Fact can be more incredible than fiction!
In 2012 Csanad Szegedi, former second in command of the Hungarian right wing nationalist party Jobbik, made a frightening discovery. He had been a hard liner when it came to the Jewish population in Hungary, arguing that Hungary must protect itself against the Jews. He was the founder of the militia group, the Hungarian Guards, in 2009, which marched around in fascist style. He even attended the opening of the European Parliament in Brussels in the Hungarian Guard’s black Uniform (he was a Hungarian representative to the EU Parliament.) He was so successful politically that some of his opponents decided to ‘dig some dirt’ on him – and they found it. He was Jewish! Szegedi decided to research this and found out that his grandmother on his mother’s side had been a Jewish Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz. The family had kept this a secret. As this revelation would damage his standing in the party, he tried to keep the information quiet for some time, but his position was untenable and he left. He has since embraced Judaism.
On that note, please go on to read the presentation I did to the below-mentioned conference. We can learn much from Hungary – what happened there in the first half of last century, and what is happening today.
Presentation by Lynley Smith at the Limmud Jewish Festival in Auckland, New Zealand, August, 2014. (Updated July, 2015)
Political ‘tiki tour’ I am here to talk to you today principally because of my book From Matron to Martyr – it is because of the writing of it and the amazing journey I took to research it, that I am now able to share some thoughts on Europe today (focussing primarily on Hungary) and comparing what we see today to the situation in Europe prior and during WW2. History is of no value if we don’t learn from it!
I want to first take you on a political tiki tour of Europe, to see what is happening across the continent and then focus in on Hungary. Why Hungary? Hungary is what I describe as the ‘fulcrum of Europe’. It is a gateway, lying half way between east and west, and as such, it deserves special attention. Let’s start our tour by looking at:
Greece. The extreme right wing nationalist Golden Dawn Party is fast gaining in popularity. The magazine Israel and Christians Today ran a story in September 2013 which puts in a nut shell what is happening there. Heading: “Greece displays disturbing similarities to Weimar Germany.”
Some excerpts: “As the Greek economy implodes, the main political beneficiaries appear to be the Greek neo-Nazis. And the Jews are targets again…. The rising power in the polls of the extreme right Golden Dawn Party in Greece is being compared to the rise in Nazism in Germany …. The conditions are similar with the economy in a free fall that is driving the middle and upper middle classes to below the poverty line… violence perpetrated by the extreme left is playing into the hands of the extreme right, with Golden Dawn adherents saying it might be time for a civil war… A wave of illegal immigration was driving Golden Dawn Party, warned the Prime Minister, and the party has climbed in the polls to 22% and among young people, 25%.”
The Greek government has finally moved to suspend parliamentary funding to this party and removed members’ parliamentary immunity. But as you will see below, I think the ‘horse has bolted!’
Egypt: Fathi Shibab, a top Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official (during its time in power in Egypt) and chair of the Culture Tourism and Information committee, made the following statement on the web: “The myth of the Holocaust is an industry USA invented. US intelligence agencies in cooperation with their western allies during WW2 created it to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, to justify a war of mass destruction..” (citing atomic bomb drops on Nagasaki and Hiroshima). He also claimed the 6 million Jews supposedly killed in the Holocaust moved to USA and the real number of Jews killed was about the same as those killed in traffic accidents! Hamas is an offshoot of Muslim Brotherhood.
Sweden: On November 9, 2013, The Times of Israel reported on a demonstration on Kristalnacht’s 75th anniversary: “A few hundred neo-Nazis marched through Stockholm with their Greek allies, the Golden Dawn Party. They marched legally, with police permits. Significant numbers watching were waving Hamas flags. The day of shame, the solemn anniversary, was being hijacked with official permission by two extreme and nominally opposite sides of the political spectrum, united only by their hatred of the Jews.”
Hungary: In 2010 Hungary, for the first time since the war, returned 47 members of the extreme right wing Jobbik Party to parliament in its national elections. This was a vote of 16.7% for the extreme right wing. It became the third largest party in Hungary. In the April 2014 election, that percentage climbed to 20.4% and the party’s popularity is growing.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban says Jobbik is the strongest radical right wing party in Europe. Leader Gabor Vona formed the New Hungarian Guard militia which marched around in black uniforms and even pushed (unsuccessfully) to take over the law and order police role in some areas of Hungary. It was disbanded in 2009 by the court but has reappeared as a ‘civil service association’.
UK – London: The Guardian reported on January 26, 2014, “The Hungarian Party Jobbik, whose leader Gabor Vona has been described as ‘one of Europe’s most electorally successful fascists’ held a rally in Hyde Park for Jobbik sympathisers. The rally, timed intentionally on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, went ahead despite attempts by anti-Fascist groups and leading Jewish organisations to have Vona’s visit to UK blocked by the Home Office.”
During 2014, 1168 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in UK compared with 851 for the same period in France (Times of Israel, 25.6.15)
France: The National Front Party is fast making inroads into French politics, with a groundswell of popularity at local municipal level. In the 2014 EU elections it gained 24.86% of the French vote, and 24 of France’s 74 EU seats.
In 2015, there were 508 anti-Jewish attacks in France between January and May, an increase of 84% over the corresponding period in 2014. About 23% of these attacks were classified as violent by the SPCJ (Service de Protection de la Communite Juive).
Other countries show a similar pattern of rising right wing nationalism, sometimes triggered by fear of Islamisation and other times by economic woes, illegal immigration and refugee problems.
Surveys show disturbing results
With the rise of right wing parties comes a rise in anti-Semitism. Recent polls show a disturbing trend. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights released in October 2013, the results of a survey of 5100 Jews in 9 European countries. Some results were:
- 22% of Jews said they avoided visiting places and wearing symbols that identified them as Jews.
- 91% of the 500 Hungarian Jews surveyed said they saw anti-Semitism rising over the past 5 years and 30% of them had experienced an incident in the last year.
- 75% of Jews said they didn’t report incidents of anti-Semitism because it was ‘useless’. The bar for prosecution in many European countries is too high for a prosecution to succeed.
In May, 2014, the Anti-Defamation League released a survey of 53,000 people in 102 countries around the world. Findings:
- 26% of those surveyed harboured deeply anti-Semitic feelings, and 70% of those people had never met a Jew.
- 35% said they had never heard of the Holocaust.
- 26% if those classifying themselves as Christian demonstrated anti-Semitic feelings.
An ADL spokesman said: “For the first time we have a real sense of how pervasive and persistent anti-Semitism is around the world.” A recent survey by researcher Andras Kovacs, anti-Semitism expert at Budapest’s Central European University, showed one third of Hungarians held anti-Semitic prejudices. Holocaust denial had grown since 2006 by 6 – 8% and 19% of Hungarians ‘relativized’ (minimised Hungary’s responsibility for) the Holocaust. We can hardly escape the conclusion that anti-Semitism is increasing at an exponential rate again in Europe – a bit of déjà vu?
A closer look at Hungary
Hungary is a particularly ‘religious’ country with about half of its population professing to be Catholic (not necessarily observant) and many others professing various Protestant denominations. The church has always played a major role in Hungarian politics.
The Jewish population is about 200,000, far less than in pre-WW2 years, when it was one of the biggest Jewish centres of population in Europe. In 2013, Hungary was inundated with nearly 20,000 asylum seekers a huge increase on previous years where only about 2000 to 3000 sought asylum in Hungary. (There was an influx of Jewish Russians in 2014, stimulated by the Ukraine situation.)
Jobbik is proving to be a formidable force. It is now regarded as the second most influential party in the country. It draws its membership from youth in high schools and universities, from intellectuals with ‘strange philosophies’ and from low income workers.
Andrea S, who is working in the area of reconciliation in Hungary, says Fidesz, the governing party “covers for Jobbik, occasionally confronting them but most of the time, behind the scenes they hold the same opinions on major issues – Jewish issue, anti-EU sentiment, turning away from democratic values of the West, a nationalistic (state church) view of Christianity. “
The left wing, which should be a counterbalance to the political right, is in huge disarray and Fidesz is successively moving further and further to the right to accommodate/gain votes from Jobbik.
Jobbik’s policies: rejection of globalised capitalism; often calls for the return to the pre-WW1 borders for Hungary, which would involve taking back large slices of Slovakia and Romania where the population is Hungarian speaking; opposes Israeli and Jewish investment in Hungary.
Gabor Vona said, when the World Jewish Congress chose to locate its 2013 congress in Budapest: “The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale!” He also called for a security review of all members of parliament to check which ones had dual Hungarian-Israeli citizenship and for an inventory of Israeli capital invested in Hungary.
Anti-Semitism researcher Robert Wistrich (Hebrew University – now deceased, 2015) said the Hungarian government has engaged in historical revisionism, that the Jews have an assimilationist attitude which is not discouraged, even by the most devastating tragedies, and concludes: “When a political party crosses the 20% threshold (Jobbik) they are a serious political force. The Jews of Europe do not have a future… I think their future is bleak.” (Jerusalem Post, July 7, 2014.)
Another view, another way…
Things looked even bleaker back in 1940 – 45 in Hungary.
However there is the story of one woman, who stood against anti-Semitism, lost her life in this cause, and whose story now lives on and has taken on a new meaning – a redemptive story and the only thing I have heard of that really stands and confronts this pervasive anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping Europe.
This woman was Jane Haining, the subject of my book and a distant relative of mine. She was a Scottish missionary to the Church of Scotland Mission to the Jews in Budapest from 1932 to 1944.
Jane decided to go to Central Europe after hearing a Church of Scotland talk about the conditions of the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. Her words after the talk: “I have found my life’s work!” She applied for and was given the position of matron in a girls’ home in the Church of Scotland Mission in Budapest.
This mission, which was founded about 100 years before to minister to the Jews, had an excellent reputation in Budapest. In the 1930s it consisted of a school for girls 6 years old to 16 years old and a home for those girls whose home circumstances were unviable for a variety of reasons, with an increasing number of Jewish children becoming orphans. There was also a church, St Columba’s Church, next door. This still exists as a Church of Scotland church.
The mission had, what is now a somewhat unique philosophy among Christian organisations on ministering to the Jews. They believed it was their mission to love and uphold the Jews in their Jewishness – not to convert them to Christianity. They brought in rabbis to instruct the Jewish students and pastors for the Christian students. They were to live in harmony and safety, away from the harsh discrimination that was periodically meted out to Jews in Hungary.
As Christians, the missionaries believed their function was to show the love of Yeshua (Jesus) to these Jewish children, so that they might turn to their scriptures and find/renew their Jewish faith there, and feel safe/united with those who, while Christian, cared for them deeply. The concept: If you love and respect people for who they are, they will feel free to move towards what is good and right for them, ultimately a real faith in the true God.
This policy was amazingly successful, with many Jewish students reporting in later life a sound spiritual faith and set of moral beliefs that only served to enhance their feeling of being Jewish. It also buffered them from the horrors of the war and of the subsequent years. They learnt that at least someone loved them!
Jews flocked to the school, especially as the war years progressed. It became a place of refuge. Jane’s commitment did not stop at helping the children in her care.
In 1940 the Church of Scotland called its missionaries home as the situation in Europe was now too dangerous. War had started. The others went, for various reasons but Jane refused three times to go, saying: “If the children needed me in times of sunshine, how much more do they need me in times of darkness!” She paid for this decision with her life in Auschwitz-Birkanau Concentration Camp in 1944, thus becoming a martyr for those she cared for.
Yad Vashem acknowledged her in 1997 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. UK acknowledged her in 2010 as one of the Heroes of Britain. More details can be found in my book From Matron to Martyr.
What Jane Haining’s Hungary looked like (Source: The Holocaust in Hungary by historians Zoltan Vagi, Laszlo Csosz and Gabor Kadar.)
- 1941 census showed 14.68 million people in Hungary. More than 94% were non-Jewish.
- Only a small minority of civilians stood against Jewish persecution.
- Only a small minority of civilians actively engaged in the persecution.
- Unlike Poland and Soviet territories, there was no overt demonstration of anti-Semitism during the ghettoization and deportations. Reason: between 1938 and 1944, people had become accustomed to the government controlling all acts and measures against the Jews.
- Anti-Semitism took instead the form of ‘plans and suggestions’ to the government agencies on how to deal with the Jewish question – denunciations, petitions, and proposals.
- Result was government sponsored robbery of the Jews of their possessions and dwellings. Perpetrators tried to take the higher moral ground accusing Jews of previously mistreating them or cheating them, but really lusting after their property. The motive was greed.
- Many people believed government propaganda inciting hatred of Jews (in newspapers, on radio, on bill boards, posters and flyers, everywhere) so believed that ghettoization was fundamentally about a fairer distribution of apartments. After German invasion of Hungary in March, 1944, only state run or state sympathising media was allowed.
- By 1942 – 43, the Hungarian leadership certainly knew what the Nazi Jewish policy meant in practice. They did not divulge this to the people but allied radio broadcasts and witness accounts from men who had returned from the front line would have warned the populace that something untoward was afoot. Tell-tale remarks in newspapers and petitions indicate the general populace suspected the real consequences of the mass round ups of Jews and their disappearance, never to return. Catholic intellectual Sandor Marai said in his diary, 1944: “When I saw a man taken by Gestapo officers from Vorosmarty Square in Budapest, I finally understood reality…. Men women and children bearing yellow stars are marching along in front of my window, carrying their meagre packages, to live crammed together… tens of thousands of them… headed to an uncertain fate. …and I am afraid that it is not really uncertain! They are leaving their homes and their work… why?… now I finally understand. .. It is shameful to be alive. It is shameful to be walking in the sun. It is shameful to be alive.”
- Two hundred thousand Hungarian clerks, policemen and gendarmes enthusiastically and efficiently collaborated with the fascist Hungarian leaders and the Nazis to enable the ghettoization and transportations to move at lightning speed, shocking both those inside and those outside Hungary.
- Christian churches were forced to respond. People were shocked by the brutality they witnessed meted out to women and children and the church did receive a number of petitions in response. But petitioners merely questioned the brutal methods being used or protested for selected groups (eg the children), rather than contesting the legitimacy of the anti-Jewish operation. After the Arrow Cross (Nazi surrogate party) took over in Hungary in October 1944, brutality increased and protest on behalf of certain groups increased. Some people, preparing for post-war accountability, hid Jews and Hungarians – Arrow Cross was also persecuting Hungarians now. Some hid them for money, some out of genuine concern.
- Catholic and Calvinist Church leadership finally, under pressure from world opinion and the Vatican, wrote a pastoral letter, exposing what had been happening in Hungary, after acknowledging that a policy of appeasement and behind the scenes negotiation with the government (similar to Chamberlain’s famous policy) had failed dismally. However, the letters were never released to their congregations, because of government disapproval.
- In “the great transportation” of May to June, 1944, virtually every Jew from the countryside (just under 400,000) was sent to work camps or concentration camps, and very few indeed survived. Jane Haining was probably the only Scottish person caught up in this atrocity. Budapest Jews were spared this fate, planned also for them, as the war ended before the job could be finished.
So what can we learn from the past?
The impact of Jane’s life at that time may not seem so great. Many people did heroic things to save Jews in war-torn Europe. (She did not actually ‘save’ any children – instead she died for them.) But the amazing thing is that her story has suddenly arisen ‘from the ashes of Auschwitz’ and is having an amazing impact on those who hear it.
It was published for the first time in Hungarian in October, 2014 in Budapest.
There are many similarities in Hungary today with Hungary in the pre war years but there is one significant difference – there are small groups of significant people who are recognising the warning signs and trying to do something about it, before it is too late.
The group Fountains of Hope, led by Andrea S, is working hard to change the political climate in Hungary. The first step, she says, is education. Her group has been conducting talks in community groups and schools for some years now, telling the people of Hungary what the truth is about their war years’ history.
This is an uphill battle as successive governments have tried to hide the past and especially Hungary’s complicity in what happened – blaming the Germans for it. Many of the youth don’t even know the Holocaust happened in their country, or think stories of it are exaggerated. These talks were funded by the EU for about 3 years but the EU has recently withdrawn its funding.
In 2012 the Hungarian Government decreed a whole year of commemoration of the Holocaust in 2014, of its victims, both Jewish and other. Large amounts of government funding was provided for exhibitions, DVDs and events in relation to this.
While that seems amazingly positive, and courageous, it has opened up a hugely fraught political hornet’s nest.
The government decided to commission a statue acknowledging the victims of the Holocaust, to be placed in a prominent place in Budapest. This statue was of a large eagle (Germany) swooping down on an angel (Hungary). The Jewish community was incensed by this obvious attempt to shift the blame from the guilty in Hungary to the Germans and refused to take part in any government funded activities during this year. In terms of church position today, there are still major problems.
In May, 2013, a bronze bust of Miklos Horthy, leader of Hungary in the early war years who was instrumental in leading his country to join Germany in the war and also has been shown to have sent troops to Yugoslavia to murder Jews and others (New York Holocaust Museum archives), in the lobby of a major Protestant church in the centre of Budapest. Some Hungarians, with nationalistic fervour, are trying to re-invent Horthy’s life story, making him out to be the greatest Hungarian leader the country has seen.
Andrea and her group are aware of the synergy between church and state in Hungary and they are working hard to reach the Christian population with the message of reconciliation. In this work they are using Jane Haining’s life story as an example of how it should have been – as Andrea says “Showing what real love looks like.”
She is convinced that we must not stop at simply educating people about the past. To achieve real reconciliation (and prevent a repeat of history) we must go further. Perpetrators, or their representatives, must acknowledge the truth about the past. The exciting thing is that this is now a possibility, as the generation who were the perpetrators are now mostly dead and the youth are now free to find out what really happened.
Generational curses result from spilling of Jewish blood, Andrea says. (See also the book Breaking the Veil of Silence by Jobst Bittner.) According to the teaching of the Torah, these are visited on the children to the third or fourth generation. We are now finally at that place – the hidden shameful history of many Hungarians has passed into the grave and the now generation is free to discover the truth without offending living family. Once acknowledgement is achieved it is then necessary for a repentance (saying sorry) by those who represent the offenders, and a forgiveness to be extended by the victims.
Then and only then can true reconciliation be achieved.
Jane’s life story effects change
The redemptive quality of Jane’s story is demonstrated in two simple occurrences which I will share here in closing.
In April, 2014, I was in Budapest and a Jewish woman came to see me with three important questions, which many Jews will relate to. She had heard of Jane and her sacrifice and she wanted to know the following:
1: Why did Jane remain in Budapest, when she could have escaped, right up to the time she was arrested? I explained Jane’s faith, as a missionary, in her God and her understanding of God’s heart for His chosen people, a heart of love that never changes.
2: Why did Jews have to die (in the Holocaust)? Where was God? That surely is a key question … I could explain only that throughout Jewish history, their God has chastised them and then lovingly brought them back into relation to Him, according to the scriptures. And He was surely with the Jewish people in the gas chambers, in the person of others who loved the Jews as he does and so shared their fate with them – people like Jane Haining.
3: Why did I have to survive when all the rest of my family died? (This lady was born in Budapest in 1944 and only she and her mother survived the war.) I had no answer to this deep question. But she suddenly looked at me, and announced that Jane Haining, who had gone to her death for the sake of the Jewish children, would have wanted her to live. She had a revelation of the love Jane had shown to the Jews and in an instant her doubt, depression and sadness lifted off her and she became a changed woman before my eyes.
If Jane’s story can heal the heart of someone like that, surely this story is worth telling. Surely the power of this story to touch hearts must not be underestimated or ignored. Surely there is a key here to healing and restoring people and nations and bringing them to a place of health and reconciliation.
A second example of this is provided by an email I received from a wheelchair bound Jewish lady in England whose health is not at all good. Her son if far from his Jewish roots, and from her faith, and this worries her deeply at this stage of her life.
She asked me to send her my book about Jane, so that, when she died, he would find it as he searched through her possessions, and hopefully he would read it and understand for the first time who he is as a Jew, and that he will receive the same healing as the Budapest lady had received.
The story is a message of love for the Jewish people – an anti-dote to anti-Semitism. When Hungary espouses the story of Jane and her like instead of raising up such as Miklos Horthy as a national hero, we will know the message has got through.
A prejudice – not a policy
After all, it is not disseminating of facts and figures that will change people. That is only a first step. Change occurs in the heart.
After all, anti-Semitism is not a ‘head’ matter but a ‘heart’ matter – it is a prejudice, not a policy. Jane’s story is a redemptive one – it has demonstrated it has that ability to reach into hearts, to heal and to restore. In that process we will find real and lasting change and reconciliation.
Let us not just regurgitate the facts of the past but move beyond that to offer a solution to the repeat of history we see unfolding today.
Andrea says: “Hungary is at a crossroads – either to choose Eastern despotism, or Western freedom to change.” The matter is serious and urgent, for Hungary and for the world.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
– See more at: http://lynleysmith.com/blog/#sthash.AqHdIK2R.dpuf