Raul Rothblatt: Albert Wass at the Hungarian House in New York

The Hungarian House has brought the subject to New York by hosting this event. I have been a fixture at the Hungarian House for 21 years, both as a member of the community and as a performer of Hungarian folk music. I strongly support their primary goal: “to create a bridge between Hungarian, Hungarian-American and American societies.”

However, this uncritical welcome for the works of Wass at Hungarian House will alienate parts of the Hungarian community, and would be of great concern to many Americans if they were made aware of the controversy.

On February 20, 2015 the Hungarian House on East 82nd Street in Manhattan will host a program by the Széchényi Society celebrating the works of the controversial writer Albert Wass. The Hungarian government recently added selected works of Wass to the Hungarian school curriculum. The addition of his works created bitter controversy within Hungary itself, due to its ideological anti-Semitic content.

Wass has a popular following in Hungary, and my Hungarian friends often share his inspiring quotes about natural beauty. He wrote eloquently about his native Transylvania, which was snatched from Hungary in the notorious 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Wass wrote many books, and in nearly all of them, ethnic Hungarians are portrayed as being completely innocent—their biggest fault is that they are too trusting. Many Hungarians are unaware of his most crassly anti-Semitic work.

Some of my Hungarian friend insist loudly and publicly that Wass was not an anti-Semite. But their arguments fail to include an objective appraisal of how Jews are portrayed in his many books: Even in his more “benign” works, Jewish characters are almost always nasty, selfish, and ungrateful. Sometimes, Romanians or Communists are depicted as equally offensive. Here is a body of work that over decades portrays Jews, at best, as stereotypical villains who are out to cheat defenseless Hungarians and at worst as rats. How, by any reasonable measure, can this been seen as anything other than anti-Semitic?

Wass’s most virulently anti-Semitic work is “Conquest of the Rats: A Tale for Youths,” which you can find on Neo-Nazi websites Stormfront and Kuruc. “Conquest of the Rats” utilizes the same central linguistic and visual image used by Goebbels in “The Eternal Jew:” Jews as vermin/rats. It was published in 1945—right after the Holocaust. What he was saying, in effect, was: “watch out, you didn’t get them all.” And the title is not just about rats but about “Honfoglalás” (conquest), a choice of word that only adds compounds the anti-Semitic metaphor. Here is a chilling reading of Conquest of the Rats on Echo TV, a forum favored by Neo-Fascists—you can feel the hatred of the actor even if you don’t understand Hungarian, and I can’t believe this is merely hatred of rats:

Suppose we give him one last chance. Albert Wass moved to Florida around 1952. On Christmas 1951, Executive Director of the Florida NAACP, Harry T. Moore, and his wife Harriette, were murdered by the Klan. Did Wass stand up against this? He did not, but others did.

Furthermore, he proudly announced his allegiance to Sheriff Willis McCall, a notorious local racist. Besides his violent support of segregation, he shot multiple innocent suspects. He killed one man guilty of a traffic violation by brutally kicking him to death. By the end of Wass’s life in the 1990s, McCall was recognized as a brutal racist. In 2015, nobody publicly admits to supporting McCall, but even today, the Wass website still refers to him warmly.

It is the right of the Hungarian House to present programs that it deems fit just as I have the right to criticize it. But if the Hungarian House wants to disassociate itself from the Neo-Nazis who love Wass, then I want to see some positive steps.

I don’t suggest they cancel the planned Wass event. Instead, I want to open up the dialogue, so there can be a diverse discussion of his work. I am writing this op-ed because I agree with the Hungarian House’s mission, which is creating a place for all Hungarians and Americans to enjoy our amazing culture. Many Hungarians will be justifiably outraged by an uncritical program praising Wass.

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agotaruzsa
Guest

thanks…

koeszmeod
Guest

Thank you Raul for standing up!!!

Guest

I remember that not too long ago a son of Wass wrote a comment on the “about” section of HS claiming that his father was not an antisemite – his name was just being used by kuruc etc.
Now I found it – it was on Jan 30 2015 …

Member

Albert Wass is included in the national curriculum created by Viktor Orban’s government. Although it’s not a mandatory but an optional reading for elementary school children. Jozsef Nyiro, another prominent arrow cross nazi, is also part of the optional list in the curriculum, along with Dezso Szabo a rabid anti-semite.

petofi
Guest

“…OPTIONAL reading for elementary school children…” ????

Are you kidding me here?
I didn’t get ‘optional’ reading until well into high school!
What does this ‘optional’ really mean? I think it means, “We’re not forcing the kids to read
this, we just make it available…”
And, pray tell, who would tell the kids to read this?

What horseshit. Typical Hungarian slip-sliding to avoid responsibility to exposing kids
to flagrant anti-semitism at the earliest possible age.
Let’s give a hand to mother Catholic Church for their obvious hand in this–

Hajra Magyarok!!

Are we PROUD yet?

GW
Guest

I used to go with my family to a local Tanchaz event every month in our city (in Germany.) It was a lively event with people from all walks of life and background, sharing a love for Hungarian culture. My daughter, who was born during our years in Budapest, particularly enjoyed it as an opportunity to get to know better aspects of the country in which she was born and even got to be a pretty good dancer. Unfortunately, about a year and a half ago a table appeared near the center of the room displaying books and audiobooks by Wass for sale. Suddenly, the Tanchaz had been given a political character that it had not had before and a large number of regulars stopped coming as they no longer felt welcome or at home. We soon did as well.

Mrozek
Guest

Wiesenthal Center: Cancel Program Glorifying Hungarian Anti-Semitic Writer and World War II Nazi Collaborator

http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=8776547&ct=14525243

latefor
Guest

I’m speechless, and this doesn’t happen often. Are you absolutely sure that indirectly he’s talking about Jews? (I’m not familiar with his works, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt.)
I can already see that there is fat chance for reconciliation between Jews and Christians! Maybe I should just break my rose-coloured glasses and stop dreaming about love and attempt for reconciliation… and see the world as it is. I’m very disillusioned, to say the least and so disappointed!

Member

Here is an article written by Eva in 2010 about Albert Wass. Maybe you want to read it. http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/08/07/about-albert-wass/

István
Guest

We have a historic problem in the American Hungarian community of hiding anti Sementism and for that matter Facism that existed in Hungary. I had never met a Hungarian speaking Jew here in Chicago until I became an adult even though I grew up in a Hungarian community. In fact I did not know there was a synagogue of Hungarian speaking Jews only one mile from my home ( now closedown) while my American Hungarian church was about four miles away here in Chicago. Thanks for the post.

petofi
Guest

@latefor

There’s absolutely no virtue in forgiving people like Wass, or Csatary for that matter.
See the past for what it was.
The way to reconciliation is to face the past and admit the wrongs.
Short of that, you get these in-the-womb Magyars who, perforce, must think themselves,
and all things that Magyars do…as being exceptional.
Grow up.
Be responsible.
Get others to do the same.

latefor
Guest

@Petofi “See the past for what it was.”
Unfortunately, the past cannot be changed, what’s done is done. Today we have a responsibility to address the present and think about the FUTURE to make sure that history will not be repeated.

As a “magyar”, I was also born with the so called grandiosity complex and I do believe that we are “exceptional”. In the west we call this: being positive against all odds.

kint levő ember
Guest

Hi Raul, we knew each other years ago at the NYC Tanchaz and had many friends in common. I remember those Friday nights very well…And so I just wanted to say: thank you for writing this.

Lumpy Lang
Guest

Yikes! The performance in the video is truly blood-curdling! The narrator definitely captures (should I say shares?) the writer’s deep, cold well of hatred.

Also note how skillfully Wass blends the anti-Semitic imagery with anti-communist themes. Tanulságos indeed!

jju
Guest

To see the clear picture, try to read the visionary article of L. Bartus: http://nepszava.com/2015/02/velemeny/bartus-laszlo-az-antiszemitizmustol-putyinig.html

Guest

Not too much OT re Jews and rats:
As a teenager I was part of a gang (4 boys in the same class in the Gymnasium) which was very progressive – we read evrything, from Nietzsche to Jing Ping Meh and Lady Chatterley … And of course we read some Nazi books – but I couldn’t finish Mein Kampf eg and also was very disturbed by a book on rats and a “rat king” with references to bad Jews and their taking money from good Germans and whatever …
I don’t remember the details nor the author but could this have been a book by Wass?
PS:
In school we also were shown a film on the KZs made by a famous French director (forgot the name) – it showed all the horrors and we knew that our parents had been involved or just looked on – just like people in Hungary.

Canadian
Guest

Thank you for this! I lived in Budapest for several years and stopped going to tanchaz for this very same reason. Well, not that those kinds of books were being sold, but the general racist atmosphere, despite the fact that there were many nationalities, jewish people included, who love hungarian folklore….

As to the poem, doesn’t it occur to those who love Wass and that poem in general that the Jews in Hungary, after they were accepted into hungarian society in the 19th century and the restrictions that had been placed on them lifted, many became assimilated and very patriotic hungarians, fighting for liberty in 1848 and of course all the successful businessmen and Nobel prize winners, artists etc who brought fame to Hungary???

Canadian
Guest

Also, I agree with with what Istvan. And I would add the generation that was born here doesn’t really recognize the hidden, and perhaps even the blatant antisemitism expressed in the conversation of their elders. I would venture to say that the descendants of the 56er would probably take the poem at face value or attribute the rats as being the Russians (soviets), because we grew up as 1956 being part of our identity. However, I was lucky, because in my community everyone knew who was jewish and it was a non issue. We were amd are all hungarians.

HunUsa
Guest

Wass was a victim of his Hungarian family. How can you stay decent or independent if you come from that background.

The best of Hungarians were afraid to turn against Horthy, against the honour of Hungary.

Just like now, the mad Orban rule would call for resistance of 100%. Instead of it, 30-40% forces the nation to to tolerate the Orban/Jobbik deal.

Who are the worst violators in the Hungarian society who are forcing the rest down on the wrong path?

All of these people on this site???:

http://tdyweb.wbteam.com/CikkekIrasok.htm

Nicky
Guest
That Echo TV clip is beyond disturbing. Even if it were merely about rats, I would still be disturbed about the deep level of vitriolic hatred shown. Cannot even get my head around the fact that it’s about Jewish people. Just shocking. Since I read the previous HS posts about Albert Wass, it has been on my mind a lot. He is a favourite at my children’s Waldorf school. In fact ‘A Zold Szakallu Kiraly Fia’ was given to my daughter when she finished kindergarten. The waldorf community is filled with parents who are more tolerant, liberal or open -minded, and most of them would be shocked to know of the controversy around Albert Wass. Until Eva’s posts, I hadn’t heard anything about it, either. I’m now thinking of appoaching the school about it. I didn’t in the past, as I was unsure about the evidence and proof. And the fact that my Hungarian isn’t as fluent as I’d like. But after reading this, I want to bring it up. Luckily there are a lot of forums and ways for parents to express their ideas within this school, so hopefully I could start a dialogue. If these books really do… Read more »
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