A close reading of István Csurka’s antisemitic play, The Sixth Coffin
Thanks to a friend of Hungarian Spectrum, yesterday I received a copy of István Csurka’s Hatodik koporsó (The Sixth Coffin). Since just the other day one of the commenters complained that we are discussing a play that none of us has read, I was mighty glad to have an opportunity to do so.
It is only forty pages long and I could have read the whole play in less than an hour, but I was taking notes and kept checking the historical accuracy of some of the characters and events Csurka describes. So it took me about an hour and a half to go through the play’s rather bizarre plot.
The play is about a fantastic invention of two Hungarians that allows its users to recapture every word, every movement, every person from the past. Centuries later we can find out precisely what happened at any moment in history as long as the invention is on the spot where the event took place. The falsifiers of history can thus be eliminated and the past becomes completely knowable without any distortion. In addition to this “truth machine”–my own description of the invention–these two Hungarian geniuses are also able to make people and objects invisible.
The two inventors bring their machine into one of the conference rooms of the Palace of Versailles. They also employ a young Hungarian who is referred to as Apród (Page) whose grandfather was executed in 1958 because of his involvement with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They also drag in a huge coffin which, in addition to the grandfather’s remains, contains a few pieces from Stalin’s smashed statue. Interestingly enough, the dead grandfather in the coffin can merrily converse with Georges Clemenceau, and among his otherworldly possessions he even has a lighter tucked away.
The day that this “truth machine” focuses on is February 17, 1919, when there is a meeting of the committee that was entrusted with coming up with the new frontiers of Romania and Yugoslavia. I assume that Csurka’s source was Francia diplomáciai iratok a Kárpát-medence történetéről, 1918-1919, a collection of French documents pertaining to the Paris Peace Conference, edited by Magda Ádám and Mária Ormos.
Csurka couldn’t have read the text very carefully, however, because he even makes mistakes when recounting the names of the participants. Reginald Leeper of Great Britain becomes Lepper, Sir Stuart M. Samuel becomes Sir Samuel Stuart, and Lieutenant Reuben Horchow of the United States Army becomes Harchow. Horchow was one of the eight secretaries for territorial questions; his job was most likely recording the meeting in shorthand. Csurka pegged him as a Jew and Horchow/Harchow became Csurka’s main villain. According to Csurka, Harchow officially handled the service personnel, but in reality he was a spy. He was originally from Poland and trained in the United States but paraded as part of the French delegation. According to one of Csurka’s inventors, Harchow visited Hungary only once when he apparently got in touch with the people in the Galileo Circle. Naturally! The evil Harchow was spying for the British secret service and later passed on a wealth of information to “the secret services of the burgeoning Israel, Russia and Great Britain.”
It turns out early in the play that “”four American Jews and Arthur Balfour were responsible for the dismemberment of Hungary.” How does Csurka manage to find four Jews among the top decision makers? Jews and quasi-Jews come and go throughout the play, so I’m not sure who the real American villains were. Charles Seymour, history professor at Yale University and later its president, wasn’t Jewish; even Csurka doesn’t try to convert him. Csurka thinks that he was “a shyster of a lawyer in New York.” However, according to Csurka, Seymour reports to Edward (Colonel) House. Csurka makes a Jew out of House, whose ancestry goes back to Dutch immigrants of the colonial period. The family’s original name was Huis, Dutch for “house”. Not so for Csurka who decided that House’s original name was Mandel and that he was the son of a rabbi. In fact, House’s father was the mayor of Houston. Another Jew in this company was actually Jewish, Bernard Baruch. But Baruch had absolutely nothing to do with the territorial questions at the peace conference. He advised President Woodrow Wilson on economic matters and in fact argued against the exceedingly harsh reparation payments Germany had to pay after the lost war.
Another villain is Sir Stuart M. Samuel, formerly high commissioner for Palestine, who was entrusted with minority rights in Poland. Csurka certainly doesn’t like the idea of protection for the rather large Jewish minority in Poland. Csurka talks about a Rothschild without being more specific, but I guess he is talking about Edmund James Rothschild, a great supporter of Zionism. Csurka puts the following words into Rothschild’s mouth: “The tribe of Jews always accepted suffering for the survival and realization of the whole nation. If suffering awaits the Jews of a dismembered Hungary, they should bear it or should emigrate to the United States, but the matter of power over the whole world must go on.” Csurka’s Rothschild also makes it clear that Trianon is really the work of American Jews who try to shift the blame onto the French. Another American Jewish financier, Jacob Schiff, enters the scene in a conversation with Bernard Baruch and Arthur Balfour. It is about Wilson’s idea of setting up the League of Nations. Schiff is originally opposed to the idea but eventually relents on the condition that “the first president of the League of Nations will be Jewish.” Baruch inquires from Balfour whether this is possible or not, and Balfour assures him that it is possible. As far as I know, the first president of the League of Nations was Léon Bourgeois, former French prime minister, and I don’t have the foggiest idea of his ethnicity.
Léon Trotsky is also mentioned by these Jewish conspirators. Referring to him by his original name, Leon Bronstein, he is described as a close friend of Rothschild, Baruch, and Schiff. Granddad in the coffin and grandson Apród keep asking members of the committee questions. One concerns Trotsky who was, according to Csurka, financed by the American Jews who later advised Wilson on matters of state. And all the Jewish immigrants working in sweatshops talk about Trotsky whom they consider to be the real leader of Bolshevik Russia. Apród wants to know who the first and second presidents of Soviet Russia were, and naturally both were Jews.
Eventually Clemenceau enters the stage and has a long conversation with the dead revolutionary from 1956. He tells the French president that he was killed by Hungarians on Soviet orders. Clemenceau thinks that the man in the coffin is Romanian. Our revolutionary proudly retorts: “Thank God, no. I’m a Hungarian.” The conversation turns to Stalin and thus Clemenceau: “Oh, I remember him from the early days when he was an insignificant character. He was a Georgian, not Jewish and not a freemason. I never thought that he would ever amount to anything.”
Granddad informs Clemenceau about 1956 in this vein: “Stalin out of revenge delegated power to four Muscovite Jews–Rákosi, Gerő, Farkas, and Révai–who not only introduced a dictatorship but robbed the country blind.” This was also the peacemakers’ fault, including Clemenceau, because “if they hadn’t torn Hungary apart, the Russians would never have occupied Budapest.” Well, that’s an interesting theory. Hungary would have been able to stand against the mighty Soviet Union? On Germany’s side? And win the war? Is that what Csurka is getting at?
Throughout the play Edvard Beneš is lurking in the background. In Csurka’s theory the Czechoslovak foreign minister is behind everything–or at least everything that the Jews don’t control. He feeds false information to the peacemakers who robotically accept all his recommendations, even those concerning the future Romanian-Hungarian border. The February 17 meeting deals with the controversial decision to leave about 200,000 Hungarian speaking people on the Romanian side for the sake of a north-south railway line. The much abused Americans in fact wanted to leave the territory with Hungary but they were outnumbered: the British, the French, and the Italians all voted in favor of Romania. Beneš’s name did come up during this particular discussion, but Csurka’s Clemenceau gave him a commanding, prescient role. Bidding goodbye to the members of the delegation, Csurka’s Clemenceau said, “Continue with your work according to the Beneš decrees.” How unhistorical can you get?
In brief, István Csurka’s truth machine came up with a grotesque re-creation of the twentieth century. What is truly frightening is the reaction of the play’s director, Zsolt Pozsgay. To him “Csurka only used a historical event in its historical reality.” As for its antisemitism, to Pozsgay “there are no antisemitic thoughts in the play. There are only historical facts.”
There is history and there is fiction, and sometimes the two can be bedfellows. But Csurka’s play doesn’t even begin to rise to the level of historical fiction. It is propaganda pure and simple. History is not a bedfellow of fiction but a rape victim.