Tag Archives: World War II

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

András Göllner: Is Hungary taking Canada’s Jews for a ride?

This article first appeared in the November 5 issue of  Hungarian Free Press.

“Don’t listen to what I say, but watch what I do!”
— Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary

An essay in honour of Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham

What is affinity fraud?

Affinity fraud is the oldest scam in the book. Eve used it to con Adam into tearing off the forbidden fruit from the tree of life, which led to humanity’s tragic fall from grace. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with this form of tainted love. In his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, written over 700 years ago, Durante (alias Dante) Alighieri reserved the lowest level of Inferno for those who chose this form of deception to rob their fellow human beings of their soul and of their trust in one another. For Dante, seduction was the most intimate affinity fraud. The most devastating form of this type of affinity fraud is the seduction of a child by the pedophile priest, who uses the child’s innocence, his loving and trusting nature, to rob him of his birthright to happiness. As the affinity fraud unfolds, the child’s confusion and shame is intensified by his memory of the pleasure he felt at being treated as “special.” It is this special treatment that makes it so difficult for the victims of affinity fraud to break away, to report the identity of their “seducer”, to reveal what happened to them, to admit to themselves that their bond with life and natural love has been broken forever. Many end up suffering for decades, some are never able to overcome their pain.

Here is the standard Wikipedia definition of the term: “Affinity frauds prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, language minorities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups…victims often fail to notify authorities or pursue their legal remedies, and instead try to work things out within the group.”

In their insightful book (Dante’s Path. Gotham Books, 2003) two American psychotherapists, Bonnie and Richard Schaub, utilize Dante’s Divine Comedy as a metaphor to assist those who are the victims of affinity fraud. They describe the face of this fraud, and its impact: “The honest face draws you in, stimulates your innate love and then manipulates you. You are fooled and harmed because of your own loving, trusting nature. Fraud counts on you being a good person and uses that goodness against you. We are all extraordinarily resilient. We live with the knowledge that we shall die and in the course of our life we have to adjust to and get past many problems – but we never get past this fraud. You may forget the details of the betrayal, but you never get past the fact that trusting your loving nature turned out to be a dangerous mistake.”

Arbeit Macht Frei, the fraudulent welcome sign that greeted the travel weary Jews at the gates of hell, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, is perhaps the most memorable symbol of this cruel form of deception. The German Sociologist Max Weber attributes the work ethic to Protestantism. The Nazis knew much better. They knew that the work ethic was nowhere as strong as amongst the people of Abraham. They knew that their seductive offer above the gates of hell would be almost impossible to resist. They chose their words carefully, to sedate and becalm their guests before hastening them to shower, to wash off the dirt that covered their exhausted bodies, so they could get to work refreshed and as fast as possible. A total of 1.5 million Jews, a third of them Hungarians, were taken in and sedated by the Nazi’s affinity fraud at this unforgettable death camp.

The entrance to Auschwitz. Photo: Pimke.

Joseph Stalin feigned affinity with the proletariat to rob the entire population of the Soviet Union and then the people of Central and Eastern Europe, of their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Adolf Hitler used his affinity with the Aryan race to eliminate 6 million Jews from the face of the earth and to start a global war that eventually caused the death of 100 million people world-wide. Viktor Orbán, the current Prime Minister of Hungary is seen as a kinder, gentler master of this scam. His government banks on affinity with the victims of Communism, as a way to secure the off-shore votes of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who left their homeland to escape the horrors of the fraud that Stalin’s and Brezhnev’s henchman perpetrated upon Hungarians between 1945 and 1990. Orbán used affinity with Conservatism, to endear himself to Canada’s former Harper government and to disguise his government’s hostility to the values that are central to Conservatives everywhere. Is he using affinity fraud with the victims of the Holocaust in Canada and North America to cover up his government’s anti-Semitic actions inside Hungary? I will let the readers decide.

I dedicate this article to Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham, who not only walked through the gates of Hell metaphorically, like Dante, but did so in their own flesh and came back to warn us about those who engage in the practice of affinity fraud. I salute them, for their sacrifice and especially for their role as messengers to my generation and to those who aspire to follow their example in the future.

The descent into hell…

While the Holocaust came to Hungary relatively late – first in 1941 and then with a vengeance in March 1944 – its gestation period began much earlier and at a time, when Hitler wasn’t even a blip on Europe’s political radar.

Hungary introduced the first anti-Semitic laws of the 20th century’s in 1920, during the Regency of Admiral Nicholas Horthy and at the behest of a rabid anti-Semitic Hungarian bishop, Ottokár Prohászka. Prohászka’s 1920 pamphlet The Jewish Question became a bestseller in Germany, well before Hitler’s Mein Kampf hit the charts. It was translated into dozens of languages and provided the spiritual fuel for the massacre of 600,000 Hungarian Jews. Thousands of Jews were machine-gunned into the frozen waters of the Danube in Budapest during the cold winter months of 1944, by Hungary’s indigineous Nazis, (the Arrow Cross). Tens of thousands more were killed using other forms of cruelty. The first large-scale deportation of Jews from Hungary and their subsequent mass murder at Kamenets-Podolski took place during the summer of 1941 (for some details see below). But the largest mass deportation and murder of Hungarian Jews took place at Auschwitz, the “state of the art” death camp built and operated by Germans inside the war-torn territory of Poland. Hungarians didn’t pull the triggers at Kamenets Podolski or at Auschwitz – they provided the hatred and the target for that hatred.

The officially generated hatred towards the Jews in Hungary was a carefully choreographed affair and the Nazis played hardly any role in the design of the score. Prohászka was generating hate literature when Hitler was still in his diapers in Austria. Theodore Herzl dreamt up the creation of a homeland for the Jews not by reading the collected works of Hitler, but by walking the streets of Budapest, the city of his birth. Horthy, the man who bears sole responsibility for Hungary’s wartime alliance with Nazi Germany, admitted in his private correspondences to being a life-long anti-Semite and needed no encouragement from Hitler. Horthy confesses in his secret papers, that he always wanted to get rid of the Jews, but not all at once and not as fast as Hungary’s true-brown Nazis had wanted. To get rid of the Jews at once, he argued, was an economic folly – it had to be done in stages, and the best place to start was not in Budapest, not in the industrial heartland of Hungary but in the countryside and in such far away villages as the one where little Elie Wiesel ran about freely as a child, before he was packed into a cattle car, without food, water or toilet facilities and shipped off to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The round-up and deportation of Hungary’s rural Jewry to Auschwitz – approximately 460,000 people – began in March 1944 and took 51 days to complete. Responsibility for the project was given to Hungary’s rural militia, the dreaded csendőrség (in Hungarian, the word means Guardians of Silence). Any of the Jews who broke the silence or spoke out of turn as they were being crammed into the cattle wagons destined for Auschwitz were shot on the spot by the rugged guardians of silence or were beaten severely for their insolence. The csendőrség was under the direct supervision of the Hungarian ministry of the Interior. There were no German participants in the chain of command that rounded up the Jews and shipped them out of the country. SS Obersturmbannführer, Adolf Eichmann, Germany’s designated hitter in Hungary, did not have to get his soft, calf-leather gloves dirty at any time during his stay in Budapest.

Hungary was Eichmanns’s easiest assignment. His biggest challenge was the concealment of the true purpose of the deportations from the roughly 300,00 Jews of greater Budapest. He didn’t want them to panic, to stampede, to make a big fuss and blow his megaproject out of the water. The Obersturmbannführer sat in his boutique hotel in the Buda Hills, with a spectacular view of the city below, drank schnapps with his buddies, sampled the night life of Budapest , flirted with the ladies at the Arizona Club, and engaged in amicable chatter with the likes of Rudolf Kastner.

The latter was a local Jewish community leader, who came to Eichmann with a preposterous idea – safe passage to Switzerland for a pre-selected trainload of Hungarian Jews – 1,600 in all – in return for keeping the other 460,000 calm and ignorant of the fate that awaited them. The Obersturmbannführer couldn’t believe his good fortune – the 1,600 was less than 1 percent of his shipment quota to Auschwitz (For the number crunchers in the audience, the actual percentage of Krastner’s Jews totaled 0.12% of the population that was destined for extermination). Being a shrewd businessman, and no doubt angling for a bonus from his superiors, Eichmann raised the ante with Kastner. He asked Kastner to work with the Allies and get him 10,000 trucks as well, to replace the vehicles the Nazis lost during their battles on the Eastern front. Kastner tried his best to deliver on the addendum, but the allies wouldn’t bite. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 was still waiting to be written, the concept was not yet in vogue. Kastner was only able to deliver half of his side of the bargain. Eichmann feigned displeasure, but being the gentleman that he was, and having achieved his primary objective with Kastner and the Budapest Jewish Council, he kept his promise. Kastner got his train. His shipment of 1,600 Jews arrived safely in Switzerland while the other 460,000, ended up at a camp whose commander promised to reward them if they showered and got down to work.

There were no riots in the streets of Budapest during the 51 days it took to deport Hungary’s rural Jewry. There was no hysteria in Budapest, and not much hollering in the countryside either, thanks to the guardians of silence.The SS Obersturmbannführer didn’t run around town, beating up hapless Jewish citizens who may have been spreading panic in the streets. He leaned back in his office chair, and waited for the Hungarians to deliver the goods. At his trial in Jerusalem, Eichmann confessed to being surprised by the efficiency and brutality of his Hungarian partners and attributed the brutality to their Asiatic ancestors, their tainted ethnicity

Before turning my eyes forward, I am compelled, like Orpheus, to turn my head one more time, back towards the past. My backward glance at this moment is not the product of a momentary weakness, but a conscious, self-liberating choice, perhaps similar in motivation to the one undertaken by Apollo’s son, the man who forbade the pulling of wool over the eyes of the deceased more than 3,000 years ago. My brief and personal backward glance at this precise moment is necessary, because it is absolutely germane to the narrative that follows, and to the course of my own life from hereon in.

I learned, at the age of 65, accidentally browsing the internet one evening in my Montreal apartment, that my nominal godfather – Uncle Marci – who I never set my eyes on in my life and who, according to my parents died in prison in 1947 – an innocent “victim of Communism” – was in fact a war criminal and a devoted Nazi.

I learned from the internet, that Uncle Marci – Vitéz Márton Nemerey (neé Márton Grósz) – was not just an ordinary Nazi war criminal, but the highly decorated supreme national commander of the Hungarian csendőrség between August 1, 1938 and November 15, 1942. I learned on the internet that he was not only the celebrated author of the militia’s Ten Commandments, but the man who commanded Hungary’s first pogrom – the expulsion and subsequent murder of 23,000 migrant Jews in 1941 at the Ukrainian town of Kamenets Podolski. (When the 23,000 migrant Jews disembarked from the cattle wagons into which Uncle Marczi’s men had cramped them into, they were machine-gunned into open pits by the German soldiers who waited for them across the border. Eyewitness accounts speak of the earth rolling above the burial site for hours, like the surface of the ocean, because so many of the victims, though critically wounded, were buried alive.)

When I learned of the true identity of my nominal godfather I took out an old family photograph, and that picture spoke a thousand words to me. Uncle Marci was a Hitler lookalike – the same haircut, the same mustache, the same expression. I reached for a kosher pálinka, and have not recovered since.

Vitéz Márton Nemerey. Uncle Marczi. Photo: András Göllner.

What shocked me even more as I revved up my search engine was an account of my godfather’s death by a Hungarian historian, Sándor Szakály. Szakály is well known for his publications that glorify the Guardians of Silence. I first became aware of him about ten years ago, when I began looking at the Hungarian academics who were crowding around the then still fledging Hungarian neo-Nazi party, the Jobbik. Szakály was one of their celebrity intellectuals. After Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, he appointed Szakály to the Chairmanship of the PMO’s newly created historical institute, the Veritas Institute. The main purpose of the Institute is to whitewash Hungary’s responsibility for the murder of the Jews at Kamenets Podolski and at Auschwitz. As soon as he assumed his position as head of the Institute, Mr. Szakály reframed the Kamenets Podolski pogrom as an administrative arrangement against illegal migrants. As far as my nominal godfather’s role in the affair was concerned, Szakály was mum. But he had another astonishing revelation, that did affect me personally. He claimed that my nominal godfather Vitéz Márton Nemerey, did not die in prison in 1947, as my parents and my godmother had told me, but 11 years later, in 1958. According to him, my godfather survived his prison sentence, was set free in 1951 and was free as a bird during the 4 years that preceded my parents decision to whisk me away to Canada from the evils of Communism in 1956.

During my last four years as a child in Hungary, I met my godmother on more than one occasion, but I never met my godfather. I often dreamed of sitting on his lap and having him tell me stories about Hungary’s heroes, the agile horsemen, who came to Hungary from afar and were so instrumental in saving “the West from the barbarians of the East.” (That heroic defense of it’s white and Christian neighbours to the west, is reenacted today by the razor tipped fence across Hungary’s southern border, a defensive corridor to stem “the alien Muslim tide” from the East. The story remains the same, the actions take different forms.)

When I enquired as a child about the whereabouts of my godfather, my godmother told me that sadly, oh so sadly, my godfather was dead. On later returns to Hungary as a grown man, I visited my godmother, who was by then a very old lady. I didn’t pester her with painful recollections of the past, but she did volunteer to tell me how sad she was that her husband, Uncle Marci could never set his eyes upon his beloved godson “who has now grown into such a tall, good-looking man.” She never missed a chance to malign those god-awful Communists for her husband’s bad fortune. She never once told me what her husband’s job was that landed him in hot water, and I never bothered to ask. When she passed away, I inherited Uncle Marczi’s beautiful, art deco desk lamp that stands now in a corner of my Montreal apartment in Little Italy, devoid of a vital, bejeweled part, stolen by a cleaning lady who is no longer in my employ. I don’t often make eye contact with it, and had changed the lampshade on it to be safe rather than sorry.

My parents and those in my family who may have known anything about Vitéz Márton Nemerey are long dead. I have no one in the world to clear up the puzzle for me: Why did my father choose this man, who was not even a blood relative, as my designated godfather? My grandfather, Elemér Szentjóby, hid a number of rural Jews on his estate during the war, who ran to him for protection in the village of Csömör. My own father, saved the lives of dozens more, who worked at his pasta factory in Budapest, sometimes chasing after them in his company’s truck, after the local Nazis absconded with them. He waved official papers at the young hoodlums, screaming with the thugs, that the Jews are needed to manufacture the pasta for the war effort. When the heat of the Holocaust came dangerously close to my uncle, the obstetrician, who saved me from starving to death, my family hid his children, my second cousins, so at least they would survive the horror. Did my father designate the leader of the csendőrség as my godfather to save his newborn son? I shall never know. But I will find out, even if it kills me, who is lying to me about the date of my godfather’s death: Was it my parents, my godmother, or is it Professor Szakály. the man the Hungarian government sent quietly and without any fanfare to Toronto on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, to celebrate with those Hungarian ex-army officers who held up the liberation of Auschwitz.

Sándor Szakály in Toronto, celebrating with Hungarian World War II soldiers who still glorify the Horthy regime.

Fast forward to 2010

“The memory of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of our government’s policy and our country’s national identity. It has to be preserved and respected,” said Bálint Ódor, Hungary’s Ambassador to Canada.

My nominal godfather, Vitéz Márton Nemerey, his beloved Admiral Nicholas Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi and Ottokár Prohászka are long faded memories, destined to live on in the underworld as dead spirits of the past. But the hatred they fomented against the Jews of Hungary burns stronger than ever in that country. There are many who claim that responsibility for the rising hatred today rests squarely on the shoulders of the anti-Liberal, anti-democratic government of Viktor Orbán, which was elected to office in landslide election victories in 2010 and in 2014 and which is now proudly and ably represented in Canada by his excellency, Ambassador Bálint Ódor.

According to surveys conducted by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute, and by the globally respected Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism in Hungary prior to 2010 was well above the European average. After Orbán came to power, the hate level accelerated more rapidly than anywhere else in Europe and clearly corelates with Orbán’s election to office. Is this correlation a coincidence or is there a cause end effect relationship? I will let the evidence speak for itself and allow my readers to draw their own conclusion.

One of the founders of Hungary’s anti-Semitic, anti-Roma vigilante group, the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) is András Bencsik, a high-ranking member of Orbán’s Fidesz party. His magazine, the Demokrata, runs highly popular tours to Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” retreat each year. Each year the magazine runs a full feature article celebrating the troops that held up the liberation of Auschwitz, and fought to keep Hitler in power to the last day of the war. After Orbán came to power, Bencsik received a string of governmental decorations along with massive subsidies to keep his hate-filled magazine profitable and widely read. He has been inducted into a knighthood – the Order of Vitéz – that Admiral Horthy created in 1920, to maintain Hungary’s racial purity and to guard against the restoration of democracy in Hungary during the interwar years. The Order of Vitéz was banned under Communism, but has been resurrected. The Canadian chapter of this Order of Knights is the proud sponsors of the monument that will be raised to the Victims of Communism in Ottawa, initially planned to go up next to Canada’s Supreme Court building. The single largest contributor to the erection of this pet project of the former Tory Government is the government of Viktor Orbán, the government that sent its official historian, Sándor Szakály to celebrate with those officers who held up the liberation of Auschwitz, and assisted in the prolongation of the war. Standing next to Canada’s parliament building will be a permanent monument displaying the sponsorship of the Hungarian government, that, according to Transparency International, is the most corrupt in all of Europe. Carved into the monument in big letters will be the name of a government, whose leader is a sworn enemy of Liberalism, a man who has publicly declared that he wants to turn Hungary into an “Illiberal State” patterned on the Russian and Chinese templates. Catch 22 has arrived from the East, and the Ottawa landscape will never be the same.

If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why is that government issuing glossy postage stamps in memory of such celebrities of Hungary’s Nazi past as the actress Zita Szeleczky, Hungary’s very own Tokyo Rose, who spent the war years agitating Hungarians to fight to the bitter end in defense of the Third Reich?

If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government, why is this government and its Canadian Ambassador celebrating Gyula Detre, who lives in Canada and was the Head of Military Security for the war criminal, Arrow Cross Party leader, Ferenc Szálasi? Gyula Detre is a respected member of Montreal’s Hungarian community, a staunch anti-Communist, a devoted Christian and a patriot. He is also a member of the “Order of Vitéz” that Hungary’s interwar leader, Admiral Nicholas Horthy created to uphold the purity of the “Hungarian Blood” by excluding Jews from its ranks. Detre emigrated to Canada from Germany in 1950. In his autobiography which is freely accessible on the internet, he admits to serving the Hungarian “Führer”, and is proud of it. He recounts how impressed he was with Hitler’s warm and sensitive eyes when they met near the end of the war, and how much he enjoyed serving his own “Führer”, who was executed in 1945 as a war criminal. Detre couldn’t attend this year’s celebration on Dundas Street, but he sent a lengthy and warm memorandum to his comrades in arms who were hooting it up in Toronto with the Hungarian Prime Minister’s trusted right hand man, Sándor Szakály.

If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why are convicted war criminals like Albert Wass or Arrow Cross Party member, József Nyírő resurrected by Orbán’s government as modern-day heroes of Hungary?

If respect for the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s identity, why is that government allowing public monuments to be raised to those in Hungary who fomented hatred against the Jews before and during the Holocaust? If respect of the Holocaust victims is the cornerstone of his government’s policy, why is Viktor Orbán sending enormous wreaths to these memorials along with some of his most prominent officials and Party members?

If the memory of the victims of the holocaust must be respected why are the works of former Nazis put into the national curriculum of Hungary’s secondary school system, why are the men who spread hatred 70 years ago allowed to do the same once more and amongst the most impressionable strata of Hungarian society?

If remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust is the cornerstone of the Orbán government, why did this government embrace the well-known and now deceased anti-Semitic playwright, István Csurka? Before he suddenly died, the Orbán government gave Csurka the co-directorship of the publicly owned Budapest Municipal Theatre. Virtually the entire cabinet, including the President of the Hungarian Parliament attended Csurka’s funeral, while Orbán sent perhaps the largest funeral wreath to the gravesite as a sign of his government’s respect for the man who had nothing in his soul but hatred for the Jews.

One of Orbán’s closest pals, one of the founders of his Party and the owner of Party membership card No. 5, Zsolt Bayer, is also a highly rewarded and regarded propagandist of the Orbán regime and the recipient of numerous publicly funded grants to enable him to promote his racially motivated views. By his own admission, Mr. Bayer, is not an advocate of consensual conflict resolution. His favoured tension-management instrument is force – a punch in the mouth, a good beating “so that even your dentist won’t recognize your face anymore” (See his Hol a pofátlanság határa. Budapest. Kairosz publishers, 2001. pg. 166.) Bayer has the following advice to give to anyone who happens to run over a Roma child with his car: “Anyone who happens to run over a gypsy child in this country, would be best not to think of stopping. If you run over a gypsy, just step on the gas-pedal” (See his article in Magyar Hírlap, Hungary’s second largest pro-government daily, owned by Vitéz Gábor Széles, one of Prime Minister’s most powerful corporate cronies.). Bayer has the following to say about those of his colleagues in the Budapest media, who happen to be Jewish: “the mere existence of Jewish journalists in Budapest is grounds enough for our anti-Semitism.”(op.cit). Some cornerstone, some respect for the victims of the Holocaust, Ambassador Ódor!

When in 2012, one of Hungary’s greatest living writers, Ákos Kertész, a Holocaust survivor himself spoke up against the disgraceful conduct of the Orbán regime and his fellow countrymen’s support for this Party, the Mayor of Budapest stripped him of his municipal decorations, such as his status as an honorary citizen of Budapest. Orbán stood up in Parliament and threatened to introduce legislation to divest Kertész of all his earlier awards, including the nation’s highest literary award, the Kossuth Prize. At the age of 80, Ákos Kertész was forced to pack his bag, escape to Canada and ask for political refugee status in this country, because his life was no longer safe in Hungary. He became “a dirty Jew who dared to malign the reputation of Hungary.” Kertész now lives in Montreal, a permanent Canadian resident of Canada, living in poverty and neglect, but free as a bird, a man shamed in his homeland but not broken in spirit.

The revival of anti-Semitism in Hungary is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of an unabashedly anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, anti-Gay and anti-Democratic Party, the Jobbik, that is now Orbán’s loyal opposition in the Hungarian Parliament. Together, FIDESZ and Jobbik have a stranglehold on power in Hungary, that is unlikely to change for some time to come. The leader of this loyal opposition, Gábor Vona, was weaned inside Orbán’s Party. He served as the President of FIDESZ’s youth wing before branching out on his own, and with the best wishes of his mentor. Vona’s Party is closely allied to some of the most extreme anti-Semitic vigilante groups in Hungary. The Jobbik is also closely tied to anti-Semitic circles around Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orbán and Vona have also established close and ongoing ties to the Iranian regime, that is dedicated, among other things to the destruction of Israel. One of Orban’s top PMO lieutenants, the homophobic Imre Kerényi, who is decidedly not a fan of Ákos Kertész, has openly gloated that pretty soon the headquarters of the “Tel Aviv-New York axis”, will be levelled to the ground, and there will be nothing left but goats grazing on the site of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. When journalists questioned Orbán about the pro-Iranian, pro-Russian, anti-American hatred spewed by one of his top advisers, he shrugged his shoulders and said that he wished he had more people like Kerényi on his staff. His actions speak louder than his words.

The contrast between Ambassador Ódor’s Canadian rhetoric and the practice of Hungary’s ruling political elite is most vividly illustrated by the fact that the Hungarian Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture is headed by Dóra Dúró, who is a card-carrying member of Hungary’s neo-Nazi Party, the Jobbik. This appointment was only made possible by the support of Orbán’s party colleagues in Parliament. If respect for the memory of Holocaust survivors is the cornerstone of Hungary’s ruling party, why did they elect a neo-Nazi party member to the head of this important parliamentary committee? Dúró is the wife of an out and out, self-confessed Holocaust denier, Előd Novák. Here is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre: “Reports that the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Culture was going to Dóra Dúró, the wife of Jobbik militant and Holocaust denier Előd Novák, raise questions about Hungary’s commitment to accurate and appropriate remembrance of the Holocaust. When Novak was asked last week why the couple does not take part in Holocaust commemoration events, he answered ‘we remember only genocides that actually happened’.” ( See: “Simon Wiesenthal Center Questions Hungary’s Fitness to Lead International Holocaust Body”, May, 2014)

Five years after Orbán came to power, the Hungarian landscape is dotted with monuments to Horthy and Prohászka. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Mr Szakály will raise one at the non-existent grave site of my godfather. More often than not, the unveiling of these bigger than life-size monuments, are led by Orbán’s top lieutenants, such as László Kövér or Sándor Lezsák, President and Vice-Presidents respectively of Hungary’s Parliament. Both are frequent flyers to Canada, where they try to drum up support amongst the local Hungarian diaspora, wrapping themselves this time in the flag of anti-Communism, Christian values and patriotism – values that never fail to bring tears to the eyes of the increasingly elderly first generation Hungarian refugees that made their homes in Canada after the war.

Former Prime Minister Harper was unequivocal about where his government stood on January 27th, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: “The Government of Canada believes that remembrance of the Holocaust is an important way to teach and promote respect for universal human rights, and an important reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting the Canadian values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.” By contrast, and as we have demonstrated with empirically verifiable evidence, the Hungarian government prefers to speak out of both sides of its mouth. It most certainly does not practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada.

Largely in response to all of the above, and to what they saw as an evident case of affinity fraud, the world’s two most respected Holocaust survivors and scholars – Elie Wiesel and Randolph L. Braham – returned all of the decorations the Orbán regime heaped upon them to secure their silence in the face of the escalating affront to the memory and dignity of the victims of the Shoa. I will quote a small segment from Elie Wiesel’s blistering public indictment of the regime, that Ambassador Bálint Ódor represents in Canada: “Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian government’s involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens….I do not wish to be associated in any way with such activities and hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary granted to me.”

Is IHRA the train for Orbán’s affinity fraud in Canada?

In 2013 and after receiving far too many blows to its credibility, the Orbán regime decided to launch a global PR campaign to remove indignant Jews like Wiesel, and Braham off its back. The strategy was designed by the same communications advisor – Arthur J Finkelstein (aka „The Merchant of Venom”) who is responsible for the former Harper government’s well known negative ad campaigns against the Liberals (eg: Justin is Just Not Ready). Finkelstein has a long track record of catapulting bigots like the late Jessie Helms into power. He is now the advisor of choice, to many of the authoritarian leaders that are coming into their own in the former Soviet sphere of influence. He is the business partner of Orbán’s top communications advisor, Árpád Habony. He has an apartment in Budapest and is fondly referred to as Finkie by the Hungarian Prime Minister. The slogan used by Ambassador Ódor above has all the hallmarks of Finkie, and some are just not ready to swallow it hook line and sinker, as we shall shortly show.

The vehicle for Orbán’s new communications campaign was as carefully chosen as the sign above the gates of hell. It’s name is IHRA: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  Hungary joined IHRA during the first Orbán regime that lasted only 4 years from 1998 to 2002. The representative Orbán delegated to the IHRA Forum was István Stumpf, one of the prime minister’s closest political and business cronies. (Stumpf was a rising star in Communist Hungary prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was a Secretary of the Young Communist League, the son-in-law of the Communist Minister of Interior, a man well on his way to the top, before Gorbachev decided to throw in the towel. By now, he is a multi-millionaire, and is recognized as one of the architects of Orbán’s “Illiberal State.” He is a lawyer by education but never practiced his craft. He jumped on the political gravy-train to power and quickly rose to the top. Even though he never worked a day as a lawyer and never sat on the bench, he was appointed to Hungary’s Supreme Court by Orbán where he has been a valuable asset to his boss, helping him to remove, brick by brick the foundations for the rule of law in Hungary.)

Until 2013, Hungary was a very passive, ho-hum member of IHRA, a 31 nation body dedicated to promoting respect for the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and to educational programs designed to raise public awareness about racial prejudice. The Orbán government began a lobby campaign early in 2013 and shortly after Wiesel’s protest, to secure the Chairmanship of this prestigious body. At a meeting in Toronto from 6-10 October 2013, IHRA Board members elected Hungary to chair the Alliance in 2015 the year that coincides with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The first person to sound the alarm, was Randolph L Braham, the custodian of truth about the Holocaust. He rightly pointed out, that Stumpf “misled the audience of the IHRA Forum” from his first day on the job. Braham accused Stumpf of “not mentioning any of the anti-Jewish laws enacted between 1938 and 1945 by the Horthy regime” and downplaying Hungary’s role in the murder of the Jews. Not a very good beginning for this train ride.

The selection of Hungary for the Chairmanship of IHRA in 2013 was also condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute as a farce. In May, 2014, and after noting many of the anomalies we have shown above, the SWC issued the following release: “Hungary must choose whether it’s committed to remembrance of the Holocaust or to the distortion of the Holocaust; it cannot have it both ways. Coming on the heels of other actions by the Hungarian government that distort and whitewash the Holocaust in Hungary, these efforts raise legitimate questions about Hungary’s ability to Chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2015″. The SWC protest was ignored and as Hungary’s Chairmanship is winding down, the inconsistencies between the Orbán government’s conduct in Hungary and its posturing abroad is increasingly difficult to manage.

Many on Ambassador Bálint Ódor’s train think the world of him. They see their conductor as a sincere, hardworking man, whose affinity towards victims of the Holocaust is as exemplary as the democratic credentials of his boss, Viktor Orbán. Perhaps the most powerful, most enthusiastic boosters of the conductor is Toronto billionaire and Hungarian Holocaust survivor Peter Munk. Munk’s credentials as one of Canada’s leading entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, are forever secure and deservedly so. Wether he is as good at recognizing affinity fraud as he is at generating profit for his companies is a subject of political controversy. Munk and his family took a ride on an earlier train, the A-train out of Hungary in 1944, conducted by Rudolf Kastner. I suspect, his new train, the IHRA train conducted by Bálint Ódor will be surrounded by just as much controversy as the previous one.

Peter Munk’s extraordinary endorsement of a regime that has so raised the ire of people like Braham and Wiesel is perplexing. How could a man of his moral, intellectual, political and business acumen, be so blind to the evidence of duplicitous behavior outlined above? Why can’t Peter Munk see from Canada what George Soros sees from the USA? How could a Holocaust survivor be so unwary of the basic stratagem employed by affinity fraudsters? Affinity frauds prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, language minorities, the elderly. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile.

While many of the world’s leaders, have condemned Viktor Orbán’s “Illiberal”, corruption riddled enterprise, Munk, who is a business partner of one of Orbán’s best known Hungarian oligarchs, is an outspoken promoter. Like G eorge W. Bush, who was smitten by Putin after looking the Russian President in the eyes, Munk is smitten by Orbán, the man who was elected this year as second in line to the world’s most corrupt political leader –Vladimir Putin. Many of Europe’s leaders will have nothing to do with Orbán especially after he announced that he will reconstruct Hungary’s polity according to the Russian and Chinese templates. Presidents Obama, Clinton, Senator John McCain, the President of France, Italy along with many others have spoken up against the Hungarian autocrat Many of the world’s leading policy analysts, along with the former President of Czechoslovakia, the late Vaclav Havel had labelled him a fraud. The enthusiasm of Munk and many of the passengers on Ódor’s train in Canada is as perplexing as their reaction to those who are advocating a stop to the joy ride. This author belongs to the latter category. It is now time to highlight with two examples what happens to those who sound the alarm and try to warn the passengers of Ódor’s train about the bipolar nature of his masters, who cannot practice in Hungary, what they preach in Canada.

I decided to climb aboard Ódor’s train during two pre-scheduled train-stops in Montreal, the first on November 11 at Concordia University’s Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence (CEREV), the second on November 12th at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. I wanted to test the authenticity, sincerity, credibility of the conductor, as well as to test the reactions of the fellow passengers who wanted to travel on Ódor’s train. When I occupied my seat I was surprised and disappointed to find not Ódor but his deputy, Lajos Oláh in the cock-pit.

Lajos Oláh is a well-known pinch-hitter, especially at Concordia University, where he was struck out earlier this year, in front of an internet audience of close to a million people, after he tried unsuccessfully to discredit three highly respected academic critics of his government. (For a replay of Oláh’s earlier performance at Concordia University, please click here.) The Concordia pit-stop featured a talk by the talented young Director of Budapest’s Holocaust Museum, Zsuzsa Toronyi. The speaker gave a masterful presentation of the heroic work of the museum to honor those who received so little attention in their homeland in the past.

During the question and answer period, a young man suggested that it was the invasion of Hungary by German troops in 1944 that led to the murder of Hungary’s rural Jews. He seemed to suggest, that the survival of the Budapest Jews was evidence for the reluctance of the Horthy regime to harm them. To another questioner, who wanted to know why there was so much neglect shown towards the Victims of the Holocaust, the speaker suggested that it was the shame of the Budapest Jews who survived the deportations that may explain this. At this point I raised my hand politely and given the right to speak, I explained to the young man, that the German troops did not invade Hungary but were welcomed as allies. I pointed out, that there was no resistance to their arrival to Hungary either by the Hungarian army or by the country’s citizens. The two countries were war-time allies and German troops played no role in the deportation of 460,000 rural Jews to Auschwitz – the deportations were entirely the work of the Hungarian government. Exterminating Hungary’s rural Jewry was a conscious policy choice of the Hungarian government of Nicholas Horthy. There was a two-step approach in place dictated by logistics. First the countryside, then Budapest. The Budapest deportations were halted by Horthy because the Soviet Red Army was on Budapest’s front door and the allies warned Horthy in writing, that if he continues his two-step strategy, he will be prosecuted as a war criminal at the end of the war. As for the neglect shown to victims of the Holocaust, I pointed out that blaming this on the surviving Jews of Hungary is a bit much. The neglect is not due to their shame but to those who murdered their country relatives. Why blame the victim once again and not the perpetrator of the crime?

The interjection was appreciated by the audience, whereupon I put a question to the conductor of Bálint Ódor’s train, Lajos Oláh. I asked the sponsor of this train ride, the official representative of the Hungarian government, why is it that the Government of Viktor Orbán cannot practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada? Why can’t it walk its talk? And I gave a couple of quick examples from the list of contradictions elaborated upon earlier. As in March, Mr. Oláh refused to answer and turned the question over to the guest speaker, which raised a loud protest from many of the “passengers.” They too demanded an answer and argued that the question wasn’t directed at the guest speaker but at the sponsor. When no answer was forthcoming, the host of the event decided to end the embarrassing deadlock and asked that the discussion be directed back to its original topic. After picking himself up from the floor, Mr. Oláh finally found his voice, raised his hand and gave a little speech, blaming Communism, and the government that has been out of power for more than a quarter of a century for the neglect shown in Hungary towards the victims of the Holocaust. He kept asking for other opportunities to speak – though earlier he had openly stated that he didn’t come here to talk. Finally the moderator had to close off the session and deny Mr. Oláh a last jab, due to time constraints. A number of the passengers at the Montreal train stop came up to me afterwards and privately congratulated me for speaking up. The people in Mr. Oláh’s camp, including the Hungarian Embassy’s best friends in the Ottawa Jewish community, gave me some dirty looks, while one of them came up to me and said sternly – “András, we have to talk.” I cheerfully agreed to do so. I’m waiting patiently.

A “room full of hatred” at the Montreal
Holocaust Memorial Centre?

Next day, on November 12, the scene shifted to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, where the Embassy of Hungary sponsored a screening of a film by American-Hungarian Holocaust survivor Gábor Kálmán. This time it seems the moderator and the audience was better prepared for a possible embarrassment. I spotted many people in the audience from the Orbán government’s local fan club, many well known to me as outright anti-Semites. Kálmán’s wonderful homage to a non-Jewish woman, who decides to look into what happened to the murdered Jews from her town, was well received by the audience, especially by those, who needed to see some confirmation of the myth, that Hungary’s non-Jewish community is widely empathetic to the suffering of its Jewish countrymen.

Kálmán’s film provided a few important and telling glimpses of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Hungary and I rose to ask a question about that. I first congratulated the filmmaker for his excellent and important work and then I tried to put a question to Mr. Oláh. This time around, the moderator of the Q and A was not as willing to listen to me as the one at Concordia. She hurried me along, interrupting me every couple of seconds and asking me to put my question to Mr. Oláh and spare the audience any details. I did as I was told. The moderator turned to Mr. Oláh and asked him if he would care to respond. He said no and we moved on to the next question. A man rose in the audience at this point, one of the survivors from the village that saw its Jewish population almost fully exterminated. He turned to Mr. Oláh and asked him to stand up. Mr. Oláh declined to do so. The questioner thereupon stated that he wanted to voice his displeasure at the lack of respect given to the question raised by me, and he added one of his own in the same genre. Once again Mr. Oláh refused to answer, saying that this event is about the film and not about the sponsor, not about where his train is taking this audience but about the program being shown to the passengers on the closed-circuit video. A third person stood up and repeated the same question as the previous two audience members. At this point Mr. Oláh turned towards his audience and to a loud gasp stated that he refuses to answer questions in a room that is filled with hatred. The moderator of the session quickly changed the topic and the Q and A came to a halt shortly thereafter.

After November 12, Ambassador Ódor’s IHRA road-show went on to Ottawa, then Toronto. Next week there will be some new stops with new politicians from Hungary and new speakers to vouch for the affinity of the Orbán regime towards the victims of the Holocaust. I encourage more and more passengers to speak up and ask the questions that need to be asked: Where is this train taking us? Why is Dr Ódor’s government unable to practice in Hungary what it preaches in Canada?

Humankind stares into the abyss / The art of weirdness (2012)


What’s the motivating force behind the Hungarian government’s affinity fraud in Canada? Orbán is in a desperate struggle to restore his tarnished international reputation. His government needs massive infusion of foreign capital to sustain itself. Canada is an important battle station in this struggle. Fully 90% of Hungary’s national development budget is externally funded, primarily by EU taxpayers. A significant portion of these funds are frozen because of corruption allegations. Hungary is in desperate need of friends and money.

Last year, the Orbán government mounted a massive propaganda campaign to convince Canadian Conservatives, that it is part of the family. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s embrace was a coveted prize, was seen as the key to winning the support of key Republicans in the American Congress. Millions of dollars are being spent on this lobby effort by Hungary on both sides of the 49th parallel. Toronto’s Bay Street, and the most influential Canadian-Hungarian businessmen on that street are hotly pursued for their endorsement. The strategy seemed to be working. Will it hold up under the newly elected government of Justin Trudeau? Will he be ready to call a spade a spade?

The most recent Transparency International Report shows that Orbán runs the least transparent regime in all of Europe, the European Parliament, the EU’s Venice Commission the Organization for Security and Cooperation have issued numerous declarations about Orbán’s rule of law violations. Earlier this year, the European Parliament passed a stinging resolution by a substantial majority, calling upon the EU’s highest decision-making body, the European Commission to take a tougher stand and to consider withholding financing outright. Such blue ribbon anti-communist crusaders as the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, or Polish Solidarność leader, Adam Michnik, have gone public with their criticism as well. Will Justin Trudeau’s Liberals follow the path of Harper’s Conservatives and swallow the affinity-fraud?

While many of the Atlantic-community’s leaders have raised their voices against Orbán’s autocratic behavior, the Harper government has remained silent. Will Trudeau’s Liberals remain silent as well? According to Ottawa insiders, the Hungarian PM, with the support of his friends on Bay Street, is busy angling for an invitation from the Canadian government, using the help of prominent Jewish community leaders, to bring this about. Will Justin Trudeau clamber aboard Ambassador Ódor’s train, or will he join the growing number of passengers who are wondering what type of ride they are being taken on?

* **

András B. Göllner

A dual Canadian-Hungarian citizen, András B. Göllner is one of the Founders, and International Spokesperson, of the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter. With a Ph.D in political economy from the London School of Economics and higher degrees in International Relations from Carleton University and Université de Montreal, András B. Göllner is a respected international scholar on Democratic Governance, Political Communications and on a broad range of business and society issues. He is an Emeritus Associate Professor at Montreal’s Concordia University and the author of a number of well-known books and articles on business, politics and international affairs including Social Change and Corporate Strategy. Stamford:IAP, 1983; Public Affairs in Canada. Montreal: IRPP. 1984; and Canada Under Mulroney (ed. with D. Salee), Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1988. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the collapse of communism in Hungary, Dr Göllner played an important role in the broadening of democratic processes in the country of his origin. He coordinated Hungary’s first communications strategy for EU accession, and worked as a strategic communications advisor for various democratically elected governments over the past twenty years in Hungary. He lives in Montreal.

Bálint Hóman is rehabilitated

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A week in Hungary: worrisome developments

There is no silly season or “uborka szezon” in Hungary this year. In fact, I could easily write three or four times a day about not at all silly stories. Today I decided to catch up and offer a smorgasbord of “illiberal” news.

Let’s start with Zoltán Balog’s unfortunate statement about the Gypsy Holocaust on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the murder of thousands of Gypsies in Auschwitz. Balog, minister of human resources and a very close associate and spiritual adviser of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has an uncanny knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

On Sunday morning Balog was interviewed on the state radio’s program Vasárnapi Újság. This program, even during the socialist-liberal government, was known for its far-right tendencies, but it was a favorite of Viktor Orbán who often appeared there. Balog was asked to say a few words appropriate for the occasion. Instead of paying tribute to the Roma victims of the Holocaust, he began ruminating about the proper historical interpretation of the deportation of the Hungarian Gypsies while showing a total ignorance of the details. He said that there are a lot of uncertainties–for example, the  number of victims–and offered up the nonsensical excuse that “no Hungarian Gypsies were ever deported from Hungary. Only from Austria.” He also had some advice for the Roma. They shouldn’t dwell too much on tragic events because Gypsy culture is already prone to portray its members as victims, as people who are at the bottom of society. And such an attitude hurts their chances of success.

The reaction in opposition circles was uniformly negative to this latest Balog faux pas. A lot of people interpreted Balog’s words as Holocaust denial or at least a diminishing of its importance. Historians expressed their astonishment that the minister in charge of Hungary’s Roma strategy knows so little about the details of the events of 1944 and the fate of about 5,000 Hungarian Roma who perished and the tens of thousands who were deported.

As usual came the standard excuse: his adversaries misinterpreted his words, although this time he added that he could have expressed himself more clearly. Instead of admitting his mistake, however, he launched into an attack against his political opponents. It is not he “who has to explain himself but the Left under whose governance Gypsies were murdered in Hungary.” As if the Gyurcsány-Bajnai governments were responsible for the serial murders of several Gypsies.

Now let’s move on to another story that broke a few days ago. Some eagle-eyed journalist found an interesting picture on the front page of the publication of the Hungarian Medical Association. It was taken in the enormous study of Viktor Orbán in the parliamentary building when the president and the vice president of the association paid a visit to the prime minister. In the background a poster depicting the crown and the Hungarian colors reads: Győzelem (Victory).

A few telephone calls to historians revealed that the poster was designed by Sándor Légrády (1906-1987), who made quite a name for himself as a designer of Hungarian stamps. The poster Viktor Orbán so proudly displays in his office was done in 1940-41 to commemorate the Hungarian army’s entry into the territories Hungary received in the Second Vienna Award (August 30, 1940). I might add that Légrády was a politically committed person who in 1941 became an undersecretary in the prime minister’s office ( Bárdossy government, April 1940-March 1942) and who was later transferred to the ministry of defense. Because of his posters extolling the war he was briefly detained in 1945 but was acquitted two years later.

Viktor Orbán's study with the controversial poster in the background

Viktor Orbán’s study with the controversial poster in the background

What is such a poster doing in the Hungarian prime minister’s office? The official account is that he received the poster as a gift after the 2014 parliamentary election. A Fidesz politician explained the significance of the poster. Viktor Orbán began his infamous speech in Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad by thanking the Transylvanian Hungarians for their support. Their votes gave Fidesz that one extra seat in parliament that ensured the continuation of the two-thirds parliamentary majority that allows Viktor Orbán to continue his rule unchecked. About 100,000 people who may never have set foot in the country decided the fate of Hungary for four years if not for longer.

This explanation is believable, but one must question the decision to display such an irredentist poster in the prime minister’s office. The year 1941 marked Hungary’s entrance into World War II. It was the year Germany attacked the Soviet Union. It was the year the United States entered the war. It is an affront to Romania, to Russia, and indirectly to all the countries who fought Nazi Germany and her allies–including, of course, Hungary. Just like his spiritual adviser, Orbán has no sense. A few years ago he proudly displayed a Greater Hungary decal on his car!

I would also like to mention that since leading American newspapers raised their voices in critical editorials against Viktor Orbán’s designs to transform Hungary into an illiberal state, the whole right-wing media has begun an anti-American campaign. At least three leading Fidesz opinion makers spoke out–István Tamás (Nemzeti.net, July 30), Tamás Fricz (Magyar Nemzet, August 4), and Zsolt Bayer (Magyar Hírlap, August 6). Soon I will devote a full post to the Orbán government’s anti-American propaganda campaign.

Here is another timely topic: the fate of some Roma families in Miskolc. On June 25 I wrote about the local Fidesz leadership’s plans to evict Roma families from their homes in order to make space for a new football stadium. The city was ready to pay 2 million forints to each family if they moved out of Miskolc altogether. Well, the evictions have begun. A young couple with a small child were the first victims. Then came an older woman who is disabled. Roma activists are trying to prevent the forceful removal of hundreds of families, but I doubt that they will be successful.

And finally, the situation of the NGOs. Viktor Orbán declared war on them in his speech and he was not kidding. Only yesterday papers reported that, although the Hungarian government made some concessions concerning the distribution of funds, the Norwegian authorities refuse to release the funds until the investigation of these NGOs stops. Viktor Orbán is not backing down. A criminal investigation of Ökotárs Alapítvány, the firm that distributes the Norwegian funds to NGOs, has begun. The charge is embezzlement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randolph L. Braham: The Reinterment and Political Rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy

It was twenty years ago, on September 3, 1993, that Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary between 1920 and 1944, was reburied in Kenderes, the Horthy family’s ancestral home. The reinterment was controversial, mostly because half of the cabinet of Prime Minister József Antall attended the ceremony as “private persons.” 

Since then there have been sporadic efforts to rewrite the history of the Horthy era. In the last three years the Hungarian government has upped the ante, quietly but steadily encouraging a full rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy despite official denials of any such attempt. About a year ago in Washington Foreign Minister János Martonyi categorically denied any attempt at a rehabilitation of either Horthy or his regime. But the rehabilitation continues. For example, the twentieth anniversary of the reburial was remembered in Kenderes a couple of weeks ago. On that occasion Sándor Lezsák, deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, gave a laudatory speech about the former governor. According to him, “The [1993] reburial was a historical atonement, but we cannot be satisfied with that. Even after twenty years, the results of the hypnotizing effects of the poisonous lies of the socialist-communist four decades are still with us.” In his speech Lezsák accused “the historical criminals” who are back and who tried to remove important documents from the archives in an attempt to falsify history. He suggested setting up a research institute for the study of Miklós Horthy and his family. The institute would be a central depository of all documents relating to the Horthys.

Below is a short article by Randolph L. Braham, the renowned historian of the Hungarian Holocaust, entitled “The Reinterment and Political Rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy.” It appeared in Slavic Almanach, vol. 2, edited by Henrietta Mondry and Paul Schweiger (Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand, 1993), pp. 137-40. Professor Braham predicted twenty years ago that the full rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy would occur not too far in the future. I thank Professor Braham for allowing Hungarian Spectrum to republish this article.

* * *

The remains of Miklós Horthy, the former Regent of Hungary (1920-1944), were brought back from Portugal and reinterred in his hometown of Kenderes on 4 September 1993, together with those of his wife and youngest son.* Hungarian nationalists all over the world will undoubtedly hail the former head of state as a patriot who successfully championed the twin causes of anti-communism and revisionism. They will recall that during his rule, the country evolved along a nationalist-Christian line and made great strides towards the reestablishment of Greater Hungary by reacquiring some of the territories that were lost under the peace treaties of Trianon (1920). But was he really a patriot?

Horthy and HitlerHorthy was a representative of the conservative-aristocratic elite that perpetuated an anachronistic semi-feudal class system. His domestic policies aimed at preserving the privileges of the landowning aristocracy and stifling the aspirations of the peasantry. In foreign affairs, his primary objective was to bring about “the revision of the punitive peace treaties”–a policy that led to Hungary’s adherence to the Axis and the establishment of an authoritarian proto-fascist regime. Horthy’ s Hungary embraced Hitler’s revisionist ambitions and was the first among the Nazi satellite states to sign the Tripartite Pact (20 November 1941). Having joined the Axis aggression first against Yugoslavia (11 April 1941),and then against the Soviet Union (27 June 1941), Hungary soon found itself at war with the Western democracies as well. After the crushing defeat of the Hungarian and German armies at Voronezh and Stalingrad early in 1943, the Horthy regime aimed to bring about the gradual extrication of Hungary from the Axis Alliance. But the pursuit of unattainable goals–the retention of the reacquired territories, the avoidance of a Soviet occupation, and the possible preservation of the “traditional system”–led to disaster: Hungary was first occupied by the Germans (19 March 1944) and then by the Red Army. Horthy himself was ousted on 15-16 October, in a coup engineered by the Hungarian Nazi radicals acting in conjunction with the Germans. Under the new “Hungarist” regime, Hungary became the only Nazi satellite to fight to the very end and, consequently, once again emerged as a major loser after World War II.

Disastrous as Horthy’ s domestic and foreign policies may have been for the country at large, they proved catastrophic for Hungarian Jewry. They contributed to, if not actually determined, the virtual destruction of the loyal and highly patriotic Jewish community that contributed disproportionately to the modernization of the country. It was during Horthy’ s tenure that the once flourishing Jewish community was subjected to increasingly severe discriminatory measures that led to its decline and eventual destruction. Like the other members of the aristocratic-conservative elite, Horthy was a “civilized” anti-Semite, who was particularly scornful of the “Eastern,” unassimilated Jews. Shortly after he was named commander-in-chief of the counter-revolutionary national forces in 1919, several units of the army engaged in pogroms that claimed thousands of Jewish lives. Almost immediately after his inauguration as Regent, Hungary adopted the first anti-Jewish law in post-World War I Europe (22 September 1920). This was followed by increasingly harsh laws in the late 1930s. In the summer of 1941, from 16,000 to 18,000 so-called “alien” Jews were deported to near Kamenets-Podolsk, where most of them were slaughtered by the Nazis. Early in 1942, close to one thousand Jews were murdered in the Bácska area by Hungarian gendarmerie and military units. Tens of thousands of Jews later died while serving in forced labour companies.

While it is true that in contrast to those in Nazi-ruled Europe, the Jews of Hungary were relatively well off, the ever harsher anti-Jewish measures of the late 1930s prepared the ground for the acceptance and successful implementation of the Final Solution programme after the German occupation. During his Schloss Klessheim meeting with Hitler on 18-19 March 1944, Horthy gave his consent to the delivery of several hundred thousand “Jewish workers” to Germany. The German and Hungarian experts on the Final Solution took full advantage of this agreement to carry out their ideologically defined racial objectives. After the inauguration of the Horthy-appointed government of Döme Sztójay, the Jewish community of Hungary was subjected to the most ruthless and concentrated destruction process of the war. With the instruments of state power at their disposal, the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices succeeded in “solving” the Jewish question at lightning speed. The isolation, expropriation, ghettoization, concentration and deportation of the Jews–anti-Jewish measures that took years to carry out in Poland–were implemented in less than four months. On 7 July, Horthy halted the deportations (they in fact continued until 9 July), but by then all of Hungary, with the notable exception of Budapest, was already Judenrein. The Holocaust in Hungary claimed close to 600,000 victims.

Horthy’ s admirers will, no doubt, remember primarily his halting of the deportation in connection with the Hungarian Holocaust. But even at that late hour, Horthy apparently did not act on his own initiative. He was subjected to great political and moral pressure by Pope Pius XII, King Gustav of Sweden, and other Western leaders who were informed of the grisly details of the Holocaust in Hungary. Influential as these pressures may have been, perhaps the determining factor that induced Horthy to act was the rapidly deteriorating military situation. The Red Army was fast approaching Hungary, and the Western Allies were already fanning out in France after their successful landing in Normandy. While the Jews of Budapest may have been saved by Horthy–a credit also claimed by the Raoul Wallenberg myth-makers and even by the German and Hungarian Nazis–the Jews of the Hungarian countryside, including those of the territories acquired from Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, were liquidated during Horthy’ s tenure. And this took place on the eve of Allied victory, when the secrets of Auschwitz were already widely known.

Hungary’s disasters notwithstanding, contemporary chauvinists will continue to remember-and admire Horthy’ s blend of conservative anti-communism and militant nationalism. The reinterment of his remains is likely to emerge as the first step towards his full rehabilitation as a “patriot” who tried to advance Hungary’s best interests as he perceived them to be. In a series of interviews, Prime Minister József Antall identified Horthy as a “Hungarian patriot” who should be placed into the community of the nation and the awareness of the people.” The national mint issued a commemorative medal with Horthy’ s likeness. The reburial ceremony was attended by tens of thousands of Hungarians, many of whom were presumably longing for the return to the “good old days” of the Horthy era. Among those attending as “private citizens” were four leading members of the government, including the Minister of Justice, István Balsai, and the Minister of the Interior, Péter Boross.

Judging by the events surrounding the reinterment of Horthy’s remains, rehabilitation will probably be all but complete in the not-too-distant future. It is the task of objective historians concerned for Hungary’s soul and democratic future to keep the record straight.


*Miklós Horthy died in Estoril on 9 February 1957, at age 88. His son, Miklós Jr., died on 28 March 1993, at age 86. They were buried together with Mrs. Horthy, who died in 1959, in the English Cemetery in Lisbon.

The testimony of Paul A. Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Paul A. Shapiro

Director, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

“The Trajectory of Democracy:  Why Hungary Matters”

March 19, 2013

Washington, DC


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Commission:

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe continues to focus the world’s attention on manifestations of anti-Semitism, anti-Romani prejudice, and other threats to democracy as they appear in Europe and elsewhere.  On behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I would like to thank you for organizing this important hearing regarding democracy and memory in Hungary.

Over a hundred years ago, the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, 1905).  In mid-1944, the Jewish community of Hungary—the last major Jewish community in Europe that was still largely intact—was assaulted and nearly destroyed in its entirety over the course of a few months in mid- and late-1944.  Today, the memory of that tragedy is under serious challenge in Hungary, with consequences that we cannot yet fully predict, but which are ominous.

The Holocaust in Hungary

Before addressing what appears to be a coordinated assault on memory of the Holocaust, or at least a concerted attempt to rewrite Holocaust history, permit me to briefly review the history.  According to Professor Randolph Braham’s authoritative 2-volume The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, the Jewish population of Hungary at the start of World War II totaled just over 825,000 souls.  Many of these Jews lived in territories that Hungary had recently occupied or re-acquired from neighboring countries as Hungary’s Regent and Head of State, Admiral Miklós Horthy, participated as an ally of Adolf Hitler in the destabilization of Europe and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia (in 1938 and 1939), then Romania (in 1940), then Yugoslavia (in 1941).  Hungary withdrew from the League of Nations and joined Nazi Germany in its military invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.  Unlike Italy, which withdrew from its German alliance in 1943, and unlike Romania, which did the same in 1944, Hungary remained allied with Nazi Germany to the end, until the country was overrun by Soviet military forces advancing on Germany from the east.  As a result of these government policies, the Hungarian military suffered some 300,000 casualties during the war.

Of the country’s 825,000 Jews, nearly 75 percent were murdered.  Antisemitism in Hungary did not arrive from abroad.  Miklós Horthy’s Hungary was the first European country after World War I to put in place numerus clausus legislation, which restricted Jewish participation in higher education (1920).  Racial laws similar to those of Nazi Germany, which defined Jews based on religion and “race,” and deprived them of the right to practice their professions, to own land, and which forbade intermarriage, were passed in 1938 and 1939.  With war came the systematic theft of Jewish property and mass murder.   In 1941, 20,000 “foreign Jews,” who were residents of Hungary but not Hungarian citizens, were deported across the border by Admiral Horthy’s government to Kamenetz-Podolsky in Ukraine, where they were executed by waiting German forces.  Hungarian troops executed another 1,000-plus Jews during their invasion of northeast Yugoslavia that same year.  Over 40,000 of the Jewish men conscripted into Jewish forced labor battalions and taken to the eastern front, armed only with shovels to dig defenses for the Hungarian military, died there of exposure, killed in battle areas, or massively executed by the Hungarians as they retreated following their defeat at the battle of Stalingrad in early 1943.  Then, between April and July 1944, over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were driven from their homes, concentrated in ghettos, and deported to Auschwitz, where the overwhelming majority of them were gassed on arrival.  It was the Hungarian gendarmerie and police who identified and concentrated the Jews, loaded them onto trains, and delivered them into the hands of German SS units waiting at the German-Hungarian border.  This process continued systematically until only the Jews of Budapest remained alive.

Admiral Horthy, whose governments had done all of this, hesitated to use the same tactics against the Jews in Budapest that he had sanctioned in the rest of the country.  After Horthy was ousted following the invasion of Hungary by German forces in mid-October, in the wake of a last-minute attempt to extricate Hungary from its alliance with Hitler (Soviet troops were already advancing across the country’s borders), the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilas) government that took over had no such hesitation.  The weeks that followed saw a combination of forced ghettoization in Budapest; death marches involving men, women and children, whose slightest misstep was rewarded with a bullwhip or a bullet; and renewed deportations to Auschwitz.  Nyilas gangs engaged in wild shooting orgies in Budapest.  They massacred the patients, doctors and nurses at the Maros Street Jewish Hospital, to give just one example, and considered it sport to shoot Jews seized at random into the Danube from the riverbank.  Three months of Nyilas government cost the lives of an additional 85,000 Hungarian Jews.

Hungarian collaboration and complicity in the Holocaust was thus substantial, as were the losses suffered by this once-large and great Jewish community.  Statistics can speak volumes.  Nearly one in ten of the approximately six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust was a Hungarian Jew.  One of every three Jews murdered at Auschwitz was a Hungarian Jew.  And while every country in which the Holocaust took place would like to place ultimate responsibility on someone else, we must be clear.  These Jewish men, women, and children—from grandparents to grandchildren and great-grandchildren—were murdered either directly by, or as a result of collaboration by, Hungarian government authorities, from the Regent, Miklós Horthy, and the “Leader of the Nation” (Nemzetvezető) Ferenc Szálasi  who succeeded him, at the highest level, to the civil authorities, gendarmerie, and police, as well as military forces and Arrow Cross thugs, who represented the government from the capital to the smallest Hungarian village and town where Jews lived.  Some 28,000 Romani citizens of Hungary were also deported and fell victim to this horrific carnage.

The Early Post-Communist Period

How has the history of the Holocaust been treated in Hungary since the fall of communism?  A decade ago, I would have said quite decently.  During Viktor Orbán’s first term as Prime Minister (1998-2002), the coalition government that he led established a national Holocaust Commemoration Day and brought Hungary into the International Task Force for Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (since renamed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance or IHRA).  The government also appointed a commission to create a Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center (HDKE) in Budapest.  In 2004 I attended the dedication at the HDKE of what was rightly recognized one of the best exhibitions on the Holocaust in continental Europe.

The Socialist Party governments from 2002 to 2010 remained on this positive path.

But during these years, the situation in Hungary began to change dramatically.  In late 2008, at a European regional conference on anti-Semitism held in Bucharest, Romania, I expressed concern about the public display in Hungary of symbols associated with the wartime fascist Arrow Cross Party, increasing incidents of anti-Semitic intimidation and violence, and anti-Romani discourse that was increasingly Nazi-like in tone.  A party of the extreme right called Jobbik (abbreviation for “Movement for a Better Hungary”) made its appearance in 2003.  Its leader also created a so-called Magyar Gárda, or “Hungarian Guard” force, formations of which paraded through Budapest and towns elsewhere in the country, dressed in uniforms reminiscent of Arrow Cross uniforms, brandishing fascist symbols and slogans and intimidating the remnant of the country’s Jewish community that had survived the Holocaust and remained in Hungary.  An especially noteworthy indication of change was the failure of the then out-of-power, but still powerful Fidesz party to join with other major political parties in forceful condemnation of Jobbik’s anti-Semitic and anti-Romani sloganeering and Magyar Gárda intimidation of Jews and violence against Roma.

Recent Developments

In the 2010 elections, Fidesz received 52 percent of the vote and returned to government with an empowering two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament.  Jobbik, however, which was already being described in European political and media circles as “fascist,” “neo-fascist,” neo-Nazi,” “racist,” ‘anti-Semitic,” “anti-Roma,” and “homophobic,” had obtained nearly 17 percent of the vote.  In this circumstance, regrettably, the warning signs apparent in 2008 regarding Fidesz proved to be accurate.  Still led by Prime Minister Orban, he and his party changed their approach to issues of the Holocaust.  In the judgment of some people, this was the result of a desire to appeal to Jobbik voters and thus secure better prospects for future electoral victory than the just experienced 52 percent performance.  Others were less inclined to see the change as mere political maneuver, and more inclined to see it as reflecting the internal prejudices and beliefs of Fidesz itself.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum praised publicly some actions of the first Fidesz government.  But attempts over the past three years to trivialize or distort the history of the Holocaust, actions that have given rein to open manifestations of anti-Semitism in the country, and efforts to rehabilitate political and cultural figures that played a part in Hungary’s tragic Holocaust history, now require us to be publicly critical.  In June of last year, the Museum issued a press release expressing grave concern about the rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and political leaders from World War II that is taking place in Hungary and called on the government of Hungary to “unequivocally renounce all forms of antisemitism and racism and to reject every effort to honor individuals responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews.”  Our Founding Chairman, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, repudiated a high decoration that had been conferred on him by Hungary, to protest these same trends.

What are the causes of our concern?  They begin with the broad political trends that the Commission is examining today.  For anyone who is familiar with the history of Nazi Germany and the other fascist and authoritarian regimes that appeared in Europe in the middle of the 20th century—and especially for Holocaust survivors who experienced the full fury of those times and those regimes—what is happening in Hungary today will sound eerily familiar and ominous.

The Hungarian government has enacted laws to place restrictions on the media.  Just recall the Nazis’ manipulation of the media if you need a reminder of the danger to democracy that this represents and where it can lead.  Think of all you know about Joseph Goebbels and the images that you can conjure up of Nazi propaganda.  Control the media, and this is where you can end up.

The Hungarian government has taken steps to politicize and undermine the independence of the judiciary, and now through amendment of the constitution, to undermine the ability of the judiciary to review government-generated laws and decrees.  Recall, please, the undermining of the practice and administration of law, the racist Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and the subversion of the judiciary in Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Nazi-dominated Europe.  Ultimately, lawlessness on the part of the government and mass murder were the results.

Hungary’s law on religion has stripped many religious groups of their officially recognized status as “registered” religions, in effect depriving them of equal rights and making the legitimacy of religious faith an object of political whim.  For Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Polish Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Old Believers and others, the echo of the Holocaust era could not be more powerful.  Delegitimizing one’s faith delegitimizes the person.

Racial violence, including outright murder, against the Romani minority in Hungary, while not perpetrated by the government, has not been effectively addressed by the government either.  When Szolt Bayer, a founding member of Fidesz, whose brutal anti-Semitic rhetoric has long been recognized and commented upon in European and Israeli media, wrote an editorial in the newspaper Magyar Hirlap (Jan. 5, 2013) in which he called “Gypsies” “cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals,” that are “unfit to live among people,” are “animals and behave like animals,” and incited action by calling for dealing with them “immediately, and by any means necessary,” it was not possible to miss the echo of the despicable propaganda campaigns of dehumanization that preceded the mass murder of the Jews of Europe, Hungarian Jews included.  Hungary’s Justice Minister made a statement critical of Bayer, but no legal action by the government followed.  Here was what we Americans would call a classic “wink and a nod” approach by the government.  Nor was the author of this vile incitement to violence expelled from Fidesz.  The party’s spokesperson also finessed the issue in a manner that has become all too common:  Szolt Bayer wrote the article as a journalist, not as a Fidesz party member, was the line taken.  The Prime Minister and leader of Fidesz remained silent, giving a clear sign that the views that had been expressed by Bayer were not unacceptable.  If there is one thing that the Holocaust teaches above all others, it is that silence empowers the perpetrator, empowers the hater; and when it is the head of government that is silent, silence messages assent and license to proceed.

This pattern has unfortunately become the norm, perhaps giving answer to the question of whether it is maneuver or conviction that is determining the actions of the Hungarian government and Fidesz vis-a-vis the Holocaust.

Assault on Memory of the Holocaust

Is the history of the Holocaust secure in Hungary today?  Thus far, the government’s actions raise serious doubt.

The Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center (HDKE): Shortly after Fidesz returned to power, the government appointed new leadership at the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center.  Then, a series of proposals to change the permanent exhibition at the Center were made by Dr. András Levente Gál, the new Fidesz-appointed Hungarian State Secretary in the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, which had governmental oversight of the Center.  Gal’s first proposal was to eliminate mention of Miklós Horthy’s alliance with Adolf Hitler and participation in the dismemberment of three neighboring states—Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia—as “irrelevant” to the Holocaust.  Yet, violation of the post-World War I national boundaries brought war in Europe, and war provided opportunity and cover for the mass murder of the Jews.  Moreover, it was precisely the Jews of the regions that Hitler restored to Hungary who were the first targets of the Hungarian gendarmerie and police as they drove to create a country “cleansed of Jews.”  Gal’s second proposal was to sanitize the record of Hungarian participation in the ghettoization and deportation of the country’s Jews and placed full blame for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry on Germany.  Word of the proposed changes leaked out, and there was strong international reaction.  Thus far the exhibition remains intact.  But much of the staff of the HDKE was fired, and budget allocations to the Center as late as last December left the staff that remained fearful that they, too, would be released.  Meanwhile, visitation to the Center has declined, and the lack of mandated Holocaust education in the school system has left the institution severely underutilized.

Eventually, András Levente Gál left his position, and government officials noted that he was gone if the issue of changing the permanent exhibition at the HDKE was raised.  But Gál remains an insider, and at no point did the government, or Fidesz party spokespeople, or the Prime Minister publicly criticize or issue a rebuke of Mr. Gal’s attempt to distort and sanitize Holocaust history.  This left the impression publicly that what Mr. Gal had tried to do was fine in the eyes of the government and Fidesz, probably even inspired from above.  Gal simply had not succeeded in getting the job done.

The Nyirő Affair:  A similar situation developed in the aftermath of the so-called Nyirő affair.  Last spring, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) László Kövér, who is a founding member of Fidesz, together with Hungarian State Secretary for Culture Géza Szőcs, and Gábor Vona, the leader of  Jobbik, united to honor posthumously József Nyirő (1889-1953), a Transylvanian-born writer and fascist ideologue, and member of Hungary’s wartime parliament from 1941 to 1945.  Nyirő served as Vice-chair of the Education Commission in the Arrow Cross regime of Ferenc Szálasi.  He was a member of the pro-Nazi National Association of Legislators, and was one of a group of legislators in the so-called “Arrow Cross Parliament” that left Budapest and fled the country together with Szálasi in the final days of the war.  Nyirő had been a popular writer of short stories and novels in the 1930s and 1940s, but he also characterized Joseph Goebbels as someone who “exudes intellect and genius.”  In parliament, Nyirő labeled the “discredited liberal Jewish heritage” the enemy of Hungary and, dispensing race hatred in all directions, called Hungarian marriages with non—ethnic-Hungarians “mutt marriages” and “mule marriages.”  Nyirő was editor-in-chief of the newspaper Magyar Erő (“Hungarian Power”), whose editorials proclaimed that “Getting rid of the Jews is not a mere sign of the times, nor the agenda of a political party, but a unified and pressing demand of all nations that have recognized the Jewish threat and come to the conclusion that life without Jews is much better, much happier” (Magyar Erő, Nov.6, 1942).

Nyiro passed away in Franco’s Spain.  The plan developed by Kövér, Szőcs and Vona was to rebury Nyirő’s ashes in Transylvania, while attempting to whip up nationalistic sentiment among the ethnic Hungarian minority there through an elaborate official funerary procession that would wend its way by train from the Hungarian border to Nyiro’s birthplace, Odorheiu Secuiesc (Székelyudvarhely), some 200 miles inside Romania and close to the easternmost demarcation line of the Romanian territory awarded to Hungary by Nazi Germany in 1940.  In the end, the Romanian government protested, there was no train, but the Hungarian officials I have mentioned still participated in an “unofficial” burial ceremony, following which Kövér, accompanied by Zsolt Bayer, stayed on in Romania for the purpose of visiting with the ethnic Hungarian (and Szekler) communities in Transylvania.  Diplomatically, the incident was not quite the equivalent of Admiral Horthy astride his white horse leading the Hungarian army into the regions of Transylvania given him by Adolf Hitler, as happened in 1940.  But symbolically, this was the intent.

How did the Fidesz government deal with this incident?  Speaker Kövér personally was unrepentant.  He labeled the Romanian Government’s action to prevent the reburial plan “uncivilized,” “paranoid,” and “hysterical,” and he called on the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania to “press the books of Nyirő into the hands of their children” so that “a new generation of Nyirős” would be raised there.  He responded to criticism by Elie Wiesel by claiming that he was honoring Nyirő the writer, not Nyirő the politician.  Moreover, wrote Kover, Nyiro was neither a war criminal, nor a fascist, nor anti-Semitic, for if he had been, how could one explain the fact that the Allies did not put him on trial after the war or extradite him to Hungary in response to requests by the by-then Communist government of the country?  Pushing back by laying blame on others in this manner has become a frequent tool in the Hungarian government’s responses to criticism of its actions.  The Prime Minister, for example, responded to a letter from a Member of the US House of Representatives (Hon. Joseph Crowley, 14th Dist., NY) by laying blame for the rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary on a US-based web site (kuruc.info), the implication being that the Hungarian government could do nothing until the United States dealt with its First Amendment “problem.”  Meanwhile, László Kövér has remained Speaker of the Hungarian parliament, and recently proclaimed his eternal solidarity with Zsolt Bayer (see above) at Bayer’s 50th birthday celebration.

As in the case of Andráa Levente Gál, neither Fidesz nor the Hungarian government, nor the Prime Minister himself, took any action to criticize publicly or disassociate themselves from what Kövér and Szőcs had attempted.  Quite the contrary.  The detailed “Communications Guidelines to Counter Accusations of Antisemitism” that was sent to Hungarian diplomats abroad following the Nyirő affair instructed the government’s representatives to stress that Speaker Kövér participated in the memorial ceremony for Nyirő “in his private capacity,” not as Speaker of the National Assembly, and that Nyirő’s record should be appraised based on his literary merits, not his political activity.  In other words, the government was comfortable seeking to gloss over Nyirő’s involvement in a regime that perpetrated the Holocaust.  The government’s talking points failed to mention that the Hungarian Parliament had spent 6 million forints (over $25,000) on preparations for the reburial, or that Speaker Kövér’s web site had announced his planned trip to Romania as an official visit.  As for Szőcs, after some delay he left office.  His departure is noted by government representatives when inquiries are made, but there has been no government statement linking his departure to the Nyirő affair or indicating that he was fired.

Anti-Semites in the National Curriculum:  Nyirő’s name and legacy became issues again in connection with a review and proposed revision of Hungary’s national public school curriculum that was initiated by the Fidesz government and is being carried out by the Ministry of National Resources.  The government has proposed to include among the interwar authors whose works it is recommended teachers present to their students Jozsef Nyirő (novels), Albert Wass (children’s tales), and Dezső Szabó, among others.  The guidelines in the National Curriculum provide no assistance to help teachers provide contextual information about these writers—including information about their political activities that might help teachers decide whether and how to teach about them.  I have already discussed Nyiro.  Let me introduce Dezső Szabó and Albert Wass, without attempting to evaluate the literary merits of their prose.  Dezső Szabó wrote, “Jews are the most serious and the most deadly enemy of Hungarians.  The Jewish question is a life and death question for Hungarians—a question that is linked to every aspect of Hungarian life and the Hungarian future” (“Antiszemitizmus,” Virradat [Dawn], Jan. 21, 1921); and two months later, after designating Judaism “a tribal superstition exalted as a religion,” concluded “In the interest of human progress, the barbarian, murderous memories of dark, primeval centuries [that is, the Jews—PAS] must be exterminated” (“1848 marcius 15,” Virradat, Mar. 16, 1921).  Albert Wass, like Nyirő born in Transylvania, was convicted by the Romanian government of war crimes during his service in the Hungarian army, including complicity in the documented murder of two Jews and two Romanians in Hungarian-administered Transylvania during World War II.  This did not prevent the incoming President of Hungary, Fidesz Deputy President Pál Schmitt from quoting Wass in his inaugural address in 2011.

In addition to the inclusion of problematic figures such as these, each of whom either fostered anti-Semitism or participated politically or militarily in regime-sponsored murder, the draft National Curriculum also stresses the country’s territorial losses after World War I as Hungary’s singular national tragedy, while suggesting equivalency with lesser significance between the Holocaust and Hungarian military losses on the Don River (Stalingrad) during World War II.  Equating the loss of military forces to an enemy in battle with the systematic, racially inspired murder of civilian men, women and children who are citizens of one’s own country, solely because they are of different religion or ethnicity, of course makes no sense, unless motivated by prejudice and intended to reinforce prejudice.

Finally, while some information relating to Jewish history and the contributions of Jews to Hungarian intellectual, cultural, and economic life were included in the new National Curriculum approved at the end of 2012, the information fell short of the subject matter suggested by a consortium of Hungarian Jewish organizations.  In a classic case of the government seeking to have it both ways, directing students’ attention to the likes of Nyirő, Szabó and Wass will likely undercut any positive effect of the new material reflecting positively on Jews, unless the latter is considerably expanded.  Hungarian Jewish organizations have petitioned the government to remove these “anti-Semites” from the curriculum, but thus far the reply has been negative;  indeed, it has been a more rigorous coordinated defense of the three “writers.”

The tactic of seeking to divert attention elsewhere to deflect criticism has been mobilized on the curriculum issue.  Government spokespeople have responded to criticism from the United States, for example, by pointing out that Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and Ezra Pound are included in American high school curricula, despite their demonstrable anti-Semitism. At this point, downplaying the significance of anti-Semitism as a factor to be considered, undermining understanding of the contributions of Hungarian Jewry to Hungarian national life, while trivializing and relativizing the significance of the Holocaust have been codified as elements of the Hungarian educational system that the Fidesz government has designed.

Rehabilitation of Holocaust Perpetrators:  Hand in hand with attempts to whitewash Hungarian collaboration and complicity during the Holocaust, hand in hand with efforts to justify Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, has gone a growing effort to rehabilitate the murderers.  See Nyilas operative Nyirő as a writer who deserves to be honored as a national icon, not as a fascist.  See Albert Wass as a writer of children’s tales, not as a convicted war criminal.  In this context, it is hardly surprising that we are witnessing the attempted rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy himself.  Several towns have erected statues or placed plaques on buildings in his honor (e.g., in Kereki and Debrecen).  Placing an equestrian statue of the Regent on Budapest’s Castle Hill has also been discussed.  In other localities, streets, parks and public squares now bear his name (e.g., in Gyömrő).

When asked to take action to halt the de facto rehabilitation of Hungary’s anti-Semitic interwar and wartime leader, during whose tenure as Regent a half million Hungarian Jews were killed, the Hungarian government responds evasively.  The government is not seeking to rehabilitate Horthy, goes the standard line, but it is important to realize that Horthy is a “controversial” figure.  Foreign Minister János Martonyi, responding to a joint letter addressed by the American Jewish Committee, B’Nai B’rith, and our Museum to Prime Minister Orbán, adopted precisely this approach, stating, on the one hand, “that the Hungarian Government has no intention to rehabilitate Regent Horthy,” but qualifying the assurance with a reminder that “there is no consensus of opinion about his legacy” (Martonyi letter of July 18, 2012).  Implicit in such a response is that the government’s approach could change if a consensus favorable to Horthy develops.  Meanwhile, the government has taken advantage of the situation, and in the process added its weight to a more positive evaluation of Horthy, by playing to nationalist and populist sentiments, seeking to purge Horthy’s record as a Hitler ally, and glorifying the restoration of Hungary’s “lost territories” that Horthy was able to achieve, if only for a few years.  The government has not taken serious steps to research and more rigorously evaluate Horthy’s record.  It has certainly not placed equal emphasis on his record of anti-Semitism and complicity in the murder of the country’s Jews.  Nor has it sought to defuse tensions with Hungary’s neighbors by tempering the country’s fixation on the so-called “lost territories”—territories that today are parts of Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, and Serbia.

Indeed, rather than assuming the responsibility of government to clarify issues of historical and political significance, Fidesz and the Hungarian government have thrown up a smokescreen to further confuse the Horthy issue by allowing—perhaps encouraging—people who speak for or represent Fidesz and the Hungarian Government to suggest that the fact that Horthy was not put on trial by allied authorities after the war is sufficient to indicate that Horthy’s record was clean (Author’s conversation with Tamas Fellegi, December 3, 2012).  This tactic of shifting “responsibility” for the problem abroad, as we saw with the Nyirő case and regarding the kuruc.info web site, has become routine.  But it hardly suffices to cleanse the reputation of Miklós Horthy, who could write with pride to his Prime Minister in 1940, “I have been an anti-Semite my whole life,” and to Adolf Hitler in May 1943, “The measures that I have imposed have, in practice, deprived the Jews of any opportunity to practice their damaging influence on public life in this country” (Miklós Sinai and László Szűcs, Horthy Miklós titkos iratai [Miklós Horthy’s Secret Correspondence], Budapest, 1965, pp. 262 and 392).  Given his lifelong record of anti-Semitism and his complicity in the murder of the Jews of Hungary, the attempt to rehabilitate Miklós Horthy, or to condone his elevation even to the status of someone whose reputation is “controversial,” might reasonably be considered a manifestation of anti-Semitism.

The government has labeled the statues, streets and other Horthy monuments that have appeared around the country local initiatives which the national government has no way to prevent.  The fact that the Fidesz government has an overwhelming parliamentary majority, has promulgated a new national constitution, and has recently passed dramatic new constitutional amendments that limit the power of the Constitutional Court to review the content of legislation, obviates the credibility of such assertions.

 * * *

In short, the history of the Holocaust is under assault in Hungary and the rehabilitation of some of the people responsible for the murder of 600,000 of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust is well under way.  An atmosphere has been created in which it is understood that anti-Semitic and anti-Romani discourse, and even intimidation and violence, will not elicit effective government action to alter the situation.  The government and people perceived to be closely tied to it may, in some cases, issue after-the-fact statements condemning anti-Semitic or anti-Romani discourse and deed.  But they are just as likely not to do so, thus messaging clearly that such expression and activity is, in fact, acceptable.  The participation of Fidesz members and government officials in activities that further inflame the toxic atmosphere is clear.  Such behavior requires swift and public censure, including disavowal and censure by the Prime Minister himself.  But this has not happened.  Government spokespeople assert that the problem is Jobbik, but neither they nor the Prime Minister have thus far forcefully and publicly condemned Jobbik as outside the boundaries of what is acceptable in a democratic society.

Nor have the leaders of Fidesz distanced their party unequivocally from Jobbik.  When a party member or spokesperson makes a stronger statement of condemnation of Jobbik, or takes a clearly critical position vis-à-vis a manifestation of anti-Semitism or trivialization or obfuscation of the Holocaust, the statement is very frequently qualified, almost immediately, as a personal opinion, not a governmental or party opinion.  Thus, when Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz faction in parliament, spoke out against Jobbik at a public demonstration in front of the parliament building on December 2, following an inflammatory speech by Jobbik MP and Vice Chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Márton Gyöngyösi, who proposed that lists of Jews be kept because Jews represented a national security risk, Fidesz representatives pointed out the following day that Rogan had been speaking in his personal capacity, not on behalf of the party.  A similar occurrence took place in Washington on February 27, 2013, when Tamás Fellegi, a confidant of Prime Minister Orbán, testified in these august halls before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, at a hearing on “Antisemitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” Mr. Fellegi took up defense of the Hungarian government by stating that while Jobbik is “an openly anti-Semitic party,” “[t]here is a clear line of demarcation between Jobbik, and the center-right government and all other mainstream parties.”  He delivered a lengthy and forceful defense of the Prime Minister’s party and performance in the first and second Orban administrations.  But when, perhaps to impress his independence of opinion on his listeners, he allowed that the “infamous commentaries of [Fidesz member] Zsolt Bayer” could be “deemed as racist,” and stated opposition to the “rehabilitation of the historic period of Admiral Horthy,” he immediately made it clear that these were only his personal views.

A Way Forward?

The issue that must be addressed, given the record I have described, is how to find a way forward in combating anti-Semitism and ensuring Holocaust remembrance and education in Hungary.  Every criticism, explicit or implicit, in this testimony has been intended to identify a problem that can be solved, not to induce despair or the sense that the problems cannot be solved.  It is important to remember that Hungarian society emerged from communist dictatorship less than 25 years ago.  It is important to remember that Fidesz was, at its origin, a democratic movement in a totalitarian era.  And it is important to recall that it was the current Prime Minister, Mr. Orbán, who during his first administration established Hungary’s national Holocaust Commemoration Day and laid the foundation for establishment of the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in Budapest.  Thus the potential for sensitivity to the dangers inherent in anti-Semitism and distortion or trivialization of the Holocaust exists.

And yet, in today’s Hungary it was possible for a female member of parliament to be shouted down and ridiculed by MPs from both Jobbik and Fidesz, when she questioned the wisdom of rehabilitating Miklós Horthy and members of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian National Assembly, May 29, 2012).  It was possible for Jobbik’s Márton Gyöngyösi to suggest in the parliamentary chamber that Jews were a national security risk, and to experience no formal censure, only belated criticism by the government, followed by refusal of the state prosecutor to pursue legal sanctions that had been requested by the Jewish community (Hungarian National Assembly, November 27, 2012).  It is possible for Magyar Gárda units to continue to assemble and march, to intimidate Jews and Roma, despite a formal legal ban.  It is possible for incremental rehabilitation to be under way for political figures who aligned the country with Adolf Hitler; participated in the disruption of peace in Europe and the murder of 600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Romani; adopted policies that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Hungarian military casualties; and, ultimately, bore responsibility for policies that led to the occupation of the country by Soviet military forces and led to 45 years of communist dictatorship.  It is even possible for the legacy of such people to be labeled “controversial” by Fidesz and Hungarian government spokespeople.

In 2012, three major Holocaust-related monuments in Budapest—the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center, the memorial statue honoring Raoul Wallenberg, and the iconic bronze shoes on the banks of the Danube which memorialize the 10,000 or more Jews shot into the river during the final months of the war—were vandalized. A 2012 survey by the Anti-Defamation League identified Hungary as the European country where anti-Semitic attitudes are most widespread.

Under circumstances such as these, we believe that it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to lead and the government to take remedial action, not to equivocate, excuse, deflect, seek to divert attention elsewhere, or lobby.  The Hungarian government, by virtue of its overwhelming parliamentary majority, is able to act, and for precisely this reason bears responsibility for what is or is not done vis-à-vis manifestations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues.

To be fair, the government has taken some steps of potential significance in the right direction in recent months.  In November, Parliament passed a ban on the naming of public institutions or spaces after individuals who played a role in establishing or sustaining “totalitarian political regimes” in the 20th century.  In December, the Government provided supplemental funding to the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center to permit the Center to keep its doors open and pay its staff through the remainder of the current fiscal year.  A week after the incident and in the wake of a major public demonstration on December 2 to protest Jobbik MP Gyöngyösi’s suggestion that name lists of the country’s Jews be created, Prime Minister Orban finally criticized Gyongyosi’s remarks as “unworthy of Hungary.”  Later in the month, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament was given authority to censure and potentially exclude from the chamber and fine MPs who used hate speech during parliamentary sessions.  The government has also established a Hungarian Holocaust 2014 Memorial Committee, under auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, to plan commemorative events for the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation and murder of Hungarian Jewry.

The actual impact of each of these steps, however, remains to be seen.  It is unclear whether Hungary’s wartime governments, those under the authority of Miklós Horthy as well as the government headed by Ferenc Szálasi, will be considered to fall under the rubric of “totalitarian political regimes.”  The Horthy statues and memorial plaques and spaces remain in place, even though the new law stipulates that existing memorials within the purview of the law were to have been removed by January 1, 2013.  The Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center, while open, remains severely underutilized and unable to pursue much of the educational mission for which it was created.  While he did criticize Gyöngyösi’s speech, albeit belatedly, Prime Minister Orban has yet to clearly draw a line that definitively separates Fidesz from Jobbik.  Nor has he publicly censured or repudiated members of Fidesz, such as Zsolt Bayer, who engage in distasteful and incendiary racist and anti-Semitic discourse.  It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s new authority actually will be put to use to control anti-Semitic and anti-Romani discourse in parliament.  The activities to be undertaken by the 2014 Memorial Committee remain to be defined.  Whether or not they effectively reduce anti-Semitic manifestations in Hungary and clarify for the country’s population issues that today are deemed “controversial,” relating to Hungary’s wartime governments and the Holocaust, will be the only true measures of the significance of the current government’s action.

Moreover, the steps that the Government has taken, even if all implemented and effective, in our view will not suffice to address the full range of issues relating to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust that confront the country.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has engaged in broad-ranging consultations with organizations in the United States with which we regularly work, with members of Prime Minister Orban’s staff, with other members of the Hungarian Government, including Ambassador György Szapáry, who represents his government in Washington, and with NGO leaders, representatives of the Hungarian Jewish community, and representatives of mainstream opposition political parties in Hungary.  Based on these consultations and our own experience, in December we recommended the following to the Prime Minister’s Office:

a)  Establish and appoint a state-sponsored International Commission of Scholars to prepare a definitive report on the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, including the history of anti-Semitism in the country, and to make recommendations to the Government regarding future Holocaust memorialization, education and research activities.  The Museum has provided the Prime Minister’s Office with information regarding the establishment and organization of such commissions in other European countries.  While the placement within the government of responsibility for organizational, administrative, and financial support for such a commission is clearly to be determined by the Hungarian government, following appointment of the Hungarian Holocaust 2014 Memorial Committee, under auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister, we have further suggested that the International Commission of Scholars be established under the same auspices.  The two-year time frame established for the Memorial Committee would coincide very well in practical terms with the time needed for preparation of a thorough report by the International Commission of Scholars.

b)  Enact legislation (or amend existing legislation) to prevent the creation of monuments to, naming of streets or other public sites in memory of, or otherwise honoring individuals (including but not limited to Regent Miklós Horthy) who played significant roles in the Holocaust-era wartime governments of Hungary.  Clarify the inclusion of these governments in the November 2012 law regarding individuals involved in Hungary’s 20th century “totalitarian political regimes.”

c)  Mandate in the Hungarian secondary school curriculum that every student in the country visit the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in an organized class visit during his/her final four years of high school education.  This would require the provision of subsidized transportation for students and teachers for day trips to and from Budapest; enhancement of staff and management at the Center; and the provision of additional space to the Center for student briefings and post-visit discussions (potentially a rented nearby apartment retrofitted as classroom/meeting room space).  The initiative would finally and effectively capitalize on the investment that Hungary has already made in creating the Center.

d)  Ensure that the Speaker of the Parliament consistently applies the recently established authority of the Speaker to censure, suspend, and fine MPs for expressions of racist and anti-Semitic views, or use of other forms of hate speech.  In addition, we recommend that such censure be publicly announced, through official statements by the Office of the Speaker issued to the media.

e)  Institute a policy of censure by the Office of the Prime Minister of ranking members of government ministries who participate, in either public or “private” capacity, in activities that are likely to reinforce racist, anti-Semitic or anti-Romani prejudices or that appear to rehabilitate the reputations of individuals who participated in the wartime governments of Hungary.  Such censure should be publicly announced through official statements issued by the Office of the Prime Minister to the media.

f)  Issue to the media an unequivocal statement by the Prime Minister clearly defining the racist and extremist views expressed by Jobbik as lying outside the boundaries of acceptable discourse in a democratic society and totally unacceptable within the Prime Minister’s own political party, Fidesz.  Members of the Prime Minister’s party who express similar views should be publicly reprimanded.

Our Museum has confirmed to the Hungarian Government that we stand ready to be helpful.  We have offered to host here in Washington one of the plenary meetings of the proposed International Commission of Scholars that would be required to enable members to complete the drafting, debate and discussion of a comprehensive Commission report.  We believe that the actions we have suggested would help to reverse the dangerous downward cycle which appears to define events in Hungary today.  In just a few weeks, Museum Director Bloomfield and I will be participating in the dedication of a new permanent exhibition at the Mauthausen Camp Memorial (KZ-Gedenkstatte Mauthausen) in Austria.  Late in the war, thousands of Hungarian Jews who had been selected for labor in Auschwitz were “transferred” to Mauthausen.  Many perished during death marches that stretched between the two camps.  Most of those who reached Mauthausen perished there.  In the shadow of that history, Director Bloomfield and I have offered to travel to Budapest following the Mauthausen dedication ceremony to meet with Prime Minister Orban and those to whom he has entrusted responsibility for dealing constructively with Holocaust issues and combating manifestations of anti-Semitism.  We are hopeful that we will receive a positive response.

In the meantime, the Museum has planned a number of scholarly activities for the coming year that will sustain focus on Hungary and secure the historical record regarding what happened there during the Holocaust.  In April, we will publish, in partnership with Northwestern University Press, a three-volume encyclopedia, edited by Professor Randolph Braham of the City University of New York, that provides information—county by county, town by town, village by village—on the pre-Holocaust Jewish community of Hungary and the events of the Holocaust in each respective community.  Professor Braham, who is a survivor of the notorious Hungarian Jewish labor battalions established by the Horthy regime, is the world’s leading expert on this history.  Later during the year, we will publish a document collection on The Holocaust in Hungary as part of our archival studies series “Documenting Life and Destruction.”  And in March of next year, on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of deportations of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz, we will host at the Museum a major international conference on the Holocaust in Hungary.  When first proposing to the Hungarian government the establishment of an International Commission of Scholars on the Holocaust in Hungary, I had hoped that a plenary session of the Commission might coincide with and be coordinated with this conference.  Timely action to establish a Commission might still allow for a degree of coordination.


Today’s hearing is focused on the trajectory of democracy and the danger of extremism—in the form of racism, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust trivialization—in Hungary.  I have described trends that potentially undermine the safety of Jews, Roma, and other minorities in Hungary and that threaten the ability of Hungarians to come to grips with the truth regarding the Holocaust—a national tragedy of a different era.  Democracy and memory:  I want to stress that these two concerns are interrelated.  Undermine democracy, and the rights of human beings deemed to be “different” are easily violated.  The Hungary of World War II provided an extreme example.  And misrepresenting the tragedies of one’s national past—trivializing them, relativizing them, or failing to clarify issues of fact when they become “controversial” or are distorted for political purpose—forces those in power to subvert democratic practice, to control the media, manipulate electoral mechanisms, and adopt increasingly extreme “populist” and jingoist stances, in the hope of staying in power permanently—an outcome that is only available in dictatorships, never in democracies.

I know that lobbyists are not seen in every instance in a favorable light. But I appear today on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a lobbyist for the truth, a lobbyist for 600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Hungarian Romani who cannot be here.  Their lives were snuffed out due to the decisions, prejudices and failures of their country’s leadership—Miklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi, and numerous other political and military leaders, fascist “writers” like Nyirő, Szabó, and Wass—and those who collaborated or were directly complicit in acts of theft, deportation and murder.

Will Hungary become a source of instability in Europe, this time in the heart of the European Union, as it was in the late 1930s?  Will ethnic and religious minorities, including a Jewish community of 80-100,000 souls remain free of harassment and safe there?  Will this country, which was once home to a Jewish population that numbered over 800,000, trivialize memory of the Holocaust and lead a revival of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe?  Are contemporary developments appropriate for a state that is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a member of the European Union, and a member of NATO?

I will restrict my response to my assigned topic and expertise—the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Some weeks ago, Hungary volunteered to assume the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2015.  Given the current situation, which I have endeavored to describe, this would be inappropriate and an insult to the living and desecration of the memory of the dead.  Ultimately, of course, the decision will be taken by the state members of the IHRA, in all likelihood based on more practical and political considerations.  But I would hope that before any decision is taken, including by our own representatives at the IHRA, the Hungarian Government will alter the approaches that it has taken in addressing anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues in Hungary, adopt the suggestions our Museum has made, and guide Hungary—a country with much to be proud of in its history—onto a path that is admired and praised rather than scorned and criticized.  Representatives of Fidesz and the Hungarian Government with whom I have spoken frequently complain that their missteps are always criticized, while their positive actions are never commended.  I for one, and the institution I represent here, commit to praise when positive steps are taken.

I began these remarks by citing philosopher George Santayana.  I would like to conclude by quoting our Museum’s Founding Chairman and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who was sent to the ghetto by Hungarian gendarmes and deported with his family to Auschwitz while Miklós Horthy served as Regent of Hungary. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,” wrote Wiesel, “but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  I hope that my testimony today is sufficient protest to stimulate action.  On another occasion, Elie Wiesel declared, “If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity.”  Securing the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary is essential.

Mr. Chairman, I request that my written statement be included in the record in full.