Viktor Orbán and the Jewish war heroes of World War I

Yesterday Viktor Orbán delivered a speech in the Jewish cemetery on Kozma utca where there is a separate section for the graves of soldiers who served in World War I. This speech was hailed by the reporter for AFP as a breakthrough because it was Orbán’s “first acknowledgment of his country’s complicity in the Holocaust.” Alas, when I got to the original text it turned out that Orbán said nothing of the sort. He simply repeated the same old mantra: there were many Hungarians who “chose evil instead of virtue, the shameful instead of the honorable.” What this regime refuses to acknowledge is that it was the Hungarian government, not just individuals, that was complicit in the Hungarian Holocaust.

Otherwise, his speech was, as István Gusztos, a frequent contributor to liberal internet sites, labeled it, “hadova,” a word of Gypsy origin meaning “empty talk.” What Gusztos particularly objected to was Orbán’s glorification of war heroes as if the Austro-Hungarian participation in World War I had anything to do with the defense of the homeland. Orbán also made the unsubstantiated claim that without the Jewish soldiers the defense of the country couldn’t have been achieved. For starters, we have no statistics whatsoever on the percentage of Jewish-Hungarian soldiers in the army. We do know, however, that Archduke Joseph regarded the Jewish soldiers as “just as good patriots and soldiers as anyone else.” (János Gyurgyák, A zsidókérdés Magyarországon [p. 95]).

As for the glorification of heroes, Gusztos has a point. Orbán spent some time complaining about history books that “even after the change of regime talk about battles that had no heroes, only victims.” Instead, in his speech he concentrated on a series of battles that eventually managed to repel the Russian army at the Uzsok/Uzhok mountain pass in the last couple of months of 1914. Yes, the Russians were eventually pushed back, but at a large cost in lives on both sides. By concentrating on this particular episode Orbán advanced his thesis that World War I was a defensive war. In fact, he envisioned a scenario in which, if the Russians had not been stopped at Uzsok, they would have marched straight to Budapest. Given the slow pace of military movements in World War I, that outcome was unlikely, but it sounds good in a political speech.

Source: 444.hu

Source: 444.hu

How did Orbán manage to transition to the Jewish theme? After all, the occasion was the refurbishing of the military section of the Kozma utca cemetery. As usual, he handled the task well. The hero of the day was Baron Samu Hazai, the minister of defense at the time of the Russian-Hungarian encounter at Uzsok. Hazai was born Samuel Kohn, but after he decided on a military career he converted and changed his name. He was a great favorite of Prime Minister István Tisza, who often gathered influential men of Jewish extraction to advise him. He even offered positions in his cabinet to Jews. His first appointment was Samu Hazai. Two years later he picked János Teleszky as minister of finance. The third Jewish member of his cabinet was János Harkányi, minister of trade. They all served for the duration of Tisza’s seven years in office.

So, Hazai was the minister of defense, but what did he have to do with the battle at Uzhok? “Our outstanding minister of defense, Baron Samu Hazai, almost from nothing managed to put together a force of 70,000 men and in a moment of great inspiration decided to send Sándor Szurmay to head the new army group.”

Well, there is another version of the story. Sándor Szurmay held the rank of lieutenant-general and since 1907 had worked in the ministry of defense. When the war broke out he wanted to join the fighting forces, but Hazai found him indispensable and, instead of letting him go to the front, made him undersecretary of defense. The patriotic Szurmay was not happy with the arrangement and eventually asked the supreme command to put pressure on Hazai, who eventually relented. Orbán was mistaken:  Szurmay was not named to head a new force but arrived at Uzhok to take charge of the troops that were already fighting there. Szurmay quickly discovered that the military situation was desperate and that without extra men the Russians couldn’t be repulsed. At his request, Hazai and Tisza “moved heaven and earth” to send the extra 70,000 men to the battle site.

Orbán didn’t get the story quite straight, but at least Samu Hazai’s name resurfaced. After all, he was the first cabinet member of Jewish origin in Hungarian history. Moreover, during his tenure he put considerable effort into the modernization of the army and was responsible for legislation introducing a more enlightened military court system. In addition, he wrote several books on military topics and translated Carl von Clausewitz’s book On War. A fairly long English-language biography of Hazai is available online.

Two more thoughts on this speech. One sentence in particular caught my eye: “The road that led from the heroic Hungarian Jews’ comradeship to the concentration camps is incomprehensible.” I guess if it’s incomprehensible, the fate of Hungarian Jews from 1919 to 1944 doesn’t have to be, in fact can’t be explained. He said merely: “Walking around these graves it is incomprehensible that there was a political system in Hungary after World War II that wanted to eradicate even the memory of the soldiers buried here.” What a leap, and how telling.

The other interesting passage dealt with peace in our time. European countries worked hard to create peace after “the wars of nation states.” And “we must never forget that we must defend this peace every day so we wouldn’t become like the ‘sleepwalkers’ of Europe in 1914.” This passage can be interpreted in two different ways, I think. One interpretation is that Orbán here hails the European Union as the replacement for the warring nation states. This might be a friendly gesture toward Brussels. On the other hand, one might think of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, in which case Orbán is urging some kind of understanding with Russia at the expense of Ukraine. I don’t know which interpretation, if either, is applicable. Orbán’s double talk is difficult to decipher. 

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gdfxx
Guest

According to the site below the origin of the word hadova is Yiddish.

http://mnytud.arts.unideb.hu/szleng/tanulmanyok/jiddis.htm

On the other hand the Idegen szavak szotara identifies it as of Gypsy origin.

I wonder what the truth is.

tappanch
Guest

Orban chose not to attend the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of either the Budapest ghetto or the Auschwitz extermination camp. His envoy Balogh was caught sleeping at 15:20 on

tappanch
Guest

@gdfxx

Szirmay’s “Magyar tolvajnyelv szotara” from 1924 thought “hadovál” was of Gypsy origin.

See p. 14

http://mek.oszk.hu/11200/11297/11297.pdf

The etymology of your source claims a hadova < ha davar derivation, which sounds absurd on two grounds: the verb "hadovál" seems to be primary, and secondly, where did the sound "r" go? (r is strongly rolled in Hungarian, it cannot be dropped)

tappanch
Guest

“V hovorové maďarštině se objevuje také sloveso hadovál „tlachat, žvanit“, maďarský výkladový slovník uvádí slovo hadova „řeč“ s poznámkou o romském původu. Základ bude mít toto slovo možná v romském hadinel „hádat“ (hadinav „hádám“), slovo by však mohlo být i přejímkou ze slovanských jazyků (srov. např. dohadovat se). ”

http://clovek.ff.cuni.cz/rservice.php?akce=tisk&cisloclanku=2010051501

tappanch
Guest

So this Gypsy word might have come from a Slavic language, dohadovat se = to argue

gdfxx
Guest

I used to hear many times the expression “o’he’ber hadova”, that’s why I looked it up.

Thanks for the clarifications.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Thanks for the explanation text. I obviously didn’t get the subtleties in the military history part 🙂

I’m glad you share my feelings about the ‘incomprehensible’ etc. And I stand by what I wrote earlier regarding the ‘imperial’ vision of minorities, and the relation of this speech to the immigration stance.

As to the last paragraph, I don’t see any ‘double talk’. To me, what OV blames isn’t the possibly dire effects of the nation-state concept, but the decision to go to war. Speaking about WW1 of course, as for WW2 we can’t say from this speech; but we can guess, since the Horthy whitewashing machine its still on, and he clearly links the two conflicts in the same sentence – as if the latter could be resumed to a consequence of the former. Quite a popular interpretation in Hungary, alas.

Beyond the historical views, this is another indication that this government intends to play the ‘dove’ – actively it seems, as Hungary, along with Greece, Slovakia and Austria, attempted yesterday to water down the latest EU council communiqué regarding the Russian agression in Ukraine.

Just how many times can the leaders of a country repeat the same mistakes?

kave
Guest
1. I have never heard “hadova” in either spoken Yiddish or in Romani. The Romani term “duma” (a loan from Slavic languages) tends to mean “speak” specifically in eastern Kalderash dialects, as in “dav duma” where other Romani speakers would normally use the Romani “vakarav” or the Romanian derived verb “vorbi”. 2. This whole bizarre “memorial” ceremony seems to me to be a substitute for Orban actually taking part in any actual holocaust commemoration. (At least Balogh Zoltán, the NER Shill was able to find the time take a nap during the tedious procedure… http://444.hu/2015/01/27/balog-zoltan-megmutatta-a-vilagnak-hogyan-viselkedik-egy-emelkedett-allamferfi/) Instead, the government website released their video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtDhrMLhY5s) in which Orban got to stand next to maps of Great Hungary, and could seem to be mourning the loss of something that – at the least – Jews were somehow participants in. (Hint: it was not the Holocaust.) What could it be? Perhaps the result of… Trianon?? Thus, those seen as attacking Our Great Leader’s choice of memorial service could be likened to those attacking Jews (and thus justifying Orban’s claim that FIDESZ “protects” the Jews of Hungary.) Jewish Hungarians were among the strongest nostalgic proponents of the “good old days” of Hapsburg Empire especially after… Read more »
Guest

A few remarks from Germany:

I don’t know too much about the Austrian/Hungarian army but I know that Jews were not allowed to become officers in the German army before WW1!

So when the Kaiser needed more officers during WW1 Jews were also selected – but they only became “reserve officers” which meant that after their service they lost those officer’s privileges again. It seems that many highly decorated Jewish officers complained about this discrimination after WW1.

Re hadar, hadova etc.

My dictionary of Hungarian slang says these words come from “Rotwelsch” aka the criminals’ language. Hadovál means to lie. to talk nonsense or to speak the criminals’ language. A hadács is a police spy and Hadatsch is a common name in Austria and Germany.

Duma is obviously Slavic – my wife also uses it, meaning “silly, stupid, nonsensical talking” of some one …
Didn’t the Russians call their parliament call “The Duma”?

Member

This speech was a rather incongruous step for Orban. One day, he is shoving the Szabadsag ter memorial down the Jewish community’s throats. The next day, he is praising the patriotism of Hungarian Jewry and actually condemning non-Jewish Hungarians for choosing evil over good. Something must have got to him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that “something” were Angela Merkel.

Like Marcel De, I don’t see much double talk, just inconsistent political rhetoric that is intended to soothe relations with the Jewish community. When Colleen Bell released her slick video greeting to “the Hungarian people,” anonymous Fidesznik commenters whined that it was not her job to be communicating with the Hungarian people, but with the government, therefore her video is evidence that the U.S. is trying to incite the Hungarian people against their government. Ridiculous. By the same token, Hungarian liberals who are trying to milk Orban’s speech for evidence of ill intent are clutching at straws. In my view, the speech was simply an act of politics. If you want to find evidence of ill intent from Orban, there are plenty of other places to look.

tappanch
Guest
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@kave

The video you linked to doesn’t appear to be on the gov’t website?

@Seal Driver

I don’t see any inconsistency.

The Nazi memorial covered Hungarian Jewish and non-Jewish victims of WW2 under the same ‘victims of the Germans’ blanket, erasing in the process the responsibilities of the interwar Hungarian State and political class.

The Kozma utca speech dilutes both interwar anti-semitism and irredentist Foreign policies into the poetic categories of ‘individuals choosing evil’ and the ‘incomprehensible’. And conveniently turns into a defensive war what had started as Austria-Hungary actually invading Serbia.

The current regime is posing 1) as a continuator of the post-1867 Kingdom of Hungary and Horthy regimes as “protector” of Jews “part of the Nation”. 2) as a benevolent, peaceful State in Europe, only preoccupied by the welfare (sorry, ‘workfare’?) of the Homeland, its Magyar majority and its official, historic ‘minorities’.

Neither of these claims are supported by History, and none of the models they advocate seem adapted to 21st century Europe. But it doesn’t bother OV a bit.

tappanch
Guest

@wolfi

In the Hapsburg monarchy, at least 10 Hungarian Jewish officers became generals by 1918.

The names:
Samu Hazai, Márton Zöld, Gyula Bauer, Adolf Kornhaber , Manó InseIt,
Henrik Léderer, Ede Schweitzer, Károly Schwartz, Simon Vogl, Andor Weichert.

In 1922, the Statistical Office estimated that ten thousand Hungarian Jewish soldiers died in the “Great” War. Four thousand died from Budapest.

My source:
http://www.multesjovo.hu

tappanch
Guest

On the eve of Passover 1918, 161 thousand soldiers requested Mazzoth from army headquarters.

http://hvg.hu/velemeny/20101217_vilaghaboru_zsidosag_karolyi

tappanch
Guest

The Statistical Office included 111.1 thousand people working abroad in the Hungarian employment statistics for the October-December 2014 period (up from 96.1 in 2013)

See penultimate page of
http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xftp/gyor/fog/fog21412.pdf

Mubi
Guest

@Marcel Dé

“The Kozma utca speech dilutes both interwar anti-semitism and irredentist Foreign policies into the poetic categories of ‘individuals choosing evil’ and the ‘incomprehensible’.”

Now, getting back for a moment to the Ungváry book which (paradoxically and even if – although the accusations are absurd – suppose for the sake of argument that it plagiarized and is anti-Semitic in certain respects) shows clearly how thoroughly anti-Semitic the interwar years were.

After Ungvary’s book, there can be no reasonable or rational discourse attempting to dilute the interwar anti-Semitism or based on which one could feign ignorance and be surprised how things were incomprehensible.

But of course Orban’s and Maria Schmid’s discourse is nor rational but deeply political and ideological.

Webber
Guest

Meanwhile, elsewhere, Russian money has bought control of aspects of FP in certain states:
“one EU diplomat told this website Greece had tried to remove the line blaming Russia for the Mariupol killing.
He said Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia also tried, and failed, to “water down” the communique.”
Story here: https://euobserver.com/foreign/127393

Yak
Guest

@Webber

This is God-sent to Orban. Now he can perform his usual peacock dance once again and appear as a real pro-EU politician. The trick worked so many times it cannot fail.

Merkel and her hapless German politician friends will fall for it once again, plus Steinmeier is anyway a big Russlandversteher, who was very close to Schroeder who is literally in love (at least in a bromance) with Putin.

As long as Syriza and his coalition partner are happy to play the villain in the EU, Orban may go back and play the nice man, whom “we can deal”. Of course in Hungary Orban will continue to fight the fatuous Brussels-based bureaucrats and take advantage of them. With the extreme-right wing rising in the EU and now the populist left as well, he can appear to foreigners as a moderate.

I am sure Merkel will smile a lot and openly praise Orban, which he can then distribute as a seal of approval. Orban is back in the club of important people, the prodigal son returns.

Istvan
Guest
Eva in her post writes “Orbán spent some time complaining about history books that “even after the change of regime talk about battles that had no heroes, only victims.” Instead, in his speech he concentrated on a series of battles that eventually managed to repel the Russian army at the Uzsok/Uzhok mountain pass in the last couple of months of 1914. Yes, the Russians were eventually pushed back, but at a large cost in lives on both sides. By concentrating on this particular episode Orbán advanced his thesis that World War I was a defensive war.” PM Orban has never seen combat personally nor the horror of it, there are without question amazing feats of heroism in war. But the truth is that the K.U.K. Army and the Hungarian honvédség used units behind the lines to shoot down or arrest deserters, and there were many. The battle of Uzsok was just the start of a military nightmare of massive strategic incompetence on the part of both the Russians and Austro-Hungarian high commands. The later stages of the Carpathian battles are discussed in English in the book “Blood on the Snow” by Tunstall (2010). In my own case when first faced… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

More on various real estate fideszizations in downtown Budapest. The names mentioned: Orban adviser Habony and the Russian Ukrainian father of his girlfriend in 2010.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/01/28/belvaros_ingatlan/

Member

Eva and Marcel De – Try to listen to the speech with Orbanite ears. What the average Fidesznik hears is “we were evil and we admit it.”
As someone who is well-versed in right-wing dinner-table discourse, I can assure you that this is going to spark a certain degree of angst. Orban knows it. He was taking a risk with his speech. Something was pushing him to do it.
In certain cases, Hungarian liberals have an unfortunate tendency to over-intellectualize things. I respectfully submit that this is one of those cases.

Edgar
Guest

I highly recommend this article.

In the article you may freely substitute Putin for Orban – for Orban thinks exactly the same way about European power relations and the long-term fragility/weakness of the EU.

(I try to imagine the faces of German politicians like Steinmeier reading this piece and I am afraid that they probably wouldn’t even dare to really comprehend it as really facing the problems raised would lead to unbearable consequences.)

There’s nothing particularly Russian about these ideas (attributed to Putin, but I am convinced held also by Orban), many are actually considered mainstream in critical discourses.

Fact is Putin and Orban so far have been proven right every step of the way.

http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/01/27/in-it-to-win-it/

Webber
Guest

@Edgar –
When you say Putin and Orban have been proven right every step of the way, which steps do you mean?
The one that has seen the Russian economy contract disastrously?
Those that have brought Hungary near pariah status within the EU? (even Szijjártó has admitted there’s a low point in foreign relations).
The steps that have lowered Orban’s popularity over the past year?
Or do you mean the domestic steps that have led to an increase in extreme poverty in Hungary?
Or perhaps you mean the proxy war in Ukraine, that sees Russian boys brought back home in body bags with no acknowledgement from their government? Is that the step that’s proven Putin right?
Which steps, exactly, have proven Orban and Putin “right”?
I don’t know what more pundits expect “the West” to do? – from where I’m sitting it looks like sanctions and isolation are taking effect. If you mean we should all gird our loins and go to (nuclear) war for Ukraine, I’m sorry, I can’t agree with you. Sanctions are just about right.

Guest

A very interesting article that Edgar links to, thanks!

Though most Germans (like me) probably don’t think “Germany, which has emerged as America’s sub-hegemon in Europe” …
Actually we just want to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of our labour – after two world wars no more “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”.

And I also believe Putin and many observers underestimate Mrs Merkel!

Guest

Re Jewish soldiers and officers in the KuK army I just found this:
http://www.pesterlloyd.net/2011_11/11judeninkukarmee/11judeninkukarmee.html

So there was indeed a big difference between the German army which didn’t accept Jewish officers and the Austrian/Hungarian which had them – and that’s another reason to criticise the “Jewish laws” of Horthy’s government!

Edgar
Guest
@Webber I understand well your points, but the issue is that Putin, Orban and West have different goals. Orban predicted – correctly so far – that the EU, Germany etc. will retreat, don’t dare to apply pressure, don’t care, have no powers to act, have to focus on other issues, are divided politically etc. and that he can easily demolish any foreign opposition he may encounter against his system. Right now it is RTL’s turn which (was anyway an exception to hold out for a few months) is about to give in a well-prepared (corrupt) deal. The US is far away, it can ban thousands of Hungarians from spending their holidays in Florida, Orban just doesn’t care about the US. Who else is left? Yes, the Norwegians, but the Swiss issue was settled and at least the NGOs are starved. Orban is three years away from the next round of elections (and in 2017 he may be even president) with the opposition in total disarray. He doesn’t care about the polls and in fact he hates those who advises him to change course because of the polls; only weaklings retreat like MSZP and they always fail eventually. He is entrenched… Read more »
Guest
@Edgar: Democracy “has to be weak” in a way because it abhors violence, but in the long run … Do you think that Putin (and Orbán, Erdogan, Kim …) can continue their politics forever, oppressing their own people? As I’ve tried to explain before, we Germans really don’t want to meddle too much in the “internal affairs” of foreign countries (to quote a famous saying from Communist times) and most people just don’t care much what happens in a far far away land … Also many think that the plight of Greece (and Spain, Italy etc) is their own fault – they’re lazy and corrupt as ever and it’s their government’s obligation to get people to pay their taxes etc. We’ve all been there on holiday and saw how things work or rather don’t work … And if they don’t like us then we just won’t spend our money there – that’ll teach them! On the other hand of course Germany stands besides its EU and NATO partners against the Russian aggression so one important question (at least for me) is: Will Putin stop after he got East Ukraine or will he continue and try to get the Baltic states… Read more »
gdfxx
Guest

My mother used to tell me about her father’s war stories at Isonzo. I never got to hear them from him, because my grandfather first went out to celebrate Horthy’s entrance to Nagyvarad/Oradea on his white horse and after that he was taken to Auschwitz by the same Horthy and was murdered there. My mother was taken there also (with my grandmother, who also perished), but she survived. I was born after the war.

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