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Historians’ debate reheated

July 14th, 2014

A leading conservative historian accuses a group of left-liberal intellectuals of creating vicious divisions within society by using World War Two history for political purposes. Liberal historians reply by accusing her of historical revisionism.

In Heti Válasz,  Mária Schmidt, director of the Terror House Museum suggests that leftist and liberal intellectuals are using the memory of the Holocaust to take revenge for the “demise of their intellectual terror” after the successive electoral defeats of the Left in 2010 and 2014. She denounces the campaign against the planned monument commemorating the occupation of Hungary by Nazi Germany (see BudaPost, January 4), as a move preventing Hungarians from joining together in mourning their war time dead. In fact, she argues, those critics are trying to shift the principal blame for the Hungarian Holocaust from the Nazis to the Hungarian authorities, whose guilt she does not deny, but who would have never produced the Hungarian Holocaust had Nazi Germany not invaded Hungary. By loudly opposing a monument to all the victims, Schmidt continues, and enlisting international support behind their protest, those left-liberal intellectuals “exclude themselves from the national community.” (For the full text in English see Mandiner, July 10)

In Népszabadság, left-liberal historian Mária M. Kovács interprets Schmidt’s article as “a provocation and declaration of war”. She accuses Schmidt of having “crossed a line”, and of “trying to exclude from the national community” those intellectuals whose opinions differ from hers. Furthermore, M. Kovács quotes a sentence by Mária Schmidt on the recent “imperial” expectations to describe the Holocaust in only one pre-determined fashion as proof that the director-historian has crossed another line by referring to the Holocaust as a topic “defined by empire”.

In a long article in Heti Válasz (print edition), Krisztián Ungváry, a historian who defines himself as conservative and is quoted by Mária Schmidt as alleging that the main culprits of the Hungarian Holocaust were not the Nazis, denies that charge. He says it is pointless to create a ‘hierarchy of blame’, but notwithstanding the obvious responsibility of Nazi Germany, the role the Hungarian authorities played in this tragedy cannot be called secondary, he suggests. Ungváry says “there is no evidence of Hitler ever having ordered the complete physical annihilation of Hungary’s Jewry”.

In an interview with Népszabadság, Mária Schmidt upholds her opinion that the systematic mass murder of Hungarian Jewry would not have been possible without Nazi occupation, and refers to Ungváry’s statement (without mentioning him by name) as an unprecedented attempt to find excuses for Hitler. She condemns politically motivated attempts at dividing the nation along historical lines. Hungarian citizens, she explains,  all carry their particular historical wounds, and focusing exclusively on our own grievances does not lead anywhere. She expresses her wish to live in a country where the generations of the present are not divided into victims and perpetrators based on the actions of their forefathers and concludes that in the 21st century people “should put an end to World War II”.


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