Letters to the Editor
 


Day 1: Coexistence and persecution
In our opinion, holocaust in Hungary had already begun with the implementation
of the first anti-Jewish laws. However, to make clear the significance of
these orders first we must shed light on the flourishing pre-war Jewish
life of the city (and country) which was brought to an end by the Shoah.
Firstly the students introduced themselves and told us why they decided to
participate in the program, what their expectations were, and where they
heard of the course. Naturally, we introduced ourselves as well, and
encouraged students to adjust to the irregular form of education that
they were going to meet here, we told them to come up with their questions,
comments or ideas any time they felt relevant and to feel free to express
their personal thoughts, feelings or even family remembrances regarding the
topics being studied.
We started out distributing a one page long text explaining the basic concepts
used in connection with the holocaust. However, some words, expressions or
figures were missing from the text, and students had to fill the gaps in
pairs. When finished, we checked solutions and discussed the correct
answer(s).
At this point we moved to one of the temporary exhibitions of the house, which
is made up of large sized banners with different pictures associated with the
holocaust on them, having the names of Hungarian cities and settlements
listed between the pictures. These are the towns of Hungary (with the
re-annexed territories) where living Jewish communities could be found
before the war. At this place we usually depict to students the most
important elements of Jewish religion, the structure of a traditional
Jewish community, and we speak of the question of assimilation and
emancipation. Based on the exhibit, we also notice the widespread
presence of the Jewry all over the country, and we establish the
required figures regarding their number. We always ask students to go
around the banners and find the names of towns where their grandparents or
other relatives come from, if outside Budapest. Once they find the place,
our next question is whether they can tell if there is a Jewish community
at the place today? In almost every case we get a negative answer, and
even without our further explanation they personally realize part of the
destruction caused by the holocaust in Hungary. We can say personally,
because these people can personally relate to the listed settlements,
even if they have not thought about the places in this respect.
Next we moved back to the classroom, where we quickly went through the
2000-year history of Jewish life in Hungary, with the help of a
power point presentation. We also showed students a short video on the
Jewish related sights of the capital, which would be visited later during
the week. Since our main aim was to follow through how the Shoah affected
Jewish life in Budapest, we found it essential first to make clear how
vivid, varied and significant this layer of Hungarian society was prior
to the war.
After examining coexistence, we switched to the topic of persecution and the
first laws discriminating against Jews. We presented both the decree named
Numerus Clausus from 1920 and the three (plus one) anti-Jewish laws
following that. Then we handed out parts of different speeches made
by contemporary MPs standing up against these laws in Parliament. Students
were given time to prepare, and we together imitated a parliamentarian
debate on legislation, in which students were supposed to fight these
laws, while we, teachers, put them forward and defended them. Of course,
student were allowed to change position if they wished, they were free to
argue both for and against. In the course of the debate students referred to
the basic human values, and to the fact that eliminating Jews from certain
fields of economic and intellectual life would not solve the problems of
those in hope of that. Interestingly enough, there was a heated debate over
the proportion Jews should occupy in the different professions in society.
Finally students voted on the proposals, and most of them (but not all!)
refused them in the form of the 1938, 1939 and 1941 legislation. However,
some of the group would have accepted the laws had they allowed a higher
rate for Jewish presence in the mentioned fields. This result also
strengthened us in our determination that the holocaust must be
emphatically taught about among Hungarian students.
After the break we set out to the Jewish quarter in the VII. district first.
Here we witnessed to the signs of pre-war Jewish life studied in the
morning; we stopped at the mikve, the kosher bakery and butcher, and
the orthodox synagogue in Kazinczy street. The 1967/68 emancipation and the
choices it brought along was mentioned again at the synagogue of neology in
Dohany street. The synagogue of the third movement, the status quo in
Rumbach street can be directly linked to the events of the holocaust;
it served as a gathering place of Jews with disorderly citizenship in 1941.
Those rounded up here were taken to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine, where
they (an estimated 16.000 victims) were brutally slaughtered by SS units
and their collaborators.
Our next stop was at the Mai Mano House, which gave home to the Arizona Bar
before and during the war. Here contribution of Hungarian Jews to
Hungarian literary and cultural life can be brought to light.
Nonetheless, tragic fate of the Rozsnyai couple, owners of the bar,
must be mentioned as well, whose life also came to an end due to the Arrow
Cross terror.
We finished our tour at the Houses of Parliament, where students were given
text of the earlier studied anti-Jewish laws. Having read them in groups,
they were to choose and comment on the most disturbing paragraphs, while we
also brought the fact to their attention that the laws being studied were
proposed and voted for behind the very walls we were sitting at. It was an
experience.
To sum up, our primary goal for Day 1 was to make participants realize, racial
and religious prejudice, once legalized and turned into political program is
capable of disturbing and destroying peaceful coexistence in society that
has been going on for centuries, and will ultimately lead to the
annihilation of whole communities.

Day 2: Forced labor service (munkaszolgalat)
We started the day with a short, 10-question test on yesterday's material,
which practice we kept during the whole week. Our aim was to see how much
students could remember from what they heard and also to reward the best
"competitor" at the end of the program. Another activity we did every
morning was looking at the photos taken on the previous day, this always
set the mood for the work to follow.
This day's topic was the development of forced labor service, the next stage
of persecution. Again, supported by a power point presentation, we talked
about the background of the seemingly harmless law of 1939/II introducing
labor service, the process of divesting members of the munkaszolgalat from
their uniforms and ordering them to wear different armbands as discernment,
and finally driving them to death. All together some 42,000 Jews lost their
lives this way even before Nazi occupation of Hungary. Here was mentioned
the cruel treatment and plunder of the "musz" by their guards (the keret),
forced labor at the East front and in the copper mines of Bor, as well as the
death marches. Students were shown a short extract from an interview that we
made with a Hungarian survivor who himself worked in one of these labor
units. He also told how they were forced to march through Eisenerz,
where he was to lose his closest friend and leave him dead behind. It
was followed by a group work activity; we handed out passages from the
diary of the distinguished Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, just as we did
with some of his poems. Since everybody got a different text, on reading and
discussing them with each other students got a more or less vivid picture of
everyday life in a forced labor unit, as experienced by Radnoti, who himself
was to loose his life in this period.
Imre Amos was one of the artists who also perished in labor service. We chose
some of his drawings which were then copied on sheets of A/3 format. We
asked students in groups to look at one picture together, and put down
their impressions, thoughts or feelings about them on the surrounding empty
place. While doing this, they could communicate with each other on the paper,
but they were not allowed to speak at all. When finished, groups changed
drawings, could read the other group's comments, and contribute their
own, new ideas. Finally, papers were placed at different parts of the
classroom, along with a number of other pieces put up beforehand, such
as a detailed map of the Budapest ghetto or different decrees regulating
the rights of citizens of Jewish origin.
In the afternoon we headed to Becsi street, obuda first, where the brick
factory was at that time located, a general gathering place of the
discriminated, many of whom were ordered to march towards the West
border. Today a stone memorial tells of the tragic fate of these
people, but the factory itself has been replaced by modern shopping
plazas. Our second and last stop for the day was at the National Riding
Arena. As it is known from the memoirs, e.g. "The Smell of Humans" by Erno
Szep, after the Arrow Cross takeover the arena served as one of the gathering
places of Jews dragged to work in fortification projects. At this very place
were they divided into the different units and directed to the place of
"service".
Our aim with the program of the day was to reflect on how a seemingly harmless
decree, based on the most noble values such as patriotism, could become the
source of death for ten thousands of people, citizens of the same country.

Day 3: Deportation
Though the central topic of the summer course was the history of the Shoah in
Budapest, at this point we could not ignore Operation Hoess and the fate of
the Jewry living in the country. Following a short introductory survey, we
made students familiar with the story of the Auschwitz Album, upon which it
was time to observe the main exhibition of the Memorial Center. There are
three elements to the exhibition; a 10-minute long film on pre-war Jewish
life in Carpatho-Ruthenia, a series of the pictures of the Auschwitz Album,
and another short film made by the Soviet army on reaching the camp. We
told students in advance time will not allow us to give explanation at
every picture, yet, we would like to stop at some of them and discuss them
together. We, as teacher, by no means should define our goal as exposing
students to all the information we bear on the holocaust. Rather, with
our explanations and assistance we should touch them in a way that would
stay with them and shape their basic attitude towards the whole topic.
First of all what needs to be explained between the first film and the
pictures is how misleading it can be that in the photos only
Hungarian Jewish victims plus German officials can be seen. But how
people got to the ramps of Auschwitz form the scenes of the film, had a lot
to do with Hungarian public administration. This process needs to be
clarified before we start analyzing some of the photos. For example,
we stop at the consecutive pictures of men from all the different layers of
society who had just got off the cars, all of them with the yellow star on
their clothes. Here we refer to the fact that the final solution was
implemented on all Jews with complete disregard to their social status
and position. At the picture of Lili's two youngest brothers (Izrael and
Zelig) we can understand how the majority of the Hungarian Jewry thought
of themselves. The boys are wearing the typical national Hungarian (Bocskai)
coat that you would only see today at the extreme right wing demonstrations.
This shows us, they considered themselves fully Hungarians, but the star of
David on the coats indicates, the Hungarian government looked on them in a
quite different way.
The photo we always stop at at the selection group is the one with an SS officer
showing the way with his index finger to an old grandma with her grandchild
to the gas chambers. First we ask students to look at the picture carefully
and tell us what the basic mood of the officers standing in front of the
queue of several thousands is. The countenance on their face and their
pose (means of non-verbal communication) suggest a state of total boredom,
indifference and apathy. At this point we read out a passage from the diary
of one of the SS doctors responsible for selection at Auschwitz. The notes
give us detailed description of each course of the lunch at the officers'
canteen, as well as the doctor's failed attempts to get rid of the flees in
his room, which seems to have been his greatest concern. Through this we come
to the point that we regard one of the greatest tragedies of the holocaust:
extermination of millions of innocent people was carried out by bored,
listless perpetrators without the least sign of any human consideration.

At the photos grouped under the title plunder, we speak about humiliation and
dehumanization. We ask student why the victims were crammed and carried in
freight trains, or what happened to their properties, belongings, or even
their hair that was shaved off. We also ask when they think plunder of
these people started? On arrival at Auschwitz, in the ghettoes already,
or even earlier, with anti-Jewish legislation?
Lastly, there are some pictures of old, crippled, disabled, or mentally ill
and tormented people in their last minutes before taken to the gas
chambers. Here our question is what might have been the purpose of
taking these photos? What is their effect on posterity? Are they to
support and justify Nazi race theory in any way?
Coming up to the closing part of the exhibition, we see a montage of the
recordings of the soviet army liberating the camp and the first film
with pre-war Jewish life. Many objects appearing in the first film (e.g.
shoes, glasses, clothes being made) reoccur in these pictures, but, of
course in a distorted way piled up high in the store rooms of Auschwitz.
Only one thing cannot be seen in the closing pictures, the people (dancing,
working, celebrating) in the first film. They have disappeared once and for
all.
Returning to the classroom, we gave a power point presentation on Auschwitz,
concentrating on four basic questions: why was it called the death factory,
why did not the allies bomb the establishment, was there any chance of
resistance and refusal of cooperation for the inmates in the camp, and
what were the reactions of the liberators when first encountering the sight?
We did not give straight answers to the questions, but involved and
activated our students in trying to find reasonable replies. For
example, at the question of bombing, students acted as the military
cabinet of the allied forces, reasoning why (not) to attack the site.
Those standing against came up with almost exactly the same reasons that
were given in reality by the allies.
When discussing liberation of the camp, again, we asked students to put down a
few thoughts as if they had been in the army reaching and discovering the
place. After they shared their reactions, we showed them real sentences
taken from remembrances of liberators. We also distributed drawings of camp
life made by a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz, Agnes Lukacs. In pairs,
students we asked to give names to the pictures. When finished,
solutions were compared, then we revealed the original names to them.
Again, we put these drawings on the wall as decoration for the week.
Two relating places were visited in the afternoon, first the East railway
station, where the first deporting trains were sent to
Auschwitz-Birkenau at the end of April 1944. We told the
story of a survivor we had met, he was deported from here after spending a
month in the interning camp in Kistarcsa. From the Jozsefvaros railway
station, starting place of the last transports in the fall of 1944,
some of the captives were already taken to the West for forced labor.
Seeing the location of the place helped students understand why it was
chosen for this purpose: the station is out-of-the-way, yet, it is not too
far from the city center.
Main aim of the day was to make students realize, racial policy, stigmatizing
and declaring a group of people inferior will not stop at the level of
discrimination, sooner or later, when at full swing, will inevitably
lead to seeking ways of a "final solution," the total annihilation of the condemned.