Krisztián Ungváry: One terror regime is taboo, while the other is market kitsch

I have been planning to publish an opinion piece by Krisztián Ungváry that appeared in the July 21 issue of Népszabadság for some time, but Viktor Orbán’s speech completely upset my plans.

On July 12 Mária Schmidt, the director of the House of Terror and the person appointed by the Orbán government to oversee the creation of a second Holocaust museum in Budapest, gave an interview that contained several misstatements regarding the views of Ungváry on the Hungarian Holocaust.

Considering that the issue of this new museum, the House of Fates, is still very much in the news and in fact I will devote a whole post to it tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to publish this polemic of Ungváry. After all, Hungarian Spectrum published in full Mária Schmidt’s article outlining her revisionist view of Hungarian-German relations as well as the fate of Hungarian Jewry, and therefore the readers of this blog are familiar with her line of reasoning. Moreover, in the same post I published Mária M. Kovács’s article in which she dissected Schmidt’s rather flimsy arguments.

Here is another article that sheds light on the way Mária Schmidt operates. Right now there is a stalemate between Mazsihisz and Schmidt over the House of Fates because the Jewish organization claims that Mária Schmidt’s statement published on August 8  misrepresented the understanding that was reached between Schmidt and several of the Jewish organizations involved with the project.

My thanks to “Buddy” for the translation of this interesting answer to Mária Schmidt. It is packed with little known and important facts about the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. Buddy would like to dedicate this translation to his professor, Professor Mária M. Kovács of Central European University.

* * *

Mária Schmidt doesn’t realize that she is committing the same tasteless mistakes that she accuses her opponents of, writes the historian, who responds in ten points to the statements of the director of the Terror House published on Nol.hu.

In her interview in the July 12, 2014 issue of Népszabadság, Mária Schmidt referred to my statements several times, but twisted them around every time. In other cases, she demonstrated an unfortunate lack of historical knowledge.

1. According to Mária Schmidt, I claimed that Hitler did not even want Hungarian Jews to be deported.

In contrast, I claimed that Hitler did not insist on the immediate deportation of all Hungarian Jews at any cost. This is not the same thing, to say the least.

2. According to Mária Schmidt, “questioning the loss of sovereignty is a cover for politically motivated malice, but if we can be generous, we have to assume a lack of knowledge and professional incompetence at a minimum.” In contrast, the German policy makers thought differently about this amongst each other.

After March 19, 1944, economic offices of the German military were forbidden to even enter the grounds of a Hungarian factory at all, or meet directly with Hungarian managers on official matters.

Wehrmacht units were strictly forbidden to buy or requisition products, as all of their needs had to be fulfilled only through storage depots of the German or Hungarian defense forces. An example of this restraint is an entry in the war diary of the panzer tank division, which stated that “we aren’t allowed to interfere in the economy, or requisition goods, or take a position on the Jewish question [!], which will be resolved by the Hungarian government.”

At a German Economic Ministry session on April 16, 1944, Department Head Schlotterer stated that Hungary was not an occupied country like France, Italy or Denmark, and its government was a sovereign partner, and that it had to be acknowledged that more should be done for their common struggle.

Karl-Otto Saur, the head of the German fighter program, remembers the same thing: “We can never work by giving orders, only with requests and offers may we act.” This is worth noting because Saur was not by any means a man of weak temperament, but just the opposite, someone infamous for exploiting his authority to the utmost in every case to achieve his objectives.

Plenipotentiary Edmund Veesenmayer was the only one who regularly reported to his superiors that he insistently acted against Hungarian public officials – all of which relativizes, to put it mildly, the claim that Hungary completely lost its independence on March 19, 1944.

3. According to Mária Schmidt, the Germans “solved the Jewish question similarly” in every country.

However, the literature on the Holocaust is consistent in showing that the opposite of this occurred. In Romania, for example, no one was deported to extermination camps. In France only a small group of Jews were sent there, while in the Netherlands and Belgium, nearly all of them were.

The differences are especially noticeable if we look at the percentage of Jews who survived the Holocaust in each country. Obviously, the Germans wanted to solve the Jewish question similarly, no question, but they were not able to enforce their will completely in every location.

It would be of great help to Mária Schmidt if she would at least obtain a decent high school history textbook or an encyclopedia, from which she could learn the relevant data on this.

4. Mária Schmidt finds it absurd that I claimed that we can not find a command from Hitler ordering the annihilation of the entire Hungarian Jewish population.

I must emphasize that it is not in question whether Hitler was responsible or not, and whether or not he stated the necessity of the annihilation of the Jews in general, but rather whether the German occupation of Hungary was also connected with the expectation that the entire Hungarian Jewish population had to be eradicated at any cost.

From this, I would have to conclude that Schmidt intends to prove that in spring 1944 Hitler gave an order for the complete and quick annihilation of Hungarian Jews in death camps, and obviously until now only requisite modesty has held her back from disclosing her evidence, which would completely rock the results of Holocaust research thus far, to the public.

5. Mária Schmidt claims that she has never encountered my aforementioned statement, and that I am the only one who is capable of such absurdities.

She would correct this statement if she read the literature of the Hungarian Holocaust, starting from Randolph L. Braham to László Karsai, Gábor Kádár, and Zoltán Vági, all the way to the work of Götz Aly and Christian Gerlach.

These authors are uniformly of the opinion that the German occupiers did not have a unified plan from the start about how to deal with Hungarian Jews. Of course, they received general instructions from their superiors, but owing to the exceptionally small number of German occupiers, they were forced from the start to carry out their anti-Jewish activities in cooperation with the Hungarian government, relying primarily, in fact, on the Hungarian apparatus.

Source: Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár

Source: Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár

6. According to Mária Schmidt, “certain people question a fundamental fact, in which there has been consensus up until now, namely that if the Nazi occupation of March 19, 1944 had not taken place, then the mass deportation and deaths of Hungarian Jews would not have occurred.”

I don’t know anyone who would cast doubt on this claim. So then who is Mária Schmidt arguing with?

7. According to Mária Schmidt, Eichmann’s incriminating statements comparing Hungarian officials to the Huns because of the brutality they showed with the deportations (which she mistakenly credits to Veesenmayer) were motivated by the fact that he was making excuses as a defendant in court.

The tiny flaw in all of this is that a significant part of Eichmann’s statements incriminating Hungarians originated in Argentina, when he gave an interview to a Dutch Nazi. Not holding back, he made statements that for the most part seriously incriminated himself during the interview, as he wanted to prove that he himself was the number one person responsible for the Holocaust.

8. According to Mária Schmidt, Eichmann and Veesenmayer forced the Hungarian perpetrators of the Holocaust to cooperate through extortion on a daily basis.

By comparison, historical scholarship reveals the exact opposite of this. The overzealousness of the Hungarian enforcers surprised even the German perpetrators. Eichmann was delighted with László Endre, State Secretary for Home Affairs, and his colleagues. He didn’t have to resort to extortion on Endre even once, especially since he only had advisory authority.

When the Hungarian authorities wanted to push back on Eichmann, they could do so without any trouble, for example when they didn’t permit him to deport those of military age. The situation was also similar with Veesenmayer, except that he did in fact attempt extortion, but if the Hungarian side did not wish to cooperate with him (such as after June 6, 1944, for example), then Veesenmayer’s attempts at extortion all came to nothing.

I am interested in seeing evidence from Mária Schmidt showing how, for example, Eichmann extorted the gendarmes and rural civil servants to get them to subject every woman branded as a racial Jew to a vaginal search…

I am also interested in hearing how Mária Schmidt would explain that in 1942 several county assemblies voted in favor of a bill that provided for the deportation of the Jews.

How would she explain Prime Minister Miklós Kállay’s characterization of 75% of MPs in the ruling party as intransigent anti-Semites, because they also demanded the deportation of the Jews even before the German occupation?

Perhaps Eichmann and Veesenmayer could have extorted them?

9. All appearances indicate that Mária Schmidt struggles with langauge difficulties, as when she claims that with Sándor Szakály’s infamous statement calling the deportations of 1941 “a police action against aliens,” his only problem was that he used terminology of that time.

There are contemporary expressions that mean the same today as they did in the past, and can be used without any trouble. There are others which do not mean the same thing, but their meanings are clear, such as “malenkii robot,” about which nobody would ever think that the person involved had to work “just a little.”

This is because this expression is used solely and exclusively in the context of deportations to the Soviet Union. And finally, there are those that do not mean the same thing today as they did back then, and their meanings are not at all clear.

Such is it with the notorious “police action against aliens,” which even in 1941 did not mean procedures carried out against aliens, as a part of the “aliens” affected were native to Hungary. Moreover, out of the “aliens,” it solely and exclusively affected those considered to be Jews.

But even apart from this, it is disgraceful that someone uses this expression today to refer to the Jewish deportations, since the act had as much to do with police activity towards aliens as prostitution does to comfort. If I may draw a parallel: Japanese authorities called “comfort women” (ju-gun-ian-fu) those women who before 1945 were forced into brothels by the Japanese Imperial Army through brutal means.

The unreflected usage of this expression is just as scandalous as when Sándor Szakály, hiding behind objections on terminology, conceals that it was in fact a brutal act of anti-Semitism carried out by independent resolution from the Hungarian government, as opposed to the Germans, and about which even from the start they could have known would lead to the destruction of a significant portion of those affected (as no provisions had been made for their livelihood, their valuables however had been partially confiscated).

10. Mária Schmidt distorts the truth when she credits me with saying that the presence of NATO troops in Hungary is identical to the presence of the Wehrmacht.

Three years ago, an argument was made in connection with the preamble to the Hungarian Constitution that Hungary lost its sovereignty because foreign troops had entered its soil. I answered then (and repeated in my writing published this year dealing with the preamble to the Constitution) that with this logic, we would have to regard the presence of NATO troops as also creating a circumstance in which Hungary has lost its independence.

From this, Mária Schmidt fabricated the assertion that I believe that the Wehmacht and NATO resided in Hungary on the same basis.

Finally, a comment: Mária Schmidt regularly argues that her own sensitivities also need to be taken into account, and that she considers the lack of this as a sign of double talk.

I think some serious conceptual confusion exists here. I readily admit that she can also claim some victims in her family, such as her grandmother, who died in the war, or her father, who was hauled off as a prisoner of war. In any case, not a single critic has disputed, or hasn’t disputed for that matter, that a memorial to prisoners of war and war victims should be created from public funds.

But Mária Schmidt wants us to lament for her victims in exactly the same way as those who were murdered or knowingly sent to their deaths by Hungarian government officials.

Shouldn’t we consider that due to the differences between the two groups of victims, it would be useful to not always treat them as if they were in the same category? Don’t misunderstand me, every human life is as valuable as another, and every bereavement is equally unique.

But there is a difference between who is responsible for victimizing whom. Mária Schmidt’s relatives – if I understand correctly – were not victimized by the Hungarian state in even a single instance. In contrast to this, the Hungarian state played a decisive role in the tragedy of the Hungarian Jews, which is why the Hungarian state should perhaps memorialize this group differently than those for whom they were not responsible (or to a completely different degree) for their sufferings.

Mária Schmidt’s image of her main enemy consists of those from the “left-liberals loudmouths” to members of the “’68 generation.” It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t realize that she is committing the same tasteless mistakes that she accuses her opponents of, primarily by applying double standards.

A telling example of this is the gift shop in her own museum, where, curiously enough, specific souvenirs of only one totalitarian dictatorship are available for sale. Those who wish to purchase humorous Stalin or Lenin figurines find themselves in the right place. If there’s an attitude that should truly be left behind, it is Mária Schmidt’s behavior that makes one terror regime taboo, while making market kitsch out of the main people responsible for the other.

 

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55 comments

  1. And btw ……. Intelligence is not just the focussed ability to do puzzles. I have found out in life that common sense and intelligence are inversely proportional to the number of bits of paper that ‘testify’ how clever you are……

  2. Charlie

    1. I don’t fetishize IQ, you were the one who brought it up.

    2. I understand and agree with what you say, though. There is a difference between the views of some misinformed or uneducated citizens and the views of the people officially in charge of running a museum or the country. And yes, as Kirsten says, people do cherish myths and stories that make the nation feel better about themselves in every country, to some extent. But there does seem to be a lack of alertness in Britain concerning the distortion of truth about the world wars, including – worryingly – the media. (As Paul also explained.) And ideally the gap between the two should not be very big.

  3. Paul

    “The gradual withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire was the eventual cause of this collapse, as it enabled Austria to dream well above its weight (by annexing the Southern Slav countries), and gave Germany the excuse it had long sought to flex its military muscles and become the leading country in Europe. Obviously, Britain and France weren’t going to allow that, so war was inevitable.”

    Precisely. (Although I like to think that wars are never inevitable, it’s just something we like to think afterwards…)

    ” We like to think of the First War as between us and the Germans, and as Germany being responsible for it”

    I’ve noticed!

    ” but it could well be that it is us who were responsible for the way it turned out and the terrible slaughter that followed.”

    Now that’s very interesting, I haven’t thought of that. (I will have to think about it.)
    But I know that Germany WAS dreaming about building a navy rivalling Britain’s, getting colonies and becoming a power beyond Europe. So the Brits might have had a point of worrying, even if they overestimated the chances of realizing those dreams.
    Some people in Britain explain it partly by the fact that the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, was born from the mixed marriage of the Kaiser and Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Vicky. He apparantly has psychological issues with his mother (his arm was injured during birth and was paralyzed for life), and – having spent a big part of his childhood in Britain – also struggled with his mixed identity. He sensed that Brits looked down on “backwards Germany”, and wanted to show them that they, too, are powerful. Well, this might be the simplification in the style of OK! magazine though…

  4. Paul

    you ask

    “I assume you are a Hungarian married to a Brit? If so, do you have kids going through the British education system? It would be fascinating to hear your views on the plusses and minuses of the two systems (especially when compared to my wife’s!).”

    Yes, I’m a Hungarian married to an Englishman (he also went to grammar school, in the 80s).Yes, we have a daughter, who is currently preparing for the 11+ exam (it’s in September, when she is starting Year 6 in primary). We don’t live in Cheshire any more, but where we are now, there are still quite a few good grammar schools, both private and free. They usually take in about the top 10% of children in our area (most are not co-educated). The test seems quite tough, to me!

    Before we go into comparing the schools of the two countries, you should know that my husband and I are both teachers, but both slowly “phasing out” from the profession. For various reasons. So: SATs, OFSTED, Michael Gove God bless his …., I wish I knew less about them!

    It’s difficult to answer your question in just a few sentences – if you would like a black or whote answer, I think the British school system is much better than the Hungarian. The children are more respected, schools cooperate better with the parents. Teachers get training about recent research on teaching methods, and schools in general, well, respect the law. Children learn in their own speed, in different groups. The children do a lot of research on their own, they find the answers out themselves to many things, rather than being told to memorize it from a book. My daughter has homework and practice, but she doesn’t “learn”, like Hungarians do. A lot of attention is paid to equal opportunities, teaching citizenship, school council elections, they start “practicing” democracy at a very young age. History teaching – there is no fact memorizing. They do a lot of reasearch themselves. If they have a “topic” like the Victorians, or the Stuarts or Vikings, they get immersed in it, paint or design dresses, go on a trip to a museum, act it out, personalize it. They design, write and illustrate books. Everything according to their age. I like the fact that it is not just about “knowledge” – they pay attention to building skills, like problem solving skills, team work etc There are no grades / marks, but they still get good (much better!) feedback, and so do the parents. I could go on. I like the idea of wearing uniforms as well, though most European countries frown upon it, and it has disadvantages.
    Schools obviously have a lot of funding, visual aids, IT equipments, brilliant libraries, music insruments, money allocated for special needs children, teaching assistants are v good!, money for gifted and talented children.

    I have problems with children having to start school at the age 4 / 5. Nursery school is only for 1 year. Why can’t they play a little bit longer? Climbing frames, singing, drawing and sticking etc would be better. I know the first years in primary, especially reception is “ovoda”, really, but they do start reading and writing, adding up numbers etc. I think that is too soon.
    Another thing I have noticed in primary is the lack of “more sophisticated, classical culture” (I don’t know what would be a better word for it?). Children do go on stage, act things out, sing and dance, but it’s mainly disco and pop, with some country and bangra dancing thrown in. Music teaching is also playing pop-rock, nothing more sophisticated, classical, traditional or folk. I think Hungary is better at that. Poetry and literature is also about what the words or pieces mean, not so much about emotions, passion, moods and sensual things you express with the language.

    As a teacher, I feel teachers are too controlled, not respected as professionals. There is too much what we call “paperwork” – box-ticking, target-setting and achieving. Individual learning plans whether they are relevant or not, observations picking on things for the sake of it. Children don’t get grades because evidence suggests it is counterproductive, but teachers are graded, based on one visit in the classroom for an hour, then a whole plan of tutorials and re-observations is drawn up, meaning mostly increased paperwork and stress. I’m not against observing and checking teachers, even less against “continuous professional development”, but you have to see the terrorizing that goes on to believe it. Teachers are treated as if they were trainees, and the whole “exam-focus” rubbish comes from the lack of trust towards the teachers.
    I willl leave it at that, before I get too passionate… 😀

    But on the whole, it’s much better than the Hungarian system, definitely much better for the children!

    Bear in mind though, that I haven’t really got “parent-experiences” of secondary comprehensives.

    Oh, on grammar schools – just to add, they are considered a kind of “clever children from poor families” system (poor as in can’t afford Eton). Children drop their accent in their grammar school years and start to use “posh” words. They usually go to the good universities afterwards, but children go to Oxford from comprehensive schools, as well – it just depends WHICH school, which area etc…

    Now let me know what your wife thinks about British schools! 🙂

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