Writings of Albert Wass are a poor choice for New York City celebration

On February 20, 2015, the New York Hungarian House (213 East 82nd Street) will stage a reading of works by Mr. Albert Wass, the late Transylvanian writer, who was convicted of war crimes after World War II. The event is being organized by a New York-based, Hungarian émigré group, Széchenyi István Társaság, led by Hungarian-American Mr. Ákos Felsővályi. It is also being supported by Mr. Ferenc Kumin, Hungarian consul general in New York City, who recently worked closely with the Széchenyi István Társaság, to organize a fundraiser for the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian House.

Invitation to the NYC Wass Albert reading, which is being supported by Mr. Orbán's Consul, Ferenc Kumin.

Invitation to the NYC Wass-reading. Ferenc Kumin is a staunch supporter of the right-wing organizers of this event.

Most Hungarian Americans don’t know Mr. Wass; those who do reject the message of his work. One story, for example, The Conquest of the Rats, is currently available on neo-Nazi websites such as “White Pride World Wide.” This seeming simple tale of a good farmer reclaiming his house from a group of invading rats was published during the deportation of 18,000 Jews from Cluj, Transylvania. (You may read it here.) To celebrate a man who embraced fascism and was a rabid anti-Semite is a slap in the face of Hungarian-Americans.

Mr. Wass was a decorated officer of the pro-Hitler Hungarian army; he was also the recipient of the Nazi Iron-Cross. In 1946, he was tried and convicted in absentia for war crimes, and sentenced to death in Romania. Among other crimes, Mr. Wass was found guilty of involvement in the murder of two Jewish sisters, Eszter and Rozália Mihály, in September of 1940, when Hungarian forces reached Northern Transylvania. The sisters were murdered while they attempted to escape from the Wass family ranch.

Albert Wass

Albert Wass

After the war, Wass retreated with the Nazi army, and went into hiding in Germany. Later he was able to enter the U.S. as a stateless refugee, married an American woman, and settled in Astor, Florida. The Justice Department caught up with him in the 1970s and started to investigate his wartime activities. In 1979 Eugene Theroff, a US Department of Justice official, stated that Wass was on the list of more than 200 suspected Nazi war criminals living in the US. Wass, 71 at that time claimed that he was the victim of a “Zionist-Romanian” conspiracy. US authorities also investigated whether he had broken the law by not mentioning his conviction on his 1951 displaced person application when he entered the US. Wass’s life ended in suicide in 1998.

Well-known Elie Wiesel has written that Wass “cooperated heavily with the fascist Hungarian regime.” Official documents of the United States Congress and the Holocaust Museum in Washington confirm that Wass was a “convicted war criminal”. On July 12, 2012, Senator Cardin noted in the Congressional Record that Wass was a convicted war criminal.

As a writer, Wass was virtually unknown in the United States, until recently. He self-published his writing since no commercial publisher would touch his work. Yet today in Hungary he has been rediscovered and become popular. Leading members of the Hungarian government frequently praise him; Prime Minister Mr. Orbán emphasized Wass’s “humanity” at the 2009 unveiling of a statue or him in the city of Pomáz. Over 50 Wass statues have been erected nationwide, and several schools and libraries have been named for him.

Last year the Hungarian government sent Mr. Mihály Takaró to New York City to lecture on Hungary’s writers of the interwar period. Mr. Takaró’s American tour covered pro-fascist Mr. Géza Nyirő, anti-Semitic hero Ms. Cécile Tormay, Mr. Jenő Dsida, Mr Dezső Szabó and Mr. Albert Wass. Mr. Takaró calls himself a “poet and literary historian.” His mission in life is to teach about Hungary’s “banished literature.” He thinks that these writers were extremely talented but unjustly excluded because of their political views. Last year Mr. Takaró received a state award for his efforts.

Mihály Takaró in NYC.

Mihály Takaró in NYC.

It is surreal that in 2015, almost 70 years after Nazi Germany was defeated in World War II, an event honoring Wass can take place in the heart of New York City. The event is unacceptable and the manager of the Hungarian House, Ms. Ildikó Nagy, should explain how this program was approved. It would be appropriate to clarify the relationship between the Hungarian House and Hungary’s Consulate in New York City. It seems that this historic facility is willing to assist the Hungarian Government in spreading distasteful nationalist and anti-Semitic propaganda.

Wass has become an important symbolic figure for the Hungarian Right. Despised in Romania as a war criminal and with a dead sentence on his head, he nevertheless represents a nationalistic fantasy of Hungarian nobility. This petty nobleman from Transylvania who fought for fascism never apologized for his actions, nor showed any remorse, and he was clever enough to escape punishment. Wass successfully got away with murder – literally.

György Lázár

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