The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center publishes its “professional communiqué”

I think that this latest tug of war between Hungarian Jewish organizations and the Orbán government should not be viewed solely in the context of the treatment and fate of Jews in Hungary. Yes, the debate broke out as a direct result of the government’s plans for the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. But we are dealing here with a larger project: the government’s concerted effort to rehabilitate the entire Horthy era (1920-1944). Downplaying the country’s responsibility for the deportation of Hungarian Jews is part and parcel of this effort.

There has been a debate in the last couple of years among political commentators about the nature of the Orbán government’s policies. Are they the result of a grand design or are they a haphazard collection of on the spot decisions dictated by circumstances? I am inclined to think that the first hypothesis is closer to the truth, especially when it comes to Fidesz politicians’ views of the history of the Horthy period.

One of the first steps taken by the Orbán government was the removal of the director of the Holocaust Memorial Center. A few months after the formation of the government András Levente Gál, one of the undersecretaries in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, paid a visit to the Center and expressed his displeasure at what he saw there. He especially objected to the exhibit’s linkage of the Hungarian occupation of the regained territories with the deportation of Jewish Hungarians from those territories. And he was not the only one to complain. Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom, objected to the placement of the anti-Semitic Ottokár Prohászka, bishop of Székesfehérvár (1858-1927), right next to Hitler. A Christian Democratic politician announced that he will not visit the Holocaust Memorial Center as long as Prohászka’s picture is there. It was clear that the Orbán government’s view was that, since it is the Hungarian government that finances the Center, it can dictate what goes on there. As the Hungarian saying goes: “Who pays the Gypsy can order the music.”

Szabolcs Szita

Szabolcs Szita

Soon enough the government fired the director and appointed its own man, a non-Jew, Szabolcs Szita, in his place. He is the man to whom Professor Randolph L. Braham addressed his letter stating that in protest he will no longer allow his name to be associated with the Center’s library. I don’t know much about Szabolcs Szita’s work. I do have one of his books, but I must admit that I didn’t read it very carefully. In light of all these developments, it’s time for a much closer reading. The book, Együttélés–üldöztetés– holokauszt (Coexistence–Persecution–Holocaust), was published in 2001. According to an English-language postscript, it “won the first prize in the competition announced by the Ministry of Education” of the first Orbán government. The first half of the unfootnoted book deals with the history of European Jews with special emphasis on Germany while the other half, about 150 pages, looks at the history of Hungarian Jewry from their settlement to the Holocaust. There is a lot of emphasis on Hungarian civilians’ efforts to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. Szita’s views seem to be more in sync with those of the government than were his predecessor’s.

Shortly after his appointment Szabolcs Szita gave an interview to Origowhich was severely criticized by fellow historians and Jewish leaders. Let me quote some of Szita’s contentions: “If there had been no aggressive German interference Hungary probably would have been the example in the eyes of Europe and the world. Until 1944 we were an island of peace. There were anti-Jewish laws but Jews were not facing the peril of death en masse as in other countries.” In this interview he put the blame more on individuals “who must be named and condemned, Baky, Endre and Jaross,” men in charge of the deportations in the Ministry of Interior of the Sztójay government. He also overemphasized the number of high officials who resigned rather than take part in the deportation of their compatriots. As we know, there were mighty few of those. A notable exception, by the way, was Károly Szendy, mayor of Budapest between 1934 and 1944. As far as I know, the “grateful nation” didn’t even bother to name a street after this decent man.

In 2011 Szita came up with some startling suggestions. For example, he thought that it might be a good idea to organize a professional debate on whether “there was national resistance” to German occupation. That question doesn’t need a lot of research. There is ample evidence already showing that there wasn’t. He also thought that it would be a good idea to set up an institute to investigate the activities of the People’s Courts. These were the courts that dealt with the fate of war criminals. How would that help our understanding of the Holocaust?

From this interview we learn about the genesis of the House of Fates. Szita came up with the idea that the abandoned building of the Józsefváros Railway Station should be acquired by the Holocaust Memorial Center. School children could visit there to learn something about the Holocaust. He would have placed a Wallenberg Memorial at the site because Raoul Wallenberg managed to save a few people at that station.

The Holocaust Memorial Center has been suspiciously quiet in the last few weeks, but I guess after Mazsihisz’s announcement of a boycott yesterday Szabolcs Szita could no longer remain silent. He and his staff came out with a “professional communiqué.” That sounds to me like: “here is the final truth on the matter.” It is a strange document. The first paragraph talks about March 19, 1944 as a dividing line (actually sorsforditó, which means an event that changes everything) when “the trampled down country without any resistance became free prey.” Further, the official statement claims that “it is probable that without the unexpected German occupation Hungarian Jewry would have survived the war.”

It is at this point that Szabolcs Szita goes further in his condemnation of Miklós Horthy and the Sztójay government than in his 2011 interview with Origo. Then he blamed only individuals lower down on the totem pole, László Baky, László Endre, and Andor Jaross, who were guilty because they organized the deportations. Now he seems to have moved from this position and also blames “Governor Horthy, the Sztójay government, and the servile attitude of the civil service.” He also makes reference to the “civil servants who were brought up in the spirit of anti-Jewish laws” and thus became violently anti-Semitic. Again, Szita refuses to admit that it was not just the members of the civil service who were infected by the all-pervasive anti-Semitism but the whole population. There were few people who raised their voices or moved a finger in defense of their Jewish compatriots.

Some people called the document “cowardly.” Well, it is certainly not a brave document, but what can one expect from an institute that is basically an arm of the Hungarian government? It tries to satisfy both sides and therefore its message is confused and contradictory. But at least the document names Miklós Horthy and the government he appointed as guilty of the crime, which is more than one might have expected from the new management of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.


  1. How was it possible that a Horthy could rise to power in the land of Ferenc Deak?

    Ferenc Deak (1803-1876) advocated and realized freedom for all.

    Horthy allowed selective freedom for some and poverty for many.

    Where is poor Orban on this scale?

  2. Well Tamas there is truth in the idea that Orban is trying to play the classic Horthy game of getting what you can from a particular political situation. That did not work out too well with Hitler. Possibly, Orban sees Russia’s star as rising and Germany and the EU’s as declining. This could be true but even if it is true Hungary will be the loser in that game.

    I also agree with Eva’s statement that there was no evidence on Hungarian national resistance to German occupation. But there was greater demoralization among what was left of the Hungarian military. But I suspect there was plenty of demoralization before the occupation among what was left of the famous Hungarian bicycle battalions who were part of the so called “Rapid Corps” that invaded Russia under Horthy and were abandoned by Horthy for German use. By the end of 1942, these ill-fated bicycle battalions were on the front lines north of Stalingrad protecting the doomed German 6th Army’s northern flank. We know what happened then.

    Not long ago a Russian was selling several of these famous Hungarian bicycles on ebay. No doubt there are hundreds of these abandoned bicycles buried all over Russia. Possibly the Jobbik should start buying them up to ride around Budapest or at various parades, the Russians could use the business.

  3. The move to rehabilitate Horthy has never made any sense. Even when one sets aside his behavior during the Holocaust, one has to deal with his actual achievements during his long regency. Even the most generous assessment of the Horthy era is that it was one of social, cultural, political, scientific and economic standstill. The greatest Hungarian minds and muses of the era did their best work or were best received abroad. There is an incredible poverty of infrastructure, architecture and monuments built during the era (compared with those from before World War I or in the late 1990s and mid 2000s, which must now be seen as the golden years of Hungarian construction.)

  4. If “the Jews” thought that they could somehow undermine Orban or get tough against him then they are sorely mistaken.

    They will soon realize where their place is in the packing order. They already did.

    And they will assist Orban, Lazar, Balogh and Szita.

    There will be a “compromise” with Orban, so that Orban will able to realize all his plans.

    Like with the EU, Orban will not give in.

    Does anybody seriously think that all the hard core right wingers (such as Boross and countless advisers to Orban, or Orban himself) would allow themselves to look weak exactly against Jews?

    When a core right wing constituency demands to be tough on them?

    When Orban never retreated on any real demands and knows exactly that his power works against everybody, most of all against the divided Jewish community and the controversial Mazsihisz leadership which is addicted to state subsidies?

    It is naivety to think that Orban would relent on any issues. Has everybody slept through the last 4 years? Orban and his people got a plan regarding Hungarian history and they will execute that plan.

    The only role of the Jews in this pan is to assist and rest assured that they will.

  5. @Romanian

    Orban’s so-called strength and single-mindedness comes from one thing and one thing alone: that the Russians have been backing him from day 1.

  6. petofi:

    as long as Orban remains in power, and make no mistake he will after April 2014, it does not really matter where his power comes from.

    But it is a mistake to think that Putin’s support would be enough.

    Surely it does help, a lot, but Orban is popular, at least among the Hungarian politicians, meaning a 30 something popularity rate out of 100.

    Under the current election system if you have a very stable block of 25-30% (out of the overall population) right wing supporter base that is enough to remain in power for very long because with some goodies, campaigning, trickery you can always increase that basis up to say 40%, in 2010 even up to 50%. And it depends also on the overall rate of turn out, so his rock solid 30% could end up 50% if overall only relatively few people go to vote.

    One question comes to mind, though, why is not the West backing Hungary or Ukraine, Georgia, you name it, with the same commitment as Russia is?

    With every day, Orban’s empire solidifies and becomes more capable of surviving Orban himself. In fact that would be even heralded by political scientists as a new phase of Hungarian democracy, when institutions, such as Fidesz which is really a parallel state system, would survive their founders. Fidesz’ grip on power is by now so comprehensive and thorough that contrary to Laszlo Köver I can imagine it operating without Orban just as ruthlessly and effectively.

  7. Istvan :
    I also agree with Eva’s statement that there was no evidence on Hungarian national resistance to German occupation.

    Not only no national resistance, but exactly the opposite. My mother very rarely talked about the events of 1944 to me. It was too painful, but she did tell me one thing. The shameful fact that within the first week of the occupation there were more people denounced to the Germans and Jews, communists, gypsies etc. than in the rest of occupied Europe combined. May be this was a slight exaggeration, I don’t know, but it accurately conveys the atmosphere in that first week in theountry that is now portrayed as occupied and suffering. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    As for those that risked life and limb to save Jews, I agree, there were not that many of them, but an even bigger imfamy is how the country treated them afterwards. I have recently been studying one of them who has been recognised by Israel as a Righteous Gentile, Vilmos Nagybaczoni Nagy. It was only very recently that his own community, Piliscssaba named a street after him and he became a citizen (diszpolgar) with a plaque about him on the wall of the Military Museum in the Castle District. Surely, something that he more than deserved, unlike the obnoxious Horthy statues that proliferate with alarming speed nowadays.

  8. According to Népszabadság the German minority in Hungary is also critical as far as the monument on Szabadságtér is conderned.
    Orbán can only benefit from this if he’ll write an insolent letter to Mazsihisz. For this way he can mobilize a lot of Jobbik voters to vote for him, the man who courageously resists “the Jewish-Leftist-Liberal world conspiracy against Hungary”. All he cares for is to win the next election and have 2/3 majority in parliament and do all this behind a formal democratic mask.
    Lets face the fact. The Hungarian conservatives used the same strategy during the 30ies and 40ies.At the time of course they had the example of the fascist states and especially the example of Nazi Germany and a very week west. This time there are no Nazis who help them but German and Austrian conservatives who protect Orbán and an EU which tries with homoepathic medicine to heal Hungary. SNAFU.

  9. @ Romanian

    “One question comes to mind, though, why is not the West backing Hungary or Ukraine, Georgia, you name it, with the same commitment as Russia is?”

    Russian wants to reestablish the client-slave states of yore.

  10. petofi :
    @ Romanian
    “One question comes to mind, though, why is not the West backing Hungary or Ukraine, Georgia, you name it, with the same commitment as Russia is?”
    Russian wants to reestablish the client-slave states of yore.

    As the chief supplier of Hungary’s essential natural gas, upon which the country is set to depend for the forseeable future, Russia does indeed have a big role, whether the government is MSZP or Fidesz. The infrastructure dependencies may be a lot less than they were 25 years ago, but they’re of critical importance. It’s hard to see how the West can change this, given Germany’s own relationship with Russia.

    That said, the EU’s obsession with liberalisation and deregulation of the energy sector across the EU has only strengthened Gazprom’s dominance in recent years.

    We can see from this Wikipedia article that, across the region, Russian energy interests are having an increasingly magnetic effect upon the political class. These links in Hungary are with the MSZP, E-2014, Fidesz and Jobbik. It’s all about the Benjamins.

  11. @ whoever

    “Russian energy interests are having an increasingly magnetic effect upon the political class.”

    Perhaps. But it will be of limited duration: Americans will hoist them by their own petard as they set their mind on developing alternative energies…Just a matter of time.

  12. “He also thought that it would be a good idea to set up an institute to investigate the activities of the People’s Courts. These were the courts that dealt with the fate of war criminals. How would that help our understanding of the Holocaust?”

    He made very good use of those court materials in his book Utak a pokolból, which I read in its German translation (Verschleppt, verhungert, vernichtet) a few years ago. I remember an excellent book, often quoted if I’m not mistaken. I also read, in English, Trading Lives? and found it also good. In do not think Dr Szita’s credentials as a historian, and as a specialist of the Holocaust in Hungary (including that of the Roma) can be seriously challenged.

    Now, his present stance as head of the HDKE can certainly be. Had this “professionaĺ communiqué” been issued before Pr Braham’s letter and other strong reactions by historians here and abroad, we would certainly be commenting upon its content in a different light. As an answer, it certainly appears if not cowardly, at least using “professionalism” as a convenient hiding place. How can historians possibly avoid participating in a debate about their own government’s memorial policy?

  13. The brain-washing gathers pace: seen on the website of “Sport Geza”:

    “Megbonthatatlan a szovjet-magyar-barátság”

    Translation: Hungarian-Russian Friendship Is Unbreakable

  14. whoever, i disagree. If it was only about the Benjamins, countries (companies) would just to go to Russia and purchase gas or oil. Pay for it and that would be it. Exactly because on the part of Russia it is not just about money, though it is an important factor not to be underestimated, can Russia be so strategic and focused.

    I agree that the EU’s energy liberalization push could be a reason for Russia’s increasing influence all over Europe, though mostly in the CEE, which is closer to Russia and where Russia has a knowledge of the local situation that is much deeper than that of any of its western competitors, who often just do not get CEE.

    However, I think there may also be a coincidence at play. Russia’s push to retake what it believes is its sphere of interest and somehow to defeat its enemies (which I am sure treated as such and not just as simple adversaries) like the NATO and the EU started with Putin. When Putin emerged and consolidated the power of the siloviki and at the same time energy prices increased, he turned his attention to hitherto neglected issues (tighter control over its sphere of interest).

    And surely the local politicians are happy to see the signs of goodwill on their bank accounts.

  15. For the politicians/businessmen in CEE it is all about the benjamins. For Putin and his crew, it’s power and money, and there is an element of reclaiming a sphere of influence. But the idea that Russia is going to stage a comeback on the back of this is deeply flawed. Russia has terrible demographics, a largely broken infrastructure and awful legacies from communism – and an economy which is more like a ‘third world producer’ economy than a serious developed and advanced economy. Putin knows its weaknesses all too well, and much of his clumsy attempt to bolster Russia is an attempt to cover these realities, and all the while, more and more conscious of a far more dynamic and pervasive rival to the East…

  16. “Further, the official statement claims that “it is probable that without the unexpected German occupation Hungarian Jewry would have survived the war.””

    This is a common opinion, and a common example of counter-factual history. Nothing wrong with the exercise per se, nevertheless as it is formulated here it is also a pretty bad one, for it fails to address any reason why the Reich would not have invaded Hungary. Depending for instance upon either Germany (and its ally Hungary) being defeated sooner by the Red Army, or on the contrary Germany (and its ally Hungary) defeating the USSR, the “probability” may appear quite different.

    Moreover, I think there is enough material in the works of Dr Szita himself to argue that while March 1944 certainly opened a new era in the persecution of Hungarian Jews and Roma, historians today should focus on the continuities of Hungarian social and political history – for which pushing forward this notion of “sorsforditó” in 2014 (and the statue that goes with it) is clearly an obstacle.

  17. I just showed Áder’s picture to my wife – at first she said: That must be a fake, I don’t believe it …

  18. Eva S. Balogh :
    OT. The Iranian news agency released news about congratulatory letters sent to Iranian politicians by Áder, Kövér, Orbán and Martonyi on the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

    Once the US relaxed the embargo on Iran, EU businessmen started to swarm there, so I am not surprised that Fidesz congratulates a fellow dictatorship with a similarly ridiculous electoral system.

  19. Did the Czechs, Slovaks or even the Danes resist the Germans?
    The Czechs cooperated fully, their industries booming. The Slovaks were the most rabid anti-Semites. Yet they all emerged after the war sitting pretty.

  20. The index pic is a joke, of course, it was made by an artist called szarvas.

    But it is very true. Sometimes reality can best communicated via fiction.

  21. @Joe

    The Slovaks deported 2/3 of their Jewish population between March 25, 1942 and October 20, 1942, but they stopped the deportations after that date.
    They also started an uprising in August 1944.

    I would argue that the [majority of] Croats were the last allies of Hitler alongside the [majority of] Hungarians.

    But this was blurred by the fact Tito and lots of partisans were Croats.

  22. Hungarian economy by Financial Times:

    “the central bank now views the “financial stability bite point” for the forint as being in the region of Ft340-350 to the euro”

    “we should consider that if EM is in an episodic wobble over the coming months, even year, each cut will mean the next wobble weakens the economy further and leaves it at greater risk of outflows. In following this strategy, the MNB appears to be playing with fire, in our view.”

    “Given the current nervousness on global markets, unless the monetary council shows less ideological zeal for cutting rates, they could be in for more surprises in the weeks to come.”

  23. tappanch: Matolcsy would be happy with a 340 HUF/Euro — after the problem of the retail fx loans got solved (paid for by the banks). That is only a 10% depreciation from current levels and Orban is OK with that. They do not care about the increase in HUF terms of the government’s enormous fx debt (to be increased even further with the Paks loan), and especially not about the fx debt of companies (a huge chunk of which was anyway probably refinanced with the 0% NBH loans).

  24. Joe Simon, once again you use an argument a good parent would never let his or her children use: excusing bad behavior because others have done it as well. Why don’t you want Hungary to be better than that? Do you really hate Hungary and its people so much that you would wish it to be another mediocrity among nations rather than a model of virtue and values?

  25. loc :
    The index pic is a joke, of course, it was made by an artist called szarvas.
    But it is very true. Sometimes reality can best communicated via fiction.

    Ok, I was fooled: though I had thought that I’ve never seen a table like that.
    Anyway, the picture is symbolically correct.

  26. “atlatszo” has an interesting legal argument.

    The Paks pact is EITHER an international treaty XOR a private contract.

    If it is an international treaty (per Ader’s reasoning yesterday) then every bit of detail should be public by law, nothing can be turned secret.

    If it is a private contract by the government, then it should be open to referendum.

    The current legal view of the Orban government is that the Paks pact is an international treaty, so it is not open to referendum (per Fidesz’s basic law of 2012), AND it is also a private contract, so they made important details secret for 10 years.

  27. @Karl Pfeifer regarding his comment #12.

    The Athena Institute keeps track of hate groups in Hungary and has an English writeup of the incident.

    The FBI uses a 7-stage Hate model to characterize extremist groups. The Athena Institute using the same methodology now ranks the Betyársereg (Outlaws Army) at stage five (The Hate Group Attacks the Target Without Weapons).

    In this model, without intervention hate groups typically continue to “evolve” towards higher levels of violence and ultimately engage in murder. In this case they have invited their followers to engage in homicide.

    Despite promises by the government to rid Hungary of these groups, they only seem to get bolder.

  28. tappanch: “The current legal view of the Orban government is that the Paks pact is an international treaty, so it is not open to referendum (per Fidesz’s basic law of 2012), AND it is also a private contract, so they made important details secret for 10 years.”

    Does the contract bear the signature of a private contrahent? If yes, who is it? If no, the contract is not private.

  29. It would be useful to have a list of all the contracts and treaties which the government has declared secret.

  30. @Jean P

    January 14, 2014

    Putin: ” Today we signed an agreement on the construction of two new power units”

    “Following the talks, Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban WITNESSED the signing of a number of documents, including an intergovernmental agreement for cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power.”

    15.01.2014 15:23 | Communications Department of ROSATOM
    “Russian-Hungarian intergovernmental agreement”

    “The document was signed by Chief Executive Officer of ROSATOM Sergey Kiriyenko on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation and Minister of National Development Zsuzsanna Németh Lászlóné on behalf of the Government of Hungary.”

    So the agreement was signed by a Hungarian Minister-with-high-school-diploma and the CEO of a Russian State Agency.

  31. “Besides, in the framework of the Russian-Hungarian Summit the heads of companies Rusatom Overseas, on the Russian side, and MVM and Paks-2, on the Hungarian side, signed the following documents:

    “Basic terms and conditions of construction of NPP power units”,

    “Basic terms and conditions of fuel supply to NPP power units” and

    “Basic terms and conditions of rendering services to NPP power units.”

    Under these documents, the parties, following the mutually approved schedule, in 2014 are to draft and sign contracts required for bringing the Paks NPP expansion project to the active implementation phase.”

    “Rusatom Overseas, a subsidiary of the State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM”

  32. It seems that the main agreement was signed by the governments.

    The side agreements were signed by a subsidiary of a state agency on the Russian side and a 100% state-owned, incorporated firm whose shares are not traded on any stock exchange (ZRt) on the Hungarian side.

  33. A lot of Dutch and Belgian people living in Hungary are concerned about the new PAC deal. Is there an initiative from a group who is going to a court somewhere in this world to try to get the deal stopped. So that alternative calculation on other energy sources can be investigated

  34. >”But at least the document names Miklós Horthy and the government he appointed as guilty of the crime…”

    “In March 1944, 95 percent of the Hungarian Jews and the thousands of Jewish refugees from abroad were still alive; many Jewish factory owners and bankers in Budapest had made immense profits from manufacturing arms for the German and Hungarian armies.”
    Deak, Istvan Deak, Essays on Hitler’s Europe, pp. 154-55.

    “Horthy might, of course, have taken Kallay’s advice in late March to retire to his estate… Had he done this, the Regent’s historical reputation might have been enhanced, but the only practical result in Hungary would likely have been a more rapid deportation and annihilation of the Jews, including those of Budapest… Although he initially acquiesced in the deportation of the Jews, when the reality of the “Final Solution” finally penetrated his consciousness he acted in a forceful and courageous way that protected the Jews of Budapest. No other European leader caught in such a dilemma, with the military equation so heavily in Germany’s favor, had ever defied Hitler so directly.” Sakmyster, pp. 389-90.

    “So strong was pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic sentiment in the civil service, officer corps, and parliament that a decision by Horthy in 1942 or 1943 to accede to the German demand for deportation of the Jews would surely have meant the annihilation of the entire Hungarian Jewish community. But Horthy did not do this, for he believed that “inhumanity is alien to the Hungarian character.”… It was largely through his influence that in early 1944 Hungary was such an anomaly: an island in the heart of Hitler’s Europe where a semblance of the rule of law and a pluralistic society had been preserved in a sea of barbarism. And this was the basis of Horthy’s most important legacy to Hungarian history”. Sakmyster, p. 400.

  35. >Eliezer. This is Deák’s opinion. Others assess the situation differently. This is how historical dialogue works.

    Eva, Deak and, much more, Sakmyster. In relation to the facts on Jews in 1942-March 1944 and March1944-January 1945 I have not found dissident opinions until I read on this site that the occupation did not really occur. Braham, Karzai tells the same story. Karzai:

    “Until 1944, the lives of the great majority of Hungarian Jews were not directly in danger… Until 1944, Horthy and his advisers, out of moral and humanitarian considerations, among others, would not hand over the Hungarian Jews to the Nazi mass murderers.”

Comments are closed.