Karl Pfeifer: Interview with Paul A. Shapiro in Vienna

The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies and the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum organized a conference on “Collaboration in Eastern Europe during World War II and the Holocaust.” The three-day conference took place in Vienna between December 5 and 7. The conference aimed at bringing together scholars from all disciplines working on complicity and collaboration in a number of European countries to share their research with each other and the public. Karl Pfeifer, a faithful reader of and contributor to Hungarian Spectrum, was present and arranged an interview with Paul A. Shapiro, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. You may remember Mr. Shapiro’s testimony entitled “The Trajectory of Democracy: Why Hungary Matters,” which was delivered at the hearing of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on March 20, 2013 and which could be read in its entirety on Hungarian Spectrum. Here is Karl’s interview with Mr. Shapiro.

* * *

Karl Pfeifer: Mr. Shapiro, how do you view this symposium? What is your opinion about it and what are your thoughts on the situation in Eastern Europe? Paul A. Shapiro: The purpose of organizing this symposium together with the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute was to bring together a group of especially young researchers to talk about issues of collaboration during the Holocaust. As you could hear from the lectures, this subject is a very complicated one. It involves more than just the collaboration of states, it involves more than just the collaboration of people who might have joined SS units from among the local population or people who might have been in the local police unit that participated in the crimes of the Nazi era and the murder of the Jews during the era of Nazi domination of Europe. The questions go right to the involvement of bureaucrats, the involvement of professionals, the involvement of individuals who for one reason or another were willing to participate in mass murder or to acquiesce in mass murder or to stand aside thinking that they were playing no role. But, of course, when crimes are being committed, when governments are engaging in the persecution of one group or another, people who stand aside are empowering the persecutors, empowering the perpetrators. To be a so-called bystander is not a neutral act. In fact it is enabling the killers to commit their crimes.

Paul A. Shapiro, delivering his address to the conference /   The Simon Wiesenthal Institute, Vienna

Paul A. Shapiro, delivering his address to the conference / The Simon Wiesenthal Institute, Vienna

You can see large participation here by scholars from countries of the former USSR where this subject is really new since the fall of communism and the disintegration of the USSR. You can see a large number of scholars from the countries of former communist countries of Eastern Europe where the subject of local collaboration could not be addressed in a forthright way in the past. So, our goal was to bring together a group of historians in Vienna. We decided on Vienna because it was easier to organize it physically here rather than in Washington. The idea was to encourage a working process between scholars from the East and the West, especially young people who will work on the subject matter for the next thirty or forty years. We wanted to bring them together to think about one of the most difficult issues from the Holocaust era which is the failure of everyone, of states, of professions, of local organizations, of churches and of individuals to protect people who were members of a society but found themselves with no protection whatsoever.

KP: Let’s go to the next question, about Hungary. You made a very concise and important contribution to the hearing of the American Congress on Hungary and I would like to have your opinion on how one can explain that the country that was the most advanced among the former communist countries after the change of the system became one of the most, I would say, the most dangerous country for the Jews not in the physical sense so much, but where hatred toward Jews is manifested openly and spread in the media close to the government party, Fidesz. Like Echo TV, Magyar Hirlap, a daily, and the weekly Demokrata. What is your opinion about that?

PS: So, you ask me to explain that. This is very complicated. There is a combination of ideology, of seeking to create a new national narrative in the aftermath of the communist era, of anti-Semitism of an old style that has combined to create this situation. Explaining it is very complicated. Understanding what one’s obligation is to do in such a situation is actually less complicated.

KP: Could you tell me?

PS: In this particular situation it would be essential that the Hungarian government, Hungarian society find a way to change the trajectory the country is on.  The country is moving toward increasing hatred of Jews resulting in increasing danger for Jews and other national minorities. We believe that some of this is the result of a desire to obscure or to distort the history of the Holocaust. It is more difficult to promote anti-Semitism when one recognizes the degree of Hungarian participation in the destruction and murder of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews just a few decades ago. It is difficult to justify a positive image, for instance, of Miklós Horthy or the propagandists of the fascist era and the cultural figures of the fascist era, like Nyirő.

KP: Wass, Tormay.

PS: And the result of their actions was mass murder. For our museum the link between contemporary anti-Semitism and distortion of the Holocaust is direct. This is what motivates us to address the historical issues in a direct way. And to encourage the Hungarian government to do the same. Not to simply say that this is a controversial issue. Calling it a controversial issue means that it hasn’t been explained well enough to the population at large. Because the facts are clear. The political motivations extend behind certain actions of the Hungarian government today. This is also clear. It is the government that wants to be reelected. There is strong popular, populist support for the Jobbik party and strong populist support for Fidesz as well, and the government is seeking to ensure its electoral victory in the coming year. This seems to work politically. On the other hand, there are long-term consequences of choosing the path of accepting manifestations of anti-Semitism, of not publicly criticizing in a powerful way members of the government and members of Fidesz who make anti-Semitic statements or who participate in actions to rehabilitate Miklós Horthy or who participate in the inclusion in textbooks of the works of fascist writers without explaining that these people were also killers. This is inexcusable because the long-term consequence of such policies is that the young people of Hungary will think that to be a killer, to be a fascist, was not something wrong. No democratic society will prosper if that is the lesson, if that is taught to young people.

KP: Perfect. Thank you very much, Mr. Shapiro. I appreciated it.

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George Fenyo
Guest

I agree, it is a good piece, though I believe that it is up to the reader to qualufy the interview and not to the interviewer. And I find the recipe how to change prevaling antisemitism a little naive. The Hu government is absolutely aware of the way they are handling the issue and I am sure they wont change just by encourageing them to change. No serious person would share this opinion. This change needs more, they should be voted out inside and outside the country. The memory of the jews killed and forced to leave needs it.

petofi
Guest

Is K.F. an experienced interviewer? Since when is he allowed to characterize the interview as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? He might’ve used the word, ‘informative’…but that’s about it.
As it is, one can easily accuse him of ‘feeding’ the questions for which he had got the expected answers. Silly.

Other than that, I contend that no westerner can adequately understand what is happening
in Hungary–it’s just unfathomable in the modern world of 2013.

petofi
Guest

By the way, Hungarians would do well to pay attention to what’s happening in Kiev…

Guest

OT – An omen for Orban?
Today an immense crowd gathered in the central square of Kiev to protest the presidents rapprochement to Russia at the expense of an association with the EU.
Demonstrators toppled a 3.4 m high red granite statue of Lenin and hammered it into souvenirs.

Quotation from The Telegraph:
“Leaders of the protest movement, which aims to turn out a one million strong crowd against President Victor Yanukovich, told the crowd the country was on the “razor’s edge” between dictatorship and European democracy.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10504098/Ukraine-protesters-topple-Lenin-statue-amid-huge-rally-in-central-Kiev.html

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

George Fenyo :
I agree, it is a good piece, though I believe that it is up to the reader to qualufy the interview and not to the interviewer.

You are absolutely right. I had no time to transcribe and edit the interview. Eva did transcribe, for which I am grateful. And I’ll learn from this and when I make the next interview .

When I said to Mr. Shapiro at the end what I have said, it was and it is my sincere opinion .

tappanch
Guest

I challenge the Orban government to make Bela Zsolt’s war+Holocaust diary “Nine Suitcases” mandatory reading in schools. Students could learn about human nature and the true Hungarian history a great deal from the book.

I am not holding my breath – the Orban government made the opposite move, they made three anti-Semitic writers mandatory in schools recently.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

petofi :
Is K.F. an experienced interviewer? Since when is he allowed to characterize the interview as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? He might’ve used the word, ‘informative’…but that’s about it.
As it is, one can easily accuse him of ‘feeding’ the questions for which he had got the expected answers. Silly.
Other than that, I contend that no westerner can adequately understand what is happening
in Hungary–it’s just unfathomable in the modern world of 2013.

Again you are right. Eva transcribed and edited the interview. And I should have remembered what I said at the end. But alas I am 85 years old, and forgot. Next time I will make the transcription myself. I asked Eva to do it for me, for the simple reason:
I will give a lecture tomorrow to Austrian students who are to visit Hungary. On Tuesday I am to speak in the afternoon to students of the academy for pedagogy and in the evening to participate in a panel discussion about Freedom of press in Hungary.

James Atkins
Guest

This reminded me of a time a couple
of years ago when a Hungarian guy once delivered some stuff to our house in England and I made him a cup of nes and we had a chat and he kept rattling on about the Jews taking the country to the dogs. After a while he congratulated me on my Hungarian. I said, with a smile: “Jewish blood, good at languages.”

He was mortified and apologised and even rang my wife later saying he’d not wanted to cause offence.

I think this kind of unthinking anti-semitism is quite prevalent in Hungary but it’s not with evil intent. Is it useful to distinguish this from more sinister anti-semitism?

petofi
Guest

@ James Atkins

“I think this kind of unthinking anti-semitism is quite prevalent in Hungary…”

The problem is the children: they have, they do, and they will, consider the anti-semtism as the norm.

SYMP
Guest

To organize a symposium on Holocaust in Vienna, is a good step.
The protests of Peter Daniel, and Akos Kertesz are much better.
The US government must consider to support such dissidents, with a regime of complete sanctions on the Hungarian political and economical leadership.
Freeze their foreign accounts to the last penny.

007
Guest

The timing of this event is impeccable.
These days there is a desperate shortage of holocaust conferences, and this one in particular has lots of new information. There is nothing redundant about Shapiro or the content of his speeches.
I myself can hardly wait for the next conference ( probably next month ) I hope I can still get tickets.

spectator
Guest
James Atkins : This reminded me of a time a couple of years ago when a Hungarian guy once delivered some stuff to our house in England and I made him a cup of nes and we had a chat and he kept rattling on about the Jews taking the country to the dogs. After a while he congratulated me on my Hungarian. I said, with a smile: “Jewish blood, good at languages.” He was mortified and apologised and even rang my wife later saying he’d not wanted to cause offence. I think this kind of unthinking anti-semitism is quite prevalent in Hungary but it’s not with evil intent. Is it useful to distinguish this from more sinister anti-semitism? As history proved, these gullible ‘innocent’ people can turn into capo-s in an instant. At he moment, when is no retribution in sight, or simply that is the “right” thing to do at the time. Even if the person only stupid enough to go along, without real conviction, could turn nasty and dangerous enough when circumstances allowing it. Orban’s greatest sin opening the Pandora’s box and let all these mildewy ideas out, let the lowest of all instincts run free again,… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Spectator:As history proved, these gullible ‘innocent’ people can turn into capo-s in an instant. At he moment, when is no retribution in sight, or simply that is the “right” thing to do at the time.

The Milgram experiment proved this that any person can do the “right” thing.

http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm

Andy - 'They' and 'Them"....
Guest
“Let me be clear” … ehem Like it or not this Hungary is NOT ONLY anti-semitic. It has a HUGE gaping HOLE in its BRAIN… (as well). ‘It’ thrives on NO WIN situations. ‘Its’ mentally provocative and behaves as a snake. Obviously a “country” has difficulty to act as above… BUT it comes pretty close. If you arrive in the hinterlands to move into a summer home you are viewed by the locals as a potential enemy. (I am talking specifically – but by extension the whole ‘country’ – about experience in Nográd Megye. Dont however belittle that fact. This is where the UN named the peasant life as a Heritage Site. so I am talking about the heart of a peasant system of existence, maybe thinking, maybe approach. The base. And I encountered the same pattern in Budapest. Here is one of the culprits: Derailing mentality No 1: No matter what you do, its going to be bad. ‘They’ will find a reason to prove they are right. (please dont worry who they is, its one of the imaginary group of devils easy to point to…) If for some reason ‘they’ have not been able to be convincing enough… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Andy – ‘They’ and ‘Them”…. : “Let me be clear” … ehem Like it or not this Hungary is NOT ONLY anti-semitic. It has a HUGE gaping HOLE in its BRAIN… (as well). ‘It’ thrives on NO WIN situations. ‘Its’ mentally provocative and behaves as a snake. Obviously a “country” has difficulty to act as above… BUT it comes pretty close. If you arrive in the hinterlands to move into a summer home you are viewed by the locals as a potential enemy. (I am talking specifically – but by extension the whole ‘country’ – about experience in Nográd Megye. Dont however belittle that fact. This is where the UN named the peasant life as a Heritage Site. so I am talking about the heart of a peasant system of existence, maybe thinking, maybe approach. The base. And I encountered the same pattern in Budapest. Here is one of the culprits: Derailing mentality No 1: No matter what you do, its going to be bad. ‘They’ will find a reason to prove they are right. (please dont worry who they is, its one of the imaginary group of devils easy to point to…) If for some reason ‘they’ have not… Read more »
petofi
Guest

correction: ‘objectionably’ should read ‘objectively’

JGrant
Guest
Dear Andy – ‘They’ and ‘Them”….! I live in a small village in Nograd Megye too and could not have been welcomed more. Perhaps the fact that we provided a lot of work to many from the village (including Gypsies) had something to do with it. And the fact that my English husband drank with them all in the pub too. Regrettably the pub shut due to the recession, but we are still considered as two of the villagers. That is not to say that your negative experience is not regettable, but I would be slightly more careful with my generalisations if I were you. As for the explanation for the revival of anti-semitic sentiment: I will never understand why everybody thinks this is inexplicable in the 21st century. The world contains dozens, ney hundreds of countries where all ills are considered the fault of one or more discriminated against groups. Searching for a scapegoat in times of economic crisis, war and other bad times is common and has always been. Be it British Asians or blacks, or just immigrants from Eastern Europe, blacks in the US, Algerians/Moroccans in France, Arabs in most of the Western world, Gypsies as well… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@ JGrant

“Perhaps the fact that we provided a lot of work to many from the village (including Gypsies) had something to do with it.”

Naw! Really? Might you think it?
And I’m sure your husband–who’s probably widely mocked behind his back–is buying more than his share of beers.
One thing Hungarians are good at is, if they have something to gain, that they can butter you up better than a counter-person at a sandwich shop. Gimme a break. Try not providing jobs and see where you’ll be in 6 months time…

Paul
Guest

Ron :
Spectator:As history proved, these gullible ‘innocent’ people can turn into capo-s in an instant. At he moment, when is no retribution in sight, or simply that is the “right” thing to do at the time.
The Milgram experiment proved this that any person can do the “right” thing.
http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm

Ron – this experiment and its ‘results’ are no longer seen as reliable (or, indeed, as scientific). Recent research has thrown up a lot of questions about Milgram’s methods, and his motivation, and the way he selected results that matched his theory.

For instance, many of the participants reported that they were suspicious of the experiment, some even declined to take part after they became uncomfortable about what was going on. And in many sessions (I believe about half of them), over 60% of the participants refused to give the electric shocks. Milgram chose not to use those results in his ‘findings’.

There was quite a lengthy interview with Gina Perry, who has recently conducted extensive research on the Milgram experiments, in a recent All in the Mind programme on BBC Radio 4 – it’s well worth a listen (it’s towards the end of the programme): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03k0s5v/All_in_the_Mind_03_12_2013/

Andy - 'They' and 'Them"....
Guest

Petofi’s hit on the nail’s head: you and I might think its peanuts but if you come here with apparent dough you are welcomed with open arms (appearances) but if you slip up anywhere, you’ll be pounced on like the poor black hoddie in Florida and maybe murdered as well. And NOONE may ever hear of your case !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Please note: this is not scientific evidence – it comes from EXPERIENCE

DC
Guest

Let us switch gears.

There are many enlightened Hungarians like Eva. Their number is not small.

In these dark hours of Hungary, the nice ones can count only on Brussels/Strasbourg to gain support for a direction correction. DC.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
I didn’t take out the last sentence but I will now, before the whole discussion will center around this silly one word.d

Thank you dear Eva for a lot of work.. It was entirely my fault. Usually I do it myself but this time I had to do a lot and I am grateful that you worked on it..

Wondercat
Guest
For those who don’t subscribe to the NYTimes — A Scholar Is Back Home and Defiant in Hungary By PAUL HOCKENOS | THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION BUDAPEST — “During my years abroad, both in the U.S. and Australia, I always said that I liked living there, but that I want to be buried in my home, in Hungary,” said the philosopher Agnes Heller, who at the age of 84 lives in Budapest, still writing — in three languages — and lecturing. It is generous of Ms. Heller to preserve affection for a homeland that has been so unkind to her. She was born and raised in the city’s Jewish ghetto in the volatile political climate of 1930s Central Europe. Ms. Heller and her mother narrowly escaped deportation to Auschwitz; her father perished there. In the postwar years she studied philosophy under the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs, and later became part of the so-called Budapest School around him — radical thinkers calling on Hegel and the humanist works of early Marx to reinvigorate contemporary Marxism. In the aftermath of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, Ms. Heller, though a socialist and Communist Party member, was imprisoned by the Soviet-backed hard-liners for… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Probably off topic
Népszava has published:. The EU was ready to invest in Ózd 1,7 billion HUF to build a cultural center for Roma. The offer was rejected as before from Miskolc and Székesfehérvár.

nepszava.hu/cikk/1005106-paratlan-siker-a-romak-tarsadalmi-felzarkozasaban?print=1 ¼

The Austrian Franz Grillparzer said it well: „Von der Humanität über die Nationalität zur Bestialität“
The experience of the 20th century:
From Humanity through Nationalism to Bestiality. Hungary seems well on its way

Ms KKA
Guest

DC :
Let us switch gears.
There are many enlightened Hungarians like Eva. Their number is not small.

Very true. But, this enlightenment is exactly why a great many of them choose not to live in Hungary anymore.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Thanks for the interview.

Paul Shapiro :
For our museum the link between contemporary anti-Semitism and distortion of the Holocaust is direct.

What about the projected Józsefváros memorial then? In 1999, the USHMM published a piece by Randolph L. Brahm harshly criticizing the first Orbán government for its handling of the 20th Century Institute. It seems only the date and name of the project have to be changed.

Also, what is the current status – if any – of ‘Holocaust studies’ in Hungary? I noticed that Dr Pető of CEU spoke in Vienna, her input could be welcome.

Ron
Guest

Paul: Ron – this experiment and its ‘results’ are no longer seen as reliable (or, indeed, as scientific). Recent research has thrown up a lot of questions about Milgram’s methods, and his motivation, and the way he selected results that matched his theory.

Yeah, but do not forget this study was done 15 years after WW2. And Gina Perry is doing research 50 years after completion of this experiment (Is anybody still alive who participated in this study?). Milgram was important, because he was the first one to study this.

The other thing is that this experiment took place in New Haven Connecticut, and not in Europe. I think the results might have been different.

On a personal note, at the time I was studying Milgram I thought it was rubbish. Today, I know differently and not only because of Hungary, but in every day life (luckily not too often) I find myself in a situation were I was thinking about this study and said to myself I should not push that button.

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