Online Module: The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights

Case study 5: Politics of memory – the Holocaust and Hungarian public

Challenges of memory in Europe


When considering the sensitive issue of remembering the Second World War, the German occupation and the Holocaust, every EU member-state, including the Hungarian government, has its own history to reflect on.

  • Perpetrators and supporters of the Holocaust in Hungary

  • Dealing with international rescue efforts and interventions

  • Exclusions and inclusions in European memory



1. In the 19th century, National History created the myths of nations and tried to imprint a positive image into the collective memory. The Hungarians, for example, portrayed themselves as the heroic defenders of Christianity. Nowadays however, the Hungarian government seeks to present Hungarians merely as victims of German occupation. Try to explain the background, the function and the potential consequences of this ex post facto victimization!

2. Are there comparable examples in other European countries?

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  • Diary of János Hoffmann: Shroud of mist (Nebelschleier). Source: János Hoffmann (Szombathely 1895 – Auschwitz 1944): Ködkárpit. Egy zsidó polgár feljegyzései 1940-1944. Szombathely 2001. Published with kind permission of Dr Judit Varga-Hoffmann (extract).

  • Testimony of Kató Gyulai: Two sisters. The story of a deportation. Source: Linde Apel, Constanze Jaiser: Zwei Schwestern. Geschichte einer Deportation. German translation from the Hungarian by Barbara von Boroviczény. Berlin 2001 (extract).

  • Interview with Eva Brust Cooper, 9 December 1991. Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, RG 50.030*0056 (extract).

  • Who informed whom in the outside world of the horrors of Auschwitz? Source: Zoltán Tibori Szabó: The Auschwitz reports: Who got them, and when?, in: The Auschwitz Reports And The Holocaust In Hungary. Ed. by Randolph L. Braham/William J. Vanden Heuvel. Columbia University Press 2011, pp. 85–120 (extract).

  • Yehuda Bauer: Rescue Attempts: The case of the Auschwitz Protocols, in: Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, 213-241.

  • Yehuda Bauer: Anmerkungen zum „Auschwitz-Bericht" von Rudolf Vrba, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 45(2), 1997, pp. 297–307.

  • Yehuda Bauer: Rudolf Vrba und die Auschwitz-Protokolle. Eine Antwort auf John S. Conway, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 54(4), 2006, pp. 701–710. 

When it comes to the sensitive issue of remembering the Second World War, the German occupation and the Holocaust, every EU member state including Hungary has its own history to look back to.

It is true that the Germans played the crucial role in murdering Hungarian Jews. Yet, Not-Jewish Hungarians were anything but passive bystanders let alone victims of occupation.

No other country in Europe was more hospitable to Jewish immigration and assimilation in the 19th century or won more enthusiastic support from its Jews than the Hungarian Kingdom.

The situation after World War I split the country into opposing camps: a group with militant Christian ideology and fascist ideas on the one hand, and on the other, especially in the capital Budapest, a society with a wide range of opportunities to criticise the rigid social hierarchy, free press opinions and a judiciary that often ruled in defiance of government interests.

The anti-Jewish measures of the 1920s and 1930s were tightly intertwined with the recovery of the lost territories after WWI (Treaty of Trianon) and the ways that economic, social and political changes were dealt with.

After regaining large parts of these territories with the support of Nazi-Germany and Italy (the Vienna Awards of 1938 and 1940) and in view of the course WWII was taking, the government of Regent Horthy and Miklós Kállay, installed in March 1942, tried to counterbalance German and local fascist influences and attempted to reach a secret agreement with the Western Allies in early 1944.

German occupation of the country on 19 March 1944 can be seen as a reaction to this. Adolf Eichmann and his team of 100 officials wanted to fulfil the "Endlösung der Judenfrage" (final solution, annihilation of Jewish people) by any means. With the full support of local authorities, looked at by an indifferent population and with power to manipulate the Jewish people who still did not comprehend the situation the German task force immediately started to ghettoise and deport Hungarian Jews.

Even though the fact that many Hungarians in one way or another worked towards the deportation of their Jewish neighbours has been well established, Hungary has set up a memorial to commemorate all Hungarians as victims of the German occupation while at the same time she declared 2014 to be Holocaust Memorial Year. Critical voices in their own country emphasize that both forms of commemoration serve to cover up their own complicity in the persecution of Hungarian Jews. In addition, it is said that commemoration distracts from current anti-Semitism and anti-Ziganism in Hungary.


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