H. E. János Lázár, Minister of State heading the Prime Minister's Office of Hungary delivered a speech at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 27th January, 2014 on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
An entry in the encyclopaedia can teach our children at the most, that the Holocaust is the tragedy of 6 million European Jews. Therefore it is our duty to teach them that the Holocaust is not only the tragedy of 6 million men, women and children: instead, it is the tragedy of mankind.
As János Pilinszky, a Hungarian Catholic poet put it: the Holocaust is the offense of the century. And by that– according to Imre Kertész, an Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Hungarian writer - he meant that ”the Holocaust occurred in a Christian cultural environment, so for those with a metaphysical turn of mind it can never be overcome.”
The Holocaust, the Shoa is an experience of mankind irrespectively of one’s geographical and temporal limitations. It is a universal lesson. It should be like that, and it must be like that – or else we don’t deserve to be called “humans”. If this is not so, we are not worthy of the Creator’s entrusting us to the care of this planet and furnishing us- as the only creatures on this planet- with mind and spirit.
Because having a mind and spirit is not something that is legally due to us. It is also an obligation. Killing, especially genocide, is the violation of one’s right to human existence, and the infringement of duties implied in human existence. Actually it is the betrayal of the Creator.
Apart from its universality, the Holocaust for us Hungarians is our national tragedy. In the Hungarian language we call Shoa as the age of calamities. How fateful and atavistic it might sound and might not even be translated into English!
Indeed, the Shoa, the Holocaust is a national tragedy for us. Twice so.
On the one hand, because every tenth victim in the Holocaust, and every third victim in the camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau were Hungarian citizens. On the other hand, because not only many of the victims, but also many of the perpetrators were Hungarian.
The Holocaust for the Hungarians is the ancient, biblical sin: fratricide. It is the betrayal of everything that our culture and national identity was built on. It is like high treason against Hungary.
It is so, because in Hungary, in this Central-European country which is doubly impacted by the Holocaust for many decades, the prevailing ideology was the adulteration and obscuring the past.
“To forget our past, obliterate the moral divide between the culprit and the victim. To forget about ourselves.” This was the price that the communist despotism demanded in return for the deceptive comfort of goulash-communism.
In the years of communist dictatorship the politics of oblivion and the culture of collective amnesia prevented that Hungarians face their past and make a confession. Therefore they lacked a kind of catharsis without which there is neither purgation nor new beginning.
However, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I admit, that the free Hungary – born after the breakdown of the iron curtain, and after the regime change – still owes this catharsis.
For years and decades on end the semi-truth associated with the Holocaust prevailed. Or if we put it simply: the lie.
That the crimes were committed not only against us. But that we also committed crimes against ourselves. With passiveness and unfortunately with actions as well.
On the one hand, some, who were the leaders of the Hungarian state then, were personally and severely accountable for deporting Hungarian Jews. And also for condemning them to death.
On the other hand the Hungarian state was not able to protect its own citizens, and had not made all the efforts it could have made for that matter.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know: facing the truth is a painful and long process with controversies. Probably, by definition this can never be ended fully.
Embarking on this road is a cumbersome process, but the only one, that can lead us to a world, in which Auschwitz can never happen again! Never again!
On this road, this day today, is an important milestone. Better to say, what this day symbolises is crucial.
May I express thanks with due respect to Madame Bokova, Director General and the UNESCO –for the common thinking and supportive cooperation in our work!
Please allow me again here and now, on behalf of the Hungarian government to reinforce the commitment that had evoked this cooperation and has been so ever since. Hungary is a committed supporter and a partner in achieving the goals and noble missions of UNESCO, and is an earnest promoter of the Holocaust educational programme!
If anything, this must be the first and foremost message at the 70th anniversary: The Hungarian state shall never ever let down any Hungarian citizen.
The Hungarian state shall protect all its subjects. It will defend them from murderous forces, from external enemies and from internal betrayal.
Hungary, this post-Holocaust, new European country learned the historical lesson and will not let anyone forget about that!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The objective of the Hungarian government is to turn the memorial year of the Holocaust in Hungary a time, when it faces its past. This should be made a turning point in the life of the free Hungary.
Because the painful anniversary cannot bear any more incompleteness, and cannot tolerate more self-deception. And Hungary today has a government which is not only ready, but which is able to implement this turn in our commemorative policy.
Facing the past means for us that we won’t have two types of history books to match the political preferences and the ideology, respectively. We shall have only one book, a common book of history.
If new generations learn from it, they’ll grow up so, that the national remembrance they learn about at school and the memories, that they inherit from their parents or grandparents will not be contradicting.
The commemorative year of the Holocaust is about education. In the real and the abstract sense of the word. Because we are convinced that one of the most important duties of Schools after the Holocaust for each European nation is to make sure that what happened 70 years ago should never ever happen again.
Facing the past therefore means that we make the order on remembrance and the ban on forgetting as a moral law. Putting it differently: our objective is that in the 21st century in Hungary everyone growing up to be an adult should know the sins that Hungarians had committed against themselves, and should also remember those Hungarians who saved the lives of others.
Because these saviours were also forgotten by us: we were unfaithful to them, too, just as unfaithful as we were to those, who had been saved by them.
However, selective memory is no cure against selective forgetfulness!
After all those decades, when evil Hungarians were slowly erased from national remembrance, now, as we do belated penance, we should not be carried away! We should not forget about the Righteous Among the Nations either! We must remember the fairness and decency that those brave people preserved even in the most beastly times.
We must remember them and must make others remember them. If you allow me I would borrow the phrase for them: “Righteous Among the Hungarians”!
Those, who did not only save the lives of their fellow countrymen, but who also defended the reputation of Hungary.
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished Guests,
One of our greatest poets, Attila József wrote a poem about river Danube. It is a large river in Europe, which with its endless rolling is one of the symbols of Hungary.
But 70 years ago this river became the watery grave of many fellow countrymen. Only the abandoned shoes remained on the bricks of the embankment after those Hungarians who were shot into the river. You can still find the imitations of these shoes cast in bronze on the Pest side of river Danube.
This is the last verse from this poem and let me finish my presentation by quoting it to you:
“Enough of conflict goes / Into that need which must confess the past. / The Danube’s tender ripples which compose / Past, present, future, hold each other fast. / The battle which our ancestors once fought / Through recollection is resolved in peace, / And settling at long last the price of thought, / This is our task, and none too short its lease. “
Thank you for your attention!