Responding to Hungary Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog’s claim on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the mass murder of Roma inmates at Auschwitz-Birkenau that Hungary did not deport Roma to concentration camps, Roma Holocaust historian Ágnes Daróczi gave the following interview to ATV’s Olga Kálmán on the popular evening talk show Egyenes Beszéd (Straight Talk) on August 2014.
Olga Kálmán (presenter): Zoltán Balog reacted and said that, despite what happened, he still feels no need to explain himself: those who need to explain themselves are the ones making all kinds of statements, as even a series of Roma killings took place under the Gyurcsány-Bajnai administration. HVG.hu writes that he defended himself by saying that they are attacking a person who was organizing commemorations for the Roma Holocaust even before he was a minister, a secretary of state, or even a politician. My guest tonight is Ágnes Daróczi.
Ágnes Daróczi: Good evening.
O.K: Apology accepted?
ÁD: The situation is a little bit more complicated. Gypsy community webpages really exploded on Sunday – when people had the time to read – and now we are completely shocked and puzzled about the statement. We are shocked and puzzled, as this was not in any way in line with what we heard from President Áder and the Minister of Justice at the commemoration at Lake Grábler – at last after 70 years there is a commemoration of those killed there. Both speeches were really fair. I do not want to make excuses for Zoltán Balog in any way. But I cannot imagine that he could mean anything else than that there were no direct deportations of Hungarian Roma to the special Gypsy camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. But this is not true, either.
OK: He also said that he could have chosen his words more carefully. And that he meant that the kind of very well organized deportations direct to concentration camps as in the case of the shameful one with the Jews. And that the role of the Hungarian state in Roma deportations was quite different.
ÁD: This is not exactly true. The problem is that we should examine the history of each nation in its continuity. If we continue to only compare what happened with Roma in Hungary to the Jews, we will not be capable of understanding the issue. For a start: if there are these kind of forced comparisons, then I have to note that the Jews of Hungary were emancipated. They were full citizens of Hungary, and also, being people of scripture, the knowledge that was available for them was connected to the knowledge one could acquire in an organized form in school.
OK: That they acquired that knowledge…
ÁD: And this knowledge made their entrepreneurial skills essential in Hungarian society. Gypsies never achieved equal citizenship status. To the contrary, I should say that in their case the direction went the opposite way. If we look at their history, we can see that starting from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, through Ferenc Rákóczi’s war of freedom, right up to the 1848 War of Independence, Gypsies had a special status because their knowledge and specific professions were especially important to the Hungarian economy.
OK: But these cultural and economic differences cannot alter history. They do not rewrite the part of the history about where the trains were coming from, or how many people have been deported.
ÁD: This is quite true. Let’s deal with the story a little more in detail. In the case of Gypsies there was no need for specific “Gypsy laws” to be enacted during 1944, or in the 1940s, because such laws were already in force. Regulation no. 15,000 had been in force since 1916. Regulations narrowing, impoverishing, making the lives of Gypsies impossible, were enacted in 1928, 1931 and 1938.
OK: You brought a collection of studies about these with you?
ÁD: I have brought a collection of academic documents. This is “The Gypsy Question in Hungary in Documents from 1422-1985.” Edited by István Tauber, Barna Mezey and László Pomogyi, which publishes all these regulations. I marked some of the passages while preparing, but all of these laws can be found here.
OK: I am sorry, but if somebody such as a politician contradicts – for example – statements by the president, contradicts books with historical findings with his words, then why would he do that?
ÁD: A minister does not necessarily have to know everything. It is the job of his staff to prepare him. If an anniversary of utmost importance, like the 70th anniversary of the Roma aspects of the Holocaust is about to come, then his staff would have to alert a minister to the fact that Auschwitz and the August 2 commemoration day is not simply about commemorating the overnight annihilation and liquidation of the segregated “Zigeunerlager” at Auschwitz-Birkenau . . .
OK: But is this comment simply a result of ignorance?
DÁ: . . . and that on that one occasion alone they killed 3,000 people, but that Auschwitz is a symbol for the Gypsies as well as to Jews, as there were two peoples who were deported because of their origins.
OK: They have been taken away. So do you feel that…?
DÁ: To be annihilated.
OK: Even actively annihilated. So do you think that this statement is a result of ignorance?
DÁ: I hope so.
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