House of Fates: Mária Schmidt versus János Lázár

For months there was silence on the new Holocaust museum, the brainchild of János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office. I covered the story of the project from its inception to the temporary impasse in October 2014. The project, to be known as the House of Fates, was more or less foisted on the Jewish community, whose religious umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, felt that the 7.5 billion forints allocated to the project could have been better used elsewhere. They thought that some of the money could have been utilized for improvements to and an enlargement of the existing Holocaust Memorial Center.

By now, however, it has become evident that the Orbán government wants to have its own parallel institutions because the existing ones are suspect. They might not serve the Fidesz government. So, the project went ahead without any consultation with representatives of the Jewish community. By October, however, it seemed that the government realized it had overstepped. Lázár announced that there will be no new museum without the express approval of Mazsihisz and the organizations it represents.

sorsok haza4

Mária Schmidt, who was entrusted with overseeing the project, was largely responsible for the impasse. Since her interpretation of the Hungarian Holocaust is rejected by serious historians, her appointment signaled to the Jewish community that the Orbán government was embarking on another falsification of history. All the blame for the deportation of Jews will be placed on the shoulders of the German occupying forces. That historical view even found its way into the new Hungarian Constitution, adopted by the Orbán government, which in its preamble states that the country’s self-determination was lost on March 19, 1944, and therefore Hungarian authorities were not responsible for anything that happened during the summer of 1944, when the deportations took place. Moreover, Schmidt’s initial proposals indicated that the exhibit would concentrate only on the deportations themselves and would ignore all the anti-Jewish laws that were passed during the Horthy period, starting in 1920. Schmidt also planned to stress the rescue efforts of non-Jewish Hungarians, efforts that were neither widespread nor substantial.

So much by way of background. We don’t know exactly why, but in October Viktor Orbán decided that in order to avoid an international scandal the government might have to sacrifice Mária Schmidt. By December there were rumors that Schmidt might be removed from the project. In early February János Lázár sent Mária Schmidt’s 200-page proposal to the Jewish organizations and to historians who deal with the subject. He gave them a month to look over the material and to give him their opinion. A cursory look at the document reveals that of the 200 pages only 30 deal with the concept of the museum. The rest are photographs, maps, tables, etc.

Well, a month went by and the experts spoke. Not only Jewish organizations but scores of historians, including associates of the National Academy of Sciences, found Schmidt’s proposal unacceptable. I was not surprised about their verdict, but I was astonished at the open fight that ensued between two people so close to Viktor Orbán.

Only yesterday I watched a political discussion among former members of parliament on ATV who described the Orbán government as a rickety structure that is going to fall apart soon. Of course, there’s a hefty dose of wishful thinking in such a description, but there are signs of crisis on all levels. When four important Fidesz members of parliament (János Kövér, Mihály Varga, Miklós Seszták, and Sándor Fazekas) vote against a proposal submitted for consideration by János Lázár, this is something one cannot ignore. The loss of popularity of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán has made party leaders and government members brave. After all, they would like to keep their jobs and their political clout, and it looks as if Orbán’s policies are threatening both.

Mária Schmidt decided to fight for her position and her project. She accused Lázár of “purposely and willfully going against the decision of the government.” Moreover, Lázár, instead of listening to her, is relying on the advice of a former communist. She was talking about Gusztáv Zoltai, the Hungarian representative to the World Jewish Congress and president of one of the Hungarian Jewish organizations, who to everyone’s astonishment became an adviser to Lázár in October.

Lázár was not about to let her charge go unanswered. The next day he said that “there will be a museum with the approval of the Jewish community or not at all.” In order for the museum to be opened, “the organizers, the planners, the historians, and also the government must gain the approval of the Jewry of Hungary. If they don’t support it, then the House of Fates will not be built.”

Schmidt, who is apt to vacillate between the syrupy and the shrill, fought back, claiming that Lázár sent out a preliminary description of the project, not the final one. Lázár in turn told her that he will be happy to oblige if there is a newer, approved version of the document. No new version has emerged, but she gave an interview to András Stumpf, which appeared yesterday in mandiner.hu.

The interview is long and covers a range of subjects. I will deal with only those that are directly related to the House of Fates project.

First, she insisted that a complete project description does exist and that she showed it to Csaba Latorcai, the undersecretary in the prime minister’s office in charge of the project. The problem is that Latorcai has no recollection of the encounter. Otherwise, she refuses to reveal her ideas because “a curator doesn’t need to make his concept public.” The curator gets the job, works out the concept, puts the exhibit together, and after the opening “the public will judge.” This is the same argument the Hungarian government made when critics of the toll-road project complained that the government hadn’t discussed the project with the mayors and the public.

When the government first came up with the idea of the museum, she continued, Lázár never conferred with the Jewish community, which doesn’t even want a second Holocaust museum. This criticism is not unwarranted, but practically all government decisions are made this way and, as the journalist conducting the interview pointed out, Lázár didn’t act on his own in proposing the museum.

It looks as if Schmidt objects to Mazsihisz, or any Jewish organization, having a say in the matter of the Holocaust museum. By acceding to Mazsihisz’s request, Lázár “gave them the right of veto” over the project.  To Schmidt this is a serious matter because if “the government decides that it should be Mazsihisz that will do the job, then it must also consent to the notion that the Holocaust is not the concern of Hungarian society. My greatest problem with the activities of Lázár,” she said, “is that he created an internal Jewish affair from the Holocaust.”

Schmidt also accused the Jewish leaders of Mazsihisz of falsely spreading the charge of anti-Semitism in the last twenty-five years. These Jewish leaders are happy that the controversy surrounding this new Holocaust museum deepens the rift within Fidesz and the government. She claimed that the president of Mazsihisz, András Heisler, is a racist who wants to employ people in the new museum who “come from Jewish universities” whereas the government hires people not on the basis of ethnicity but of ability.

When the reporter intimated that János Lázár’s decision to gain the acquiescence of the Jewish community must have the approval of Viktor Orbán, Schmidt loudly protested. No, Viktor Orbán is a brave man while Lázár is a coward who has gone back on his word and abandoned his original plan.

If it depended on Mária Schmidt, she would open an exhibit that was never vetted by the Jewish organizations that currently exist in Hungary. Her position is that Mazsihisz and its affiliates represent only religious Jews, who in her estimate number no more than about 2,000 people. Heisler and others are not entitled to speak in the name of Hungarian Jewry as a whole. Although Schmidt’s figures are most likely right, as a result of the Orbán government’s mishandling of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust, the entire Jewish community pretty well lined up behind Heisler and the other leaders. This is a new and most likely positive development.

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tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

I am delighted to hear a senior government person, János Lázár, say ..there will be a museum with the approval of the Jewish community or not at all. Let us hope he is right.

Member

Frankly I am surprised, that anyone gives a forum to Schmidt Mária, since she does not have an able thought in her head and she sees everything around her totally distorted and lacking reality. She should be fired from every job she holds, she is a wealthy woman, by inheritance. For her sins, I would tax her to death.

István
Guest

Gybognarjr I concur with your perspective about Ms. Schmidt. I read the complete interview in mandiner that Eva linked to in her post. Her comments about the Russian occupation of major parts of Ukraine and the simutanous continuation of the Hungarian Eastern opening towards Russia were inherently contradictory.

She seems to me to be a lost anticommunist that does not have that easy target to fight against anymore. Orban and Fidesz seem to have an obsession with creating a theory for everything that some how creates consistency or a total perspective. I guess she fills a role for Fidesz.

Member

István: We agree. I go further. Schmidt Mária is a semi-literate opportunist, who inherited a lots of money, rubbed up to some unsavory, corrupt people, so she received an influential job, with a platform to spread her lies. She is distorting history, to whitewash the villainous nazi and arrow cross past. She is an amateur dabbler and she thinks history is like a novel and a fiction. So she acts as a a rent-a-writer who makes up the stories what the publisher ordered, because it sells well at that time and the Fidesz is paying her through the nose.

petofi
Guest

I drove by the House of Fates the other day. I was shocked. My immediate impression?
Two monstrous smoke stacks–the dark red/brown bricks suggesting the fiery burning within; and between the stacks…a huge star of David which veritably shouts: ‘this is where jews belong’.

Thanks, Maria Schmidt.

googly
Guest

I find it amusing that the star of David can only be seen from north and south – from east or west it just looks like a weird, out-of-place piece of metal on both sides of some ugly smokestacks.

Meanwhile, there’s a beautiful, run-down synagogue in the old ghetto that would have been a great candidate for a museum dealing with Jewish issues of any kind, but especially one that explains why it’s no longer being used as a synagogue. I’m guessing that it’s not owned by someone close to Fidesz who wants to sell it at a premium to the government.

Kisnovák
Guest

Never mind, fideszniks successfully spent at least 5-6bn forints on this project (so far), the construction companies made nice money, people got their kick backs and thus could spend their winter holidays on the Seychelles and could upgrade their Balaton houses, so it was absolutely worth it. Let “the jews” and the intellectuals debate about it…who doesn’t give a **** about it, right?

Hector Clark
Guest

This looks like dirt squabbling with dirt. Ms. Schmidt has made her (distorted) views widely known with the active and paid support of the government. However, please do not portray Janos Lazar as the Knight riding in on a white horse. Mr. Lazar has dredged into the storehouse of Horthy-era anti-Semitic filth when it has suited him – see his remarks about Mazsihisz only being interested in the money that can be collected from the 1% of tax. What we now have is an abortion of an almost-complete Schmidt exhibit and the Fidesz-KDNP government now twisting every which-a-way to make it acceptable to the Jewish community and the outside world. Presumably Ms. Merkel made this point also to Mr. Orban when she dropped in the other day. However, if you want to see Mr. Orban’s view of mid-twentieth century history, go to the Szabadsag square and look at the famous statue to exculpate the Hungarian collaborators and those who benefited from stealing the property of those Hungarians who were deported. This government is a disgrace for Hungary. Dirt squabbling with dirt.

tappanch
Guest

Maria Schmidt underestimates the Jewish population, even the religious Jewish population of Hungary.

Let us look at the 2013 tax returns. About a quarter of the people filing tax returns (1,001,482) gave 1% of their taxes to one of the 31 “accepted” churches or denominations. (retired people do not file)

Of this number, 0.875% gave her or his 1% to one of the 3 accepted Jewish denominations. (two others are not recognized). This means that 8,764 people are religious enough to support their denomination. Using extrapolation, we can state that there are roughly 35,000 Jewish people in Hungary of working age (between 18/23 and 64) in Hungary.

The distribution of the Jewish taxpayers between the 3 “accepted” denominations

Neolog (MaZsiHiSz) 80.81%
Chabad (EMIH) 16.54% (the FiDeSz favorite)
Orthodox (Traditional) 2.65%

Member

I beg to differ about “This means that 8,764 people are religious enough to support their denomination.” Being religious or being respectful of one’s religion, being supportive of one faith’s actions are different things. My family members often contribute 1% to some Krishna organizations that regularly provide food for the needy. My sister donated to an other religious organization that helps with providing support to terminally ill patients and their families. Their name suddenly does not come to me. Let me assure you that no member of my family is religious. I have a friend who is catholic but gave the 1% to a Jewish organization because of how ell they were taking care of the neighbourhood… I am not sure that donating to religious organization or to churches have to do with one’s religion, I think it is more to do with the social stance the church or organization takes.

tappanch
Guest

Corruption in the EU – an examination 830,000 public tenders

Most corrupt in the EU – Bulgaria

2nd place: dead heat: Romania and Hungary.

But Romania has been improving, while the Hungarian situation is getting worse.

http://www.portfolio.hu/unios_forrasok/gazdasagfejlesztes/a_legkorruptabbak_kozott_van_magyarorszag.211093.html

tappanch
Guest

Nepotism at its best:

The company of Orban’s son-in-law has captured the money of the European Union to modernize the public lighting in the following towns:

Vác (newest) : 0.50 billion forints
Gyál (although his was not the cheapest offer) 0.25 billion
Zalaegerszeg: 0.85 billion
Keszthely: 0.32 billion
Pécs: 0.89 billion

other towns for Orban’s son-in-law:
Hódmezővásárhely, Siófok, Kecskemét, Balatonfüred, Hévíz, Tapolca.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20150307_Vacon_is_Orban_veje_nyerte_a_kozvilagitas
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20150306_Gyalon_a_dragabb_ajanlattal_nyert_tendert

Member

I especially love the part where he won with the more expensive offer…

Lady
Guest

that’s just pocket money for the kids to play with.

Member

I never understood why Budapest needs 2 places to remember the holocaust (+Terror House)? I think one place where all the efforts can be concentrated, documents, and historical facts could be shown with all dues respect would have a better impact. I think this way the whole thing simply will be watered down. I loved the Pava utca exhibition, but it is hard to get to if you with a tourist group. None of the hop on and off buses get even close to the location. With the exhibition of Sorsok Haza at least one of the hop on and off is there, and probably would extend its line with a few hundred metres. I wish the tourist buses would make it close to Pava utca as the Museum of Applied Arts is close by and that is a fantastic exhibition too.

Member

I stand corrected the Jozsefvarosi Railway Station (where the museum is) is not even close to the hop on and off buses.

petofi
Guest

I walked through theTerror House once. It reeked of anti-semitism. Essentially, the place suggests that almost all the torturers of the communist period were jews.

I remember one year when the Bishop of Hungary (Erdos, I think) held a remembrance for holocaust before the Terror House. He gave a speech about some woman who heroically did her utmost to help jews during the 40’s. Of course, the most important part of any such jewish remembrance is the Kaddish–the prayer for the dead. Traditionally, a rabbi leads in the saying of it. The Bishop had none of that. Instead, he turned to the orchestra–all handicapped–to play a selection for the poor, elderly, jews sitting on the dais.

Nice.

(Oh no, there was no mockery intended in all that…)

Member

OT: A few years ago Orban still paid for the extras Fidesz hired to clap on March 15, after the Prime Minister’s speech. I guess they figured out that is cheaper and/or more effective to order students to provide the background crowd to the celebrations put together Fidesz. THe invitation (order) was sent out to many schools to send 10 students + teacher for the events. Bus and lunch is paid by taxpayers. I am having deja vu of the MAy 1st celebrations under the communist party. comment imagecomment image

spectator
Guest

Its even worse.
I don’t remember that there was ever requirement in ten days advance to send a filled form with the particulars of the participants! Let alone a proper statement from our parents of that time which would permit to be asked/photographed by the press.

The latter I can understand somehow, regarding the ‘mildly’ overdriven privacy law, but listing the kids with all their information prior to participate in the 15th of March celebrations wasn’t in ‘fashion’ ever before, – in my knowledge at least.

Well, according to the mail, each of the schools must send ten students and one teacher, and I bet, it will be one trustworthy adult and ten carefully selected child who may even can answer “the right way” if ever asked.

Then a few years later when they can vote already they will certainly be reminded to whom to, since all their information already by hands.

So this is how to chose future supporters, build and maintain future relations the Fidesz way. Nearly perfect, wouldn’t you say?
A slight blemish that its rotten to the core, but you can’t have everything, can you?

spectator
Guest

Is it only my picky mood, or the above mail present somehow rather limping grammar skills? It keeps nagging my mind, and I have to ask, is there someone out there with still void “best used before” Hungarian grammar skills? Mine probably missed the last couple of dozen updates, and what I still have is remarkably different from the one used above.

Otherwise I have to chose from my own answers, like:

The Hungarian grammar changed that much, that the above mail quite perfect and I’m hopelessly outdated.
The person who wrote the text (I’m aware that it not necessarily the same who send it) just a temporary, an intern, one of those fostered workers who originally bricklayer and I failing miserably to appreciate her/his effort.
This is ridiculous, there is no such requirement in the Hungarian government’s office of education that someone who employed supposed to be literate in Hungarian, it’s enough to be loyal.
The usage of certain outdated/archaic/ethnic Hungarian words is particularly encouraged! It supposed to strengthen the national identity, it’s not my business anyway.

Anyone in the know?
Thank you in advance!

Ramon
Guest

OT, interesting article.

The Nicaraguan version of Paks 2

The Nicaragua Canal project. Insane, unnecessary, a secret government decision to award the project, no business calculations whatsoever etc. but pushed by the government like crazy. In other words, familiar story.

http://www.vox.com/2015/2/26/8114151/nicaragua-canal

tappanch
Guest

“each of the schools must send ten students and one teacher, and I bet, it will be one trustworthy adult and ten carefully selected child who may even can answer “the right way” if ever asked.”

Ordering students to wave at state celebrations is not new. It did not start with the Communist times either.

My mother of 95 years tells me that she went to a business (kereskedelmi) high school very close to the Parliament. They were ordered, regularly, to go to the Parliament. She remembers vividly, how funny the miniature Italian king looked next to his big wife in the carriage in 1937.
comment image

spectator
Guest

Yes, indeed, we can agree on that nothing new in this.
However, my point was – obviously inadequately presented – that those ten students must be the “chosen ones”, those who will suit to the Orbanian purpose to “represent” the “right kind” of youth.

I nearly said “full blooded arian” – as it was customary at the times what Orban mimics quite convincingly, – but I restrained myself, you see…

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