I would like to return to the topic of the György Donáth case I wrote about a couple of days ago in a post titled “Another attempt to erect a statue honoring an anti-Semitic racist.” There are at least three reasons for doing so. First, because since the scuffle and the aborted unveiling of the bust there have been new developments that is worth discussing. Second, right-wing publications have been filled with articles full of indignation that a small minority “dictates” the rest of the nation whom it should honor. Third, Ádám Gellért, a legal scholar and a student of history, has taken the trouble and has done some research on Donáth’s political past.
First, the bust of Donáth has been removed. Apparently, Péter Boross, former prime minster (1993-1994) and the man who is an active promoter of the rehabilitation of the “progressive elements” of the Horthy regime, decided that the bust was in danger. Two days ago I expressed my suspicion that, just as in case of Bálint Hóman’s statue, it was likely that the government contributed money for the memorial. My feeling about the source of money was correct, a fund, established by the Orbán government, contributed 15 million forints toward the cost of the bust. Boross thinks that the Donáth bust on the building where Donáth once lived at the corner of Páva utca and Üllői út is not a safe place because it would be defaced. They will erect is somewhere else considered safer.
Compare that reaction to the government’s response to the erection of the memorial for the victims of the German occupation of March 19, 1944 when Viktor Orbán, ignoring the domestic and international protest, insisted its erection even if it had to be done in secret in the middle of the night. Perhaps because of the lessons learned from the Hóman controversy, the government decided on an early retreat. The other possibility is that in the Donáth case Viktor Orbán was not personally involved and therefore Boross and others could make independent decisions. In any case, it was the right step in the right direction although it would have been much smarter to forget about György Donáth’s bust altogether.
Second, quite a few opinion pieces appeared in the far-right press that expressed the authors’ outrage at the Hungarian left’s and the Jewish community’s condemnation of a man who was “the first victim of the Stalinist-type show trials” and who at his trial testified that his name in no way can be connected to anti-Semitism. Moreover, again quoting from Donáth’s last plea, he disapproved of both national socialism and fascism. According to the author, Sándor Faggyas, a right-wing journalist currently working at Magyar Hírlap, “Donáth’s cardinal sin,” according to the ignorant and hysterical left, “was that he had been a Christian politician who defended the Hungarian people and who participated in the secret organization called Magyar Közösség.” We will see later that Faggyas was mistaken on both accounts.
Naturally, Zsolt Bayer, the professional anti-Semite and old friend of Orbán with a long Fidesz past from the very beginnings of the party, couldn’t have remained quiet when a good Christian is being maligned by “the descendants of the rubble of 1919 and 1945, who if they could would kill again with pleasure just as their predecessors did,” furtively pointing the finger at Hungarian Jewry. It is intolerable that Hungarians are forced to view history through the “annals of Jewish sufferings.” Bayer promised us a second installment of his opinion piece titled “Intolerable.” I assume he will continue to quote from Donáth’s last plea that indeed showed great bravery.
I indicated in my first piece on Donáth that we know very little about the man aside from his involvement in Magyar Közösség. Several books or chapters of books were devoted to that secret organization but no one has searched through documents looking for Donáth’s political views prior to 1945. Because of the favorable impression his plea made on those who studied the story of the Közösség drew a favorable portrait of him. However, even on the basis of these available secondary sources I had an uneasy feeling that Donáth’s life most likely has a very dark side. I suggested that someone close to the available sources should do some serious research and write at least a longish scholarly article on the man’s past. Well, the first step was taken by Ádám Gellért yesterday when he published an article full of quotations from Donáth’s speeches delivered in parliament. Clearly, this is just a first stab at learning more about Donáth because in addition being a member of parliament, he was also the publisher of an extreme right-wing magazine, Egyedül Vagyunk (We are alone) and therefore he must have written scores of opinion pieces for the magazine. Egyedül Vagyunk was a notorious anti-Semitic publication whose editorial board included such war criminals as Béla Imrédy, Andor Jaross, and Ferenc Rajniss, who all were condemned to death in 1946. Andor Jaross was in charge of the deportation of Hungary’s Jewish citizens to Auschwitz where most of them were murdered. These were the people Donáth kept company with. After the fall of the Szálasi regime Donáth was arrested but after a few months was let go.
On the basis of the quotes Gellért unearthed we can safely say that despite Donáth’s protestation he was both an anti-Semite and a follower of the Hungarian version of national socialism or fascism, Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party. He imagined the establishment of a “Hungarian Empire” (birodalom) which would “in its size” equal Hungary before 1918 but in contents it would be very different. It would be built on truly Hungarian traditions. He considered “national socialism or fascism” vastly superior to democracy because the former ones are better suited for the creation of “a healthy hierarchy.” What did he mean by “healthy hierarchy”? It seems that what he actually had in mind was the exclusion of all Jews which the first anti-Jewish law in his opinion didn’t ensure. Stricter laws were necessary which were already under preparation and which “will perhaps achieve better results.” He was thinking about the second anti-Jewish law
When Béla Varga of the Smallholders Party spoke against an amendment to the marriage law that forbade marriage between Jews and Gentiles Donáth became truly animated. Varga thought that “50% of Hungarian blood, plus the sacrament of baptism surely can balance the 50% Jewish blood” Donáth exclaimed: “The Negro will not become white either.” Or when liberal Károly Rassay argued against the second anti-Jewish law, pointing out that it is against the interests of the nation and that “it is impossible to speak of a pure Magyar race” Donáth interjected: “Unfortunately! Not pure. We must purify it! We will purify it!” Or, Donáth didn’t consider the ban on mixed marriages quite satisfactory because it didn’t specifically cover children born out of wedlock. This omission, he argued, “on the one hand, gives encouragement to sexual intercourse outside of marriage and, on the other doesn’t punish its evasion.”
During the debate on the third anti-Jewish law he made a fairly long speech out of which I will quote some of the most important sentences. Donáth was describing the difficulties the Imrédy government had to face when hundreds of laws had to be enacted during a very short time, “making up for the omissions of 20-50 or even 100 years.” All that has to be done in the middle of the war and during the building a new Hungarian empire. “We must bring up a new generation of the intelligentsia … now that a large segment of the present intellectual elite is being excluded as in our opinion, these people should have no place among Hungarian intellectuals.” Let’s face it, György Donáth was a maniacal anti-Semite. Not what Zsolt Bayer tried to make him at the end of his article. “Was György Donáth an anti-Semite? Yes, he was. Just as other innumerable great and talented men without whom no Hungarian culture and history would exist: Sándor Petőfi, Ferenc Herczeg, Dezső Kosztolányi, Sándor Márai, László Németh, Gyula Illyés, and Zsigmond Móricz.” How Petőfi could be listed here is beyond me because Petőfi in fact raised his voice against German citizens of Pest who refused to accept Jews into the national guard.
According to Bayer, the accusation of anti-Semitism is often unfounded. Surely, in case of György Donáth it wasn’t. But as far as Bayer is concerned “the Jews who were unfortunately overrepresented in the revolt of the rats and the mass murderers in 1919—against the will and the wishes of the majority of Jews–themselves ‘succeeded’ to gain the deep antipathy and anger of the majority.” In this all these outstanding Hungarians’ anti-Semitism is perfectly understandable.