(This is an updated column, adding new comments)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife Columns)– OK. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were massacred along with others the Nazis didn’t like. Hungary’s wartime leader Miklós Horthy knew this would happen when he allied the nation to Nazi-Germany. His noisy friend, Adolf Hitler, often promised the Holocaust as a Final Solution. “So what?”, Hungary seems to think these days.
By supporting the Nazis, Horthy ensured that Hungarians received back lands that were taken after World War One. That’s why the anti-Semite should be praised, believes the right-wing Hungarian government and its ruling Fidesz party. No wonder Fidesz supporter and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Sándor Lezsák attended last month’s ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Horthy’s reburial on Hungarian soil.
“The reburial was a historic compensation,” the Fidesz politician said. “But we cannot stop there.” Ofcourse not. In the new Hungary of the Horthy-admiring-government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a recently unveiled Horthy statue, a marble Horthy plaque, and a Horthy Square are part of the re-emerging Horthy cult.
“Even after 20 years we must say that the hypnotic Socialist-Communist four decades of toxic lies is not a thing of the past,” Lezsák hastened to add. No Horthy never lied.
Lezsák recalled the horse-riding admiral-without-a-navy as a hero. Horthy stood up against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which forced Hungary to give up two-thirds of its territory to neighboring countries. European leaders were “shamefully cynical” for not disowning Trianon, Lezsák exclaimed.
With Hitler at his side, Horthy wanted to overcome that injustice. Land was more important than Hungarian Jews. The Hitler-Horthy relationship was rooted in anti-Semitism. Even before they became bedfellows, Horthy oversaw the White Terror of post-World War I violence which claimed many Jews as its victims.
And Horthy helped introduce Europe’s first anti-Jewish laws. They limited the number of Jewish students in universities, prompting intellectuals to emigrate, including scientist Edward Teller, who left Hungary in 1933. As cream on the cake, Horthy’s last law in 1941 banned sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.
These measures contributed to an atmosphere of hatred in which the Holocaust could thrive. Under Horthy, thousands of Jewish men died in forced labor for the Hungarian army, historians say. Many were reportedly shot dead by their own officers or forced to march through minefields to clear them. Horthy also deported about 20,0000 Jewish refugees who were then killed by the Nazis.
He was also notorious for his inaction during the first stage of the Holocaust. Many Jews were deported to Nazi death camps from Hungary’s returned territories and the countryside. Horthy’s Gendarmerie and other Hungarians enthusiastically hunted Jews, including women and children, forced them into ghettos and onto the death trains, or shot them near the Danube river.
“Hungarians pushed us on the train in May 1944 and we were transported as cattle in an overcrowded train from the town of Nyíregyháza to Auschwitz-Birkenau,” said Nikolaus (Miklós) Grüner, 84, in a recent interview with BosNewsLife.
His mother and younger brother were gassed immediately in the day-and-night working ovens of the Nazi-run complex in Nazi-occupied Poland. Grüner’s father worked himself to death.
Critics say, Horthy only protected Jews in Budapest when he was told through intermediaries that if the deportations continued he would be prosecuted for war crimes. “The blueprint for the Holocaust was prepared under Horthy”, an Israeli embassy representative said.
Twenty-first century students wondering why the Holocaust was necessary may find ‘answers’ in the government’s controversial national curriculum for Hungarian schools. Among required readings are the writings of Hungary’s pro-Nazi regime author József Nyírö and Albert Wass, who was sentenced to death in absentia in Romania for war crimes before he died in the United States in 1998.
Yet, the current Hungarian government tries to convince the international community — needed for financial aid and investments — that it seeks to tackle hatred towards Jews. The Orbán administration even supported an international conference on anti-Semitism in Parliament last week, featuring the widow of late U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, among others.
Deputy Vice Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics told the captivated audience that he now realized the Hungarian state was responsible for the mass killings during the Holocaust. His boss, Viktor Orbán, wasn’t there to apologize. The prime minister declined the invitation due to a knee injury following a weekend of football playing, his favorite hobby.
Navracsics performance raised doubts about the government’s sincerity. Horthy memorials were still seen at the time the conference began, Holocaust survivors noted. .”I lived ofcourse under Horty’s rule in Hungary,” said Annette Lantos, the widow of Tom Lantos, the first Holocaust survivor to be ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She narrowly survived Jews-hating Hungarian fascists.
“I have seen how Horthy sold out to the Nazis in 1944,” when most Hungarian Jews were massacred, she told BosNewsLife. “He did not retire and did not renounce what was happening. So in view of his record and the way he totally sold out Hungary, the efforts to rehabilitate Horthy are deplorable,” she added.
Her daughter, Katrina Lantos Swett, has little patience with those claiming that Horthy tried to regain confiscated territories by cooperating with the Nazis. “Hungary really lost a small of part of its soul when hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were send to their death. That is a terrible stain and in no way could such a trade-off be justified to regain lost territory. It is simply a bargain with the devil and a bargain with the devil never leaves you with clean hands,” she said.
The world may be forgiven for being confused about Hungary’s crocodile tears over the Holocaust.
(Stefan J. Bos is the founder and chief international correspondent of BosNewsLife. BosNewsLife Columns are presenting opinionated columns and commentaries on key issues impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals. They do not necessarily reflect the views of online news agency BosNewsLife or its parent company).