Veritas Historical Research Institute

The last straw: Either true depiction of the Hungarian Holocaust or Jewish boycott

The fallout from Sándor Szakály’s outrageous comments on the Kamenets-Podolskii mass murder of deportees delivered to German-occupied Ukraine is intensifying in Hungary. Instead of calling it what it was, the first atrocity in the Hungarian Holocaust, Szakály called it “a police action against aliens.” It seems that this was the last straw for Mazsihisz, the organization that represents non-Orthodox Jewish religious communities.

An exceptionally strongly worded statement appeared on Mazsihisz’s website this morning. Here is a translation of this very important document. We must keep in mind that in the past Mazsihisz was relatively inactive and avoided serious confrontations with the Hungarian government. The fact that such a statement was released by Mazsihisz shows how strained relations between the Orbán government and the Jewish communities have become in the last four years.

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The leadership of Mazsihisz is aghast and finds incomprehensible the relativization of the Holocaust by the “Veritas” Institute established by the Hungarian government. The director of the “Veritas” Institute, Sándor Szakály, called the deportation of Kamenets-Podolskii, the first mass murder of the Hungarian Holocaust, “a police action against aliens.” After the failure of his past efforts at falsifying history, we expect him to resign from his position.

The leadership of Mazsihisz calls on all politicians to refrain from using the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust as an element in the electoral campaign and asks all concerned to refrain from rewriting our past. If the government of Hungary is serious about facing the true history of the Holocaust,  it should immediately put an end to the disrespectful behavior that is ruinous for the credibility of the memorial year of 2014.

Because of the lack of information about the ideology of the new Holocaust Center at Józsefváros, because of what transpired at the Horthy Conference at the House of Terror, because of the falsification of history in the series “Lifesaving Stories” on Magyar Rádió, because of the erection of the [German occupation] memorial on Szabadság tér, and because of the statements of the director of the “Veritas” Institute, Mazsihisz is seriously contemplating refraining from participation in the events of the Holocaust Year. Moreover, we will make use of the grant we received from the Civil Grant Fund only if there is a change in the direction of the whole project.

We call everybody’s attention to the words of Sándor Márai: “We cannot excuse, we cannot explain what happened, but we can admit it and can tell it.  This will be the duty of this generation.”

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András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz

András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz

Since then Szakály was invited by Antónia Mészáros of ATV for a chat on her program. He started out on a high horse and tried to prove the correctness of his interpretation by reading passages from Randolph L. Braham’s work on the Hungarian Holocaust. Naturally, since the appearance of that monumental work several books and articles have appeared on the subject. Szakály is either unfamiliar with this research or purposely ignored it. By the end of the conversation, however, he was less sure of his views and admitted that perhaps he was wrong. But that is not a political issue, he claimed, but differences of opinion within the profession. Initially he categorically announced that he has no intention of resigning, but by the end he was quite contrite. Obviously he realized the precariousness of his situation.

Mazsihisz’s quasi ultimatum pushes Viktor Orbán into a corner. He either has to sack Szakály, force Mária Schmidt to allow a dialogue with the Jewish community concerning the new Holocaust Center, and give up the idea of erecting a monument to the German occupation which is an important part of the myth he wants to create about the innocence of Hungarians in the Holocaust, or he loses the support of the Hungarian and international Jewry which he seems to find very important. Perhaps he thinks that key members of the American Jewish community will rush to his aid and convince the American government that the current Hungarian government is democratic and especially sensitive when it comes to anti-Semitism. I doubt, however, that such an intervention on Viktor Orbán’s behalf, even if it materialized, could counterbalance, for example, Orbán’s “strategic alliance” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

We will see what will happen. One thing is sure: the leadership of Mazsihisz is not exaggerating. A wholesale falsification of history has been under way for some time. On all fronts and not just the Holocaust. Lately, for instance, MTV launched a series on the late 1980s and the regime change. The job was given to someone who is not qualified, and the first two segments were apparently crawling with factual errors. And, of course, with revisionist history. On Duna TV there is another questionable historical series called “Heritage.” Put it this way, the number of programs dealing with history is far too high and therefore highly suspicious. One wishes that politicians would leave history alone. We would all be much better off.

Sándor Szakály, the new head of the Veritas Historical Institute, is embarking on rewriting Hungarian history

One outrage after the other. Here is the enlargement of the Paks power plant that sounds more and more like a very bad and costly investment. I’m sure that in the future we will be forced to return to the topic because there are so many question marks surrounding this “deal of the century” that it is bound to be discussed for a long time to come.

Another recent outrage stemmed from an interview with Sándor Szakály, the newly appointed director of the Veritas Történetkutató Intézet. You may recall that a few months ago the decision was made to establish yet another historical institute which would be directly subordinated to the prime minister’s office. It was designed to be an institute that will “set right” the hitherto falsified history of modern Hungary. I wrote about this proposed institute in November 2013 when its establishment was announced in the official government gazette.

Szakály, a military historian, is 59 years old. After graduating from college in 1980 he got a job in the Archives of Military History. There he slowly moved up until he became director of the Archives during the first Orbán administration. His historical views destined him to be an important figure in molding public opinion. In 2001 he joined the staff of Duna Television, the channel that has the function of influencing members of the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries. Initially he was in charge of cultural matters but soon enough he became vice president of the station. After the lost Fidesz election in 2002 Szakály had to start his career practically anew. For a while he did  historical research without having a full-time job but eventually he landed a professorship at the university that grants degrees to gym teachers. Former president Pál Schmidt received his “doctorate” based on a plagiarized dissertation from that institution.

When Viktor Orbán returned to power in 2010 Szakály’s “exile” ended. He became a full professor at the Gáspár Károli Calvinist University in 2010 and by 2011 was a department head. (Mind you, this university in my opinion wouldn’t even receive accreditation in the United States.) Last year Szakály moved on to become vice president of the newly created Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (National Civil Service University), which also includes the former Hungarian military academy.

Szakály is not a conservative historian; I think we can safely call him a hard-core right-winger. Only a couple of months ago he gave a lecture on Gyula Gömbös, prime minister between 1932 and 1936, in Szekszárd as part of a series organized by a local Jobbik leader. So, Szakály is obviously a welcome guest in Jobbik circles. I don’t think too many people were aware of this lecture, which was reported only by Népszabadság‘s stringer, but from the description one gets the impression that Szakály’s assessment of Gömbös is a great deal more positive than the accepted view that his plans included the introduction of a fascist-like regime, something similar to Mussolini’s system in Italy.

This speech may have passed unnoticed, but when he shared his plans for the new institute with MTI he made waves. His initial bullet points were that Veritas will have 25 employees, historians who will study the history of Hungary between 1867 and 1990. He is planning a conference entitled “From Occupation to Occupation.” They plan to rewrite the history of the regime change of 1989-1990. They will organize programs in 2016 for the 60th anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution.

After stating that historians mustn’t be biased and that Veritas will be free of political pressure, he immediately explained that Veritas “must represent a little different ethos” from the one that has dominated Hungarian historical institutes. For example, “it is not considered to be correct nowadays to say that there was something that preceded the White Terror.” (A baldfaced lie.)  He went on to explain the Horthy regime’s attitude toward the members of the illegal communist party. According to him, “one mustn’t forget that the local communist party was part of the Communist International, which meant that its members were considered to be spies for a foreign power and therefore the authorities handled them accordingly.” He also thinks that the case of Endre Ságvári must be reconsidered. (Endre Ságvári was a member of the illegal communist party who, while four gendarmes were trying to arrest him, shot and wounded three of them. In turn he was shot and died shortly after. That happened on July 27, 1944, after Hungary allegedly lost its sovereignty on March 19, 1944.)

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk.

Szakály is planning to rewrite the history of the bombing of Kassa/Košice. No one knows who actually bombed the city on June 26, 1941, an act that prompted the Hungarian government to declare war on the Soviet Union. There are guesses but no solid evidence. Some historians thought that the Hungarian High Command, whose members were pro-German, in cahoots with the German military planned the bombing in order to force the Hungarian government to join Germany’s war effort. Others were certain that the planes came from Slovakia. Still others tried to argue that it was the Soviets who bombed the city by mistake. As far as I know, no evidence has emerged in the last few years that would decide the issue. But I assume that a lack of evidence will not deter Szakály.

The most outrageous comment Szakály made concerned the fate of those Jews who couldn’t properly demonstrate to the authorities their Hungarian citizenship. Several thousand of them were actually Hungarians; others came from Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Austria. Shortly after the declaration of war, in July 1941, the Hungarian authorities deported approximately 14,000 of these people to territories that are part of Ukraine today, which were then occupied by the Germans. Once in German hands they were massacred in a place called Kamenets-Podolsk together with the local Jewish population. According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia altogether 23,600 Jews were massacred in this action.

The “reinterpretation” of this event is obviously on the table at the Veritas Historical Institute. According to Szakály, “some historians consider this event to be the first deportation of Jews from Hungary” but in his opinion it can more properly be considered “a police action against aliens” (idegenrendészeti eljárás). He also claimed that when the Hungarian authorities discovered that these people had been killed, the minister of interior immediately stopped the deportations.

It was this description of the deportation that hit a nerve in Hungary. Even the young conservatives of Mandiner are outraged. Demokratikus Koalíció immediately demanded Szakály’s prompt dismissal. Of course, Szakály will not be recalled and everything will continue on its merry way with the rewriting of Hungarian history, including that of the Holocaust.

Tomorrow I’m planning to give a brief summary of what actually happened in July-August 1941 in the northeastern corner of Hungary, from where these poor people were deported and sent to German-occupied territories. But I can say one thing right now. Szakály is not telling the truth the whole truth. The Hungarian government didn’t put an end to the deportations alone, it was also urged by the German authorities.

Neo-Nazi/Jobbik programs on Duna TV: The Orbán government has no objection

I have been planning for some time to write a post about the neo-Nazi propaganda that can be heard daily on Duna TV.

Duna TV was established during the Antall government and is supposed to serve the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries, although I understand that MTV covers a large portion of the territories in question. In any case, at Duna TV, just like at all other public media outlets, the change of government brought in an entirely new management and staff. The old right-of-center ideology that was the trademark of Duna TV was not good enough for the Orbán government. By now there are a couple of programs on Duna TV that are neo-Nazi propaganda, pure and simple.

A rewriting of Hungarian history is one of the goals of this relatively young crew, whose roots go back to their days as HÖK officials in various Hungarian universities. I wrote several times about this student association (Hallgatói Önkormányzat), which bears a suspicious resemblance to KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). Just like KISZ secretaries, HÖK presidents receive salaries and have large sums of money at their disposal. There were scandals at several universities involving HÖK, and there is no question that in most colleges HÖK is “the breeding ground for Jobbik.” At ELTE’s faculty of arts one HÖK chairman after the other ended up in Jobbik. One of the chairmen, István Szávay, is today a member of parliament.

Szávay’s predecessor at ELTE’s HÖK, Gábor Balogh, calls himself a historian, although he is in reality a Jobbik propagandist. He writes for far-right publications and, according to at least one source, is on the editorial board of, the site the Orbán government claims not to be able to shut down. At one time he worked for Barikád, the official publication of Jobbik. His name could also be found as a contributor to, and lately he writes for Jobbegyenes (Straight Right). He gives lectures on political and historical topics to sympathetic audiences which are then made available on YouTube by igazCsepel, who seems to be the cameraman of Jobbik.

Why did Gábor Balogh’s name crop up suddenly? One reason is that in Jobbegyenes he wrote a sharply worded article about Imre Kerényi’s asinine Magyar Krónika, in which he expressed his misgivings about such primitive ideas that give a bad name to the conservative ideology. György Bolgár asked him for an interview, during which Balogh was asked about his professional activities outside of writing a blog. It turned out that he produces and edits television shows on historical and literary topics. From here it was only a couple of clicks to the notorious series aired on Duna TV called Hagyaték (Inheritance).

I don’t watch Duna TV and therefore had no idea that this series is not new. In fact, more than 50 programs were already produced and shown. Every Saturday there is a new segment which is then repeated over and over every day of the week, sometimes twice a day. So, one doesn’t have to worry about missing one of the programs. The programs are also available on YouTube. A Facebook friend called my attention to one that he found especially upsetting entitled “Geniuses at a dead-end: Endre Ady and Attila József.” The conclusion of this program was that these two poets were basically good Hungarians whose Jewish friends led them astray. One of the latest programs extolled the virtues of the Hungarian aristocracy whose only goal in life was service to people and country. Another recent program was devoted to the praise of the Hungarian gendarmes whose activities were distorted after 1945, primarily the result of personal revenge because of their involvement in the “logistics of deportation.” Naturally, what the writers and producers of the program mean is that it was the returning Jews or their surviving relatives who falsified the true role of the gendarmes. One can see many, if not all, of the segments of Hagyaték in the video archives of Duna TV.

Already two years ago people noticed that blatant Arrow Cross and Jobbik propaganda was going on at Duna TV. Péter Urfi of Magyar Narancs wrote an open letter to Zoltán Rockenbauer, the editor of MTVA in charge of cultural programs, in which he complained about Hagyaték and Száműzött magyar irodalom (Banished Hungarian literature) shown on Duna TV. Naturally, nothing happened because including such programs among the offerings of the public television stations is not the result of a misstep or an unfortunate mistake but is part and parcel of what I see as a planned political move by the Orbán government. There may not be a written or verbal agreement between Fidesz and Jobbik, but there is no question in my mind that the Orbán government panders to Jobbik with these programs which rewrite Hungarian history according to Jobbik tenets. A prominent place is given to the map of Greater Hungary, and there is a lot of talk about Trianon and “Nem, nem, soha!” (No, no, never!). Often the commentator talks about Kárpáthaza (Carpathian Home) instead of Magyarország, which is a borrowing from Ferenc Szálasi’s ideological vocabulary.


About a month ago Blikk discovered that the son-in-law of Sándor Lezsák, deputy president of the Hungarian parliament (Fidesz), has a company called Dextramedia Kft. that produces television programs. This company received an order from MTVA to produce a five-part series on the everyday lives of those people who, after losing their homes because of their Forex loans, moved into the ill-conceived newly erected community in Ócsa. At this time Blikk‘s only question was the connection between the owner of the company and a high Fidesz official. But it seems that there is a more to Dextramedia. A couple of days later reported that Dextramedia produced for the neo-Nazi Internet N1TV a warm remembrance of Hitler on the anniversary of his birth. And then we learned from that Dextramedia was one of the sponsors of the Christmas Eve concert of a band called Nemzeti Front. Among the other sponsors was  I guess nobody will be terribly surprised to hear that Hagyaték is also produced by Dextramedia. The gate between Fidesz and Jobbik is wide open.

A couple more pieces of information. The new historical institute, Veritas, is supposed to spearhead the rewriting of Hungary’s history. János Lázár found an ideologically appropriate director–Sándor Szakály, a military historian who wrote a whole book on the history of the Hungarian gendarmes. Szakály was one of the experts asked to comment on the history of the organization for Hagyaték. We learned from him that the Hungarian gendarmerie was the best in the whole world. The 12,000 gendarmes were the most disciplined force in the country, and their main task was the prevention of crime. They were friends of the people but enemies of the criminals. They were extremely well trained and received continuing education. They had to wear their uniforms and carry their weapons even when off duty.

Szakály went on and on about the greatness of the force, and he was assisted by another expert–Péter Ákos Kosaras, a high school teacher (by now principal), who lost his job when he posted a picture of himself on a Hungarian social media site dressed in an SS uniform, which he captioned “a good-hearted SS officer.” But he wasn’t unemployed for long. I understand that Kosaras has since written a book entitled Magyarok a Waffen SS- kötelékében (Hungarians in the Waffen SS) in which he portrays these people as heroes.

The objectionable Hagyaték shows are directed by Attila Vándor, one of the owners of Dextramedia, and the editor is our Gábor Balogh.

Veritas Historical Research Institute: State ordered history

Today I’ll add a little more color to Viktor Orbán’s decision to establish a new institute whose associates will study history, specifically the history of the last 150 years.

As I wrote earlier, the new body will be known as the Veritas Historical Research Institute. The government decree (373/2013. (X. 25.) was signed by Viktor Orbán himself. Who knows who planted the idea of yet another historical institute into the prime minister’s head and who came up with the idea of calling it Veritas. I assume the party hacks, including the prime minister himself, believe in one “truthful” description of past events and hence the name. Unfortunately they are not alone in this holding this untenable view. Even a learned legal scholar, László Sólyom, was foolish enough to talk about the necessity of producing a “true” history of the October Revolution of 1956. A rather strange idea from some who comes from the world of legal research with its many conflicting opinions.

Clio, Goddess Muse of History

Clio, muse of history

History, just like law or any other social science, is not exact; it is not like mathematics where 2 + 2 is always 4. There are, of course, indisputable facts, the kinds we discussed at length in our debate over Miklós Horthy’s decision to halt the deportation of Budapest Jews on August 24, 1944. But his motivations are open to interpretation. So Viktor Orbán is looking in vain for absolute truth from the future associates of the Veritas Institute.

It is worth taking a look at the actual decree to see that the search for truth is not the principal goal of the Orbán government. In one of the first sentences we read that the government is establishing this institute “in the interest of national unity with special emphasis on the legal tradition.” The works born there will have “to strengthen national consciousness.”

Those historians who join the staff will have their goalposts set by none other than János Lázár, chief of staff of the prime minister’s office. As Csaba Fazekas mentions in an article on the subject in Galamus today, this government doesn’t worry about appearances because a research institute of this sort should fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources which is in charge, among other things, of education. It will be János Lázár who will appoint and/or dismiss the director of the institute, whose appointment will be for five years. There will be two deputy directors, also appointed  and/or dismissed by Lázár. Someone will be in charge of finances, and again it will be Lázár on whom his appointment depends. The remuneration of the staff will also be decided by Lázár. So, for all practical purposes it will be János Lázár who will head the Veritas Institute.

What does the Orbán government expect from this new historical institute? “To reveal  the formation of the system of parliamentary democracy.” If you think this mandate doesn’t make sense and perhaps it is only a bad translation, you are wrong. This is what the decree says. In addition, the historians who work there will have to study “the survival of the centuries-old parliamentary tradition, a unique feature of the Hungarian legal system,  in the last one hundred and fifty years.” A questionable statement.

But that’s not all. They will have to work on a “portrait gallery” which, I assume, means, writing biographies of important politicians. Since this government is madly looking for forebears, I assume the emphasis will be on politicians of a conservative bent.  The publications should also concentrate on “the successful efforts of successive governments worthy of emulation.” Parties and their ideologies should be studied with special emphasis on unique national characteristics and traditions. The researchers should pay attention to the whole Carpathian Basin, but naturally the focal point of that attention should be Hungary. In addition, the historians working at Veritas must fulfill any tasks János Lázár deems necessary for them to perform.

After reading this “to do” list, someone unfamiliar with Hungarian historiography might think that the history of the last 150 years is uncharted territory. Of course, this is not the case. There are thousands and thousands of books and articles on all of the subjects mentioned in this decree. So it is not a dearth of historical literature that prompted the Orbán government to establish a research institute under its direct supervision. Moreover, if they simply wanted to encourage more historical research they could have given additional money to universities and to the existing research institutes. No, the Orbán government wants to have their “own version of modern Hungarian history.” The kind that serves their political agenda. They want an “alternative” history, separate from the normal historical intercourse.

If the government’s plans for Veritas bear fruit, we can predict the ideology that will motivate the historians working there. But Veritas cannot function in a bubble, and the monographs produced within its walls will have to stand the test of time and the criticism of colleagues. Unless, of course, Viktor Orbán plans to introduce a totalitarian dictatorship where there is only one official history. But that kind of forcible uniformity of historical thought couldn’t even survive for long during the socialist period. By the late 1960s different schools of historical thought and different interpretations surfaced. Csaba Fazekas points out that during the socialist period MSZMP established an institute called Párttörténeti Intézet (Institute of Party History), but even within that body by the 1970s and 1980s the party line was not always followed.

With a little luck the Veritas Institute will be short lived. We don’t need history that is merely propaganda in academic disguise.