Tag Archives: Randolph L. Braham

Mária Schmidt’s revisionist history of World War II and the Holocaust. Part I

Until now I rarely mentioned the name of Mária Schmidt, a historian, although she certainly deserves more than a fleeting glimpse. The more I’ve studied her writings the more I’ve become convinced that Mária Schmidt is the chief ideologist of the current government’s very controversial views on history.

First, let’s go back a little bit and take a look at her professional career. She received a B.A., majoring in German and history; her interest at that point was the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. At least she wrote her senior essay on the attempts of certain politicians to reconstruct the dual monarchy and create a multi-ethnic federation. Sometime in the mid-1980s she switched topics and began doing research on questions concerning the modern history of Hungarian Jewry. Her patron was the famous Hungarian historian, György Ránki, who for a number of years was in charge of the Institute of Hungarian Studies at Indiana University.

Schmidt Mária

Mária Schmidt / Source: 168 Óra

Her connection with Ránki was fruitful. In 1985 she received a three-year scholarship from MTI and the Soros Foundation. In 1988-89 she spent two months in Jerusalem at the Yad Vashem Institute. A few months later she was back in Israel on another year-long scholarship at Tel Aviv University. As soon as that was over, she received another scholarship to do research in Berlin. She was one of the young Hungarian historians who had plenty of opportunities to become serious scholars. They could travel, they spoke foreign languages, they had the opportunity to be in the company of scholars from all over the world.

These details of her early career are similar to those of other historians who today find her views abhorrent. It is hard to know exactly when Mária Schmidt discovered that she was in fact a right-wing nationalist and a revisionist, but by 1998 she became one of Viktor Orbán’s “chief advisers.” Her influence on the prime minister’s historical views is unmistakable. I’m afraid we can blame Mária Schmidt for the Orbán regime’s wholesale falsification of modern Hungary history. And, I’m afraid, also for the monument that will most likely be raised soon depicting Hungary as the innocent victim of German aggression.

Mária Schmidt might have been a serious historian in the 1980s, but by now her scholarship is highly suspect. A cursory look at her works reveals that most of her books and articles are of a popular nature. Works based on original research are hard to find on her long list of contributions. But how could she do serious and sustained work when she is the director of the House of Terror and two foundations? In addition, she teaches at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, and she just received another job, currently in limbo, to create a new Hungarian Holocaust Museum dedicated to the child victims.

One cannot call her an independent scholar either because of her far too close relationship with the present government. In fact, a few years back a reporter from Népszava asked Schmidt about her lack of independence. Her answer revealed her unique view of history. According to her, writing history makes sense “only if it is about politics. Who is interested in what happened one or two hundred years ago unless we want to say something about the present?”

Those who want to know more about Mária Schmidt should read the relevant passages of Professor Randolph L. Braham’s “The Assault on the Historical Memory of the Holocaust” that appeared in Hungarian Spectrum. Here I would like to concentrate on an article of hers that was published in a book entitled Diktaturák ördögszekerén. It is about “Political justice in post-war Europe.” The short article is an apology of Germany’s involvement in the war and a condemnation of the Allies who after World War II “forced the vanquished states to take upon themselves the moral, political, and economic responsibility” for the outbreak of the war. The victorious allies without any legal justification brought individuals to justice. At the time of these political trials the Allies promised that all war crimes would be punished in the future, but this turned out not to be the case. Schmidt brings up the bombing of Dresden and the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as war crimes that went unpunished.

According to Schmidt, the legal proceedings against the war criminals, in Nuremberg and in other countries, including Hungary, “were political trials that served political purposes and therefore they brought alien elements to the jurisdictional system.” She finds it reprehensible that “the Allies themselves wanted to destroy the Nazi elite … instead of allowing the German people to get rid of its leaders who became burdensome [tehertétel].” The Allies already in October 1943 contemplated sending war criminals back to their home countries, which obviously Schmidt finds outrageous because she continues: “Similar absurd plans were contemplated concerning Japan.”

Although the article for the most part deals with the political trials of Nazi war criminals, it also contains telling sentences about Mária Schmidt’s views on the Holocaust and the Jewish question. Among those who received death sentences in Nuremberg, she specifically mentions Julius Streicher, editor-in-chief of Der Stürmer, an anti-Semitic newspaper, who was found guilty of crimes against humanity. In her opinion, his sentence was not justified. After all, he was not a public servant; he had no party affiliation; he did not kill anyone; and he did not order anyone to kill. He only incited and spread hate. So, Schmidt doesn’t understand how he could be charged with “an international crime.”

There is an even more puzzling sentence that concerns the Holocaust in this article. Her problem is still with the notion of “crimes against humanity” and that among these crimes the judges at Nuremberg listed the “Nazi genocide against the Jews.” She asserts that the Holocaust was “only one of the many crimes of the Nazi leaders.” This sentence is puzzling in itself because I don’t think that anyone at the time claimed that Nazi crimes consisted only of the Holocaust. The footnote that follows this passage is even more baffling. Let me quote it in full: “Therefore they organized the Eichmann trial in Israel that placed the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people on center stage. It was in this way that they called the attention of the mostly indifferent world to the issue.”

What does Mária Schmidt want to say here? That too much emphasis was put on the Holocaust but it didn’t really work and people became tired of hearing all about it? But then they, I assume the Jews, decided to hold the Eichmann trial in Israel in order to bring the notion of Nazi guilt into the forefront? This muddled passage might be the result of a confused mind, but there is a good possibility that there are other considerations at work in Schmidt’s head.

Let’s move on to Hungary and the people’s courts that were set up in 1945. What is Schmidt’s opinion of these trials? She hides behind the claim of an unnamed minister of justice at the time, according to whom “the goal of the trials was not to serve justice but politics and revenge.” Schmidt’s favorite victim of these trials is László Bárdossy, prime minister between April 3, 1941, and March 9, 1942. According to Schmidt, “with the person of László Bárdossy the court wanted to sit in judgment of the whole Horthy regime, the Hungarian upper-middle classes [magyar úri középosztály], and its political elite.”

Of course, one could spend a great deal more time on Mária Schmidt’s views on war guilt, justice, and crimes against humanity, but I hope that even from this brief summary readers will realize her revisionist take on Germany’s role in the war.  And although the article is really about the trials of war criminals, one can sense Schmidt’s ambivalent attitude toward the Holocaust and its significance.

Tomorrow I will take a look at another article in the same volume that is specifically about the Holocaust’s place in the modern history of Hungarian Jewry.

Memorial Conference in Washington and Gergely Prőhle, representative of the Hungarian government

First, a very brief note on March 19th in Budapest. To mark the 70th anniversary of the German “occupation” of Hungary Mazsihisz organized what turned out to be a gathering of several thousand people on Herzl Square, in front of the famous synagogue on Dohány Street. Mazsihisz sent invitations to many important people, including Viktor Orbán. To be sure that he received it, they sent it registered mail. The prime minister’s office claimed that it never arrived. So Mazsihisz sent a second letter and got a second-string response. Viktor Orbán didn’t attend. Instead, he sent one of his deputies, Zsolt Semjén.

Now, let’s move on to a conference that was held in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The conference was opened by Paul A. Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the Museum, and Randolph L. Braham, the foremost expert on the Hungarian Holocaust. Their two short speeches were followed by presentations by American and Hungarian historians of the Hungarian Holocaust, including Gábor Kádár and László Csősz, two of the three co-authors of The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide about which we talked at length ten days ago. I will try to get the texts of all of the lectures. I can tell you right now that I’m lucky enough to have received a lengthy study by Professor Braham entitled “Hungary: The Assault on the Historical Memory of the Holocaust.” He would like to share it with the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, for which I’m very grateful.

Gergely Prőhle was the representative of the Hungarian government at the conference. He delivered a short talk defending the Orbán government’s handling of the Holocaust Memorial Year and growing Hungarian anti-Semitism in general.

As it turned out, Prőhle came to the United States to take part in the March 15th celebrations of the Hungarian community in Los Angeles. On his way home he stopped in Washington to talk to Ira N. Foreman, the U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, with whom he discussed the details of the 2015 Hungarian chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That was in the morning. In the afternoon he attended the conference in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Center, which he left early because he had to catch his plane.

The talk he delivered was short. He admitted that it is not easy for the government to react to all of the various interpretations of recent events. Anti-Semitism is not “a specialty of Hungary” and, according to him, the Hungarian government has done everything it could since 2010. They changed the civic code; they started a campaign against paramilitary groups. Admittedly, there are still problems but let’s wait for the election when hopefully the far-right Jobbik will be forced back to the democratic camp.

He denied the existence of any new interpretation of the Treaty of Trianon or the Holocaust. Hungary recognizes its responsibility, which by now should be clear. Trianon is an important issue but the rights of the Hungarians in the neighboring counties are more important.

Back in Hungary Prőhle gave an interview about his trip to Washington to György Bolgár of KlubRádió. Bolgár asked him how his talk was received and whether there was any follow-up discussion. Prőhle answered in the negative but admitted that he had left by the time the participants reconvened after a short break. If he had been there, he could have heard Zoltán Tibori Szabó from Cluj/Kolozsvár, writer, editor, journalist, who has written extensively on the Hungarian Holocaust, quip that perhaps it should be Fidesz that gets back to the democratic camp first. The audience loved it and responded with an extended applause.

Gergely Prőhle is an assistant undersecretary in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry who has the reputation of being a moderate. But how moderate is he? At the end of February he wrote an op/ed piece in Heti Válasz entitled “Arányok és tévesztések,” a play on words indicating that the Jewish community’s reaction to the government’s Holocaust Memorial Year was disproportionately vehement and hence mistaken. “It doesn’t matter who says what, the government didn’t declare 2014 to be the Holocaust Memorial Year because it wants to sweep Hungary’s responsibility under the rug. Given the amount of money allocated to the events, to talk about a ‘falsification of history’ and declare ‘a boycott’ is an overreaction.”

EichmannThen came something that took my breath away. Prőhle mentioned a recent film on Hannah Arendt’s years in New York (“Hannah Arendt: Ihr Denken veränderte die Welt” which according to the reviews I read is not exactly a masterpiece). I don’t know how many of you remember Hannah Arendt’s controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which originally appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker. Adolf Eichmann was one of the chief characters in the Hungarian Holocaust. According to Arendt, who was present throughout the long trial, Eichmann showed no trace of antisemitism or psychological damage. Hence her famous phrase, “the banality of evil.” Her critics point out that she “grasped an important concept but not the right example.” That is, Arendt was wrong in saying that Eichmann wasn’t an anti-Semite but only followed orders. Indeed, some time after the trial his autobiography was published, which revealed that he was in fact a rabid anti-Semite.

In any case, Prőhle decided to refresh his knowledge of the Hungarian events of 1944 from this film. It “becomes clear from the film,” he writes, “how risky it is to show certain elements of historical truth that don’t fit the concepts contrived ahead of time.” If I understand Prőhle right, he thinks that Eichmann’s trial was a show trial.

But that’s not all. He accuses Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of different Jewish communities, of criticizing the government of historical falsification for material gain. This is how he argues: “Regardless of how legitimate Mazsihisz’s misgivings are, it seems that its main aim is to mobilize and gather the Jewish community around it in order to receive more of the 1% offerings of taxpayers to Mazsihisz.” Taxpayers can designated that 1% of their taxes go to their favorite cause, from churches to animal shelters to radio stations.

This is Prőhle, the moderate. I don’t know what less moderate officials think or talk about. At least they have the good sense not to write op/ed pieces in Heti Válasz.

The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center publishes its “professional communiqué”

I think that this latest tug of war between Hungarian Jewish organizations and the Orbán government should not be viewed solely in the context of the treatment and fate of Jews in Hungary. Yes, the debate broke out as a direct result of the government’s plans for the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. But we are dealing here with a larger project: the government’s concerted effort to rehabilitate the entire Horthy era (1920-1944). Downplaying the country’s responsibility for the deportation of Hungarian Jews is part and parcel of this effort.

There has been a debate in the last couple of years among political commentators about the nature of the Orbán government’s policies. Are they the result of a grand design or are they a haphazard collection of on the spot decisions dictated by circumstances? I am inclined to think that the first hypothesis is closer to the truth, especially when it comes to Fidesz politicians’ views of the history of the Horthy period.

One of the first steps taken by the Orbán government was the removal of the director of the Holocaust Memorial Center. A few months after the formation of the government András Levente Gál, one of the undersecretaries in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, paid a visit to the Center and expressed his displeasure at what he saw there. He especially objected to the exhibit’s linkage of the Hungarian occupation of the regained territories with the deportation of Jewish Hungarians from those territories. And he was not the only one to complain. Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom, objected to the placement of the anti-Semitic Ottokár Prohászka, bishop of Székesfehérvár (1858-1927), right next to Hitler. A Christian Democratic politician announced that he will not visit the Holocaust Memorial Center as long as Prohászka’s picture is there. It was clear that the Orbán government’s view was that, since it is the Hungarian government that finances the Center, it can dictate what goes on there. As the Hungarian saying goes: “Who pays the Gypsy can order the music.”

Szabolcs Szita

Szabolcs Szita

Soon enough the government fired the director and appointed its own man, a non-Jew, Szabolcs Szita, in his place. He is the man to whom Professor Randolph L. Braham addressed his letter stating that in protest he will no longer allow his name to be associated with the Center’s library. I don’t know much about Szabolcs Szita’s work. I do have one of his books, but I must admit that I didn’t read it very carefully. In light of all these developments, it’s time for a much closer reading. The book, Együttélés–üldöztetés– holokauszt (Coexistence–Persecution–Holocaust), was published in 2001. According to an English-language postscript, it “won the first prize in the competition announced by the Ministry of Education” of the first Orbán government. The first half of the unfootnoted book deals with the history of European Jews with special emphasis on Germany while the other half, about 150 pages, looks at the history of Hungarian Jewry from their settlement to the Holocaust. There is a lot of emphasis on Hungarian civilians’ efforts to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. Szita’s views seem to be more in sync with those of the government than were his predecessor’s.

Shortly after his appointment Szabolcs Szita gave an interview to Origowhich was severely criticized by fellow historians and Jewish leaders. Let me quote some of Szita’s contentions: “If there had been no aggressive German interference Hungary probably would have been the example in the eyes of Europe and the world. Until 1944 we were an island of peace. There were anti-Jewish laws but Jews were not facing the peril of death en masse as in other countries.” In this interview he put the blame more on individuals “who must be named and condemned, Baky, Endre and Jaross,” men in charge of the deportations in the Ministry of Interior of the Sztójay government. He also overemphasized the number of high officials who resigned rather than take part in the deportation of their compatriots. As we know, there were mighty few of those. A notable exception, by the way, was Károly Szendy, mayor of Budapest between 1934 and 1944. As far as I know, the “grateful nation” didn’t even bother to name a street after this decent man.

In 2011 Szita came up with some startling suggestions. For example, he thought that it might be a good idea to organize a professional debate on whether “there was national resistance” to German occupation. That question doesn’t need a lot of research. There is ample evidence already showing that there wasn’t. He also thought that it would be a good idea to set up an institute to investigate the activities of the People’s Courts. These were the courts that dealt with the fate of war criminals. How would that help our understanding of the Holocaust?

From this interview we learn about the genesis of the House of Fates. Szita came up with the idea that the abandoned building of the Józsefváros Railway Station should be acquired by the Holocaust Memorial Center. School children could visit there to learn something about the Holocaust. He would have placed a Wallenberg Memorial at the site because Raoul Wallenberg managed to save a few people at that station.

The Holocaust Memorial Center has been suspiciously quiet in the last few weeks, but I guess after Mazsihisz’s announcement of a boycott yesterday Szabolcs Szita could no longer remain silent. He and his staff came out with a “professional communiqué.” That sounds to me like: “here is the final truth on the matter.” It is a strange document. The first paragraph talks about March 19, 1944 as a dividing line (actually sorsforditó, which means an event that changes everything) when “the trampled down country without any resistance became free prey.” Further, the official statement claims that “it is probable that without the unexpected German occupation Hungarian Jewry would have survived the war.”

It is at this point that Szabolcs Szita goes further in his condemnation of Miklós Horthy and the Sztójay government than in his 2011 interview with Origo. Then he blamed only individuals lower down on the totem pole, László Baky, László Endre, and Andor Jaross, who were guilty because they organized the deportations. Now he seems to have moved from this position and also blames “Governor Horthy, the Sztójay government, and the servile attitude of the civil service.” He also makes reference to the “civil servants who were brought up in the spirit of anti-Jewish laws” and thus became violently anti-Semitic. Again, Szita refuses to admit that it was not just the members of the civil service who were infected by the all-pervasive anti-Semitism but the whole population. There were few people who raised their voices or moved a finger in defense of their Jewish compatriots.

Some people called the document “cowardly.” Well, it is certainly not a brave document, but what can one expect from an institute that is basically an arm of the Hungarian government? It tries to satisfy both sides and therefore its message is confused and contradictory. But at least the document names Miklós Horthy and the government he appointed as guilty of the crime, which is more than one might have expected from the new management of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.

There are some who stand up and refuse to be part of the Hungarian Holocaust charade

I would like to share two documents with you. Both are reactions to the Hungarian government’s resolve to rewrite twentieth-century Hungarian history. The first is a letter sent by Steven J. Fenves, a Holocaust survivor and one of our readers.

Steven and I met thanks to Hungarian Spectrum. We exchanged a couple of e-mails from which I learned that he was born in Subotica/Szabadka (Yugoslavia) where his father, Lajos Fenyves, was the manager of Minerva Kiadó which published, among other things, Napló, the largest-circulation Hungarian language daily in Vojvodina.

The other day I received a new e-mail from him. It contained a copy of a letter he addressed to Professor Randolph L. Braham. I was very moved and admired him greatly for the sacrifice he made for the sake of truth. I asked permission to publish his letter here. You can learn more about Steven Fenves from his account of his trials after the family was deported to Germany. 

* * *

Dear Professor Braham,

This note is to let you know that your moving Open Letter has prompted me to act accordingly, albeit on a much more modest scale.

Subotica, in Serbia – also known as Szabadka – won funding for two projects in the competition for Hungary’s fund for the 2014 commemorations: one for opening a Holocaust Information Center by the Subotica Jewish Community organization and one for an exhibition in the Subotica City Museum. For the first, I was asked to authorize the use of my mother’s name, Klara Gereb (Geréb Klári), for the Holocaust Information Center. (She was a  locally well-respected graphic artist between the two world wars and perished in Auschwitz.) Initially, I assented to this request. The second project, not surprisingly, was to mount an exhibition of my mother’s work in the City Museum. For this, I promised to lend an unspecified number of artworks. (Because of the extensive looting during the deportations in June 1944, the Museum owns only 7 pieces of her work; I, however, own over 200 works on paper because in 1944 our former cook waded in among the looters and saved a large binder of her works, which she returned to my sister and me when we came back from the camps to Subotica in 1945.)

My resolve to support these two projects was badly shaken when I saw in Hungarian Spectrum a photograph of Sándor Szakály. There, facing him, was a bust of a Hungarian csendőr, complete with the black Bowler hat embellished with the flying black cock-feathers, exactly as worn by those gendarmes when they herded us into the makeshift ghetto and soon thereafter loaded us into the boxcars destined for Auschwitz. The map behind Mr. Szakály showed, of course, the pre-World War I map of Hungary, with Subotica well within its borders. It was extremely painful for me to realize that the Hungarian government that sponsors this man also funds the two 2014 activities in Subotica.

And then came your open letter requesting the removal of your name from the Data and Information Center (Téka és Információs Központ) at the Holocaust Memorial Center (Holokauszt Emlékközpont), reprinted in Hungarian Spectrum.

So I took action. First, I asked the director of the Jewish Community organization to remove my mother’s name from the name of the center. He responded that he had ordered the name to be erased (“töröltetem a nevet a központ nevéből” – a harsh expression that I have not read since the 1940’s). Second, I informed the Museum that I will not contribute in any way to the exhibition: no loans of artwork and no written contributions to any catalog or other printed material. I have not yet received a reply.

As I said at the beginning, these are two small actions not comparable to your momentous one.

Sincerely yours,
Steven Fenves
University Professor Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University

subotica2Hungarian Art Nouveau synagogue in Subotica/Szabadka

Interestingly the second document also comes from outside of Hungary. From Slovakia. To be precise, from Nové Zámky/Érsekújvár. By now the great majority of the city’s population is Slovak, but it seems that the Jewish community is still attached to its Hungarian roots. The Orthodox synagogue of Nové Zámky is registered as a historic landmark. It is one of only four synagogues in Slovakia that are still used for religious purposes by the local Jewish community. This community received 1.5 million forints as a contribution from the so-called Civic Fund  (Civil Alap) for events planned in connection with the Holocaust Memorial Year. Tamás Lang, president of the board of the Nové Zámsky Jewish Community, sent the money back accompanied by a scathing letter condemning the falsification of history and also the systematic revival of the cult of Miklós Horthy. Here is an abbreviated version of the letter.

* * *
The events and statements of the last few days make the sincerity of the Civic Fund’s  intentions highly questionable…. We can’t accept that Miklós Horthy, who is fully responsible for the destruction of Hungary’s Jewry, can have a statue in Hungary…. We can’t accept such statements as “we–Hungarians, they–Jews” even if it is uttered as “we Hungarians defend our minorities.”… We don’t forget that prior to the [German] occupation there were already 60,000 victims of anti-Semitism in Hungary. … We contest the statement that the only sin of the government at the time was that “it didn’t defend the country’s Jewish citizens and provided material supplies for their persecution” … [when] that government mobilized 200,000 civil servants against us. … It is true that Tibor Navracsics, deputy prime minister, and Bence Rétváry, undersecretary,  talked on international forums about Hungarian responsibility, but the direction of official statements and actions belies their words….  We cannot lend our names to the falsification of history and the whitewashing of the Horthy regime. The veneration of the memory of our parents, grandparents, siblings stands above everything else and hence we cannot take part in the events. The Board of the Nové Zámky Jewish Community therefore unanimously decided not to take the financial assistance of 1.5 million forints already granted and thus will not sign the contract that would have sealed the act.

Randolph L. Braham’s open letter

Randolph L. Braham

Randolph L. Braham

Anyone who has ever studied the history of the Hungarian Holocaust is familiar with the name of Randolph L. Braham, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of over 60 books and co-authored or wrote chapters in 50 others. Here are a few titles: The Destruction of Hungarian Jewry: A Documentary Account (1963); The Hungarian Labor Service System, 1939-1945 (1977); The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (1981); and just last year, The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary. Some of his works were translated into Hungarian while others were first published in Hungarian and later appeared in English.

Randolph L. Braham is highly regarded in Hungary as the foremost interpreter of the Holocaust, and therefore he was honored by both the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest and the Hungarian Government. In 2011 it was the Orbán government that bestowed upon him the Medium Cross of the Republic of Hungary, which is the highest decoration that a Hungarian government can grant. The Library and Information Center at the Holocaust Memorial Center bears his name. At least until now.

 * * *

January 26, 2014

Professor György Haraszti, Chairman of the Board
Dr. Szabolcs Szita, Director
Holokauszt Emlékközpont
Páva utca, 39
H-1049 Budapest

Dear György és Szabolcs:

I am writing to request that you remove my name from the Téka és Információs Központ at the Holocaust at the Holokauszt Emlékközpont.  I reached this decision with a heavy heart, having followed the recent developments in Hungary with great concern. The history-cleansing campaign of the past few years calculated to whitewash the historical record of the Horthy era, including the changes in the constitution that “legalized” the sinister measures that were subsequently taken to absolve Hungary from the active role it had played in the destruction of close to 600,000 of its citizens of the Jewish faith, have left me, and I assume many others, stunned. The straw that broke the camel’s back in my decision was the government’s resolve to erect a national statue relating to the German occupation – a cowardly attempt to detract attention from the Horthy regime’s involvement in the destruction of the Jews and to homogenize the Holocaust with the “suffering” of the Hungarians – a German occupation, as the record clearly shows, that was not only unopposed but generally applauded.

I realize that for a variety of political and economic reasons the leaders responsible for the operation of the Holokauszt Emlékközpont would or could not speak out against the brazen drive to falsify history. I, on the other hand, a survivor whose parents and many family members were among the hundreds of thousands of murdered Jews, cannot remain silent, especially since it was my destiny to work on the preservation of the historical record of the Holocaust.

I hereby also return the Medium Cross of the Order of the Republic of Hungary, together with the scroll signed by President Pál Schmitt with the request that you forward them to the appropriate Hungarian authorities.

Randolph L. Braham
Graduate Center of the City University of New York

The Orbán government’s war on multiple fronts

It looks as if there is a good possibility that the Orbán government will go through with its plans to erect a monument in memory of the German “occupation” of Hungary which, according to the new constitution’s preamble, put an end to Hungarian sovereignty for almost half a century. I’m sure that by now all readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware of the significance of this monument. I also hope that most people who are even slightly familiar with the history of Hungary in the twentieth century perfectly understand that this monument, if erected, will be the embodiment of Hungary’s claim to total innocence in the Holocaust. This attempt at rewriting history has unfortunate ramifications for the way Hungarian society will look at the past and their own place in it. This monument, if Viktor Orbán’s plans become reality, will put a stamp of approval on the government-led falsification of history.

The planned monument has already raised concerns and objections, and yet Viktor Orbán refuses to reconsider. Why is this monument so important to Fidesz and the present right-wing government? Why are they ready to alienate important groups at home and abroad for the sake of this hideous monument? Why did they announce their decision so late? Why the hurry?

I would like to offer a couple of thoughts for consideration. The first is that, in my opinion, preparations for the reinterpretation of the history of Hungary between the two world wars has been in the works for a long period of time. Since way before 2010. Moreover, I’m sure that it was systematically worked out with one overarching thing in mind: to take away the odium of the Holocaust from the Hungarians. I know that a lot of people think that the script for a revisionist history was written only recently in order to compete with Jobbik, whose votes Fidesz needs at the next election. But the text of the constitution’s preamble belies this theory. Viktor Orbán promised great changes in every facet of life in 2010. Why should history be any different? In fact, changing society’s historical consciousness should be practically a prerequisite of all other changes.

It was maybe yesterday that Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, formerly of MDF and today a DK candidate in the first electoral district of Budapest, pointed out that by now he thinks that Viktor Orbán and his friends aren’t just trying to please their friends in Jobbik but actually believe that changes in historical interpretation are warranted. Reporter Olga Kálmán loudly protested, as is customary in Hungarian liberal circles. I tend to side with Kerék-Bárczy. I think that setting up the “Veritas” Institute under the direction of a former MIÉP now Jobbik supporter is more than politics. It comes from deep conviction.

I will make available a few documents here. First, a protest of twenty-three historians that was published this morning on Galamus. 

* * *

The protest of the Hungarian historians against the planned German Occupation Memorial

We hereby protest against the plan to erect a memorial in central Budapest to the German occupation of 1944. The memorial falsifies an important period of our history, and relativizes the Holocaust in Hungary.

According to the description of the memorial, which has recently been made public, the memorial will be built “in the memory of all the victims.” Since, however, this memorial is based on a falsified version of history, it cannot fulfill its purpose. By presenting both the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust together as the sole victim of the Germans, the planned memorial dishonours the memory of those half a million victims who were killed in the Holocaust in Hungary. 

The Hungarian Holocaust took place with the active participation of the Hungarian authorities. But the planned memorial places all responsibility solely with the Germans and the German army’s “Arrow Cross subordinates.” In truth, the Arrow Cross had nothing to do with the mass deportations which took place in the summer of 1944.

We, the undersigned historians, call upon the government to stop falsifying our recent past, to stop relativizing the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, and to abandon the plan to erect a memorial to the German occupation on Freedom Square in Budapest.

Bencsik Péter historian

Deák Ágnes historian

Eörsi László historian

Fazekas Csaba historian

Frojimovics Kinga historian

Gecsényi Lajos historian

Gyáni Gábor  historian

Hajdu Tibor historian

Hosszú Gyula historian

Karády Viktor sociologist

Karsai László historian

Kenedi János  historian

Klaniczay Gábor historian

Kovács M. Mária historian

Kövér György  historian

Majsai Tamás historian

Mink András historian

Molnár Judit historian

Ormos Mária historian

Paksy Zoltán historian

Pihurik Judit historian

Rainer M. János historian

Sipos Péter historian

    * * *

You will recall that Mazsihisz wrote a letter to Viktor Orbán in which the leaders of the organization expressed their misgivings about the direction in which the Holocaust Memorial Year is heading. They complained about Mária Schmidt’s reinterpretation of the Horthy regime and objected to the appointment of Sándor Szakály to head the “Veritas” Institute and demanded his resignation. In addition, they called on the government to give up the idea of a monument to the events of March 19, 1944. Yesterday came the answer:

* * *

A Statement by the Government Information Centre

January 21, 2014 2:50 PM

Historical facts speak for themselves. The time has come for us to erect a monument to all victims. This is a question of humanity. The debate concerning the monument is understandable because this is an important issue, but we very much hope that no one disputes the fact that the victims of the events that occurred following 19 March 1944 deserve to be remembered with compassion and respect. On 19 March 1944, Hungary was occupied by Nazi German forces; on this day, the country lost its independence.

The Fundamental Law of Hungary states very clearly: “We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected organ of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order. We hold that after the decades of the twentieth century which led to a state of moral decay, we have an abiding need for spiritual and intellectual renewal.”

This is why, to mark the 70th anniversary of the German occupation, the Government decided to erect a memorial in commemoration of all victims.

We ask everyone not to make a political issue out of this compassionate remembrance. It is the objective of Hungary’s Government for a culture of remembrance to become established in Hungary.

(Prime Minister’s Office)

* * *

There is one obvious question: what victims are we talking about besides Hungary’s Jewish citizens? Hungary continued the war uninterrupted on the German side just as before. Thus the peaceful occupation of the country made no difference in the military losses of Hungary. The reference to lost independence, of course, equates to a refusal to take any responsibility for what happened.

So, this is where we stand now. Orbán is planning to go ahead while Mazsihisz is standing firm.  As expected, the city council of District V with its Fidesz-Jobbik majority voted to grant the permit to construct the statue. Mazsihisz so far hasn’t changed its mind. As András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, said, “trench warfare” set in.

St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon

In addition to Mazsihisz, there is EMIH (Egységes Magyarországi Izraelita Hitközség/Unified Israelite Religious Community/Chabad) whose leader, Rabbi Slomó Köves, has been on very friendly terms with Fidesz and the Orbán government. For example, Köves was appointed to be the official rabbi to the Hungarian armed forces. Even he is supporting Mazsihisz, but he suggests that besides the ultimatum-like voices an alternative program ought to be offered. Whatever he means by that.

Mazsihisz’s position has been greatly strengthened by Randolph L. Braham’support, who shares the point of view of Mazsihisz concerning the issues at hand. He considers the events of late a well orchestrated rewriting of history with a view to the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime. Braham in an interview given to Népszabadság said while talking about Sándor Szakály that he recalled the saying:  “Behind every dictator with  a sword there is a historian with a sponge in his hand.” How true.

And here is another topic we ought to cover. I may have criticized Colleen Bell for not being as well prepared for her Senate hearing as she should have been. However, no one in his right mind should think that her statement about current Hungarian politics is Colleen Bell’s personal opinion. It clearly reflects the U.S. State Department’s interpretation of Hungarian affairs. She was only the voice of this opinion. Therefore it is inexplicable why Gergely Gulyás addressed an open letter to Colleen Bell personally in today’s Magyar Nemzet. He accused her of bias. How will she be able to represent the United States with the kinds of prejudices she exhibited at the hearing, Gulyás asked. Bell shouldn’t be worried about the state of democracy in Hungary. The U.S. Embassy had nothing to say when in the fall of 2006 “the police force of the Gyurcsány government brutally attacked the peaceful demonstrators.” Gulyás at one point talked about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party as a “left-wing Jobbik.” It is the Demokratikus Koalíció that poses a danger to democracy. He expressed his hope that “the Hungarian government can count on the new ambassador in the struggle against extremists.”

At the same time he talked about some of “the self-appointed Hungary experts” who have an influence on American diplomacy and who are committed to the Hungarian left-liberal side and are therefore unable to swallow the fact that it was a right-of center government that won the election. “These people try to mislead American diplomacy and the American public with the most absurd lies.” Finally, he drew a line in the sand: “The citizens of Hungary don’t need outside help in their decisions concerning their own future.”

Trench warfare with with Mazsihisz and open war against the United States. Where will this lead?

What happened in Kamenets-Podolskii in 1941?

It would be utterly foolish to attempt a thorough description of what happened in Kamenets-Podolskii (or, in Ukrainian, Kamianets-Podilskyi), today a fair sized city in Ukraine. In earlier times it was an important Jewish center of learning, but even in Soviet times it was a multi-ethnic community of Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. Internet descriptions of the city’s history always mention that Kamenets-Podolskii was the place where “one of the first and largest Holocaust mass-murders” took place. They usually also note that most of the 23,600 victims were Hungarian Jews.

Luckily there are some excellent English-language sources dealing with the subject. Among them is a volume devoted solely to the topic: Kinga Frojimovics’s I Have Been a Stranger in a Strange Land: The Hungarian State and Jewish Refugees in Hungary, 1933-1945 (2007), which is still available through Amazon. Randolph L. Braham’s monumental The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, 2 vols. (1994) can still be obtained in an abbreviated edition. In Hungarian Tamás Majsai wrote a book about the deportations that took place in July-August 1941. I learned a lot from Mária Ormos’s Egy magyar médiavezér: Kozma Miklós, 2 vols. Kozma served at that time as a kind of governor of the territory, acquired in March 1939, which was known in Hungary as Kárpátalja or, in English, Carpatho-Ruthenia.

Yesterday I wrote that Sándor Szakály, the new director of the Veritas Historical Institute, called the deportation and murder of about 25,000 people a simple “police action against aliens.” It was not part of the Hungarian Holocaust. Why is it so important for Szakály and therefore, I suspect, for the Veritas Institute and the Orbán government to disassociate the 1941 atrocities from what happened after March 19, 1944, when allegedly Hungary lost its sovereignty? The answer, I think, is obvious. No one, not even far-right historians of Szakály’s ilk, can claim that Hungary was not a sovereign state in 1941. And yet with the approval and support of Miklós Horthy, László Bárdossy, the prime minister, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, minister of the interior, and Miklós Kozma, one of the promoters of the idea, all agreed to begin the deportation of Jews who had escaped from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and after 1939 from Poland as well. In fact, although the official record of the cabinet meeting doesn’t indicate it, the whole cabinet gave the plan its blessing. The evidence can be found in notes jotted down by Miklós Kozma, who was present.

One must keep in mind that the northeastern corner of Greater Hungary was an underdeveloped region with a very large Orthodox Jewish community who were, especially in smaller towns, quite unassimilated. They were the ones Horthy hated most and wanted to get rid of. Kozma’s aversion to these people was most likely reinforced by living in the area. There were places where there were more religious Orthodox Jews than non-Jews. So, already in the fall of 1940 he entertained the idea of deporting them at the earliest opportunity, which came when Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. When Hungary joined the war effort on June 27 of the same year, conditions were ideal for the mass deportation of the unwanted Jews, foreign as well as domestic, because Hungarian troops were temporarily in possession of territories just across the border.

Hungarian gendarmes collected the victims, who were allowed to take along only 30 pengős and food for three days, herded them into cattle cars or in a few cases trucks, and took them to Kőrösmező/Yasinia, still inside of Hungary. The first group started to move across the border to Galicia and Ukraine on July 14. In the next few weeks 13,400 people were deported from Carpathian Ruthenia and 4,000 from other parts of the country, including Budapest. The majority of the deportees were taken to Kamenets-Podolskii by Hungarian soldiers, who took over the job of the gendarmes. Once there, the deportees were left to their own devices. No shelter, no food, no nothing. The few Jews in town tried to help, but they themselves were poor.

Soon enough the conditions became indescribable. Yet more and more transports arrived daily. Finally the Germans had had enough; they asked the Hungarian government to stop the deportations. In response, Keresztes-Fischer temporarily halted the deportation of Hungarian Jews, but the others continued to arrive daily in Kamenets-Podolskii. It was at that time that the Germans decided to “solve the problem.” They simply killed them and buried them in common graves. Some were still alive when they were thrown into the pit. A few Jews survived and even managed to get back to Hungary, although the Hungarian authorities doubled the number of gendarmes in order to prevent their return.

Deported Jews from Hungary in Kamenets-Podolskii / Source: www.memorialashoah.org

Deported Jews from Hungary in Kamenets-Podolskii / Source: www.memorialashoah.org

Yes, at the end of August the deportations stopped, but the Hungarian government didn’t give up the idea of resuming the deportations, especially from this particular corner of Hungary. László Bárdossy announced that because of the German request they halted the action but they have every intention of continuing it when the situation in that part of Galicia and Ukraine improves enough to accept the deportees.

Kamenets-Podolskiii was a dress rehearsal for the deportation of over 600,000 Hungarian citizens. Gendarmes were employed to gather and herd the victims into cattle cars in both cases. In 1944 as in 1941 the Hungarian authorities were the ones who seemed most eager to get rid of their Jewish citizens, and in both cases the Germans were the ones who tried to slow down the transports because they were overburdened.

So, it’s no wonder that the current Hungarian government wants to transform Kamenets-Podolskii into an innocent police action against illegal aliens. Sándor Szakály and the Orbán government are a perfect fit, and I’m certain that his Veritas Institute will do its level best to whitewash the Hungarian governments of the interwar period and make sure that Governor Miklós Horthy, whom Szakály seems to admire, is portrayed as an innocent victim of circumstances. And since soon enough all school books will be published by a state publishing house, I have no doubt that Szakály’s version of Hungary’s modern history will be the “true and only one.” After all, he is heading an institute called Veritas.