The March issue of Szombat focuses on one of the gravest issues in Hungary, the problem of former agents and informants of the secret police. “The files must be opened in order to dispel the aura of suspicion, whether voiced or not, clinging to the leaders and members of various political parties, social organisations, religious congregations, journals, academic institutions and universities,” writes Gábor T. Szántó in his editorial. Csaba Kunstár discusses the informants working inside various congregations. He quotes an interview with László Deutsch, currently serving as the rabbi of Újpest, who recalls the years before the political changes: “When I was at Pecs, two officers of the secret police visited me. They did not exert any pressure on me, but simply enquired whether I spoke against the state or spoke favourably about Israel in my sermons.” Deutsch told the two men that his religious beliefs would not allow him to act as an informant. “Don’t worry,” they answered, “we have the people we need for that.”
The Lubavitcher Hasidim have founded a new congregation by the name of Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. “It is rather ironic that Chabad, one of the most conservative and traditional Jewish communities, has undertaken the task of bringing back the lost souls into the fold with their open university courses and public festivals (viewed with a little distaste by a part of Hungarian Jewry which has become accustomed to living in a state of mimicry since the war). This is a task”, as Márton Csáki ironically notes, “which the Alliance of Jewish Congregations has been unable to cope with over the past fifteen years. The invitation to the dedication ceremony of the new prayer-house shocked some people for it claimed that the building is the first and only synagogue in Budapest’s downtown area.”
In his essay on European anti-Semitism, Tony Judt, the American Jewish historian who often criticizes Israel’s controversial politics and, occasionally, even Israel’s raison d’etre, notes that “it may be easier for Jews to take their distance from Israel’s illegal acts and misguided calculations than it is for non- Jews – the latter are always vulnerable to moral blackmail by Zionists, especially in countries with anti-Semitic pasts. But we shall never be able to think straight about anti-Semitism until this firewall is in place.” János Gadó begs to differ with Judt’s conclusion: “We should erect a firewall between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, an act which even Hamas might applaud, for they deny being anti-Semites, claiming that they merely fight against Israel.”
“I believe that Jewry is one of the most complicated issues in modern Hungarian society. I have no idea how people have the effrontery to determine who is Jewish and who is not. Take me: I am not circumcised, but I do have a Catholic baptism certificate – would I qualify as a Jew in their eyes or not?” – asks Miklós Vámos in the interview given to Szombat. The interview is followed by a short essay, “Let’s learn Hebrew the easy, quick way”.
Katalin Orbán has contributed a review of Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust comic, Maus. “This is the kind of success story every writer dreams of, and very few survive.”
The Children’s Corner column contains a Purim story, narrated by Zsuzsa Fritz.