Below, thanks to a friend, a contributor, and a regular reader of Hungarian Spectrum, I’m able to publish the speeches of Péter Feldmájer, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), and Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, at the Plenary Assembly in Budapest on May 5.
Unfortunately Viktor Orbán’s speech is not yet available in English (although it’s already on YouTube in Hungarian), but the World Jewish Congress’s reaction was negative.
I should add that the translations are not mine.
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Mr. President Lauder, Mr. Prime Minister, His Excellency the Cardinal, Bishops, Rabbis, Mr. and Madame Ambassadors, Dear Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
Ma nishtano halailo haze?
What makes this night different from all other nights, we ask each Passover Seder evening; today we can ask the question: ma nishtano hacongres haze – i.e. what makes this congress different from all other congresses?
First and most, it is that we would like to welcome you in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, a glorious city that safeguards the joys and also the tortures of the past.
You have arrived in a country which – legend has it – saw the Jewish people from the Kazar empire come into this land together with the state founding proud horse tribes, and also where for many decades in the 19th century the Jews of the east were greeted with a warm and wholehearted welcome. The Jews here had become Hungarian patriots, they quickly lost their own language and supported the cause of Hungarian independence without reservations; nevertheless, already in the very first days of the 1848 heroic freedom fight, a pogrom was launched against the Jews of Bratislava.
You have come to a city that is proud to have Tivadar Herzl, the visionary of modern Israel, as its son and student.
You have come to a country which had lost World War I and with that 2/3 of its territory. The heroism of the Jewish soldiers and officers fighting the war as Hungarian patriots had become legendary, yet it did nothing to stop the political elite from blaming the Jews for the defeat and introducing the very first anti-Semitic laws of Europe, which served as models for the Nazis.
You have come to a country where the vast majority of the then mainstream society approved of the anti-Semitic laws and while most of them did not identify with the massacres, ultimately the entire Hungarian public administration – led by the Governor – successfully organised and implemented the gathering and deportation of Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. You have come to a city that is proud of its jewel, the blue Danube, whose water was once painted red by the blood of tens of thousands of Jews shot dead on its banks.
You have come to a city where despite decades of anti-Semitic propaganda, despite official prohibitions, there were still hundreds and thousands that risked their lives standing up for, hiding and saving the lives of Jews.
You have come to a country where the majority of Jewish people – despite the massacres – remained patriotic to the land.
You have come to a country in which Moscow-based concoctors of leftist anti-Semitic pogroms could not achieve anything because the otherwise loyal Communist leaders of the country were not willing to identify with and fulfil the mad plans and commands of red tsars that followed the footsteps of Hitler.
You have come to a country where after the fall of Communism, the largest Jewish community of Central Europe revived Jewish religious and cultural life with unparalleled enthusiasm; the education system they brought to life may be an example to all.
You have come to a country whose proud Jewish residents can freely express their love of Israel and may freely proclaim not to ever forget Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the united Jewish people.
You have come to a country which – perhaps the first one in the world after Israel – adopted a bill to commemorate the victims of the holocaust and – in line with the measures of the first Orban-cabinet – does a tremendous lot to keep the memory of the holocaust alive, to make the history of the holocaust part of school education.
You have come to a country whose Jewish community is again under threat by horrific ideologies and acts, which are the remnants of the Middle Ages and the holocaust, where an elderly Chief Rabbi is attacked in the street, where Fascists are hailed, where the courts set murderers as role models for the young as squares, and streets are being named after keen anti-Semites, as the works of court poets of Hungarian Nazis are included in the national curriculum and thus polluting the souls of our students.
You have come to a country whose government is in support of the security of the state of Israel and is ready to stand up for the inalienable religious rights of Jews and would never consider placing animal rights before the religious rights of Jews.
You have come to a country, where Jews could live in peace and enjoy the support of the majority of Hungarian society if the holler of the vindictive minority did not suppress their sober and friendly voices.
Two decades ago, the director of MAZSIHISZ, Mr Zoltai, and I used to think that not only did Hungarian Jews have a great past, they also have a great future ahead of them. What has happened in this country in the past decades has proved that we were not wrong. We are still convinced today that not only is the present of Hungarian Jews great, but so is their future despite the raving of the anti-Semite rabble.
Thank you for coming and being here with us. We are proud to have been found worthy of holding the congress here, to be together, and for you to express your solidarity with the Hungarian Jewry.
I believe that the Jews of the world must unite their forces. This day also shows us that we are not alone, we are all listening to each other no matter where we may be living across the globe. The task we have is no little one to handle.
Hungary and Europe are on the wrong track.
As the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet put it:
“The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, time is out of joint and only together can we set it right; it is as if we the sounds and voices of the sinister ’30s were back again. All of us here tonight, Jews and non-Jews can only succeed in preventing the dark era of anti-Semitism from retuning to Hungary, Europe and the entire world and in ensuring that not a single Jewish person is ever in fear of terror if we unite our forces.
Thank you for your attention, I wish you all a pleasant evening.
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Prime Minister Orban, President of Mazsihisz, my friend Péter Feldmájer, Cardinal Erdő, Rabbis, Ministers and Members of Parliament, Distinguished Ambassadors, Representatives of our Jewish Communities from all around the world, ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends:
First of all, I want to thank Péter Feldmájer and the wonderful Jewish community here in Hungary.
The fact that we are here tonight – representatives of Jewish communities from 100 countries around the world – is a tribute to the strength, resilience and vitality of Hungarian Jewry and to your leadership, Péter. Thank you.
Prime Minister Orbán and Cardinal Erdő, we thank you for being with us. Your presence here tonight is also fitting because Budapest’s history is tied to Jewish history.
Less than one hundred years ago, a quarter of this great city’s population was Jewish. Hungary’s Jews contributed to the country’s economy, its culture, and its universities as well as its extraordinary tradition of mathematics and science.
Albert Einstein happens to be one of the few top physicists in the last century who was not born in Hungary but figures such as Szilard, Teller and Johnny von Neuman were just some of the brilliant Jewish minds that all came from Hungary and left a huge impact on the world.
Joseph Pulitzer, one of America’s greatest newspaper publishers and the founder of the most coveted prize in journalism that still bears his name today came from Hungary. And of course, Theodore Herzl, who founded the modern Zionist movement that led to the creation of Israel is from here as well.
My own mother’s parents were born here. The Lauder family dates back to the 13th Century and there was a special Jewish community there at that time, so you see my connection to Hungary is both deep and personal.
But sadly, all of the famous Jews I mention – and there are many more – noble laureates, artists and scholars – all left Hungary because they were forced to leave.
The rise of anti-Semitic parties in the 1920s and the 1930s led to the darkest chapter of all – the deportation and gassing of more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children. A staggering one-third of the 1.1 million Jews murdered at Auschwitz were Hungarian.
It is so clear that if these dark forces of anti-Semitism had not been allowed to rise in the 20th Century – all of Hungary would have prospered.
This always strikes me as so obvious – when Jews are allowed to live their lives freely and practice their religion, countries always flourish. It is obvious. But all too often, the irrational hatred that is Anti-Semitism defeats common sense.
After 1920, the government of Admiral Miklós Horthy – a vicious anti-Semite – moved Hungary towards this irrational hatred. His government passed successive anti-Jewish laws and aligned itself closely at that time with the Nazis in Germany. And in 1938, the Horthy regime enacted its version of the infamous Nuremberg Laws.
The first deportations of Jews from Hungary to concentration camps occurred in 1941, during the time of Admiral Horthy.
I am recalling these facts now not because we are not familiar with them, but because today we are seeing, once again, growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred.
Once again we see the outrage of anti-Semitism.
This is by no means only in Hungary, but also in other places in Europe – in Greece, where I was a few weeks ago, in Ukraine and elsewhere. We see that Jews and other minorities are singled out, vilified, demonized.
We see that more and more people openly deny the Holocaust, which happens to be one of the most well documented tragedies in history.
We see that a growing number of people actually believe the old canard that Jews control world finance, or the media, or everything.
And we see that Jews again are being blamed for economic troubles.
Today, there are members of the Hungarian Parliament who want the government to draw up “Lists of Jews” who hold public office. That sends out warning signals around the world.
In the press and on television, anti-Semitism and incitement against the Roma minority are becoming commonplace, and sometimes even accepted. We were shocked to learn that an anti-Semitic TV presenter was awarded a prize.
Thankfully the Government withdrew this prize. But the fact that it was awarded in the first place is the kind of thing that has us worried.
And there is this journalist, Zsolt Bayer, who recently called Gypsies “cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals.” He said they were “unfit to live among people” and called for “dealing with them immediately.”
Such words are reminiscent of the darkest era in European history. Let us never forget the Roma were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust.
Today, Jews are again wondering whether they will have to leave the country, for similar reasons.
Because they wonder why anti-Semites like Miklós Horthy are being glorified, and why statues honoring them are unveiled by Hungarian officials. Horthy was equivalent to Hitler and seeing statues of him going up sends the wrong signal.
Perhaps because they wonder if Jews have a future in Hungary?
Whatever the reason, their concerns must be taken seriously.
When Hungarian Jews are attacked by fanatics, they should be able to count on the unequivocal support of their government and of their authorities. It is the authorities that must stop this before it even begins.
Mr. Prime Minister, I know that the Hungarian people love freedom. They are courageous.
In 1956, Hungary was the first country to rise up against the Soviet oppressors.
Hungary was the first country in 1989 that set off the chain reaction, which opened the Iron Curtain and brought down the Berlin Wall. For this the world thanks the Hungarian community.
Mr. Prime Minister, you were part of this. You did many things positive at that time.
The fall of Communism paved the way for a rebirth not just of a new Hungary but also for the revival of Jewish life here in Hungary and frankly no one frankly after the Shoah could ever imagine that. I remember when I opened my summer camp here we had 400 children from all over Europe attend a ceremony and the translator as I was speaking started to cry. I turned to him and asked “why are you crying?” He said “old man, I never thought I would see Jewish children again in Hungary.”
I decided to support that Jewish renaissance as much as I could. In 1990, I established the Lauder Javne School in Budapest. It is now welcoming 600 Jewish students a year and enriching their lives with Jewish values.
I am very proud of all the things we have accomplished, and tomorrow we shall all have a chance to see more of the children when we have dinner at the school.
I have also had the honor to rebuild many synagogues here – showing my strong commitment to Hungary’s history and it’s great heritage. Let there be no doubt: I still believe in the future of this country. And so do many others.
Prime Minister Orbán, I thank you for your presence here tonight.
It is no secret that Hungary’s international reputation has suffered in recent years.
But Hungary’s good name was not smeared by the foreign press, but by extremists.
Mr. Prime Minister, we are especially concerned about one particular party. I am talking about Jobbik, a party that won almost 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections. Through its anti-Semitism, its hostility to the Roma, and its paranoid rantings at the outside world, Jobbik is dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud.
That same party held a demonstration just yesterday against our gathering here in Budapest. Granted there were only a few people but it was symbolic because they were told they should not protest.
Hungarian Jews, Mr. Prime Minister, need you to take a firm and decisive lead. They need you to take on these dark forces. They need you to be pro-active. They need your leadership in this fight.
They need you to send the message to the entire population that intolerance will not be tolerated.
As President of the World Jewish Congress, I ask you to do precisely that and thus to demonstrate and talk about this great country’s finest traditions.
It is time for leadership and strong actions. We truly hope that you will be successful.
Fascism and intolerance always single out the Jews first. But they are never the last victims. All good people suffer. Countries suffer. In the end, this hatred and intolerance only destroys a nation’s hopes, its progress and its future.
Mr. Prime Minister this hall is full of hope. We welcome you here to our gathering as you and the majority of your compatriots have welcomed us to your country.
We thank you for being with us in your stunningly beautiful capital city.
Thank you very much.
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It seems that Viktor Orbán’s speech didn’t meet the expectations of the World Jewish Congress.
The World Jewish Congress appreciates Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s decision to address the international Jewish community by speaking here tonight. We welcome that the Prime Minister made it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable.
However, the Prime Minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular. We regret that Mr. Orbán did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.
As the Jewish people have learnt throughout history: Actions speak louder than words, no matter how well intended they are. The WJC will continue to urge all democratic forces in Hungary and elsewhere to combat with great determination rising extremism, anti-Semitism and hatred. We will continue to evaluate the situation in this regard.
The prime minister’s speech is available on YouTube in Hungarian:
I may add that Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was present at the plenary assembly, left before Viktor Orbán delivered his address. In a Facebook comment he said that he had no intention of listening to the Hungarian prime minister’s lies.