wand, as to easily hep them mix up cause and consequence.
I sympathize with Kertesz, but cannot agree with his blanket statements.

HungarianJew
Guest

@Some1 This country elected a government with 2/3 majority. This government enacted a New Constitution with Holocaust denial statements (about the role of Hungary in the Holocaust). This government sent Zoltan Kovacs to Washington who explained that the Holocaust is the tragedy of the Jews, Trianon is the tragedy of the Hungarians.
It is simple math: Zoltan Kovacs is the representative of 66% and Gabor Vona stands for 17%, so we can say that at least 83% of the voters aggrees with Holocaust denial. The rest of the people just do not care. We do not see crowds even small groups demonstrating about this minor issue. People are more interested in their summer vacations, pensions and swiss frank mortgages. I do not blame them for that, only I say that Akos Kertesz is right. This country doesn’t give a s… about the Holocaust and the half million Hungarians they sent to gas chambers.

Jano
Guest
Mutt: I think tökös csávó sounds better:) I like Hungarian:) By the way I’m going to cut back on alcohol this year, I’m sure the money I save can cover your consumption easily:) Now that I’ve got Vikodin after completely destroying my ankle, it’ll be easier than ever:) Back to topic, I still think that there is a double standard here. As I said I knew gypsies who talked about other gypsies (talking about gypsies in general), that sometimes I get the feeling that one of them might be one of kurucz’s editors. The explanation is easy, he had to suffer all the prejudice generated by the not so socialized members of the minority. However, I still always felt a deep disgust about it. And I feel the same way about Kertesz (and the usual style of Amerikai Népszava) as well. Even if I’m lenient and agree to your interpretation, this piece is just way beyond a line where a civilized cultured man can’t go. Kertesz proved that he’s just not one. His defence “My readers didn’t learn to read” reminds me of the old joka: Two avantgarde artist are walkin on the street and see a huge fountain with… Read more »
HungarianJew
Guest

@Jano I am not an Amerikai Nepszava fan either. I do not like its style either. On the other hand in Akos Kertesz’ case I exactly understand what he means. It is unbearable to see what the present government is trying to do with the Holocaust. And how Hungarians are not aware of what really happenned in that country.
@Some1 While there were only a few brave Hungarians who helped Jews, thousands of Hungarians collaborated in the fast and effective deportations and thousands wrote letters to ask for Jewish property, thousands robbed and moved in to Jewish owned apartments and houses. People stood and celebrated at the roadside while Jews were taken to the ghettos. They spitted on them and let their dogs to chase them. Yes, it all happenned in Poland and in Germany, but at least today those governments do something about it. In Hungary if you bring up the Holocaust , they will tell you that it is the same as the Communists, they compare it and do not speak about the Hungarian responsibility.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Two things here:


for “Job lazadasa” with English subs.
also

for the Cseh Tamas’ “Ocska Cipo” song.
At times I just had enough of this nonsense. All of you.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Jano
Guest
HungarianJew: Are you sure that it’s not what you feel (probably with a good reason), rather than what Kertész is saying? I understand your bitterness and I feel really sorry for whatever loss you or your family endured. But also add it to the picture that a lot of the people didn’t belong to either category just tried to survive a devastating war. Yes they could have done something more as there is always something more that you could do, and as you say there were thousands of disgusting elements who were eager to help the arrow cross government. (Owerthrowing them was not an option with the German occupation, but passive resistance would have been one.) With all this said I still do not think that you can blame the entire population and say that they all share the burden, because collective guilt just can’t exist in my opinion. The ones who does share the burden are the apologists of the guilty. This is the reason why I don’t like what got into the constitution either. (I honestly don’t understand, why a constitution has to talk about any of this) “Yes, it all happenned in Poland and in Germany, but… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest

The Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard did not stop to say worse things about “the Austrians”
He was attacked during his life from the right and the left. When the Burgtheater was to play his drama about Austrian antisemitism “Heldenplatz”, peasants poured manure before the theatre.
After his death those in Austria passing school-leaving examination for university entrance qualification are often asked about Thomas Bernhard.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “I hate that zealousy and stupidity is so pervasive that people like Gyurcsány and Orbán could be elected and that we were unable to come up with a feasible alternative to them.”
I certainly agree with your comments on Orbán with one correction. He is much worse than De Gaulle.
As for Gyurcsány. He may not be a skillful politician but he is a democratically minded man. Thus this forced comparison between the two is misplaced.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano to Mutt Damon: “”About Eva’s double standard. YOU are making this a Jew vs. Hungarians case. I see it as a bitter Hungarian about Hungarians case.” Jew vs. Hungarian??? Point out where I made any reference to Kertész’s origins”
Well, I think it is implied.

Vándorló
Guest

@ESBalogh: “Well, I think it is implied.” Could you enlighten us as to how? I’ve read through Jano’s comments and really can’t find the undercurrent you assert. Rather, he expresses himself reflectively and carefully – something blatantly missing in the author of the article you focus on.
All that aside, can you tell me how it is excusable for someone who is a writer, his craft being the careful selection of words to achieve a desired affect in his readers and audience, to write so ‘clumsily’.
Might the truth not be simply that Kertész’s words reflect his thoughts – misplaced as both are.
Also I find it objectionable that you place, or imply, Kertész should be considered in the same mindframe as Radnóti Miklós. It is simply abhorrent that you use the underlying image of Radnóti’s death to cloud this case further. There is not a martyr here.
All things considered it would be simple enough for Kertész to clarify the matter with some unambiguous, cogent and less emotive writing – whilst apologising for any misunderstanding and offence caused. Then at least people would be open to deal with the real issues and grievances his gauche piece.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

To Vandorlo. Commentators usually bring up examples of other Hungarian writers who wrote some pretty awful things about Hungarians. Petőfi and Ady have been brought up lately as examples.
But the comparison doesn’t stand on solid grounds. Those two were not of Jewish origin. My feeling is that if Kertész weren’t Jewish the outcry would be nothing like it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vandorlo: “It is simply abhorrent that you use the underlying image of Radnóti’s death to cloud this case further.”
I bought it up because Kertész in his article brings it up. And, by the way, I wonder what Radnóti would have said about Hungarians and Hungary if he had survived the Holocaust. In his place I would have had a less than favorable opinion of the country of my birth.

Vándorló
Guest

@ESBalogh: “And, by the way, I wonder what Radnóti would have said about Hungarians and Hungary if he had survived the Holocaust.” One may wonder, but he it would be expressed with painful elegance.
Of course, the basic argument is that Hungarians and Hungary hasn’t changed. That the majority would remain mute and servile whilst attrocities are committed in their name. This view of Hungary and Hungarians is disgusting and offensive.
That the article has received such a backlash is hardly surprising. And yes some people are trying to exploit his Jewish background, but then he must have known they would. Making it all the more unforgiveable that he expressed himself in this way. Left or right, who cares, these people reflect minority views.
There is a minor section of Hungarian society that is fixated and obsessed on this and will seek out any excuse to vent their bile.
Given that, would not a reasonable person seek to distance themselves from that mindset and instead address the issues with a view towards restitution and resolution.
There is no kind expression for it, Kertész is just adding to the antagonism and basically shit-stirring. Hungary could do with more articulate and skillful ambassadors.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vandorlo: “That the majority would remain mute and servile whilst attrocities are committed in their name. This view of Hungary and Hungarians is disgusting and offensive.”
I don’t know why you are so offended. Perhaps because you’re a nationalist who doesn’t like to hear anything negative about his own country.
But look at the situation now. A systematic dismantling of democratic institutions is going on and you can’t get more than a few thousand people to get involved and fight against what’s going on. What can one say about this phenomenon? I cannot praise the overwhelming majority of Hungarians for being so unmindful and uncaring about the future of their country.

PWT
Guest

This all reminds me of a sarcastic line I often heard in Budapest, spoken by Gentiles and Jews alike:
“Oh when are the Hungarian Jews going to apologize to the Hungarian Christians for the trauma the Christians suffered at having had to stand by and watch the Holocaust?”

Vándorló
Guest

@ESBAlogh: “Perhaps because you’re a nationalist…” You can rest assured I am no nationalist and Hungary is not where I was begat anyway.
Might I suggest you think before you react. And don’T try to reach into the bag of lame excuses to avoid addressing the issues raised. Trying to label me a nationalist! Very weak.
The offences and excesses of Fidesz (read Orbán) policy do not an excuse to insult all Hungarians.
I meet very few people who are not appalled by Fidesz’s actions. We may call them naive in their decision to elect this government and give it the mandate they did, but then your friend Gyurcsány has a lot to answer for in this respect to.
Needless to say, had they reasonably suspected what was awaiting them we would be looking at quite a different government.
@PWT: Your ‘joke’ is sick – intentional or not.

An
Guest

@Vándorló: “@PWT: Your ‘joke’ is sick – intentional or not.”
Yes, and symptomatic of pretty sick times in Hungary.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Reading the various posts what I think is missing from Hungary’s involvement in the Holocaust is the admission by the Hungarians that many of them turned on their brother Hungarians for religious reasons. But Hungarians are never able to accept BLAME, and can never say ‘sorry’. Professor you wrote in your reply to Jano ** “I certainly agree with your comments on Orbán with one correction. He is much worse than De Gaulle.” **. He is indeed De Gaul was a soldier and as a junior officer he was ‘Under Orders’. Miklos Horthy also served ‘Under Orders. One thing that was drummed into me was “You cannot give orders until you can take them”. Orban has never obeyed anyone. De Gaulle (and Horthy) had the ‘self discipline’ they learned as a young officer. Orban well he dislikes discipline for himself but insists on it in others. This means, that he is to say the least, ‘capricious’ and is without any self imposed constraints. That means that he must be the ‘One and Only’ and there is no real chain of command where the ‘Buck’lands back in the people’s lap. Vandorlo in your writings you imply that: “That the majority would… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Vandorlo: “You can rest assured I am no nationalist and Hungary is not where I was begat anyway.”
One doesn’t have to be begotten in the land to identify so strongly with the country where he lives. Look at some of the Hungarians in this country. They became American nationalists who would be equally upset if someone said some nasty things against Americans.

HungarianJew
Guest

@Jano
The Polish government keeps apologizing at different venues and countries. They try to build good relation with Polish Jews around the world. There are Polish diplomats whose job description includes “bettering relations with the Polish Jewish community”.
While the present Hungarian government provokes Holocaust survivors in Hungary and around the World and feeds anti-semitic sentiments by attacking liberals, socialists or members of the business community. Was it Andras Schiffer or Adam Fischer who said that they were lucky that only few people in the World understands Hungarian.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Kertész’s rambling is a general insult to the Hungarian people and anyone not seeing this clearly needs a brain implanted.
This garbage is not even worth discussing about. Kertész doesn’t qualify for a person worthy of discussion. He should be deprived of all Hungarian recognitions (Kossuth prize, freeman of Budapest, etc.) and case closed.

Johnny Boy
Guest

HungarianJew: “Hungary is an antisemitic country.”
Then leave!

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