By the Rev. Albert W. Kovacs, Calvin Synod, Hungarian Reformed Church
Hungary was honored as UNESCO named it the patron of the Holocaust Memorial Year 2014. Next year it will be President of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance for the 70th Anniversary of its end with the freedom of the Jews from the Nazi concentration camps. But there are dark clouds hovering about.
Charges of anti-Semitism in Hungary by American politicians and European Union critics, and also obnoxious outbreaks by neo-Nazi militants in Hungary, call for a clarification to Hungary’s friends. U.S. Representatives David C. Cicilline and Lois Frankel wrote they were concerned with “the resurgence of extremism and anti-Semitism in Hungary over the past few years, including personal attacks against Jews, vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, and virulently anti-Semitic statements by members of the fascist Jobbik party.” After all, with the limited news usually available from this part of the world, what is going on?
The fact is, after years of the Communist/Socialist head-in-the-sand neglect, right now the present government of Hungary has got it right. The Representatives also noted, “We are specifically encouraged by your government’s commitment to a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy against anti-Semitism,” but that they were still concerned over … the honoring of Miklos Horthy … (and) the continuation of paramilitary activities by racist organizations.” So it is necessary to understand what’s going on in Hungary.
Trianon – The Unwilling Satellite
Having lost its war of independence in 1849, and tethered in the Dual Monarchy to the Habsburgs, the control of its foreign policy and armed forces was held by Austria. Hungary was compelled to fight on Austria’s side in WWI, aligned with Germany, a loser in a war in which Hungary had nothing to gain. The Allies foisted the Trianon Treaty (June 4, 1920) on a newly independent Hungary, but gave away 2/3rds of its land and 65% of its people. Forbidden to have an army, it could not defend itself when neighbors sought even more of its land or abused rights of the Hungarians now living in their new ‘homeland.’
In the foreword to his book “Regicide at Marseille,” the spirit of the time was expressed by Tibor Eckhardt, the country’s Chief Delegate to the League of Nations, who fled Hungary to the United States upon the Nazi’s takeover of the government. “In the heart of Europe, dismembered Hungary had to endure the worst tribulations. Disarmed and encircled by hostile forces she had to survive.”
He shared his personal insight into the nation’s Regent, Admiral Miklos Horthy: “But in 1941, it was Horthy’s main desire to stay out of the war waged by Hitler – a person whom the Admiral despised. In 1937, just back from a naval parade in Kiel where Hitler had tried to impress Horthy with his new modern fleet, the Regent complained to me about ‘the vulgarity of that character’ whose power was terrifying, but with whom he would never have anything to do. Now, in March, Horthy had no doubt that the Nazis would be defeated in a few years’ time, ‘somewhere in distant Asia or Africa.’ But he felt certain that the danger of war had passed away, well beyond Hungary, and that our neutrality could be maintained up to the war’s end. He assured me that he would certainly refuse to join in Hitler’s war or to resign under Nazi pressure which might enable Hitler to take over Hungary.”
Horthy walked a thin tightrope. With Hitler’s rise, pieces of its neighbors were split off by the Fuehrer for Lebensraum, or swallowed up as German satellites. Regent Miklos Horthy, head of state, struggled to keep Hungary an independent nation. At the outbreak of World War II, Germany’s troops entered one after another in Hitler’s move to the Balkans, but not into Hungary. However, there were Nazi sympathizers, often anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic, many in the army formerly tied to Austria, who saw a chance to regain some of the nation’s losses.
Tightening the Vise on the Jews
Horthy’s government was tempted by Hitler to regain land lost by Trianon, if he would surrender its Jews, but the Fuehrer was spurned one time after another. In his book, “Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite,” John F. Montgomery wrote, in l947, “Under the circumstances, it was heroic on the part of the regime to permit a strong influx of foreign Jews, chiefly Polish, Slovakian and Austrian. It would have been sufficient proof of courage if the government, defying German pressure, had protected its own Jews, at the same time keeping its borders closed.” (p. 106)
In the New York Times, Mrs. Anne O’Hare McCormick said, “It must count in the score of Hungary that until the Germans took control it was the last refuge in Central Europe for the Jews to escape from Germany, Austria, Poland and Rumania. Now these hapless people are exposed to the same ruthless policy of deportation and extermination that was carried out in Poland. But as long as they exercised any authority in their own house, the Hungarians tried to protect the Jews.” (July 15, 1944)
Hungary dragged its feet, reluctantly conceding reductions in employment of Jews or political involvement. Count Stephen Bethlen, although retired from government, lifted his voice against the anti-Jewish laws. Offered a piece of Rumania, for anti-Jewish concessions, Count Paul Teleki refused. The American Jewish Yearbook said, “It was really surprising to note his resistance at this point, certainly a minor issue for Hungary after all the fundamental sacrifices extorted from her.” It also noted that “considerable numbers of those who lost their original occupations found some devious but tolerated ways to earn at last some irregular income. Jews dwell safely in their original homes … and no discrimination against them in the distribution of food.” The Regent had all he could do to keep the Fuehrer away.
U.S. Representative Tom Lantos – Survivor – Nazi Boots
German boots trampled Hungarian soil on March 19, 1944, and as the Yearbook says, “One of the official German pretexts for the occupation was ‘the unrestricted presence of some one million Jews as a concrete menace to the safety of German arms on the Balkan peninsula.’” It noted that when the German Gestapo started the deportation “tens of thousands of Christian Hungarians are known to have rushed to the aid of Jews in distress, trying to shield and hide them … and to help them in their futile attempts to escape. … Young Christian girls have frequently been seen parading the streets of cities and towns with young Jews wearing the Star of David.” At first the Nazis didn’t control the government and Budapest, still under official control of Horthy and staunch loyalists, but the vise got tighter for Horthy and the freedom loving Hungarians.
One of the teenage Jews caught in the capital was Tom Lantos, who survived and became a U.S. Representative. He told the story to his colleagues in the U.S. House about the hero Col. Ferenc Koszorus and “one of the most remarkable examples of bravery and courage of the time.”
“By June 1944, the Nazis had incarcerated and liquidated most of the Jewish population of Europe. In the capital of Hungary, Budapest, there remained approximately 250,000 Jews still alive. … He learned that Laszlo Baky, Secretary of State and director of all security forces, with the exception of the army, had planned a coup d’etat to install a police force completely subservient to the Nazis … With the help of the Gestapo, Baky formed several battalions of ‘gendarmerie’ forces loyal to him. Orders from the Regent (sic Horthy) to disband the gendarmerie went unheeded. Col. Koszorus controlled the last remaining active army unit in Hungary. Realizing the severity of the situation, Colonel Koszorus consulted with the Regent and began preparations on his own to stop Baky and the gendarmerie battalions. On July 5, 1944 at 11:30 p.m., Colonel Koszorus ordered the units of the 1st Armored Division to take up positions at strategic points in Budapest, sealing off all roads leading into the city. … Colonel Koszorus informed Baky that if his gendarmerie did not leave and disband they would be destroyed. On July 7, 1944, Baky capitulated and evacuated his forces.”
“As a result of his extraordinarily brave efforts, taken at great risk in an extremely volatile situation, the eventual takeover of Budapest by the Nazis was delayed by 3½ months. This hiatus allowed thousands of Jews to seek safety in Budapest, thus sparing them from certain execution. It also permitted the famous Raul Wallenberg, who arrived in Budapest on July 9, 1944, to coordinate his successful and effective rescue mission.” – “His memory (sic Koszorus) is honored with a plaque in the famous Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest.” – Congressional Record, May 26, 1994
Closing the Jaws – Arrow Cross
“On October 15, 1944, the Regent suddenly proclaimed that he had asked Armistice terms from the Allies and ordered the Hungarian Army to ‘cease fire,’” reported The British Society for International Understanding in its British Survey – Hungary, in December 1946. “No sooner did this happen than the Germans and their quisling henchmen, in the party known as the ‘Arrow Cross,’ occupied Budapest, carried off the Regent and reversed the orders given to the Army. The Arrow Cross leader, Szalasi, took over and ruthlessly attempted to suppress all resistance. The Germans, in the meantime, looted everything they could lay their hands on and sent it back to Germany.” Horthy was gone, the vise clamped shut.
With the Nazi sympathizers in control, the Gestapo had a free hand in rounding up the Jews throughout the land, and did so in earnest lest there be any at the impending end of the war. (The Arrow Cross would rear its venomous head again in later years.)
Free At Last! – Well, Not Quite
The Russians came into Hungary and joined the Germans in street to street fighting turning Budapest into rubble. Too busy saving their own skins, the Nazi deportations ended. What the Nazis left, the Reds hauled away in wagons pulled by Hungarian cattle. After the war ended, most of the Nazi sympathizer Arrow Cross traitors fled to the west (many to the Americas). A Provisional Government was formed, but Russian troops overran the country and set up a Red single party government under Moscow’s control, a satellite again under brutal Russian boots.
It would stay that way until the consequences of Hungarians’ bravery, by first cutting the barbed wire, and the uprising of Hungarians in Temesvar, brought about the fall of Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was not until the spring of 1990 that the back of the last Russian soldier crossed the bridge out of Hungary. Free at last! Thank the Lord, free at last!
Building the Future on Solid Ground
“We agree with the Members of the first free National Assembly,
which proclaimed as its first decision that our current
liberty was born of our 1956 Revolution.”
“We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination,
lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944,
from the second day of May 1990,
when the first freely elected organ of popular representation
was formed. We shall consider this to be the beginning of
our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.
After years of enslavement by Russia, and forced by stooges to live under a constitution which entrenched the Communist party and its bureaucrats, the first years were tumultuous. Election of a new government without the Communists, trying to effect the transition to new freedom but unable to provide immediate relief for the nation’s poverty, the first attempt at real freedom was cut short. New elections returned the Communist government and its iron fist renewed the old ways of control of every facet of daily living with no prospect of shaking the gloomy prospects.
Fortunately, after they had driven the country into huge indebtedness, the stigma of rampant corruption resulted in new elections that restored the anti-Communists led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. With a supermajority in Parliament, reforms brought stabilization of the nation’s economy and an improved standard of living. The debt has been repaid, the deficits decreased annually, with more jobs and better wages every year. It also got rid of the old Communist constitution, with a bold new one – The Fundamental Law.
Recognizing the country’s thousand year old proud and heroic roots, this new instrument acknowledges Christianity’s role in molding and preserving the nation, but also appreciates the diversity of other peoples living there for centuries. It spells out, “We value the various religious traditions of our country.” Further, it declares, “We proclaim that nationalities living with us form part of the Hungarian political community and … commit to promoting and safeguarding … the languages and cultures of nationalities living in Hungary.” What other nation has raised the bar so high?
Hungary Home Again For Jews
Saying, “Never Again!” one would think Jews wouldn’t ever consider Hungary as their homeland, especially with Israel’s doors wide open to the descendants of Abraham around the world. But today this small land, not as big as Pennsylvania, is home to the third largest number of Jews in Europe. “Next year in Jerusalem,” only refers to a holiday visit, not moving from a home in Hungary.
In The Times of Israel, Lena Bakman reported on the meeting she attended in October 2013, hosted by the Tom Lantos Institute, the international “Conference on Jewish Life and Antisemitism in Europe.” Held in Budapest, in the Upper House of Parliament, it convened where the anti-Jewish laws were passed years before. Taking note of the numerous steps by the present government to crush elements of intolerance, she wrote, “Europe can do more to follow Hungary’s example.” Further, she said, “Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary, Tibor Navracsics publicly acknowledged Hungarian responsibility for the Holocaust in Hungary,” willingly led by Nazi sympathizers. She reported that “there has been an increase of anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary recently, even in Parliament by shouting MP’s of the small Jobbik party (Arrow Cross). Navracssis specified it was adamantly condemned and was now restricted by new rules against hate vitriol, while striving to maintain the basic rights of freedom of speech, and its para-military force has been banned! In his address, DPM Navracsics also highlighted the government’s renovation of the city’s Great Synagogue and the rebuilding of others, new memorial museums, numerous annual events and Holocaust programs in the schools to see it is not forgotten nor occur ever again in Hungary. He also declared that “we believe in a Jewish renaissance in Hungary.”
‘Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?’
Hungary’s human rights record is one of which it can become increasingly proud, a victim itself of two world wars and four times of Russian oppression. It strives in the European Union and in the continent’s big nation politics to be left alone and “do it my way.”
Some of Hungary’s severest critics are those with axes of their own to grind, such as Communists, anarchists and atheists. Yet in Hungary today there is a vibrant Jewish community, and it doesn’t end there. New programs are in place to raise up the level of life for a heretofore neglected Roma minority, and all other minority groups, as well as sustain their heritages and cultures for all to appreciate and enjoy. A better life lies ahead for all of Hungary’s citizens, living together in peace.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban addressed the World Jewish Congress in Budapest’s stadium on May 6th, and declared “it is especially important that we make it clear: anti-Semitism in unacceptable.” He said, “Our generation is the generation of peace and revolution. In our youth we toppled communism and regained our country’s independence so that we could live here in freedom. We know that there is no freedom without human dignity. And so our generation will not tolerate the wounding of the dignity of anybody in our country because of their ancestry or religion, because that would be an affront to the freedom we have struggled together to achieve.” He concluded saying, “There is hope that our children may live in an era in which anti-Semitism is just as inconceivable as the past ages in which the world suffered from the plague. This is not a dream. It is a possibility, …” – Yes, Hungary got it right!
Rev. Albert W. Kovacs
211 Kalassay DriveLigonier, PA 15658
Comments are closed for this Article !