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The Controversial House of Fates Holocaust Museum

Updated: Aug 18

The controversial House of Fates Holocaust Museum in Hungary

is a festering sore infecting the relationship between Victor Orban and the Jewish world.


BY ALEX STERNBERG


A STAR of David is seen at the new Holocaust museum called the House of Fates in Budapest,

Hungary, last year.  (photo credit: REUTERS)



The controversial House of Fates Holocaust Museum in Hungary is a

festering sore infecting the relationship between Victor Orban and the

Jewish world.


More than five years ago, Orban and his right-wing government

proposed building an additional Holocaust museum in Budapest. The

museum, to be called the “House of Fates” was designed to focus on

the suffering of Jewish children during the Second World War.

To assure that the content of the project would be historically

accurate, the Hungarian Jewish Federation (Mazsihisz), the

International Jewish Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem in Israel and

the US Holocaust Memorial Museum based in Washington were

asked to provide experts. For added authenticity, the late Prof.

Randolph Braham, the pre-eminent authority on the fate of Hungarian

Jewry, also agreed to participate. 


In order to maintain control over the project, the government of

Hungary appointed Maria Schmidt, a Hungarian Holocaust researcher,

as head of the expert panel. Dr. Schmidt has previous experience in

developing such museums.


 During the inter-war years, Hungary enacted a series of anti-Jewish

laws aimed at stripping away all political, social and economic rights

from their Jewish citizens. With these laws, the government seized


Jewish property and began a step-by-step effort to isolate Jews from

Hungarian society.


In 1944, Hungarian gendarmes – the final step in Hungary’s eager

cooperation with their ally Nazi Germany – forced 500,000 Jews into

cattle cars on direct orders of the government and shipped them off to

Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland. So eager was the

cooperation of the Hungarians, that Adolf Eichmann needed only 150

Germans to assist the Hungarians in the deportation process. In fact,

Eichmann said during his trial in Jerusalem that the Hungarians were

never satisfied with the speed with which the deportation was

proceeding – they wanted it to speed up even more!


Hungarian Arrow Cross militiamen butchered an additional 100,000

Jews in a countrywide orgy of looting and murder.


IN 1945, with the war’s end, the attempt to minimize Hungarian

complicity in this shameful atrocity began. But rather than deny the

existence of the Holocaust as some others have done, a cadre of

Hungarian “experts” began to minimize the role of Hungarians in the

murder, by shifting the blame from Hungarians to Nazi Germany. In

their “sanitized” version, it was Nazi Germany alone who was

responsible for the murder of the Jews, while the Hungarians were

actually eagerly saving them. This narrative met with immediate

resistance from Holocaust historians worldwide. Hungarian survivors

of Auschwitz were equally outraged, strenuously objecting to this

attempt to whitewash or “sanitize” history.


According to Prof. Braham, Maria Schmidt is the foremost Hungarian

“sanitizer,” who has maintained that the death of Jews was an

unintentional, secondary effect, a collateral damage of the war. In her

narrative, the House of Fates Museum would focus on the suffering of

Jews as well as the suffering of Hungarian gentiles during the period

of communism. Suffering is suffering, neither version more unique

than the other.


When Schmidt was appointed to head the expert panel, it was like the

proverbial “skunk who stunk up the picnic.” Faced with her false and

misleading narrative, the Holocaust historians walked away from the

project. The government, embarrassed at their inability to find a

Jewish partner for the project, delayed opening the museum until a

consensus on the narrative could be arrived at. 


Years passed, and the museum – the House of Fates – sat empty, as

no recognized Holocaust historian would get involved with it. It

became an embarrassment for Victor Orban and his cadre of

Hungarian sanitizers.


ENTER THE Chabad Jewish group to save the Orban government.


Chabad, a Brooklyn based Hassidic group originating in Russia, has

established a presence of late in Hungary. In the short time of its

existence, its ambitious and politically savvy leader, Rabbi Slomo

Koves, has developed numerous important and lucrative contacts with

the Orban-led Fidesz government. 


Koves received ownership of the entire multi-million-dollar museum

project and promptly announced that he found no issue with the

Schmidt narrative – and that the project would soon open. Victor

Orban finally found a Jewish partner with Rabbi Koves, giving his

rabbinical blessing and proclaiming the project “kosher.”


In interviews, Koves has vehemently denied any connection with his

unqualified support for Orban (and Schmidt) with monies he has

received from the Hungarian government. (This was not the only large

grant that Koves has received from the Fidesz government.)


After some urging, Rabbi Koves agreed to answer some questions

about his role in this project. 


He maintained that the museum will open shortly. 

“Although the government resolution sets the date for 2019, I am

almost certain that it is impossible to finish off the main exhibit in less

than a year and a half.”


When answering about Schmidt’s role determining the content of the

museum, Rabbi Koves maintained, “The reformation of the content is

done by international and local experts we have involved in the past

two months – people with decades of international experience in

setting up and running Holocaust museums. Ms. Schmidt won’t have a

role in operating the museum.”


When asked to identify the people with “decades of international


experience,” he refused to answer. He also refused to clarify the role

of Schmidt. While he maintains emphatically that she won’t have a

role “operating” the museum, he has steadfastly refused to rule out

her role in developing the contents prior to the opening.


All follow-up questions regarding his “experts” were met with

stonewalling.


“As I mentioned above, we are working with international experts on

the content, whose expertise is unquestionable, and we have full trust

in their work.”

Who are these “international experts?” Why won’t the rabbi name

them?


Rabbi Koves’s evasive answers seem to reinforce complaints of his

lack of suitability as a “mashgiach” or qualified overseer of such a

project.


It appears to many that the naïve rabbi is the latest dupe in Orban’s

ongoing attempt to whitewash the Hungarian role in the barbaric

murder of 600,000 Jews. Others, less generous, argue that the rabbi

has sold his soul to the devil.


The writer, a DrPH, MPH, Sc.D, M.Sc.ed Holocaust and Jewish

history educator, writer and lecturer, was born in Hungary. His

frequent visits and contacts there enable him to closely follow

Hungarian Jewish issues. His articles on Hungarian antisemitism have

appeared in The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere.

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Tel: 516.652.3211

© 2020 by Dr. Alex Sternberg

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