József Mindszenty: An inveterate anti-Semite or a national hero?

Today I will take a step back from everyday politics and write about a controversial historical figure, József Mindszenty (1892-1975), Prince Primate and Archbishop of Esztergom between 1945 and 1973. Just to refresh people’s memory, Mindszenty was arrested on charges of treason and conspiracy on December 26 1948, and on February 3, 1949 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 he was released from prison, and on November 3, a day before the Soviet decision to put an end to the uprising, he gave a radio address that was not universally well received. Instead of leaving the country, a possibility that was open to him at that time, he opted for political asylum in the United States Embassy, where he lived for 15 long years. Apparently, the Vatican wasn’t thrilled at his abandoning his flock. His unresolved case was a burden on both the Vatican and the Kádár regime. Eventually Pope Paul declared Mindszenty a “victim of history” (instead of communism) and annulled the excommunication Pius XII had imposed on those responsible for Mindszenty’s arrest and imprisonment. As a result of the pope’s action, the Hungarian government allowed Mindszenty to leave the country in September 1971. He went to Austria. The pope urged him to resign his posts in the Hungarian Catholic Church in exchange for the uncensored publication of his memoirs. Mindszenty refused. In December 1973 he was stripped of his titles by the pope, who declared the Archdiocese of Esztergom officially vacated.

Fast forward. You may recall that starting in early 2015 Viktor Orbán began visiting numerous provincial cities, offering them large sums of money, mostly coming from Brussels. Among the projects were, naturally, several football stadiums as well as improvements in infrastructure in and around the cities. He called it the “Modern Cities Program.”

In May 2015 he visited Zalaegerszeg, where one of the promised gifts from the government was a memorial center and museum in honor of Cardinal Mindszenty, who spent 25 years in Zalaegerszeg as a parish priest. The mayor of the city hopes that the “pilgrimage tourism” generated by such a center will be a real financial bonanza for Zalaegerszeg. The government is pouring a lot of money into the project. Almost six billion forints will be spent on renovating the church where Mindszenty served, a parking garage will be built, and a hotel for the pilgrims will be fashioned out of a castle nearby. All that in addition to the center itself. There is the strong hope that by the time the pilgrimage center opens in 2018 Mindszenty will be granted the title “Blessed” as the second step in his canonization process. He is already “Venerable.” However, Mindszenty’s canonization process hasn’t been moving forward in the last 25 years, perhaps because, as Endre Aczél, the well-known journalist pointed out, Mindszenty wasn’t exactly an obedient son of the Church.

Plan of the Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The planned Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The inveterate anti-Semite

Mindszenty is a very controversial figure, and it is unlikely that historians will ever agree on his role in the Catholic Church and in Hungarian politics. Today I’ll summarize two recent historical assessments of the man.

Let me start with an interview with Zoltán Paksy that appeared in Magyar Narancs in connection with news of the planned Mindszenty Center in Zalaegerszeg. In his opinion, “the person of József Mindszenty is not worthy of such veneration, and certainly he is not an example to be followed.” The story which Mindszenty himself spread that he was arrested early in his career by the communist henchmen of the Hungarian Republic is not true. He was actually arrested during the Károlyi period because he was caught organizing a movement that was supposed to topple the new democratic regime. His real aim was the restoration of the monarchy and the maintenance of the dominance of the Catholic Church. “He was a backward, anti-modernist, intolerant man, and an inveterate anti-Semite.” Mindszenty, then still called József Pehm, established a local paper (Zalamegyei Újság) that was full of anti-Semitic writings about the “Galician hordes.” His editorials frequently condemned the destructive Jewish liberal press.

Mindszenty also dabbled in politics. He was the county chairman of the Keresztény Párt, which in 1922 joined István Bethlen’s government party. After that date Mindszenty’s paper became more careful because Bethlen didn’t tolerate anti-Semitic propaganda within government circles. Once Bethlen left politics, however, Zalamegyei Újság again returned to its earlier habit of giving space to anti-Semitic voices. In 1938 Mindszenty was one of the honorary presidents of the Association of Christian Industrialists and Merchants, which was an openly anti-Semitic organization. At the time of his inauguration he said that “the nation must recapture industry and trade,” obviously from the Jews.

Paksy said that he couldn’t find any documentation corroborating the claim that Mindszenty hid Jews in the spring and summer of 1944, although stories to that effect remain in circulation. It is true that he was an opponent of Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross party but, according to Paksy, it was because he considered them to be his political rivals who managed to capture the support of the countryside.

As for his general intolerance, here are a couple of examples. He refused to take part in any ceremony organized by the city where the Protestant ministers of the town were also present as equals. And in 1922 he hit a man because he didn’t take his hat off when meeting him on the street.

The National Hero

An opposing view of József Mindszenty comes from Margit Balogh, who has spent 25 years studying his career. Her latest effort is a two-volume, 1,570-page biography of Mindszenty based on extensive research in 50 Hungarian and foreign archives. The earlier, shorter biography that she wrote has already been translated into German, and its English translation is being prepared. According to Balogh, “despite his mistakes and faults, József Mindszenty was a national hero.”

Balogh admits that in the Zalamegyei Újság “we can find vehement, unacceptable expressions,” but “Mindszenty’s criticism of Jews was not the racial kind but originated from Christian anti-Judaism.” Moreover, she claims that with time he mellowed. For example, during the summer of 1944, as Bishop of Veszprém, “while he denied that the Church is pro-Jewish (zsidóbarát), he also made it clear that what is happening to the Jews is not defense of the nation (nemzetvédelem) but murder, a sin according to the Ten Commandments.” He expressed regret over the insensitive reporting of the deportation of the Jews by the diocese’s paper: “We should have done more and more forcefully.”

Balogh also admits that in the spring of 1944 Mindszenty saw nothing wrong with “an exchange of Jewish-Christian ownership,” but “the cruelty of the deportations made a great impression on him.” For example, by September he specifically forbade his priests to acquire Jewish properties. The historian also admits that, as far as she knows, Mindszenty didn’t make any effort to save Jews. He did, however, want to spare human lives and wrote a letter to Szálasi asking him to evacuate Transdanubia in order to save lives at this hopeless stage of the war.

Zoltán Paksy’s research was limited to Mindszenty’s years in Zalaegerszeg and didn’t extend to his actions after 1945. Balogh, however, admits that the other Hungarian prelates were not thrilled with Mindszenty’s unbending attitude toward the new regime. They suggested more flexibility in order to get the best possible deal for the church under difficult conditions. Yet, says Balogh, he was the only one who “defended the values of democracy against communist expansion.”

Mindszenty certainly was a symbol of resistance to the growing expansion of Mátyás Rákosi’s rule. A few months before his arrest he celebrated mass in Máriagyűd, where 150,000 people gathered to hear him, and delivered a fiery speech against the invaders from the East. So, in that sense Balogh is right. On the other hand, she has been unable to refute Zoltán Paksy’s assessment of the younger József Mindszenty.

April 24, 2016
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András B. Göllner
Guest
Mindszenty, like Horthy, didn’t like to get down into the mud. Didn’t like to sully his hands with the Jews. Neither man coveted the repulsive task of pulling the trap in the gas chamber, but they both gladly contributed to creating the climate of hatred against the Jews, that ended in their mass extermination. Afterwards, both claimed, that they didn’t want it to come to this. What did they expect ? Chit chit ? Did Mindszenty lift a finger between 1920-1945 to promote democracy in Hungary ? No. Is anti-Communism sufficient evidence to be considered a democrat ? No. Hitler, Szálasi, Franco, Salazar were also ardent anti-Communists. Non of them was a democrat, and neither was Mindszenty. The latter is a man with a a checkered past – his cruel maltreatment by the Rákosi and subsequent Kádár regimes was totally undeserved, but Rákosi’s cruelty should not be grounds for Mindszenty’s canonization. Making a saint of the person, who considered Jewry a festering sore on Hungary’s body politic is a cruel affront to the memory of the millions who lost their lives to the kind of prejudice, the late archbishop fomented. Democrats do not need anti-Semitic role models. The latter are… Read more »
i-dea
Guest

Andras Gollner and Eva are very fearless, like most of the others in this small community.

There is one possible step to raise this bravery.

The Russian State, almost singlehandedly, has been responsible to keep the antisemitism alive in Europe for almost 200 years until this day.

The various Hungarian leaderships have been the victims of the Russian plots in many cases.

Guest

Slightly off topic, but Zoltán Paksy’s assessment of Mindszenty as “…. backward, anti-modernist, intolerant…..” is a fitting description of most of Fidesz supporters, who are often just plain “old-fashioned”.

But old-fashioned attitudes are usually found in backward rural areas, which are both conservative and conformist, so it is strange that Fidesz chaps have brought backward, country – bumpkin mentality to the capital, where it now sits in Parliament.

The Fidesz notion of a rigid conformity is evident even in the seemingly unwritten dress code for men – jeans, white shirt, short gelled hair, jacket, as exemplified in this: http://obuda.hu/zoldoldal/aktualis/

As well as the identi-kit dressing, has anyone else noticed the unaccountable physical resemblence amongst many of the Fidesz mafia? It is almost spookily uncanny!?

Intolerance of anything “other” certainly seems to limit variety.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest
“He [Mindszenty] expressed regret over the insensitive reporting of the deportation of the Jews by the diocese’s paper” The catholic priest György Kis writes in his book : “Am 21. Juni 1944 erschien in der “Veszprémer Zeitung” ein Artikel mit dem Titel “Weg vom Ghetto. Unter dem Kopftitel der Zeitung stand in großen Lettern “Christliches politisches Blatt” und als Impressum: “Herausgeber: Diözesane Druckanstalt” In the said article the author ridiculed the deported Jews, who were taken early in the morning to be deported and left their camp in a mess. Kis who was of Jewish descent had pity with the innocent and wrote a letter to his superior József Mindszenty. Mindszenty answered and reminded him of what happened in 1894: “Im Jahre 1894 hat die den Juden nahestehende Presse und die jüdische Jugend vereint mit den Protestanten den sanftmütigen Erzbischof Kolos Vaszary insultiert. Der Episkopat wird heute zwischen zwei Mühlen zerrieben: Die Juden erwarten von uns ihre Rettung allesamt, die der Kirche untreu gewodenenen Pfeilkreuzler hingegen, dass er die Dogmatik im Stich läßt.” So when Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mindszenty blamed the Hungarian Liberals (Jews, Catholics and Protestants) not to have respected the wishes of the Catholic Church 50… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Mindszenty “permitted a Special Service [in gratitude for the solution of the Jewish question in the City] The Services were Held on July 25 in a church filled with worshipers, with a Monk in festive green vestments offering the mass. (The Nyilas did appear in uniform)
Source Randolph L. Braham, 1994

Guest
@Karl Pfeifer Today 2:27 am Nothing suprising here, Karl. Hungary has always been and still is a profoundly and maliciously antisemitic country, with the likes of Mindszenty, Prohászka and Bangha merely spokesmen expressing the thoughts of the overwhelming majority of Hungarians, symptomatic of the underlying mental disease, rather than the disease itself. The depth and extent of Hungarian antisemitism has never of course been any different from those of the other East European nations, except in one respect. For reasons of cynical self-interest, in 1867 the aristocratic political leadership of the Kingdom of Hungary emancipated its Jews in order to facilitate the economic and cultural modernization of a then still profoundly feudal country, and at the same time boost the demographic numbers of self-declared Hungarians (47%) in the Kingdom – vis á vis its non-Hungarian nationalities (48%) – with Jews declaring themselves ‘Hungarians of the Mosaic Faith’ (5%), thus allowing the self-declared Hungarians in the Kingdom to achieve slightly better than demographic parity (52%) with the other nationalities . The Christian Churches, with the Catholic Church foremost among them, bitterly opposed Jewish emancipation on doctrinal grounds, and constantly and maliciously stirred the populace against the emancipated Jews who consequently came… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Well said. Tnx for the note on the demographic reason in the 1867 emancipation. Didn’t know that although I knew that the same census, registered a slight majorty of Rumanians in Transylvania.

Observer
Guest

From the bits and pieces I have heard and read M. was a typical figure of the period in Hungary – arrogant, intolerant, retrograde, utterly undemocratic just like the current regime. The mature M. was of course much better than the orban bunch with his respect for the religion, his disapproval of extremities and the lack of ostensible corruption.

Now we have (relatively) the worst of both worlds.

winning
Guest

Fidesz will have a nice election year budget. Fidesz will throw some billions at important constituencies and they will shut up. Meanwhile the opposition is in total disarray. Guess, who’s winning?? As Donald Trump said: there are only two kinds of people, you are either a winner or a loser.

http://444.hu/2016/04/25/feladja-a-kormany-az-adossagcsokkentest-mert-inkabb-valasztast-nyerne-2018-ban

Guest

Troll!

Member

Totally OT: online news site VS has essentially collapsed. Even their chief editor resigned after it was revealed that the site received funding from the MNB’s foundations.

I wonder what all those talented journalists are going to do now.
http://444.hu/2016/04/25/sorban-mondanak-fel-az-ujsagirok-a-vs-nel

Piton
Guest

Shoopy, the chief editor(Oliver Lebhardt) of vs.hu was almost certainly deeply involved in the stealings. He certainly knew about the monies while most of the editorial room had no idea.

Please don’t confuse him with the journalists.

This is an excerpt from a public facebook conversation between Ledhardt and a 444.hu journalist just to give you an idea (it’s in Hungarian).

http://martonbede.tumblr.com/image/143267139334

Geo
Guest

I wonder about Mindszenty’s mental state. I talked to someone who worked at the US Embassy in Bp when he lived there…. She told me that they were convinced that he had serious mental issues, he was delusional and they even discussed the need for psychiatric help… They badly wanted him out from the Embassy.

Istvan
Guest
I must admit Eva is fearless to post the essay she just did on Cardinal Mindszenty, to question the official narrative of Mindszenty could cause her exile from the annual Annual Hungária Gala Ball held here in Chicago. Here is a video of one held in annually in February https://www.facebook.com/171949896175281/videos/vb.171949896175281/802150326488565/?type=2&theater Yes I was there, and yes I am seen dancing at the very end of the video with my wife. Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary was effectively turned into a Saint by the Hungarian Catholic Church here in the USA during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pope Pius XI’s famous encyclical “Divini Redemptoris” (On Atheistic Communism) written in 1937 was taught to young American Hungarian Catholics in the post 1956 period. We also regularly said prayers for the Cardinal as he sat in the US Embassy. Communism was considered to be a falling back into a barbarism that existed before the coming of Christ. One of the earliest films I can recall watching at our Church was “Guilty of Treason” about the Cardinal, I was maybe 9 years old. Here is the perplexing thing, if Cardinal Mindszenty was so anti-fascist, as it is claimed, why did so many old… Read more »
Geo
Guest

How timely! Today’s notice from the Woodside Priory, California

Kedves Barataink,

Cserháti Ferenc, a külföldi magyarok lelkipásztori ellátásával megbízott esztergom-budapesti segédpüspök az Egyesült Államok északi részén található magyar plébániákon kezdte meg lelkipásztori látogatását a napokban.

A Magyar Katolikus Misszio kozosseget aprilis 29. es majus 2. kozott latogatja meg. Vasarnap, majus 1-jen a 11 orai szentmiset a Puspok Ur fogja celebralni, Pius atya es Maurus atya kozremukodesevel. A szentmisen Mindszenty Jozsefre fogunk emlekezni es a szentmiset minden magyar testverunkert mutatjuk be.

A szertartast unnepi fogadas koveti majd a Priory diakebedlojeben.

A puspoki szentmisere es az azt koveto fogadasra Mindenkit szeretettel varunk.

Istvan
Guest

I assume the Bishop will be coming to the Midwest too. Yes there will be a big push for the beatification of Mindszenty in the Church. To speak publicly against it in the church would take great courage, by the way it certainly would not be the first time a possible anti-Semite was approved by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for beatification.

Saint Vincent Ferrer who is said to have been responsible for the conversion of many Jews to Catholicism, often by questionable means; for instance, he is said to have made their lives difficult until they converted and to have “dedicated” synagogues as churches on the basis of his own authority. One of his converts, a former rabbi by the name of Solomon ha-Levi, went on to become the Bishop of Cartagena and later the Archbishop of Burgos. Vincent is noted to have contributed to anti-Semitism in Spain, as violence accompanied his visits to towns that had Jewish communities.

Ferrer’s feast day is celebrated on 5 April. There is to this day a Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer in France with its own website see http://www.chemere.org/

Guest

Istvan?

You give a very clear insight to, what I believe, to be the sheer ludicrous claims of the Roman Catholics Unchristian Church – when it comes to beatification and so-called ‘miracles’.

(I mean no offence in addressing the RC Church in this way – but I believe it to be truly evil – and in that I know you will disagree – but apologies just the same.)

Once the ‘Sainthood’ train starts a-running nothing seems to be able to stop it.

Pope Paul is the latest candidate about to be ‘sainted’ – and all of a sudden a married woman creeps out from the woodwork.

An entirely inappropriate relationship apparent to everyone – in less hallowed circumstances the RC Church would have disapproved.

And there are enough reservations about Mindszenty to stop the ‘Saint Train’.

But it won’t. The supposed ‘miracles’ will be ‘confirmed’ and Sainthood bestowed.

Ludicrous, ludicrous, ludicrous. They only kid themselves.

Guest

Re: Balogh noting Mindszenty being the only one who ‘defended the values of democracy against communist expansion’.

You know looking back on my experience way back at the time that is directly the assessment that I came to. Mindszenty appeared to be extremely ‘venerated’ in my parish which incidentally was the first he visited when he began to tour Magyar parishes in the US after he was freed. And commemorations followed after his death in the wake of his defiance against the communists. Absolutely nothing on the anti-Semite label. If there was anything on it it certainly had to be hush-hush. I mean he was lauded as practically St Istvan in the same breath! But that accolade probably fits since our 50’s was a manic anti-communist period here. At the time it was believed the red Commies were living under everybody’s bed during that paranoid time.

And as an aside there was another cleric who also was imprisoned at the time and that was Archbishop Grosz of Kalocsa. I don’t believe his stand was as publicly well known here as Mindszenty’s. Stands to reason…he didn’t get in to the US embassy.