It would seem that Hungarians are very tolerant, with public monuments memorializing the Soviets, an anti-Semitic governor, a statue of Ronald Reagan, and this new monument that comes in a year that marks the 70th anniversary of the deportation of more than 400,000 Jews to the death camps. However, this is not the case.
The statue was ordered by the Office of the Prime Minister and its cost is estimated around $1,200,000 USD. The monument will have the imperial eagle of Germany coming down on Archangel Gabriel who symbolizes Hungary. Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban has defended the statue, writing in a letter to Jewish leaders that it is important “to promote mutual respect and understanding and cooperation among our nation’s communities. The memorial that honors the victims of the German occupation is one step in that direction.”
On the other hand, Jewish leaders have warned that they would stay away from state ceremonies that are supposed to be devoted to commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. Historians have pointed out it isn’t accurate to show that Hungary was only the victim of the German occupation. Laszlo Karsai, a well-known historian said “People like to hear the lie that Hungary, the Hungarian people, were always innocent.” Former Prime Minister, Gordon Bajnai calls this statue the “falsification of the past,” and he also claims that “the government wants to control the past in order to rule in the future.” With the erection of the statue, the message is quite clear. Whatever happened in the Holocaust was not the responsibility of Hungarians, but of the Nazi army that invaded the country 70 years ago as Hitler became suspicious that his most faithful ally (Horthy, the anti-Semitic governor, whose statue is nearby) was planning to capitulate.
The message of the memorial is quite simple. We, Hungarians, are not responsible for what happened after March 19. It was not us, but the Germans who brought ill-faith to this peaceful people, followed by communist rule after World War Two, and we just suffered from two oppressive ideologies for more than four decades. The truth is, and this is what is hard to face, that it was the efficiency of the Hungarian state and its institutions that made it possible to carry out such a large-scale mass deportation and execution of Jews in less than a month. Even Adolf Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust, was impressed by how efficient the Hungarian authorities were. He claimed that their swift actions had been unprecedented before.
It is time to break with the traditional thinking that we were only the victims. Partly so. If we consider those who were exterminated Hungarians (which the extreme right usually forgets to admit), then we are victims. But it was also us, Hungarians who committed the sins of sending their fellow countrymen to death and labor camps. The Germans did not force us to pass dozens of Jewish laws and regulations, a couple of which had been passed even before Hitler came to power. The Germans were not even nearby when hundreds of thousands of Jewish people, including Olympic champions, celebrated actors and writers, were killed by the Hungarian authorities in the labor camps. The first mass murder of Hungarian Jews took place in August, 1941 at Kamianets-Podilskyi (now in Ukraine), where the Hungarian authorities deported more than 15,000 Jews to be massacred. Not long ago, a Hungarian historian who leads a state-run institute called this deportation an “immigration enforcement procedure.”
Hungarians have a lot to face. We have our past, present and also our future to worry about. Unless we clear our past and declare that many bad things that happened in the country were caused by its own people and necessarily by outside forces, we will not move forward. Our present is tainted by the grievances related to past problems. Most people are still nostalgic for a Greater Hungary, which we lost at the Versailles Treaty after World War One. Also our future depends on the choices of the present. As the elections are nearing, we can see that one of the most attractive parties for the young is the extreme right Jobbik that is openly anti-Semitic, anti-establishment, and anti-democratic. It is our responsibility to tell our children about the past, because without learning from the mistakes of the past, we cannot live in the present let alone know what the future will bring.