Tova Meir, a Hungarian-born woman and a member of Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, sat last Monday in one of the rooms of The Memorial Museum Of Hungarian Speaking Jewry in Safed, and browsed through a Budapest phonebook from 1944. Meir was looking for the carpentry shop where she used to work.
Yet before she found what she was looking for, she froze. A random conversation next to her about a rare artifact that had arrived at the museum caught her attention: segments of the lost diary belonging to Ferenc Szálasi, the Hungarian prime minister during the end of the Second World War.
“The name Szálasi for me is like Hitler and all of the horrors of war,” she said. The diary, or more precisely the copy of the original one that has yet to be found, has still not been translated into Hebrew. These days, Hungarian researcher Dr. Laszlo Karshai, who according to Roni Lustig, the head of the Zafed museum, is considered the top expert on Szálasi, is examining the diary.
The unusual find surprised many Historians, who have tried to locate the missing diary entries. They even invited Karshai to Israel to validate the authenticity of the find. According to Lustig, the entries were found in the estate of the late historian Yitzhak Peri, who dedicated a large part of his belongings to the museum. Lustig said that Peri, who was born in Transylvania and was a researcher of Hungarian and Transylvanian Jewry, “was completely dedicated to this topic. Even after sifting through the extensive material he had collected, his estate was moved from Holon to Zefad in a number of trucks,”
While cataloguing specimens in the museum, workers came across a copy of a diary with Szálasi’s name on it. After an investigation, it turned out that these were the two missing entries from the diary he had written during the war. Lustig said that part C had been found, but this is the first time parts A and B have resurfaced.
Szálasi served as Hungary’s prime minister from October 1944 to April 1945, under the auspices of the German Reich. Beginning in the mid-30s, he led the country’s fascist and racist movement and formed the Arrow Cross Party, which was banned until the war.
After the Nazi invasion to Hungary and the deportation of about 400 thousand Jews within a few months to death camps, only about 120 thousand Jews remained in Budapest. When Szálasi took power on October 15 1944, the Arrow Cross Party terrorized Budapest’s Jews. “These were thugs that terrorized the streets and led a vicious murder campaign,” Lustig said. “They raided Jewish homes, foreign consulates that gave refuge to Jews and even the Jewish hospitals… according to estimates, between10,000 to 15,000 Jews were murdered by the mobs and tossed into the Danube, which turned blood-red. In the eyes of Hungarian Jews, this is a sight that has tremendous associations. It embodies the extreme brutality that was unleashed upon Hungarian Jews.”
Szálasi also helped the Germans ship tens of thousands of Jews to the German front in Austria to fortify the defenses. Many starved on the way, or died from disease and exhaustion. Many others were murdered or died after being put to work.
In addition to Szálasi’s “war diary,” he wrote two other diaries – before and after the war. In the lost diary which he wrote between December 1942 and September 1943 –parts of which have now been found – he wrote about the importance of the moment, about wartime maneuvers and about matters such as the German submarine fleet. The diary, which has not yet been translated into Hebrew, also relates to Jews and their status and to communism as an enemy as dangerous as Jews – he considered partners. Some parts were even marked by him to be used for Arrow Cross conference speeches.
Lustig is convinced that Professor Peri knew the historical importance of the document, and may have thought that the time was not right for its publication. “I don’t believe he was afraid to show the diary because he feared gormandizing Szálasi’s despicable figure,” he said. “Any researcher would have been thorough with this document.”
How exactly the diary ended up in Peri’s possession in a mystery, though Karshai believes that perhaps one of the Zionist underground activists who reached the headquarters of the Cross Arrow Party in Budapest at the end of the war obtained it and contacted Peri, who was known to be an expert on the subject.
Lustig said the diary is important both historically and in terms of its relevance, in light of the extreme right’s growing power in Hungary. He said that present developments in the country echo back to “a time that laid the foundations of a political agenda based on racism, nationalism and fascism,” he said. “The Hungarian right-wing agenda of a pure Hungarian race and xenophobia (today aimed at gypsies) is bringing us back to Szálasi’s era, and when you see the rise of the right you cannot ignore the roots of this current, and the founder of this uncompromising attitude.”
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