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.

Read more at Moment

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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law