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August 17, 2015 7:11 am

The Most Important Lesson From Hungary’s Jewish Past

avatar by Gabriel Eichler

Email a copy of "The Most Important Lesson From Hungary’s Jewish Past" to a friend
A memorial to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust on the shore of Danube in Budapest. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A memorial to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust on the shore of the Danube in Budapest. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

When my father died, he left me his prayer books and a beautifully bound tabletop book, entitled “The Gold Album”- printed in Budapest, Hungary, in 1938.

Feeling nostalgic, I recently read that book cover to cover.

By the time I was done, I understood why my father left it for me.

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In my view, it is a most extraordinary document that is also an important lesson for life.

Turning the pages, what I learned shook me more than my recent visit to the gas chambers, crematoria, and mass graves and ash fields of Auschwitz – where my entire family was murdered.

So what is so special about this heavy, beautifully bound book?

It was commissioned in a hurry during the last days of 1938 by the leaders of Hungary’s (mostly assimilated) Jewish Establishment, who were aristocrats, the robber barons of the time: the Goldbergers (multi-billionaire owners of huge textile factories), the Weiss-Manfreds (the largest armaments manufacturers in middle Europe), the Ganz family (owners of Ford-scale heavy industries), Baron Kornfeld (banker), and others.

At the time, they were undoubtedly the largest​ employers and corporate and individual taxpayers in the Austro-Hungarian part of the world.

The first page of the book is striking: it is a collective statement of the country’s Jewish community, pleading alliance first and foremost to the country and the government of Hungary, and only referring to their Jewish heritage – almost as an afterthought – as a​ ​mere​  “religion.”

The book’s main message is printed in ornate bold letters on the third page: “We are Hungarians, not Jews, do not believe what you hear from Hitler and his German and Austrian followers, we Hungarian Jews have given our loyalty, service, and yes- our blood to our Motherland Hungary”.

The images are ​beyond ​stunning.

The hundreds of photographs show heavily bemedalled Hungarian Jewish military officers sporting fancy Hungarian mustaches, captains of industry, leaders of the economy and society dressed in expensive furs, jewelry, and the latest Parisian fashions.

Most had titles like “Barron,” “Graf,” and other marks of nobility.

In hindsight, sadly, the book did not achieve its intended purpose.

Less than six years later, literally every single prominent Jew shown in that book was executed, hanged, shot, gassed, or incinerated.

They were erased, like they never existed.

Not by some foreign occupying power.

They were massacred by their fellow Hungarian citizens.

​Sent to their deaths through the efficient work of their elected government’s bureaucrats.

Their neighbors, their business partners, their fellow club members, the chimney sweeps, police officers, tax collectors, the electric meter readers, the mailmen, the chauffeurs, their grocers and their teachers actively ​and willingly ​participated in the genocide.

The Jews – regardless of their social standing – eagerly and efficiently were served up to the gallows and ovens on a silver platter by elected public officials.

​It can never happen again!

Or can it?​

Come to think of it, this story is relevant in any country where Jews are a minority.

Prominent citizens – perhaps – but just a tiny minority…

American voters are at a historic crossroads.

What happens to us and to Israel is partially in our hands.

Speak your beliefs – stand up for your rights!

Pick up the phone, speak to your elected officials.

Write letters, emails, petitions.

Be heard.

Vote your conscience!

Speak of your concerns!

Your children’s future depends on your actions.

Look at each candidate’s record on the issues relevant to you!

The freedoms given to us – and our history – behoove us to do nothing less.

I will pass The Gold Album on to the coming generations with the sincere hope that history will not repeat itself.

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  • Gabriel Eichler

    David/Dovid,

    The responses I sent you yesterday to this Hungarian man’s comment are historically accurate and highly relevant. I would be grateful if you would please pot my responses to Kovacs. Thank you!

  • Arpad Kovacs

    I don’t know, folks. Left two comments yesterday. Looks like they were deleted, although there was nothing inappropriate in them. IDK why even allow comments if you delete them?

    • Arpad Kovacs

      Well, it may just be my whom. The page says there are 3 commer but I’m only shown 1, my last one. If the fault is on my end I’m really sorry.

      • Arpad Kovacs

        I meant my phone might be at fault
        Sorry!

  • Arpad Kovacs

    I think it is unfair to state that Jews were killed by their fellow Christians. The deed was done by Germans in Auschwitz. Hungary was a safe place for all Jews until the German occupation in 1944.

    • Gabriel Eichler

      With all due respect, my Father’s brothers were massacred as forced laborers in August of 1941 in Kamianets-Podolsk. That was three years before the Germans entered Hungary. In 48 hours 23,600 Jews were killed, most of them Hungarian Jews (14,000-16,000) and the rest mainly local Ukrainian Jews. As the researchers of the Holocaust point out, the Kamianets-Podilskyi massacre was the first mass action in the “final Solution” of the Nazis, and the number of its victims reached 5 figures. Eyewitnesses reported that the perpetrators made no effort to hide their deeds from the local population. Where was the Hungarian army whose uniforms the murdered Jews wore? The Hungarian army and it’s “Keretlegenyek” who served them up to be massacred?

      • Arpad Kovacs

        No, you are right about that. But I was speaking generally. Until the German occupation took place, Hungary was one of the safe places in Hungary for Jews – again, generally speaking. Hitler demanded several times of Hungary to turn them over but

        • Arpad Kovacs

          …it only happened after the German occupation.

    • doug klein

      Says who Hungary was a good place for us? .. my grandparents were from Budapest and Guczi and never had a nice thing to say about their fellow non Jewish citizens. Antisemitism was rampant in Hungary. They accommodated us but we were never Hungarian…. we were never xian who were the only true Magyars. The Hungarians couldn’t wait for the Nazis to deport the Jews so they could grab their land, property and possessions… and to this day never paid reparations returned anything stolen during the war.

  • Arpad Kovacs

    Actually, the richest Jews of Hungary were allowed to leave Hungary by the German occupiers by a special deal.

    • Gabriel Eichler

      You are somewhat correct on some industrialists making deals. Howewer, I wrote about the Gold Album. It is a verified fact, that every single Hungarian Jewish military officer pictured in that Album was caught, shipped and served up to the murderers in Auschwitz by the Hungarian Police, Csendorseg and Army- all fellow citizens of Hungary. MAV transported all of them to their deaths on trains driven to Auschwith by the employees of the Hungarian Railway- on orders from the Hungarian Government.

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