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The Return of Hungarian Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is tolerated in Hungary, not only in its crudest form when a uniformed rabble marches in the streets or when neo-Nazi provoke Jews before their synagogues. It is also part and parcel of Hungarian right-wing politics. Usually anti-Semitism is … Read More

By / October 20, 2008

Anti-Semitism is tolerated in Hungary, not only in its crudest form when a uniformed rabble marches in the streets or when neo-Nazi provoke Jews before their synagogues. It is also part and parcel of Hungarian right-wing politics.

Usually anti-Semitism is coded. But the code is very simple. Here just one example of recent days. The right-wing daily Magyar Hirlap reported on October 10 on the the unveiling of a statue of Catholic Bishop Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927): one of the leading ideologues of the “Christian course” in the years after the First World War. Prohászka advocated anti-Semitic discrimination, the so called numerus clausus restricting the number of Jews admitted to institutes of tertiary education to 6 percent of all matriculants. That was before the Holocaust the proportion of Jews in the population.

The numerus clausus was the first rupture in the constitutional equality granted to Hungarian Jews in 1867.

It is not a bit surprising that the vice-president of Hungarian parliament Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz) gave a speech, an apologetic review of the so called “Christian course”, of history and politics between the two world wars, when the “Christian-national” idea was official ideology. Lezsák was not disturbed by the fact, that one of the main pillars of this idea was political anti-Semitism and that the rulers of Hungary were the first ones in Europe in the 20th century to carry out anti-Jewish discriminative jurisdiction.

On the contrary, Lezsák did not mince his words. He said that during the time after 1945 the names of Horthy and Prohászka were not to be mentioned and that “the influence of this spiritual terror exists until today in our homeland”. According to one of the highest dignitaries of Hungary one of the biggest “crimes” of Ottokár Prohászka was, that “he advocated in politics in publications and teaching the Christian-social doctrine, and that he raised his voice to drive back the cosmopolitan-parasite class…”

It was just this language, describing Jews as “parasites”, this “moderate” antisemitism that contributed to the fact, that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians were onlookers, when about half a million Hungarian Jews were deported during six weeks in spring 1944.

When on October 14 the liberal (SZDSZ) MP Péter Gusztos spoke in parliament about this scandal, a storm of protest broke out in the conservative camp, demanding that he should ask for forgiveness for describing Prohászka as one of the leaders of Hungary’s home-grown antisemitic ideology.

According to the Catholic daily Magyar Kurir, the Archbishop Balázs Bábel said in his speech when unveiling the statue of Prohászka, that he was educated in the doctrine of Ottokár Prohászka, and that as seminarist, he was “witness to the shameful event when in 1945 at the instigation of Mihály Károlyi (democratic Hungarian politician) the poet György Faludy and his communist comrades destroyed the statue in the Karolyi park”. What makes his account particularly amazing is that he was born in 1950, and therefore might have found it difficult to witness an event that was said to have taken place in 1945. And, as a matter of fact, Faludy was at the time not a communist, but a social democrat and the event did not take place in 1945 but a year later.

According to Magyar Kurir, a journalist asked the bishop whether he found it acceptable that in the Budapest Holocaust museum the picture of Prohászka is located near the picture of Hitler accompanied by the text: “one of the leading persons of the antisemitic ideology”.

Archbishop Bábel answered that he “will not visit the Holocaust museum until they change the text and the setting.”

Prohászka had of course some “good Jewish friends” and he was also ready to convert Jews who were Hungarian nationalists. But in most of his declarations about Jews he did not speak about conversions. Already in 1893 he explained in an article that the Christian state should not accept Jews, “but as soon as possible should remove them”, because they are “cancer,” who has “gnawed off the Hungarian people to a skeleton” and “because they have no conscience, they strangle heartlessly their victims, whom it had succeeded to take in” who “wanted always to rule the [Hungarian] nation.”

Prohászka also described the Jews as “damned people” he saw them as dangers for the nation as “bugs and rats” according to the catholic priest György Kiss, who published his autobiography in 1987. Prohászka also published his antisemitic views in English.*

The Budapest Nazi editors Gede brothers published in 2003 the selected writings of Ottokár Prohászka under the title “My antisemitism” and no Catholic protest was heard.

As the Hungarian writer András Nyerges said, it is not decent to say that Prohászka was as far as “race doctrine” is concerned a follower of Hitler, because he advocated much earlier that doctrine.

So the picture of this antisemitic ideologue is to remain in the Holocaust museum in Budapest.

With the erection of statues for Prohászka, one of the ideologues of Hungarian “Christian” anti-Semitism comes also the desire to change the name of a Budapest street named after the teacher and journalist Béla Somogyi (1868 – 1920) who was murdered by officers of the Horthy regime who threw his corpse into the Danube.

Somogyi, did not participate in the short lived Hungarian communist regime in 1919. But during the white terror – when thousands of Jews, communists and supposed “communists” were murdered by those inspired by the “Christian-national” idea – he courageously reported on their crimes in the social-democratic daily “Népszava” (an antifascist paper published until Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944; today probably the best Hungarian daily).

There is one street in Budapest named after this martyr of the labor movement and the conservative Fidesz councilors of the district voted for the change of the name together with the representative of the liberal SZDSZ party. Socialists and other democrats protested against this planned change and it looks as if that protest will be successful.

* (The Jewish Question in Hungary. The Hauge, Holland. 1920 respectively in German: Die Judenfrage in Ungarn, Hammerschlaege, Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund. Hamburg 1921, Heft 21.)

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