Imagine the White House chief of staff stating the following at a press conference after a significant meeting about a highly controversial issue with the leading representatives of American Jewry: “The President will address all of our fellow Americans as well as our Jewish citizens next week.” It does not take a lot of imagination to envision the firestorm of criticism that would follow such a division of the American people into real Americans versus Jewish citizens of America.
Yet, this is precisely what János Lázár, the Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s office, said after the unsuccessful round-table meeting with leading Hungarian Jewish organisations. Of course, he was not talking about fellow Americans but rather “fellow Hungarian countrymen” and “our Jewish citizens”.
Perhaps at other times this statement would have drawn more fire from liberal Hungarians and Hungarian Jews alike. At this time, though, Hungarian Jews are, in a sense, too focused on the trees to notice the forest. The largest Jewish organisation, Mazsihisz, in the past few weeks has been on a collision course with the government. On Sunday Mazsihisz identified three major issues with which the Hungarian government needs to deal in a satisfactory way for it to reconsider its decision to boycott the official commemorative events in 2014 scheduled for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary.
One may argue that the comparison between Americans and Hungarians does not work since the American people is a rather recent construct that designates a group of individuals whose coherence is not determined along ethnic lines. That argument, however, also applies to the Hungarian nation since it, too, is not only an amalgamation of various ethnic groups tied together by history, cultural affiliations and language but is also a constitutively heterogeneous nation.
The history of Hungary shows that any ethnic group that wished to become absorbed into the body of the nation could do so. The patriotic Hungarian Jews in the middle of the 19th century believed it was no different for them. And indeed, the endeavours of Jews in Hungary for the past 150 years to acculturate within Hungary began to bear very significant fruits from the time Hungarian Jews committed themselves on the side of the Hungarians against the Austrians in the abortive Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849.
Once the law removed all legal obstacles from Jewish Hungarians with the passing of the 1867 Jewish Emancipation Law, Hungarianisation of Jews accelerated at a remarkable pace. An increasing number of Jews in Hungary began to think of themselves and carried on their lives as Hungarians with their Jewish cultural affiliations either remaining intact or shrinking rapidly.
The ascendancy of Jews in all areas of Hungarian culture occasioned a severe backlash with Admiral Miklós Horthy’s assumption of power in 1920. The first anti-Jewish measures in all of Europe were passed in Hungary in the same year Horthy took power. The Numerus Clausus law, a sort of reverse affirmative action law, greatly limited the number of Jewish students eligible for university admissions.
From that moment on, the Jewish citizens of Hungary must have known that they were not considered as part of the Hungarian nation. The periodic eruptions of anti-Jewish riots in universities in the 1920s and 1930s constituted another painful reminder that Hungarian Jews were not welcome in the universities. In 1938-39, further anti-Jewish laws were passed that limited the number of Jews allowed in various intellectual professions.
These measures were taken because Hungarians of Jewish descent had become “too successful” in Hungary in all cultural and professional areas and had to be restrained. Jewish success was also Hungarian success. Hungarian Jews came up with amazing inventions, achieved Olympic victories, expanded industrial output and furthered intellectual work to the benefit of the entire nation. Yet, to the anti-Semite, a Jew remained a Jew no matter his or her acculturated appearance and estrangement from all things Jewish.
Nothing prepared Hungarian Jews for the horror that would befall them toward the end of the Second World War. The most tragic period for Hungarian Jews came in summer 1944 when Jewish life outside Budapest came to an abrupt end with mass deportations and the systematic murder of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews in eight weeks.
In Budapest itself, derisively called Judapest at the turn of the century for its large number of Jewish residents, Jews were herded into a large ghetto or went into hiding with false papers (many of whom, in a figurative if not literal sense, stayed in hiding as a Jew forever). That large numbers of Jews in Budapest could pass for non-Jews with the help of a piece of paper is eloquent testimony of the success of Hungarian Jewish acculturation.
The significant role of the regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, in allowing mass deportations from all of Hungary is clear to historians and Hungarian Jews. It is precisely the current Hungarian government’s attempt to re-evaluate and whitewash the Horthy regime with the proposed erection of a statue commemorating the 70th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary that has unified the otherwise very fragmented Jewish Hungarian part of the Hungarian people to an unprecedented extent.
Many in Hungary remember the rather placid and ineffective role Jewish organisations played in the face of increasing pressure just before and during the Holocaust. Although the facts are not as clear, the popular perception among many Jews today is that the Jewish council in 1944 collaborated with the authorities and, thereby, made the situation for the Jews much worse. So, the decision not to go along with the Hungarian government’s expectations of Jewish collaboration in the 70th anniversary’s commemorations constitutes a watershed moment in Hungarian Jewish history.
It is incumbent upon everyone to support this extraordinary self-assertion by the official representatives of Hungarian Jewry by urging everyone involved to follow suit and boycott all official government-sponsored commemorations of the Holocaust in 2014. That means every international dignitary, speaker or guest invited by the Orbán government to participate should now express solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants in Hungary who have made the difficult but morally correct decision to boycott these events.
Yet, complete non-action would serve no purpose.
I believe that all people of goodwill, whether inside or outside of Hungary, may now begin to contribute to conceiving and/or putting into action alternative modes of commemorations (both traditional as well as innovative ones) that would serve to educate people about what happens when age-old prejudices, greed, the active hatred of some and the callous indifference of the majority are combined, as happened in Hungary but 70 years ago, resulting in the gradual dispossession and large-scale murder of more than half a million people classified as Jews in death camps and in the streets of Budapest.
As far as Hungarian Jews are concerned, 2014 will not be a year of national reconciliation and forgiveness but rather the year in which even the most Hungarian of the Hungarian Jews will have to realise that they are still perceived as “our fellow Jewish citizens” rather than as “our fellow Hungarians”.
Horthy died on 9 February 1957. Fifty-seven years later to the day, Hungarian Jewish resistance to the revival of the Horthy cult and its exclusionary definition of what it means to be Hungarian was born.
David Mandler holds a Ph.D. in English from New York University and teaches English at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. His latest short story “The Loft” is available through amazon.com. Read more from him at drmandler.wordpress.com.
What a shame that Budapest Times always only asks one side, the liberal (or socialist) one.
Not exactly a high standard journalism. You give a twisted picture of Hungary, not the real one.
This way you will lose many of your readers.
Mazsihisz was never an independent organization, they always supported the Socialist Party (ex communists) no metter what. They even got high profile members from that party.
The new Israeli Ambassador Ian Mor is more realistic saying: Hungary isn’t an anti-Semitic country.
“the most Hungarian of the Hungarian Jews will have to realise that they are still perceived as “our fellow Jewish citizens” rather than as “our fellow Hungarians”.
Considering the Jews’ continued demands to have the Holocaust in special esteem and reverence claiming eminence above everything else, and also how very little interest they show in issues such as Trianon or the situation of minority Hungarians abroad can explain that why the rest of the country’s people (comprising around 99%) consider them as such.
“solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants ”
Is this some kind of inheritable status, like nobility, or WTF?
“That means every international dignitary, speaker or guest invited by the Orbán government to participate should now express solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants in Hungary who have made the difficult but morally correct decision to boycott these events.”
He means solidarity for the descendants who are standing up to the Orban government.
I totally agree with your sentiments. No reasonable person would deny the horrors suffered by the Jews in WW2 but the constant elevation of their suffering over everyone else has created a backlash from those who are rightly angered by this bias. No complete figures are available for the actual deaths caused by WW2 (non-combatant) but there seems no doubt that non-Jews outnumbered Jews so putting this into perspective would go a long way to improving attitudes.
minority Hungarian language speakers of other countries are NOT Hungarians. They are citizens of other countries. Stop worrying this as your problem. Finally, Number of Hungarian Jews before Holocaust 500,000. The number after WW II is just 45,000. 90% dead. That is a Big issue. And non-Jewish Hungarians are complicit in murdering and stealing from your fellow country men.
“minority Hungarian language speakers of other countries are NOT Hungarians. They are citizens of other countries.”
The person above who made this statement (Tamarin) is obviously out of touch with what it means to be a Hungarian. At the same time he does a 180 degrees turn and speaks about Hungarian Jews, rightfully indicating they are a separate ethnic group. Tamarind, you are the very definition of what it means to be an anti-Hungarian and a HYPOCRITE!
I find it interesting Tamarind states that Jews can somehow maintain an identity with each other (the fact that they are given their own ethnicity – Jews) but Hungarians living in other countries cannot maintain an identity with their compatriots. It is as if there are only two classes of people to Tamarind: Jewish people who have a common ancestry and cause and the rest of the world who are only separated into categories based on invisible lines drawn on a map and who have no right to claim association with anyone outside those political boundaries. Idiotic Argument!
What a timely article. My admiration goes to Mazsihisz (regardless of any possible political leanings which are in any case irrelevant) for taking such a principled and difficult stance.
Enough with the historical revisionism and time to own up to the past, not just abroad but at home.
The incontrovertible, well-documented historical fact is that Hungarian collaborators sent to their deaths half a million of their neighbours and fellow Hungarians. Whether current Hungarians careor wish to admit this is another matter.
The world, from Ireland to Ausralia is watching with amazement the current nationalistic display of hateful sentiment and opinion.
But I guess that’s what plays well to a populist and tacitly antisemitic segment two months before the election. And that’s why when three million live in poverty, the government hires stratospherically-priced New York PR firm.
“The incontrovertible, well-documented historical fact is that Hungarian collaborators sent to their deaths half a million of their neighbours and fellow Hungarians.”
While nobody denies the fact that following the German invasion in 1944 March the Hungarian Gendarmery and police participated in the deportation of Jews. that is a clear exaggeration to extende the responsibility in a collective way tp the vast majority of Hungarians who were not guilty in this, do not mention today’s Hungarians against whom this demand is addressed.
But this goes against the collective guilt idea. This is a very dangerous one, as it drives people towards the open arms of Jobbik and ilk; after all, people don’t tend to accept guilt for something that they (and their grandfathers) did not do, and tend to get upset when this is forced on them. This idea is rooted in the old Communist historical view (from the ’50s), and very much alike to the Jesus-killer accusations that were leveled against the Jewish people in the Middle Ages, assigning a collective guilt to a whole people for something their forefathers were supposed to be responsible for. While there WERE collaborators -as were in every single occupied country from time immemorial- I’d like to see a number. Exactly how many Hungarians were responsible for the murder of their countrymen? The number is in the hundreds; their actions are hardly representing the whole of the population.
(By the way, Alicia, where are the Roma? Why aren’t you mentioning them?)
As for Alicia’s other statement about Australia and Ireland…
Let’s see. Aborigines. Travelers. Blacks and Hispanics (not to mention Muslims) in the US. Arabs in France. The list is long…
This list of abhorring displays of racism from every part of the world – many cases on the official levels, no less (let’s think about the US prison system for a minute here) shows an also astonishing level of double standards here.
How sad, some people find it irrelevant that Mazsihisz supports the ex communists. Some other people (who think every human life is worth the same) find it really horrible. Must watch: “The soviet story”. Nazis and communists are the same, both are unscrupulous killers.
If only Hungary, [ and Italy] would realise that their woes and difficulties arise from and could be corrected by their attitude to the Jews.
God said to the Jews “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses the Jews, I will curse. poverty according to Scripture is a curse!
If you are a Jew you don’t know the Bible. This was commented to Israel, of which the Jews are just a small part. The Jews do not represent Israel as a whole, and Israel does not spell Jew.
Hungary =Nasizim. Hungarians are anti Semites to the core. One million Hungarian Jews were murdered with Hungarians helping the nazis in the Jewish murders. No one forgot this and no one will ever forgive or forget this, this is a stain on Hungary for ever , Hungary should erase and repent its nazi past , that’s the only way for Hungary to go forward
If you are seriously saying this, you are
2. hopelessly racist
3. clueless about history.
Perhaps some reading would help you.
what you talking about? In Australia we don’t give a stuff how much they push their Haulacuast. I’m a surviver myself – of the Jewish bank Haulacaust probably run by these desendents. The war is over…get on with it and stop shuffling the Haulacaust down our throaths. We’re not interested!
We have in North America a sudden surge in the number of Holocaust survivors, as if the fountain of youth was magically discovered more and more, and younger and younger, people are coming forward to speak at schools and community functions about their ordeals during the Holocaust. I don’t understand this, how can someone less than 60 years of age have survived an event that happened almost seventy years ago. Questioning the honesty of one of these speakers can get you arrested in Canada. These speakers graciously accept anywhere from $200 to $2000 dollars, which they promise to put to good use. Of course we also have people who claim to be Cancer survivors who actually never had cancer and bullying survivors who can’t remember the exact details but know it happened. I don’t suggest for a second that millions of people were not slaughtered, but I think this has become a lucrative industry. Didn’t one million Cambodians die under Pol Pot – and millions more suffer in Cambodian concentration camps, never heard of such a speaker being given a platform, perhaps someone can explain.
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