Gábor Horváth: “Silence Speaks Volumes”

This commemorative article on Elie Wiesel  by Gábor Horváth, foreign affairs editor of Népszabadság,  appeared in the newspaper’s July 5, 2016 edition. The article was translated from the Hungarian by Lili Bayer.

♦ ♦ ♦

Wiesel

At home they spoke mainly Yiddish, but Elie Wiesel’s family members considered themselves Hungarian Jews until a Hungarian second lieutenant threw their Hungarian papers in their faces. They also knew a little Romanian and German, but Hungarian much better. Nevertheless, Elie Wiesel did not speak Hungarian after age sixteen. There was no one to speak with, and anyway after the liberation of the concentration camp he ended up in France, and later in America. When he broke his long silence, thirteen years ago, and gave an interview to a Hungarian newspaper, he spoke English with Népszabadság’s Washington correspondent. But, as he spoke about his hometown, Sziget, his pronunciation of it was nicer than any local TV host’s.

Hungary also considers him Hungarian, and he is still listed with pride on the list of famous Hungarians in the Hungarian embassy in Washington. He ended up there somehow, and taking him off would have been awkward. He was a disquieting Hungarian. He was not able to forgive those Hungarians who helped murder his family and did everything they could so the Germans could kill as many Jews as possible. He also could not forgive those who believe that all this is a forgettable episode. For example, László Kövér, who made a pilgrimage to Transylvania four years ago for the reburial of József Nyirő, who had stuck with the Arrow Cross till the end. Wiesel called this horrifying, and as a sign of protest he formally returned a medal he had received from the Socialist-Free Democratic Hungarian government  back in 2004.

Now that he has passed away, President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér—who is still head of the National Assembly—with clenched teeth remain silent. The Nobel-prize winner is useful as long as one can boast about him, but if he has opposing opinions and dares express them, the “dignitaries” pretend as though he never even existed. But after all, what can they say? Some of their supporters would interpret their words as forced, under pressure by secret powerful forces, honoring “a Jew.” Others, regardless of the leaders’ sincerity, would see this as yet another cynical about-face. The abovementioned gentlemen have maneuvered themselves into this position. It’s on their conscience.

The government occasionally attempts to take steps to avoid being considered anti-Semitic. But then with a statue here and there, slips of the tongue, and the twisting of historical truth, called “memory politics,” all gestures to the far right, it nullifies this. In the end, how should they be viewed, if they themselves do not know what they think?

This would not interest Elie Wiesel much. It is possible that he would find this disavowal a bit painful. What is it compared to 1944? There are enough countries where his death is being commemorated at the highest levels, among them Romania, his birth country, France, where he became an adult, and the U.S., where he lived and worked. He devoted his life so that what took place would not be forgotten and memory of the victims would not be erased. And it has not been forgotten, and the memories will not be silenced. Or perhaps they can be, but the silence speaks volumes.

According to his son, his father dreamed a few weeks ago that he was taking a walk in Máramarossziget with his little sister Tzipora and his parents, who were all killed in the camps. At the funeral on Sunday the son, Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, said goodbye with these words: “Tell your parents that you succeeded. We live. We love.”

July 9, 2016
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Wondercat
Guest

Powerful and sorrowful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us, Prof Balogh.

petofi
Guest

re: not speaking Hungarian

I may have mentioned my Toronto friend, Joe, in the past. He left Hungary after the war to settle in Canada. I met him in the 70’s at
a bridge club. We used to play backgammon for small stakes, and I used to try to sneak in a few words in Hungarian just to see if he would forget himself and answer in his native tongue. Finally, he told me a story: “There was this guy, a Hungarian, who came to the club many years ago. He knew little English and he tried to engage me in conversation in Hungarian. I wanted to speak to him but I just couldn’t bring myself to utter any Hungarian words. I felt sorry for him but there was nothing I could do.”

Joe and I used to talk some history, and peripherally, about Hungary.
His English was fluent; usually correct; and heavily accented. Many
a conversation ended with this summing up from him: “Hungarians?
A garbage people.”

I thought it harsh at the time, but after six years in Hungary, I now know exactly what he meant-

Member

Elie Wiesel is a Nobel Prize winner, an accomplished man, world famous and a humanist. Those Hungarians, who do not recognize it and remained quiet are nobodies with no accomplishment and world famous for notoriety and crimes against humanity which they lack entirely.

gdfxx
Guest

The great majority of the Jews in Transylvania used to consider themselves to be Hungarians with Jewish faith. This was true until they were deported to extermination camps by the Hungarian government and most of them never escaped with their lives. By the way, when the the Hungarian government presented arguments to sustain its claims to Transylvania, counting the Jews as Hungarians conveniently shifted the numbers in its favor.

After the war, the vast majority of the few Jews who returned to that region (if the word vast can be used here) decided to educate their children in the Romanian culture. A Jewish child in a Hungarian school in Transylvania was a rarity. This happened despite the fact that most of these families continued to speak Hungarian at home. I am not sure whether the Maramures (Máramaros) region of Romania, where Elie Wiesel was from can be counted as part of Transylvania, but I do know that the situation there was similar.

dos929
Guest

Let us suppose that for an uninformed reader there are no hard facts known about Hungary and this semi-Fascist regime. And furthermore let’s suppose that nothing is known about the regime’s taking away nearly all civil liberties from their own citizens and they are not informed about the regime’s moral and financial corruption. But if the same reader would come across this article it would tell exactly what kind of regime is Orban’s and his accomplices. The Orban regime in spite of the rejection of their policies by the majority of Hungarian citizens is well on the way to take out Hungary from the list of nations that are considered to be decent and democratic… After the shameful act of sending over half a million of their own Jewish citizens to death camps and murdering thousands in their own forced labour camps and on the shores of the Danube, this regime continues the same anti-Semitic agenda with and without words… And as a last note; the leaders of the EU are still ready to accept Orban’s presence in their ‘heads of states’ meetings instead of leaving the room as soon as he steps in… Despicable!

Guest

London Calling!

“There are enough countries where his death is being commemorated at the highest levels, among them Romania, his birth country, France, where he became an adult, and the U.S., where he lived and worked. “

He is held in very high regard in England too.

RIP

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/09/my-hero-elie-wiesel-by-david-miliband

Kávé
Guest
Petofi: In any national group you will find people – particularly leaders – who can be vilified as “garbage” and can stain national history by condoning genocide and using their power to carry it out. But that is not a national trait. Are the French “garbage?” Are the Croats “garbage?” Are modern Poles “garbage people?” Hardly. All of Europe became a charnel house in 1945. If Elie Wiesel taught us anything, he taught us that it is gravely misleading to simplify or obfuscate the lessons of the Holocaust. That is why he returned his medal to the Hungarian government. Regarding whether Wiesel considered himself a Hungarian, the Népszabadság editorial, while powerful, is misleading. Jews in Maramures were overwhelmingly Orthodox, many of whom were Hasidic followers of the Vizhnitz Rebbe’s teachings, as Wiesel’s family were. While visiting Sziget, where the Jewish community is now less than 75 people, it was explained to me that although virtually everybody in the Maramures Jewish community could speak Hungarian (in addition to Yiddish, Romanian, German and Ukrainian) the Orthodox in Transylvania did not consider themselves “Hungarian Jews” – a term they reserved for Jews belonging to the Neolog division of Hungarian Jewry whom they did… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Good note.
The hasidim outside Israel live in religion based, self imposed isolation from all nations or communities, and maintain radically different way of life and appearance. They don’t recognize even the state of Israel.
Add their ingrained racism, intolerance and arrogance in non religious matters. All these paint a pretty unsavory picture and do not help peaceful co-habitation, just as in the case of many other extreme religion or ideology based groups.

Wiesel was far from this.

petofi
Guest

re: hasidim

I taught one year in a Hasid school, in the English program.
The Hasid teachers continually disparaged the ‘english teachers’ and told the kids not to listen to them. The teaching of English is also replete with racism: the text for teaching reading is about a 16th century little town where jewish boys are stolen by the town priests and raised as Christians.

Jewish racism is used to maintain the cohesion of the select religious group.

gardonista
Guest

@Observer: You are mostly referring to the Satmar Jews, who are extremely isolationist when compared to Chabad or other Frum/Orthodox Jews.

Most Orthodox Jews do recognize Israel, unlike the Satmars.

petofi
Guest

In 1944, when the Hungarian government was gung-ho in shipping Hungarians to Auscwitz, they also passed a resolution–in fact, a law–that neighbours of jews could claim the contents of jewish homes and apartments. And Hungarians went wild laying claim to property of people who they well knew were on their way to be gassed.

Any other questions on why Hungarians deserve the epithet, “garbage”.

Istvan
Guest
Because Elie Wiesel is a Transylvanian Hungarian Jew whose book Night depicts actions by the Horthy government in 1941 well before the German takeover so his narrative is at odds with the standard American Hungarian narrative relating to Transylvania. This narrative which can be seen in an essay by Frank Koszorus http://americanhungarianfederation.org/docs/ForeignPolicyReview_Autonomy.pdf where the 1941 period in Transylvania disappears. Wiesel is mentioned in passing, but there in no reference to the fact that he was a trilingual Transylvanian speaking both Hungarian and Yiddish fluently, along with Romanian. His primary home language was Yiddish. There were thousands like him for the most part now dead. Wiesel is a problem not just for the Fidesz Holocaust revisionist, but for the emigrant Hungarian community here in the USA. As I explained before on this blog Jews who emigrated to Chicago that spoke Hungarian fluently and the Hungarian Catholic/reformed church Hungarians in Chicago had zero contact. That is because like in Koszorus’ essay Transylvanian Hungarian Jews as a unique culture don’t exist. Frank Koszorus, Jr., is by the way President of the American Hungarian Federation. Wiesel is listed by the Federation as a Hungarian Nobel prize winner, but the unique culture he represented is… Read more »
PALIKA
Guest

I am not qualified to enter this exchange but I would like to say that my understanding of Translyvania was that German was one of the languages spoken there until their expulsion by the communist government.

Also, that I blieve that in Transkarpathia the Jews spoke predominantly Hungarian when not speaking Hebrew or Yiddish. See the talk given by Rabi Hugo Grinn’s daughter following her father’s death.

They were major contributors to the promotion of Hungarian culture post Trianon in the former territories.

Kalman wrote his music to Countess Maricza for which he earned being banned in Romania when they heard “Szep varos Kolozsvar”. The grateful Hungarians thanked him by threatening his life for being a Jew which he saved by escaping to the USA.

Make no mistake though racist, jingoistic bigotry exists outside Hungary, as we are beginning to experience in the UK post Brexit vote.

British PM booed by crowd at Wimbledon celebrating Scottish Murray winning the men’s title. I suppose those at the event regard the pillock as an architect of the destruction of Europe and of our hopes and dreams. Let the Tories rot in hell, they probably think. Any thoughts?

gdfxx
Guest

There used to be two ethnic groups of German origin in Transylvania: the Saxons and the Schwabs. Each one spoke their own dialect of the German language, although they also were able to speak Hochdeutsch (the actual literary German language). Jews in Transylvania used to speak Yiddish (as their main language among Orthodox Jews and secondary among the Neolog), although among the Neolog branch the young people did not speak it. One can call Yiddish a German dialect, supposedly it is actually the German language spoken some centuries ago.

Calling the Germans emigration “expulsion” is not quite correct. They were actually sold by the Ceausescu government to West Gremany and they were happy to leave that “paradise”. Similar process occurred with the Jews. Those who stayed (Hungarians and Romanians) were quite envious…

PALIKA
Guest

Many thanks for the information

webber
Guest

According to one study I’ve seen, relatively few Jews of Máramarossziget (also just Sziget, or Sighet in Ro.) spoke Hungarian, and those who did learned it in school. What they generally spoke was classified as German.

Back when, Yiddish was just considered an odd dialect of German.

Guest

In the realm of recent memory the 20th century truly was an evil century. Wiesel when at the White House in ’99 asked the question ‘What will the legacy of this century be? And further ‘How will it be remembered in the new millenium? So on that we can surely see that for some in power silence is the response to the individual who bore continual witness to the tragedies which resulted from deliberate decision -making. The 20th succumbed to the sickness called death by genocide.

It would appear then that as long as power continues to give the Holocaust a silent pass through the ‘A-O-K’ triumvirate (the Ader, Orban, Kover Show) the poisons will always be bubbling and on call to mitigate the evil of those who participated in those deeds. And for that they with their attitudes will always keep alive the pestelince inherent in the thinking of individuals like Hitler and Heydrich and their ilk in the 21st. Magyarorszag hasn’t caught a respite from evil. The poisons are extremely powerful in their action.

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