Thursday, 6 February 2014

Falsification of History, Loss of Trust:
Hungary's Holocaust Year

Auschwitz concentration camp, arrival of Hungarian Jews, Summer 1944. 
Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA

Refusing to be associated with the government and its attempts to rewrite and falsify history on the occasion of Holocaust memorial Year in Hungary, some individuals, and some Jewish organisations have decided to return grants and other distinctions.

Leading Holocaust historian Randolph Braham wrote an open letter and asked to have his name removed from The Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest. The Guardian reported this on 26 January. I quote:
Braham said ... the "straw that broke the camel's back" leading to his decision was a government plan to erect a memorial commemorating the March 1944 invasion of Hungary by the Nazis. Braham said the memorial was "a cowardly attempt to detract attention from the Horthy regime's involvement in the destruction of the Jews and to homogenize the Holocaust with the 'suffering' of the Hungarians a German occupation, as the record clearly shows, was not only unopposed but generally applauded."

Matters didn't stop there. (Here I will be quoting the excellent Hungarian Spectrum website run by Eva Balogh that I cannot recommend highly enough).  A few days later, a man born in Subotica, Emeritus Professor Steven J. Fenves of Carnegie Mellon Univeristy, USA, addressed a letter of sympathy to Braham, in which he said: 
Subotica, in Serbia – also known as Szabadka – won funding for two projects in the competition for Hungary’s fund for the 2014 commemorations: one for opening a Holocaust Information Center by the Subotica Jewish Community organization and one for an exhibition in the Subotica City Museum. For the first, I was asked to authorize the use of my mother’s name, Klara Gereb (Geréb Klári), for the Holocaust Information Center. (She was a  locally well-respected graphic artist between the two world wars and perished in Auschwitz.) Initially, I assented to this request….

But then he withdrew his offer.  As he explains:

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

This coincided with the decision of the synagogue at Nové Zámky (formerly Érsekújváros) in Slovakia to return its grant from the Hungarian government intended as support for Holocaust Year. Balogh explains:

The Orthodox synagogue of Nové Zámky is registered as a historic landmark. It is one of only four synagogues in Slovakia that are still used for religious purposes by the local Jewish community. This community received 1.5 million forints as a contribution from the so-called Civic Fund  (Civil Alap) for events planned in connection with the Holocaust Memorial Year. Tamás Lang, president of the board of the Nové Zámsky Jewish Community, sent the money back accompanied by a scathing letter condemning the falsification of history and also the systematic revival of the cult of Miklós Horthy.

Then she gives an abbreviated form of the letter:

The events and statements of the last few days make the sincerity of the Civic Fund’s  intentions highly questionable…. We can’t accept that Miklós Horthy, who is fully responsible for the destruction of Hungary’s Jewry, can have a statue in Hungary…. We can’t accept such statements as “we–Hungarians, they–Jews” even if it is uttered as “we Hungarians defend our minorities.”… We don’t forget that prior to the [German] occupation there were already 60,000 victims of anti-Semitism in Hungary. … We contest the statement that the only sin of the government at the time was that “it didn’t defend the country’s Jewish citizens and provided material supplies for their persecution” … [when] that government mobilized 200,000 civil servants against us. … It is true that Tibor Navracsics, deputy prime minister, and Bence Rétváry, undersecretary,  talked on international forums about Hungarian responsibility, but the direction of official statements and actions belies their words….  We cannot lend our names to the falsification of history and the whitewashing of the Horthy regime.

From Hungarian Spectrum we move on to the Klubrádió website (some may remember the government tried to shut Klubrádió down by handing its licence over to some bigger financial concern more sympathetic to Fidesz, but the station survives under difficult circumstances. Its history is here.) The essence of the article is that two major Budapest synagogues, the central Dohány Street synagogue and the one in Leo Frankel Street, as well as the Jewish Foreign Visitors and Cultural Centre have handed back their grants in protest. These were not small sums, but figures like 20 to 24 million Hungarian Forints. As the tex is in Hungarian I translate.

The Cultural Centre says:

We feel no obligation to explain our outrage…We don't want this Nazi memorial, we don't want [to be party to] the falsification of history, and we don't want the humiliation heaped upon those who died… [As a result] We are returning the entire 24 million fiorints awarded to us and have no desire to take part in any events associated with Hungarian Holocaust Year organised by the government.

The synagogues make statements along similar lines, saying, for instance that

The positive depiction of the Horthy era , the inclusion of Arrow Cross (Nazi) writers on the school syllabus, the presentation of a massacre as an immigration matter, taken together with a number of government statements does not square with the kind of commemoration planned for the victims of mass murder. 

Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz government speak one way to the international community but another way to the Hungarian people. Their domestic actions do not match their foreign propaganda. They shouldn't be trusted an inch.

Elections are approaching, elections that Fidesz is very likely to win. A good friend in Hungary writes:

The gossip is that, after the elections, Orbán will wage war on the universities, which are the last strongholds of the opposition, as most tend to be very critical intellectually, even those on the right. Now that most of the private media is in the hands of Fidesz, businesses close to the party get all the government commissions and thus have the money to buy all the newspapers, radios and TV stations that are about to go bankrupt due to the decline in advertising. Now that the media has been appropriated the universities will be next. It's a pretty bleak picture. 

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