“Son of Saul” and its reception by the Hungarian right

A month ago Medián conducted a survey on the current state of anti-Semitism in Hungary. This was Medián’s fourth such survey since 2006, and the results are not exactly heartwarming. During this period Medián measured the number of extreme and moderate anti-Semites as well as those who are free of anti-Jewish prejudice. The good news is that the number of extreme and moderate anti-Semites dropped from 38% to 32% between 2013 and 2014, but of course this is still way too high in comparison to the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, or Denmark, although it is more in line with some other Western European countries such as France and Spain. For a handy comparison, see the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100.

Jobbik, Hungary’s neo-Nazi party, is well known as a racist organization which has two arch-enemies, the Jews and the Roma. Although Gábor Vona, the party leader, believes that the party ought to move more to the center of the ideological spectrum to attract larger popular support, many members of the top leadership are staunch anti-Semites who have serious reservations about the new strategy. Moreover, as the Medián survey illustrates, 75% of Jobbik voters are also anti-Semitic.

It is difficult to keep the Jobbik party members in line, especially when there is a hot topic that stirs up the Hungarian anti-Semitic crowd–in this case, the new film “Son of Saul,” which just won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

No one, except for the people at Cannes, have seen the film yet, but critics find it exceptional. For example, “no single entry in this year’s competition impressed more than first-time Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’ ‘Son of Saul,'” or “‘remarkable’ may not do Laszlo Nemes’ holocaust drama ‘Son of Saul’ justice.” By all indications, the film might be a strong contender for next year’s Oscar.

László Nemes, director of Son of Saul in Cannes

László Nemes, director of Son of Saul, in Cannes

But the far-right crowd, including some of the leaders of Jobbik, are not at all happy. They were already outraged when Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize for his book “Fateless” in 2002. As far as they were concerned, the book was not good literature and Kertész received the prize only because the Holocaust is a theme guaranteed to garner acclaim in literature as well as in the film industry.

László Nemes, the young director of the film, tried to get money for the production from all over the world, but in the end it was the Hungarian government’s fund for the arts that underwrote 75% of the project. When the funding decision was made in 2013, Előd Novák, one of the most outspoken anti-Semites of Jobbik, complained bitterly. He pointed out that this was the second film on the Hungarian Holocaust that had been paid for by the Hungarian government. The first one, directed by Lajos Koltai, was based on Kertész’s book (2005). Novák grumbled that “Fateless” had received 920 million forints, and now another Holocaust film was getting 205 million. Moreover, the committee also allocated 4.5 million forints for the development of a movie script (“The Lawyer”) about the trial of the Jews accused of ritual murder in Tiszaeszlár in 1882, “naturally written from the point of view of the lawyer who defended the Jews.” Instead of such films, he argued, the Hungarian government should support films about national heroes and great moments in Hungarian history–for example, the Battle of Pozsony (Pressburg/Bratislava) of 907 or the Ragged Guard (Rongyos gárda) that defended the western borders of Hungary in 1921. Novák called all this interest in the events of 1944 no more than “Holocaust industry.”

Novák is not impressed by the success of “Son of Saul.” He wrote on his Facebook page a couple of days ago : “Now they expect me to fall on my face because of the international success of the Hungarian Holocaust film. But it is not merely a joke to say that the greatest holiday of the Jews is the day the Oscars are given out…. Kate Winslet confessed that she decided to take a role in a Holocaust movie because then an Oscar is guaranteed. Earlier she had been nominated four times, but didn’t win once.” Winslet received the Oscar for her role in “The Reader” (2008).

For the government and its supporters, the fact that it was a government grant that made the production of “Son of Saul” possible comes in very handy. A group of right-wingers on HírTV who discussed the film had difficulty mustering enthusiasm for the prize and often referred to the Holocaust as a theme that guarantees critical success. One of the participants thought that “picking the Holocaust as his subject was a clever move on the part of a first-time director.” But, however critical they might be, they argued that the production of a film about the Holocaust “proves that there is no anti-Semitism in Hungary.”

György Dörner, the far-right director of Új Színház whose appointment by Mayor István Tarlós was accompanied by demonstrations and protests, expressed his hope that László Nemes’s next film will be about that great battle between Árpád and the Bavarians in 907. Előd Novák’s views on the real task of the Hungarian film industry must have made a great impression on Dörner.

The Orbán government is trying to change the general perception that it doesn’t do enough to combat anti-Semitism in the country. Today I read with astonishment that from here on students at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University will be required to take a course on the Holocaust. Keep in mind that the Catholic University is an institution close to the heart of policy makers. The rector of the university explained that he had been impressed by the view of Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor that days of remembrance are not enough, that something new and different is needed to make a real impact. The one-semester course will be called “The Holocaust and Remembrance.” It seems that there is already a compulsory course called “Introduction to Catholic Teaching.” The right-wing reaction to the Catholic University’s decision is predictable.

As for “Son of Saul,” once it is available for public viewing, I suspect there will be a very serious discussion about the accuracy of its depiction of Saul as a member of the camp’s Sonderkommando. One such article already appeared in mandiner.hu.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Brian McLean
Guest

Unfortunately the ADL GLOBAL SURVEY gives the population of the United Kingdom as
48,853,576, whereas the figure for England alone is over 53 million. This casts doubts on the statistics in a survey that would otherwise have been most instructive.

gdfxx
Guest

Please note that the ADL survey talks about ADULT population.

Member
People in the Jobbik and many of their followers have ONE TRACK MINDS! They could not even realize, that nobody else in the World would be interested in a movie about the Battle of Pozsony, where the Hungarians were annihilated, so for another 80 years they did not come close to Pannonia, except a few thousand “abstruse Hungarians” (mélymagyarok) and their relatives. If you ask 100 Hungarians in Budapest (not even in the countryside) when was the Battle of Pozsonyi and what happened then and there, you my get lucky to find ONE, who knows the answer. (Tragic, but half of the people asked on the streets of Budapest, what do they celebrate on March 15, did not know the right answer.) The movie about the Settlements of Hungary, (Honfoglalás) , the English title is, The Conquest” was a dud, it is a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes and the reviewers agreed in one adjective, BORING. I could not watch the movie for longer than 35 minutes. ======== Art and artists cannot be locked behind borders, they need to interact with others. The greatest artist in a National Theatre will be obscure if he/she remains local only. The highest form of… Read more »
Elektrone Motyo
Guest

According to the wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pressburg) the Battle of Pozsony/Pressburg was one of the first crucial victories (victory can be considered as an antonym of annihilation) of the Hungarian forces over the Bavarians who at that time were attempting to control that area: “Luitpold’s forces consisting of three battle groups succumbed to the Eurasian nomad tactics of the mounted Magyar soldiers. In a storm of arrows, a large part of the Bavarian army was kettled in, crushed and destroyed.”

So I don’t know, where you get your information, but either the source is wrong or you misread it.

Tyrker
Guest

gybognarjr
Apparently, you haven’t the faintest idea of the outcome of the battle of Pozsony.
You can read up on it here:
http://www.rubicon.hu/magyar/oldalak/907_julius_4_a_pozsonyi_csata_kezdete/

Webber
Guest

I think you mean the Battle of Lechfeld. That’s one that Jobbik would probably prefer not to have a film made about.

Member

Another interesting interview with Geza Rohrig. I’m sorry, it’s in Hungarian.

http://m.hir24.hu/hirek/kultura/Saul-fia-Remeltuk-hogy-nem-nyerjuk-meg-az-Arany-Palmat

Interesting thought in the article about the Sondercommandos. What is you moral responsibility when you don’t have choice?

Member

Another interesting interview with Geza Rohrig. It’s in Hungarian, sorry.

http://m.hir24.hu/hirek/kultura/Saul-fia-Remeltuk-hogy-nem-nyerjuk-meg-az-Arany-Palmat

Sami
Guest
OT: There is a good article in today’s printed HVG about the Hungarian education system moving into the hands of (essentially being outsourced to) the Churches (ie. the traditional Christian churches loyal to Fidesz and to Jobbk). FYI in Hungary the parochial schools are financed by then state similarly to (or actually better than) public schools (a bit similarly to the charter schools in the US). Within 15-20 years half (!) of the kids will study in parochial schools. If one mentions that within that time frame half of kids will be poor rural gipsies one of the conclusion is that the state system in 15 years will educate overwhelmingly roma kids. Also, the parochial schools don’t operate practical schools which educate industrial apprentices, thus effectively all who will end up in universities (ie. who go to proper high-schools, so-called gimnasiums) will have graduated from parochial schools (with minor exceptions, mostly in Budapest). The biggest growth rate is with the smallest children — it seems as if the younger the kids (or their parents) the more religious they are or more passionately they want good old Christian values, not those “liberal” education which “leads nowhere”. (This is true even if… Read more »
DAVID SADE
Guest

Dear Eva; just a suggestion…, when you quote costs in HUF, it would be helpful to put in brackets the approximate value in € or in US$, as the reader not familiar with the weak value of the Hungarian currency. Thus, as a way of an example, the reader will not appreciate what a pitiful sum of 4.5 million HUF is for supporting the making of a film. It is approx. €15,000, or about 2-3 months salary of a highly placed Orban employee, and a tiny portion of the total production costs.

Jon Van Til
Guest

Off topic, but…. How does one imagine the Hungarian leadership is feeling about the FBI strike against corruption within the ranks of FIFA? This is, of course, Someone’s favorite sport.

And toward what other forms of global corruption may the FBI currently be directing its remarkable investigative abilities? Today’s NY Times reports: “The four-year F.B.I. investigation grew out of an unrelated inquiry into aspects of Russian organized crime by the Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Task Force in the F.B.I.’s New York office, according to people with knowledge of the case’s origins.”

The article is headed: “After Indicting 14, U.S. Vows to End Graft in FIFA.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/sports/soccer/fifa-officials-arrested-on-corruption-charges-blatter-isnt-among-them.html?&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Can one imagine a future article: “After Indicting XX, U.S. Vows to End Graft in (name of country left to imagination of reader)…?

Jon Van Til
Guest

A second article in the NY Times provides the text for a “party line” response: ‘A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman on Wednesday protested United States law enforcement’s actions in Switzerland. “Without going into details about the accusations, we bring attention to this latest incident of the illegal, extraterritorial application of United States law,” he said.’

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/28/world/europe/russia-says-fifa-corruption-investigation-is-no-threat-to-2018-world-cup.html?rref=world/europe&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Europe&pgtype=article

petofi
Guest
@ Jon Van Til FIFA and Russia I remember that back in 2012/13 when FIFA was deciding the winners to host the world cup for 2018 and 2022…Putin made a big to-do about not traveling to Geneva to put forth the case for Russia because he thought that Russia had no chance to be selected: tongue-in-cheek nonsense as we later learned. Instead, Putin sent billionaire Abromovich (he who had previously consulted Putin on what he should give to his divorcing wife…) and an entourage of about 40. (Who was carrying the cash?) Anyway, lo and behold, magically, Russia was given the 2018 World Cup; and for good measure, Qatar was chosen over the USA for 2022! (The Russians not only wanted to win, but to rub the American’s noses in it, too.) The very same Qatar that enjoys 50degree centigrade weather during the traditional dates of the event. Now, to say that Blatter and the FIFA boys didn’t get theirs is to indulge in the height of naiveté. Of course, when the Russians want something they can hardly lose as they negotiate with two hands–one has cash, and the other has a heaping helpful of that great additive to tea–polonium.… Read more »
István
Guest
The FBI and also the CIA have been investigating the Russian Mafia for years and it is interesting that the FIFA case would be an outgrowth of those investigations. The other day I suggested at the recent Congressional hearing on Hungary that there be information provided to the public about the interrelations between the Russian Mafia, the SVR, Russian firms, and the criminal clans that emerged among the impoverished southern Slovakia Hungarian minority communities who were in many cases granted dual citizenship by the Fidesz government. Hungary’s legalized prostitution industry is also tied to all of this along with human trafficking, as are the drug trade, and other cross border illegal activities. The Hungarian media has largely avoided dipping itself into all of this in part because Hungary’s sex industry is tied up into all of this and contributes around 1% of the GDP according to some estimates. If we add in the sale of Hungarian citizenship papers to criminals who knows what that percentage jumps to. Fidesz and Jobbik links to the Russian SVR and Mafia are without question being continually monitored by the CIA’s Office of Russian and European Analysis (OREA) and they know a lot more I… Read more »
petyko andras
Guest

Dear Eva

Generally I am extremely critical but these time I think your article Son of Saul with all the links is highly professional and helpful to understand hungarian realities. Thank you

ploni
Guest

what’s even more troubling is that marton bede @ 444 had the nerve to say that this is not an important film. hungarians have a huge problem if so-called progressives don’t see the value of a hungarian holocaust film which won 3 awards at cannes, especially considering the general situation in the country. he even questioned whether people should be expected to know the details of the camps’ operation. yea, whatever… who could use that knowledge anyways… i know who could do without it: all those who are incapable of understanding why the holocaust was one of the darkest chapters of human history.

petofi
Guest

No, Ploni, not ‘one of…’ but THE darkest chapter of human history.

And least of all should we forget Hungary’s role in that chapter as the wartime, Hungarian government proffered an extra 350,000 jews more than the nazis had asked for.

Such generosity.
Such selflessness.

Such bestial venality.

ploni
Guest

although personally i tend to agree with you, i don’t enjoy playing the “what’s the worst thing that ever happened” game, nor can i see into the future.

saul’s son is tremendously important precisely because of the things that you have mentioned. add to that the currently prevalent culture of “alternative remembrance” which has been promoted by the fidesz governments. in this perverse version of history, all accountability is denied, and as such, people don’t have to hear about things which their folks supposedly aren’t responsible for.

the fact that bede said what he did shows how successful fidesz’s revision attempts have been in influencing the psyche of the average hungarian. he is surely familiar with the history, he is not an anti-semite, but he is tired of having to hear about the shoah and doesn’t understand why he or others should have to continue to do so. mind you, this is coming from a journalist whose job is to cover hungarian affairs on a daily basis.

fox
Guest
@ploni As you know at 444.hu and other new media outlets its absolutely imperative that you say something new, unexpected, controversial etc. to show that you are different, that you are “independent” and in order to create “traffic” [Compare that to Hungarian politics where the left-wing is extremely consistent in paying its assigned (ie by Fidesz) role.] To say that an otherwise very acclaimed move is – in your opinion too – good is nothing special, there is no added value in that as there have been dozens of reviews with that message, so it would have been difficult to say it in a very inspired way. So this “great but not important” was a journalistic turn to add some seasoning on the text. I would not overvalue such a phrase. Marton Bede is known to do politically incorrect humor (matula.hu) and have such takes on serious issues (like the holocaust), he would not go along just repeating the mainstream that it was a fantastic movie. Moreover, it seems to me that there is a trend among young Hungarian jews: many don’t like to be associated with the holocaust because according to many it’s an issue for the older generations… Read more »
ploni
Guest
matula.hu was one of the most obnoxious things to come out of the hungarian web. ablak-zsido was perhaps the most cynical, misguided, and ignorant article i have ever read on jews. i literally found kurucinfo to be less destructive than that, because no sane person actually believes that kurucinfo has anything to do with reality. in terms self-image, the reality of holocaust culture within hungarian jewry is very disturbing. defining yourself solely as a victim of a massive tragedy will not result in a healthy identity. (i’m not exactly sure that the majority of young hungarian jews are engaging jewish tradition in any meaningful way; in a way that could restore a healthy jewish identity.) at the same time, there is a proper place for holocaust remembrance within jewish life, and i think that art is an important part of that. on a political level, the history of the holocaust is directly connected to the current state of public discourse in hungary. if the younger generation doesn’t understand that or finds it too burdensome, then that’s a tragedy. in this case, they will have no one but themselves to blame if they wake up in a country where 30%+ of… Read more »
Fox
Guest

“because no sane person actually believes that kurucinfo has anything to do with reality.”

Dear ploni, where do you live? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Kuruc.info is absolutely believed by the tens of thousands (often running up to hundreds of thousands if the particular post is very popular) of its regular readers. It seems you have no idea how more ordinary people think and what they believe.

That said it’s also true that matula.hu’s crazy articles were also believed by many people.

ploni
Guest

unfortunately i have no illusions about kurucinfo’s popularity 🙁

just because lots of people read it doesn’t mean they are sane 🙂

GH
Guest

Many unfortunate loving Hungarians are willing victims of the kurucinfo.

I makes them happy.

spectator
Guest

Two billion sparrows can’t be wrong – eat horse shit…

Come now, people, just how many people gladly supported Adolf in his quest, and to what end?
Popularity proves only one thing: the subject of admiration does exactly what many of the likeminded agree with.

But it doesn’t make them right per definition, does it?

Why don’t you think about for some time, before use this as an argument, really?

ploni
Guest

i don’t think anybody made the argument that just because lots of people do one thing they are right…

James S. Oppenheim
Guest

Regarding Catholic pro-Semitic efforts, KGB defector Ion Mihai Pacepa and scholar Ronald Rychlak in their book, Disinformation, have detailed the KGB framing of Pope Pius XII and Soviet anti-Semitic meddling in the middle east. More recently, historian Karen Dawisha has traced the survival path for privileged Party nomenklatura in principle from the dissolved Soviet to today neo-feudal Russia that in turn has its continued relationship with Hungary.

I tire now and then of Holocaust art and artifact but not of plain and often ugly unrevised, unscrubbed, unspun history. Perhaps Kundera’s remark applies: “The struggle of man against powers is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Member
The truth unfortunately is that not only is the society as a whole have antisemitism taught to them in Hungary, but all forms of prejudice, racism and bigotry. Many don’t see anything wrong with it, and as a result, refuse to acknowledge and reconcile with regards to the history of the holocaust. This is why there is so much defensiveness with regards to the subject. They feel, if people just get tired of the subject or people can be convinced that people are milking the subject, there will be support for their feelings on the subject. It has been a proven method in Hungary, it will not change anytime soon. What needs to happen is a real shaming unfortunately, for people to really get the picture and the racism needs to end, then it will be a less important thing for people to bring up over time because the victims know how it has changed Hungarians point of view and will likely never happen again. When people see resemblance to past antisemitism like the years prior to 1940’s, of course they are going to want to remind people how it all ended to prevent it from happening again. You can… Read more »
spectator
Guest

You are correct in every account, Liz – as usual, I may add.

However, when the head of the government feels that one of his most important duties to restore the Kossuth square – the parliament, the city, the country – to the state how it was prior to 1944, one can not really see, why and how the average – say right leaning – Hungarian citizen should find anything wrong with this picture.

The fact, that the aforementioned picture stinks, rotten and mildewed doesn’t really appears, as long as everything painted over with the “NATIONAL” colors and presented as the only true thing happened in the last quarter of century.

From here on every sane comment labelled as “liberal” (the word in Orbanian means: “Jewish commie pedophile with multicultural sympathies and multinational financing” – this is the short version) and treated accordingly – they are the enemies of every “true Hungarian” – and the beat goes on.

What would be the solution?
Unfortunately I can’t see many, definitely not as long as Orbán getting restored too, to his state prior to 1944.

Wasn’t he even a blob of protein then?

Exactly!

So, we have still 30+ years of enjoyment…

steve397
Guest

The problem with this film is that it occurs in Auschwitz. Maybe if it would take place on the Cote d’Azour some of the critics would accept it. What is more, maybe those who made it will charge for the tickets. We all know it is rubbish, even ‘though it has not been seen by those who criticise it. Exploiting the unfortunate happenings 70 years ago, – that is what it is and we all know how hungry some people are for money. Anyway it has nothing to do with Hungary, as the memorial on Freedom Square proves. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that it was Hungary, who gave the film makers millions of forints so while it should not have been made at all, it is a Hungarian triumph.

petofi
Guest

How “Democracy” looks in 2015: Blatter–the most corrupt element in world soccer–reelected to a 5th term by the vote of Asian and African reps… oh sorry sorry planet.

Democracy and Individualism–you might as well ask of the state of Individualism in the Mafia. It doesn’t exist. Crooks always stick together. Look at Fidesz and the silent mass of Fidesz back-benchers who, each and every one, know how there bread is buttered.

tappanch
Guest

I saw the movie tonight from the first row in the Művész cinema. The movie was followed with a discussion and Q&A session with the artists. The French co-script writer speaks an almost perfect Hungarian! She said that the director was her language teacher in the last 12 years …. :-).

Substantial research preceded the shooting to make each detail authentic. I did not know, for instance, that Soviet prisoners of war still wore their uniforms in the camp.

French, Israeli and German investors did not give money for the movie for fear of a loss. Andrew Vajna gave the money (less then $2 million) , creating a handsome profit for the Hungarian Movie Fund.

tappanch
Guest

Claims Conference also contributed to the movie financially, see http://www.claimscon.org/news-media/claims-conference-in-the-media/

wpDiscuz