Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

A web site for my new book THE BUDAPEST HOUSE

February 11, 2014

The Budapest House cover

I have a new web site for my latest book, THE BUDAPEST HOUSE: A LIFE RE-DISCOVERED.

To learn about this moving true story of a woman seeking her roots in Central Europe, and to buy the book, go to  http://www.thebudapesthouse.com

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Appalling Hungarian plan to evade a dark side of the nation’s history – the Holocaust

January 25, 2014

Towards the end of World War II, Hungarians participated in sending hundreds of thousands of their Jewish compatriots to Auschwitz. I wrote about this in my book THE BUDAPEST HOUSE www.thebudapesthouse.com

Here the eminent Hungarian historian Krisztián Ungváry spells out the falsehoods and evasions involved in the Hungarian government’s plan to raise a monument to the German occupation of Hungary in 1944.

This article was first published on http://www.politics.hu/ See http://bit.ly/1fcrTNh

On January 17, the Hungarian government decided to erect a monument commemorating the German invasion of Hungary. (…) I would hope that more will be said about the aesthetic qualities of Imre Parkanyi Raab’s work – more precisely, its lack of aesthetic qualities. Here, I am concerned only with how he and the Budapest Gallery is falsifying history to ensure that this … sculpture is erected in a public space. This focus is justified because the government, which commissioned the monument, has omitted to consult any professional historians before selecting the proposed work. I would like to fill the gap left by that lack of consultation.

The artist says his work “uses the methods of art history and evokes figures from cultural history with allegorical forms. (…) Two cultures are represented: one, which thinks itself stronger, and which is certainly more aggressive, towers above a more tranquil and softer-lined figure, that of the Archangel Gabriel, who represents Hungary. Gabriel, in cultural and religious tradition, is God’s servant or God’s power personified.

“On Heroes’ Square, the Archangel Gabriel sits atop a column, among the clouds. In my composition, he has been laid low. … He is depicted as handsome and tranquil. His body is perfect, and there is no fear in his eyes. His face is tranquil, his eyes are closed. The monument explains that his dream will turn into a nightmare. A culture, its wings broken, is being crushed by a greater power: the Third Reich and the symbol that represents it: the Imperial Eagle. The depiction of the eagle is the exact opposite of the Archangel Gabriel’s. The Imperial Eagle is an assemblage of mass produced icons and symbols. It sweeps in flight across the world. Soon it will reach us and engulf Hungary, putting its inhabitants in chains.”

In the view of the sculptors Miklos Melocco and Gyorgy Benedek, the work described above is “unique and outstanding in the way it conveys meanings that go beyond the unmistakable message of the explicit symbolism. … The way it reflects history is also remarkable. … We accepted more than 200,000 Polish refugees. Our country was at peace until 1943. The German army massacred as it arrived, and their Hungarian servants in the Arrow Cross movement murdered the country. At most, they intended to leave behind a few Hungarian slaves, temporarily. This lends a terrifying naturalness to the sculpture’s stylised depiction.”

Their opinion is a surprise, because students have been failed at university for less egregious historical distortions. Not to mention that the symbolism is unfortunate. It has already been pointed out that the “Nazi” eagle is actually a German national symbol – making its use in this monument both artistically and politically tasteless. (…)

But the tasteless execution is as nothing compared to the historical distortions. Let’s take them in turn:

1. The events of 1944 are, to say the least, more complicated than a story of “bad” Germans fighting “good” Hungarians. Eichmann himself was thrilled by his experiences here, observing that the Hungarians must surely be descended from the Huns since nowhere else had he seen so much brutality “in the course of solving the Jewish question.” So much for the “more tranquil, softer-lined figure”.

2. The German invasion did not put the country’s population in chains. Rather, it opened the way for the country’s right-wing elite to redistribute the possessions of some 800,000 people. Very many people received some share of the spoils, and for that reason they are unlikely to have felt oppressed.

3. Not 200,000 but 70,000 Polish refugees arrived in Hungary. This is also a very large number and a positive story, but it has nothing to do with the German invasion.

4. Hungary was indeed an island of peace for many people until 1944, but not for its Jews. Apart from the more than 100 laws and regulations passed against Jews, there were pogroms in several places (in Kisvarda in 1938, and in Munkacs and Maramarossziget in 1942), mass murders (a total of 700 Jews died in Southern Hungary in 1942), the mass deportation of some 17,000 people to Kamenyec-Podolski, continuous deportations of those who escaped until autumn 1942, not to mention inhumanely forced labour, which itself caused the death of more than 10,000 people by 1944. This isn’t as much as the millions of deaths elsewhere, but I wouldn’t call it a small number either.

5. The German army did not commit massacres as it arrived in Hungary. What we refer to as massacres were exclusively planned by the Hungarian authorities and partially carried out by them. Proposals to place the entire Jewish population in ghettos had been floated in Parliament as early as 1941, and it was only the tactical maneuverings of prime minister Miklos Kallay and Miklos Horthy, the head of state, that had stopped the proposals coming to a vote. But by March 1944, Hungary’s state bureaucracy had made the necessary preparations for bringing several hundred thousand people’s lives to a close, making sure that they had fully paid their water, electricity and gas bills before they were loaded into the cattle trucks.

6. Here it’s worth recalling that Hungarian authorities were not just implementing ideas they had got from the Germans. Some anti-semitic measures were enacted over the protests of the Germans, as with the deportations to Kamenyets-Podolski, where in their eagerness, Hungarian authorities caused a humanitarian catastrophe by sending 10,000 robbed and starving Jews to an already devastated area. Some of them were immediately killed in ‘amateur’ pogroms carried out by local Ukrainian anti-semites. It was only after this that the Germans decided to kill the Jews in order to ensure there was enough food for the local Ukrainian population, reduce the risk of an epidemic and to further their own anti-semitic programme. This was the first mass murder in the history of the Holocaust whose number of victims ran into five digits. But the Hungarians behind the deportation had known from the outset that their actions would result in mass death. Miklos Kozma, government commissioner for the Lower Carpathians, the man principally responsible for the action, wrote as early as 1940 in his diary that “Himmler, Heydrich and the radicals are doing what they want to do. In Poland, people are being exterminated … The Polish Jewish ghetto near Lublin is partially solving the Jewish question, so vast is the scale of the deaths.” In July, news arrived of executions, but this did not stop the perpetrarors – symbolised in the present monument by the Archangel Gabriel – from carrying on.

7. The “Arrow Cross servants” had nothing to do with the German invasion. A coalition government was formed in Hungary after the invasion, in which the former government party played a central role alongside Bela Imredy’s Hungarian Renewal Party and a smaller national socialist party. But the Arrow Cross was NOT part of the government. Indeed, Szalasi, the Arrow Cross leader, criticised the deportations of the Jews, saying it was a waste of the nation’s labour reserves. One current ruling party politician has said that the Hungarian state’s sovereignty was limited at this time because “a large part of the cabinet had been arrested.” Let’s count: two members of the Kallay government were arrested by the Gestapo – the prime minister himself and the interior minister. Nine ministers were not just free, but members of the new government. Put it differently: there were only two members of the new, post-invasion government who had not been ministers before 1944. To be sure, one of the exceptions was the Dome Sztojay, the new prime minister, but both exceptions had been part of the pre-1944 Hungarian upper elite. Hardly “a large part of the cabinet”.

8. Eliminating the Hungarian nation did not feature among the goals of the German invasion or even long-term Nazi plans. The claim that they would have “temporarily left behind a few enslaved Hungarians” is completely wrong. The Nazis intended to exterminate Slavs and Jews, not others.Finally, it is exceptionally sneaky to argue that the monument “is dedicated to the memory of every victim,” as government party politician Antal Rogan has claimed. The German occupiers were responsible only for a relative handful of victims. Easily 99 percent of the deaths were caused by the Hungarian authorities who enthusiastically deported the Jews, and it was also the Hungarians that profited. When the unfortunates finally arrived in Auschwitz, everything had already been taken from them, including their wedding rings.

It is very wrong to try and pretend that both victim and murderer were on the same side. But this is what is being done. Authorities didn’t even consider building a central Holocaust memorial – and that’s no coincidence, since it would then be necessary to discuss Hungarians’ roles in all this. It would be very noble if someone whose grandfather died as a soldier on the banks of the Don river or had been killed while carrying out forced labour, were to mourn alongside someone whose grandfather had been driven out in 1944 and then been killed by German or Hungarian authorities. But this monument excludes that possibility by showing no empathy for a group of victims in whose death Hungarian authorities played a central role.

If anybody thought this monument is a one-off slip-up – I have bad news for them. It is a logical consequence of the deceitful preamble to the new constitution, part of the national lie that wants to commemorate 1944 as “the year of saving lives” while remaining silent about the question of who did the killing. It is part of the same government tactic that hands millions of euros to historical research centres without asking the views of real historians.

Perhaps I can end with a modest proposal. Officially, not a single woman was deported from Hungary without being subjected to a vaginal examination, to ensure that no national asset of value left the country. We have very precise records of the work carried out by the women who did the cavity searches. We also know that, in order not to waste the nation’s money and for the sake of speed, these women did not change their rubber gloves: they used one glove all day without disinfection. The Archangel Gabriel does not accurately symbolise this. But if authorities do nonetheless want to build a monument, then let them build one to the women who carried out those cavity searches. The location, on Szabadsag ter, is perfect, because it’s right in front of the National Bank of Hungary, and so it would serve as a fine reminder of the symbolism of that concern for the nation’s assets. Better yet: instead of wasting money, the people who are trying to whitewash our country’s dishonour should be ashamed of themselves.

I launch my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at an Oxford Book shop

November 25, 2013

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I have launched my new book, The Budapest House, A Life Re-Discovered, at the Summertown Book House in Oxford.

It’s about a woman of Hungarian origin who belatedly realises she lost half her family in Auschwitz, returns to discover her roots, and goes through personal dramas as she takes over her grandfather’s flat in Budapest. It’s a true story delving into some of Europe’s darkest and most sensitive history, ending on an uplifting and poignant note.

As for any author, the launch was a rite of passage. Waiting for the audience to arrive, feeling the buzz around the bookshop and presenting the book – these are unforgettable moments. Published by Crux Publishing, London. Available as paperback and ebook.

Now the book is delivered to the world! May it enjoy a long life and captivate those who hold it in their hands.

http://www.marcusferrar.org/index.html

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My talk at the German Historical Institute about 100 years of German history

November 8, 2013

Final

I shall be giving a talk about 100 years of German history at 5.30 pm, on Tuesday 12 November, at the German Historical Institute, 17 Bloomsbury Square, London WC1.

Open to the public. Free entry. All welcome.

See http://www.ghil.ac.uk/

First media interview for my new book “The Budapest House: a Life Re-Discovered”

September 26, 2013

25.9.2013 Jewish Telegraph

 

 

 

 

 

 

See …

http://amzn.to/15hyS3x

Coming soon … The Budapest House: Leaving Home, Leaving Your Past

March 1, 2013

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Authors from different countries and writing backgrounds are taking part in an internet project called The Next Big Thing. We’re answering the same 10 questions about a work in progress.

My friend from the Geneva Writers Group, Katie Hayoz, asked me to take part. See her blog http://www.katiehayoz.blogspot.ch featuring Untethered, her YA novel about astral projection.

Here’s what I’m up to:

1) The title?
The Budapest House: Leaving Home, Leaving Your Past

2) Where did the idea come from?
I met the main character of this book through her husband, and her story fascinated and moved me.

3) Genre?
Historical memoir

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a film?
Meryl Streep

5) In one sentence: what is the book about?
A Hungarian Jew traumatised by Auschwitz struggles to find her identity on returning to Budapest, where she finds the property she inherited is inhabited by a sinister individual.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My agent is Lorella Belli.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Nine months – but I am not on the first draft!

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Hare With Amber Eyes (Edmund de Waal)
Burying the Typewriter (Carmen Bugan)

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I share the main character’s concern over confused identity – it nags at me.

10) What else might pique a reader’s interest?
It’s a poignant story of a person who works through a difficult past and finally leaves her “bad home” to realise herself.

For other authors preparing their Next Big Thing see:

http://www.susantiberghien.com/ – Celebrating Love: Memories from a Long Marriage

http://www.danielanorris.com – On Dragonfly Wings: a Journey to Mediumship

UKRAINE: THE LAST GHOSTS OF A FLOURISHING JEWISH COMMUNITY

May 13, 2010

Kirovograd, Ukraine, 13 May 2010 – For most Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe, the Holocaust was the tragic episode in their existence. In the Ukrainian city of Kirovograd, it was one among many. Today a sad remnant of 1,500 Jews hangs on and wonders whether it is worthwhile.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews were half the population of this large, sprawling city. They ran the local tramway, small industry, mills and shops. Most doctors were Jews, and Jews founded hospitals, pharmacies and schools. They were at the heart of city life.

They did not choose this place of their own accord. The old Russian Empire pushed Jews to the Pale of Settlement on the fringes of the Empire. Kirovograd, founded in the 18th century as Elizavetgrad, was one of the places where they could live – a fortress township built to defend Russia from Turks and Tartars.

So settle they did, but only in the city. Opportunities to become rich by owning land in the countryside were barred to them. In 1881 came the first pogrom, started by the local authorities. Then another in 1905, and two more in 1907 and 1919. Local Jews such as Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev joined the new Bolshevist Party and rose to its leadership – but Stalin had both murdered.

When the Nazis turned up and slaughtered all the Jews they could find – 22,745 of them – that was not quite the last straw. Having regained control, the Soviets refused to let the survivors (those who fled or served in the Red Army) commemorate the genocide.

The Communists insisted that the Nazis were the product of bourgeois capitalism, and denied that the Jews were singled out for racial reasons. They saw it all as class warfare, so the Jews were no different from the other Ukrainians and Russians killed in the war. Only in 1991 could the local Jewish community erect a Holocaust monument which told the truth. The state of Israel helped finance it.

Kirovograd is dotted around with fine buildings erected by the Jews, but hardly any remain connected with the Jewish community. The Communists forced the Jews to stop religious activities in 1938 and used the ornate, Moroccan-style synagogue as a recreation centre. This is the only building back in Jewish hands.

Inside is a modest exhibition illustrating their history. An American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped set it up. The guide spends two hours showing me around. There is so much to explain – a story of endeavour and transient success, but mostly a long, sad litany of persecution.

In local memories, the fate of the Jews is just one misfortune in a dire series. Several million Ukrainians perished in a famine in the early 1930s caused by the seizure of their food by Soviet commissars. Hundreds of thousands were killed by the Nazis, who treated Slavs only slightly better than Jews. These atrocities mark spirits deeply too.

When the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, 5,300 Jews were left in Kirovograd. Now only 1,500. Nobody persecutes them any more, but in a poverty-stricken economy they are left to fend for themselves. They drift away to new homelands offering more promise.

Despite all its efforts, the community scarcely survives. The city which Jews were once told to make their home may soon have none at all. In their synagogue, I feel I am looking at a house of ghosts.


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