Tag Archives: siege of Budapest

Neo-Nazis, Hungarists, and anti-Semites

I have written twice about far-right, neo-Nazi groups which at this time of the year gather to commemorate the anniversary of the breakout of German and Hungarian soldiers from Buda, which had been completely surrounded by Soviet troops between December 24 and 27, 1944. What followed was the siege of Budapest, one of the bloodiest encounters of World War II. Hitler specifically forbade his troops to retreat in the face of the encirclement or to escape after it was in place.

The Pest ghetto was liberated on January 17, but fighting on the Buda side was just beginning. Between January 20 and February 11 about 13,000 soldiers were killed or captured. Under these circumstances, attempting a breakout was a suicidal undertaking. Indeed, over 19,000 soldiers were killed in the attempt and only 700 individuals managed to break through the Soviet lines.

Every year domestic and foreign extremists, neo-Nazis, remember the event. The commemoration includes a short demonstration studded with speeches in addition to the so-called “breakout tours.” A breakout tour is a walk, something of an obstacle course, along the route the escapees took. It is 56 km long and must be finished within 18 hours. Naturally, this event takes place in Buda and the surrounding hills. There was only one exception: last year for some strange reason the demonstration was held in Székesfehérvár, far away from the place where this madness happened.

Since 1997 thousands have gathered every February for what they call the “Day of Honor” or “Becsület napja.” The man who came up with the idea for the commemoration was István Győrkös, leader of the National Front (Nemzeti Arcvonal). Last October Győrkös shot and killed a Hungarian policeman who was checking Győrkös’s house for illegal weapons. Members of the National Front did not attend the event this year, but the Army of Outlaws and László Toroczkai’s Sixty-Four Counties group once again participated.

Viktor Orbán was extremely critical of the socialist-liberal administration which allowed these demonstrations to take place, and he promised that once he becomes prime minister again he will put an end to these neo-Nazi, Arrow Cross, and Hungarist demonstrations. Of course, the demonstrations have continued. The neo-Nazis go to the police station and announce their plans, and the police say “go ahead.”

The only thing that has happened since 2010 is that Nazi and Communist symbols were outlawed, demonstrators were forbidden to cover their faces, and it became illegal to wear a uniform. So, what happened on February 11 this year? The mostly young neo-Nazis appeared in black uniform-like outfits, some of them covered their faces, and they wore the forbidden neo-Nazi symbols.

The media reported that about 600 mostly young people participated who, as Népszava noted, “wouldn’t be insulted to be called neo-Nazis or neo-Arrow Cross men.” In addition to the Hungarian contingent there were quite a few Germans and Italians. One could also see a few Polish flags and so-called Szekler flags from Romania.

One can gauge the ideology of these groups by listening to any of the speeches. One of the speakers assessed the significance of the 1945 event this way: “We didn’t win, but in every little sacrifice there was the potential for victory.” Zsolt Tyirityán of the Army of Outlaws said that “the world is determined by a struggle for Lebensraum.” He ended his speech with “Recognition of and due respect for the Waffen SS! Glory to the Waffen SS!”

The “troops” are ready for their tour, February 11, 2017

A couple of days later Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish religious groups, issued a somewhat resigned statement about the sad fact that “one can celebrate the enemies of the Hungarian people, the German Nazis and Hungarian Arrow Cross men, who blew up the bridges of the Hungarian capital and who caused so much suffering to its inhabitants…. But to hoist a flag with a swastika, to wear an armband with a swastika, to generate fear is prohibited and punishable according to the law.” Because anyone who places a Nazi flag on a light fixture makes it clear that he approves of the Holocaust. Mazsihisz asked the police to investigate the case.

Since then, the president of Mazsihisz, András Heisler, paid a visit to Viktor Orbán. The meeting had been arranged a month earlier and was supposed to be a financial discussion about the rebuilding of a Budapest synagogue that was recently devastated by fire and a Jewish Hospital specializing in gerontology. However, in light of the latest neo-Nazi demonstration, Heisler brought up the Jewish community’s concerns. Apparently, Orbán showed real or feigned surprise about the passivity of the police and promised to find ways, just like in earlier years, to prevent the display of such Nazi symbols.

If the ministry of interior could handle these situations in the past, how could it happen that this year the police calmly looked on while Nazi flags and swastikas were being displayed? One hypothesis is that László Toroczkai’s Sixty-Four Counties group participated. Toroczkai is the vice president of Jobbik, the party that is the target of Fidesz’s political wrath at the moment. In this struggle, it would come in handy to show that Gábor Vona’s move away from anti-Semitism is nothing but a political trick without any substance.

Finally, there is an unsigned opinion piece in Népszava, the oldest Hungarian-language daily in the United States. The title is “The promises of a selective anti-Semite.” The American Népszava is known to be highly critical of Viktor Orbán and his regime. This piece contends that Orbán has “problems only with liberal, secular Jews who infect decent Hungarian Christians with their liberal ideas.” He has no problems, the article contends, with observant Jews who “don’t mix” with the “members of the host country.” He doesn’t hate them because they don’t pose a threat to him. He likes talking to the leaders of Chabad who hate secular Jews as much as he does. Our anonymous author believes that Orbán’s ill feelings toward Jewish intellectuals stem from the fact that “they didn’t accept him” and therefore “he has developed an inferiority complex.” The author goes so far as to describe Orbán’s entire political career as a struggle to win over Hungarian Jewish intellectuals inside and outside of Hungary.

I actually toned down Népszava’s article somewhat. In fact, the author calls Orbán someone “who was an anti-Semite first and only later found the anti-Semitic ‘Christian’ ideology.” This is certainly a bold thesis, which many will doubt. Viktor Orbán is a master of double talk, so no one will ever catch him saying anything, at least in public, that could be labelled as being outright anti-Semitic.

February 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 8, 2016

The siege of Budapest: Neo-Nazis remember the “breakthrough” of February 11, 1945

Every year around this time the Hungarian press is full of stories about far-right groups celebrating the “breakthrough” of German and Hungarian forces on February 11, 1945 from the city of Budapest, which was surrounded by Soviet troops on all sides.

If you can get hold of Krisztián Ungváry’s book entitled Budapest ostroma (1998), which was also translated into English (The Siege of Budapest) and German (Die Belagerung Budapest), by all means do so because it is a fascinating book and the story of the “breakthrough” is gripping. Here I will very briefly relate what happened.

The siege of Budapest, which lasted 64 days all told, was one of the bloodiest encounters of the war. Hitler forbade the German military to abandon the city or to try to escape before the total encirclement of Budapest took place. The German commander of the city was Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, who was not brave enough to defy the Führer until it was too late.

Between December 24 and December 27 the Red Army managed to surround the Buda side of the city. The Soviets reached Pest in January and by January 17 they liberated the Pest ghetto. The siege of Buda started on January 20 and lasted until February 11. It was on that day that Pfeffer-Wilderbruch finally decided to try to break through the enemy lines.

Here are some figures to give you an idea of the desperate situation in which the German and Hungarian troops found themselves. On December 24, that is before the total encirclement, there were approximately 79,000 soldiers in the city. During the siege of Pest 22,000 were either captured or killed. In Buda the number of dead and captured was approximately 13,000 prior to February 11. On that fateful day there were only 43,900 soldiers left, and of that number 11,600 were wounded.

During the breakthrough attempt 19,200 soldiers died. Only 700 managed to join the Germans west of the Soviet line. Pfeffer-Wilderbruch, the German commander, was captured by the Soviets and in August 1949 was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. After Stalin’s death, however, he was released to West Germany along with 10,000 other German prisoners of war. The Hungarian commander, Iván Hindy, was also captured and subsequently was sentenced to death by the Hungarian People’s Courts. In 1946 he was executed. A neo-Nazi Hungarian site, by the way, lists all those who were executed for war crimes by Hungarian courts in 1946.

So, this is the day Hungarian neo-Nazis remember every year in early February. This year, however, talk about the “breakthrough” began even earlier. In January someone discovered on a list of walking tours sponsored by the City of Budapest Kitörés 60,  a tour organized every year on the anniversary of the “breakthrough” during the weekend closest to February 11. Participants follow the route of those 700 individuals who managed to break through the Soviet lines. According to the information on their website, the walking tour is over 57 km, which participants must complete in 18 hours. Just to give you an idea of how popular this tour is, last year more than 1,000 people paid 2,000 forints each to participate. According to their Internet site, the walking tour is organized “every February in remembrance of those Hungarian and German soldiers who in World War II heroically defended Budapest and Western Europe from the Bolshevik Red Army.”

Participants are gathering for their yearly tour following the German and Hungarian troops "breakthrough" on February 11, 1944

Participants are gathering for their yearly walking tour following the route of the German and Hungarian troops’ “breakthrough” on February 11, 1945

“Kitörés 60” didn’t attract too much attention until now, although the walking tour has been held since 2005. If they hadn’t made the mistake of listing themselves together with other walking tours sponsored by the City of Budapest, most likely no one would have paid any attention to these neo-Nazi enthusiasts.

Another interesting bit of information came to light in connection with this walking tour. Zoltán Moys, son-in-law of Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, is the founder of a group called Börzsöny Akciócsoport which is behind the tours. Zoltán Moys has a company that produces television shows for the public, actually state, television stations MTV and Duna TV. He is behind such far-right programs as “Hagyaték (Inheritance) about which I wrote earlier. My post’s title was “Neo-Nazi/Jobbik programs on Duna TV: The Orbán government has no objection.” At that point I didn’t know that Lezsák’s own son-in-law was the producer of this unspeakable program where Sándor Szakály also makes frequent appearances. I place Lezsák at the very far right of the ideological spectrum of Fidesz; he would actually find himself much more at home in Jobbik.

This year some Hungarian neo-Nazis planned another, more modest celebration. The Budapest anti-Fascist group learned about it and went out to protest. The celebrants were supposed to have gathered on Clark Ádám tér at the Lánchíd. But the police, fearing a clash between the neo-Nazis and the anti-Fascists, closed off the square and with it the bridge from Pest to Buda. A lot of the participants managed to get to Buda only in a roundabout way. Eventually they gathered on Kapisztrán tér. They marched the short distance from Kapisztrán tér to Dísz tér and back to the tune of World War II German and Hungarian marches. Speeches at the gathering lauded the heroes who died “for Christian Europe.” Meanwhile the anti-Fascists gathered on Dózsa György tér and walked to the Castle district with a police escort. To keep the two groups away from each other the anti-Fascists were stopped in front of the German embassy.

Actually, if I were one of the members of the Budapest anti-Fascist group, I would be much more worried about the walking tour organized by the man who produces falsified accounts of Hungarian history from a far right perspective than the gathering of a few skinheads with swastikas tattooed on their necks. The neo-Nazi Zoltán Moys and his friends who produce programs for the state television stations are much more dangerous to Hungarian democracy than the few guys marching in military formation.