Hungary and anti-Semitism: A reply to columnist Ben Cohen

I do not dispute his conclusion that one attack is one too many, and that the situation in Hungary is still better than what is going on in Germany or France. I do think that other sources need to be presented as well.

Jewish women being arrested on Wesselényi Street in Budapest, Hungary, during the Holocaust, October 20-22, 1944. Credit: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.
Jewish women being arrested on Wesselényi Street in Budapest, Hungary, during the Holocaust, October 20-22, 1944. Credit: German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.
László Bernát Veszprémy
László Bernát Veszprémy

I read Ben Cohen’s July 23 column on anti-Semitism in Hungary with great interest.

Basically, I don’t consider Cohen’s article to be a bad one: as a Holocaust researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of Hungary’s largest Jewish news portal, Neokohn, I believe the New York-based author gave a generally correct picture of the situation in my country.

Nevertheless, I discovered some small inaccuracies in the article that I think are calling for comments or corrections.

Cohen writes: “Data gathered by Mazsihisz recorded 53 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 and 70 in 2020 (in Hungary). Only one of these incidents involved a physical assault.”

There is technically no mistake here, as the data gathered by Mazsihisz indeed shows this. However, not only Mazsihisz measures the annual number of anti-Semitic atrocities in Hungary, but also the Action and Protection Foundation (TEV), for almost 10 years now.

According to TEV data, there were 30 anti-Semitic atrocities in 2020 and 35 in 2019. In a detailed breakdown, there were 27 cases of hate speech in 2019, as well as six cases of vandalism and one attack. In 2020, there were 22 cases of hate speech, one discrimination case, six cases of vandalism and one threat. (The reports can also be read in English on the TEV website here.)

I do not dispute Cohen’s conclusion that one attack is one too many, and that the situation in Hungary is still better than what is going on in Germany or France. I do think, however, that other sources need to be presented as well, especially if the omitted organization already has 10 years of experience and a well-established hotline network.

Cohen also writes in his article: Zsolt Bayer, “a founder with Orbán of the ruling Fidesz Party,” echoed the infamous Nazi slogan that the “Jews are our misfortune” on a radio show. “He elaborated on this point by claiming that the coronavirus was engineered by Jews as a pretext to impose “martial law” on the entire globe.”

Cohen’s source is again the report of Mazsihisz, which, however, does not write this.

According to the report: “Also in March 2020, in the radio talk show of Zsolt Bayer and István Stefka entitled Paláver broadcast in Karc FM on Mondays and Tuesdays, the callers repeatedly referred to the coronavirus-related activities of the background power, during which Jews were explicitly mentioned several times. The presenters did not distance themselves from these opinions: “Background power commanded that white Christians should be exterminated or mixed … the background power, they are so rich that we must not even talk about them as Jews … the Jews are the source of all trouble … ”; “ … the virus … was organized on purpose … I will say it, the billionaire Jews said … 800,000 slaves are enough for them … ” “I think with this virus, the aim of the background power is to introduce a martial law for the entire world … then a global government … .” (See pages 29-30 in the Mazsihisz report, found in English here.)

I’m not trying to defend Bayer, and, of course, it’s a big problem if a caller said things like that on a radio show. It’s also problematic if the hosts didn’t interrupt him. However, it is a fact that it was not the Fidesz Party founder Zsolt Bayer who said the quoted lines, but a random Hungarian conspiracy theorist.

Finally, Cohen makes the following remark: “Hungary is actively revising its account of World War II to minimize the extent of local collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of Hungary’s 500,000 Jews, who were deported en masse late in 1944.”

As a Holocaust researcher, I consider the following facts important: between May 15 and July 8, 1944, 435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported by the Nazi German occupiers and their Hungarian collaborators from the contemporary territory of Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In addition, the subsequent collaborationist Arrow Cross government has organized further death marches and mass executions, adding to the number of casualties between a few thousand and tens of thousands. Historians put the number of surviving Jews around 185,000 to 190,000.

In 2017, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said: “At an earlier time, the government of Hungary made a mistake, moreover, committed a sin when it did not protect its citizens of Jewish heritage,” Orbán said during a press briefing after his meeting with Netanyahu in Parliament. “Every Hungarian government has the duty to protect all of its citizens, regardless of their heritage.”

In 2014, János Áder, president of Hungary, put it this way: “Seventy years ago, following the German occupation of our country in 1944, the will of Hitler’s Nazi Germany Within barely half a year they mercilessly executed their program of creating ghettos and deported the entire Hungarian Jewry living in the countryside.”

Hungary’s current right-wing leaders do not deny the role of the contemporary Hungarian state in deportations. They do not blame the Germans only for the deportations unlike the Dutch King Wilhelm Alexander did recently.

It is questionable whether all Hungarian right-wing historians and journalists have a view of the Holocaust and World War II that is in line with historical facts. Obviously, the discourse on history in Hungary still leaves much to be desired. But it is certain that if a historian or journalist disputes the responsibility of the Hungarian state in the Holocaust, it is done not according to the words of Orbán and Áder, but in spite of them.

I wanted to add the above to Cohen’s otherwise interesting and generally correct article.

László Bernát Veszprémy is a Hungarian Holocaust historian and the deputy editor-in-chief of Neokohn.hu.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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