András Lénárt-István Pál Ádám

Captain Toronyi: the figure of a forced labor battalion’s commander in the memoir literature and in the contemporary official documents

The article aims to compare the different representations of a cruel commander of Jewish Hungarian forced laborers serving in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union in 1942-43. His infamously dehumanizing practices – including seating sick forced laborers naked on the snow in subzero temperature – made him a perfect fit for becoming a regular character of postwar Jewish Hungarian memoir literature. He even made it to István Szabó’s award winning movie “Sunshine”. The article points out the differences between the image of this mentally unstable man as it is captured in the contemporary official documents and in the cold-blooded mass murderer character drawn up by memoir authors. In addition, we highlight some tendencies in the background of these authors and try to place them within the network of the post-war Jewish community and/or the communist establishment.

Máté Zombory

Return from Death

what did Jenő Lévai do between 1957 and 1960?

Jenő Lévai is remembered in Hungarian history as the first chronicler of the Holocaust, a survivor-historian. This image is based on a specific, retrospective reading of the journalist's books published between 1945 and 1948. Although these three years are indeed significant in Lévai's work, they only constitute a small part of it. Born in 1892, Lévai's historical work began in 1932 and continued almost uninterruptedly until his death in 1983. Only the German occupation and Rákosi's rule subjected the author to enforced silence: Lévai did not engage in public activity in 1944 and between 1948 and 1957.

Based on press analysis and archival research, the article focuses on Jenő Lévai's return to public life and his activities under the early Kádár regime. The author explores the international political circumstances that enabled Lévai to resume historical documentary work and also analyzes Lévai's oeuvre, his interpretation of his own role and his reception between his 1957 research trip to Switzerland and France and the outbreak of the Eichmann affair in 1960. This investigation pays particular attention to his relationship with the Communist Party leadership and place him among the institutional actors who documented the history of the Jewish genocide in the era.

Attila Novák

Export from a Gift Parcel

The Hungarian Orthodox Jews' canned kosher food mission to Israel (1948–1957)

The article deals with a very important and hitherto undiscussed series of events, how (Jewish) Orthodoxy in Budapest helped the Jewish community (Yishuv) in Palestine, and later Israel, with meat supplies. The process, which began in 1948, presumably at the request of the Tel Aviv rabbinate, continued until the late 1950s.

After 1957, the improvement of the economic situation (including the food situation) in Israel, the rise in the living standards of the population and the consolidation of relations made special kosher meat transport operation redundant. However,, kosher meat shipments from Budapest did not stop, but continued to arrive in Israel in the form of kosher meat exports until the break in diplomatic relations in 1967, followed by the breakdown of trade relations, at the Soviet initiative. The text also describes the historical, halachic, economic and diplomatic background to the event, providing explanation to this unique phenomenon.

Lóránt Bódi

"Pilgrimages" to Auschwitz: voices and shapes of memory

As a unique site of the Holocaust, Auschwitz was not only one of the death camps after the liberation of the camp complex, but also a site of great symbolic significance. Immediately after its liberation, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex was treated as a special place by the former camp inmates, most of whom were political prisoners, and by the Polish state, which, in accordance with the Polish policy of remembrance, turned parts of the camp into museums and opened them to the public as memorial sites (the so-called "Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial"). As the "final stop" of the Holocaust, Auschwitz became a "place" of particular significance for Hungarian Jews immediately after the war, visited by survivors both individually and in groups. The first example of these 'pilgrimages' was the 'special train' organised by the National Office of Hungarian Israelites in 1948. A total of 300 people, including journalists, took part in the journey, which resulted in several reports being produced on the spot. After the war, in the 1960s, a new wave of commemorative journeys was organised by the NÜB (Committee for Persons Persecuted by the Nazis) and the MIOK on the official side, and by the IBUSZ (Central Travel Agency) as a tour operator, which continued until the fall of communism. The article examines the 'pilgrimages' as commemorative events from the perspectives of Jewish religious leaders and survivors, using archival documents, contemporary press reports and survivors' recollections, in the context of a particular period in the history of remembrance that has received less attention in research so far.

Borbála Klacsmann

Perpetrators, Antifascism, State Security: Prosecutions against Auschwitz war criminals in the GDR

A book review on
Leide, Henry: Auschwitz and the State Security. Prosecution, Propaganda and Secrecy in the GDR. Federal Archives – Stasi Records Archives, Berlin, 2022. p. 351

Henry Leide’s book investigates the relationship between the GDR’s state security and Nazi perpetrators who had served at Auschwitz-Birkenau, based on prosecution practices and the trials of individuals. Initially, there was a will to punish perpetrators; however, even at this time, the procedures were arbitrary. Later on, after the state had positioned itself as antifascist and a victim of the Nazis, the number of cases decreased drastically, as any newly discovered perpetrator would have led to a loss of credibility. Therefore, only in case the culprit was a well-known Nazi officer, such as physician Horst Fischer, was the trial organized quickly in order to demonstrate the GDR’s commitment to the prosecution of Nazis. The bulk of the book analyzes trials, based on whether the perpetrators were convicted or not. These cases demonstrate not only the operation of state security as well as its ideological and political considerations, but they also provide a glimpse into the actions and motivations of certain actors who had served at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Nikoletta Kende

A (seemingly) customisable past

Growing in the shadow of antifascism [Remembering the Holocaust in State-Socialist Eastern Europe]. Edited by Kata Bohus, Peter Hallama and Stephan Stach. Central European University Press, Budapest–Vienna–New York, 2022. p. 327.

When it comes to researching the memory of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, we have preconceptions deriving from and about postwar Soviet communism and socialism. Based on the values of the satellite states, the communist and socialist governments highlighted the prominence of communist heroes and the marginalization of Jewish suffering that did not fit into this narrative, replacing the latter with the image of the victimization of an entire nation. The book refutes this interpretation. This review shows that the book provides a complex picture of what remembrance was like in communist countries based on transnational analyses, multiple perspectives and different types of sources and witnesses. Using various spaces of the public sphere, the authors show that within the framework of the communist system, different ways of reaching out to members of society to commemorate the Holocaust and Jewish victimhood were possible. This review reflects that although the authors’ ground-breaking approach nuances the possibilities for recalling and revisiting the past in socialism and points to a new direction in the research of Holocaust memory, it somewhat overshadows the limited possibilities Jewish witnessing had in the immediate postwar period. By not confronting readers more directly and explicitly with the difficulties of Jewish witnessing, the book lacks an emphasis on the loss of freedom experienced by the those remembering behind the 'shadow'.