Mária Vásárhelyi: An open letter to Mrs. Annette Lantos

vasarhelyi mariaMária Vásárhelyi is a sociologist whose main interest is the state of the media. She is the daughter of Miklós Vásárhelyi (1917-2001) who served as the press secretary of the second Imre Nagy government. As a result he and his family, including the three-year-old Mária, were deported together with Imre Nagy and his family to Snagov, Romania. Miklós Vásárhelyi received a five-year sentence for his activities during the 1956 Revolution. I should add that Mária Vásárhelyi is one of my favorite publicists in Hungary.

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Dear Mrs. Lantos,

Although we have not met personally, your late husband and my late father, Miklós Vásárhelyi, used to hold each other in high esteem; therefore I take the liberty to write this letter to you.

The tie between your husband and my father was not only based on common historical experience and mutual personal sympathy; they also shared some values that were manifest in moral and political issues that both of them found crucially important. And both of them bravely took a stance whenever they saw those values endangered. Among these principles the idea of freedom was of primary importance, as well as the representation of human rights, or responsibility for the situation of the minorities and the oppressed. Both fought in the Hungarian armed resistance against the fascist occupation; they worked to bring down the state socialist dictatorship; they stood up for the rights of Hungarian communities beyond the borders; and also spoke out after the democratic transformation, when racist and anti-Semitic views came to the fore on the political scene.

As far as I remember, among Hungarians living abroad, your husband was the first to protest when István Csurka’s anti-Semitic pamphlet “Some Thoughts” was published. He also raised his voice in 2007 when the Slovak Parliament reaffirmed the infamous Beneš Decrees. Your husband was most determined in his condemnation of the establishment of the Hungarian Guard, an anti-Roma and anti-Semitic organization, whose purpose was to intimidate and publicly humiliate the minorities in Hungary. To my knowledge, when he last met Viktor Orbán he made a point of expressing his dismay about how several politicians from Fidesz gave support to the foundation and activities of the Hungarian Guard, with Fidesz as a party not distancing itself unambiguously from that paramilitary organization.

The deep, principled understanding and mutual appreciation between your husband and my father was testified to by the speech Tom Lantos made in the House of Representatives on October 6, 2005, in which he emphasized my father’s “significant contribution to the cause of freedom and democracy,” as someone “who played a critically important role before and during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and again in the 1970s and 1980s, in the struggle to transform Hungary from a one-party communist state into a multi-party democracy.”

In the light of these facts I am certain you will understand why I find it so important to write to you about the House of Fates, on whose International Consultative Board you were invited to be a member. I am convinced that this institution, rather than serving its officially proclaimed aim of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and drawing the public’s attention to the tragedy of child victims, would serve the falsification of history, the politically motivated expropriation of historical memory, and purposes of party propaganda. The policies of the Orbán administration during the past few years, and its ambivalent (to put it mildly) relations with the extreme right; its policy of ignoring the growth of anti-Semitism in Hungary; as well as all that we know about the project so far – its contents, the circumstances of its establishment, the name itself, the location selected and the deadline chosen for its construction, the person in charge, the choice of the trustees – tend to suggest that the real purpose of the new European Educational Center is to downplay whatever responsibility Hungary had for the Holocaust and to mend the damaged international reputation of the current right-wing government.

During the past few years there have been more and more acts of desecration of Jewish symbols, prayer houses, cemeteries, and attacks on individuals whom the attackers took to be Jewish. A series of international and Hungarian sociological surveys give evidence of an extraordinary growth of anti-Semitism within Hungarian society; at least one fourth of the population openly declares it has anti-Semitic views, and many more people are simply prejudiced against the Jews. Everyday anti-Semitic discourse (zsidózás) is quite common in the streets and other public spaces. The same surveys make it clear that while the economic crisis played a role in the increased number of these occurrences, its effect has been boosted in the right-wing and extreme-right political context. Meanwhile, according to comparative research conducted in nine EU member states, it is Hungary where people of Jewish descent feel the most threatened. In 2012, 91% of the members of the Hungarian Jewish community said anti-Semitism had recently worsened to a smaller or larger degree; it is the largest portion among the countries surveyed. During five years, the number of those who consider anti-Semitism a serious social problem has nearly doubled. I am, of course, aware of the fact that anti-Semitism has become more widespread in most European countries, but it is still revealing that while only 11% of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom thinks of anti-Semitism as “a very big problem,” in Hungary 49% hold this view. In the UK 18% of those identifying themselves as Jews have contemplated emigration because of “not feeling safe as Jews”, while in Hungary this ratio is 48%.

I also believe that Viktor Orbán and his party are heavily responsible for the growth of anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Hungarian government’s reputation is rapidly worsening in the eyes of the democratic world, and this is largely due to their particular responses to ever-growing racism and anti-Semitism as well as some of their decisions concerning personal appointments and cultural policy, which gave fuel to such vicious emotions. Falsification of Hungary’s history, whitewashing the crimes of the Horthy era, elevating well-known anti-Semites (public figures, politicians, writers) to the national pantheon, while throwing mud at brave and honest left-wing and liberal patriots, are all features of the current government’s cultural and heritage policies. Parts of the media, which this government supports morally or financially (in direct and indirect ways), are full of overt and covert racist or anti-Semitic statements. Several of the figureheads of the pro-government press openly incite hatred against homosexuals, Jews, and the Roma. In the first rows of the so-called “Peace Marches,” demonstrations organized to prove that there is mass support behind Fidesz’s policies, there are well-known anti-Semites. One of the leaders of the quasi-NGO responsible for these marches used to be a founder and intellectual leader of the Hungarian Guard; another one, an emblematic figure in Fidesz, is a journalist whose work can be legally criticized as anti-Semitic, according to a court ruling. Still another leading figure of the Fidesz-related media can justly be called the father of Holocaust relativization in Hungary.

The government uses doublespeak. On the one hand, the deputy prime minister at the conference of the Tom Lantos Institute, Hungary’s ambassador at the United Nations, or, most recently, the President of the Republic, have used words of humanism and solidarity commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and admitting in unambiguous language that the Hungarian state and public administration bore responsibility for the murder of 600,000 of our Jewish compatriots. On the other hand, the government itself and government institutions have made countless gestures to the far right, relativizing the Holocaust, and denying that the Hungarian state apparatus was responsible to any degree.

This intention of downplaying Hungarian responsibility for the Holocaust is most apparent in the preamble of the Fundamental Law (Constitution), promulgated in 2011 under the Fidesz government, which states, “our country’s self-determination [was] lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944”. Which means that Germany as the occupying power must bear full responsibility for the deportation and wholesale murder of Hungarian Jewry. Apart from the fact that it was not an occupation in the international legal sense (the German armed forces did not occupy any Hungarian territories against the will of the Hungarian government), plenty of historical evidence and the testimonies of the survivors prove that the Hungarian authorities’ zeal and effectiveness in organizing the deportations shocked even the Germans, including high-level SS officers, while a significant part of the population watched the deportation of their fellow citizens with utmost indifference. The narrative that the government suggests through the text of the Fundamental Law is, therefore, an utter lie. Similarly, the planned 70th anniversary commemorations of the Holocaust are marked by an intention of falsification and lies – including the establishment of The House of Fates European Educational Center.

The name House of Fates is evidently an allusion to Nobel laureate Imre Kertész’s novel Fatelessness, but its message is quite the opposite. It suggests that being murdered in a concentration camp was the fate of those children, but, although they lived through it, the fate was not theirs. As Kertész writes, “if there is such a thing as fate, then freedom is not possible (…) if there is such a thing as freedom, then there is no fate (…) That is to say, then we ourselves are fate.” (English translation by Tim Wilkinson) This is how the main protagonist of the novel, Gyurka Köves, formulates the key to his own story, when he realizes that whatever happened to him was not his own fate, although he himself lived through it. The name House of Fates is not just a play on words but a complete misinterpretation of the essence of the Holocaust. And not just the name but also the site is a telling sign of the intellectual emptiness behind the lofty and bombastic use of the Holocaust as a political instrument. Holocaust researchers and survivors all agree that the Józsefváros Railway Station is not a symbolic site of deportation, and no children were taken from there to Auschwitz. The historian in charge of the project’s concept – who once happened to call the Horthy régime, which presided over the Hungarian Jews’ total deprivation of rights and exclusion, “a democracy until 1938” – is not a Holocaust expert. During the past 25 years, she has not produced any publications of scholarly merit on this subject but was at the center of quite a few scandals.

The plans that have been leaked out indicate that the central message of the Educational Center would not be the tragedy of innocent children but the rescuers, those brave and honorable citizens who put their lives at risk in their efforts to help and save their persecuted compatriots. Naturally, there should be monuments commemorating their bravery and sacrifice, but why must the plight of many thousands of murdered children be used for that purpose? This is the dishonest betrayal and political utilization of the child victims’ memory.

Dear Annette Lantos, living thousands of kilometers away from Hungary you may not be aware of all this. That is why I felt it was my duty to inform you of these issues and draw your attention to some aspects of the cause in support of which your late husband’s memory and your own name are being used. I ask you to reconsider whether you want to participate in the Consultative Board’s proceedings.

Respectfully yours,

Mária Vásárhely

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gdfxx
Guest

Thanks to Mária Vásárhelyi for writing and thank you for publishing this letter.

petofi
Guest

An admirable letter.

Annette Lantos has betrayed the memory of her father.

steve 397
Guest

Annette is the widow of Tom Lantos.

steve 397
Guest

I find this letter extremely good and might cause reflection by Mrs Lantos as to her connection with the rulers of present day Hungary.

The other observation of mine is the same I made in connection with historian Krisztian Ungvary i.e. that he cannot even be accused of being a Jew as others who oppose the present Hungarian regime will be. The only difference is that Ms Vasarhelyi cannot be accused of being either a Jew or a Communist.

Let’s wait a while for what she will be accused of.

petofi
Guest

steve 397 :
Annette is the widow of Tom Lantos.

Her betrayal is all the more surprising.

tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

A great, powerful and moving letter. Thank you for publishing it Eva.

Guest

I have to agree – a fantastic letter that sums up the problems of the Orbán regime re WW2 and the decimation of the Hungarian Jews.

PS and a bit OT:

If only there existed a Hungarian politician like our German president Mr Gauck …

Guest

Sculptural history lesson galore: Gavrilo Princip in Belgrade

http://inserbia.info/news/2014/01/a-monument-honoring-gavrilo-princip-to-be-built-in-belgrade/

Ovidiu
Guest

Jean P :
Sculptural history lesson galore: Gavrilo Princip in Belgrade

Not a good sign either.This newfound passion for the adversarial history of Europe is a symptom of the malaise that we have witnessed since the start of the economic crisis : the weakening of the EU cohesion and the return of nationalism.
Serbia would better recall that it lost 27% of its population during WW2 (60% of its male population).It was devastating.

Ovidiu
Guest

during WW1 -(not WW2)

Don Kichote
Guest

wolfi :
I have to agree – a fantastic letter that sums up the problems of the Orbán regime re WW2 and the decimation of the Hungarian Jews.
PS and a bit OT:
If only there existed a Hungarian politician like our German president Mr Gauck …

Are you sure? http://tinyurl.com/oc5m2du

Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner
Guest
Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner
Thank you for this, Eva. I add my own experieince to her thoughtful letter. Of the scattered and meaningless numbers –numbers which lead to misunderstanding and rancor, in Hungary called “numbers war” –a great step was taken by Rabbi Mier Lau in reshaping Yad Vashem around the lives of several families. He had learned the great lesson provided by Anna Frank who suddenly lifted memory from an undifferentiated mass grave of unfathomable millions, toward the loss of life that touched us and with which we and our students could finally identify. Loss made palpable, we could also grieve, the latter being the most significant step toward reconciliation the only meaning which also lifts us beyond fatelessness. As we became aware of the meaninglessness of the dried bones of numbers, early on Mordecia Paldiel, Head, Righteous Among Nations, pointed to the sad fact that we knew the names and of the lives of only 30% of the martyred. A massive quest was underway at the time, to recover their identities. But he added, “Of the 28,000 Rescuers we now Honor, we know that at least 5 times as many existed.” Of the quotes for numbers in this regard from other discussion,… Read more »
Joe Simon
Guest

This is a letter expressing the partisan political views of the author. It proves that Hungary is a democracy where diverse views can be freely expressed. I visited the synagogues in Miskolc and Budapest for concerts and social events. Last August at Dohany utca a large crowd gathered for a celebration of some sort, mostly Jews. I sensed a thriving Jewish life there. I know the young Rabbi in Miskolc working
to revitalize the Jewish community there. Vasarhelyi expresses some biased and one-sided personal opinions.

Joe Simon
Guest

Also, Bill Maher and N. Chomsky are fierce critics of the US political scene but they are not writing letters abroad to save US democracy. They are throwing their eggs where eggs should be thrown, at faces at home.

Paul
Guest
A little OT – I know there are hundreds of books on Hungarian Holocaust, but one that really made an impression on me was Ernő Szép’s The Smell of Humans. The effect and impact of the Holocaust is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to convey the full horror of it without drifting into hyperbole, but Szép manages it very well in this book by underplaying the personal impact it has on him – but never downplaying the sheer awfulness of what was happening. The book describes his life in Budapest and time in the Arrow Cross labour battalion in the closing months of the war, but he does it from the bemused perspective of an old city-dwelling man, rather confused by what’s going on, and (almost) not taking it seriously at times. Far from disguising the horror of what went on, this technique actually emphasises the shock of the way the mostly elderly men were treated. His story is also noticeable for the human way it portrays the perpetrators of the terror – some committed and evil, but many almost as bemused as him. Their march across Hungary is mostly a disorganised, shuffling black farce – but interspersed with… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Well, at least you say one thing about Joe – he’s consistent!

Paul
Guest
A PS to my earlier post: My copy of The Smell of Humans in in Debrecen (we are in the UK at the moment) and it is some years since I read it, so my recollection of the book might not be entirely accurate. I was also going to recommend two other books for similar reasons (a different view of the Hungarian Jewish experience in WW2), but they are also in Hungary! And in the case of one, I can’t remember the title or author well enough to find it on Amazon (and it’s difficult to recommend a book when you can’t give author or title!). The one I can remember the name of is Aranka Siegal’s ‘Upon the Head of the Goat’ – the first-hand story of a young girl living in Beregszász. It starts with her happy, relatively privileged, Hungarian-Jewish childhood being interrupted by Beregszász becoming Hungarian once again – something that’s exciting and interesting to a 9-year old, but nothing more than that. But then it tells the story of how their lives become gradually more difficult and confusing, as neighbours and friends reject them, their business is taken over, and they become victims of ever greater… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
I am not clear that readers of Eva’s blog have seen these comments: Prepared remarks of Katrina Lantos Swett at UN Hungarian Holocaust Commemoration, January 23, 2014 Good Evening, Dear Friends. As has already been noted by the earlier speakers, we meet tonight with hearts that are both heavy and full – heavy over the sudden and serious illness of our friend Gyorgy Vamos who has been in so many ways the moving force behind this exhibit and full because we gather today to remember a dark time in history and to commemorate and honor the hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their lives in the tragedy of the Hungarian Holocaust. As you know my own family is included in the numbers of those who became victims, and my own dear mother and father were saved only because of the selfless heroism of one of the most extraordinary diplomats and humanitarians of the 20th century- Raoul Wallenberg. A monument to Wallenberg stands just a stone’s throw away from where we are, across the street from the UN, and perhaps the most notable part of the Memorial is the bronze suitcase, left on the ground to symbolize the unfinished work… Read more »
Influence Influence
Guest

The Lantos Foundation is not properly managed. It is a cushy work place for some. Tucked away in New Hampshire, it needs qualified managers.

Call them or email them with advice:

http://www.lantosfoundation.org/

The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice
6 Dixon Avenue, Suite 100
Concord, New Hampshire 03301
Tel: 603-226-3636
Email: info@lantosfoundation.org

Why is it giving support for the revisionism sweeping Hungary now?

Andy -- and a hello
Guest

The letter is a good summary. I wonder if Mrs Lantos, due to her age, can sense from abroad the CUMULATIVE extent of the the weight of the distortions being implemented within Hungary.

A hello to the fellow readers of H. Spectrum.
Best regards, Andy

Eliezer
Guest
From a speech of representative Tom Lantos in the American Congress on May 26, 1994. The capital letters are mine. I believe Mr. Lantos, out of fear of political correctness, gave all the merit to the commanding colonel (who definitely deserves the merit) and does not mention by name the person who gave him the orders: “Ferenc Koszorus was a colonel in the Hungarian Army in charge of the First Magyar Armored Division stationed in and around Budapest. He learned that Laszlo Baky, Secretary of State and director of all security forces, with the exception of the army, had planned a coup d’etat to install a police force completely subservient to the Nazis. They would see to it that Hungary was purged of all remaining Jews. With the help of the Gestapo, Baky formed several battalions of `gendarmerie’ forces loyal to him. Orders from the Regent to disband the gendarmerie went unheeded. Colonel Koszorus controlled the last remaining active army unit in Hungary. At a time when few others would stand up to the Nazi occupation, Colonel Koszorus took the initiative to resist. Realizing the severity of the situation, Colonel Koszorus consulted with the Regent and began preparations on his… Read more »
human kindness
Guest

Two more heroes deserve major credit for their 1944 rescue missions:

Dr. Mester Miklos – administrative assistance. His warm relation with Heltai and Komoly Ottó

http://5mp.eu/web.php?a=torokbalint&o=Mhbqd4WS8S

Gerhard Schmidhuber – German general, rescued the ghetto population – http://www.mult-kor.hu/cikk.php?id=12708

Mr. Paul
Guest
Eliezer : From a speech of representative Tom Lantos in the American Congress on May 26, 1994. The capital letters are mine. I believe Mr. Lantos, out of fear of political correctness, gave all the merit to the commanding colonel (who definitely deserves the merit) and does not mention by name the person who gave him the orders: “Ferenc Koszorus was a colonel in the Hungarian Army in charge of the First Magyar Armored Division stationed in and around Budapest. He learned that Laszlo Baky, Secretary of State and director of all security forces, with the exception of the army, had planned a coup d’etat to install a police force completely subservient to the Nazis. They would see to it that Hungary was purged of all remaining Jews. With the help of the Gestapo, Baky formed several battalions of `gendarmerie’ forces loyal to him. Orders from the Regent to disband the gendarmerie went unheeded. Colonel Koszorus controlled the last remaining active army unit in Hungary. At a time when few others would stand up to the Nazi occupation, Colonel Koszorus took the initiative to resist. Realizing the severity of the situation, Colonel Koszorus consulted with the Regent and began preparations… Read more »
Eliezer
Guest
Mr. Paul : Eliezer : From a speech of representative Tom Lantos in the American Congress on May 26, 1994. The capital letters are mine. I believe Mr. Lantos, out of fear of political correctness, gave all the merit to the commanding colonel (who definitely deserves the merit) and does not mention by name the person who gave him the orders: “Ferenc Koszorus was a colonel in the Hungarian Army in charge of the First Magyar Armored Division stationed in and around Budapest. He learned that Laszlo Baky, Secretary of State and director of all security forces, with the exception of the army, had planned a coup d’etat to install a police force completely subservient to the Nazis. They would see to it that Hungary was purged of all remaining Jews. With the help of the Gestapo, Baky formed several battalions of `gendarmerie’ forces loyal to him. Orders from the Regent to disband the gendarmerie went unheeded. Colonel Koszorus controlled the last remaining active army unit in Hungary. At a time when few others would stand up to the Nazi occupation, Colonel Koszorus took the initiative to resist. Realizing the severity of the situation, Colonel Koszorus consulted with the Regent… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Chabad of Hungary has issued its opinion:

Let me try to figure out the essence of their rather convoluted letter – I hope I am not mistaken in my interpretation.

0. They hope that MaZsiHiSz and the Hungarian government will reach an compromise.
[Lazar has agreed to meet the representatives of the Jewish communities on February 6]

2. The Hungarian government should issue a declaration condemning the Horthy regime in parallel to building the “German occupation” monument.

3. The Hungarian should build a museum of Hungarian-Jewish coexistence in lieu of or next to the new Holocaust Center on the Jozsefvaros railroad station.

If I understand correctly, they agree to everything Orban wanted in return of a formal declaration (which might not be published in Fidesz newspapers, perhaps will only serve a fig leaf for foreign consumption).

http://zsido.com/cikkek/Emlekev__Mit_mond_a_zsido_tanitas/10/3952

Compare this with MaZsiHisz’s earlier demands:

1. Remove historian Szakaly as director of Veritas Institute.

2. Do not build the “German occupation” monument.

3. Maria Schmidt must not direct the exhibition at Jozsefvaros railroad station

tappanch
Guest

Correction: will only serve AS a fig leaf

tappanch
Guest

In the entire letter, Chabad proffers itself as a mediator, not as a supporter of the demands of the bigger Jewish denomination.

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