What Is Truth?

Proposed design for the 1944 German-occupation memorial on Szabadság Square in Budapest.

Proposed design for the 1944 German-occupation memorial on Szabadság Square in Budapest.

An official from the fifth district of Budapest recently (January 19) revealed the design for a memorial commemorating the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944 to be unveiled in the district on the 70th anniversary of the invasion this spring (source in Hungarian). 

The planned memorial shows an eagle representing Germany (the Reichsadler, or Imperial Eagle) swooping down upon a helpless, open-armed Archangel  Gabriel, who represents Hungary (source in Hungarian).   

The memorial embodies the declaration in the preamble to the Fundamental Law that came into effect in 2012 stating that Hungary lost its independence on the date of the German invasion (and did not regain it until the first post-communist democratic elections in 1990). 

The implication of this declaration in the Fundamental Law and the symbolism of the memorial: Germany, not Hungary, was responsible for the deportation of some 430,000 Jews to concentration camps (nearly all of them to Auschwitz), between May and July of 1944. 

It is true that under pro-Anglo-American Prime Minister Miklós Kállay, Hungary rejected Nazi Germany’s request to deport Jews from the country beginning in 1942. 

It is true that Hungary would likely not have deported Jews had the German occupation not taken place. 

However, it is also true that Hungary did not resist the German invasion in March 1944—though vigorously resisted the Soviet invasion of the country that began six months later.

German motorcycle unit at the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest following the invasion of Hungary in 1944.

German motorcycle unit at the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest following the invasion of Hungary in 1944.

It is also true that Hungary’s leader, Regent Miklós Horthy, remained in power following the German invasion and throughout the subsequent eight-week period of Jewish deportations. 

Moreover, the Hungarian government under pro-Nazi Prime Minister Döme Sztójay organized the deportations in cooperation with SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, while the Hungarian gendarmerie (csendőrség) carried them out.  

Hungary’s government had, in fact, adopted three separate laws between 1938 and 1941 limiting the number of Jews who could work in various occupations and fields and banning marriage and sexual relations between Christians and Jews. It also deported 18,000 Jews without Hungarian citizenship (primarily refugees) from Hungary to the German-occupied city of Kamyanets-Podilsky, USSR in August 1941, shortly after the launch of the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans executed about 15,000 of these deportees in the first mass murder of Jews during the Second World War. 

Officials from the main Hungarian Jewish organization, the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ), voiced objection to the proposed memorial’s message that angelic Hungary was defenseless in the face of the German predator in 1944 and therefore bears no responsibility for the deportation of Jews from the country. 

Hungarian gendarmes rounding up rural Jews in 1944.

Hungarian gendarmes rounding up rural Jews.

In typical fashion, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s reaction to these objections was founded upon the false premise that they were based on rejection of the notion of honoring the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian citizens who died as a result of the 1944 German occupation rather than rejection of the notion that the Hungarian government and people played no role in their deaths.

In a letter to MAZSIHISZ Orbán wrote “I hardly believe that bowing our heads in memory of the victims requires explanation of any kind. This is a question of humanity and not of political views or party affiliation. . . It is my conviction that honor for the victims does not permit us to look upon the fate of the imprisoned, the deported and the murdered without bowing our heads.”   

Fidesz National Assembly Caucus Chairman Antal Rogán, who also serves as mayor of the fifth district of Budapest where the memorial will be located, deflected objections to the proposed design by suggesting that the beholder is solely responsible for interpretations of its symbolism: “Everybody can read whatever they want to into the symbolism,”  he said (source for Rogán and Orbán quotes in Hungarian). 

The proposed design of the memorial, which the Prime Ministry commissioned sculptor Péter Párkányi Raab to complete from start to finish in a period of just over ten (!) weeks, has also been subject to harsh criticism on aesthetic grounds. 

And on financial grounds as well: the government has allocated 318 million forints (1.04 million euros) to build the memorial, of which it will pay 211 million forints (691,000 euros) directly to Péter Párkányi Raab (source in Hungarian). Although the sculptor will obviously have to subtract considerable building costs from this fee, even one-quarter of this sum would amount to 20 years’ pay for the average Hungarian wage earner.

The ostensible purpose the new memorial in Budapest commemorating the German military invasion of Hungary in March 1944 is to honor those who died as a result of the Nazi occupation. The real purpose is to absolve the Hungarian government and people of guilt in connection with the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz that began two months after the invasion. The Orbán government thinks that such exoneration will make the Hungarian nation prouder and stronger. In fact, failure to face up to the fact that the Hungarian government under Regent Horthy and Prime Minister Sztójay actively planned and implemented the deportations and to the fact that all but a few Hungarians failed to help their Jewish compatriots during this period is one of the factors preventing the Hungarian nation from taking genuine pride in its many true virtues.

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