For non-specialists, the Holocaust in Hungary is a history both familiar and murky. Many Americans have read memoirs like Elie Wiesel’s Night and Judith...

For non-specialists, the Holocaust in Hungary is a history both familiar and murky. Many Americans have read memoirs like Elie Wiesel’s Night and Judith Magyar Isaacson’s Seeds of Sarah in high school or college and have some sense of their experience. But the actual history of Hungary and the Holocaust remains opaque.

Ferenc Laczo aims to change this. Laczo, an associate professor of history at Maastricht University, has produced a fascinating examination of a series of dialogues unfamiliar to most historians. His new book Hungarian Jews in the Age of Genocide: An Intellectual History (Brill, 2016) examines the Jewish community in Hungary and how their ideas of themselves and their place in Hungary changed during the war. He begins in the 1930s, with Jewish thinkers wrestling with traditional questions of identity and inclusion in the context of authoritarian government in Hungary and the rise of the Nazis in Germany. He then moves to a close reading of memories of the Holocaust in Hungary, taking advantage of sources unknown or unusable by scholars without Magyar. He concludes with a fascinating explanation of attempts in 1946 and 1947 by Jewish survivors in Hungary to explain and understand what they had just witnessed and experienced. The latter chapter alone offers a new perspective on immediate responses to the Holocaust.

This book alone won’t satisfy your desire for a thorough understanding of Hungary and the Holocaust. For that, you’ll need to read the works of Randolph Braham, Tim Cole, Zoltan Vagi, Laszlo Csosz and others. But you’ll almost certainly understand the experience the efforts of Jewish thinkers to understand their own lives much better than you did before you read the book.


Kelly McFall is Associate Professor of History at Newman University in Wichita Kansas, where he directs the Honors Program. He is particularly interested in the question of how to teach about the history of genocides and mass atrocities and has written a module in the Reacting to the Past series about the UNs debate over whether to intervene in Rwanda in 1994.

 

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