Viktor Groff, or Vikki, as everyone called him, and David Auslander, or Ossi, used to play soccer together as kids in Uzhgorod, a town of 40,000 that prided itself on having its own several banks, cinemas, and even one dinky airport, in prewar Czechoslovakia’s largely Hungarian east.
Yet Uzhgorod and its fixtures of mundanity soon came under war’s clouds, and the two boys parted ways, as Ossi went to work in Budapest while Vikki joined the occupying Hungarian army, a choice that in due course would actually make the two neighbors reunite.
By the time Hitler invaded fascist Hungary in spring 1944, Ossi had turned 18; and as the Germans began ghettoizing Budapest’s Jews, he joined the underground, assumed a forged identity and, under the Gestapo detectives’ noses, began supplying Jews with hideouts, food, cash and false IDs.
One day, while waiting in a park with a colleague for a border smuggler, a Hungarian Air Force officer saw Ossi from a distance. It was Vikki. And before Ossi could pull his act together, Vikki was at his side with a policeman, pointed at his childhood playmate, and had him and his colleague arrested.
The two were taken into a Gestapo interrogation room, when Allied bombers suddenly roared from above. The interrogators ran for cover and their prisoners leaped through the window.
Ossi having been my uncle, I heard this tale repeatedly since my childhood, a tale that I later realized ironically inverted the Judas myth, the only difference being that Vikki’s betrayal was no myth.
The thousands of Israelis who grew up on such heritage – as echoed in Yair Lapid’s Memories After My Death – need no lectures on Hungarian antisemitism’s ferocity and survival. Our parents’ encounters with it are etched in our DNA.
And unlike others, we think it is indeed the Jewish state’s duty to fight antisemitism regardless of any Israeli context, price or gain.
Who will do this job if not the Jewish state? That is why we took seriously the Hungarian Jewish community’s charge last week that a state-sponsored anti-immigration campaign carries an antisemitic undertone.
Yet things would have been simpler had the man at the center of this clash not been the dissenter, philanthropist and $25-billionnet- worth plutocrat George Soros.
THE CAMPAIGN that made local Jews fume is about billboard ads that sprouted throughout Hungary showing the 86-year-old Soros grinning under the call: “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh.”
Regardless of the debate behind the campaign and Soros’s role in it, Hungarian Jews knew what they smelled, since Soros is, for any Hungarian, first and foremost a Jew.
Born in Budapest in 1930, Soros survived the war thanks to forged documents of the sort that underground operatives like Ossi were distributing. Coupled with his subsequent financial wizardry, Soros became the most famous Hungarian outside Hungary and the most famous Jew within it.
That is why Ambassador Yossi Amrani responded to the ads immediately and harshly, demanding their removal ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest next Tuesday.
“The campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” said Amrani.
Soros has been attracting antisemitic venom for years, most memorably in 1997, when then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, following the Malaysian ringgit’s collapse, said currency markets were “a jungle of ferocious beasts” run by Jews. It was part of his broader view that a Jewish cabal runs the entire world.
Mohamad became the laughingstock of the business press, where all knew that the ringgit collapsed not because of a foreign plot, but because of the debt in which he had sunk Malaysia. Needless to say, Israelis like this one, recalling characters like Vikki, identified at the time with the defamed Soros.
That is why we also didn’t like the Foreign Ministry’s “clarification” Sunday that Amrani’s demand from the Hungarian government “in no way” intended “to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments.”
Taking our internal squabbles to the arenas where we and the antisemites face off is both immoral and unwise, as this criticism will be weaponized by the Jewish people’s enemies.
This column, however, is where we do conduct our internal squabbles, and in their context we must say that Soros indeed is a problem for the Jews.
A LIBERAL who likes to decry the injustices of the capitalism to which he owes his wealth, Soros has also taken sides in the Hungarian debate concerning Muslim immigrants. He thinks they should be admitted.
The view is obviously legitimate, but promoting it actively without living in Hungary is unfair, unwise and also immoral.
Unfair – because as a foreigner Soros will not personally experience the consequences of the policy he is promoting; unwise – because in Vikki’s country an offshore Jew’s very visibility in promoting such a cause can be counted on to make it fail; and immoral – because from his comfortable location on the Hudson, he is exposing his Jewish brethren in their uncomfortable location on the Danube.
A professed non-Zionist, Soros said in 2003 that antisemitism was “the result of the policies of Israel and the US,” a harsh accusation that now raises two questions.
First, is the billboard campaign with Soros’s face in its middle also Israel’s fault? And second, now that the ads have been removed at Israel’s demand, will he admit that, at least in this case, Israel was not antisemitism’s cause, but its cure? www.MiddleIsrael.net