The recent visit to Jerusalem by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, stirred up lots of controversy not only in Israel, but worldwide. Questions of Orban’s antisemitism have been simmering for many years but bubbled forth during his recent re-election campaign, when he used age old Hungarian code words meant to vilify Jews, when referring to his nemesis, global financier and holocaust survivor, George Soros. Those not familiar with historical Hungarian antisemitism may not understand that specific adjectives have become synonymous with Jews and the Jewish menace in the Hungarian lexicon. Internationalist, Liberal, Financier, Foreign influence have all meant only one thing in Hungary: Jew!
So is Orban an antisemite? He certainly denies such an ugly moniker and has stated that antisemitism in Hungary is nonexistent. This despite a recent report of a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League that indicated that Hungarian antisemitism is the highest in Europe.
Orban is a populist leader. Populist leaders worldwide know the bread and butter issues that mobilize the masses to head to the voting booth. In Russia, it may be lowering the price of vodka while in the USA it is denigrating gun control. In Hungary, for centuries, it was preaching against the ever-growing Jewish menace.
When Orban preaches “Hungarianess,” and Christian values, he is invoking ghosts of Hungary past, populists who came before him preaching the same concepts. In Hungary during the extreme antisemitic interwar years, all those who advocated for ”Christian values”, were not calling for a renewal in the teachings of Christ. Rather, all Hungarians knew, that “Christian” was a code word for “not Jewish”.
When advertisements appeared in local papers: ‘Young Christian man seeking work’ the job seeker was simply indicating that he was not Jewish. Where did this Jew hatred come from? To be sure, Hungary had an uneasy relationship with Jews living in its borders for centuries.
But the centuries of mistrust gave way to Jew hatred with famous blood libels in the 1880’s and were exacerbated by the preaching of priests such as Ottokar Prohaszka. Prohaszka was a Catholic priest who rose to prominence in the Hungarian Church by becoming the bishop of Szekesfehervar. Prohaszka was a populist, writer and speaker who was the first to coin the term “Hungarist”.
After preaching that Jews should never be emancipated, that they should be denied entry into universities, that they are lice and vermin who should be “gotten rid of”, he maintained that he was not antisemitic but preached Christian values and was a Hungarist.
This rabidly antisemitic priest maintained that there was no such thing as a Hungarian Jew, only Jews who spoke Hungarian. According to him, Jews could never be trusted and had “no moral compass”. Only by turning his back on Judaism and converting, could the Jew prove his fidelity to Hungary.
Prohaszka influenced many Hungarian leaders even after his death in 1927. He was the spiritual mentor to those who enacted the infamous anti-Jewish laws of 1939-1942. Prohaszka might have disappeared into history had he not been resurrected by Orban and his Fidesz party. Now this hateful priest has streets named after him and statues erected. Several years ago, in the Hungarian Holocaust museum, Prohaszka’s picture was placed next to Hitler, indicating their shared desire to resolve the Jewish Question with the Final Solution.
The Archbishop of Esztergom, on a visit to the museum, saw this and cried foul. Shortly after, the curator was removed by Fidesz and a revisionist “historian” put in his place. Now, the museum is focusing on listing those Hungarians who saved Jews during the war (it will not be a long list).
Under Orban’s Fidesz, Hungary is adopting the Polish model of denying their country’s role in the murder of Jews. Hungary erected a memorial to the victims of German aggression that implied that Hungary was also a victim. It’s no wonder that Jews living in Hungary are uneasy about the Fidesz government.
So, is Orban antisemitic? While it’s hard to answer that, he certainly has created an atmosphere that fosters anti-Jewish agitation among the nation. His adulation of Miklos Horthy, the war-time leader of Hungary, a self-confessed antisemite and friend of Hitler, adds to the feeling of mistrust.
Socialist Party chairman of Hungary, Attila Mesterhazy wrote that Hungary was experiencing a “serious moral crisis” triggered by the government’s “revitalizing of the historic crimes of the Horthy era.”
Under Horthy, some 450,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to their deaths in Nazi death camps. Amongst them was most of my family, including my 4 year old brother.
In addition to honoring war time antisemitic politicians, Orban’s Fidesz has also revitalized the High School curriculum by including the writings of numerous antisemitic writers. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary wrote an open letter to the Ministry of Culture, urging them to remove these writers from the HS curriculum.
“It is unacceptable that their writings be taught to the young Hungarian people,” the federation added.
Orban walks a tight-rope.
He erects a memorial to the tens of thousands of Jews shot into the Danube by Hungarian Arrow Cross Nazis, without mentioning that the victims were all Jews. He allows his partner in the government, the ultra-right wing Jobbik Party, to make threatening anti-Jewish speeches, without any reprimand.
What Orban has been doing is dusting off the ash heap of history and taking off the shelf many of Hungary’s most populist leaders for adulation.
Prohaszka railed against the “foreign influence” that he attributed to the Jews. Orban whips up the anti-immigrant feeling among his countrymen.
Unfortunately, the figures he holds up for emulation are those whom a truly repentant Hungary ought to leave in the garbage dump. But by feeding into Hungary’s age-old antipathy for Jews, he laughs all the way to the premiership.
I am not giving Orban a pass for antisemitism as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have done by hosting and praising Orban in Jerusalem.
As a Jew who happened to have been born in Hungary, perhaps I understand the ageold Hungarian code words for denigrating Jews a little better.The writer lectures and writes on Hungarian Jewish history and is a weekly columnist for the 5 Towns Jewish Times. He is also the author of Recipes from Auschwitz – My parents story of the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry.
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