Mr. Shimon Gluck, my much beloved and highly esteemed neighbor in Brooklyn, was nineteen years old in 1940 when the infamously anti-Semitic German propaganda film, Jud Süß (Jew Süss), was set to premier at the Uranium Movie Theatre in Budapest, Hungary. Mr. Gluck remembers vividly the scene. In the days leading up to the premier, a Jewish organization called Tiferes purchased all of the tickets, so that nobody would be exposed to such filth. When the show was about to begin and the Nazi sympathizing owner of Uranium saw that there were no people inside the theater, he instantly understood what had happened and opened the doors of the theater. A huge group of people surged into the theater for free, including a curious but very frightened Mr. Gluck. The kinds of yelling and shouting in support of the Jew-haters in the movie he saw and heard there prefigured the sort of soccer hooliganism one witnesses today in Hungary.
The Jews had been doubly-defeated: they spent a lot of money buying up all the tickets only to let the most economically disadvantaged and anti-Semitic elements from the streets to view the show for free. Four years later, more than half a million Hungarian Jews would be systematically murdered.
Fast forward to August 24th, 2012. The publicly financed Új Szinház in Budapest–which had been appointed a former actor favored by the extreme right wing in Hungary, György Dörner, is set to premier a play (“The Sixth Coffin”) by the recently-deceased archdeacon of Hungarian anti-Semites, István Csurka. (Let us recall that Mr. Dörner’s appointment last October was met with vocal opposition to no avail. See http://artistsagainstracism.eu/?p=268). Why it surprises anyone that the theater that was supposed to be under the artistic guidance of Csurka is going to show his last play is not entirely clear. Be it as it may, already, the news has created somewhat of a stir. Peter Feldmájer, in a letter to István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, has urged the mayor to prevent this play from being staged at taxpayer expense. According to Feldmájer, “since the movie Jud Süss, few similarly dangerous works with such anti-Jewish incitement have been created” [“a Jud Süss című film óta kevés, hasonlóan veszélyes, uszító zsidóellenes mű született”] http://inforadio.hu/hir/belfold/hir-514873
The world-famous Hungarian (Jewish) conductor, Ádám Fischer, has already signaled that he would spearhead a campaign to have the play removed from the program.
Csurka must be laughing in his grave.
No matter what Hungarian Jews do now, they are going be seen as the losers. The mere talk of having Csurka’s play banned has already excited the imagination of the radical right. For them, this effort at self-defense is a clear indication that “the Jews” want to “tell us what to do.” The more opposition from Jewish groups, the better for the radical right the masses of whom are anything but regular theater-goers anyhow. But what would they expect the Jews to do? If people for whom anti-Jewish incitement is as despicable as racists, homophobic or other discriminative phenomena decide to do nothing, the play, which even the rightist mayor of Budapest has condemned for being anti-Semitic as it puts the blame for the dismemberment of historical Hungary at the conclusion of World War I upon the shoulders of a Jewish officer, for sure, is going to be presented. (Of course, if anyone bothered to check the facts regarding Jewish participation in the Hungarian army–with literally thousands of Jewish officers serving in all capacities with distinction throughout the war–this allegation would reveal its ugly face as the most atrocious lie anyone could invent).
Sadly, the climate in Hungary is ripe for such lies about Jews. Just last Wednesday, the most open demonstration of anti-Jewish feelings occurred at a “friendly match” between an Israeli and a Hungarian soccer team in Budapest’s Puskás Stadium. During the Israeli national anthem, a sizable portion of the soccer fans waved Iranian flags, screamed horrific anti-Jewish slurs, chanted slogans for Palestine that even Iranians would envy, and, in a despicable show, held up and pointed at baby soaps in reference to the Holocaust (which, by the way, the very same people who regularly chant “the trains are departing,” and “Auschwitz, Auschwitz,” deny). (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCGCwPzJAm4&feature=related)
So, what should the Jews of Hungary do sixty-seven years after the tragic decimation of Hungarian Jewry?
Mr. Gluck’s advice is clear: pack your bags and leave.
Of course, this kind of advice is easier given than taken. After all, Hungarian Jews have been the most assimilated of any European country for the longest period of time. Most Hungarian Jews are unaffiliated with any synagogues, know little about their own backgrounds and, in some extremely rare cases, are even on the side of the radical right. It is not wise for anyone from the outside to dictate to the Jews of Hungary about their own fate. In most cases, the options are going to be as varied for them as their own backgrounds. Nonetheless, it is the obligation of those who view the situation from the outside and have the luxury to think about historical parallels to voice our concerns. It is also the obligation of lovers of peace and equality to urge the authorities to act up against the promotion of hatred against any group of people. A mea culpa from Mayor Tarlós, who supported and pushed through the appointment of György Dörner is in order.
First, the radical right should not dictate the actions of people concerned with social justice. Therefore, Ádám Fischer’s petition should be wholeheartedly supported by a broad coalition from every corner of Hungary and beyond. Second, a group of reputable historians should support a declaration of facts regarding the honorable role Hungarian Jews in their tens of thousands played in World War I. This declaration should be widely circulated in the media and covered in history lessons in all Hungarian schools at the appropriate educational levels.
In light of Mr. Gluck’s story from 1940, let’s hope that no Jewish organization buys up all the tickets to the premier of Csurka’s play.
For György Dörner, the director, would simply open the theater’s doors wide and let everyone in for free.
And what could be more appetizing than a heavy dose of anti-Semitism for free in the evening before going to bed?
UPDATE on 8/29: The Sixth Coffin will not be premiered at the New Theatre as it has already been reported in the English language press [http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/08/28/3105346/hungarian-intellectuals-relieved-to-see-anti-semitic-play-scrapped]. Contrary to that article, though, in the Hungarian version of the news, Magyar Hirlap reported that the premier of this poison-pill of a play is not scrapped but deferred. According to Magyar Hirlap, “it is not impossible that the play will be presented at a later date in a less hysterical public atmosphere” (“…nem kizárt, hogy a darabot egy későbbi időpontban, kevésbé hisztérikus közéleti atmoszférában színre viszik.”) [http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/kultura/pozsgai_nem_meghatralasrol_van_szo.html]
Also, as the chief director of the theater, Mr. Zsolt Pozsgai, has stated, the move was not in reaction to the threat of a petition by Adam Fischer or the opposition coming from Jewish groups but rather in deference to the mayor who has expressed his reservations about the play.
Let us inform Mr. Pozsgai that a “less hysterical public atmosphere” will only be possible with the help of major artistic directors like him behaving responsibly and refraining from inflicting pain and damage on a significant part of Hungarian society.
And showing The Sixth Coffin at a major theater in Budapest would have done just that.