Tag Archives: András Kovács

Mária M. Kovács’s laudatory remarks on Randolph L. Braham and his work on the Hungarian Holocaust

The 95-year-old Randolph L. Braham, professor emeritus at the City University of New York, gave a lecture in Goldmark Hall on Wesselényi utca, Budapest. Professor Braham’s list of publications is long, but his monumental work The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary is the one that established his reputation as one of the foremost Holocaust researchers of our times.

After the welcoming speech of András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, Professors Mária M. Kovács and András Kovács, both of Central European University, delivered laudatory remarks on the extraordinary accomplishments of Professor Braham, who has devoted his life to the study of the Hungarian Holocaust.

Professor Braham is no stranger to Hungarian Spectrum. Several of his articles were published here. I’m most proud of the fact that Professor Braham specifically designated Hungarian Spectrum as the best place for his scholarly article “The assault on the historical memory of the Holocaust.”

The lecture that he delivered in Budapest, without notes, was titled “Anatomy of the Hungarian Holocaust.” After his lecture he was awarded the Laurea Honoris Causa award from the University of Szeged. Ever since the 1990s the university has had close working relations with Professor Braham. Moreover, the students and faculty of the university have been the beneficiaries of the J. and O. Winter Fund, administered by Professor Braham.

Professor Randolph L. Braham with Zsolt Szomora, associate dean of the Law Faculty of the University of Szeged

Here one can read the remarks of Professor Mária M. Kovács, who is also well known to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. We published several of her articles, including her polemics with Mária Schmidt. The video of the event can be seen online, although the simultaneous translation from English to Hungarian and from Hungarian to English makes it difficult to follow the speeches.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear Professor Braham, dear President Heisler, dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great honor to be able to welcome Professor Braham, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the City University of New York, on this occasion. We are all very grateful for his visit here, in Budapest.

Professor Braham’s presence here, in the Goldmark Hall, is more than just a ceremonial occasion. It is an exceptional opportunity for us to pay tribute to the world’s most important scholar of the Hungarian Holocaust.

Professor Braham has, single-handedly, done more for recording the history of the Hungarian Holocaust than anyone else has. We owe it to him, more than to anyone else that this history did not disappear in the Orwellian black hole of forgotten memory.

When Braham began this work in New York in the 1960s, in Hungary itself, the topic of the Holocaust was still outlawed from historical scholarship. At that time, Braham realized that unless the work of recording the Holocaust was set in motion from outside Hungary, the dignity and memory of over half a million Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust would, perhaps, never be protected.

Since then Braham has produced and edited over sixty books, hundreds of articles and bibliographies, and a magisterial Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary.

As a result of Braham’s gigantic work, the Hungarian Holocaust is regarded today to be among the best-documented chapters in the entire tragedy of the Shoah. This immense achievement – as György Ránki put it – is not likely to be surpassed anytime soon in the future.

And now, let me also say a few personal words about what Randolph Braham means to us, Hungarian historians. As we began our own work, we began by reading Braham’s works, first without even knowing if the term “Braham” referred to an institution or a person. “Just go to Braham” – was the first piece of advice we heard if we were interested in issues of the Holocaust.

And there still is no better advice we could give to our own students.

By today, the term “Braham” came to refer to an entire school of scholarship that our guest has established. A school of an immensely precise, panoramic and microscopic study of the Hungarian Holocaust.

But Braham is not only a great historian. He is also a moral compass for our profession and beyond, for our entire community. He speaks for us even when we may be at a loss for words.

When, a few years back, he was asked in an interview what it is in other people that he dislikes the most, his reply was: “indecency, unreliability, and hypocrisy.” And if he discovers any of these, his personal response is unyielding.

This was precisely the case three years ago when the Hungarian government established the infamous Veritas Institute and erected the German Occupation Memorial.

In response, Braham returned his medal of honor to the government to protest against the blatant drive to falsify history and to whitewash the historical record of the Horthy era. “I reached this decision with a heavy heart” – Braham said. But “I cannot remain silent, especially since it was my destiny to work on the preservation of the historical record of the Holocaust.”

Yes. This is exactly what Braham’s destiny has been. Elie Wiesel put this into more eloquent words than I ever could. To recommend Braham’s work to the public – Elie Wiesel said –, “is more than an act of friendship, it is the duty of remembrance that belongs to the realm of the sacred.”

Welcome in Budapest, Professor Braham.

October 11, 2017

New poll on Hungarian anti-Semitism

In the last few days I have encountered a number of studies, television interviews, and polls on Hungarian anti-Semitism. The inspiration for this sudden burst of information is undoubtedly an international conference organized by the Tom Lantos Institute, which is described as “an independent human and minority rights organization with a particular focus on Jewish and Roma communities and other transnational minorities.” So far their activities have been meager and even their website is unfinished. This conference, held in the chamber of the former Upper House of the Hungarian Parliament, was a closed affair for invited guests only, most of whom were foreigner visitors.

I should actually devote a whole post to the rocky history of the Institute, which is currently an instrument of the Hungarian government whose attitude toward the issue of anti-Semitism is ambivalent at best. On the one hand, the government tries to convince the world of its progressive attitude and fair handling of the issue and, on the other, it promotes the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime in which several discriminatory laws were enacted which eventually led to the horror of the Hungarian Holocaust. Moreover, for political reasons the governing party, Fidesz, usually placates the neo-Nazi anti-Semitic Jobbik party by giving in to their demands, which often entails the rehabilitation of anti-Semitic characters from the past. That’s why Stefan J. Bos of BosNewsLife entitled his article on the Lantos Institute’s conference “Hungary’s Crocodile Tears Over the Holocaust.”

Let’s see the results of some recent studies on anti-Semitism in Hungary. According to the sociologist András Kovács, who conducted about fifteen such studies between 1993 and 2011, the number of anti-Semites has grown over the years, especially since 2009, but he adds that the Hungarian population is quite xenophobic in general, and when they were asked about their attitude towards the Arabs, the Gypsies, the Blacks, the Chinese, the Hungarian Germans, and the Jews, the Jews actually came off best. That is, they were hated the least. Still, the percentage of people who vehemently hate the Jews jumped from 9% to about 20% between 2009 and 2013.

A few days ago a new poll was taken by Political Capital, which focuses exclusively on Internet users. So, the poll is skewed because in Hungary relatively few people over the age of 60 use the Internet. The percentage of young people included in this poll is higher than in the population as a whole. According to Political Capital, those for whom Jews are “antipathetic” make up 28% of the adult population. I tried to use the equivalent of the Hungarian original (ellenszenvezők) instead of “anti-Semitic” (antiszemiták) because the latter linguistic choice would probably have altered the results. “Anti-Semitic” is certainly a more loaded term than “antipathetic.” The team conducting the survey also offered a “sympathetic” (rokonszenvezők) category, and the percentage of the sample who opted for that choice was surprisingly high, 34%. The percentage of those who claim to be neutral is also high, 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are great differences in people’s attitudes toward Jews when it comes to party preferences. Jobbik has the highest percentage of anti-Semites, 75%, while E14, LMP, and DK have the lowest, 14%. Fidesz voters show an interesting pattern: 33% dislike Jews, 27% claim to be neutral, 22% like them, and a very large percentage in comparison to the others simply have no opinion, 18%. Among MSZP voters the percentage of those who find Jews to be an unsympathetic lot is almost as high as among Fidesz voters but at the same time 45% of them actually sympathize with Jews and only 15% are neutral on the issue.

The researchers of Political Capital call attention to the fact that “anti-Semitism is a politically induced phenomenon.” Although in terms of percentages Fidesz and Jobbik voters are very far from each other on anti-Semitism and although the difference is relatively small between Fidesz and MSZP, when it comes to hard-core anti-Semitism (including a belief in theories of an international Jewish conspiracy) Fidesz and Jobbik anti-Semites are very close to one another. Here is the graphic illustrating Political Capital’s contention. In the lower left quadrant are anti-Semites of the parties who don’t believe in conspiracy theories while in the upper right quadrant are the Jobbik and Fidesz anti-Semites who do believe in conspiracy theories.

Fidesz-Jobbik antisemites

That is, the nature of Fidesz-Jobbik anti-Semitism is fundamentally different from that on the democratic side. But why? Political Capital’s researchers claim that anti-Semitism is a politically induced phenomenon. Well, that is quite clear in the case of Jobbik because this party’s messages are unequivocal. The party’s sympathizers are barraged with hard-core anti-Semitic messages. But what’s happening in Fidesz? I suspect that the double talk and ambivalence that can found in Fidesz communication is responsible for the high number of Fidesz believers in an international Jewish conspiracy. Some Fidesz voters view the incessant anti-foreign, anti-capitalism remarks as coded anti-Semitic messages and translate them into unambiguous statements. Moreover, it is often asserted that about 30% of Fidesz voters are already so far to the right that they could easily vote for Jobbik. In fact, many of them indicate Jobbik as their second choice when asked by pollsters.

I think that those who fall for the “crocodile tears” should keep all of this in mind. Viktor Orbán, who is politically very savvy and who has his finger on the pulse of his followers, believes that he cannot ignore the feelings of his flock. Whether he is an anti-Semite or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is his careful tiptoeing around this issue for the sake of his followers whose anti-Semitism is deeply ingrained.