István Deák: A monument of self-pity and self-justification

DeakIstván Deák is perhaps the best known Hungarian-born historian in the United States. His first book dealt with Weimar Germany (Weimar Germany’s Left-wing Intellectuals [1968]). He then moved on to Lajos Kossuth and the 1848 Hungarian revolution (The Lawful Revolution, 1848-1849 [1979]). His next book was on the Habsburg military (Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848-1918 [1990]). He also wrote about Europe in the 1930s (Essays on Hitler’s Europe [2001]). He edited and partly wrote, together with Jan T. Gross and Tony Judt, a book entitled The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, published in 2000. His latest book which will appear sometime soon is entitled Europe on Trial: Collaboration, Accommodation, Resistance, and Retribution during and after World War II. István Deák is Seth Low Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. I should also mention that he was one of the readers of my Ph.D. dissertation.

* * *

When German troops marched into Hungary, in March 1944, they did so primarily to prevent the Hungarians from breaking away from Germany. Miklós Kállay’s government under Regent Miklós Horthy was not alone in preparing for a breakaway. Among Germany’s European comrades-in-arms, Finland, Romania, and Bulgaria were getting ready to take the same step. Italy had preceded all of them by almost a year, if not quite successfully, and only the Slovak and Croatian governments made no attempt to capitulate. However, in the spring of 1944, the Slovak military leadership was already preparing to turn against the Germans and its own government, and the Croatian fascist Ustasha regime was steadily losing its power and importance while Tito’s Communist partisan army was gradually taking over. By the summer, it already came to fighting between the Germans and the Slovak insurgents; civil war was raging in Croatia and Romania; Finland and Bulgaria had not only left the German alliance but by September were waging war against the Third Reich. The three countries together sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight against the Germans.

The Hungarian breakaway attempt failed because neither the social elite nor the majority of the people wanted it to happen; the invading Germans were welcomed everywhere in March 1944. That there was no armed resistance was not only because instructions to that effect came from Regent Horthy or from the government but also because the Hungarians regarded the Germans as old and loyal allies against Bolshevism, the Slavic and Romanian neighbors, and the Jews. The current Hungarian government’s contention that the occupying Germans oppressed the Hungarian people, that the country became a victim, and that it lost its independence is a rekindling of the same false Communist propaganda that excused “the people” and put all the blame on the “traitor landlords and capitalists.”

Following the arrest of a few hundred liberal, conservative, and other anti-Nazi politicians, the invading German army units were able to continue their march toward the Russian front, while in Hungary the new Sztójay-government, consisting largely of veterans of earlier Horthy-regime cabinets, mobilized the population, industry, and agriculture for the final showdown in the war. At the same time, the new government, drawing on the technical advice of a tiny SS detachment, embarked at a dizzying speed on the drastic solution of the “Jewish Question”, i.e. the humiliation, segregation, despoliation, and deportation of eight hundred thousand Jewish citizens. The deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz allowed for the largest redistribution of wealth in Hungarian history, shortly to be followed by the Communists’ even greater wealth redistribution.

Such sporadic and hesitant steps as the suspension, in July 1944, of the deportation of the Jews of Budapest and of the Jewish labor servicemen, and Regent Horthy’s surrender attempt in October, did not change the determination of the country’s political and military elite to remain loyal to the German alliance. This explains why they complied even with such outrageous German wishes as that, in order to delay the Red Army’s advance toward Vienna, the Hungarian army participate in the defense and thus the destruction of Budapest; also that the Hungarian government voluntarily hand over to the Germans a significant proportion of the national wealth. To regard all this as suffering brought upon the Hungarians by German oppression is absurd and a falsification of history. It is wrong to speak simultaneously of Hungary’s and Germany’s heroic struggle against the Bolshevik enemy and at the same time complain about German oppression.

The planned monument to the German occupation and the underlying notion of self-justification can cause serious damage to the country’s image. It is true that Hungary is not alone in suffering from a mania of self-pity and self-justification: the Ukrainians, Romanians, Czechs, Slovaks and Serbs did not get much further than that either. However, what is going on in Hungary today, where the official leadership both apologizes for the sins committed by the Hungarian state against the Jews and points an accusatory finger at everyone but its own country, creates an impossible and dangerous public mood. It is infantile to perpetually accuse the West of conspiracy, to attack the United States with arguments once used by the nationalist Horthy and the Communist Rákosi regimes, and to harbor perpetual grievances. The West is not rushing towards intellectual, moral, and financial bankruptcy; its main concern is surely not how to put the Hungarian people in chains.

A more rational attitude on both sides is, of course, warranted: so long as this article can appear in Hungary, and while the Hungarian ambassador to the United Nations asks for forgiveness from the Hungarian Jews on behalf of the Hungarian state, one cannot speak either of political dictatorship or of official anti-Semitism in Hungary. Would that the government and its faithful followers remind themselves not to engage in collective hysteria!

István Deák
Columbia University

January 2014

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koeszmeod
Guest

Congratulations!

steve397
Guest

I could not have explained it all better than that :-). Thank you Professor Deak Istvan!

Jeremy Wheeler
Guest

I am delighted to see István Deák’s letter appear on this blog. I trust that your readers, in addition to agreeing with his analysis of the government’s misguided attempts to present Hungary as a victim of Nazi oppression, will take note of his last paragraph’s exhortation to stop speaking of Hungary as a dictatorship and its government as antisemitic.

Istvan
Guest
I have certain level of reverence for István Deák as a historian because at the US Army War College when I was in the External Research Associates Program (ERAP) I read his history of the Habsburg Officer Corps. It took my breath away and I devoured it. Never the less I came away confused by the conclusion to his short essay that Eva has just posted. Professor Deak understands how language can be used to obscure underlying intent, which is more than obvious from my reading of his deep analysis of the collapse of the Empire’s elite officer corp. I think his statement “where the official leadership both apologizes for the sins committed by the Hungarian state against the Jews and points an accusatory finger at everyone but its own country” may accept the apologies for more than they are. I have no doubt that the professor knows fully the disappointment of many Hungarians in how the transformation from communism has taken place and I suspect he understands the huge rise of the far right not just in Hungary in response to this deep disappointment. I don’t think he is understanding how Prime Minister Orban politically plays to that deep… Read more »
Brain Cleansing
Guest

Istvan Deak is very right. Too many Hungarians are stuck in a collective hysteria.
More and more of my friends are morphing into Fidesz/Jobbik zombies.

The task is to encourage the desperate citizens to discard their prejudices and false believes.

All parties must clean up their acts. But it is now clearly a FIDESZ ulcer that kills the nation.

Their industrial misinformation activity is combined with the plundering of the state by regime-near forces.

petofi
Guest
“…so long as this article can appear in Hungary, and while the Hungarian ambassador to the United Nations asks for forgiveness from the Hungarian Jews on behalf of the Hungarian state, one cannot speak either of political dictatorship or of official anti-Semitism in Hungary.” Oy vay! Sometimes that ivory tower is just too high, and the machinations of the great Felcsutian cannot be ascertained for what it is–pure, unabashed, double-talk. By now, close followers of The Orban should be alive to his tricksey ways–three steps forward and two steps back. People should no longer be falling for Orban’s orchestration of contradictory signals in order to create confusion. The Hungarians–the Fideszniks–know how to discount Ader’s statement or the words of the Hungarian ambassador to the union: “Ah, the great Viktor, ‘etetti a majmokat’!” No, Professor Deak, there IS a dictatorship when one man alone decides, a) to ban the use of precedent in legal decision-making; b) to negotiate with the Azeri’s on his own; c) to decide on Paks II with the Russians with narry a consultation with anyone, especially experts…etc.etc. Those are but a few examples: many others have been listed here time and again. These statements, like that of… Read more »
Paul
Guest
“so long as this article can appear in Hungary” And, technically, of course, it can. But how widely will it be distributed? How many people will get the chance to read it? What will MTV and most of the press have to say about it (if anything)? “stop speaking of Hungary as a dictatorship and its government as anti-Semitic” If this is really what Professor Deak believes, then, as excellent an historian as he may, he is sadly misguided and out of touch with current events. Strictly speaking, he is correct, but since when did an historian just take the government line and not look deeper? Hungary ceased to be a functioning democracy some years ago, and, whilst some members of the government may not be anti-Semitic, their government thinks nothing of playing the anti-Semitic card whenever it wants to. Orbán is playing a very clever game of keeping just on the right side of the line, but, in any way that matters, Hungary is already not a democracy, the news that reaches the great majority of people is heavily censored, the election is rigged, and anti-Semite, anti-Roma, anti-West and anti-EU, and nationalistic Trianon revisionism black propaganda is an accepted… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Interesting trivia:

Finland deported a grand total of eight (!) Jewish refugees to Nazi Germany.

Their memorial is in Helsinki.

http://www.memorialmuseums.org/eng/denkmaeler/view/1148/Memorial-to-the-Deported-Jewish-Refugees

Paul
Guest

If you look very closely, you can just make out “the bastard Germans made us do it” in Finnish…

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Istvan :
Like the world as a whole, the European Union is divided into rich and poor regions. On one side of this division are the “homelands” of the European transnationals, the countries…

Sorry to single out just this part but… For a majority of the European population today, it’s about regions and not countries. See this map:
http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/newsroom/detail.cfm?id=77

Paul
Guest

Now I’ve calmed down, I feel a bit guilty for my tirade. Up to the last para, the article is an excellent and powerful summary of the situation, and I am very grateful to Professor Deak for producing this very timely and useful piece. My apologies for going off the deep end.

gdfxx
Guest

Professor Deak’s article deals a big blow to the FIDESZ-created basic law, that speaks about the loss of Hungary’s independence after the German “occupation”.

The fact that an article published by an American academic can be published in Hungary is not a sign of democracy. After all this was commonly done even during the last years of the Kadar era.

And the fact that the Hungarian ambassador to the UN apologizes for Hungary’s role in the holocaust reminds me of many other similar statements made in the UN, that were far from what was said about the same issue in the speaker’s home country. A common example: the Palestinian representative in the UN repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to existence while children in Palestinian schools are indoctrinated with the idea of chasing all the Jews into the Mediterranean.

Paul
Guest

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

Istvan :
Like the world as a whole, the European Union is divided into rich and poor regions. On one side of this division are the “homelands” of the European transnationals, the countries…

Sorry to single out just this part but… For a majority of the European population today, it’s about regions and not countries. See this map:
http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/newsroom/detail.cfm?id=77

Unfortunately, although this map illustrates your point well, the data on wealth is way out of date. The map is based on data from 2008 – just before a large part of Europe went down the toilet. Note, for instance that the southern part of Ireland is doing very well, in fact a lot better than most of Europe.

Not quite so true in 2013!

Paul
Guest

“while children in Palestinian schools are indoctrinated with the idea of chasing all the Jews into the Mediterranean”.

Your source for this?

petofi
Guest

Paul :
Now I’ve calmed down, I feel a bit guilty for my tirade. Up to the last para, the article is an excellent and powerful summary of the situation, and I am very grateful to Professor Deak for producing this very timely and useful piece. My apologies for going off the deep end.

No, Paul, no need to apologize.
Did you see the movie, “The Remains Of The Day”?
It can be seen as a cautionary tale at how elements of the British aristocracy and intelligentsia were fooled by the Nazis.
I submit that Professor Deak has been fooled by a couple of ‘in principle’ notions put out by the Orbaner. In fact, there isn’t a ‘principle’ that Orban hasn’t happily chewed up and spit out
in his years at the helm.

gdfxx
Guest

Paul :
“while children in Palestinian schools are indoctrinated with the idea of chasing all the Jews into the Mediterranean”.
Your source for this?

Again, this is not the right forum to debate this issue, I should have given an other example. But since you asked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etDb5tXPawc (not recommended for the squeamish).

Visitor
Guest

Interesting article!

tappanch
Guest

Am I right to think that the Fidesz daily with the biggest circulation, “Magyar Nemzet” will not allow opposition ads during the election campaign?

http://www.asz.hu/valasztas/nyomtatott-sajto-arjegyzek

On the other hand Fidesz can advertize in the biggest opposition dailies Nepszava and Nepszabadsag.

nepszabadsagzrt .hu/upload/attachments/attachments/000/000/655/N%C3%A9pszabads%C3%A1g_v%C3%A1laszt%C3%A1si_kamp%C3%A1ny_%C3%A1rlista_2014.pdf

gdfxx
Guest

tappanch :
Am I right to think that the Fidesz daily with the biggest circulation, “Magyar Nemzet” will not allow opposition ads during the election campaign?
http://www.asz.hu/valasztas/nyomtatott-sajto-arjegyzek
On the other hand Fidesz can advertize in the biggest opposition dailies Nepszava and Nepszabadsag.
nepszabadsagzrt .hu/upload/attachments/attachments/000/000/655/N%C3%A9pszabads%C3%A1g_v%C3%A1laszt%C3%A1si_kamp%C3%A1ny_%C3%A1rlista_2014.pdf

It looks like Magyar Nemzet is not listed at all in this price list of advertisements by publication. Does this mean that all the ads they will publish are free? Is this allowed? Are they listed as a party publication?

tappanch
Guest

The free Metropol daily, which has probably largest circulation in Hungary, and which is owned by Simicska, seems to reject political ads as well.

(Since it is not on the asz list above)

I will not be surprised however , if pro-Orban articles appear in it during the campaign.

tappanch
Guest

@gdfxx

As far as I know, if a paper did not put itself on the list, it cannot and will not accept political ads during the campaign.

So the readers of Metropol and Magyar Nemzet will not learn about the arguments of the opposition. Pro-Fidesz articles will appear, of course.

Readers of the opposition dailies will be inundated with Fidesz ads on the other hand.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Paul: you’re of course right about Ireland. The overall picture hasn’t changed much since, though (of course this is only GDP, other indicators such as public services availability & quality may be more ‘national’ – though I wouldn’t be so sure today).

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/GDP_at_regional_level

tappanch
Guest

Let me summarize.

The opposition cannot campaign on television (excepting perhaps 3 minutes during the 50 days), along the roads and most streets, on trees, bridges and most buildings, and in large Fidesz newspapers or online media

For example, mno.hu is missing from
http://www.asz.hu/valasztas/elektronikus-sajto-arjegyzek

Basically, the opposition cannot deliver its message to the non-committed population or to the Fidesz fans.

Paul
Guest

gdfxx :

Paul :
“while children in Palestinian schools are indoctrinated with the idea of chasing all the Jews into the Mediterranean”.
Your source for this?

Again, this is not the right forum to debate this issue, I should have given an other example. But since you asked:

(not recommended for the squeamish).

You’re right, it certainly isn’t the right forum for debates like this – nor for such inflammatory statements.

But, if you are going to post such things, you could at least introduce some balance by considering the impact the Israeli occupation and illegal settlement of the occupied territories has on the education of Palestinian children.

gdfxx
Guest

tappanch :
Let me summarize.
The opposition cannot campaign on television (excepting perhaps 3 minutes during the 50 days), along the roads and most streets, on trees, bridges and most buildings, and in large Fidesz newspapers or online media
For example, mno.hu is missing from
http://www.asz.hu/valasztas/elektronikus-sajto-arjegyzek
Basically, the opposition cannot deliver its message to the non-committed population or to the Fidesz fans.

Pure democracy.

Just to complete the picture: what can the governing party do, as opposed to the above restrictions? Also, how are the radio stations affected by these rules? And what about Internet sites outside of Hungary, is that also restricted?

Paul
Guest

tappanch :
Let me summarize.
The opposition cannot campaign on television (excepting perhaps 3 minutes during the 50 days), along the roads and most streets, on trees, bridges and most buildings, and in large Fidesz newspapers or online media
For example, mno.hu is missing from
http://www.asz.hu/valasztas/elektronikus-sajto-arjegyzek
Basically, the opposition cannot deliver its message to the non-committed population or to the Fidesz fans.

But it’s still a free democracy.

Apparently.

tappanch
Guest

@gdfxx

The Fidesz will advertize in opposition newspapers. It will put up huge billboards against the opposition by using the Fidesz-funded CÖF name as cover.

Fidesz has umpteen radio stations, including the “public” radio. Opposition has only Klubradio and this was barred from the countryside.

Media Authority mandated Klubradio to switch frequency by February 14. I would not be surprised if Klubradio is silenced by some “technical” tricks on that day.

Fidesz can also deliver its message on television and radio, free of charge, as “government message”

The only avenue left for the opposition is to mail its programs to the 8 million voters.
It would cost, say 8 billion forints (production+postage)

The opposition does NOT have this amount of money.

Fidesz-funded CÖF has promised to do exactly this. It refused to answer how it could finance such costly endeavor.

—-

I think it is time we loudly declared this election anything but fair or democratic.

BOYCOTT
Guest

Can we decide on a boycott call?

gdfxx
Guest

tappanch :
I think it is time we loudly declared this election anything but fair or democratic.

I think you are much too kind. This election can be declared a farce right now, based on these facts.

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