The Nazis and Hungary took everything from my mother’s family. What good would reparations do?

Historians in the News
tags: Nazis, Hungary, Margaret McMullan, Where the Angels Lived

Margaret McMullan received an NEA fellowship and a Fulbright to research and teach in Hungary for a new book "Where the Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Exile, Loss, and Return."

Last month, 14 Holocaust survivors sued the Hungarian government and its national train corporation, MAV, for cooperating with the Nazis to deport more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews and confiscate their property during World War II. The lawsuit seeks to create a fund for Hungarian Holocaust survivors and their families, which could be worth billions of dollars if it’s successful.

But as a descendant of Hungarian Jews, I can’t imagine how such a fund could repay my mother and her few surviving relatives scattered around Europe. No amount of money can replace what they lost.

In 2011, I spent five months in the small town of Pécs, Hungary, on a Fulbright grant to research my Jewish Hungarian relatives, most of whom died in the Holocaust. When people from Pécs found out that my great-great-grandfather was the wealthy Adolf Engel de Jánosi, a leading industrialist and philanthropist who lived there in the late 19th century, they asked if I had come for restitution. “Have you come to take what’s yours?” they’d say.

I had not.

Before arriving in Pécs, I had no idea how much property my family had owned there. A walk around the town square revealed that the Engel de Jánosi properties were glorious and substantial. One beautiful home was now a tax office; another was a three-story apartment building. The synagogue, which my great-great grandfather helped finance in 1865, was still a synagogue, but a long-neglected one: There are a few Jews left in Pécs, but not enough to justify turning on the heat. It’s open now only on high holy days, and half of the synagogue is a used clothing store.

As I saw these magnificent buildings for the first time, I wondered whether any of them really should still belong to my mother or her relatives. Were people asking if I had returned to claim these properties because they thought I had a right to them? I was not the original exile, after all — I am merely a remnant. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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