András Heisler on the House of Fates: What do we want to remember?

May 25, 2015

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Interview with András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz appearing in the May 21st, 2015 edition of Hungarian liberal weekly 168 Óra under the title “Mire akarunk emlékezni?” (“What do we want to remember?”), pp. 14-15.

By a two-thirds majority he was reelected president of the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz.   The campaign managed to be rough.  There was room for everything, from messages from secret aliases to government spies.  Is Máris Schmidt a friend or an enemy?

(168 Óra): We last interviewed you when the Budapest Jewish Community elected to the position of director a former transvestite who had previously prepared to be a catholic cantor and an evangelical pasture, Dávid Schwezoff.  There isn’t an author that would have been able to invent such a strange turns of events.

(András Heisler): I acknowledge this.

(168 Óra): Mária Schmidt talked to our newspaper about the latter, story worthy of drama.  She believes that with regard to the House of Fates project you stand opposed “on a joint platform”  with János Lázár and his advisor, the former Mazsihisz director Gusztáv Zoltai.

(AH): I don’t like conspiracy theories.  We know that a strong confrontation took place between the government and Mazsihisz over the politics of commemoration (2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Second World War). We persistently stood up for our principles, and new supporters, civils, intellectuals, and international organizations lined up behind us.  This resulted in a strength that made the attitude of the government towards us more acceptable than previously.   In the case of the House of Fates project, which we prefer to call the Józsefváros (Budapest, 8th district) project, Mária Schmidt had a number of false theories.  The worst was when she thought it would be enough to seize on a concept without discussing the matter provisionally with anybody.

(168 Óra): With nobody?

(AH): To this day we do not know what her concept is.  We see three things:  wonderful architectural drawings and renderings, and a 200 page thick material.  The Jewish organizations unanimously rejected this, as well as experts, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, equally strongly and unequivocably.

(168 Óra): What was your main objection?

(AH): That it was worthless.

(168 Óra): The whole thing?

(AH): There was nothing concrete in it.  The House of Fates message could not be ascertained from the material.  It was impossible to formulate a real opinion based on that pieced together material.  It was full of historical mistakes and one could sense in it what direction they wanted to push it thematically.

(168 Óra): In what direction?

(AH): In place of responsibility, they wanted to put the emphasis on the saving of human life.  Of course that is part of the history, but one must ensure everything is in proportion, because if they are inaccurate, then they distort reality.

(168 Óra): János Lázár announced that they would only open the House of Fates museum if every Jewish organization agreed with the concept.  Mária Schmidt thinks: “This is ridiculous.  Can you think of anything in which everybody agrees on everything?  Such things do not exist.  I could recall the creation of the Páva street memorial where nobody could speak of complete agreement.  At that time there was no such condition”.
Máris Schmidt is completely right.  And it is exactly for this reason that such a project cannot be brought about in under a year’s time, because it requires the broadest social consensus.  She is extreme in that she has a conception and expects us to accept it without first familiarizing ourselves with it.  Ridiculous.

(AH): Mária Schmidt believes Lázár exaggerated the rule of Maszihisz in that you do not represent Hungarian Judaism, but merely religions neologans.  Mária Schmidt is trying to belittle our organization.  She will not succeed.

(168 Óra): What interests are tied to this?

(AH): Mazsihisz became too powerful for her over the years.  (German Chancellor Angela) Merkle visited us during the time of her Budapest meetings, and the president of the World Jewish Congress accepted our invitation and declared that as far as his organization is concerned Mazsihisz is the definitive Hungarian Jewish organization.  Mária Schmidt’s claims and theories have been frequently refuted for a long time, and meanwhile international historians dealing with the holocaust have a negative opinion of her work.

(168 Óra): She is also interested in the House of Fates coming about to everyone’s satisfaction.

(AH): True, but this can only be achieved through cooperation.  However, she is not the kind and never noticed the gestures made towards her.  When there was a revolt over the name of the House of Fates, while we did not like it either, we acknowledged it.  And when there was resistance to the Józsefváros train station as the location, because the trains did not leave from there to Auschwitz, we supported the notion that for us eery train station was emblematic.

(168 Óra): Why do you say that Mária Schmidt is incapable of cooperation?

(AH): This is what the facts show.  But if you force the question:  her negative declarations towards Mazsihisrz means to me that the House of Fates is not a finished story.  In reality János Lázár said that he wanted consensus with the Jewish organizations, but nobody knows the details of the determined political declaration.  What does consensus mean in this question and which Jewish organizations does it refer to?  Meanwhile Mária Schmidt stridently attacks the minister, and remains unchangeably at the head of the project.  True, this question does not belong to our competency.

(168 Óra): Perhaps it does in the sense that before the presidential election there were two main factions within Mazsihisz.  As you put it: the one was the independent Mazsihisz.  The other was ensured a position of inferiority.  The believer in the latter was Tamás Horowitz who was prepared “to sit at a meeting room table with everyone” in the interest of attaining its goals.

(AH):  It’s a fact that before the presidential election, cooperation with the government froze, or to put it politely, slowed down.

(168 Óra): Was Lázár waiting to see the outcome?

(AH): Yes. But a two-thirds victory was perhaps convincing for them.  After all, they know what that is.