Long brewing in my mind, I was finally prompted to write this article when a
friend called my attention on Facebook to a scene that took place in Hungary
during the nationally televised football game between Ferencvaros and MTK. In
the middle of it all, fans unfurled a huge banner in memory of Csatary Laszlo –
a war criminal who earned the distinction of being on the Simon Wiesenthal
Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals.
This sort of
nationalistic sentiment is something I have been frequently witnessing in
Hungary during my visits to Budapest. I am a Hungarian-speaking Jew, and with a
brother living in Budapest, I have had ample opportunity to visit Hungary, a
country whose current right-wing government has earned its recent criticism from
the European Union Parliament. Here the nascent right-wing and fascist Jobbik
Party has now garnered one fifth of the Hungarian parliament seats. They are not
just a phenomena. Moreover, the recent murder of six Roma during a racist
killing spree has hardly earned any criticism from the state.
most part members of the Jewish community in Hungary are speaking out; witness
the recent opposition and petition to the mayor of Budapest against naming a
street after anti-Semitic author Cecil Tormay.
However, it has been my
observation that the same Jewish community is once again falling under the spell
of Hungarian nationalism.
Once again because this was a rather well
documented phenomena during the interwar period and on the eve of World War II.
I attended a writer’s symposium last spring held at the Budapest Zsido Center
and was astonished when one of the speakers, a young man who has lived Israel
and now resettled in Budapest, declared, “ I am a Hungarian first and a Jew
second.” I think that history bears sad witness to the fact that whatever a Jew
thinks he is during his lifetime, in the beginning and in the end, he is a
My personal alarm regarding nationalistic tendencies is that they
foster rabid anti- Semitism. In Budapest this is seen from the flea markets
where Arrow Cross and Nazi memorabilia are the popular craze, to café
A woman attorney acquaintance in Budapest recently regaled
me with tales of the “bloodbath” perpetrated by the Jews and the communists
against the Hungarian people immediately after WWII. These facts are both a
cautionary tale and hard-hitting reality, playing out in Hungary and elsewhere
throughout Europe. To borrow a phrase from historian Bernard Wasserstein, we are
witnessing a European phenomenon of stigmatization, expropriation, extrusion and
The author is a recent immigrant to Israel from Orlando,
Florida, and is now enrolled at the University of Haifa’s Holocaust Studies
program. He was born in Hungary.