This article first appeared in the November 5 issue of Hungarian Free Press.
“Don’t listen to what I say, but watch what I do!”
— Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary
An essay in honour of Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham
What is affinity fraud?
Affinity fraud is the oldest scam in the book. Eve used it to con Adam into tearing off the forbidden fruit from the tree of life, which led to humanity’s tragic fall from grace. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with this form of tainted love. In his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, written over 700 years ago, Durante (alias Dante) Alighieri reserved the lowest level of Inferno for those who chose this form of deception to rob their fellow human beings of their soul and of their trust in one another. For Dante, seduction was the most intimate affinity fraud. The most devastating form of this type of affinity fraud is the seduction of a child by the pedophile priest, who uses the child’s innocence, his loving and trusting nature, to rob him of his birthright to happiness. As the affinity fraud unfolds, the child’s confusion and shame is intensified by his memory of the pleasure he felt at being treated as “special.” It is this special treatment that makes it so difficult for the victims of affinity fraud to break away, to report the identity of their “seducer”, to reveal what happened to them, to admit to themselves that their bond with life and natural love has been broken forever. Many end up suffering for decades, some are never able to overcome their pain.
Here is the standard Wikipedia definition of the term: “Affinity frauds prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, language minorities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups…victims often fail to notify authorities or pursue their legal remedies, and instead try to work things out within the group.”
In their insightful book (Dante’s Path. Gotham Books, 2003) two American psychotherapists, Bonnie and Richard Schaub, utilize Dante’s Divine Comedy as a metaphor to assist those who are the victims of affinity fraud. They describe the face of this fraud, and its impact: “The honest face draws you in, stimulates your innate love and then manipulates you. You are fooled and harmed because of your own loving, trusting nature. Fraud counts on you being a good person and uses that goodness against you. We are all extraordinarily resilient. We live with the knowledge that we shall die and in the course of our life we have to adjust to and get past many problems – but we never get past this fraud. You may forget the details of the betrayal, but you never get past the fact that trusting your loving nature turned out to be a dangerous mistake.”
Arbeit Macht Frei, the fraudulent welcome sign that greeted the travel weary Jews at the gates of hell, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, is perhaps the most memorable symbol of this cruel form of deception. The German Sociologist Max Weber attributes the work ethic to Protestantism. The Nazis knew much better. They knew that the work ethic was nowhere as strong as amongst the people of Abraham. They knew that their seductive offer above the gates of hell would be almost impossible to resist. They chose their words carefully, to sedate and becalm their guests before hastening them to shower, to wash off the dirt that covered their exhausted bodies, so they could get to work refreshed and as fast as possible. A total of 1.5 million Jews, a third of them Hungarians, were taken in and sedated by the Nazi’s affinity fraud at this unforgettable death camp.
Joseph Stalin feigned affinity with the proletariat to rob the entire population of the Soviet Union and then the people of Central and Eastern Europe, of their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Adolf Hitler used his affinity with the Aryan race to eliminate 6 million Jews from the face of the earth and to start a global war that eventually caused the death of 100 million people world-wide. Viktor Orbán, the current Prime Minister of Hungary is seen as a kinder, gentler master of this scam. His government banks on affinity with the victims of Communism, as a way to secure the off-shore votes of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who left their homeland to escape the horrors of the fraud that Stalin’s and Brezhnev’s henchman perpetrated upon Hungarians between 1945 and 1990. Orbán used affinity with Conservatism, to endear himself to Canada’s former Harper government and to disguise his government’s hostility to the values that are central to Conservatives everywhere. Is he using affinity fraud with the victims of the Holocaust in Canada and North America to cover up his government’s anti-Semitic actions inside Hungary? I will let the readers decide.
I dedicate this article to Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham, who not only walked through the gates of Hell metaphorically, like Dante, but did so in their own flesh and came back to warn us about those who engage in the practice of affinity fraud. I salute them, for their sacrifice and especially for their role as messengers to my generation and to those who aspire to follow their example in the future.
The descent into hell…
While the Holocaust came to Hungary relatively late – first in 1941 and then with a vengeance in March 1944 – its gestation period began much earlier and at a time, when Hitler wasn’t even a blip on Europe’s political radar.
Hungary introduced the first anti-Semitic laws of the 20th century’s in 1920, during the Regency of Admiral Nicholas Horthy and at the behest of a rabid anti-Semitic Hungarian bishop, Ottokár Prohászka. Prohászka’s 1920 pamphlet The Jewish Question became a bestseller in Germany, well before Hitler’s Mein Kampf hit the charts. It was translated into dozens of languages and provided the spiritual fuel for the massacre of 600,000 Hungarian Jews. Thousands of Jews were machine-gunned into the frozen waters of the Danube in Budapest during the cold winter months of 1944, by Hungary’s indigineous Nazis, (the Arrow Cross). Tens of thousands more were killed using other forms of cruelty. The first large-scale deportation of Jews from Hungary and their subsequent mass murder at Kamenets-Podolski took place during the summer of 1941 (for some details see below). But the largest mass deportation and murder of Hungarian Jews took place at Auschwitz, the “state of the art” death camp built and operated by Germans inside the war-torn territory of Poland. Hungarians didn’t pull the triggers at Kamenets Podolski or at Auschwitz – they provided the hatred and the target for that hatred.
The officially generated hatred towards the Jews in Hungary was a carefully choreographed affair and the Nazis played hardly any role in the design of the score. Prohászka was generating hate literature when Hitler was still in his diapers in Austria. Theodore Herzl dreamt up the creation of a homeland for the Jews not by reading the collected works of Hitler, but by walking the streets of Budapest, the city of his birth. Horthy, the man who bears sole responsibility for Hungary’s wartime alliance with Nazi Germany, admitted in his private correspondences to being a life-long anti-Semite and needed no encouragement from Hitler. Horthy confesses in his secret papers, that he always wanted to get rid of the Jews, but not all at once and not as fast as Hungary’s true-brown Nazis had wanted. To get rid of the Jews at once, he argued, was an economic folly – it had to be done in stages, and the best place to start was not in Budapest, not in the industrial heartland of Hungary but in the countryside and in such far away villages as the one where little Elie Wiesel ran about freely as a child, before he was packed into a cattle car, without food, water or toilet facilities and shipped off to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
The round-up and deportation of Hungary’s rural Jewry to Auschwitz – approximately 460,000 people – began in March 1944 and took 51 days to complete. Responsibility for the project was given to Hungary’s rural militia, the dreaded csendőrség (in Hungarian, the word means Guardians of Silence). Any of the Jews who broke the silence or spoke out of turn as they were being crammed into the cattle wagons destined for Auschwitz were shot on the spot by the rugged guardians of silence or were beaten severely for their insolence. The csendőrség was under the direct supervision of the Hungarian ministry of the Interior. There were no German participants in the chain of command that rounded up the Jews and shipped them out of the country. SS Obersturmbannführer, Adolf Eichmann, Germany’s designated hitter in Hungary, did not have to get his soft, calf-leather gloves dirty at any time during his stay in Budapest.
Hungary was Eichmanns’s easiest assignment. His biggest challenge was the concealment of the true purpose of the deportations from the roughly 300,00 Jews of greater Budapest. He didn’t want them to panic, to stampede, to make a big fuss and blow his megaproject out of the water. The Obersturmbannführer sat in his boutique hotel in the Buda Hills, with a spectacular view of the city below, drank schnapps with his buddies, sampled the night life of Budapest , flirted with the ladies at the Arizona Club, and engaged in amicable chatter with the likes of Rudolf Kastner.
The latter was a local Jewish community leader, who came to Eichmann with a preposterous idea – safe passage to Switzerland for a pre-selected trainload of Hungarian Jews – 1,600 in all – in return for keeping the other 460,000 calm and ignorant of the fate that awaited them. The Obersturmbannführer couldn’t believe his good fortune – the 1,600 was less than 1 percent of his shipment quota to Auschwitz (For the number crunchers in the audience, the actual percentage of Krastner’s Jews totaled 0.12% of the population that was destined for extermination). Being a shrewd businessman, and no doubt angling for a bonus from his superiors, Eichmann raised the ante with Kastner. He asked Kastner to work with the Allies and get him 10,000 trucks as well, to replace the vehicles the Nazis lost during their battles on the Eastern front. Kastner tried his best to deliver on the addendum, but the allies wouldn’t bite. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was still waiting to be written, the concept was not yet in vogue. Kastner was only able to deliver half of his side of the bargain. Eichmann feigned displeasure, but being the gentleman that he was, and having achieved his primary objective with Kastner and the Budapest Jewish Council, he kept his promise. Kastner got his train. His shipment of 1,600 Jews arrived safely in Switzerland while the other 460,000, ended up at a camp whose commander promised to reward them if they showered and got down to work.
There were no riots in the streets of Budapest during the 51 days it took to deport Hungary’s rural Jewry. There was no hysteria in Budapest, and not much hollering in the countryside either, thanks to the guardians of silence.The SS Obersturmbannführer didn’t run around town, beating up hapless Jewish citizens who may have been spreading panic in the streets. He leaned back in his office chair, and waited for the Hungarians to deliver the goods. At his trial in Jerusalem, Eichmann confessed to being surprised by the efficiency and brutality of his Hungarian partners and attributed the brutality to their Asiatic ancestors, their tainted ethnicity
Before turning my eyes forward, I am compelled, like Orpheus, to turn my head one more time, back towards the past. My backward glance at this moment is not the product of a momentary weakness, but a conscious, self-liberating choice, perhaps similar in motivation to the one undertaken by Apollo’s son, the man who forbade the pulling of wool over the eyes of the deceased more than 3,000 years ago. My brief and personal backward glance at this precise moment is necessary, because it is absolutely germane to the narrative that follows, and to the course of my own life from hereon in.
I learned, at the age of 65, accidentally browsing the internet one evening in my Montreal apartment, that my nominal godfather – Uncle Marci – who I never set my eyes on in my life and who, according to my parents died in prison in 1947 – an innocent “victim of Communism” – was in fact a war criminal and a devoted Nazi.
I learned from the internet, that Uncle Marci – Vitéz Márton Nemerey (neé Márton Grósz) – was not just an ordinary Nazi war criminal, but the highly decorated supreme national commander of the Hungarian csendőrség between August 1, 1938 and November 15, 1942. I learned on the internet that he was not only the celebrated author of the militia’s Ten Commandments, but the man who commanded Hungary’s first pogrom – the expulsion and subsequent murder of 23,000 migrant Jews in 1941 at the Ukrainian town of Kamenets Podolski. (When the 23,000 migrant Jews disembarked from the cattle wagons into which Uncle Marczi’s men had cramped them into, they were machine-gunned into open pits by the German soldiers who waited for them across the border. Eyewitness accounts speak of the earth rolling above the burial site for hours, like the surface of the ocean, because so many of the victims, though critically wounded, were buried alive.)
When I learned of the true identity of my nominal godfather I took out an old family photograph, and that picture spoke a thousand words to me. Uncle Marci was a Hitler lookalike – the same haircut, the same mustache, the same expression. I reached for a kosher pálinka, and have not recovered since.
What shocked me even more as I revved up my search engine was an account of my godfather’s death by a Hungarian historian, Sándor Szakály. Szakály is well known for his publications that glorify the Guardians of Silence. I first became aware of him about ten years ago, when I began looking at the Hungarian academics who were crowding around the then still fledging Hungarian neo-Nazi party, the Jobbik. Szakály was one of their celebrity intellectuals. After Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, he appointed Szakály to the Chairmanship of the PMO’s newly created historical institute, the Veritas Institute. The main purpose of the Institute is to whitewash Hungary’s responsibility for the murder of the Jews at Kamenets Podolski and at Auschwitz. As soon as he assumed his position as head of the Institute, Mr. Szakály reframed the Kamenets Podolski pogrom as an administrative arrangement against illegal migrants. As far as my nominal godfather’s role in the affair was concerned, Szakály was mum. But he had another astonishing revelation, that did affect me personally. He claimed that my nominal godfather Vitéz Márton Nemerey, did not die in prison in 1947, as my parents and my godmother had told me, but 11 years later, in 1958. According to him, my godfather survived his prison sentence, was set free in 1951 and was free as a bird during the 4 years that preceded my parents decision to whisk me away to Canada from the evils of Communism in 1956.
During my last four years as a child in Hungary, I met my godmother on more than one occasion, but I never met my godfather. I often dreamed of sitting on his lap and having him tell me stories about Hungary’s heroes, the agile horsemen, who came to Hungary from afar and were so instrumental in saving “the West from the barbarians of the East.” (That heroic defense of it’s white and Christian neighbours to the west, is reenacted today by the razor tipped fence across Hungary’s southern border, a defensive corridor to stem “the alien Muslim tide” from the East. The story remains the same, the actions take different forms.)
When I enquired as a child about the whereabouts of my godfather, my godmother told me that sadly, oh so sadly, my godfather was dead. On later returns to Hungary as a grown man, I visited my godmother, who was by then a very old lady. I didn’t pester her with painful recollections of the past, but she did volunteer to tell me how sad she was that her husband, Uncle Marci could never set his eyes upon his beloved godson “who has now grown into such a tall, good-looking man.” She never missed a chance to malign those god-awful Communists for her husband’s bad fortune. She never once told me what her husband’s job was that landed him in hot water, and I never bothered to ask. When she passed away, I inherited Uncle Marczi’s beautiful, art deco desk lamp that stands now in a corner of my Montreal apartment in Little Italy, devoid of a vital, bejeweled part, stolen by a cleaning lady who is no longer in my employ. I don’t often make eye contact with it, and had changed the lampshade on it to be safe rather than sorry.
My parents and those in my family who may have known anything about Vitéz Márton Nemerey are long dead. I have no one in the world to clear up the puzzle for me: Why did my father choose this man, who was not even a blood relative, as my designated godfather? My grandfather, Elemér Szentjóby, hid a number of rural Jews on his estate during the war, who ran to him for protection in the village of Csömör. My own father, saved the lives of dozens more, who worked at his pasta factory in Budapest, sometimes chasing after them in his company’s truck, after the local Nazis absconded with them. He waved official papers at the young hoodlums, screaming with the thugs, that the Jews are needed to manufacture the pasta for the war effort. When the heat of the Holocaust came dangerously close to my uncle, the obstetrician, who saved me from starving to death, my family hid his children, my second cousins, so at least they would survive the horror. Did my father designate the leader of the csendőrség as my godfather to save his newborn son? I shall never know. But I will find out, even if it kills me, who is lying to me about the date of my godfather’s death: Was it my parents, my godmother, or is it Professor Szakály. the man the Hungarian government sent quietly and without any fanfare to Toronto on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, to celebrate with those Hungarian ex-army officers who held up the liberation of Auschwitz.
Fast forward to 2010
“The memory of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of our government’s policy and our country’s national identity. It has to be preserved and respected,” said Bálint Ódor, Hungary’s Ambassador to Canada.
My nominal godfather, Vitéz Márton Nemerey, his beloved Admiral Nicholas Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi and Ottokár Prohászka are long faded memories, destined to live on in the underworld as dead spirits of the past. But the hatred they fomented against the Jews of Hungary burns stronger than ever in that country. There are many who claim that responsibility for the rising hatred today rests squarely on the shoulders of the anti-Liberal, anti-democratic government of Viktor Orbán, which was elected to office in landslide election victories in 2010 and in 2014 and which is now proudly and ably represented in Canada by his excellency, Ambassador Bálint Ódor.
According to surveys conducted by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute, and by the globally respected Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism in Hungary prior to 2010 was well above the European average. After Orbán came to power, the hate level accelerated more rapidly than anywhere else in Europe and clearly corelates with Orbán’s election to office. Is this correlation a coincidence or is there a cause end effect relationship? I will let the evidence speak for itself and allow my readers to draw their own conclusion.
One of the founders of Hungary’s anti-Semitic, anti-Roma vigilante group, the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) is András Bencsik, a high-ranking member of Orbán’s Fidesz party. His magazine, the Demokrata, runs highly popular tours to Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” retreat each year. Each year the magazine runs a full feature article celebrating the troops that held up the liberation of Auschwitz, and fought to keep Hitler in power to the last day of the war. After Orbán came to power, Bencsik received a string of governmental decorations along with massive subsidies to keep his hate-filled magazine profitable and widely read. He has been inducted into a knighthood – the Order of Vitéz – that Admiral Horthy created in 1920, to maintain Hungary’s racial purity and to guard against the restoration of democracy in Hungary during the interwar years. The Order of Vitéz was banned under Communism, but has been resurrected. The Canadian chapter of this Order of Knights is the proud sponsors of the monument that will be raised to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa, initially planned to go up next to Canada’s Supreme Court building. The single largest contributor to the erection of this pet project of the former Tory Government is the government of Viktor Orbán, the government that sent its official historian, Sándor Szakály to celebrate with those officers who held up the liberation of Auschwitz, and assisted in the prolongation of the war. Standing next to Canada’s parliament building will be a permanent monument displaying the sponsorship of the Hungarian government, that, according to Transparency International, is the most corrupt in all of Europe. Carved into the monument in big letters will be the name of a government, whose leader is a sworn enemy of Liberalism, a man who has publicly declared that he wants to turn Hungary into an “Illiberal State” patterned on the Russian and Chinese templates. Catch 22 has arrived from the East, and the Ottawa landscape will never be the same.
If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why is that government issuing glossy postage stamps in memory of such celebrities of Hungary’s Nazi past as the actress Zita Szeleczky, Hungary’s very own Tokyo Rose, who spent the war years agitating Hungarians to fight to the bitter end in defense of the Third Reich?
If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government, why is this government and its Canadian Ambassador celebrating Gyula Detre, who lives in Canada and was the Head of Military Security for the war criminal, Arrow Cross Party leader, Ferenc Szálasi? Gyula Detre is a respected member of Montreal’s Hungarian community, a staunch anti-Communist, a devoted Christian and a patriot. He is also a member of the “Order of Vitéz” that Hungary’s interwar leader, Admiral Nicholas Horthy created to uphold the purity of the “Hungarian Blood” by excluding Jews from its ranks. Detre emigrated to Canada from Germany in 1950. In his autobiography which is freely accessible on the internet, he admits to serving the Hungarian “Führer”, and is proud of it. He recounts how impressed he was with Hitler’s warm and sensitive eyes when they met near the end of the war, and how much he enjoyed serving his own “Führer”, who was executed in 1945 as a war criminal. Detre couldn’t attend this year’s celebration on Dundas Street, but he sent a lengthy and warm memorandum to his comrades in arms who were hooting it up in Toronto with the Hungarian Prime Minister’s trusted right hand man, Sándor Szakály.
If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why are convicted war criminals like Albert Wass or Arrow Cross Party member, József Nyírő resurrected by Orbán’s government as modern-day heroes of Hungary?
If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why is that government allowing public monuments to be raised to those in Hungary who fomented hatred against the Jews before and during the Holocaust? If respect of the Holocaust victims is the cornerstone of his government’s policy, why is Viktor Orbán sending enormous wreaths to these memorials along with some of his most prominent officials and Party members?
If the memory of the victims of the holocaust must be respected why are the works of former Nazis put into the national curriculum of Hungary’s secondary school system, why are the men who spread hatred 70 years ago allowed to do the same once more and amongst the most impressionable strata of Hungarian society?
If remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government, why did this government embrace the well-known and now deceased anti-Semitic playwright, István Csurka? Before he suddenly died, the Orbán government gave Csurka the co-directorship of the publicly owned Budapest Municipal Theatre. Virtually the entire cabinet, including the President of the Hungarian Parliament attended Csurka’s funeral, while Orbán sent perhaps the largest funeral wreath to the gravesite as a sign of his government’s respect for the man who had nothing in his soul but hatred for the Jews.
One of Orbán’s closest pals, one of the founders of his Party and the owner of Party membership card No. 5, Zsolt Bayer, is also a highly rewarded and regarded propagandist of the Orbán regime and the recipient of numerous publicly funded grants to enable him to promote his racially motivated views. By his own admission, Mr. Bayer, is not an advocate of consensual conflict resolution. His favoured tension-management instrument is force – a punch in the mouth, a good beating “so that even your dentist won’t recognize your face anymore” (See his Hol a pofátlanság határa. Budapest. Kairosz publishers, 2001. pg. 166.) Bayer has the following advice to give to anyone who happens to run over a Roma child with his car: “Anyone who happens to run over a gypsy child in this country, would be best not to think of stopping. If you run over a gypsy, just step on the gas-pedal” (See his article in Magyar Hírlap, Hungary’s second largest pro-government daily, owned by Vitéz Gábor Széles, one of Prime Minister’s most powerful corporate cronies.). Bayer has the following to say about those of his colleagues in the Budapest media, who happen to be Jewish: “the mere existence of Jewish journalists in Budapest is grounds enough for our anti-Semitism.”(op.cit). Some cornerstone, some respect for the victims of the Holocaust, Ambassador Ódor!
When in 2012, one of Hungary’s greatest living writers, Ákos Kertész, a Holocaust survivor himself spoke up against the disgraceful conduct of the Orbán regime and his fellow countrymen’s support for this Party, the Mayor of Budapest stripped him of his municipal decorations, such as his status as an honorary citizen of Budapest. Orbán stood up in Parliament and threatened to introduce legislation to divest Kertész of all his earlier awards, including the nation’s highest literary award, the Kossuth Prize. At the age of 80, Ákos Kertész was forced to pack his bag, escape to Canada and ask for political refugee status in this country, because his life was no longer safe in Hungary. He became “a dirty Jew who dared to malign the reputation of Hungary.” Kertész now lives in Montreal, a permanent Canadian resident of Canada, living in poverty and neglect, but free as a bird, a man shamed in his homeland but not broken in spirit.
The revival of anti-Semitism in Hungary is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of an unabashedly anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, anti-Gay and anti-Democratic Party, the Jobbik, that is now Orbán’s loyal opposition in the Hungarian Parliament. Together, FIDESZ and Jobbik have a stranglehold on power in Hungary, that is unlikely to change for some time to come. The leader of this loyal opposition, Gábor Vona, was weaned inside Orbán’s Party. He served as the President of FIDESZ’s youth wing before branching out on his own, and with the best wishes of his mentor. Vona’s Party is closely allied to some of the most extreme anti-Semitic vigilante groups in Hungary. The Jobbik is also closely tied to anti-Semitic circles around Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orbán and Vona have also established close and ongoing ties to the Iranian regime, that is dedicated, among other things to the destruction of Israel. One of Orban’s top PMO lieutenants, the homophobic Imre Kerényi, who is decidedly not a fan of Ákos Kertész, has openly gloated that pretty soon the headquarters of the “Tel Aviv-New York axis”, will be levelled to the ground, and there will be nothing left but goats grazing on the site of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. When journalists questioned Orbán about the pro-Iranian, pro-Russian, anti-American hatred spewed by one of his top advisers, he shrugged his shoulders and said that he wished he had more people like Kerényi on his staff. His actions speak louder than his words.
The contrast between Ambassador Ódor’s Canadian rhetoric and the practice of Hungary’s ruling political elite is most vividly illustrated by the fact that the Hungarian Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture is headed by Dóra Dúró, who is a card-carrying member of Hungary’s neo-Nazi Party, the Jobbik. This appointment was only made possible by the support of Orbán’s party colleagues in Parliament. If respect for the memory of Holocaust survivors is the cornerstone of Hungary’s ruling party, why did they elect a neo-Nazi party member to the head of this important parliamentary committee? Dúró is the wife of an out and out, self-confessed Holocaust denier, Előd Novák. Here is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre: “Reports that the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture was going to Dóra Dúró, the wife of Jobbik militant and Holocaust denier Előd Novák, raise questions about Hungary’s commitment to accurate and appropriate remembrance of the Holocaust. When Novak was asked last week why the couple does not take part in Holocaust commemoration events, he answered ‘we remember only genocides that actually happened’.” ( See: “Simon Wiesenthal Center Questions Hungary’s Fitness to Lead International Holocaust Body”, May, 2014)
Five years after Orbán came to power, the Hungarian landscape is dotted with monuments to Horthy and Prohászka. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Mr Szakály will raise one at the non-existent grave site of my godfather. More often than not, the unveiling of these bigger than life-size monuments, are led by Orbán’s top lieutenants, such as László Kövér or Sándor Lezsák, President and Vice-Presidents respectively of Hungary’s Parliament. Both are frequent flyers to Canada, where they try to drum up support amongst the local Hungarian diaspora, wrapping themselves this time in the flag of anti-Communism, Christian values and patriotism – values that never fail to bring tears to the eyes of the increasingly elderly first generation Hungarian refugees that made their homes in Canada after the war.
Former Prime Minister Harper was unequivocal about where his government stood on January 27th, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: “The Government of Canada believes that remembrance of the Holocaust is an important way to teach and promote respect for universal human rights, and an important reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting the Canadian values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.” By contrast, and as we have demonstrated with empirically verifiable evidence, the Hungarian government prefers to speak out of both sides of its mouth. It most certainly does not practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada.
Largely in response to all of the above, and to what they saw as an evident case of affinity fraud, the world’s two most respected Holocaust survivors and scholars – Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham – returned all of the decorations the Orbán regime heaped upon them to secure their silence in the face of the escalating affront to the memory and dignity of the victims of the Shoa. I will quote a small segment from Elie Wiesel’s blistering public indictment of the regime, that Ambassador Bálint Ódor represents in Canada: “Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian government’s involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens….I do not wish to be associated in any way with such activities and hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary granted to me.”
Is IHRA the train for Orbán’s affinity fraud in Canada?
In 2013 and after receiving far too many blows to its credibility, the Orbán regime decided to launch a global PR campaign to remove indignant Jews like Wiesel, and Braham off its back. The strategy was designed by the same communications advisor – Arthur J Finkelstein (aka „The Merchant of Venom”) who is responsible for the former Harper government’s well known negative ad campaigns against the Liberals (eg: Justin is Just Not Ready). Finkelstein has a long track record of catapulting bigots like the late Jessie Helms into power. He is now the advisor of choice, to many of the authoritarian leaders that are coming into their own in the former Soviet sphere of influence. He is the business partner of Orbán’s top communications advisor, Árpád Habony. He has an apartment in Budapest and is fondly referred to as Finkie by the Hungarian Prime Minister. The slogan used by Ambassador Ódor above has all the hallmarks of Finkie, and some are just not ready to swallow it hook line and sinker, as we shall shortly show.
The vehicle for Orbán’s new communications campaign was as carefully chosen as the sign above the gates of hell. It’s name is IHRA: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Hungary joined IHRA during the first Orbán regime that lasted only 4 years from 1998 to 2002. The representative Orbán delegated to the IHRA Forum was István Stumpf, one of the prime minister’s closest political and business cronies. (Stumpf was a rising star in Communist Hungary prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was a Secretary of the Young Communist League, the son-in-law of the Communist Minister of Interior, a man well on his way to the top, before Gorbachev decided to throw in the towel. By now, he is a multi-millionaire, and is recognized as one of the architects of Orbán’s “Illiberal State.” He is a lawyer by education but never practiced his craft. He jumped on the political gravy-train to power and quickly rose to the top. Even though he never worked a day as a lawyer and never sat on the bench, he was appointed to Hungary’s Supreme Court by Orbán where he has been a valuable asset to his boss, helping him to remove, brick by brick the foundations for the rule of law in Hungary.)
Until 2013, Hungary was a very passive, ho-hum member of IHRA, a 31 nation body dedicated to promoting respect for the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and to educational programs designed to raise public awareness about racial prejudice. The Orbán government began a lobby campaign early in 2013 and shortly after Wiesel’s protest, to secure the Chairmanship of this prestigious body. At a meeting in Toronto from 6-10 October 2013, IHRA Board members elected Hungary to chair the Alliance in 2015 the year that coincides with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The first person to sound the alarm, was Randolph L Braham, the custodian of truth about the Holocaust. He rightly pointed out, that Stumpf “misled the audience of the IHRA Forum” from his first day on the job. Braham accused Stumpf of “not mentioning any of the anti-Jewish laws enacted between 1938 and 1945 by the Horthy regime” and downplaying Hungary’s role in the murder of the Jews. Not a very good beginning for this train ride.
The selection of Hungary for the Chairmanship of IHRA in 2013 was also condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute as a farce. In May, 2014, and after noting many of the anomalies we have shown above, the SWC issued the following release: “Hungary must choose whether it’s committed to remembrance of the Holocaust or to the distortion of the Holocaust; it cannot have it both ways. Coming on the heels of other actions by the Hungarian government that distort and whitewash the Holocaust in Hungary, these efforts raise legitimate questions about Hungary’s ability to Chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2015″. The SWC protest was ignored and as Hungary’s Chairmanship is winding down, the inconsistencies between the Orbán government’s conduct in Hungary and its posturing abroad is increasingly difficult to manage.
Many on Ambassador Bálint Ódor’s train think the world of him. They see their conductor as a sincere, hardworking man, whose affinity towards victims of the Holocaust is as exemplary as the democratic credentials of his boss, Viktor Orbán. Perhaps the most powerful, most enthusiastic boosters of the conductor is Toronto billionaire and Hungarian Holocaust survivor Peter Munk. Munk’s credentials as one of Canada’s leading entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, are forever secure and deservedly so. Wether he is as good at recognizing affinity fraud as he is at generating profit for his companies is a subject of political controversy. Munk and his family took a ride on an earlier train, the A-train out of Hungary in 1944, conducted by Rudolf Kastner. I suspect, his new train, the IHRA train conducted by Bálint Ódor will be surrounded by just as much controversy as the previous one.
Peter Munk’s extraordinary endorsement of a regime that has so raised the ire of people like Braham and Wiesel is perplexing. How could a man of his moral, intellectual, political and business acumen, be so blind to the evidence of duplicitous behavior outlined above? Why can’t Peter Munk see from Canada what George Soros sees from the USA? How could a Holocaust survivor be so unwary of the basic stratagem employed by affinity fraudsters? Affinity frauds prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, language minorities, the elderly. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile.
While many of the world’s leaders, have condemned Viktor Orbán’s “Illiberal”, corruption riddled enterprise, Munk, who is a business partner of one of Orbán’s best known Hungarian oligarchs, is an outspoken promoter. Like G eorge W. Bush, who was smitten by Putin after looking the Russian President in the eyes, Munk is smitten by Orbán, the man who was elected this year as second in line to the world’s most corrupt political leader –Vladimir Putin. Many of Europe’s leaders will have nothing to do with Orbán especially after he announced that he will reconstruct Hungary’s polity according to the Russian and Chinese templates. Presidents Obama, Clinton, Senator John McCain, the President of France, Italy along with many others have spoken up against the Hungarian autocrat Many of the world’s leading policy analysts, along with the former President of Czechoslovakia, the late Vaclav Havel had labelled him a fraud. The enthusiasm of Munk and many of the passengers on Ódor’s train in Canada is as perplexing as their reaction to those who are advocating a stop to the joy ride. This author belongs to the latter category. It is now time to highlight with two examples what happens to those who sound the alarm and try to warn the passengers of Ódor’s train about the bipolar nature of his masters, who cannot practice in Hungary, what they preach in Canada.
I decided to climb aboard Ódor’s train during two pre-scheduled train-stops in Montreal, the first on November 11 at Concordia University’s Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence (CEREV), the second on November 12th at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. I wanted to test the authenticity, sincerity, credibility of the conductor, as well as to test the reactions of the fellow passengers who wanted to travel on Ódor’s train. When I occupied my seat I was surprised and disappointed to find not Ódor but his deputy, Lajos Oláh in the cock-pit.
Lajos Oláh is a well-known pinch-hitter, especially at Concordia University, where he was struck out earlier this year, in front of an internet audience of close to a million people, after he tried unsuccessfully to discredit three highly respected academic critics of his government. (For a replay of Oláh’s earlier performance at Concordia University, please click here.) The Concordia pit-stop featured a talk by the talented young Director of Budapest’s Holocaust Museum, Zsuzsa Toronyi. The speaker gave a masterful presentation of the heroic work of the museum to honor those who received so little attention in their homeland in the past.
During the question and answer period, a young man suggested that it was the invasion of Hungary by German troops in 1944 that led to the murder of Hungary’s rural Jews. He seemed to suggest, that the survival of the Budapest Jews was evidence for the reluctance of the Horthy regime to harm them. To another questioner, who wanted to know why there was so much neglect shown towards the Victims of the Holocaust, the speaker suggested that it was the shame of the Budapest Jews who survived the deportations that may explain this. At this point I raised my hand politely and given the right to speak, I explained to the young man, that the German troops did not invade Hungary but were welcomed as allies. I pointed out, that there was no resistance to their arrival to Hungary either by the Hungarian army or by the country’s citizens. The two countries were war-time allies and German troops played no role in the deportation of 460,000 rural Jews to Auschwitz – the deportations were entirely the work of the Hungarian government. Exterminating Hungary’s rural Jewry was a conscious policy choice of the Hungarian government of Nicholas Horthy. There was a two-step approach in place dictated by logistics. First the countryside, then Budapest. The Budapest deportations were halted by Horthy because the Soviet Red Army was on Budapest’s front door and the allies warned Horthy in writing, that if he continues his two-step strategy, he will be prosecuted as a war criminal at the end of the war. As for the neglect shown to victims of the Holocaust, I pointed out that blaming this on the surviving Jews of Hungary is a bit much. The neglect is not due to their shame but to those who murdered their country relatives. Why blame the victim once again and not the perpetrator of the crime?
The interjection was appreciated by the audience, whereupon I put a question to the conductor of Bálint Ódor’s train, Lajos Oláh. I asked the sponsor of this train ride, the official representative of the Hungarian government, why is it that the Government of Viktor Orbán cannot practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada? Why can’t it walk its talk? And I gave a couple of quick examples from the list of contradictions elaborated upon earlier. As in March, Mr. Oláh refused to answer and turned the question over to the guest speaker, which raised a loud protest from many of the “passengers.” They too demanded an answer and argued that the question wasn’t directed at the guest speaker but at the sponsor. When no answer was forthcoming, the host of the event decided to end the embarrassing deadlock and asked that the discussion be directed back to its original topic. After picking himself up from the floor, Mr. Oláh finally found his voice, raised his hand and gave a little speech, blaming Communism, and the government that has been out of power for more than a quarter of a century for the neglect shown in Hungary towards the victims of the Holocaust. He kept asking for other opportunities to speak – though earlier he had openly stated that he didn’t come here to talk. Finally the moderator had to close off the session and deny Mr. Oláh a last jab, due to time constraints. A number of the passengers at the Montreal train stop came up to me afterwards and privately congratulated me for speaking up. The people in Mr. Oláh’s camp, including the Hungarian Embassy’s best friends in the Ottawa Jewish community, gave me some dirty looks, while one of them came up to me and said sternly – “András, we have to talk.” I cheerfully agreed to do so. I’m waiting patiently.
A “room full of hatred” at the Montreal
Holocaust Memorial Centre?
Next day, on November 12, the scene shifted to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where the Embassy of Hungary sponsored a screening of a film by American-Hungarian Holocaust survivor Gábor Kálmán. This time it seems the moderator and the audience was better prepared for a possible embarrassment. I spotted many people in the audience from the Orbán government’s local fan club, many well known to me as outright anti-Semites. Kálmán’s wonderful homage to a non-Jewish woman, who decides to look into what happened to the murdered Jews from her town, was well received by the audience, especially by those, who needed to see some confirmation of the myth, that Hungary’s non-Jewish community is widely empathetic to the suffering of its Jewish countrymen.
Kálmán’s film provided a few important and telling glimpses of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Hungary and I rose to ask a question about that. I first congratulated the filmmaker for his excellent and important work and then I tried to put a question to Mr. Oláh. This time around, the moderator of the Q and A was not as willing to listen to me as the one at Concordia. She hurried me along, interrupting me every couple of seconds and asking me to put my question to Mr. Oláh and spare the audience any details. I did as I was told. The moderator turned to Mr. Oláh and asked him if he would care to respond. He said no and we moved on to the next question. A man rose in the audience at this point, one of the survivors from the village that saw its Jewish population almost fully exterminated. He turned to Mr. Oláh and asked him to stand up. Mr. Oláh declined to do so. The questioner thereupon stated that he wanted to voice his displeasure at the lack of respect given to the question raised by me, and he added one of his own in the same genre. Once again Mr. Oláh refused to answer, saying that this event is about the film and not about the sponsor, not about where his train is taking this audience but about the program being shown to the passengers on the closed-circuit video. A third person stood up and repeated the same question as the previous two audience members. At this point Mr. Oláh turned towards his audience and to a loud gasp stated that he refuses to answer questions in a room that is filled with hatred. The moderator of the session quickly changed the topic and the Q and A came to a halt shortly thereafter.
After November 12, Ambassador Ódor’s IHRA road-show went on to Ottawa, then Toronto. Next week there will be some new stops with new politicians from Hungary and new speakers to vouch for the affinity of the Orbán regime towards the victims of the Holocaust. I encourage more and more passengers to speak up and ask the questions that need to be asked: Where is this train taking us? Why is Dr Ódor’s government unable to practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada?
What’s the motivating force behind the Hungarian government’s affinity fraud in Canada? Orbán is in a desperate struggle to restore his tarnished international reputation. His government needs massive infusion of foreign capital to sustain itself. Canada is an important battle station in this struggle. Fully 90% of Hungary’s national development budget is externally funded, primarily by EU taxpayers. A significant portion of these funds are frozen because of corruption allegations. Hungary is in desperate need of friends and money.
Last year, the Orbán government mounted a massive propaganda campaign to convince Canadian Conservatives, that it is part of the family. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s embrace was a coveted prize, was seen as the key to winning the support of key Republicans in the American Congress. Millions of dollars are being spent on this lobby effort by Hungary on both sides of the 49th parallel. Toronto’s Bay Street, and the most influential Canadian-Hungarian businessmen on that street are hotly pursued for their endorsement. The strategy seemed to be working. Will it hold up under the newly elected government of Justin Trudeau? Will he be ready to call a spade a spade?
The most recent Transparency International Report shows that Orbán runs the least transparent regime in all of Europe, the European Parliament, the EU’s Venice Commission the Organization for Security and Cooperation have issued numerous declarations about Orbán’s rule of law violations. Earlier this year, the European Parliament passed a stinging resolution by a substantial majority, calling upon the EU’s highest decision-making body, the European Commission to take a tougher stand and to consider withholding financing outright. Such blue ribbon anti-communist crusaders as the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, or Polish Solidarność leader, Adam Michnik, have gone public with their criticism as well. Will Justin Trudeau’s Liberals follow the path of Harper’s Conservatives and swallow the affinity-fraud?
While many of the Atlantic-community’s leaders have raised their voices against Orbán’s autocratic behavior, the Harper government has remained silent. Will Trudeau’s Liberals remain silent as well? According to Ottawa insiders, the Hungarian PM, with the support of his friends on Bay Street, is busy angling for an invitation from the Canadian government, using the help of prominent Jewish community leaders, to bring this about. Will Justin Trudeau clamber aboard Ambassador Ódor’s train, or will he join the growing number of passengers who are wondering what type of ride they are being taken on?
András B. Göllner
A dual Canadian-Hungarian citizen, András B. Göllner is one of the Founders, and International Spokesperson, of the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter. With a Ph.D in political economy from the London School of Economics and higher degrees in International Relations from Carleton University and Université de Montreal, András B. Göllner is a respected international scholar on Democratic Governance, Political Communications and on a broad range of business and society issues. He is an Emeritus Associate Professor at Montreal’s Concordia University and the author of a number of well-known books and articles on business, politics and international affairs including Social Change and Corporate Strategy. Stamford:IAP, 1983; Public Affairs in Canada. Montreal: IRPP. 1984; and Canada Under Mulroney (ed. with D. Salee), Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1988. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the collapse of communism in Hungary, Dr Göllner played an important role in the broadening of democratic processes in the country of his origin. He coordinated Hungary’s first communications strategy for EU accession, and worked as a strategic communications advisor for various democratically elected governments over the past twenty years in Hungary. He lives in Montreal.