Tag Archives: Miklós Horthy

The Veritas Institute’s legends and myths about the Hungarian Holocaust

Let’s return to history today for at least two reasons. The first is that as time goes by it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Orbán government, by setting up a number of historical institutes, is trying to create “an alternative history” of modern Hungary between 1867 and 1989. These are the years whose historical interpretation still has political relevance. It is the history of these 120 years that the Orbán government wants to rewrite with the assistance of about 20 historians willing to do the job. This is a much more serious threat than most people realize. The second reason for returning to Sándor Szakály’s interview with The Budapest Beacon is that I could cover only one small segment of the conversation, about the “first anti-Jewish law,” as Mária M. Kovács, author of a book on the numerus clausus of 1920, called it. But Szakály’s other responses, all related to Jewish-Hungarian history and the Holocaust, also tell a lot about the mindset of these historical revisionists.

A large portion of Szakály’s apologia of the Horthy regime’s Jewish policies dealt with how much and when Miklós Horthy and his entourage knew about the “final solution.” Here he was arguing against László Karsai’s long-held view, supported by strong documentary evidence, that members of the Hungarian government knew about the death camps as early as the fall of 1942.

Karsai, in a lengthy article that appeared in the March 2007 issue of Beszélő (Interlocuter), dissected the most common “legends and myths” about Miklós Horthy’s tenure as governor of Hungary. A special section was devoted to his activities during 1944. One common legend is that Horthy’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. István Horthy née Countess Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai, gave him the so-called Auschwitz Reports, a collection of eyewitness accounts of two Jewish inmates from Slovakia who had managed to escape, only on July 3. Whereupon, the legend continues, he immediately called Colonel Ferenc Koszorús, a trusted officer, to the capital. His task was to expel the gendarmerie from Budapest in order to avert the deportation of the city’s Jewish population.

The Veritas Institute’s mission is to perpetuate these myths and legends. Szakály takes it for granted that Ilona Horthy’s information about the events of July 3, which she wrote about in her memoirs published in 2001, almost sixty years later, is accurate despite documentary evidence to the contrary. Szakály also doubts Karsai’s interpretation that Horthy intended only to suspend the deportations, not to end them. Szakály will believe Karsai on that score only if his fellow historian can produce “a document with Horthy’s signature which states that the governor wants to begin the deportations anew in August.” A typical demand from the positivist Szakály, who at the same time admits that “certain ‘promises’ were given [to the Germans] by Horthy, Döme Sztójay, and Andor Jaross.”

What documents does László Karsai cite in support of his thesis that important members of the government knew about the German extermination of Jews in Germany and in German-occupied territories? The first is a conversation between Döme Sztójay, the anti-Semitic Hungarian minister to Berlin, and György Ottlik, editor-in-chief of Pester Lloyd, in August 1942, during which Sztójay admitted that sending Hungarian Jews to Germany “doesn’t mean deportation but extermination.” Ottlik immediately reported this intelligence to Prime Minister Miklós Kállay. A few months later Sztójay told a German diplomat that Kállay “is somewhat worried about sending Hungarian Jews to Germany because he fears that ‘their continued existence’ is not assured.” So, Kállay got the message. In the same year the ministry of interior also received information through detectives about Germans starving Jews to death. But if that isn’t sufficient to convince Szakály, there is direct proof that Horthy knew about the death camps way before July-August 1944. The revelation is contained in the draft of a letter by Horthy to Hitler—actually prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—dated May 7, 1943. One of the sentences in the letter read: “A further reproach of Your Excellency was that the [Hungarian] government has failed to take as far-reaching an action in the extirpation of the Jews as Germany had taken, or as would appear desirable in other countries.” (The Confidential Papers of Admiral Horthy, p. 255) This sentence was subsequently deleted from the final version.

Mrs. István Horthy, née Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai in1942

Mrs. István Horthy, née Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai in 1942

Ignoring this evidence, Szakály in his interview insists that “neither the great majority of the Jewry nor the Hungarians knew what was happening with the deportees,” even though the Auschwitz Reports reached Budapest in April of 1944.

And what  evidence does his advance for his position? Not even the Veritas apologists can base their defense of Horthy on his memoirs (1957). Horthy’s  short description of events between March and October 1944 is rife with   mistakes and/or willful distortions. He claims that “not before August did secret information reach me about the truth about these extermination camps. It was [Lajos] Csatay, the Minister of War, who raised the matter at a Cabinet meeting” (p. 219).

But Szakály accepts the account of Horthy’s daughter-in-law, the widow of István Horthy, according to whom it was her “informant,” Sándor Török, the representative of the Christian Jews’ Association, who gave her the Auschwitz Reports on July 3. Three days later, she noted, on July 6, Horthy stopped the transports heading to Germany (Ilona Edelsheim Gyulai, Becsület és kötelesség, p. 263).

Sándor Török (1904-1985)

Sándor Török (1904-1985)

It seems that Ilona Horthy collected information for her memoirs from an ordinary appointment book, with only a few notations. She came to the conclusion that the crucial day had to be July 3 because she had underlined that day. My reaction upon reading the passage was the same as Karsai’s. On the basis of an underlined date, which might signify anything, one cannot recreate events with any certainty. In any case, she is not an objective observer. In her book she tries to show her father-in-law in the best possible light. For example, just as Horthy wants us to believe that he “lacked the means to check or thwart the joint action of the Germans and the Ministry for Home Affairs,” Ilona Horthy portrays Miklós Horthy as completely isolated. In her description he knows nothing about what’s going on. She writes that he tried to prevent the transports from leaving, but he could do nothing because they left in secret. That’s not how I remember it. So, there are many reasons not to use her as a reliable source.

Sándor Török, the man who delivered the Auschwitz Reports to Ilona Horthy, was already a well-known writer at the time who had published nine books by 1940. Before he died in Budapest in 1985, he wrote at least two books which contained autobiographical details from 1944-1945. I wouldn’t mind reading them.

And, a footnote, János Lázár, while insisting that he should not get involved in a historical debate, suggested that one day “the two sides will reach consensus on these issues.” Sure, they will meet half way. What a total misunderstanding of what history is all about.

July 2, 2016

Miklós Horthy redux

While the anti-refugee propaganda is loud and shrill, the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy, regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1944), is quietly taking place in the background. About a month ago the website of the “Truth Institute,” my name for the Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government to set Hungarian history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries straight, advertised a conference to be held in Kaposvár on August 22 with the innocent-sounding theme “Society and culture in Hungary between the two world wars.” I became suspicious, however, when it turned out that one of the scheduled speakers was vitéz László Hunyadi, captain-general of the Order of Knights, established by Miklós Horthy to honor soldiers with a record of distinguished service in World War I. At the order of the regent, no Jew, no matter how valiantly he fought in the war, could be a member.

I became even more suspicious when I heard that the conference began with a holy mass for István Horthy, the older son of the admiral who died in an airplane accident in Russia, and for the fallen during World War II. István (Sharif) Horthy, Jr. was the guest of honor.

What the program did not reveal was that the Hungarian government, through its National Cultural Fund (Nemzeti Kulturális Alap), contributed generously to the conference which, as it turned out later, was the brainchild of the Horthy Miklós Alapítvány (Miklós Horthy Foundation). The Hungarian military was also represented by the air force band of Veszprém.

Unfortunately there is a public record of the speeches of only three speakers: the introductory words of the “chief sponsor”–Sándor Lezsák, a very minor poet in whose backyard the Magyar Demokrata Fórum was born and who today is the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament; István Horthy, Jr.; and Sándor Szakály, a military historian and director of the Truth Institute. Anyone who can handle the language can listen to their speeches as recorded by the cameraman of a local newspaper.

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Although it was Sándor Lezsák who opened the conference, I would prefer to begin my analysis with the short speech of István Horthy, Jr., who has proved himself, on the few occasions he was called upon to speak in Hungary, to be a moderate and reasonable man. He pointed to the divide that cuts across Hungarian society and the inability of the two sides to find common ground. He expressed his hope that the conference would help bring divergent opinions closer together.

With his prepared speech in hand, what could István Horthy have been thinking when he listened to Sándor Lezsák’s introductory words, which were full of condemnation of those who don’t agree with his views? Here are a few key sentences. “Those historians, teachers, politicians, 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.” A good beginning. And he continued. Of course, it is possible that “these people are misled by the long-time conductors of this anti-Horthy campaign.” It is hard to know whether the historians are the ones who are misled by these unnamed “conductors” or whether it is the historians themselves who are the evil conductors who want to discredit Miklós Horthy and his regime.

According to Lezsák, the white terror supervised by Miklós Horthy was designed to end the chaos created by the events of 1918-1919 and to bring order to the land. In his version, Horthy had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by his detachments that resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, many Jews among them. In fact, he was the one who was strong enough to put an end to the atrocities. This version of the story, alas, bears no resemblance to reality.

Lezsák, as one of the founders of MDF, inherited the narodnik (népi/népiesek) ideology of those writers and sociologists who severely criticized the Horthy regime’s agricultural policies, which created a large landless peasantry. Therefore, his only criticism of the Horthy regime was on that front, which he called “the darkest side of the regime.” A commentator criticized Lezsák for neglecting to mention the Holocaust, which surely was a much greater tragedy, but I would have been greatly surprised if he had. After all, in the official view of the Orbán regime the Hungarian government had nothing to do with the Holocaust because after March 19, 1944 Hungary ceased to be a sovereign nation. This is an untenable position. It is enough to look at the members of the Hungarian governments formed after that date and Horthy’s decision to stay in his post to demonstrate the continuity.

The third speech was delivered by Sándor Szakály, whose main theme was revisionism, which was supported by all segments of Hungarian society.  In his view no inter-war government would have survived that abandoned the idea of revising the Treaty of Trianon. As far as public sentiment was concerned, Szakály has a point, but what he failed to mention was the Hungarian government’s very effective propaganda. It eventually led to a situation that prompted even John F. Montgomery, U.S. minister to Hungary between 1933 and 1941 and a friend of Horthy, to remark that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane” on the subject of the Treaty of Trianon. Szakály’s conclusion was that since nothing but a revisionist foreign policy was possible, Hungary had to rely on those great powers that were ready to help, and they were Germany and Italy. End of discussion.

It’s too bad that no one reported on some of the other lectures. For example what István Ravasz, a military historian, had to say about “the Hungarian casus belli” on July 26, 1941, when Hungary entered the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union. Or how Zalán Bognár, who teaches at the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University, handled the German occupation of Hungary. The title of his speech sounds intriguing: “Arrow Cross takeover, deportations, counter-measures.” What kinds of counter-measures could he possibly be talking about?

All in all, the task of rewriting the history of the interwar period is under way. And this is only the beginning. The Truth Institute is publishing several books that I’m sure are destined to replace monographs about the period by well-known historian. It’s enough to visit the website of the Veritas Institute. They are busy revisionists.

Fidesz and the Horthy regime: Statue for the anti-Semite Bálint Hóman?

On March 6, 2015, the Budapest municipal court rehabilitated Bálint Hóman, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the post-war People’s Court in 1946. The charge was that he, as a member of the Bárdossy government, voted for Hungary’s entry into the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union. Hóman died five years later in prison.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the verdict would be reversed. First of all, Miklós Horthy had already decided on military engagement before the cabinet meeting and, second, a vote in favor of war is not a war crime, just (perhaps) a bad decision. So the court’s decision by itself was not controversial. If the story had stopped there, we wouldn’t be having a debate on the role and personality of Bálint Hóman more than five months after the verdict was announced.

Hóman (1885-1951) is best known as the co-author of a well-known, well-respected eight-volume history of Hungary published between 1938 and 1941. Hóman covered the Middle Ages. Gyula Szekfű, another great of Hungarian historiography, took over with the Hungarian Renaissance and continued all the way to the First World War.

Here I cannot give even a short description of Hóman’s political career. After all, he served as minister of education in all five Hungarian governments between 1931 and 1942. Moreover, even after he decided to leave the Kállay government, he remained a member of parliament until the bitter end. He was throughout his career a zealous supporter of a pro-German foreign policy and a steadfast and uncompromising anti-Semite who had a hand in the preparation of the so-called Jewish laws.

So, why are we still discussing the Hóman case? For two reasons. First, right after the verdict the man who was the moving force behind the retrial, a distant relative of Hóman and a former Fidesz member of parliament, announced that his next move will be to fight for the restoration of Bálint Hóman’s membership in the academy, which was taken away from him even before the sentence of the People’s Court was announced. Second, the city council of Székesfehérvár decided sometime in June that the city will erect a statue of Hóman in front of one of the local high schools. The reason for their decision was that Hóman was a member of parliament representing Székesfehérvár. The ministry of justice has already offered 15 million toward the cost, and the city plans to kick in another two million.  The city council of Székesfehérvár has a large Fidesz majority. Out of the 20-member body there are only two MSZP, one DK, one Jobbik, and three independent members. The Jobbik member voted with Fidesz on the statue issue. The council maintains that its decision to pay homage to Hóman is based on his special care for the city which elected him to represent it.

Proposed statue of Bálint Hóman Another hideous statue for a Horthy era poliician

Proposed statue of Bálint Hóman
Another hideous statue for a Horthy era politician

Although many articles have appeared debating whether Hóman’s membership in the academy should be restored and whether he should have a statue in Székesfehérvár or anywhere else, here I will talk about two historians’ reactions: Gábor Ujváry, who is an enthusiastic defender of Hóman, and Mária M. Kovács, who thinks that Hóman doesn’t deserve either to be included on the list of academy members or to have a statue anywhere in Hungary.

Ujváry is an associate of the “Institute of Truth” (Veritas Institute), a creation of the Fidesz government. Therefore it is not at all surprising, given the Orbán government’s predilection for defending the Horthy regime, that in his eyes Hóman is an innocent victim. For good measure, Ujváry wrote two articles, one in Magyar Nemzet and another a few days later in Napi Gazdaság. Since he mentioned Mária M. Kovács by name, she was given the opportunity to answer him in today’s Magyar Nemzet.

So, let’s see what Ujváry’s points are in defense of Hóman. First, he argues that Hóman shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Moreover, his critics are unfamiliar with the facts. For example, Hóman had nothing to do with the 1938 first Jewish law. People accuse him of pro-Nazi sentiments when, in fact, he was a critic of national socialism. Ujváry admits that in foreign policy matters Hóman was pro-German, but this was because he believed that only through cooperation with Germany could Hungary safeguard her independence. He may have been an anti-Semite but in 1944, after the German occupation, he saved some of his Jewish friends.

As far as Hóman’s anti-Semitism is concerned, his was not anti-Semitism in the modern sense. Moreover, his anti-Semitism wasn’t a “defining” or “determining” feature of his activities. In any case, he wasn’t a hard-core anti-Semite. On the contrary, “his anti-Semitism never exceeded the limits of ‘moderate anti-Semitism.'” Moreover, he knew nothing about the horrors of Auschwitz, and not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined what would happen to the Hungarian Jewry in 1944-45.

Until 1938 Hóman kept away from party politics and concentrated only on improving the country’s educational facilities. That year, however, he came to the conclusion that Hungary, because of its geopolitical position, could choose only between two bad alternatives, and he viewed Germany as a better choice than the Soviet Union.

Ujváry supports the erection of a statue for Hóman in Székesfehérvár as a special case because of Hóman’s close relations with the city.

Mária M. Kovács concentrates on the historical facts and supports them with facsimiles of original documents. According to these documents, Hóman had an important role to play in the preparation of both Jewish laws. Interestingly enough, Ujváry a few years ago admitted that “unfortunately” Hóman had a hand in the creation of both laws, but by now, it seems, he has changed his mind.

On February 1, 1938, Hóman passed on to Prime Minister Kálmán Darányi his plans for a new law restricting the rights of the Hungarian Jews. A month later Darányi announced that a Jewish law was in the works. The next day Hóman gave some of its details in a speech. The Jews, he said, have a “disproportionate influence and share” in the spheres of the economy, industry, commerce, banking, in cultural life and the media. “We have the legal means to remedy this situation.”

After the introduction of the first Jewish law Hóman became a member of the so-called “Jewish Committee,” whose job it was to draft a second Jewish law. But by 1940 he found some of the provisions of this second law inadequate. During a parliamentary debate he expressed his agreement with an Arrow Cross member of parliament that the 6% Jewish quota in universities and high schools was not stringent enough; Jews should be completely barred from these educational institutions.

In a memo to Prime Minister Pál Teleki, Hóman stated that all Jews as well as people associated with Jews are enemies of the Hungarian government, which means that no Jew should be tolerated in the civil service, in the judiciary, or in the schools, and they should be deprived of their leading role in economic life. “The present law is bad and therefore we must create another law that is based on race.” In 1941 he came up with another anti-Jewish proposal. This time he suggested depriving the Jewish religious community of its equal status with the other accepted religions like Catholicism, Hungarian Reformed, etc. It took a while, but by the spring of 1942 Hóman’s proposal became law. Hóman resigned in July 1942, but not before he had made sure that Jews were not allowed to join sports clubs.

After 1942 he was no longer a member of the cabinet, but he retained his seat in parliament. On February 29, 1944, he sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Miklós Kállay in which he demanded the deportation of the Jews because the Soviet troops were getting closer to the borders of Hungary. Keep in mind that this was almost a month before the arrival of the German troops on March 19. After the occupation, he joined a parliamentary group created to prevent Hungary’s possible break with the Germans, a move that Horthy and some of the men around him were contemplating.

According to Mária M. Kovács, “statues are customarily erected for people who can count on the respect of posterity. Bálint Hóman is not one of them.”

Ujváry’s arguments are not convincing, and they are unsupported by documentary evidence. Kovács sticks to the facts. A biography of Hóman might be a worthwhile undertaking (though preferably not by anyone in the Institute of Truth), but before that the Hungarian government should abort the Székesfehérvár city council’s ill-conceived idea of erecting a statue of Bálint Hóman. It could effectively do that by rescinding the ministry of justice’s offer of 15 million forints for the statue. Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of several Jewish groups, greatly objects to the project, and now that Mazsihisz’s relations with the government have been on the mend, I don’t think it is wise to start another fight over memorializing Bálint Hóman.

Viktor Orbán’s civilian weaklings versus assertive soldiers: El-Sisi and Horthy

Viktor Orbán, although he tries to act as if all were well, is in a political fix. He desperately wants to regain his lost voters but doesn’t know how. He is still casting about for a viable method.

A couple of months ago he indicated that from here on Fidesz will focus on the hard-working ordinary Joe (a keményen dolgozó kisember) only to change his tune when he decided that, after all, Fidesz wants to return to the original idea of a “bourgeois” Hungary.

Then came the immigrant issue, which looked like a sure-fire thing, but since most Hungarians don’t encounter immigrants from far-away places the initial hate campaign fell flat. But Fidesz strategists think that the issue of immigration still offers great benefits; it just needs re-enforcement. Soon enough huge billboards will be scattered around the country to make sure that Hungarians will be fired up against foreigners in general. As Magyar Narancs aptly put it: “Orbán’s message is ‘hate and be afraid, so I can defend you.'”

Two days ago Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság in which there were a few sentences that caught the eye of the Budapest reporters of Reuters, and because so many papers subscribe to this wire service the news appeared in almost all the larger foreign newspapers. Here I give my own translation of the passage.

Multiculturalism is finished, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first to announce. Multiculturalism is the intermingling of different civilizations. It is a different thing when a country is composed of different nationality groups and cultures. That is not multiculturalism. Multiculturalism means the coexistence of people of different cultural backgrounds: Islam, Asian religions, and Christianity. We will do everything for Hungary to avoid this. We welcome investors, artists, and scientists from non-Christian countries, but we don’t want to mix with them on a large scale.

Actually, Orbán’s rather primitive description of multiculturalism is misleading. The United States has taken in an incredible number of immigrants over the years, but by the second or third generation these people are assimilated without the government making any serious efforts in this direction. In fact, bilingual schools had very mixed results and since have been largely abandoned. Assimilation is inevitable unless the central government fosters separation. Orbán seems to be talking about the policies of Germany, which indeed turned out to be a disaster. But, surely, there is a happy medium. Hungary needs immigrants, and the “intermingling” of ethnic groups with different cultural backgrounds has enormous benefits in the long run. Hungary’s history is full of such examples.

This interview about the evils of multiculturalism took place two days ago. Today, at a press conference held after his meeting with visiting Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Orbán declared that his government believes in cultural diversity and that “the variegation of our cultures is a gift of God.” I guess it would have been impolite to repeat that we don’t want “your kind” in our country.

Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi and Viktor Orbán / Photo Zoltán Máthé ?MTI

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Viktor Orbán / Photo Zoltán Máthé / MTI

Unfortunately that was not the only thing he said. Since he obviously wants to please certain politicians, he praises them and their country lavishly, quite independently of whether such praise is in order or whether it is, diplomatically speaking, proper. To call el-Sisi “the extraordinary leader of an extraordinary country” is over the top. El-Sisi was, in turn, taken with Viktor Orbán and congratulated the Hungarian people who were so wise as to elect such a man to lead the country. A mutual admiration society.

It is apparent from Ahram-Online, an Egyptian paper, that Orbán succeeded in his courting of the visitor. The Egyptians were impressed. They were happy to hear that “Cairo does not have to follow the western version of democracy” despite international concerns over Egypt’s human rights record. El-Sisi, who visited Germany earlier, encountered demonstrations there, and Angela Merkel was critical of the large number of death sentences handed out in Egypt since 2013. “In contrast, Prime Minister Victor Orban, who caused a furor recently by saying the death penalty, banned in the EU, needed to be ‘kept on the agenda’ … said Western ideals were not necessarily suited for everyone.” He stressed that “we are not professors of democracy … [and] we are glad that the Egyptian people are travelling down their own path,” adding that he hoped for their success.

Well, this was bad enough, but Orbán had a little surprise for the Hungarians as well. For some strange reason he felt compelled to make an allusion to el-Sisi’s military past and the military coup that removed the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi. But what he had to say was strange in more than one way. Here is the passage in question: “We are not averse to military men turned political leaders” because, he said, he remembers those times when “assertive soldiers took over power from us, civilian weaklings, in order to save the country.” He expressed his hope that Egypt will have as good an experience with soldiers as Hungary did.

The soldier Orbán had in mind cannot be anyone else but Admiral Miklós Horthy, governor of the autocratic regime during the interwar period. This was his first public admission that he and his regime find Horthy the savior of Hungary. Until now it was only Jobbik that wanted to “rehabilitate” Horthy. Every November 16 Jobbik celebrates the anniversary of Horthy’s entrance into Budapest in 1919. Perhaps from here on it can be Viktor Orbán who leads the white horse, an animal closely associated with the governor, along Béla Bartók Road, which bore the name of Horthy before 1945.

Jobbik scored again. Orbán, it seems, accepted another demand of Jobbik: the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy.

Mária Schmidt’s latest opus: The love story

Mária Schmidt is familiar to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. This latest article of hers also appeared in Heti Válasz, her favorite publication. Her vision of  Jewish-non-Jewish relations as a love affair goes against everything we know about the period between the two world wars. If Sorsok Háza (House of Fates) becomes an embodiment of that love affair, we will have a totally false depiction of Hungarian reality. No wonder that the Hungarian Jewish community has great reservations about the project.

I have no doubt that the Sorsok Háza will open its doors and that what we find inside will mirror Mária Schmidt’s strange vision of modern Hungarian history. She makes it clear here that the project is a government-funded undertaking and thus no one has the right to have any say in its execution.

Mária Schmidt started off as a promising historian in the late 1980s, but soon enough she changed her chosen profession to become a party propagandist. She became chief adviser to Viktor Orbán in the second half of the 1990s and provided the underpinning of  Fidesz’s historical ideology.

The question is how long she will be useful to Viktor Orbán. Her latest excursion into the field of historical propaganda was not exactly a success story. The controversial memorial to “all the victims of  the German occupation” of March 1944 did serious damage to the already badly tarnished reputation of Viktor Orbán and his regime. 

* * *

“The Holocaust represents a value, because it has led to immeasurable knowledge at the cost of immeasurable sufferings;
thus, there is an immeasurable moral margin in it.”

Imre Kertész

I have not seen S. Z. for decades. The last time I met him was in New York in the early nineties at the place of the outstanding historian T. J., a common friend of ours, who has sadly deceased since. We got to know each other in Oxford where both of them were teaching then. S. taught Jewish history, of which subject he is one of the most widely acknowledged American academic experts, and I spent some time there on a research grant. Then S. came to Budapest for a conference, and after he gave his presentation, we went out for dinner. We talked for hours, and a lot of topics came up including the “House of Fates,” about which he had already heard a lot back in Washington and of course also during his stay here. Those who volunteered to bring him up to date concerning the state of affairs in Hungary, about me and the would-be Holocaust museum, had spared no effort to dissuade him from meeting me, both via e-mail and then personally. They were probably unaware of our long time acquaintence  which gave me the advantage that he wanted to ask me his questions and hear my answers, which is what he did. So we talked at length about the new memorial site which is in the making. I told him about the concept of the exhibitions and of the education and training center. I showed him the exterior and interior visual designs, the interior fit-out and furnishing concept. We discussed the prospective permanent exhibition in most detail. Finally he said: “If I get it right, this is a love story. A story of love between Hungarian Jews and non-Jews. A love that has survived everything. As a result of which there is still a large Hungarian Jewish community living in this country.”

Yes. This is exactly what the “House of Fates – European Education Center” is all about. This is about decision makers’ intent to take an oath on a common fate shared by all Hungarians: Jews and non-Jews alike. About the commitment to make sure that just like our predecessors we can also plan a shared future despite the cataclysms of the 20th century. This is why it is crucial for young generations to get to know and understand what the tragedy of the holocaust meant for our national community as well as what the causes, circumstances, intents and forces that had underlain and fuelled anti-Semitism in Hungary and in Europewere. Who and why had poisoned the lives of our fellow countrymen categorized as Jews even before the fateful Nazi occupation of Hungary. How and why part of the last, nearly intact European Jewish community could be so swiftly annihilated in Nazi death camps. Who are responsible for all that? Who were the ones who remained humans amidst inhumanity because they opted for what is good, at the risk of even their lives and freedom in some cases. How could the survivors start anew and process what can hardly be processed. Why the majority of those people decided to stay here, to start their lives at home again and share what their fellow countrymen had to share. For this is something unparalleled, something that is not self-evident at all, particularly if we consider the fact that in this Central and Eastern European region, and nearly in the whole of Europe, survivors decided to leave and part with their past.

The House of Fates is made up of three parts, namely an exhibition, an education and a training section. Moreover, it has an up-to-date, well-equipped conference room, a room for hosting and staging temporary exhibitions and the required infrastructural background.

The exhibition section is divided into three units: A permanent exhibition that takes 50-60 minutes to tour. The area of this exhibition is shielded so that visitors cannot use any electronic device there. The story that is related here focuses on the period between 1938 and 1948, based nearly exclusively on recollections of survivors, and is supposed to touch the feelings of the visitor, make him interested and, ideally, to prompt him to ask questions. The installation and the narrative are both targeted at the 14 to 24 year-old generation.  Having toured this exhibition unit the visitor can proceed to see the “exploration” section or go on to look at the remaining “chamber” exhibitions.  Upon entering the exploration section the visitor is (or may be) given a tablet, with the most important information concerning the items on display, including names, dates, and a lexicon, along with questions and assignments. Those interested in the chamber exhibitions may decide to see them or to come back and visit them at a later date. As our plans stand at present, the chamber exhibitions will show Hanna Szenes, the Zionist resistance, Raoul Wallenberg, Margit Slachta, Sára Salkaházi and the 1944 story of the Józsefváros Railroad Station as well as the story of the Jewish community of Budapest’s 8th  district called Józsefváros. This is where the walls of perpetrators, those responsible and the humanitarian rescuers will be installed. A videostream will be played in the exploration room, showing visitors the most important events and personalities of those years. A number of computer workstations will also be installed where additional information and data can be collected and studied. Interactive workplaces will be created for browsing and searching for information.

At the training center there will be programs bringing as close as possible to members of the “Y generation” the very feeling and experience of being excluded, outcast and persecuted, while drawing their attention to the importance and inevitability of making a choice between good and evil and individual responsibility.

Importance is also attached to offering a training program to enable teachers to teach their students about the collective persecution to which entire social groups had been exposed under the dictatorships of the 20th century, with particular focus on the tragedy of the Holocaust.

It was seventy years ago, in 1944, that Hungary suffered one of the most horrendous tragedies in its modern-age history. The second Orbán cabinet took its decision on the creation of what is known as the “House of Fates” in the context of the memorial year relating to the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. In remembering the national tragedy seven decades after, this memorial year is intended to be a site of “creating order in our common matters” and have “peace flow through our rembrance and regard”1. In the context of the memorial year, the government has allocated a HUF 1.5 billion budget to social programs and it adopted a decision building up the Memorial to the Child Victims of the Holocaust – European Education Center at the site of the former Józsefváros Railroad Station.  I was entrusted with the role of leading the professional project team, while the implementation of the investment project was assigned to Government Commissioner Dr. Balázs Fürjes.

This assignment is a real honor for me but it is an immense responsibility and workload at the same time. It took me quite a while, wavering whether to undertake it at all. My children tried to dissuade me. As did some of my friends. One argument against taking up this job was that I would be exposed to relentless and fierce attacks. And even if all goes well, which I have staunchly believed up to this very day, I may expect nothing but denigration. Finally, I answered yes, out of love for my country. I hoped that through such an immense and successful undertaking I could perhaps make a contribution to reconciliation, to a discussion of the tragedies of the past to settle issues and to at least alleviating, if not bringing to an end, all of the evil and purposeless accusations constantly experienced even today. Thereby neutralizing or at least weakening the forces continuously calling Hungary an anti-Semitic and fascist country, using these unfounded stigmata as a political weapon to discredit the Hungarian nation as a whole. Indeed, I expected all of those who already started a media campaign against the  House of Terror Museum and spared no effort to discredit it both in Hungary and abroad, to activate themselves again, and, alas, so they did, wasting no time. The same individuals and circles, with the same vehemence, started the same ruthless attack driven by the same motives both in Hungary and abroad, against me and the prospective memorial site, unleashing that orgy of hate which is so characteristic of them. This is why the “House of Fates” project became, right from the beginning, a target of a series of attacks lead, most unfortunately, by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communities (MAZSIHISZ). For as we were approaching the 2014 election campaign the neolog Jewish religious organization undertook to launch a frontal attack against the government – yielding to circles of intellectuals dissatisfied by the weakness and wavering of the anti-government forces – threatening to boycott the memorial year. They put together a package of three demands, calling for the discontinuation of the sculpture composition designed for Szabadság Square in remembrance of Hungary’s Nazi occupation, the removal of director-general Sándor Szakály from the helm of Veritas, a new historical research institute and a right to control and supervise the creation of the House of Fates.

sorsok haza projekt

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán tried to remove the politically motivated onslaught from among the campaign themes by inviting Jewish organizations to consultations after the elections.  Nonetheless, MAZSIHISZ and  its supporters continued their relentless campaign and their  attacks on the House of Fates. They threatened and tried to blackmail everybody cooperating with us or even considering accepting our invitation. They bombarded the members of the International Advisory Board with e-mail messages, as well as anybody else whom they could contact. They spread their accusations all over the place both in Hungary and abroad. In collaboration with certain leaders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington – who have, to be honest, been rather negatively biased against us in the first place –, they turned Yad Vashem against us.

They are continuously inciting the Israeli Hungarian community as well. Among other charges, they argue that the name “House of Fates” is wrong or misleading, the location is not authentic, or if it is, then it is too particular; the deadline set by the government is too short for such complex work to be carried out properly, and then within one month of my appointment I was attacked for not having worked out a finished scenario. A public auto-da-fé was staged in the “Bálint House” where Professor András Gerő, arguing in favor of and working in the project team, was subjected to a ritual execution (also instead of me) by MAZSIHISZ employee László Karsai posing in the role of the grand inquisitor, in unison with the rather hot-tempered audience.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

This had seemed likely to come; indeed it was to be expected. I went and kept going through this before, during, and for years after, the opening of the House of Terror Museum. However, the like of the direct and intensive international pressure I have experienced in relation to this assignment I did not even have to face at the time of the creation of the House of Terror Museum.  At that time it was only Mr. Mussatov, the then Ambassador of Russia, who protested against the new museum but his objections were settled through a joint tour of the exhibition and a discussion. The former diplomat has delivered presentations at several of our conferences since then. In regard to the “House of Fates”, however, ambassadors of a number of western countries feel compelled to lecture me on how to interpret, indeed, how we all Hungarians should interpret our 20th century history, with a special focus on the role of Miklós Horthy. I have had to sit through countless lectures delivered by western diplomats about Horthy, Hungary’s “revisionism”, the collaboration of Hungarians etc., and all of them represented countries whose history offers at least as many, if not even more, very good opportunities to raise uncomfortable questions. I was asked as early as just before Christmas 2013 by US Deputy Chief of Mission Mr. André Goodfriend – of course on a strictly “friendly” basis – for a list of the names of those working on the House of Fates project. Then a fortnight later he told me – again, on a friendly basis – that he did not agree with the participation of some of those included in the list. “I wasn’t aware that you needed to agree” was my response, also on a friendly basis. The Ambassador of the UK to Hungary assured me that Her Majesty’s government was avidly interested in the Hungarian Holocaust. This is very nice of them, particularly in view of the fact that their predecessors weren’t so very deeply concerned while the annihilation of European and particularly of Hungarian Jewry was underway. Both these gentlemen and a dozen or so of their fellow diplomats expressed their expectations and wishes in regard to the prospective exhibition. Hungary’s ambassadors in both Tel Aviv and Washington were summoned by the Departments of Foreign Affairs because of me, complaining about a remark I had made at a book presentation event, along the lines that the post-World War I system of dishonest peace treaties had been the most devastating tragedy of the 20th century and that a fair and unbiased approach should be taken when forming an opinion about Horthy’s role in history just like in the case of Kádár’s role, rather than viewing these political leaders strictly in black and white. Foreign diplomats, particularly some of the responsible officers of the US voiced their definite expectation that it should only be appropriate and necessary for the Hungarian Government to invite an international committee of historians to commit Hungary’s 20th century history to paper for us, Hungarians. They keep applying pressure to achieve such a governmental assignment. Even the US Foreign Secretary had been mobilized to achieve this end. I am particularly proud of the fact that during the latest Arab-Israeli armed conflict, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu managed to find the time to send a letter to Viktor Orbán, voicing his concerns about my humble self and the House of Fates project.

As a consequence of internal political skirmishes and the unprecedented international pressure applied, both MAZSIHISZ and Yad Vashem withdrew from the International Advisory Board of the House of Fates project.  The rest of the members were also brought under pressure, to make it impossible for that board to continue its work. Therefore, instead of the next scheduled meeting of the international advisory board, we could only hold a consultation where the members present (Michael Wolffsohn and Joshua Muravchik) liked and were satisfied with our concept.

The situation changed somewhat by the middle of this summer. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson and Sir Andrew Burns of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ascertained, each of his own, that the misgivings concerning and attacks against the project are utterly groundless, and therefore it would be rather difficult to explain why they withdraw their support from a memorial site that will be Europe’s largest and very likely most grandiose and sophisticated such project.

Based on an initiative put forth by Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee Rabbi Andrew Baker, a consultation took place in Budapest on July 28 among the House of Fates, the Páva Street Holocaust Memorial Center, MAZSIHISZ and IHRA, to remove obstacles from continued cooperation. The experts participating in the meeting raised no objection whatsoever against the contents of the exhibition and had no proposal or idea of relevance to be put on the table.  After half a day of discussions the parties agreed that a working group to be formed of the representatives of international Holocaust experts would help us with our work in regard to both the exhibition and education. The agreement so reached was broken up by MAZSIHISZ within 24 hours, again without any sound reason at all, asserting that the text that was published in the form of a press release was not the same as the one that had been agreed on, despite the fact that the president of MAZSIHISZ had approved this text beforehand in an e-mail message. Within another 24 hours IHRA  gave its support to this attitude.

The attitude of the foreign experts and officials is characterized by nothing better than what IHRA’s English Chairman Sir Burns told me at the end of the meeting in July – suggesting, again, of course, on a strictly friendly basis that I should no longer write articles, thereby referring to my text entitled Captive of the Past concerning the Szabadság Square memorial which had appeared a few weeks earlier in the weekly Heti Válasz. He and Mr. David Cesarini justified this piece of advice by referring to my responsibility for the House of Fates project which I must not jeopardize by publishing essays of sorts. All of these developments only deepened my awe and admiration of the developed western world, on account of its deep and staunch commitment to the freedom of speech and thought, even if I am beginning to vaguely recognize how much there still is for us to learn here, on the outskirts of the developed world, before we can also fully enjoy this privilege. Until then, we should best refrain from writing articles or doing things such as thinking about our own history – rather, we should be grateful and accept that all of these missions will be undertaken by them instead of ourselves, for our benefit.

MAZSIHISZ

The party-state dictatorship set up a single tightly controlled organization to lead Hungarian Jews actively practicing their religion through which it could simultaneously control both the internal affairs and the international relations of the Hungarian Jewry. Only the most determined individuals remained members of Jewish organizations during the decades of the party-state rule, partly owing to the above mentioned strict supervision and partly because open expression and practicing of one’s Jewish identity definitely did not meet the approval of the Communist authorities, in some cases entailing the devastating accusation of being a “Zionist”, in most cases with gruesome consequences. Members failed to flock to religious communities in large numbers despite the “Jewish Renaissance” that followed the political regime change. Those communities are still made up primarily of a few hundred – mostly elderly pensioner – devotees. Consequently, the leaders of those religious communities – just like the organizations they are heading – enjoy no general acceptance in Hungarian society, as has been increasingly revealed by a long series of scandals that have broken up in recent times.

No matter how a variety of influential international Jewish organizations as well as Israel’s representatives and diplomats have hastened to back them up, Hungarian society cannot be persuaded or forced to accept an official who first turned from transvestite performing artist into Lutheran theologian and Catholic parish choir master, and then on to the executive director of the Budapest Jewish Community, who is, according to the chairman of the Community, is not even of Jewish origin; or a former executive director banker who had been convicted for bribery. It is also clear for all interested outsiders that the current Chairman of MAZSIHISZ is not seeking an agreement in relation to the House of Fates but he is trying to improve his position to get re-elected by fully exploiting the media interest concerning the prospective memorial center. The Chairman of MAZSIHISZ is posing in the role of a relentless representative and promoter of the organization’s interests to prove his indispensability towards a handful of voters as well as international Jewish organizations and Israel. This is why he keeps upsetting all agreements and imposing new and then further demands and conditions. This is why he has formulated such demands in relation to the House of Fates that had never been and are still not considered to be of importance in relation to the Páva Street Holocaust Memorial Center, which is alleged to be very important to both him and the international Jewish organizations. During the past more than a decade the leaders of the Jewish religious community have never been able to contribute to creating the necessary environment and conditions for undisturbed and efficient work at the Páva Street institution, as is eloquently proven by the miserably low numbers of visitors and the unceasing internal skirmishes. And these unblessed circumstances were not in the least different during the eight-year period when they were cooperating with a Socialist-Free Democrat coalition government.  As a matter of fact, MAZSIHISZ leaders are driven by their own self-interests when they keep provoking fruitless conflicts with the government, whatever action the government happens to take. In attacking the House of Fates, they will even find it worthwhile to obstruct worthy remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust and our murdered compatriots.

In the autumn of 2014, Mr János Lázár the minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office who played a leading role in devising and organizing the memorial year for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust; in putting in place the Szabadság Square memorial and the launching of the creation of the House of Fates, offered an adviser’s contract, much to the consternation of all, to Mr Gusztáv Zoltai, who had  played a leading role in blocking all of the above programs, until his dismissal in early April 2014. According to the arguments then put forth by MAZSIHISZ Chairman András Heisler, Holocaust surviving Zoltai had been so severely affected by the government’s intent to erect a memorial for the victims of Hungary’s German occupation, that he resigned from all of his positions. Heisler himself opted for a different strategy, by turning for help as usual to international public opinion. Zoltai, who used to be a 1956 Communist militiaman, a member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP), a former member of the communist workers’ militia, headed MAZSIHISZ as an executive director from 1991.

His demonstrative inclusion on the government side was explained by the minister by pointing out that he “did not regard advisory services as some monkey business” and that they had known each other for quite some time. Public consternation was only further aggravated by János Lázár’s promise that the House of Fates would be opened “only in the framework of a consensual solution “, i.e. only if the domestic and international Jewish organizations, most recently, Hungarian Holocaust survivors and “those who suffered the tragedy”, find it to be acceptable and agree with its “professionalism”. Nothing could be more natural than Mr. Heisler’s interpretation: the minister gave them the right of veto concerning the House of Fates project.

Accordingly, the Faith Community, a religious organization representing about two thousand individuals will exercise censorship over the contents of one of the government’s important large scale projects, and will determine its view of history and its message. No such thing has happened in Hungary ever since the separation of state and church towards the end of the 19th century.

To let international Jewish organizations have a say without having contributed a single penny to the costs of setting up the institution is contrary to the responsibility of the sovereign Hungarian state for its own past, present and future.
In an interview with the daily Népszabadság (September 26, 2014) János Lázár repeatedly expressed that the moral values, the kind of community of shared values determining the political right, mean nothing to him. He finds criticism concerning his employment of Zoltay to be immaterial; indeed, he considers “any form of ex-post evaluation from the outside” of his newly hired adviser, to be a mistake. Let us not be surprised when using the same argument he invites one of these days the very Ferenc Gyurcsány to work for him as a government advisor, to whose Őszöd address Mr. Lázár referred the other day as a positive example.

Mr. Lázár apparently fails to understand that this time we are dealing with our very identity. This is not about practices in wielding power or safe bargains concluded in the background, but about principles, belief, all of the things on which our whole life, including our political community rests and is built. We have seen lots of examples during the past 25 years how disregarding principles and moral convictions lead to the loss of all values and then the collapse of entire political communities. When politics appear to be reduced to all-pervasive cynicism and bare immorality, the countdown will immediately start.

When I undertook to create what will be called the House of Fates, I knew what attacks I would be in for.  I undertook the job nonetheless, because I am convinced that my country needs to make sure that young generations also learn that preserving solidarity towards each other is one of our most important common values, and giving it up leads to immense losses and tragedies in the past, and the same would be bound to happen in the future as well. I am convinced that processing the past of our nation as well as presenting and teaching the lessons drawn from it are our tasks and responsibilities which we do not want to and will not evade. This is a cause for our national community that cannot be influenced by any particular or external interests. Not even if Mr. Lázár holds other views on this. The happy ending of the Love Story is at stake.
We must not let it get botched up. I for one will definitely do my share to prevent that.

A historical exchange: Mária Schmidt versus Mária M. Kovács

Viktor Orbán decided to move. In the dead of night, surrounded by hundreds of policemen, the infamous statue commemorating the German occupation of Hungary arrived on Szabadság tér. In no time a few workers managed to perch the 7-meter high statue of Archangel Gabriel and the imperial eagle on its base. The policemen remained. So did the heavy metal fence that is needed to safeguard the statue, which was described by Pester Lloyd as “a self-portrait and a caricature” of Orbán’s regime. Whether the brave prime minister will have the courage to officially unveil it, no one knows. Put it this way, it arrived unveiled.

MTI did not report on its erection until noon, but by that time the German press had already reported the event and the Austrian Der Standard even knew about the eggs that were thrown at it. It is likely that this cursed statue will have to be guarded day and night for months, perhaps even years to come. But Viktor Orbán had his way. He can be proud of this hideous monument.

Gabriel

So, it is appropriate that I publish here a couple of important documents that are closely connected to the controversy that broke out at the beginning of the year when it became known that the Orbán government had already decided to erect a monument commemorating March 19, 1944, the day German troops occupied allied Hungary.

Mária Schmidt, about whom I have written several times, on June 26 came out with a lengthy vitriolic article in Heti Válasz against all those who oppose the government’s interpretation of modern Hungarian history. Thanks to Mandiner, a conservative Internet site, Mária Schmidt’s article is now available in English. I am republishing it here without any stylistic alteration.

About two weeks after the appearance of Schmidt’s diatribe Mária M. Kovács, a history professor at the Central European University, decided to dissect Schmidt’s rather flimsy argument. Her article appeared in Népszabadság on July 9. It was ably translated by Gábor D. Farkas.

I should add here that, according to the announcement that appeared on Friday, the House of Fates Mária M. Kovács is talking about at the end of her article is going full steam ahead under the general direction of Schmidt. Orbán promised to allow the Hungarian Jewish community to discuss the details, but naturally in the final analysis he decided to give a free hand to Schmidt, whom the Jewish community specifically opposed.

* * *

CAPTIVE OF THE PAST

10th July 2014

In contrast to the left-liberal fringe, the significant majority of the Hungarian electorate expects representation of the Hungarian national interest and demands it from its elected leaders.

This article was adapted from the original, which appeared in Hungarian at Válasz.hu

 “The tragedy of the Jewry has become the tragedy of the nation.”

                        György Ránki

Following the 2014 elections, the decades-long influence and intellectual terror of the left-liberal opinion leaders are slowly vanishing. The emblematic figures of the left-liberal team controlled the narrative for decades and ordained themselves responsible for deciding who was presentable and who was not, who would be celebrated – or even who must be celebrated – and who would not. Well, until this spring, that is. Since then, those who could do no wrong have finally lost the few bits of respect they had managed to maintain.

The left-liberal coalition that came to be known as “unity for change of government,” a self-imposed alliance, resulted in a spectacular failure and further proof that the “smart ones” got it wrong. They are not only failing to understand the 21st century, but have, once and for all, locked themselves in the ideology and values of the ‘68-ers, a world that expired long ago. They forced an unprincipled compromise on what at the time still seemed to be a viable party, the Hungarian Socialists, and thereby made impossible its hopes for renewal. This circle of intellectuals, who are completely unaccountable, repeatedly attacked and shamed the Socialist leader, Attila Mesterházy and other MSZP politicians who sought an opportunity to open up to the world outside their narrow circle of values and interests.

Some of the younger Socialists recognized that the path that Viktor Orbán followed over the past 25 years has lessons to offer them, too. They observed how Orbán, following the 2002 defeat, reorganized Fidesz and made it into a hard-hitting party. They learned from the organizational and technical masterstrokes of the Orbán-led transformation. But they have not fully grasped that the emotional appeal – based on a particular mindset and core values – is the soul of this well-functioning political power. Mesterházy realized that the advantage his party once enjoyed, that of being the post-communist successor party, is gone, and what little remains is too little to keep MSZP a defining political power in the 21st century.

The left-liberal intellectual and media elite, however, never got that far. They do not understand that the new century began in 2008, bringing a different balance of power, a different set of questions, different conflicts. And for these we have to find new answers. Instead, they continue to try to win the debates of the last century, ignoring the lessons that the past offers for today’s challenges. The past, however, offers guidance for the present and future only if we are able to study it without bias and prejudice. The left-liberal intellectual circle, those who devised the politically correct narrative and based their political power on it, is incapable of such study.

They cannot accept that alternative interpretations and understandings could be just as legitimate in a free society as theirs. They cannot accept that their narrative, once imposed upon society by the predominant power of a bygone era, no longer holds a privileged place. It’s about time to understand that history is not a religion. Nor can it be used, despite Marx’s promise, as a surrogate for religion. History is not equal to morality. The duty of the historian is to explain, to interpret, to understand and to help others understand. The historian is neither judge nor prosecutor nor attorney. The historian cannot project the ideological schemes of his age on the past and cannot observe the past’s narratives with today’s sensibilities. [1] A great example of this is the unholy and unproductive “debate” that has been going on for months around the memorial at Szabadság tér to the victims of the Nazi occupation that began in 1944. I will not comment on the actions aimed at getting media attention and, out of all of the objections, I would focus on the “contextual” ones. [2] I would prefer not to deal with the choice of location because what the United States Embassy has done to one of the most beautiful public squares in Budapest is going way too far. So those who refer to the aesthetic qualities of the square are more than a little hypocritical.

The Germans occupy Budapest

Conventional historical wisdom says Hungary was an ally to the Third Reich and, therefore, the Nazis didn’t really invade and occupy us. According to this line of thinking, we should call the Nazi invasion of March 19, 1944 “friendly support” similar to the Soviet army’s “support” of its Hungarian ally on November 4, 1956. This would be the very same Soviet army that “liberated” us in 1945 and ended up sticking around for about half a century. [3] Some even claim that Hungarians were happy with the occupation, receiving the Nazi troops with flowers and song. There is, to be fair, the faintest whiff of truth to this: the invading Red Army was joined by local collaborators. But the assertion that Hungarians in 1944, 1945 or 1956 were happy about a foreign invasion and occupation can only be made out of small-mindedness.

Another criticism is that the memorial mixes the perpetrators with the victims.[4] This holds that it is conceivable that someone actively involved in persecuting our Jewish compatriots later became a victim of the war. That’s the way war is, after all, right? It doesn’t spare the innocent and destroy the sinful. Every war memorial runs such a risk. On Szabadság tér, there is the Soviet heroes’ memorial, commemorating invading Soviet soldiers who raped more than a hundred thousand Hungarian women while pillaging and terrorizing the country. Of course, those with selective sensitivity have yet to organize a flashmob protest of that memorial.

Others point to the era’s legislative action. Those arguments hinge upon the idea that Hungarians weren’t “innocent” because their parliament passed numerous laws discriminating against our Jewish siblings – or even worse. In 1941, the government deported more than ten thousand citizens of Jewish origin who could not sufficiently verify their citizenship. As bad as these decisions were, they do not make the invasion and its consequences any less of a tragedy. [5] A victim is one who suffers the aggression of a stronger party. As with the ages before it, the twentieth century is rich in tragedies. Victims have become perpetrators more than once before. But recent decades have seen the victim’s status cemented into permanence. We are at a point where some groups would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege. They would like this “victim status” to bleed to generations of those who suffered no harm. The implications of all this are profound. If the victim status becomes inheritable, so too does that of the perpetrator.

We survived two dictatorships. We are full of once-perpetrators and once-victims and their descendants. There are many, including my late grandmother, who died in World War II‘s bombings and the assaults. We don’t even know where their unmarked graves lie. Many Hungarian politicians and other public figures were imprisoned or killed not because of who they were, but because of their political views. [6] Is their martyrdom worth less? During the communist dictatorship, honoring them was out of the question.

Now, 70 years after the tragedy, those who developed the historic narrative of that dictatorship would still like to keep us from laying flowers of remembrance before every Hungarian victim of the Nazi occupation. They would still like to prescribe whom we can mourn and whom we can’t, for whom we can shed a tear and for whom we can’t. They prescribe empathy, then close their hearts, remaining deaf and blind to the pain of others. And so, because they act as if our national mourning can have no palliative effect on tragedies past, they exclude themselves from our national community.

Arguments against the memorial try to score identity points for the “democratic” side, which they portray as permanently forced into opposition and losing ground. By reheating the decades-old themes of “anti-Christianity” and “anti-Hungarianness,” Hungarian left-liberals rooted in Marxism and internationalism have become the longest lasting plums of the side promoting “transcendence of nations,” which even in Western-Europe is shrinking. [7] The angel motif, as a reflex, ignited a hate campaign in them, which only this atheist, extremely intolerant Marxist group is capable of doing.

Such accusations as relate to the memorial are insulting and unjust. [8] The proponents of these flawed ideas try to frame Hungarians more sinful and base than the Nazis. They deny the difference between murderer and abettor, suggesting that the Nazis somehow played a subservient role in the deportation and murder of our Jewish compatriots. That the real sinners were the Hungarians. [9] This, of course, ignores the historic facts and caters to the needs of the Germans and other foreign powers and the left-liberal’s penchant for sating them. [10]

“Up until the Nazi occupation, the lives of the almost one million-strong Hungarian Jewry, along with the ones seeking refuge here, were not endangered – everybody knew it back then and it was never denied by anyone except them. Despite Hungary self-critically owning up to responsibility, who would doubt that true responsibility lies mainly with German National Socialism, which eventually developed mass murder into a political program, planned it and executed it. Without all this, there would have been no Holocaust in Hungary,” György Ránki writes in his classic work. [11]

This jibes with the message of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s March 24, 1944 press conference: “As a result of the events of the last few days hundreds of thousands of Jews, who while living under persecution have at least found a haven from death in Hungary and the Balkans, are now threatened with annihilation as Hitler’s forces descend more heavily upon these lands.” [12]

Then there’s the letter from Otto Komoly, head of the Hungarian Zionist Federation, to the executing committee of the Jewish Agency. It was dated February 25, 1944: “Hungary, in extraordinary circumstances, one could say, shows heroic resistance against its largest neighbor and it only introduces the demanded anti-Jewish measures reluctantly and in a significantly decreased form. With this step-by-step delivery, the country was able to save the lives of three-quarters of a million Jewish compatriots.” [13]

Is it possible that these three men – the president of the United States, the leader of the Hungarian Zionists, and the Auschwitz-survivor and great historian of the period, György Ránki – all misjudged the role of the Nazis in destroying the Hungarian Jewry? It should come as no surprise that opponents of the memorial, in contrast to these men, refer to the self-extenuating testimonies of the most devious wrongdoers, Adolf Eichmann and Edmund Veesenmayer.

It’s important to talk it out

“The biggest obstacle in facing the past is that often we ourselves are afraid to face even the past of our own family,” says András Rényi, civic activist, who organized a protest group against the memorial entitled “Living memorial, my history.” Let’s look at his history, then. He might talk about what it was like to grow up in one of the most privileged families of the party state and the price his father paid to remain the permanent deputy editor-in-chief of the party’s Népszabadság (People’s Freedom). He might discuss how his mother served the constantly changing ideology of the party. What benefits did this bring him? Why did he join the state party at the age of 18? This is our mutual history. It is just as living but less discussed, though equally painful. Being open about these facts would also be an important step towards the living recollection he so sorely misses. Many of the protestors could – and should – speak out about the party-state pasts of themselves or their families. But they trust that if they talk ceaselessly about events 70 years past, they can avoid the discomfort.

The biggest problem of the left-liberal elite is that the phrase “Hungarian interest” is not comprehensible to them. Instead, with every fiber of their being, they define themselves as “forward-looking,” or “progressive,” and therefore more advanced than the merely national. They are, as such, greater than the nation, a cosmopolitan or internationalist group. Some of them don’t even notice that they have become servants to foreign interests. Of course, some are being well-compensated for their hard work. There is nothing unusual about this; our leftists have become accustomed to it. As in the past, they still protect the interests of the Soviet Empire’s status quo. While that empire existed, their loadstar was the representation of Soviet interests. Now they have become subservient to the talking points of the West, meaning the United States and the European Union, in particular Germany.

I don’t recall any instance in the past two decades where they were not convinced that the “developed west” or another of our criticizing neighbors were in fact correct. Just like they never stopped demanding the acceptance of the “more highly developed,” “eminent” Soviet example, putting their interests above ours when that was the expectation. There are two reasons for this. One is that they think the winner must be right. The other, and more important, reason: they are flat-out anti-nation.

They see empire – could be the Soviet, the European Union or the American –  as fundamentally superior to the Hungarian. In this view, the supernational is to be supported and the merely sovereign is to be rejected and discontinued. For them, the nation is dangerous and antipathetic, so the national interest, as a set of viewpoints, is a concept-non-grata. Its representatives are stuck here in a sort of old-fashioned, dangerous, pre-modern condition. It’s not a coincidence that, abroad, they are hyped and celebrated. They are bequeathed with scholarships and fancy jobs. For them, everything that has a connection to the national, concretely Hungarian interest is suspicious, provincial and must be talked down. That’s why they don’t care about Hungarians abroad or the interests of the Hungarian economy; that’s why they stand behind every criticism, excoriation, and rebuke with joyful approval, regardless of how insignificant or suspicious the source.

No wonder that the Socialists, led by Mesterházy, gathered black marks from these know-it-alls after even faint intimations of moving closer to the Hungarian interest (the visit to Kolozsvar, the support for the Szekler autonomy). Furthermore, unlike the “circle of signers” and their political representation – the new SZDSZ, the DK – they paid bare-minimum lip service to the favored topics of the empires (Holocaust, racism, Roma issues, homosexual marriage, etc.). Instead, the MSZP’s campaign espoused the scarcely decodable messages of the “democracy project” in the campaign. This made the MSZP quite incomprehensible to Hungarian voters. And besides: because most Hungarian voters have experienced dictatorship, they don’t need American and European bureaucrats’ secondhand wisdom about the difference between free and rigged elections, freedom of speech, party state censorship, democracy and dictatorship. We do not need the “concerned” of the West to decide when we are free and when we are prisoners. The arguments of the “democratic” opposition, campaigning on buzzphrases like “checks and balances” and the “democratic deficit,” so poorly reflect the experience of Hungarian society that their ad-nauseam repetition is counterproductive, as the election results showed.

The “democratic package” and the “unity” coalition could only have happened due to pressure. Who promised what to the Socialists in return? Support from the left-liberal circles could not have been promised. Every leader of MSZP knows the MSZP remained, to left-liberals, just as unacceptable as the conservatives.  The difference was that the left-liberals at least fear the conservatives, and therefore respect and revere them while reserving derision and pity for the Socies.

The “company of the infallible” for half a century dismissed the political elite between the two wars for wanting to join the West. They rejected the communist model and viewed the Soviet Union as hostile. Multiple indoctrinations focused on how unnecessary the declaration of war for the Soviet Union in World War II was, why Hungary declined Stalin’s supposed peace offer and so on. The discourse hinged on cluelessness, one insisting that the Horthyist political elite failed to comprehend the Soviet Union’s enormous power and also failed to see the inevitability of Hungary conforming to its superpower neighbor’s desires. Today the Russian-American power game playing out at our borders seems all too familiar. On the surface, it’s about influence in Ukraine; in fact, it’s about Russia’s redefining its sphere of influence vis-à-vis a momentary indecisive and weak-looking American empire. But the very same left-liberal team wants unconditional anti-Russian statements from the Hungarian body politic. They want this despite the fact that Europe is divided about how to deal with the conflict, and that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama are so circumspect in their public utterances that it’s hard to figure out what they really want. It is obvious that, precisely because Russia is the defining power in the region, Hungarian leaders will themselves be best served by serving our national interest, assuming they tread with care. Because in contrast to the left-liberal fringe, the significant majority of the Hungarian electorate expects representation of the Hungarian national interest and demands it from its elected leaders.

Aging left-liberals have been among the most persistent members of this elite that fails to understand the 21st century. They are accustomed to being navigated to the right track by the “club of signers.” These people, conditioned to unconditional authoritarianism and well-versed in peer pressure, have for decades been uninterested in what’s happening beyond the Beltway, so to speak. They are unable to interact with anyone besides similary elderly believers, and fail entirely to connect with younger generations, who, unlike them, believe in meritocracy. Among the young, pragmatism and achievement trumps blind faith, and they want no part of the odd hate logic of this “elite.” They expect rational analyses and ideas. They are far more impressed by compelling arguments than the signing of petition after petition. They want valid answers, rich debates, and thinking that goes beyond the black and white logic of statements and directives. Hungary wants – and needs – this, too.

They have only one hope left that on the political right there are still some who expect reassurance, verification, good grades for the possibility that one day in the future the tables may turn. That’s why they still enjoy appearance at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences again and again. [14]
———————————————————————————————
[1]   Jean Sévillia: Historiquement incorrect, Kairosz, Budapest, 2013. Liberté pour l’histoire, page 13. [Történelmileg inkorrekt – Hungarian edition]
[2]   “Undersigned historians call the government to discontinue falsifying our recent past, relativization of the history of the Holocaust and drop the plans to realize the memorial on Szabadság tér.” January 22, 2014 Galamus csoport. „Történészek tiltakozása” [Exclamation of Historians]. Amongst the 26 undersigning historians are Maria Ormos, former member of the MSZMP Political Committee, Tibor Hajdú and Lajos Gecsényi, former Workers’ Militia member, party historians favored by MSZMP for decades. [MSZMP= Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, state party in Hungary from 1956-1989 – translator’s note]
[3] “Neither the argument stands that the country lost its independence because foreign troops parked on its territory. This circumstance stood after 1990, but presence of the NATO soldiers didn’t cause public outrage just as it didn’t cause a demonstration wave in 1944 when the troops of the German Empire, allied with Hungary, arrived to our homeland” – argues Krisztián Ungváry (Megjegyzések Magyarország alaptörvényéhez [Notes on Hungary’s Basic Law], in: Tettesek vagy áldozatok? Feltáratlan fejezetek a XX. század történelméből [Perpetrators or Victims? Unrevealed Chapters of the 20th Century History], Jaffa kiadó, Budapest, 2014.311 o.) According to Ungváry the Nazi invasion and public vote-backed joining the NATO falls under the same category.
[4] “The memorial that caused many storms, the contrast of the pictures of the angel-like innocent Hungarian society and the empire eagle Germany aims at forgetting and making forget the responsibility of the Hungarian society and the Horthy-government in the harassment and getting rid of the masses marked as Jews and for the sometimes willing, other times unwilling cooperation with Nazi Germany that lasted until the end of the war.” – says György Hunyady Academy member. – http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/13/az_mta_megunta_a_hallgatast/
[5] According to Mária Ormos, member of the Academy, in 1941, at the deportations of Karmenec-Podolsky: “Earlier there was no example of slaughtering the deported even in Poland, what the deportations meant was that Jews were let go on the new territory. At that time neither concentration camps nor even ghettos existed, which were later set up in Warsaw. We could not state therefore that responsible Hungarian actors knowingly took mass murder into account, but they by all means could have had an idea because the leadership knew the deported didn’t have homes, work at the new place, could not make money, so “when their savings are gone they are sentenced to starvation to death.” http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/13/az_mta_megunta_a_hallgatast/
On the other hand, Ungváry states that “in the case of Kamenec-Podolszky the deportation anger of the Hungarian authorities lead to a humanitarian catastrophe… Only after that was the German decision taken that for the better supply of the local Ukrainian citizens, for the termination of the risk of epidemic and to carry out their own anti-semitic program they will murder the Jews.” – Krisztián Ungváry: Az emlékmű és az emlékműmutyi [The memorial and the memorial-fraud], in: id. mű, 319 o. Ungváry uses the German reasoning and language of that time!
[6] http://www.xxszazadintezet.hu/1944_marcius_19/1944_marcius_19.pdf
[7] Western Europe is seeing a national renaissance. Scotland’s break away, independence of Catalonia is on the agenda just as much as Belgium’s split only to mention a few examples. The strengthening of the European skeptics, or realists with an agenda emphasizing national attributes against the centralization of the European Union is worth mentioning too. England plans a vote on EU membership, etc.
[8] Thirty American senators and representatives of Jewish origin asked the Hungarian Prime Minister to revise the plans for building the Szabadság tér memorial. The undersigned in their letter published on the website of the World Jewish Congress wrote that “The Nazi occupation of Hungary was a horrific period in Hungarian history, which caused incalculable suffering and tragedy to millions of innocent people. And while there were individuals in Hungary who actively helped those persecuted by the Nazis, it cannot be ignored that there was also a portion of the population at that time that willingly participated in Nazi activities, including the deportation of Hungarian Jews.” “While we understand and greatly appreciate the desire to honor all Hungarians brutalized during the Nazi occupation, we also believe that Hungary’s remaining Jewish population should participate in determining the appropriate way to remember the suffering of Hungary’s Jews during this period. They too share in the Hungarian historical narrative and it is their leadership’s opinion that the current proposal whitewashes the fact that there were Hungarians complicit with the systematic murder of their relatives.” “We greatly value the strong and enduring relations and partnership between our two nations, and it is with that in mind that we urge you to reconsider your government’s current plan to construct this monument against the wishes of the Hungarian Jewish community.”http://www.hir24.hu/belfold/2014/05/23/amerikai-szenatorok-is-beszalltak-az-emlekmuvitaba/.
[9] “Hitler demanded Horthy to “solve” the Jewish question, but they did not declare what that meant exactly. The German side presumably would have been satisfied with smaller concessions…” (Megjegyzések Magyarország alaptörvényéhez [Notes on Hungary’s Basic Law], in: Tettesek vagy áldozatok? Feltáratlan fejezetek a XX. század történelméből [Perpetrators or Victims? Unrevealed Chapters of the 20th Century History,] id.mű.314 o.), “Hitler did not place an order to deport the Hungarian Jews to extermination camps” Krisztián Ungváry, November 7, 2013 galamus.hu.  With this Nazi-apologist understanding even the German historians don’t agree: “The government of Budapest again and again denied the German order that the local Jewry would be deported to Poland… From his numerous reports it turned out how Veesenmayer was involved in every minor detail and how passionate he was to follow the anti-Jewish initiative. He made recommendations for improvement again and again.” Eckart Conze – Norbert Frei – Peter Hayes – Moshe Zimmermann: Das Amt und die Vergangenheit – Deutsche Diplomaten Im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik [A Hivatal és a múlt – német diplomaták a Harmadik Birodalomban és a Német Szövetségi Köztársaságban]. Karl Blessing Verlag, München, 2010., pp. 260 – 267.
[10] The memorial shows Hungary the innocent victim of the evil Germans. This has to be emphasized because the German eagle does not mean the Nazis but Germany which cracks down on the unsuspicious Hungarians. Ungvary, Krisztian, in: Weltzeit, 2014, 12. mai, Ungarns Aufarbeitung des Faschismus von Keno Verseck. According to Ronald S. Lauder: “Even though Hitler made the command himself the murders were carried out by Hungarians, the Arrow Cross members, this “extremist group made up of anti-Semite bandits”.
[11]György Ránki: A Harmadik Birodalom árnyékában [In the Shadow of the Third Reich], Magvető, Budapest, 1988. page 176. A német megszálláshoz vezető út [The Road to the German Invasion], 176 o. Ránki quotes Goebbels’ diary that “The Jewish question was solved the least satisfactory in Hungary. The Hungarian state is full of Jews and the Führer at his negotiations with Horthy couldn’t convince him of the need for much stricter measures” The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943, edited by Louis M. Lochner. Garden city. N. Y. Doubleday, 1948, p. 357. quoted by: Ránki referred work. 219.
[12] Press Conference, on March 24, 1944. in: Maria Schmidt: Diktatúrák ördögszekerén [The Devil’s Wagon of Dictatorships], Magvető, Budapest, 1998. 100 o.
[13] Komoly, Ottó report to Richard Lichtheimnek, March 25, 1944, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, L22-176.
[14] The conference entitled „A történelmi emlékezet és a történettudomány” [Historical Remembrance and History Studies] at MTA, May 13, 2014

 * * *

SCHMIDT

Mária Schmidt’s article, published in the June 26 issue of Heti Válasz, is a provocation and a declaration of war. Many among us think that this kind of provocation does not even deserve an answer. I disagree. The author crossed a line, and it is better if we see clearly what that line is.

Let’s start with the concepts and the cast of characters. Schmidt’s article takes up four printed pages. The author would have had ample space to name those with whom she disagrees. But only four people are named. From among the four, the author has no argument with Viktor Orbán and Attila Mesterházy. The other two are Barack Obama and András Rényi. So what about the others?

Well, the others are simply traitors of the nation who remain unnamed. They are the ones who took a position against the planned memorial to the German occupation [during WW2]. They are the internal enemies of the nation, those who “lock themselves out (sic!) from our national community,” “a vanguard educated in the herd mentality,” whose “every member is a convinced enemy of the nation,” “a devoted atheist,” “a lackey of any and all empires’ interests.” They are the ones who “are getting paid for their efforts.” References are also made in the piece to unnamed “certain ones” and “same ones.”

This kind of language is not without precedent in Hungarian political literature. The extreme right ideologues of the Horthy era used similar language against the political left that was declared, en masse, guilty of treason, against the freemasons, against the cosmopolitan liberals and especially against the Jews among them. Later, this tradition of writing was transferred—with slight variations—to the fifties. Stalinist journalism also spoke about “certain ones” and “same ones,” without mentioning names, but blaming the unnamed targets for being mercenaries of imperialism. In any case, readers were supposed to know whom the party was momentarily targeting, but in case they did not know for sure, all the better, let readers do some frightening guesswork for themselves.

But there are other reasons why the author had difficulties choosing some – named – persons from the large pool of those who oppose the German Occupation memorial. In fact she could have named the Piarist father István Jelenits or the art historian Katalin Dávid, who wrote in the press about her religious convictions. But then how would Schmidt explain her statement that all opponents of the memorial are “devoted atheists”? She could have named Imre Mécs, who during the Kádár era was sentenced to death for revolutionary deeds in 1956, or she could have named Rudolf Ungváry, who was interned during the same period. But then how could she explain her statement that these are the ”same ones” as those who “compiled and represented the historical view” of the Communist dictatorship?

She could have named Krisztián Ungváry, born in 1969, but then what could she do with her statement that the protesters are “elderly” who “locked themselves forever into the thoughts and values of 1968” and who “do not understand the challenges of the twenty-first century”? Or she could have named the historian András Gerő, who spoke up unambiguously against the memorial several times, but then how would she explain her statement that the protesters are members of the elite without opinions, “trained in herd behavior”?

Or she could have named Ignác Romsics and the other members of the history section of the Hungarian Academy of Science, who unanimously think that the design of the memorial is problematic because – as they say – it “seems to underestimate the Horthy regime’s responsibility for the Holocaust.” But then what would she do with her statement that the protestors always represent the truth of those “who seem to be powerful at the moment”?

In fact, the author does not want to argue with anyone. She doesn’t even want to argue. She characterizes the debate about the memorial as “damnable” and “fruitless.” But she does not explain why the debate would be fruitless. Because then she would also have to refer to the fact that the authorities announced the design and the description of the memorial without any public debate because they did not want to open up any discussion or debate. The design that became public on January 19, 2014, was a fait accompli. This was later confirmed by the Prime Minister himself when in a public letter he said mysteriously that he “had no room to maneuver” on the issue of the memorial. How should we understand this? Who are those limiting the Prime Minister’s “room to maneuver”?

Anyway, no debate was ever to take place. According to Mária Schmidt, debate is not even necessary; everything is just fine with the German occupation memorial. She considers the statue a memorial to reconciliation. But who are the parties to this reconciliation? And in whose mind and why was the idea of reconciliation born?

After all, until January 2014–exactly until the time the plan of the memorial was published, we did not witness any kind of excessive hostility between the authorities and those who were commemorating the Holocaust anniversary. But whatever this “reconciliation” may mean, how can this “peaceful” intention be served by this statue of dubious esthetic value, designed in secret and built without any kind of professional or social debate? And how can it be served by the official description of the work, according to which Archangel Gabriel stands for Hungary, symbolizing that the country, just as the angel, was a fully innocent victim during its occupation by the Germans?

The author cites the deceased historian György Ránki and former Zionist Leader Ottó Komoly to support her opinion that everything is just fine with the statue. After all, both of these people thought that without the German occupation the deportations [of the Jews] would not have happened. This is true; the opponents of the memorial do not deny it. But the protesters state—based on well-known historical facts—that while the German occupation was indeed a necessary condition for the deportation, it was not a sufficient one.

Without the collaboration of the Hungarian authorities, the occupying Germans could not have achieved their murderous objectives: making lists of the Jews, putting them into ghettos, pillaging them and transporting them to the trains was not done by Germans but by Hungarians. Ránki thought indeed that that the Germans bore the “main responsibility” for the Holocaust. But he also considered it important to state that Hungary also needs to face critically and self-critically the part of the responsibility that belongs to Hungary. It would be hard to imagine that Ránki, who was always careful about his phrasing when it came to history, would sanction the design of the memorial.

But the author, not for the first time, embarks on political language juggling and insinuation to discredit those who, as Ránki, establish the responsibility of Horthy and the Hungarian authorities for the deportations. The accusation that all those who criticize the role of Horthy and/or the Hungarian authorities would at the same time consider “the Hungarians” “the sole and true culprits” is nonsense. It is absurd to state that the critics would put into a subordinate role the murder of the Jews by the Germans. This is not at all what’s going on.

What’s happening rather is that the author is fighting with her own earlier statement from 1993 according to which Horthy’s responsibility cannot be even brought up because, according to the author’s assertion back then, Horthy knew nothing about the Nazis’ policies towards the Jews at the time that deportations were taking place between May and early July of 1944. According to this interpretation, even during this time Horthy’s understanding was that the Germans were taking away the Jews for labor—together with their families. According to this interpretation Horthy stopped the deportations later, in July, because only then did he find out what was truly going on—after his own daughter-in-law handed him the Auschwitz Protocols.

This is not how it happened. It can be documented that Horthy knew already as of the spring of 1943 what the Germans were doing with the deported Jews. Regardless of how disastrous Horthy’s decision after the German occupation was to give his name to the deportation of the Jews, we should consider it to be to his credit not to have handed over the Hungarian Jewry to the Germans until the moment of the occupation in March 1944, exactly because he knew what the Germans were doing with the Jews.

A draft of a letter written by Horthy to Hitler on May 7, 1943, almost a year before the German occupation, is in the archives. In this draft, referring to their meeting a few weeks earlier, Horthy wrote: “Your Excellency further reproached that the government did not proceed with the complete extermination of the Jews as thoroughly as it happened in Germany ….” It does not stand, therefore, that Horthy and his circle of advisors would not have known the intentions of the Germans.

It was the implementation of these intentions that Horthy finally gave his name to after the German occupation. This is also how the Hungarian Prime Minister of the 1920s, István Bethlen, saw it. Already in hiding, Bethlen warned Horthy that the Hungarian state became an accomplice in causing the catastrophe. During the third month of the German occupation he demanded in a secret memorandum that Horthy stop the deportations, dismiss the collaborationist Sztójay cabinet, and name a new cabinet in its place.

The task of this cabinet would be to “end this inhuman, stupid and cruel persecution of the Jews that is incompatible with the Hungarian character, with which the present cabinet soiled the name of Hungarians in the eyes of the world and which became the source of the most hideous corruption, robbery and theft. Unfortunately a major part of the Hungarian intelligentsia also got involved in it. This is a stigma that cannot be removed anymore from our good reputation, but this barbarism has to be stopped, otherwise the Christian Hungarian society will be permanently tainted.”

Since the 90s Mária Schmidt’s position on Horthy’s and the Hungarian state’s role changed somewhat: she no longer classifies Horthy and the Hungarian authorities as naive bystanders but, similarly to István Bethlen, as “accomplices.” But – maybe because of this – she now brings up new accusations against the critics of Horthy. Without any justification she accuses them with switching the order of importance between the “guilty Nazis” and the “accomplice” Hungarians.

I could analyze many other statements of the five-page-long article, but it is not worth it. At the beginning of this writing I stated that my goal was to show what lines the author crossed with her article. She crossed these lines with her treatment of the topic of the Holocaust and with the way she chose to describe the opponents of the memorial. She accuses the opponents of the memorial of treason and she states that “they would like to capitalize on their ancestors’ fate using this as a privilege that could be exchanged for benefits” and with this “they lock themselves out from our national community.” With this the author also declares that she has the right and the ability to determine who belongs to the national community and who does not. With her article she locks out from this community those who disagree with her.

Is this about anti-Semitism? To answer this question we need to evoke how the author writes about the Holocaust, because in my opinion here she also crossed a line. In her article she calls the Holocaust a “topic preferred by empires” related to which a “desired minimum” has to be, so to say, “performed.” According to the author, the “left-lib” team has no problem doing this. They “make fun of” and consider everything that is “related to the nation, to concrete Hungarian interests” as being “provincial”; after all, they “trained themselves into servile servants of points of view of the West, which means the United States, the European Union or possibly Germany.”

And with this the circle of the proof is closed. If the Holocaust is indeed a “topic of empires” in which any “performance” above a “minimum” is a priori opposed to the interests of the nation, then to prove the charge of treason it is sufficient to show that the protesters not only perform “the required minimum” related to the “topic of empires,” but they do more, possibly something else than what the author considers compatible with the national interest. And what this “required minimum” exactly consists of, is to be determined by no one else than the author.

In the past few months the government’s investments under Mária Schmidt’s control connected to the House of Fates project caused many to voice misgivings related to the author’s oeuvre, to the House of Terror and to her whole perception of history. The question was whether one could imagine the author being capable of creating a new Holocaust museum. Based on her writing, which is the subject of this article, the answer is obvious: one cannot.

The opening of the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum was preceded by fifteen years of work, research, and professional debate. The plans for the soon to open House of Fates are kept secret as of today, and the author, who also leads the preparation work of the museum, denounces those who disagree with her view of history as traitors. According to her writing, she considers the Holocaust a “topic of empires” which has a “required minimum.” She accuses others of doing exactly what she herself is doing.

She considers her position a “privilege that can be traded for benefits,” a position from which she can “force – through her power – onto the society” her own arbitrary and unsustainable narrative, while excluding the professionals and those most affected. Based on her writing we can expect that as far as the actual historical context of the Holocaust is concerned, the museum based on this philosophy will be reduced to what the author assesses to be sufficient in order to “perform” what she terms the “required minimum.”

A critique of a political analysis on Hungary by Stratfor’s George Friedman

In the last few months I have been getting a daily newsletter from Stratfor, a private intelligence and forecasting company. No, I’m not a subscriber, and I doubt that Stratfor has many individual subscribers. Its clients are mostly institutions that feel the need for economic, military, or political analyses and forecasting.

Stratfor’s daily newsletter offers one free analysis chosen by the company. Most of the topics lie outside my field of interest, but today’s “special” aroused my curiosity: “Borderlands: Hungary Maneuvers.” The article was written by George Friedman, founder and chairman of Stratfor. Friedman received his B.A. from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. For almost twenty years he was a professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Then in 1996 he decided to quit academe and become a strategic analyst.

Friedman was born in Budapest to Holocaust survivors, but his parents left the country when he was a small child. What he learned from his parents sitting around the kitchen table was that “except for the Germans, the vastness of evil could not have existed.” In his parents’ lessons Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian regent between 1920 and 1944, pretty much got a pass. Friedman continues to believe the history his parents taught him. To his mind, Horthy was a wily geopolitical strategist who maneuvered between Germany and the Soviet Union for quite a while. Only brute German force, blackmail, and threats against Horthy himself opened the door to mass destruction of the Hungarian Jewry.

The first half of the article tries to convince the reader that his vision of Horthy is the correct one while the second draws parallels between the Hungary of today and the times of Horthy. As he says, Horthy’s “experience is the one that Hungary’s current leadership appears to have studied.”

I will not be able to cover the whole article in this post and therefore will concentrate on Friedman’s account of the Horthy era. The appearance of this “revisionist” appraisal of Horthy is especially ill-timed because it was only a few days ago that historians of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences unanimously declared at a conference that the monument Orbán is erecting, which is supposed to make Germany alone responsible for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, is a falsification of history. Nothing like lending a helping hand to Viktor Orbán’s project.

Friedman’s Hungary was a small, weak country that helplessly floundered between the Soviet Union and Germany, all the while trying to remain independent. “Horthy’s goal was to preserve its sovereignty in the face of the rising power of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.” Friedman seems to think that Horthy viewed both great powers with equal contempt. But that was not the case. In fact, until the very last moment he refused to turn to the Soviets to declare his willingness to negotiate a separate peace, whereas he was indebted to the Germans for helping Hungary regain sizable territories in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia between November 1938 and April 1941. (These territories are shown in the Wikipedia map below.)

"Hungary's

As for the Jewish issue, Friedman claims that “Horthy was no more anti-Semitic than any member of his class had to be.” First of all, I’m not sure why Friedman believes there was a social imperative to be anti-Semitic. Members of Horthy’s social class may have been anti-Semitic, but they didn’t have to be anti-Semitic.

Horthy as well as the majority of Hungarian politicians and high officials wanted to rid the country of its Jewish population. Horthy didn’t want an immediate “cleansing” because without Jewish capital and know-how the Hungarian economy would have collapsed. But eventually the Hungarian anti-Semites stripped the Jews of all their worldly possessions and deported them. These Hungarians, including high officials, didn’t particularly care what happened to the Jews once they were deported. There simply had to be “a changing of the guard” (őrségváltás). Non-Jews were to take over positions held by Jews in the professions, business, and manufacturing. None of this seems to have penetrated Friedman’s consciousness.

It is at this point that we reach the crucial date of March 19, 1944, which is described this way: “Horthy fell from his tightrope on March 19, 1944. Realizing that Germany was losing the war, Horthy made overtures to the Soviets.” Let me state right here that Horthy did not make overtures to the Soviets. A small delegation talked to American and British officials in Turkey. They were told to talk to the Russians, something Horthy was reluctant to do.

Friedman’s inadequate knowledge of history is evident in practically all the sentences he writes in this article. According to him, “Hitler forced the Hungarian leader to form a new government consisting of Hungary’s homegrown Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party.” Or, a few sentences later, he writes: “He [Horthy] did not crush the Hungarian Nazis, but he kept them at bay. He did not turn on Hitler, but he kept him at bay. What Horthy did was the dirty work of decency. He made deals with devils to keep the worst things from happening. By March 1944, Horthy could no longer play the game. Hitler had ended it. His choice was between dead sons and the horror of the following year, or living sons and that same horror.” Friedman’s “parents believed that Horthy’s critics were unable to comprehend the choices he had.”

We who are more familiar with the real story realize that the account Friedman heard from his parents in addition to bits and pieces he remembers from Horthy’s memoirs have nothing to do with reality. But Friedman cannot be deterred from his preconceived notions of German-Hungarian relations and the Hungarian Holocaust. He keeps going: “Once the Wehrmacht, the SS and Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, were in Budapest, they found the Arrow Cross Party to be populated by eager collaborators.” Of course, this isn’t true either. The eager collaborators were in fact members of the Hungarian government appointed by Horthy.

The point of this hopelessly inaccurate history is to reframe the present debate about Viktor Orbán’s governance. On the one hand are people like his parents, who blamed the Germans “for unleashing the brutishness in the Hungarians.” On the other hand are nameless people who were harsher on Horthy. This debate, he writes, “has re-entered history through Hungarian politics. Some have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of trying to emulate … Miklós Horthy…. This is meant as an indictment. If so, at the university of our kitchen table, the lesson of Horthy is more complex and may have some bearing on present-day Hungary.”

I suggest that George Friedman take a refresher course.