The Most Important Lesson From Hungary’s Jewish Past
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.
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.
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.