Hungary Is Getting a New Holocaust Museum. But Will It Distort the Hungarians’ Role in the Persecution and Slaughter of the Jews?

Budapest has housed a Holocaust Memorial Center since 2002, but in 2013 the Hungarian government announced plans to open another one, under the supervision of the controversial historian Maria Schmidt, a confidante of President Viktor Orban. Representatives from Yad Vashem and the American Jewish Committee, along with well-regarded scholars, were initially invited to sit on the new museum’s advisory board, but most of them later broke with the project when it became clear that they would have little input, and they became suspicious about its handling of sensitive subjects. With the House of Fates—as it is to be known—scheduled to open later this year, it now faces the opposition of both Yad Vashem and Hungary’s largest Jewish organization. Liam Hoare writes:

The central question—one that is at the core of the debate surrounding the House of Fates and of the broader struggle to understand Hungary’s past—is whether the Hungarian state itself was culpable in [the extermination of 565,00 Hungarian Jews in 1944] and, if so, to what extent. The [older museum] answers this question clearly: Hungarian Jews were subject to discrimination long before the Nazis invaded. In 1920, [less than two years after the country gained independence], laws were passed limiting the number of Jews who could attend Hungarian universities, and in 1938, the first of a series of anti-Jewish laws aimed at disenfranchising Hungarian Jews were enacted, limiting Jewish participation in the nation’s economic and political life. . . .

After Germany occupied the country in March 1944, Hungarian authorities actively collaborated in the attempted destruction of the country’s Jewish population. In 1944, between May 15 and July 9, more than 437,000 mostly rural Hungarian Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. With only 150 people under his command, Adolf Eichmann could not have run what was the fastest deportation operation to take place during the Holocaust without the efficient work of helpful Hungarian authorities. . . .

The main exhibition [at the House of Fates is expected to] cover the years 1938 to 1948 (the year before Communism was institutionalized in Hungary and the year the state of Israel was established). It will include not just the events of the Holocaust but the road to it—in order to explore how a group of Hungarian citizens could be stripped of their dignity, stigmatized, and sent to their deaths, and how survivors’ lives were irrevocably altered. Presented as a Hungarian tragedy as opposed to an inherently Jewish one, the exhibition will tell the story through video recordings of people who were children at the time of the Holocaust.

[W]hat Zsuzsanna Toronyi, the director of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archive, has learned so far has been enough to make her oppose the plans for the main exhibition. . . . Toronyi believes that a museum dedicated to the memories of those who were children during World War II is inherently problematic, as a young person cannot comprehend the magnitude of the Holocaust. Moreover, she says, if a museum looks at the Holocaust only through the eyes of those who can provide testimony, then it sees events only through the perspectives of survivors and non-Jews who saved Jews. Those who were murdered, bystanders, and collaborators are underrepresented or omitted altogether. . . . In addition, she believes that limiting the exhibition to the years 1938 to 1948 avoids discussion of deep-rooted Hungarian anti-Semitism.

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More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Holocaust Museums, Hungarian Jewry, Viktor Orban, Yad Vashem

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians