Junior Interns Respond to Hungarian Prime Minister’s Praise of Hungary's Antisemitic Leader During WWII

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 5:00pm

USC Shoah Foundation’s Junior Interns witnessed a disturbing example of modern antisemitism firsthand during their trip to Budapest in June. And they have something to say about it.

On June 21, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave a speech in which he named Hungarian right-wing leader Regent Miklos Horthy as one of several “exceptional statesmen” who led the country after the breakup of the Austo-Hungarian Empire after World War I. In fact, Horthy allied Hungary with Nazi Germany and signed anti-Jewish laws in 1920, 1938 and 1939, which resulted in the deportation and murder of half a million of Jews in the Holocaust.

The day Orban gave the speech, a dozen high school students who are part of USC Shoah Foundation’s Junior Intern program were in Budapest for their week-long trip, visiting historical sites, meeting with local students and watching testimony from the Visual History Archive to connect Budapest’s Holocaust history with issues of acceptance, remembrance and education today.

The Junior Interns were asked to respond to Orban’s speech and connect it to what they have been learning through testimony.

Molly Cutler said that when she heard what Orban said about Horthy her mouth dropped open in shock. She was stunned that a head of state would so explicitly condone someone who assisted in perpetrating a genocide.

“It’s horrifying to know how close we might come to repeating the atrocities of the past, and this makes me all the more motivated to champion education and compassion,” Molly said. “Testimony, as I’ve discovered, can be a key to educating larger groups of people about the abject terror that victims of genocides went through, and about the importance of never forgetting what happened and never allowing it to occur again.”

Anna Hackel said that traveling to Hungary was eye-opening. She had never realized how strongly antisemitism permeates societies outside her “bubble” of Los Angeles, and it gave her a new appreciation for the phrase “The past is present,” which was a motto of the 2015 Junior Intern trip to Poland to attend the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Now I feel the weight of trying to figure out how to remember the past but not to relive it on a ground level, a level of hateful sentences and hidden acts of hatred, not just in the explosive way of genocide,” Anna said. “This experience was shell shocking and eye opening. It showed me the harsh reality of the other side of the past is present because in Hungary the past is present; the antisemitism from WWII still remains ingrained in their society.”

Jessica Hadley described the IWalk the Junior Interns went on in Budapest, in which they walked through the former Jewish quarter while watching testimony clips of Holocaust survivors remembering what happened to them at those very locations.

At one building, a survivor remembers how armed members of the Hungarian Arrow Cross stormed into her apartment and arrested her family. They were eventually deported to Auschwitz.

“I want to see Viktor Orban stand where I stood and listen to just that clip and try to tell me the same exact thing he said to his people, because I don’t think after seeing what happened to this little girl he could say that Miklos Horthy was someone that should be praised and brought up as an exceptional human being,” Jessica said.

Molly echoed Jessica’s comment about the power of watching testimony clips at the very locations at which the events described in them happened.

“Participating in the Shoah Foundation’s Junior Intern trip to Budapest was a fascinating and moving experience. It was honestly haunting to have the opportunity to see historical sites related to the Holocaust in person, and to be able to watch clips of survivors’ testimonies while at the locations of which they spoke,” Molly said. “My knowledge of Hungarian history and culture was broadened, both through meeting and getting to know Hungarian teenagers, and through lessons about past and present antisemitism in that country.”