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Remembering the Holocaust

Hungarian survivor shares his story for the first time

April 5, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI Journal Staff Writer , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Monday was a night of firsts for noted professor Paul Hollander.

It was his first time in Marquette. It was his first time in the Upper Peninsula.

And it was the first time he spoke publicly about his experience with the Holocaust.

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Hollander - a professor emeritus from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an internationally renowned political sociologist - was the guest speaker at the annual Holocaust Memorial Service at St. Peter Cathedral.

"Why have I not spoken of this before? There are two reasons," Hollander told the large audience assembled for the service. "One reason is that I was 12 at the time of the Holocaust. I was much older when I survived the Communist regime and I speak of that. It lasted longer than the Nazi period in Hungary.

"Another reason is I always felt there has been universal agreement in the Western world, at least, about this unique evil chapter in history. I felt people knew about it. The Nazis were defeated, the camps were liberated and things were morally settled," he said. "But now there is a revisionist school that, amazingly, is denying the Holocaust."

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Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1932, Hollander and his family were assimilated Jews who observed high holidays and did not experience much more than mild anti-Semitism. Then came the spring of 1944 and the German occupation of the country.

"They began to round up the Jewish population in the countryside," Hollander said. "They did a thorough cleansing and up to a half million Jews were dispatched to Auschwitz to be gassed, including some of my relatives who lived in the country."

At first, Jews in Budapest were left alone save for having to wear yellow stars and being banned from some professions. But Hollander's maternal grandfather was arrested by the Gestapo and held for a few months, then released.

"Then they began setting up a ghetto. We had to move into an apartment building marked with a yellow star. I was 12 years old," Hollander recalled. "Then my father was drafted into a Jewish labor battalion. Some were sent to the Russian front, but luckily, my father was not."

In October 1944, the head of the Hungarian government attempted to break ties with the Axis and establish a separate armistice with the Allied forces.

"It was a poorly prepared move... and then the serious persecution came," he said.

The Hungarian Nazi Party came to power, herding up residents of the yellow star buildings and ransacking what was there. Many men were rounded up and beaten, including young Paul Hollander.

The Hollander family didn't want to return to the ghetto, so another plan was made.

"My family acquired false papers, I don't know how," he said. "The papers said we were from Transylvania. ... And we moved to a hotel."

That hotel became home to many Jewish families with similarly forged documents. It was a frightening time, Hollander said, because the Hungarian Nazis were still looking for Jews.

"They were still going after people," he said. "If they found people were Jews, they would take them and kill them. They shot them and the bodies fell into the river."

The Siege of Budapest, when the Russian troops were advancing, lasted for three months in late 1944 and early 1945.

"The Russians came on Jan. 18, 1945, and that was the end of Nazi rule in Hungary," he said.

Hollander and his family lived under the oppressive Communist regime that took over. When a people's uprising in 1956 did not succeed, the Hollanders fled to England.

Paul Hollander studied at the London School of Economics, then earned a doctorate from Princeton University in 1963. He went on to teach and is the author of many books about political violence and anti-Americanism.

"After the Holocaust, I did not have survivor's guilt, contrary to what many feel," he said. "I felt lucky and privileged. It was a source of optimism that I was able to get out."

While he has not written on the Holocaust, it has been used in the context of much of his scholarly research and thinking, about how dehumanization and scapegoating were used as tools to make mass murder more acceptable.

"I have been asked if the Holocaust could be repeated," Hollander said. "Not in its exact form ... It was a unique combination of circumstances. But of course, political violence will continue. People like you can make a difference. You can make scapegoating less possible."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is rprusi@miningjournal. net.

 
 

 

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