Pursuing a quote from the “scribbler” Imre Roboz

Occasionally the detective emerges in all of us with any intellectual curiosity. That is what happened to me yesterday when for the second time I read about the Jewish Bolshevik Imre Roboz (1892-1945) in the “sterling prose” of Zsolt Bayer.

It seems that Imre Roboz always comes in handy when Bayer makes a frontal attack on Hungarian Jews who allegedly hate their own country. The first time he used a quotation from Roboz was in his op/ed piece about those Hungarian and foreign Jews who say all sorts of nasty things about Hungary. Like András Schiff or Cohn-Bendit. The title of this incredible piece was “The same stench.” It appeared in the far-right Magyar Hírlap. I wrote about this article at length earlier.

At that time I was satisfied to check the most basic details about Imre Roboz’s life and ascertain that Roboz was not “a scribbler” as Bayer claimed but a very well-known and respected theater director who was murdered by the Hungarian Nazis only a few days before the Soviet troops liberated the Hungarian capital.

Yesterday, however, my intellectual curiosity about Imre Roboz was further piqued because Zsolt Bayer invoked him again. The occasion for using the same Roboz quotation that he cited last January was of course another tirade, this time against Ákos Kertész. The same quotation and an attempt to equate all Bolshevik murderers with the Hungarian Jewry. But Bayer often reveals his ignorance of history. For example, he quotes József Cserny, the leader of the murderous Lenin Boys, as a typical case of Jewish terror. The problem is that Cserny was a Protestant shoemaker’s assistant. Bayer also tries to teach Ákos Kertész a thing or two. For example, that “we were among the first ones in Europe who emancipated the Jews.” One doesn’t have to be an expert on the history of Jewish emancipation to suspect that this is untrue. And indeed. Hungary was one of the laggards, emancipating the Jews in 1867, beating out only Bulgaria, Serbia, Spain, Portugal, and Russia (1917).

The Roboz quotation, it turns out, has had quite a career in right-wing scribbling. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The anti-Semitic István Csurka, chairman of MIÉP, also fell in love with the Roboz quotation, which he introduced as having been written by “a newspaperman, a Jew called Imre Roboz.” Csurka quoted the passage at length in which the theater director asks: “Why should I be a good son, a faithful son of a bad and unfaithful country…. It didn’t need me, I don’t need it. My weak people, my cowardly people, contemptible people, I have nothing to do with you.” These sentences remind Csurka of the words of Ágnes Heller, János Kis, Gábor Halmai, Bálint Magyar and the others “talking about the rule of law.”

A book review of “the much sought after best-seller of this year’s book week,” Francia Kiss Mihály élete és halála (Life and Death of Mihály Francia Kiss) by László Domonkos, also repeats the words of the Hungarian-hater Imre Roboz. Keep in mind that the “hero” of the Domonkos’s book, Mihály Francia Kiss, was a murderous counterrevolutionary who was sentenced to death in 1945 but escaped his fate by hiding until 1957.

Károly Szalay, a frequent contributor to Magyar Demokrata, writing on January 22, 2011, brought up Roboz in connection with the “red emigration.” He claims that he just happened to read Elemér Mályusz’sVörös emigráció (1931) where he found the same quotation Bayer cited only three weeks earlier. Szalay seems to know that Roboz wasn’t a writer as Bayer claimed but a “busy-body [mitugrász] theater director.”

The Hungarist (Arrow Cross) László Tompó (Brother Tompó) suggests reading Elemér Mályusz’s book on the red emigration which, although written in 1931, was reprinted in 2006 by Attraktor Press. One can buy it in bookstores specializing in far-right publications and can also order it from a website called “Nemzeti Könyvek boltja.”

Assuming that Imre Roboz was part of the “red emigration” in Vienna after 1919, he couldn’t have stayed there for long because on October 12, 1920 Pesti Hírlap announced that a certain Ben Blumenthal from New York had negotiated a deal between the United Play Corporation and Vígszinház, the famous Budapest theater. Blumenthal had to return to New York, but in his absence his lawyer, Mór Bedő, and Imre Roboz, director of Projetograph, were designated to represent him. According to the deal, Roboz would be the director of Vígszinház. Not only must Roboz have returned to Hungary after only a few months, but surely his “sins” couldn’t have been that grave because at this point counterrevolutionary atrocities were daily occurrences and yet he was a respectable member of Budapest’s cultural life only a year after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Only a few days ago Múlt-kor, a historical website, announced that an old Hungarian film from 1917 called “Az utolsó hajnal” (The last dawn) was recovered and placed in the Hungarian film archives. From the article we learn that “‘Hungarian film was the child of the war’ as Imre Roboz, the Hungarian film producer of the teens said.” Raphael Patai’s book entitled The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology describes Imre Roboz as “another multitalented man whose career included the ownership of a cabaret…. He started as secretary of the Projectograph Film Company, then became editor of the first Hungarian motion picture magazine, Mozgófénykép Hiradó (Motion Picture News), and went on to direct the Phoenix Film Company and the Apollo Cabaret. In 1921 he also became director of the Vigszinház.”

As for Elemér Mályusz (1898-1989), he was a renowned medieval historian whose work, as long as he stayed with the Middle Ages, was outstanding although somewhat on the nationalist side. He and Gyula Szekfű, another giant of Hungarian historiography, were at odds over the essence of Hungarian history. Szekfű looked at progressivism as being intertwined with Hungary’s connection with Vienna while Mályusz was searching for models for Hungary in the East. He envisaged some kind of singular Hungarian road whose inspiration was the semi-independent Transylvania.

If Mályusz had stuck to history he would have had fewer troubles after 1945. Unfortunately he was not only an anti-communist and an anti-Semite but also an admirer of Hitler’s Germany. Thus, after the war Mályusz got into trouble because of two books he wrote. One was Vörös emigráció (also translated into German as Sturm auf Ungarn. Volkskommissäre und Genossen im Auslande and into English under the title The Fugitive Bolsheviks). This is the book from which publicists of the Hungarian extreme right like to quote. The other was a series of articles, later published in book form under the title A magyar történelemtudomány (1942; Hungarian Historiography). In these articles he talked about deporting the Jews from the country in order “to shape a life truly our own.” He talked approvingly about the German solution to the “Jewish question.”

Historian István Papp, who wrote an article about Mályusz’s troubles with the political police in 1945, remarks that A vörös emigráció was Mályusz’s worst effort. During his questioning Mályusz told the investigators that it was Pál Teleki, former prime minister, who asked him and Gyula Szekfű to write such a book. The original idea was that Mályusz would write about the events themselves while Szekfű would provide the ideological background. In the end Szekfű bailed out and thus Mályusz came to be the sole author. Teleki took care of the publication of the work into German and English. Surely, on money supplied by the Hungarian government. After 1945 Mályusz was relieved of his professorship, but eventually he was rehabilitated and became a senior researcher at the Hungarian Academy’s Historical Institute.

And a final word on Imre Roboz. His daughter, the painter Zsuzsi Roboz, in 1991 established an Imre Roboz Prize for actors or actresses of Vígszinház who beyond their performances on the stage spread the good name of the theater by pursuing public roles.

September 11, 2011