Tag Archives: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Sándor Lezsák: “A quiet prayer for Miklós Horthy”

I must say I was shocked when I read the text of Sándor Lezsák’s speech that he could not deliver because the “memorial mass” for Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary between the two world wars, was cancelled. Sándor Lezsák, the deputy speaker of parliament, is well-known for his unusually strong attachment to the whole Horthy family. He is also a proponent of Turanism and an avowed admirer of Russian culture. As a devotee of Turanism, this fervently Catholic man invited shamans from Central Asia to perform their pagan rituals in the Hungarian parliament. As far as his attachment to Russia is concerned, he is the honorary president of the Tolsztoj Társaság (Tolstoy Association), which might be considered admirable. Alas, the board of the association includes people like T. Gyula Máté, the son of Gyula Thürmer, chairman of Hungary’s minuscule communist party, and Gábor Stier, the pro-Russian foreign affairs editor of Magyar Nemzet.

As for his infatuation with Miklós Horthy, in 2013 he began advocating for a “scientific institution” whose sole task would be the study of Hungary’s interwar period. Lezsák’s efforts were interpreted by mainstream historians as “an attempt at strengthening a positive Horthy portrait” by “conservative circles.” Lezsák’s idea was taken up by the Orbán government when parliament established the Veritas Research Institute in late 2013.

In 2015 Lezsák delivered a speech at a conference on “Society and culture in Hungary between the two world wars.” Here is one telling sentence from this speech. “Those historians, teachers, politicians, and journalists who have been singing the old international songs about the white terror or Horthy’s fascism read from the scores of communism, socialism, or liberalism.”

Sándor Lezsák delivers a lecture on the Miklós Horthy in 2015

I have written about Lezsák’s Horthy fetish in the past, but I was still shocked at the speech he published today in Magyar Hírlap titled “Quiet prayer in the Downtown Parish.” In my opinion, in no other writings or speeches that I know of did Lezsák go as far as he did in this one.

Before I get to the essence of this speech, I would like to point out two anomalies Lezsák inadvertently revealed. First, if you recall, Zoltán Osztie insisted that the speeches would be delivered separately from the “memorial mass.” But Lezsák, at the very beginning of his speech, says, “My Lord, I was asked to speak about the Horthy family, the governor, his wife, sons and daughter-in-law Ilona in your Holy Tabernacle.” His “quiet prayer” is heard “in the presence of the relics of our King Saint László, Saint Elizabeth, and Saint Gellért, the martyr bishop.” No question, the speeches were to be heard inside of the church, presumably as part of the memorial mass. Second, Zoltán Osztie insisted that the unfortunate choice of date was inadvertent. Among all the possible days for the “memorial mass” swirling around in their heads, it skipped their minds that January 27 is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. But from Lezsák’s “quiet prayer” it becomes clear that the Association of Christian Professionals purposely picked this day because the organizers considered it an appropriate time to remember the man who did so much for Hungary’s Jewish population.

These petty lies, which Lezsák doesn’t even bother to cover up, pale in comparison to Lezsák’s notions about modern Hungarian history. Let’s start with the justification of the Horthy regime’s revisionist foreign policy as “a historical necessity.” Granted, Hungarian public opinion was solidly behind such a foreign policy, but wiser political leaders would have moderated the strong desire to regain some of the lost territories. Unfortunately, all Hungarian governments between the two world wars used irredentist propaganda, which can be compared in intensity to Viktor Orbán’s anti-refugee campaign. And we know from modern polling techniques how effective such concentrated propaganda can be, especially if it falls on fertile soil.

Nothing in history is preordained, although Hungary’s geopolitical position and, of course, being on the losing side in both World War I and World War II made its situation difficult when borders were redrawn — and redrawn again. From the beginning, however, Great Britain wasn’t happy about the large Hungarian minority in southern Slovakia and later had second thoughts about the viability of Czechoslovakia period. And the Soviet Union indicated to the Hungarian government in 1941 that, if Hungary sat out the war against the Soviet Union, it could count on the Soviet Union in its border dispute with Romania. Both opportunities were missed.

In Lezsák’s eyes, Miklós Horthy is a real hero who was the driving force of Hungary’s “resurrection” after “the brutal communist terror” and war. This was indeed the Horthy propaganda, but in fact, with the exception of Horthy’s first two years in office, he mercifully retired from active politics and let Prime Minister István Bethlen carry on the day-to-day affairs of governing. When Horthy returned to active political participation, it became patently obvious that he was not up to the task. But Sándor Lezsák doesn’t like to hear the opinion of professional historians when it comes to assessing Horthy’s political talents. In this speech, as well as in his earlier remarks, he instructs them to correct the current image of Horthy. As he puts it, Horthy is “a victim of historical and political character assassination whose character and career were besmirched and disfigured…. It is the challenge and responsibility of historians” to set aright Horthy’s true role in Hungarian history. And, more critically, “it is the job of politicians and public figures to courageously honor and commit themselves to the Horthy era and to the statesman-like characteristics of the governor despite all attacks.” Thus Lezsák wants the Orbán government to openly admit that it is a successor to the Horthy era.

Finally, we should concentrate on a crucial sentence in which Lezsák basically accuses “our Jewish compatriots” of being among those who distort the historical figure of Miklós Horthy. They “should follow the example of those Jewish compatriots who appreciated the courageous decisions of Governor Miklós Horthy and expressed their gratefulness in numerous ways. They should not be asked for more than fairness in their judgment.” This admittedly rather confused passage needs some interpretation because it is difficult to identify the two kinds of Jewish compatriots. In simple English, there are Jewish historians, current leaders of the Jewish community, and ordinary folks of Jewish heritage who are responsible for the bad image of Horthy today. But Jews who survived the Horthy era appreciated the fact that the governor saved them and expressed their gratefulness in various ways. The Jewish compatriots of today should be at least as fair as those Jews of yesteryear.

The “grateful Jews” story is based on two alleged facts. One is that Horthy and family were apparently supported financially by extremely wealthy Jewish Hungarian families who survived the Holocaust. The other is that someone saw a wreath at Horthy’s reburial in 1993 that said “From the grateful Jewish community.” The former story I found on a far-right site while the second one, in a seemingly more reliable version, appears on the Jobbik site “Szebb Jövő” (Better Future). Here we learn that it wasn’t the grateful Jewish community that placed a wreath on Horthy’s grave but a single man — János Blumgrund, born in Pozsony/Bratislava, who at the time of the reburial lived in Vienna. Under the influence of his Catholic wife, Blumgrund converted to Catholicism, and “he was among the rare and lucky people whose godfather was none other than His Holiness Pope John Paul II.” So much for the grateful Jewish community who should be emulated by today’s ungrateful Jewish Hungarians.

This story indicates the superficiality and the half-truths perpetuated by those who instruct historians to rewrite history so as to celebrate the glory of the Horthy era. And to enlist God’s help in this mission.

January 30, 2018

Neo-Nazis remember the “Day of Honor,” but why in Székesfehérvár?

The city of Székesfehérvár is in the news again. On Saturday, February 6, a few hundred neo-Nazis gathered at the Magyar Király (Hungarian King) Hotel, marched along Fő utca (Main Street), and ended their demonstration at the Church of Saint Stephen, one of the most important landmarks of the city. It is the oldest Christian church in Hungary, established in the 970s by Prince Géza, father of Saint Stephen, who was most likely crowned in this church in the year 1000.

I’m not going to waste much time on the demonstration itself. It was organized by the far-right Nazi groups we encounter most often: the Outlaws, the New Hungarian Guard, and the Youth Movement of Sixty-four Counties. The occasion for this memorial walk was the 71st anniversary of the breakout of German and Hungarian soldiers from Budapest, which had been surrounded by Soviet troops on December 24, 1944. Although Hitler specifically forbade his troops to try to escape from the city, on February 11 they decided to engage the Soviets. Of about 40,000 men only 500 managed to escape. The casualties were enormous. For details, I recommend Krisztián Ungváry’s The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). People who sympathize with the Nazi ideology call this event “Tag der Ehre” or “Day of Honor,” and for a number of years far-right groups, including Jobbik, organized events around this time of the year. Many make a pilgrimage, a walking tour of sixty kilometers, retracing the steps of the soldiers who took part in the escape.

In the past Jobbik took part in these memorial events, and last year at a similar gathering Előd Novák, one of the most radical members of the Jobbik leadership, delivered a speech. This year, however, he changed his mind at the last minute. The reason for his decision may have been that one of the scheduled speakers was a former member of the Waffen SS. Although at the end the German visitor didn’t show, the leaders of the Hungarian neo-Nazi groups made up for his absence, delivering full-fledged Nazi speeches. One claimed that with the destruction of the Third Reich “darkness fell on Europe.” Another ended his speech with “Glory to Waffen SS!” and “Glory to Szálasi!”

These kinds of far-right groups can be found everywhere in the world, and they usually don’t pose a great danger for society as long as they aren’t protected (beyond their basic human rights) by the government. What worries me in this case are the following:

(1) Why did these groups select Székesfehérvár as their gathering place, far away from the event that took place in February 1945? Could it have something to do with the controversy over the erection of a statue of Bálint Hóman, minister of education and culture between 1932 and 1942, also in Székesfehérvár? Did these extremist groups think that the Fidesz leadership of the city that for months had defended its decision to go ahead with the project of memorializing a rabidly anti-Semitic minister who had a hand in the Horthy regime’s anti-Jewish laws would protect them and thus their demonstration would proceed undisturbed?

(2) Why did Imre Horváth, the parish priest of the Church of St. Stephen, agree to offer a mass for these Waffen SS soldiers and their Hungarian companions? I assume that for a certain amount of money anyone can order a mass for a person or a group. One of the Budapest Catholic churches offers a mass for Viktor Orbán every year, for example. But the conversation between Imre Horváth and the journalist of The Budapest Beacon aroused my suspicion. Horváth was outright antagonistic, making it clear that neither the journalist’s nor anyone else’s opinion interested him. He added: “I’m a Hungarian, a veteran, who served his country.” Horváth is 86 years old and so most likely served his country during the Rákosi period, but I guess for a nationalist it doesn’t matter that this military service was to the Stalinist People’s Republic of Hungary. His brusque manner—he eventually hung up the telephone—may well have reflected his sympathetic feelings toward these far-right groups.

But let’s return briefly to the Hóman controversy. Since we last discussed the topic two new items of interest have become public. One was something that certainly didn’t please the Orbán government. On January 27 President Barack Obama delivered a speech at a ceremony in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Obama emphasized that he has made fighting global anti-Semitism a priority, and in this context he brought up Hungary as a case where the United States took a stand. “It’s why, when a statue of an anti-Semitic leader from World War II was planned in Hungary, we led the charge to convince their government to reverse course,” Obama said. “This was not a side note to our relations with Hungary, this was central to maintaining a good relationship with the United States, and we let them know.”

Of course, to those who followed the Hóman affair closely this didn’t come as a surprise. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum knew about the pressure that was put on the Orbán government when three high-ranking U.S. diplomats descended on Budapest and conducted negotiations with members of the Hungarian government. However reluctantly, Viktor Orbán eventually announced that the planned statue would not be erected in Székesfehérvár because in his opinion no public figure who collaborated with the German occupiers after March 19, 1944 can possibly have a statue in a public place or a street named after him. Without U.S. pressure the Hóman statue would undoubtedly be standing in its designated place today. But, of course, the revelation by the U.S. president was embarrassing, and the Orbán government immediately denied it. In fact, the spokesman of Viktor Orbán said, the American pressure was counterproductive. The Americans would have fared better if they had remained quiet. This is just another of the brazen lies the Orbán government specializes in.

The idea for a statue of Bálint Hóman, as I pointed out earlier, did not originate with the local Bálint Hóman Society. I called attention to a speech that Orbán delivered in Székesfehérvár in May, shortly after the legal rehabilitation of  Hóman. Since then, however, we have learned that Viktor Orbán’s involvement in the Hóman case goes back even further. The man who is behind the effort to whitewash Hóman’s career is István Varga, a lawyer. After Fidesz won the election in 2010 and the party had a two-thirds majority in parliament, Varga, who was a Fidesz MP at the time, wanted to call attention to Bálint Hóman’s rehabilitation in an interpellation. Tibor Navracsics, today European commissioner of education and sports, was the leader of the Fidesz delegation at the time. He chose to ignore Varga’s suggestion, most likely because he knew that the issue was a hot potato. Varga, who had been trying to get “justice” for Hóman in the previous twenty years, was devastated. At a subsequent delegation meeting, where Orbán was also present, he brought up the topic again. The idea appealed to Viktor Orbán, who told him: “Go ahead!” So, Orbán was behind both the legal rehabilitation of Bálint Hóman and the erection of the statue honoring him. Since he is the prime minister of the country, one must conclude that the Hungarian government itself supports the veneration of politicians who had a hand in the anti-Jewish laws that eventually led to the Hungarian Holocaust. I know this is a serious charge, but the facts that have emerged of late point to this conclusion.

And now let’s go back for a moment to András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár. He started his political career in Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth movement, where for eight years he was the organization’s chairman. From 2002 on he was a Fidesz member of the Székesfehérvár city council. He was a Fidesz member of parliament between 2002 and 2014 and has been mayor of Székesfehérvár since 2010. At one point he was even the spokesman of the party. So, he is Fidesz through and through.

How did he react to the news that neo-Nazi groups were planning a demonstration in the city? He asked people not to attend the rally, adding that legally he has no right to forbid it from taking place. But then he added: “At the end of last year I asked all people to safeguard the peace in our city. Then people on the left were the ones who imported tension and conflict from Budapest. Now it is the far right that is planning to do the same thing over a historical event that has nothing to do with Székesfehérvár.” This is an incredible statement. Can the people who gathered to protest the erection of the Hóman statue be compared to the neo-Nazis who gathered two days ago to praise Szálasi and the Waffen SS? Yes, according to Cser-Palkovics, one of important members of Fidesz.

There is no question in my mind that the Orbán government’s views on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are two-faced and insincere. Just as Mark Weitzman of the Wiesenthal Center remarked, the Hungarian authorities’ failure to condemn the event, considering that Hungary is currently chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, was “an exercise in political and historical hypocrisy.” It is hard not to agree with him.

February 8, 2016