In October 2017, the 22nd “Workshop on History and Memory of National Socialist Camps and Extermination Sites” will take place in Budapest (Hungary) and deal with the topic “Practices of Memory and Knowledge Production”.
The history of the Budapest region and the local internment camps such as Monor transit camp and the ghetto of Budapest will serve as a springboard for discussions about practices of memory and knowledge production.
Although Hungary joined the Axis in 1940, the governments initially prevented the deportation of Hungarian Jews and Roma to the German death camps. Nevertheless, they were heavily restricted by discriminatory laws and measures, which were enforced by Hungarian authorities. In summer 1941, 18,000 Jews were deported to the German occupied territories in Ukraine, where most were murdered by German killing units in Kamenets-Podolsk. A few months later the Hungarian military shot over 3,400 civilians, most of them Jews and Serbs, during the Novi Sad raid.
Systematic ghettoization and deportations of the rural Jewish population to death camps began only after the German occupation of the Hungary in March 1944. The 200,000 Jews of Budapest were spared deportation to the death camps and were instead kept hostage in “yellow star houses” and later concentrated in two ghettos, established by the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party.
Until the end of the war in April 1945, 450,000 to 550,000 Hungarian Jews and 5,000 to 15,000 Roma died in military labor service or were murdered in ghettos, camps and mass shootings by the members of the Arrow Cross Party. The Hungarian government, local authorities and the civilian population not only tolerated the process of social and economic isolation, concentration, deportation and annihilation of the Jewish and Roma population, but actively supported it for the most part.
After the war, Budapest witnessed several regime changes, which are reflected in a variety of monuments and museums scattered all over the city. The subject of the Holocaust was monopolized and mostly silenced by the regime during the socialist era from 1949 until 1989, becoming part of the official memory culture only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A National Holocaust Memorial Day on April 16 was introduced in 2001. Three years later the government founded the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest. In the 2000s, Holocaust memorials were built in several cities and towns including the “shoe monument” in Budapest (2005) and a monument for the murdered Roma (2006). Recent commemoration initiatives comprise an interactive website revealing the location, photos and testimonies concerning the “yellow star houses”, as well as an interactive monument for the former ghetto.
However, the suppression of the Holocaust memory during the socialist era has led to an ongoing competitive victimhood, constantly juxtaposing the suffering and numbers of the victims of the Holocaust and the Soviet oppression. In line with a current political directive, responsibility for collaboration with the Nazis is not clearly assigned. Such narratives can be observed at the permanent exhibition of the House of Terror and on the infamous “Memorial for the Victims of the German Occupation” – a statue that was set up at Budapest’s Liberty Square in the “Holocaust Memorial Year” 2014.
Some of the above mentioned monuments and places will be visited during the workshop, providing the participants with the opportunity to get to know and to discuss clashing historical narratives in Hungary. These discussions will serve as a starting point to more generally reflect on how different societies commemorate National Socialist camps and extermination sites, and how historical knowledge is generated and disseminated through practices of memory.