Tag Archives: Kassa/Košice

Bálint Hóman is rehabilitated

Among the best-known Hungarian historians of the twentieth century were “Hóman-Szekfű.” The two last names grew together, something like Ilf-Petrov or Gilbert and Sullivan. They were the authors of a monumental eight-volume history of Hungary, published between 1928 and 1941. The first three volumes were written by the renowned medievalist Bálint Hóman (1885-1951), the other four by Gyula Szekfű (1883-1955). The last volume contains a detailed index. Although Hóman-Szekfű is available online today, I’m still thrilled that I managed to buy a set in the late sixties in Budapest.

Both men studied history at the University of Budapest, at about the same time, and both eventually taught at the same university. But the two men had very different ideas about Hungary’s place in the world before 1918. Hóman was more of a “kuruc” who favored an independent Hungary, while Szekfű was more of a “labanc,” a supporter of the liberal Hungarian governments loyal to the constitutional structure that came into being in 1867. After World War I Szekfű’s sympathies lay with Great Britain and the United States while Hóman became increasingly pro-German.

Bálint Hóman might have been a good historian, but as a politician he failed miserably and eventually ended up serving a life sentence for his political beliefs. In 1930 he accepted the position of minister of education in the Gömbös and Darányi governments (1932-1938) and later in the Teleki, Bárdossy, and Kállay governments (1939-1942). After the declaration of war he stood by his strong belief that Hungary’s place was on Germany’s side and disapproved of the Hungarian government’s timid steps to make a separate peace with the Allies. Hóman remained a member of parliament even after October 15, 1944 and then, with Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross leaders, fled to the West. He was captured by the Americans in Germany and sent back to Hungary. In 1946 the people’s court sentenced him to life imprisonment. One of the charges against him was signing the declaration of war against the Soviet Union. He died in prison in 1951.

Ever since the regime change first Hóman’s son and after his death a collateral relative worked assiduously to annul the verdict of the people’s court, whose proceedings admittedly left a great deal to be desired by normal judicial standards. We don’t know all of the charges that the people’s court brought against him. But the court that considered his rehabilitation and that ultimately, on March 6th of this year, declared Hóman innocent seems to have concentrated only on his participation in the June 26, 1941 cabinet meeting that decided on war against the Soviet Union. That is, however, unlikely to have been the only charge originally brought against him. Otherwise, all of the members of Bárdossy’s cabinet should have ended up in jail. But of the nine people present at the cabinet meeting, which included Prime Minister László Bárdossy, it was only Bárdossy, Hóman, and Lajos Reményi-Schneller who were found guilty by the people’s courts. All of the others, with the exception of Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer who subsequently lived in emigration, died of natural causes in the 1950s and 1960s in Hungary. One of them, a chemist, actually became a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1946. And so we must assume that the guilty verdict rendered against Hóman in 1946 couldn’t have been based only on his being present at that crucial cabinet meeting.


Besides concentrating exclusively on his role as a cabinet member, the court in the retrial heard evidence from only one side of the political spectrum. The sole “historical expert” was Gábor Ujváry, a historian working for the Veritas Historical Research Institute. Ujváry’s expert opinion on the events of 1941-42 reflected the views of the right. Here are a few examples. Hungary’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union came after the bombing of Kassa/Košice, a city that belonged to Hungary at the time. To this day it remains a mystery which country’s planes dropped 29 bombs on the city. Ujváry seems to be pretty certain that they were Soviet planes, which had been sent to bomb the Slovak city of Presov/Eperjes but got lost and ended up 36 km. away. In the Kádár regime it was more or less accepted that they were German planes because the German military wanted to force the somewhat unwilling Hungarian government to enter the war on the German side. This version was based on the testimony of Colonel Ádám Krúdy, the commander in charge of the Košice airport, who reported to Bárdossy that the planes had yellow stripes painted on their wings and fuselages, which identified them as planes belonging to the Axis powers.

Ujváry also claimed that only a falsified version of the transcript of the actual cabinet meeting is available, and thus Hóman’s “intentions” cannot be ascertained. It is possible, the prosecutor suggested, that he was faced with a fait accompli. Moreover, he continued, basing his argument on the historian’s expert testimony, “in those days one had two bad choices: either Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.”

Gyula Juhász, a respected historian who wrote during the Kádár period, had a different take on the cabinet meeting. In his book on the foreign policy of the Teleki government, he noted that Bárdossy had indeed falsified the transcript in order to minimize his own responsibility and that he left out those parts that contained comments that were against the declaration of war. Juhász nonetheless claims to have known that Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer spoke several times against the proposal and that he was supported by József Varga and Dániel Bánffy, while Bálint Hóman, Lajos Reményi-Schneller, and Károly Bartha “enthusiastically supported” the declaration of war.

The events that led to Hungary’s decision to join the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union remain murky, and determining culpability in such circumstances is always a difficult proposition. I therefore think that calling just one expert witness from the Veritas Institute was unacceptable. The court should have gotten another historian with a possibly different interpretation of the events. I also found it odd that the prosecutor spoke as if he were the lawyer for the defense. Overturning the verdict of one questionable trial by means of another is no remedy.

By now everybody assumes that Hóman will also be reinstated as a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. However, László Lovász, the well-known mathematician and currently president of the Academy, said in a recent interview that if a group of academicians brings the question to the floor and if there is a vote, “the Academy must distance itself from the ideas promulgated by Hóman.” Historian Mária M. Kovács goes even further. She quotes from the Academy’s ethical codex, which states that the Academy demands from its members “the utmost respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Given Hóman’s rabid anti-Semitism, his eligibility is questionable, she argues. After all, he had a hand in the formulation of the first anti-Jewish law, which he himself sponsored in the parliament. When one of his fellow ministers, Andor Lázár, minister of justice, expressed his disapproval of the proposed law, Hóman called for his resignation. A month before the German occupation he demanded the deportation of all Hungarians of Jewish origin. In brief, she contends, he is not qualified to be a member of the Academy.

Sándor Révész of Népszabadság, a day after the court had rehabilitated Hóman, wrote that his proponents on the government side want to restore Hóman’s honor by this decision, but that can be done only with “the restoration of the honor of Nazi Germany, Hitler, the leaders of the Arrow Cross and mass murderers.” Right now there certainly seems to be an attempt to forget about Hóman’s real sins.

Sándor Szakály, the new head of the Veritas Historical Institute, is embarking on rewriting Hungarian history

One outrage after the other. Here is the enlargement of the Paks power plant that sounds more and more like a very bad and costly investment. I’m sure that in the future we will be forced to return to the topic because there are so many question marks surrounding this “deal of the century” that it is bound to be discussed for a long time to come.

Another recent outrage stemmed from an interview with Sándor Szakály, the newly appointed director of the Veritas Történetkutató Intézet. You may recall that a few months ago the decision was made to establish yet another historical institute which would be directly subordinated to the prime minister’s office. It was designed to be an institute that will “set right” the hitherto falsified history of modern Hungary. I wrote about this proposed institute in November 2013 when its establishment was announced in the official government gazette.

Szakály, a military historian, is 59 years old. After graduating from college in 1980 he got a job in the Archives of Military History. There he slowly moved up until he became director of the Archives during the first Orbán administration. His historical views destined him to be an important figure in molding public opinion. In 2001 he joined the staff of Duna Television, the channel that has the function of influencing members of the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries. Initially he was in charge of cultural matters but soon enough he became vice president of the station. After the lost Fidesz election in 2002 Szakály had to start his career practically anew. For a while he did  historical research without having a full-time job but eventually he landed a professorship at the university that grants degrees to gym teachers. Former president Pál Schmidt received his “doctorate” based on a plagiarized dissertation from that institution.

When Viktor Orbán returned to power in 2010 Szakály’s “exile” ended. He became a full professor at the Gáspár Károli Calvinist University in 2010 and by 2011 was a department head. (Mind you, this university in my opinion wouldn’t even receive accreditation in the United States.) Last year Szakály moved on to become vice president of the newly created Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (National Civil Service University), which also includes the former Hungarian military academy.

Szakály is not a conservative historian; I think we can safely call him a hard-core right-winger. Only a couple of months ago he gave a lecture on Gyula Gömbös, prime minister between 1932 and 1936, in Szekszárd as part of a series organized by a local Jobbik leader. So, Szakály is obviously a welcome guest in Jobbik circles. I don’t think too many people were aware of this lecture, which was reported only by Népszabadság‘s stringer, but from the description one gets the impression that Szakály’s assessment of Gömbös is a great deal more positive than the accepted view that his plans included the introduction of a fascist-like regime, something similar to Mussolini’s system in Italy.

This speech may have passed unnoticed, but when he shared his plans for the new institute with MTI he made waves. His initial bullet points were that Veritas will have 25 employees, historians who will study the history of Hungary between 1867 and 1990. He is planning a conference entitled “From Occupation to Occupation.” They plan to rewrite the history of the regime change of 1989-1990. They will organize programs in 2016 for the 60th anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution.

After stating that historians mustn’t be biased and that Veritas will be free of political pressure, he immediately explained that Veritas “must represent a little different ethos” from the one that has dominated Hungarian historical institutes. For example, “it is not considered to be correct nowadays to say that there was something that preceded the White Terror.” (A baldfaced lie.)  He went on to explain the Horthy regime’s attitude toward the members of the illegal communist party. According to him, “one mustn’t forget that the local communist party was part of the Communist International, which meant that its members were considered to be spies for a foreign power and therefore the authorities handled them accordingly.” He also thinks that the case of Endre Ságvári must be reconsidered. (Endre Ságvári was a member of the illegal communist party who, while four gendarmes were trying to arrest him, shot and wounded three of them. In turn he was shot and died shortly after. That happened on July 27, 1944, after Hungary allegedly lost its sovereignty on March 19, 1944.)

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk.

Szakály is planning to rewrite the history of the bombing of Kassa/Košice. No one knows who actually bombed the city on June 26, 1941, an act that prompted the Hungarian government to declare war on the Soviet Union. There are guesses but no solid evidence. Some historians thought that the Hungarian High Command, whose members were pro-German, in cahoots with the German military planned the bombing in order to force the Hungarian government to join Germany’s war effort. Others were certain that the planes came from Slovakia. Still others tried to argue that it was the Soviets who bombed the city by mistake. As far as I know, no evidence has emerged in the last few years that would decide the issue. But I assume that a lack of evidence will not deter Szakály.

The most outrageous comment Szakály made concerned the fate of those Jews who couldn’t properly demonstrate to the authorities their Hungarian citizenship. Several thousand of them were actually Hungarians; others came from Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Austria. Shortly after the declaration of war, in July 1941, the Hungarian authorities deported approximately 14,000 of these people to territories that are part of Ukraine today, which were then occupied by the Germans. Once in German hands they were massacred in a place called Kamenets-Podolsk together with the local Jewish population. According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia altogether 23,600 Jews were massacred in this action.

The “reinterpretation” of this event is obviously on the table at the Veritas Historical Institute. According to Szakály, “some historians consider this event to be the first deportation of Jews from Hungary” but in his opinion it can more properly be considered “a police action against aliens” (idegenrendészeti eljárás). He also claimed that when the Hungarian authorities discovered that these people had been killed, the minister of interior immediately stopped the deportations.

It was this description of the deportation that hit a nerve in Hungary. Even the young conservatives of Mandiner are outraged. Demokratikus Koalíció immediately demanded Szakály’s prompt dismissal. Of course, Szakály will not be recalled and everything will continue on its merry way with the rewriting of Hungarian history, including that of the Holocaust.

Tomorrow I’m planning to give a brief summary of what actually happened in July-August 1941 in the northeastern corner of Hungary, from where these poor people were deported and sent to German-occupied territories. But I can say one thing right now. Szakály is not telling the truth the whole truth. The Hungarian government didn’t put an end to the deportations alone, it was also urged by the German authorities.