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No end to Culture Wars over Holocaust memorial year

January 31st, 2014

A Jewish cultural weekly suggests that Jewish organizations should be prepared to make compromises but should also stay away from some of the events of the Holocaust memorial year. Reacting to earlier and sharper comments, one of the leading architects of the memorial year says the attacks are part and parcel of the election campaign.  A conservative editor takes her defence against what he considers a vicious personal attack by a liberal historian.

Left-wing and liberal columnists accuse the government of intentionally distorting history to whitewash the crimes of some Hungarians, and of downplaying the part the Hungarian state played in the deportation of the Jewish population of the Hungarian countryside. Over the past three months, Foreign Minister János Martonyi, Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, State Secretary for the office of the Prime Minister János Lázár, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President János Áder have all spoken publicly or sent messages in which they recognised the guilt of the Hungarian state in collaborating with Nazi Germany in the deportation of over 430 thousand Hungarian Jews after Hungary’s occupation by Hitlerite Germany. The deeply controversial statement of a historian appointed as director of a new institute of historical research, and the statue to be erected to mark the anniversary of Hungary’s occupation in 1944 have combined to spark a fierce debate. (See BudaPost January 28).

Gábor T. Szántó, editor-in-chief of Szombat  writes that Jewish leaders are less than certain about what to do – take up the fight with the government or seek a compromise. Szántó thinks there is “no reason to be afraid” of diverging interpretations of the past and shy away from meaningful dialogue. Although he believes that the occupation monument – along with other acts he deems unfortunate  – are intended to lure radical votes from the far right, he thinks the government is ready to co-operate with Jewish organizations. Recognizing responsibility and reaching reconciliation is a long process, he notes, and education has a pivotal part in it. He does not suggest that Jewish organisations should boycott the memorial year, but thinks they should not attend the unveiling of the occupation monument.

In an interview with Magyar Nemzet Mária Schmidt, who is in charge of the “House of Fates”, a new Holocaust memorial site to be created this year, says it is hard to understand why left-liberal intellectuals protest against a museum which will be dedicated to the memory Holocaust child victims. It is intended to reach out to young people, speak their language, and help them identify with the victims and realize that there are always choices to make – and some make bad choices while others choose the right path, she explains. As to the “Statue debate”, she argues that no one questions the fact that many Hungarians collaborated with the Nazis – and many did not. She finds it strange that commemorating the occupation of Hungary should arouse controversy, since despite all the anti-Semitic tendencies in Hungarian politics before and during the occupation, the Holocaust would have never taken place in Hungary had the country not been invaded by Hitler’s Army.

In Heti Válasz (print edition), n Heti Válasz (print edition), editor Gábor Borókai devotes his weekly lead article to what he considers a shameless personal attack on Mária Schmidt by historian László Karsai, who, as an expert of the Council of Jewish Religious Communities, commented that to entrust her with the House of Fates was “like seeking moral advice from the madam of a brothel”. A fair discussion on any disagreement, Borókai suggests, would require partners to respect each other’s human dignity.  Whose interests would it serve if hatred prevailed? he asks.

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