The Briefing Focused on Hungarian Jews affected by the Holocaust
Monmouth University’s Institute of Global Understanding (IGU) sent Youth Representatives, Meaghan Hess and Jacquelyn Corsentino, as well as Dr. Christopher Hirschler as a Faculty Representative. The Department of Public Information (DPI) hosted its first briefing of 2014 for the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).
The briefing focused on the 70th Anniversary of the Deportation of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. The panel included a scholar on the Holocaust, a survivor, and the current Hungarian Ambassador.
The first distinguished guest was Dr. Carol Ritter. Ritter is a professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She is also the author of 17 novels regarding genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries. She provided the historical background for the audience with a short PowerPoint highlighting Hungary’s passive position during the Holocaust.
Prior to World War II, 825,000 Jews resided in Hungary. After the Holocaust, only 200,000 Jews remained in the country.
During the years filled with discrimination under Hitler’s Third Reich, Hungary remained uninvolved until March 1944.
During that time, Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer and major organizer of the Holocaust, only took 52 days to round up all the Jews and place them into ghettos.
On April 15, 1944, Hungary mandated a law that profiled Jewish citizens by requiring them to wear the yellow Star of David.
On May 14, 1944 the full scale deportation of the Hungarian Jews began. Ritter informed the representatives that throughout these deportations 12,000 to 14,000 Jews were removed from Hungary everyday. During the years that composed the Holocaust and WWII, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz.
Ritter said, “This sudden participation of Hungarians was not by chance; the people willed it.”
Some Hungarians believed in the Nazi ideology, others followed the status quo for economic reasons; however, the majority of Hungarians were bystanders. Pope Pius XII’s stance was ineffective against the Nazi Regime. Due to the massive amounts of bystanders, less than three out of ten Hungarian Jews survived the Holocaust.
Ritter ended her time on the panel by stating, “Never be a perpetrator. Never be a victim. Never, but never be a bystander.”
Dr. Nancy Mezey, associate professor and faculty representative for the IGU, agreed with Ritter’s stance on bystanders. Mezey stated, “There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Inaction is a form of action.”
The next speaker was Agnes Vertes, a child survivor of the Holocaust in Budapest, Hungary. She is an award winning independent documentary filmmaker, as well as the president of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut.
She was only four-years-old when the horrors of the Holocaust plagued her family. She began her autobiography by declaring the day she would never forget was March 19, 1944.
She claimed, “March 19 was the beginning and then everything changed.” Her family feared for their safety after the implementation of the mandated yellow star. Vertes’s father decided to move his family into the city, to blend into the crowds of people.
Under the Nazi regime, a law emerged that stated that Jewish citizens could not use public transportation, which included the trains. After the train ride began, the passengers were able to see the yellow stars on Vertes’s family’s clothing. The passengers erupted. Numerous riders wanted to throw the family off the train; others came to the family defense. Vertes remembered her father’s clearly stating, “As long as there is confusion, the Jew loses.”
Realizing that the Nazi guards would murder the family if they reached the station, her father suggested jumping off the train as it came to a stop. All four of her family members were able to escape the train and arrive in the city without being recognized.
Once they reached the city, her family officially changed the name and religion on her birth certificate and her younger sister’s. From that moment on, she was a “recognized” Lutheran. Her father had told her numerous times to “never mention the word Jew or state her real name.”
When numerous Jews began to be deported, the family realized they needed to split up to enhance their chances for survival. Vertes’s family paid a Christian woman to take Vertes and her younger sister in, and moved to the countryside. Although this woman did her best to hide the little girls, the strains of the war were too intense to keep them safe.
Vertes said, “People living in Europe during World War II could be victims of the war during air raids, not just the genocide that was taking place.”
Due to these inherent dangers of living in a constant battle zone, the girls were sent away. This time, to the former Mayor’s home, which housed 100 Jewish children. The people at the home realized that the children would surely be causalities if they were sent to the camps and did their best to protect them in those situations. Vertes and her sister were biologically gifted with blonde hair.
When the Nazis came to validate the birth certificates of the children in the home, Vertes’s sister, who was only three-years-old at the time, walked over to the Nazi and started talking to him.
The Nazi melted and declared, “There has never been an Aryan child as cute as this one.” Then the Nazis left the home without verifying the children’s birth certificates. Vertes proudly declared, “That was the day my sister saved 100 Jewish children.”
Although the family was separated and hiding in different locations, they were all able to survive the Holocaust without being sent to the death camps. Her extended family was not as lucky. During the Holocaust, Vertes lost 200 family members. After facing survivor’s guilt, she believed that during that trivial time in her life, she was able to survive in order to tell her story.
When it became “socially acceptable” to discuss the Holocaust, other survivors did not believe that she faced the same horrors. After years of staying quiet, Vertes realized that she was a “hidden” child and her “hidden identity” was a story that needed to be told. After her epiphany, Vertes began educating people on her experiences and began making documentaries.
Mezey also has ancestral ties to the Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. In 1939, Mezey’s grandmother decided to flee the country with her husband and their two-year-old son. They fled from Hungary to Italy and caught the last boat to New York City.
Although her grandparents and father were able to escape, her other family members stayed in Hungary. Numerous family members were able to hide, however, her great uncle was sent to the camps and survived.
Mezey stated, “It is important for the Monmouth community to be informed of the DPI NGO briefings at the United Nations. These briefings raise issues and confront past and current problems that take place around the world. The first step is educating the students on these issues, and Monmouth does a very good job at that. Students do not think about these issues unless they are informed. The second step is encouraging students to become politically active. There is still room for improvement when it comes to encouraging students to act.”
Dr. Christopher Hirschler, assistant professor and faculty representative for the IGU stated, “The briefings help to inform individuals about issues such as human trafficking, genocide, and access to health care and education. Many Americans, including students, are not well informed about problems that affect people in other countries.”
Finally, the last speaker was Csaba Korosi. Korosi currently serves as the Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations, as well as serving as the Vice President of the 66th General Assembly.
Due to the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews, 2014 is the Hungarian Holocaust Remembrance Year. In an effort to acknowledge the barbarisms, Korosi wanted to apologize on behalf of his country.
He declared, “The Hungarian state was guilty during the Holocaust. We are responsible for not protecting our citizens and assisting the genocide.”
The Hungarian government has a “zero tolerance policy” towards anti-Semitism today. Although the country acknowledges the extreme right Jobbik party’s conservative beliefs, their anti-Semitism is not accepted and only maintains a 10 percent popular appeal. According to Korosi, that percentage is too high. To combat anti-Semitism, the government has focused on law enforcement, Holocaust education and remembrance, and supports a Jewish cultural renaissance in Hungary.
Progressive legislative changes occurred over the years to prevent anti-Semitism in the country. The Fourth Amendment of the Hungarian Fundamental Law was changed to allow individuals to file civil law suits on the grounds of hate speech. The preamble of the Fundamental Law was also changed and now denies any statue of limitations for the inhumane crimes committed by the Nazis.
The government also made Holocaust denial a criminal offense that is punishable with three years of imprisonment. To bridge the gap and prevent this behavior in the country, the Hungarian government has mandated that all public schools have compulsory Holocaust education.
Monmouth University alumni and the former IGU Youth Representative, Alexandria Fitzgerald, said, “Being a member of this briefing’s audience I left emotionally impacted, due to the remarks of the panelists’ experience. It was hard to decide who left me speechless because all of the members emphasized the greater theme of not ever becoming a bystander. For me it is a tie between Agnes Vertes, the brave survivor; or Csaba Korosi, the genuine ambassador.”
After Korosi finished detailing Hungary’s accepting atmosphere, the NGO Representatives were able to ask questions. One NGO Representative asked the panel how to prevent repeating history with regard to genocides like the Holocaust. Unfortunately, there are genocides that are occurring today.
Hirschler described the phenomenon of the genocides that continue to exist today. Hirschler exclaimed, “ ‘David Rieff wrote, ‘Since 1945, “never again” has meant, essentially, ‘Never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s.’ Which highlights the fact that genocides continue to occur. Tens of millions have been killed since 1945 and most Americans are not well-informed about the genocides and they do not protest as genocides unfold from year-to-year.”
Hirschler continued, “Hopefully, Americans will never have the opportunity to hide a neighbor who is being persecuted during a genocide. It’s easy to imagine helping in this situation. However, on a yearly basis, we have the opportunity to speak out against genocide, and by applying political pressure to our elected officials we can help save thousands or millions.”
All the members on the panel stated that education is the first step for preventing genocides in the future.
Vertes declared, “Hateful words caused the Holocaust, not gas chambers.”
Ritter concluded with a quote by Elie Wiesel, “Be careful with words, they’re dangerous. Be wary of them. They begat either demons or angels. It’s up to you to give life to one or the other. Be careful, I tell you, nothing is as dangerous as giving free rein to words.”
PHOTO TAKEN from www,.theholocaustexplained.com