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The Christian Churches of Hungary and the Holocaust

Randolph L. Braham

  1. The “Golden Era” refers to the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918), when a cordial, almost symbiotic relationship existed between the ruling conservative-aristocratic elements and the Jewish economic elite, especially those engaged in banking, industry, and commerce. For some details, see Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide. The Holocaust in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 1-12.
  2. Moshe Y. Herczl, Christianity and the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry (New York: New York University Press, 1993), pp. 18-19.
  3. The founder of the party was Gyözö Istóczy, a member of the Hungarian parliament. By 1884, the party had sixteen representatives in parliament, including Géza Onódy, a notorious Jew-baiter.
  4. The antisemitic hysteria surrounding the Tiszaeszlár blood-libel case was whipped up by a local Catholic priest by the name of József Adamovics; Herczl, Christianity and the Holocaust, pp. 8-17.
  5. The party was led for many years by Count Nándor Zichy, who later became a prominent figure of the so-called Vienna counterrevolutionary group of the Hungarian Right.
  6. Herczl, Christianity and the Holocaust, pp. 20-22. For further details on pre-World War I antisemitism in Hungary, see Nathaniel Katzburg, Antisemitism in Hungary, 1867-1914 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1969), and Judit Kubinszky, Politikai antiszemitizmus Magyarországon, 1875-1890 (Budapest: Kossuth, 1976).
  7. The Alkotmány (“Constitution”), the Catholic People’s Party daily founded in 1896, was the first highly regarded antisemitic journal in the country. Edited by priests, it reflected a militant Catholicism which often found expression in rampant antisemitism. The same objective was pursued by Egyházi Közlöny (“Ecclesiastical Gazette”).
  8. Robert Major, “The Churches and the Jews in Hungary,” Continuum (Autumn 1966), p. 373.
  9. Béla Bangha, Magyarország újjáépitése és a kereszténység (Budapest: Szt. István Társulat, 1920), p. 161, as quoted by György Kis, Megjelölve Krisztus keresztjével és Dávid csillagával (Budapest: Szerzöi Kiadás, 1987), p. 245.
  10. In addition to his clerical responsibilities, Bishop Zadravetz also headed the Anti-Bolshevik Committee, one of the many antisemitic counterrevolutionary organizations that were formed after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. For details on Zadravetz’s political-ideological views, see Páter Zadravetz titkos naplója (“The Secret Diary of Pater Zadravetz”) (Budapest: Kossuth, 1967).
  11. He evoked the same theme before gatherings of the Awakening Magyars (Ébredö Magyarok), one of the many ultra-chauvinistic anti-Jewish organizations that flourished during the period. See also Major, “The Churches and the Jews in Hungary,” pp. 374-375.
  12. Among the most important of these were Nemzeti Újság (“National Journal”), Új Nemzedék (“New Generation”), Egyházi Lapok (“Ecclesiastical Journals”), and Magyar Kultúra (“Hungarian Culture”). For excerpts from these periodicals, see Major, ibid., and Kis, Megjelölve Krisztus.
  13. During his entire tenure as Bishop of Székesfehérvár (1906-1927), Bishop Prohászka was at the forefront of the antisemitic drive in Hungary. He was of German background, the son of an officer in the Sudetenland. A prolific author, his writings, including his sermons and speeches, were posthumously published in twenty-five volumes; Kis, Megjelölve Krisztus, pp. 246-254.
  14. Ibid., pp. 248-249; see also Herczl, Christianity and the Holocaust, pp. 21-22.
  15. Bishop Czapik’s concern was clearly exaggerated. Many German Catholic leaders became as enthusiastic about the National Socialists as he was; see Randolph L. Braham, “Remembering and Forgetting. The Vatican, the German Catholic Hierarchy, and the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 13, no. 2 (1999), pp. 222-251.
  16. This was in accord with Ravasz’s antisemitic views, as they were voiced from 1917. He articulated his antisemitic views, identifying the Jews as a race, in his contribution to a symposium titled “A zsidókérdés Magyarországon,” Huszadik Század, Budapest, 1917, pp. 126-129. Bishop Ravasz reportedly was also a member of the special committee that engineered the 1919 election of Miklós Horthy as Regent (head of state) and remained his loyal supporter to the end. Details about Bishop Ravasz’s antisemitic views were provided by Reverend József Éliás in his seventy-page letter addressed to Dr. László Juhász in Munich in December 1986 (copy in possession of the author). Reverend Éliás played a leading role in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
  17. Major, “The Churches and the Jews in Hungary,” pp. 375-376.
  18. The First Anti-Jewish Law (Law No. XV:1938) went into effect on May 29, 1938, setting a 20 percent ceiling on the proportion of Jews in the professions and in financial, commercial, and industrial enterprises employing more than ten persons.
  19. For details on the Christian leaders’ position on the First Anti-Jewish Law and on the law’s provisions and impact, see Braham, Politics, pp. 125-130.
  20. In November 1938, Hungary acquired the Upper Province (Felvidék), and, in March 1939, the area of Carpatho-Ruthenia (Kárpátalja) from Czechoslovakia.
  21. Enacted into law on May 4, 1939, the Second Anti-Jewish Law (Law No. IV:1939) restricted to 6 percent the proportion of Jews in the enterprises cited in note 17, and provided a detailed and complicated religious and “racial” definition of who was a Jew. For details on the Second Anti-Jewish Law and its implications, see Braham, Politics, pp. 151-160.
  22. For the text of the Church leaders’ parliamentary speeches on the anti-Jewish laws, see Henrik Fisch, ed., Keresztény egyházfök felsöházi beszédei a zsidókérdésben (Budapest: The Editor, 1947), pp. 41-63.
  23. See, for example, the self-serving Pro Memoria written by Bishop László Ravasz in late December 1944 or early 1945 (a copy of the manuscript is in the author’s possession); see also Cardinal Serédi’s 1944 notes in “Serédi Jusztinián feljegyzései 1944 végén,” with an introduction by Sándor Szenes, in Kritika, no. 8 (1983), pp. 28-33.
  24. For details on the labor-service system, see Braham, Politics, pp. 294-380. The nationalsecurity provisions of Law II were invoked, in 1944, to justify the measures adopted in connection with the “final solution.”
  25. On the Third Anti-Jewish Law, see ibid., pp. 200-201. For references to the various antiJewish laws and their implications, consult Randolph L. Braham, The Hungarian Jewish Catastrophe. A Selected and Annotated Bibliography (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. 54-69.
  26. While the converts were clearly more privileged than the Jews who clung to their faith, they also suffered tremendously under the impact of the racial laws. Most of the Christians, including the clergymen, viewed the Jewish question from a racial rather than a religious perspective. As a result the converts were often shunned and mocked by the Aryans and despised by the faithful Jews. For some details on the issue of converts and conversions during the Nazi era, see Braham, Politics, pp. 895-900.
  27. For details on the composition of the Sztójay government and its first anti-Jewish measures, see ibid., chaps. 13 and 15, respectively.
  28. Ibid., chapter 23, esp. pp. 827-828.
  29. According to Reverend György Kis, “99.9 percent of the clergy were unaware of the death camps in the summer of 1944.” See Sándor Szenes’s interview with Reverend Kis in Bejezetlen múlt. Keresztények és zsidók, sorsok (Budapest: The Author, 1986), p. 269. The record also shows that, although the leaders of the Christian churches received handdelivered copies of the Auschwitz Protocols, based on the accounts of the two Slovak Jewish escapees from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944, early in May 1944, none of them mentions the Protocols in their writings.
  30. On May 11, 1944, for example, Endre Hamvas, the Bishop of Csanád, informed Jusztinián Cardinal Serédi about the horrors endured by the Jews of Magyarkanizsa, Zenta, Zombor, and the other communities relocated to Szeged earlier that month. Bishop Hamvas emphasized that horrible as the condition of these Jews were—many of them were held in the pig pens of the local sausage factory—the situation of those in Kassa and Nyíregyháza was reportedly even worse; Braham, Politics, p. 1178.
  31. Jenö Lévai, Zsidósors Magyarországon (Budapest: Magyar Téka, 1948), pp. 12-24.
  32. Ibid., pp. 125-127; See also Jenö Lévai, L’église ne s’est pas tue. Le dossier Hongrois, 1940-1945 (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966), pp. 85-93. For the complete text of the circular, see Elek Karsai, ed., Vádirat a nácizmus ellen (Budapest: A Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviselete, 1960), Vol. 2, pp. 53-61.
  33. For an overview of the Protestant churches’ attitude during the Horthy era, see István Kónya, A magyar Református egyház felsö vezetésének politikai ideologiája a Horthy korszakban (“The Political Ideology of the Higher Leadership of the Protestant Churches During the Horthy Era”) (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1967), 243 pp.
  34. The nine leading figures of the Protestant churches were László Ravasz, bishop of the Reformed Church District Along the Danube; János Vásárhelyi, bishop of the Reformed Church District in Transylvania; Imre Révész, bishop of the Reformed Church District in Tiszántul; Andor Enyedy, bishop of the Reformed Church District in the Tiszáninneni ("Cis Tisza") Area; Elemér Györy, bishop of the Reformed Church District in Transdanubia; Béla Kapi, bishop of the Evangelical Church District in Transdanubia; Sándor Raffay, bishop of the Evangelical Church in the Bányai (Mining) District; Zoltán Turóczi, bishop of the Evangelical Church in the Tisza District; and Dezsö Kuthy, bishop of the Evangelical Church District in the Cisdanubian Area. For further details on the antecedents of the joint approach and for the text of the appeal, see Bishop Ravasz’s Pro Memoria, pp. 13-15.
  35. Ibid., pp. 3-4.
  36. The mostly Orthodox Jews of Carpatho-Ruthenia and northeastern Hungary were placed into ghettos beginning on April 16 (the first day of Passover), almost two weeks before the ghettoization decree was issued.
  37. Reverend József Éliás asserts that the primary reason Perényi approached Ravasz to intervene with Horthy was precisely because of the bishop’s long and intimate political association with the regent; see his letter to Dr. László Juhász cited above (n. 16).
  38. Ravasz, Pro Memoria, pp. 5, 12. Reference is to the agreement reached by Horthy and Hitler at Schloss Klessheim on March 18, 1944, under which the Hungarian head of state consented to the delivery of hundreds of thousands of “Jewish workers” to Germany. For details, see Braham, Politics, pp. 397-401; see also Albert Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism and the Persecution of the Jews (Budapest: Sylvester, n.d.), pp. 14-18. Rev. Bereczky’s booklet is based largely on Bishop Ravasz’s Pro Memoria.
  39. For the text of the letters exchanged by Bishop Ravasz and Prime Minister Sztójay, see Ravasz’s Pro Memoria, pp. 5-7.
  40. Lévai, Zsidósors, pp. 124-125.
  41. Ibid., pp. 186-187.
  42. On the basis of Sztójay’s communication, some bishops instructed the ministers in their diocese to carry out their responsibilities to the converts. Specifically, they were asked to go into the ghettos to serve the spiritual needs of their congregants and advise them that they could wear a white cross next to the Star of David; Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3: 130-133.
  43. Lévai, Zsidósors, pp. 183-184.
  44. Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, pp. 19-20.
  45. For details on the wartime silence of Pope Pius XII in general and on his attitude toward the plight of the Jews of Hungary in particular, see Braham, Politics, pp. 1212-1225.
  46. On June 2, for example, Cardinal Serédi was visited by István Antal, the minister of Justice and of Religious Affairs and Education; on June 7, he was seen by Lajos Huszovszky, a ministerial secretary in the Council of Ministers; on June 8, Béla Imrédy called on him; finally, on June 17 István Bárczy invited him and the Catholic bishops to a government luncheon, ostensibly to clarify all the issues raised by the Church.
  47. His draft was prepared with the aid of János Drahos, his deputy. The final text, dated June 29, 1944, was adopted after consultation with Bishops Apor and Czapik. For the Englishlanguage version of the pastoral letter, see Braham, Politics, pp. 1179-1182.
  48. The need for possible joint action by the Christian churches was raised with Bishop Ravasz by József Cavallier, the head of the Holy Cross Society, as early as May 3. A meeting toward this end was actually held in the cardinal's office in the Royal Palace through the good offices of Cavallier, but it yielded no positive results. In addition to Cavallier, the meeting was attended by Father József Jánosi and by Sándor Török, the representative of the converts on the Jewish Council; Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, pp. 19-20; see also Bishop Ravasz’s Pro Memoria, p. 13.
  49. Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, pp. 19-20; see also Bishop Ravasz’s Pro Memoria, p. 13.
  50. Lévai, Zsidósors, pp. 197-198.
  51. Ibid., pp. 198-200; see also Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:6-8; Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, pp. 22-24; and Bishop Ravasz’s Pro Memoria, pp. 13-15.
  52. See Szenes’s interview with Rev. József Éliás in his Befejezetlen múlt, p. 68.
  53. Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:38-39.
  54. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
  55. Cardinal Serédi responded on July 8, and included a copy of his planned pastoral letter of June 29; ibid., pp., 111-112.
  56. For the text, see Braham, Politics, pp. 1182-1183.
  57. The text was brought to the attention of the bishops and priests together with the instruction that the pastoral letter not be read on July 10; Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:128-129.
  58. Ibid., 3:115-121.
  59. See Szenes’s interview with Rev. György Kis in his Befejezetlen múlt, p. 283.
  60. For the abbreviated English-language version, see Braham, Politics, pp. 1188-1189.
  61. The meeting was also attended by Mester, Bishops Kapi and Révész, Reverend Albert Bereczky, and Szabolcs Lörinczy.
  62. Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, p. 28; see also Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:153-155.
  63. The registration of converts between July 12 and 17 was announced on posters issued by Ákos Doroghi Farkas, the mayor of Budapest. The church leaders were eager to advance the conversion date to March 22, 1944, which caused some difficulties between the churches and the authorities; Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:49-52, 60-61, 155-158.
  64. Saul Friedländer, Pius XII and the Third Reich (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 233.
  65. Jenö Lévai, Szürke könyv magyar zsidók megmentéséröl (Budapest: Officina, n.d.), p. 79. bodily searches for valuables; Archives of the Prince Primate (Primási Levéltár), Esztergom.
  66. N/A
  67. Braham, Politics, p. 1192.
  68. Béla Vago, “The Destruction of the Jews of Transylvania,” in Randolph L. Braham, ed, Hungarain Jews, 1966 1:192-193.
  69. A leader of the Smallholders’ Party, Monsignor Varga served as the president of the Hungarian Parliament after the war. Following the virtual Communist takeover in 1947, he settled in New York, where he played a leading role in Hungarian exile Politics.
  70. Rev. Oberndorf’s appeal was addressed to Albert Radvánszky, the superintendent of the Evangelical Church; Karsai, ed., Vádirat, 3:19-22.
  71. The cardinal recorded this observation in his diary following his meeting with Szálasi on October 22, 1944, more than three months after the Hungarian countryside had become Judenrein; Kis, Megjelölve Krisztus keresztjével, p. 173.
  72. Bereczky, Hungarian Protestantism, pp. 34-37; Lévai, Zsidósors, pp. 319-321; see also Gabriel Adriányi, Fünfzig Jahre ungarischer Kirchengeschichte, 1895-1945 (Mainz: v. Hase & Kochler, 1974), pp. 106-116.
  73. Among these were Collegium Marianum, Collegium Theresianum, the Lazarist Fathers (Lazarista Atyák), the Sisters of Mercy (Irgalmas Növérek), Sophianum Institute (Sophianum Intézet), and the Scottish Mission (Skót Misszió); Braham, Politics, p. 1123.
  74. For some details on the Holy Cross Society, see ibid., p. 1196.
  75. The official name of the Committee was “The Good Shepherd Missionary Subcommittee of the Universal Convent of the Reformed Church of Hungary” (A Magyarországi Református Egyház Egyetemes Konventje Jó Pásztor Missziói Albizottsága). It was popularly known simply as either the “Good Shepherd Committee” or the “Good Shepherd Mission.”
  76. Toward this end he worked closely with Sándor Török, who represented the converts on the Jewish Council; Ernö Munkácsi, Hogyan történt? Adatok és okmányok a magyar zsidóság tragédiájához (Budapest: Renaissance, 1947), pp. 151-155. For Török’s account, see YIVO archives, file 768/3643. For further details on Reverend Éliás’s activities, see his interview with Sándor Szenes in the latter’s Befejezetlen múlt.
  77. Most of these were children of converts and Christian orphans. The protection of Jewish children was also the responsibility of Section A of the International Red Cross.
  78. For the organizational structure of Section B, including a listing of the homes and the number of children placed in them, see Friedrich Born, Bericht an das Internationale Komittee vom Roten Kreuz in Genf (Geneva, June 1945), p. 56.
  79. László was tried after the war by a Romanian People’s Tribunal in Cluj and condemned to ten years’ imprisonment; Vago, “The Destruction of the Jews of Transylvania,” pp. 193, 219.
  80. Jenö Lévai, Fekete könyv a magyar zsidók szenvedéseiröl (Budapest: Officina, 1946), pp. 254, 258. Found guilty of war crimes, Father Kun was executed after the war.
  81. A circular (No. 3480/1945) calling for the preparation of a book in several languages to document the “positive” role of the Catholic Church was issued over the signature of József Cardinal Mindszenty, the Prince Primate of Hungary, on November 3, 1945. Bishop Ravasz, the head of the Reformed Church, was motivated by similar concerns when he “encouraged” Rev. Albert Bereczky to write his Hungarian Protestantism and the Persecution of the Jews.
  82. The pogrom, which claimed a number of victims, was sparked by antisemitic elements, who, resentful of the survivors’ demands for restitution, incited the local population by spreading the rumor that the returning Jews were murdering Christian children.
  83. Toward this end he worked closely with Sándor Török, who represented the converts on the Jewish Council; Ernö Munkácsi, Hogyan történt? Adatok és okmányok a magyar zsidóság tragédiájához (Budapest: Renaissance, 1947), pp. 151-155. For Török’s account, see YIVO archives, file 768/3643. For further details on Reverend Éliás’s activities, see his interview with Sándor Szenes in the latter’s Befejezetlen múlt.
  84. Ibid.
  85. For some details on Nostra Aetate and the Second Vatican Council, see Braham, Remembering and Forgetting, pp. 222-223.
  86. The Society was established in 1991 but virtually ceased to exist in 1993, when the Christian and Jewish leaders reacted differently to the political activities of István Csurka, one of Hungary’s leading antisemites.
  87. Braham, Politics, p. 1358.
  88. Catholics Remember the Holocaust (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1998), pp. 7-8.
  89. For the text and analysis of the We Rememner: A Reflection on the Shoah document, see Braham, Remembering and Forgetting.
  90. By far the most important of these debates took place at a scholarly conference held in Pannonhalma in November 1998. For the proceedings of the conference, see Gábor Hamp, Özséb Horányi, and László Rábai, eds., Magyar menfontolások a Soáról (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó. 2000), 346 p.
  91. A magyar püspökök nem kérnek bocsánatot. Néma visszhangok, Hetek, Budapest (Apr. 1, 2000).
  92. These views were crystallized, among others, by János Wildmann, the editor in chief of Egyházfórum (Church Forum), a Catholic periodical, and György Gábor, an associate of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Science. Ibid.