Nora Berend: Monuments and Memory

The reader should imagine a memorial plaque on the wall of a house: ‘From this house 36 people, including 10 children, were deported in March 1944, with the active participation of the Hungarian government, and murdered in Auschwitz, because they were born Jewish. Let us never forget them.’ And imagine similar plaques not once, but over and over again: on the houses where murdered Jews lived; on every school that the murdered Jewish children used to attend before they were deported; on every public building from which state officials helped the deportation; at every train station where the deported were forced into the wagons.

In Hungary, this is purely imaginary, but in Paris, it is reality. Some examples. ‘Over 6100 children were arrested in Paris with their families by the police forces of the Vichy government, the accomplice of the occupying Nazis; they were murdered in Auschwitz because they were born Jewish.’ On the building of a theatre, the plaque offered by the national syndicate of actors lists those actors who died in the war by name, always adding ‘died in active military service’, ‘died in deportation’, ‘died on the barricades’. ‘To the memory of the small children who attended this nursery, who were deported between 1942-1944 because they were born Jewish, the innocent victims of Nazi barbarism with the active complicity of the Vichy government. They were annihilated in death camps. Let us never forget them.’ ‘To the memory of the director, teachers and students of this school, who were arrested in 1943 and 1944 by the Vichy police and the Gestapo. They were deported and murdered in Auschwitz, because they were born Jewish.’ ‘To the memory of the 112 inhabitants of this house, of them 40 children, who were deported and died in German camps in 1942.’ ‘To the memory of the students of this school who were deported between 1942 and 1944 because they were born Jewish, the innocent victims of Nazi barbarism with the active complicity of the Vichy government. They were annihilated in death camps. Let us never forget them.’

In the Shoah Memorial (Mémorial de la Shoah) in Paris, there is a richly documented exhibition, with heart-rending photos and material remains. A dress, belonging to a 5-6 year old girl, who was murdered in a death-camp. Letters by children hidden in nunneries to their parents, discussing how much they await seeing them, how much they miss them. There was nobody to send the letters to, because, although the children didn’t know it, their parents were already murdered. Photos, on the one hand about the horrors, such as the skeletal cadavers of people in the camps, but even more horribly from everyday life before the war: on one of them, a well-groomed nice boy smiles for the camera. A few years later, separated from his parents, he was deported in a wagon without food or drink, tortured by medical experiments, and finally, together with other children who shared his fate, hanged. One can also see filmed interviews with those who hid and saved Jews. In the courtyard, a wall: the names of those murdered, in never-ending lines.

Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris / Wikipedia

Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris / Wikipedia

France fought against Nazi Germany; after the defeat, during the German occupation that lasted several years, a French government in exile organized fighting, and within France real resistance hindered the task of the occupying army. Many sacrificed their lives fighting against Nazism, and others were murdered by the Nazis to serve as a punitive example. In this way, the population of Oradour-sur-Glane fell victim to the Nazi German troops in 1944: the village was surrounded and its 642 inhabitants, including children, were massacred. Even so, the whole of France was not a victim of Nazi Germany. The responsibility of the collaborating Vichy government is by now well known, although its recognition took time, since collaboration and complicity were only really examined starting from the 1980s in France. Hungary was even less a victim: the government was Hitler’s ally, the German military occupation did not trigger mass resistance, nor was it followed by either the creation of a government in exile, or atrocities against the entire population (as opposed, for example, to Poland).

The blurring of victim and murderer is unacceptable, even if the latter perhaps finally died by a well-merited bullet. Not only is the memory of the murdered victims desecrated, but so is that of those who tried to do something to save the Jews (and these deserve every respect, although there were few Hungarian citizens among them) – and they did so not in order to convert them to Christianity, but because they respected the life of every human being as valuable.

In Hungary, responsibility has to be acknowledged both for a series of horrors committed before the German occupation: murders, anti-Jewish laws promulgated one after another through the decision of the Hungarian government; and for the willing collaboration in the deportation and murder of Jews and Roma, as well as the tortures and murders committed by the Hungarian Arrow-Cross party. A few gestures made to the outside world are not enough, which are immediately overwritten by the manipulation of the past in schoolbooks, rewritten history and the cult of the culprits. This knowledge and confrontation with the past must be inscribed in monuments and museums constructed for Hungarian society. The Holocaust Memorial Centre at Páva street would be the suitable venue, which in many respects resembles the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris, but in Paris they are building neither a new museum with government backing against which several organizations of those most affected by the war are persistently protesting, nor a self-exculpatory monument.*

The Hungarian government was guilty during the second world war in the extermination of Jews and Roma, as well as in irresponsibly sending Hungarian soldiers to the front. The many gendarmes and officials who made deportation possible were also guilty, as were those who denounced Jews in hiding, leading to their arrest. All this is part of Hungarian history.

It is time for all of this to be integrated into the historical memory of Hungarian society. It is impossible to make amends for the past. It is impossible to bring back the dead. But in the present, it is possible to build social peace, because the descendants of both the victims and the culprits must live together in such a way that they know and accept what happened, but in the present, can transcend it. The first step of such social peace is acknowledging the facts of the past and honoring the memory of those murdered. Those murdered because they were born Roma or Jew, those deported and annihilated with the active participation of the Hungarian government must be remembered in a way that reflects these facts. It is time to affix the plaques to houses in Hungarian cities and villages, further developing the example of the ‘Stolpersteine’ found in the inner city of Pest. It is time to name the victims: small children, the old, women and men who were humiliated, tortured, and, dragged through unimaginable horrors, murdered.

It is time to show solidarity to all those who bravely say no to the mendacious monument that is under construction. Mendacious, because it pretends that all were victims, without distinguishing between murderers, accomplices and real victims. Mendacious, because it would make foreigners take the responsibility that properly belongs to Hungarian society. I asked French friends what their opinion would be about a monument commemorating the Nazi occupation. In France, there was real occupation, with real resistance. In spite of that, they look at me with incomprehension: why would we want to erect a monument to the most shameful period of French history?

In Budapest, that is what is being constructed: a monument to Hungarian shame.

The article was first published in Hungarian in Népszabadság, 28 April 2014.


*After the original of this article was written, news of a contract between Veritas and the Holocaust Memorial Center was made public on 27 April, with more details emerging over the next days. Veritas is a historical institute created by the government to rewrite the past from a nationalist perspective, the director of which already made several historically inaccurate and ethically untenable statements in line with government ideology. The director of the Holocaust Memorial Centre, whose mandate terminated on 3 May, had no knowledge of the contract, which was signed by the head of the Board of Trustees, the members of which are appointed directly by the government without open competition. A few days before the end of his tenure, there was no information at all on how the Center’s direction will be ensured, and no call for applications for the position was issued.

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Live long and prosper

A very moving piece. I did not know that the French had set such a fine example. An example Hungary would do well to emulate. But there is very little prospect of it doing so, regrettably.


There’s one big problem with this blog: people from civilized, countries will never understand
the extent to which power is wielded to keep people in line and toeing the government line.
This was not so much the case in the previous government because, though there was widespread corruption, they didn’t attempt to subvert the government and run it like a mafia organization. This has been done since 2010. So organizations that were beholden to government for their financial support are now strong-armed to do Orban’s bidding or be ground into insolvency. Of course, when you dress this to cater to the widespread anti-semitism of the country, it should be no wonder that Orban is wildly popular–he has allowed,
nay, ENCOURAGED, the people to hate.

By the way, Hungarian jews closed the Sabbath this past Saturday with a wondering offering
on the Spectrum channel: the development of the final solution in Nazi Germany. It would’ve been interesting to find out the number of viewers and their whereabouts in “Christian Hungary”.


correction: ‘wondering offering’….should read, ‘wonderful offering’


Last year in Pest I came across two ‘botlatókő’ or ‘stones that make you stumble’ with the names and dates of two people who had been deported and died at Auschwitz. I had never seen such things before. I wish there were more. The map of ‘yellow-star houses’ available on the internet is a beginning.


All culture includes a culture of remembrance. The Hungarian government’s instrumentalisation of the past by re-writing history is a blatant perversion.

Not many years ago I shared the speakers’ podium with Minister Ferenc Pinter, then and now the Minister of Interior of Hungary at a celebration when a number of Hungarian citizens received the title of Righteous of Nations from Israel and Mr. Pinter handed over a Hungarian Bravery Order to the same people who saved Jews during the Terror years of the Holocaust. See: It would have been hard to believe that the same Minister’s Police will act against survivors of the Holocaust and others who find the Orban Regime’s attempt to erect a Memorial for or to the unopposed so-called occupation of Hungary by their comrade-at-arms for the purpose of falsifying history and the whitewashing of the past. Not only the Jews of Hungary are offended by this action of a Government led by Mr. Orban, but also some non-Jewish Hungarians who do not think that St Gabriel represents them, but also the Germans are appaulled by the thought of such misrepresentation of both history and art. Indeed, the letter written by the Prime Minister of Hungary on the art and symbolism of the proposed set of statues would and should not pass the matriculation standard of an… Read more »

Let us compare the founding documents of the Holocaust Center

from 2006: Magyar Közlöny 2006. évi 102. szám , augusztus 14., from page 8045

and the 2011 Fidesz changes:éges_2011_02_24.pdf

Part VIII.

In 2006, the Board of Trustees (7 people) were appointed indefinitely. Only resignation or death made vacancies in the Board. Members served without payments to them, only their costs were reimbursed.

But in 2011, the Fidesz government dismissed all of the Board members by changing the Founding Document. Nine members were appointed with low salaries, including Chairman Haraszti for three years. Since Mr Navracsics signed the document on March 17, 2011, Mr Haraszti’s term was supposed to end on March 16, 2014.

So I do not know how Haraszti was entitled to sign any document on April 26 (a Saturday to boot). By the way, what is in the document exactly?


Sorry, it is not Ferenc, but Sandor Pinter.


Haraszti is now advertized as “Institute Leader” on

But there is no such title in the Founding Document as “Institute Leader”, only
“Acting Director”, which is vacant since Mr Szita’s term expired on May 3.



You misunderstood it. This is the contact page (kapcsolatok). Intézetvezetés only means that from the institute leadership Haraszti, as head of the board, is given as the contact person. In other words he was chosen to handle contacts in the name of the leadership. Which sound plausible and not surprising if he could legally sign a cooperation document with Veritas.

This Haraszti case is just normal modus operandi for Fidesz. Fidesz divides the Jewish community like Fidesz divides the left wing, well, you don’t really need to divide them, they are prone to have way too many opinions and have zero discipline and loyalty. Fidesz hates such people, who cannot be loyal to their community and Fidesz interprets the smallest of doubts within its camp as betrayal and immediately retaliates, no exceptions, but it knows that with others, you always have willing people who will do anything in exchange for some petty gains.


There were multiple corruptions of the populations.
The Horthy regime assured privileges to a 10-15%, who will defend the reputations of that genocidal leadership.
A similar 10-15% was favored by the post WWII Soviet installed regimes.
The rest of population has been just too passive, and never produced a significant resistance.
Where is the next chance for reform ideas, and building a free democratic society?

How long will Hungary wander around in the moral desert?


” Gretchen
May 11, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Last year in Pest I came across two ‘botlatókő’ or ‘stones that make you stumble’ with the names and dates of two people who had been deported and died at Auschwitz.”

There are many of these “Stolpersteine” in Germany too and there was a heated discussion whether plaques on the wall weren’t better …
The whole idea is from the mind of Gunther Demnig, a German sculptor and it was taken up internationally:
“Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized memorials for an individual victim of Nazism. They commemorate individuals – both those who died and survivors – who were consigned by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps, and extermination camps, as well as those who responded to persecution by emigrating or committing suicide.”

I’ve also stumbled on a few of them – not too far from where we live in Germany there was a clinic for severely handicapped (mainly mentally ill) people which was turned into an extermination facility, where thousands of people of all ages (among them many small children) were killed by Nazi doctors.



Don’t forget:

Among university students MSZP has 3% support, Jobbik has 17-20%. Jobbik is not the extreme now, but it is the main party and is seen as the group of cool kids towards it is worth to conform by the undecideds.

Needless to say among non-university, working-class students MSZP has zero support. It is just an irrelevant party for young people. And young people tend to grow up. Once they identify themselves as right-wing and conservative, they will not switch that identity soon. It like changing your gender in Hungary, happens rarely.



This is one of those things I really don’t comprehend. I mean, these young one are used to getting all kind of info from the WWW and still they think like Hungarians under Horthy – even though I can’t believe that people were happy in that Feudal state.

I must count myself lucky that our young ones are “liberals”, reading reddit and watching Jon Stewart. I couldn’t imagine them ever voting for Fidesz or Jobbik even!

PS and a bit OT:
We converse in English (my Hungarian is still not good enough …) and I always encourage them to read and use it as often as possible, already helped them with their jobs. And their friends also are “globally oriented” – are they really a minority amongst Hungarian youths?


In Budapest it is possible to stumble upon (figuratively) small brass plaques, about four inches (10 cm) square, embedded in the sidewalk at the entrance to certain apartment buildings. Most have a very brief, one-sentence message: the name, sometimes the profession, of a person (no mention of them having been Jewish) who was taken from his or her home there on a date in 1944 or 1945, and where they were killed. There are a couple on Andrássy út and elsewhere in downtown Pest, and I came across another on a side street in the III. district the other day.

@wolfi: These figures to me show that party politics and identification with ideologies (brands) have very little to do with rational arguments and deliberation, which I guess the readers of this blog assume. They want to believe in that this is how liberal democracy works or at least ought to work. For young kids party sympathy (essentially wearing one of limited number of political brands) is foremost about belonging, conforming, a socialization process. University kids are only young adults, not adults in a psychological sense. Their personality is in the process of forming, and young kids just don’t want to seem to be associated with Imre Szekeres, Laszlo Puch or György Konrad (although these names are also pretexts for disliking them). Worse, it is also a meta-issue, because MSZP or liberals have the *image* of being old folk’s parties/ideologies (eg. Konrad or Heller are both over 80 and act out of touch), despite the fact that Fidesz’ top brass is currently much older than that of MSZP. But this image of old cadres and old intellectuals, which was true for 20 years, is now so accepted that MSZP, try as it might, cannot escape it. In addition, for the rich… Read more »

The new enemy is ready. And Hungary will fight them until the last drop of blood.

The “out of touch, down-town Budapest intellectuals” (of course for Hungarians it is clear that this category has significant anti-semitic undertones, as this group includes Heller but others too such as the civil rights people “trying to solve the Roma-question from district 5”) but really this ‘cabal’ or name will be the symbol of the entire Hungarian civil sector “paid by the Westerners.”

This is classic Putin by the way, but it’s also politics. It did work finely for Putin, so why would it not work for Orban?

I wanna puke but people do like Orban and hate liberals (including Jobbik supporters) and he will continue to win and the civil sector will just stand there like the deer in the spot light before being run over. The civilians wouldn’t even know what hit them — and the political left again will stand there without being able to say anything.


Polgar wrote:
“In addition, for the rich kids it is a family issue to support Fidesz as it is the party of bourgeoisie (whether they are Buda or from rural elites, kids of rural lawyers, doctors etc.). It’s tradition.”

Well 50 years ago in Germany (and France, where it all started: May 1968 etc, though the unrest was there from the beginning of the 60s …) we were revolting against our parents just because of this – are most Hungarian youths really just conformists, only trying to make money and live the good life?

I just can’t believe it – sounds so depressing!


Slightly OT: Almost 600,000 Hungarian are working abroad up from 500,000 as per the end 2013. How many follow or will follow after the election.


Polgar, Wolfi. There much be a reason why none of the schools and/or universities make the top 100, top 500 of best schools or universities.

Look at the output. all of them seems to be good Fideszek/Hungarians, but most of them are incompetent and just follow the Dear Leader.

OT: last week, I posted about the Holocaust Memorial Concert at the Music Academy which I felt was a disgrace. To recap, the concert featured works by Jewish Hungarians who lost their lives. But the centre piece was a work by Dohnányi, written in 1930, quite irrelevant to the Holocaust and made all the more questionable because Dohnányi was accused of being a Nazi collaborator. The organisers attempted to explain this choice away on the grounds that Dohnányi’s career suffered as a result of false accusations (which is possibly fair comment) and therefore he is another victim of the Holocaust, like those who were shot or gassed. It is quite an obscene comparison. Dohnányi left Budapest in November 1944, eventually living in Florida where he died in 1962. The concert took place last night behind closed doors. Some major names in Hungarian music failed to turn up, disturbed as I was by the implications. But there has been no press coverage so far, despite my attempts to raise a stink. I was told that the concert began with an interminable speech in which the word Jew or Jewish was not uttered once. The government commissioner for serious music, the former… Read more »
soul spirit reform

Polgar is the embodiment of an cruel, eternally failed type.
Where is this ignorance originating?
This emptiness, this criminal nodding approval for discrimination and racism?
Just be warned that this attitude was suicidal in all ages.

Petofi, come to my help, and explain this bottomless abomination?

Who knows a good reform space for such sort of dehumanized people?


soul spirit reform: I think you are mistaken. By the way what ignorance? What approval? Just because I dare to refer to reality? Don’t hate the messenger.


1. Dear Eva,

What was the topic of the conference at U of Florida?

2. Ukraine:

The Ukrainian government in Kiev has accelerated the draft in the Hungarian-populated villages too.

D7 Democrat

“the civil rights people “trying to solve the Roma-question from district 5″”

As opposed to the Fidesz/Jobbik thugs who attempt to solve it with wacking kids over the head with baseball bats and cutting off water supplies?

The fact that the Mafia regime are planning to crucify charities, foundations and NGOs is not news and hasn’t been for some time. T

he bigger ones will be Ok as they have the resources to switch operations and to be perfectly frank they operate on a different intellectual plane than the moron Lazar, who has been stupid enough to be signaling his obvious intention for over six months now.

The *intelligent* way for Lazar would have been to pass a law one Monday morning without warning but intelligence and Lazar are not two ideas which sit well together.

Sadly, the smaller charities and NGOs will be taken out by the Mafia, no doubt about that


May 12, 2014 at 6:12 am
Slightly OT: Almost 600,000 Hungarian are working abroad up from 500,000 as per the end 2013. How many follow or will follow after the election.

Well, that is great news for Orban / Fidesz as this would show up on the Hungarian employment numbers as 100,000 extra workers that Orban supplied work with under his 1,000,000 new workplace program for dummies.
If all goes well, Orban, his family and the members of parliament will remain, Hungary will look like a chapter out of “The Walking Dead”, but there will be 3,000,000 more extra work created by Orban according to government data.


Methinks, soul spirit, you misunderstood polgar) – (s)he is heavily criticising those things that he describes, not nodding approval!


Wow, my comment finally got accepted!

I tried this morning several times but it wouldn’t go through! Anybody here had a similar experience? Is this a wordpress problem?

@ soul spirit reform “Petofi, come to my help, and explain this bottomless abomination?” Even though I’ve been mulling it over for quite some time, it’s hard to get a handle on it. First off, the society has become self-delusional with no little help from the churches, chief among them, the Catholic Church. Now, with the sins of the Hungarian Church abundantly clear, it has bothered me no little that the Vatican hasn’t seen fit to set things right. I can only posit that there is an element of blackmail: the Hungarian Church is probably up to speed on things like pedophilia in the church; the extent of the Vatican’s responsibility in aiding the flight of nazis etc. etc. And, the Hungarians being such an unpredictable lot, the Vatican will just steer clear, thank you. And, as for anti-semitism and the Hungarian Catholic Church, I’ve yet to hear of a concerted effort to educate its brethren “on the Jew”. In fact, the age old truth for primitive societies–and Hungary’s is certainly primitive–a good enemy is useful for the cohesion of the group. Aside from the above, Hungarians have always had a conceit about their ‘cleverness’ and how they can put… Read more »