Antisemitic historian’s exhibit on display at Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre

June 4th is the day when Hungary and many Hungarians in the diaspora remember the Treaty of Trianon, signed in 1920, which led to the loss of two-thirds of historic Hungary’s population and almost three-fourths of its land. The Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre (OHCC) held its commemoration, including an exhibit, a cultural program and a meal, this past Sunday. I was disappointed to learn that the exhibit was the work of the openly antisemitic historian Ernő Raffay, along with Csaba Pál, the Director of the Trianon Museum in the Hungarian town of Várpalota.

First, a few words about the Trianon Museum of Várpalota. There is little doubt that an interpretative centre on Trianon, what it meant for Hungary’s national discourse, the development of Hungarian identity and, most importantly, the impact on Hungarians who found themselves in neighbouring countries, is a worthwhile venture. The publicly-funded Trianon Museum, however, is an exercise in nostalgia for the irredentist propaganda of the interwar period. The displays are dominated by irredentist posters, songs and illustrations from the twenties and thirties. No effort is made to offer a more complex narrative and there is no invitation for the visitor to think and interpret. The museum functions as a shrine. As the Museum writes: “The national pain surrounding the loss of the country following the decision at Trianon and the joy after some lands were returned was expressed in many ways. Irredentist music was a unique Hungarian product of the first half of the twentieth century: it offered a response seeking spiritual healing after an incomprehensible tragedy that impacted the entire nation.”

Today, the Trianon Museum focuses on school groups and children. As such, the museum invites kids to play several board games. One such board game is called “Let’s Get Back Hungary!” (Szerezzük vissza Magyarországot.) The Museum also owns a small truck, with the words written on it: “Let’s Love Back Hungary (Szeressük vissza Magyarországot.)

The Trianon Museum’s truck.

It is Ernő Raffay’s role in designing the exhibit, which made its way to the Canadian capital that is most troubling. Mr. Raffay is an anti-Semite through and through. His narrative of Trianon is simple: the Jews, never willing or capable of integrating into the Hungarian nation, flooded into Hungary as malicious migrants, duped ethnic Hungarians into believing that they had assimilated, but were actually hell-bent on destroying Hungary.

In 2017, Mr. Raffay gave a lecture, which was fully recorded and uploaded to YouTube. The video is entitled: “When and why did the Jews flood into Hungary? The wool is yanked off their plans!” In Hungarian: Mikor, miért és minek özönlöttek a zsidók Magyarországra? Lehull a lepel a tervükről!” The video is 1 hour and 20 minutes long and what Mr. Raffay presents is undiluted, classic antisemitism, of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion variety. Mr. Raffay starts off by speaking about the “brainwashing effect of migration.” Then he adds: “In a moment I will tell you what percentage of journalists in 1910 were Jews. These are going to be very startling statistics!”

In his meandering presentation, he then proceeds to talk about his term as a member of Hungary’s first democratically elected government and his position in the cabinet of late Prime Minister József Antall. He speaks about how he opposed the idea of appointing a rabbi as one of several chaplains of different religions within the Hungarian military. He recounts a discussion with then Minister of Defence Lajos Für, who advocated for having a Jewish military chaplain, purely to ensure that nobody has a chance to complain and to shut up any critics. For those of our readers who understand Hungarian, Mr. Für allegedly told Mr. Raffay: “Hát legyenek már, ne érje szó a ház elejét!”

Following this, Mr. Raffay spoke about the “capacity of the migrants to integrate.” Lest there be any confusion, he is speaking in these terms about European Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He noted:

“After a while, the Jewish migrants settled down, they acquired homes, they began to trade and they got jobs. In the census, they began to identify as having Hungarian as their mother tongue. I found an interesting statistic: in 1890, by which point their number exceeded 800,000, fully 63.8% of Jews living in Hungary self-identified as having Hungarian as their mother tongue. Jewish by religion, Hungarian by language. This is an interesting thing!”

In Mr. Raffay’s estimation, it is impossible to be Hungarian and Jewish at the same time. Jews are always strangers and migrants in Hungary. According to Mr. Raffay, it is not language that matters, but rather “whether one truly works with all his heart for Hungary.”

Mr. Raffay then proceeds to explains that in what is today western Ukraine, land that belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary before Trianon, Jews formed more than 30% of the population by 1910. He commented: “This is very rough! This is very rough! The Romanians needed 700 years for this. The Jew only needed one hundred years. Do you understand this? There was a very, very aggressive Jewification.” (The word in Hungarian used by Mr. Raffay was elzsidósodás.)

The Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre, located in the suburb of Nepean, decided that it was appropriate to present an exhibit on Trianon prepared by a man who holds unabashedly antisemitic views and who believes that Jews have long conspired to first infiltrate and then destroy the Hungarian nation.

Mr. Raffay’s historical analysis is bunk. What’s worse: what Mr. Raffay is saying in 2017 served as the underpinning and justification for the extermination of 600,000 Hungarian Jews in World War II (and indeed the ideological underpinning for the extermination of Jews throughout Europe). The leadership of the Ottawa Hungarian Community Centre is surely aware of Mr. Raffay’s virulent antisemitism, and how this influenced his interpretation of Trianon. Yet they chose to present his exhibit in Ottawa nonetheless, as part of the local Trianon commemoration.

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