Archive for the ‘Selly Oak Colleges’ Tag

The Architecture of Apartheid South Africa, 1837-1987   Leave a comment


Above: South Africa in 1939

Re-writing History:

The debate about the statues of figures from South Africa’s past rumbles on in advance of the commencement of the new term at Oriel College, Oxford, where the memorial erected to Cecil Rhodes in 1911 is under threat from a group of students calling themselves “Rhodes Must Fall” after the group which succeeded in having his statue removed from the campus of Capetown University.

What continues to amaze me as a historian is that, however Rhodes’s role in the development of Southern Africa is assessed according to the historical record, these campaigners continue to repeat the banal distortion of this record in linking his name to the Apartheid state established by the National Party in 1948, forty-six years after his death. He was certainly an imperialist, and within that context a racist, but the idea that he was ‘an architect of apartheid’ is arrant and puerile anti-historical nonsense. Indeed, the Chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, the last Governor of post-Imperial Hong Kong, has recently responded to the anti-Rhodes campaigners by accusing them of re-writing history, and has asserted that, therefore, the statues and plaques commemorating the ‘great’ man will not be coming down.

Imperial ‘Heroes’ and South African Exiles:

Almost thirty years ago, in 1987, I was asked to take part in a Theatre-in-Education Project in Birmingham, working with the Development Education Centre in the Selly Oak Colleges, which explored themes in the History of South Africa from the time of the Boer War to the 1980s, when we were campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela and against the appeasers of the apartheid regime in Britain, including Mrs Thatcher. Certainly, Birmingham ‘hero’ Joseph Chamberlain featured in the play scripted by ‘the Big Brum Company’, and there may have been a passing reference to Cecil Rhodes, but the main focus was the treatment of black Africans by the Afrikaner supremacists from 1837 to the 1987. My role was to support the performance with preparatory materials in secondary schools throughout Birmingham. As an Anti-Apartheid campaigner for more than a decade, working with Peter Hain and Donald Woods, among many other South African exiles of all colours, I was keen to get involved in this project.

A pack was developed with the DEC in response to the needs of teachers of the 14-16 age range who wanted material which would help them to cover areas of history, geography, social studies and integrated humanities syllabuses relating to South Africa. The materials had previously been pioneered by teachers in West Yorkshire in the early eighties, who felt that this need could best be met by examining how the situation in South Africa had evolved by then to a point at which a clear, more dispassionate background was needed to the political, economic and social circumstances prevailing in the country at that time. They, and we, aimed to challenge the common misconceptions surrounding apartheid, while also stimulating pupils by providing possibilities for studies in depth on particular issues.

Broadly, the aims of the project were:

  • To encourage pupils to examine their attitudes to South Africa, not as somewhere ‘out there’ but in terms of a place which is very closely linked with their own experience of Britain.

  • To present information about South Africa which would allow pupils to decide for themselves what they feel about some of the issues relating to apartheid.

  • To challenge the many misconceptions regarding apartheid which we are presented with by the media, South African government etc.

  • To help pupils to understand what apartheid means to the people involved.

It was very important to these aims that pupils were encouraged to discuss how they felt about the issues being raised and that they are encouraged to develop a critical approach to the information which they received. We felt that the use of ‘evidence’ in this context was very helpful, as it allowed pupils to examine an issue from many different perspectives and also to realise that much of the information which they commonly encountered was heavily weighted according to the purpose for which it was designed.

White and Black Perspectives:

The history of South Africa had always been presented as a white person’s history up to this point, recorded by white people for white people, so that it gave a very one-sided view of events. It was our intention to present this view, alongside the other view, that of black people’s history, in an attempt to allow pupils to reach ‘informed’ conclusions. Unfortunately, because black history had not often been recorded, we had to reconstruct events through the eyes of fictitious characters and in the emotions portrayed by actors. These perspectives were, however, based on extensive and meticulous research. It also remained important to examine the attitudes of Afrikaners and other white groups in historical and contemporary contexts, in order that pupils might recognise the part which these groups had played in determining where South Africa was in the 1980s and how these were linked to many of the attitudes held by some white people in Britain at that time. Although the pack itself did not explore these links in detail, we found that pupils in multi-ethnic schools drew these links for themselves, while those in all-white schools needed support to tackle these issues, as indicated in the Swann Committee Report (1985). Above all, we guarded against labelling all white South Africans as bad and all black South Africans as good by focussing on the spectrum of opinions of all people as individuals rather than purely in terms of whether they were black and white. The pack began…

  • …in 1837, twenty-three years after the British took control of the Cape of South Africa, in order to hinder the French fleet in the area and to protect their own shipping routes to India and the Pacific. Dutch people had occupied the Cape from 1652 and now called themselves ‘Boers’. In 1833, the British had passed laws to end slavery throughout the British Empire, including South Africa. Some of the Boers, known as ‘Voortrekkers’ did not want to obey these laws, so they began a northward migration – ‘the Great Trek’ – to avoid them.



  • The trekkers attacked the southern tribes, killing many of them and taking their children as slaves. They also took cattle and built homesteads on the land. One of the leaders of the trekkers, Piet Retief, came into Natal to ask the Zulu chief, Dingaan for land, having already tricked Sekonyela out of his guns and horses. He moved his party of trekkers onto Dingaan’s land before he had agreed to lease it. Dingaan fought the trekkers, killing Retief and driving the trekkers away.


  • The Voortrekkers decided to take revenge against Dingaan. On 16 December 1837, a commando of five hundred of them set up an ambush for the Zulus on the banks of a river. They were led by Andries Pretorius, who gave his name to the later capital of South Africa, Pretoria. He was an experienced leader who had recently arrived in Natal from Cape Colony.


  • They grouped their wagons into a circle, known as a ‘laager’, surrounding their cattle and themselves. This provided them with protection so that they could fire their weapons from the spaces between the wagons. The Zulus were armed with short spears called ‘assegai’ and had only their shields to protect them.



  • The Voortrekkers were victorious, with only three of them wounded. Three thousand Zulus were killed. The Battle of Blood River, as it became known, was commemorated by the Boers in an annual service of thanksgiving known as the Day of the Covenant.



From this perspective, we can see that the first massacres of the indigenous black peoples of South Africa were not the work of the British, but of the Afrikaners. When the Great Trek finished, the Boers who had settled in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were given some independence by the British. In the 1860s sugar cane plantations were set up in Natal and Indians were treated in the same way as the blacks, working for low wages in poor conditions. Since the Boers had been involved in a lot of hardship on the Great Trek and had worked hard to make a living in their new areas, they had developed a strong sense of togetherness. Due to their religious beliefs, which were Dutch Calvinist in origin, they thought that black people could never be Christian and so could never be regarded as equals. On the other hand, British missionaries taught that those black people who converted to Christianity deserved to be treated fairly, if not equally before God, and should certainly not be enslaved. The Afrikaners, however, saw themselves as a race apart and were starting to develop their own language, Afrikaans.


The Development of Afrikanerdom, 1868-1948:

For these reasons, when in 1868, gold and diamonds were found in the Transvaal and Orange Free State by black people, the Afrikaners tried to stop the British taking over these areas again. They fought the British in the Boer War of 1899-1902, which the British eventually won, though the Afrikaners retained a large amount of self-government. They made the blacks pay taxes and rents so that they would have to work for white bosses in order to earn money. Many went to work in the new gold and diamond mines. White landowners began to evict the blacks who rented ‘their’ land, thinking that they could make more money by farming it for themselves. In 1909 the Afrikaner government passed the Squatter Act, which meant that the blacks who rented land were forced to become labourers or leave. Those evicted were forced to live on reserves where poor land and diseases made it difficult to make a living.



In 1910 the British government brought the four states together in the Union of South Africa, but black people still had no say, so in 1912 they set up their own African National Congress (ANC) to fight for their rights. Despite this, the Land Act was passed in 1913, giving blacks the worst 7% of the land, even though they were three times the size of the white population. The black areas were called ‘Bantu’ areas and became even more overcrowded than before. There was little land for planting crops or grazing livestock, so it was impossible to make a living. As there was no work in the Bantu areas, the men had to travel hundreds of miles to work in the mines and factories, leaving their families on the reserves.



In 1918 black mine-workers went on strike for better pay, but the white mine owners called in the police to force them  back to work. Meanwhile, Afrikaner workers had become worried that more jobs and better pay for the blacks would mean fewer jobs for them. They formed trade unions to prevent this. In 1927 the Black Administration Act was passed, providing for a separate system of administration for the black areas from the white areas. Blacks were not allowed to vote or join trade unions, and the men had to carry passes saying where they could and could not live and work. In compensation, the black areas were increased in proportion from 7% to 13%.



This was how South Africa continued to be run until 1939, as a country run by whites for whites. Both the Afrikaners and the British agreed that black people were there to work for them and were not to be involved in any decisions. So when Great Britain asked its ‘Dominions’, including South Africa, to help out in the Second World War, the blacks had no say in this. The United Party was split, with Prime Minister Hertzog arguing against becoming involved in the war against fascism. However, he was outvoted and forced to resign. The ANC gave its full support to Jan Smuts, the new Prime Minister, in his determination to involve South Africa in the war. For the time being, at least, the Afrikaner Nationalists had lost.



Both before and during the war, many blacks moved into the cities  to find work, as it was impossible to make a living in the Bantu areas. The whites living in the cities didn’t want the blacks there, so they strengthened the pass laws. As a result of the poor wages and conditions which the blacks were forced to accept, there were numerous strikes in the 1940s. In 1946, fifty thousand black mine-workers were went on strike for better pay, but many were killed and injured when police came and used violence to break up the strike.





Then, in 1948, the Afrikaner National Party were voted into power, led by Dr Daniel Malan, with their policy of ‘apartheid’, a new word, but an old idea for Afrikaners. This meant separate development for blacks and whites. Only white people could vote in the election. The National Party did not want black people to enjoy the wealth of the country or have a part in its political life. Many whites supported this because they wanted to keep all the jobs, lands and wealth for themselves.



The National Apartheid State, 1948-61:

Almost immediately, the National Party set about building up apartheid by introducing strict laws. There were laws to separate white and black people in all areas of life: schools, work, hospitals, housing areas, and even marriage. From 1948, ‘Whites Only’ signs began to appear in many places: taxis, ambulances, buses, restaurants, hotels, parks and even beaches. In sport as well, white and black people could not play together. In 1950, the government classified everyone as ‘Black’, ‘Coloured’, ‘Asian’ or ‘White’ and restricted all black people to the small Bantu areas. Any black person who owned land in a white area could be forced off it and moved to a Bantu area. The government wanted to make sure that they had control over these remote areas, so they appointed ‘chiefs’ by offering high wages in return for making sure that people did not attempt to oppose apartheid.




However, whites still needed blacks to work for them in the cities, even though they didn’t want them to live there, so two years later they passed a law to set up ‘townships’ near cities where black people who worked in the cities had to live. These were run by white administration boards who had control over all the facilities and services in the townships.




Sophiatown  was a pre-existing township only six kilometres west of the centre of Johannesburg. It was one of the few places where Africans had been able to buy homes and many had lived there for more than fifty years by 1953. Because it was close to the centre of the city, several families lived in each home, with as many as forty people getting their water from a single tap. It was surrounded by towns where white workers lived, and the government wanted to move these workers into Sophiatown. So, in 1953, the government started to force Africans out of their homes in Sophiatown to a new township twenty kilometres away, as part of their plan to control where Africans could live and work.


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The ANC organised meetings in the town over many months, trying to prevent its destruction. Among those who spoke at these meetings was a young Nelson Mandela, until he was banned in September 1953 under one of the laws introduced in 1950. This law allowed any person from going to meetings, leaving town, belonging to political organisations, or meeting friends. Although Mandela was not accused of any crime, for two years he was forbidden to go to meetings or to leave Johannesburg. He was even prevented from going to his son’s birthday party. He was also forced to leave the ANC. He was therefore unable to go to the national meeting of the ANC in September 1953, so that another ANC member read his words for him. He told them:

There is no easy walk to freedom. Many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.

The pass laws were made even stricter so that women had to carry passes as well. A few years later, they passed laws which gave separate and unequal facilities to whites and blacks. Blacks were given the worst of everything in education, housing, health, jobs, transport etc. In 1953, the government had passed a law which separated the African school system from the white system in order to force African children to go to poorer schools.


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Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, Minister of Native Affairs, said that the only place for Africans in South Africa was in some types of work. By this, he meant that Africans would only do mundane, badly paid work, so that they did not need to be educated in expensive schools. In 1954, Verwoerd made a speech in which he promised that:

When I have control of Native Education I will reform it so that the Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them… People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for Natives… When my department controls Native education it will know for what class of higher education a Native is fitted, and whether he will have a chance in life to use his knowledge… What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice. That is quite absurd.

In the 1950s, the government spent 44 pounds every year for each white student, 19 pounds for every Coloured and Asian student, and less than eight pounds for each African student.

At the beginning of 1955, four thousand police and soldiers arrived at Sophiatown and began to move people out and to destroy their homes. The ANC had failed to save the town, and it became obvious that the Afrikaner government would not be moved by the ANC’s non-violent protests. In 1956 twenty thousand women held a peaceful protest against the pass laws, but once again the police used violence to break up the demonstration. In 1958, Verwoerd became Prime Minister. He wanted greater racial segregation than ever before, and one of the first things he declared as Prime Minister was that all black Africans would be known as ‘Bantus’. In 1959, the Bantu areas were divided into ten groups called the ‘Bantustans’ or ‘Homelands’. People were told that they were citizens of a ‘homeland’ which often they had never seen before and which might be hundreds of miles from their real home. Millions of people were moved by force to these remote areas where they had no jobs, houses or land. There they had to live with their appointed ‘chiefs’. Using the passes, the government now had complete control over where every black person lived and worked.


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In 1960, there was another peaceful protest against the pass laws, this time at Sharpeville, a small townships, about 55 kilometres south of Johannesburg. The Pan-African Congress (PAC), a new African organisation, had organised the protest. As part of this, a crowd of several thousand marched to the police station in Sharpeville, without their passes. The crowd waited quietly, but as the crowd grew larger, the police became more worried. Suddenly, they began to shoot at the crowd. People turned and tried to run away, but the police continued to shoot, killing 69 people and injuring many more. Protests came from all over the world, including the United Nations, the first time the UN had spoken out about what was happening in South Africa. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested 22,000 people. They banned the African National Congress (ANC) and several other anti-apartheid organisations.  Mandela was taken to Pretoria Prison, with the other thirty already accused in the ‘Treason Trial’. At the trial, Mandela told the court that the ANC would continue to organise protests until the government said, “Let’s talk”. Then they would agree to talk. In March 1961, more than four years after the first arrests, the trial ended. ‘You are found not guilty,’ said the judge, ‘you may go.’ Outside the court the crowd danced and sang the national song of the ANC, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, ‘God bless Africa’, composed in 1897 in Xhosa, by a teacher in Johannesburg.


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Education remained at the forefront of the fight against apartheid, and in 1976 another protest erupted in another township, Soweto, when a government circular sent to black schools sought to change the medium of instruction from English to Afrikaans for all subjects except General Science and practical subjects such as woodwork, needlework and art. The attack by the Afrikaner apartheid state on the English language turned the ‘imperial’ language into the symbolic language of liberation and equality.  What followed also served as proof to the world of the immorality of the apartheid state, though it took another fifteen years for it to be brought to an end by a combination of internal and external pressure. Just three years later, we were stood on a picket line outside the headquarters of the Welsh Rugby Union in Cardiff, protesting against the visit of the so-called ‘multi-racial’ South African Barbarians. It was difficult to believe that two years after the beating to death of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko (Donald Woods had just published his smuggled biography), there was this widespread pretence that it was possible to play normal sporting matches with a country whose whole society was abnormal. If south Wales could welcome such a flagrant flouting of UN sanctions, Mrs Thatcher would have no difficulty in propping up the apartheid regime. Neither did she.

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In Conclusion: Imperialism and Apartheid

Whatever our view of British imperialism in southern Africa in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and although it was far from innocent in its treatment of the Africans and Afrikaners under its rule, there is clearly only a very tangential ideological link, if any, to the state which was brought into being in 1948. Though the descendants of British settlers may have acquiesced in the creation of a racist state for their own selfish reasons, it is also impossible to ignore the role of British missionaries, over generations, in helping to establish schools for native Africans and providing the English language education which eventually enabled them to find their voices as well as their feet. Throughout the period from 1837 to 1960, it was the determination of the Afrikaners to assert their racial predominance, supported by a heretical version of Calvinism, which established the ideology of apartheid at the centre of South African government, and kept it as the controlling concept of that state for over four decades.


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Margaret Holmes (1986), A History of South Africa. Leeds: Development Education Centre.

Rowena Akinyemi (2008), Nelson Mandela. Oxford English: Oxford University Press. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Eighties: The Growth of English Language Teaching in Hungary.   Leave a comment


On Thursday, 22nd October 2015, a group of us were invited to attend a tree-planting ceremony at the Kodály Zoltán Music School in Kecskemét (Hungary). After a musical introduction performed by students of the school, including folk songs in English, we went out into the front garden to plant the tree. After a short and characteristically witty speech by Péter Medgyes (President of IATEFL), we then took turns in shovelling the earth around the little fir tree. This caused me to reflect on some of the local events of a generation ago which helped to establish the Kecskemét Association of Teachers of English (KATE), which in turn helped to found IATEFL Hungary a year later, with its inaugural conference held in the town in February 1991.

The Eighties: Educational Exchanges

The link between Coventry and Kecskemét went back decades, one of twenty-six twinnings resulting from the Blitz of November 1940. It had, however, been dormant since the Hungarian troops had been sent to help suppress the Prague Spring of 1968. Together with Tom Leimdorfer, the Quakers’ Peace Education Advisor at Friends’ House in London, himself a Hungarian exile from 1956, I met teachers from ‘behind the iron curtain’ at the second International Teachers for Peace Congress in Bonn in May of 1988. Although we knew that ‘one swallow does not a summer make’, we were particularly impressed by the frankness of Hungarian delegates who reported how, after establishing exchanges with other countries, children were enabled to speak out about their experiences of violence in their societies. In the Autumn of 1988, a group of us, Quaker teachers, were invited to visit Hungary, as the guests of the state-sponsored, but increasingly independent, Hungarian Peace Council.

On the first full day of our visit, the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, our guide and hostess became very excited about two announcements on Kossúth (state-controlled) Radio. The first was that the Uprising would no longer be described, officially, as a ’Counter-Revolution’ and the second was that the Soviet troops would be invited to leave the country. This came as a dramatic confirmation of the sense we were already getting of a far freer atmosphere than we knew existed in other Warsaw Pact countries, including the one we were looking across the Danube at, the then Czechoslovakia. We visited Kecskemét a few days later and a link was formed with KATE, the English Language teachers association in the town, who needed an invitation to attend the International ELT Conference at the University of Warwick the next year.

So, with the support of Coventry City Council and the Teachers’ Centre in Coventry, an exchange was established through the One World Education Group, with myself as facilitator. The twelve KATE teachers were hosted by Coventry and Warwickshire Friends and teachers in the Spring of 1989, and a twelve-strong OWEG group were invited to Kecskemét the following summer. At the time, the Exchange Project was reported in the local press in Hungary as having the purpose ’to educate for peace, to develop mutual understanding within the scope of a subject which is not compulsory in school in order that the children should have an all-embracing picture of the world’. In explaining the purpose of the exchange, we tried to emphasise that ’Britain is not too great to learn from Hungary’, the Petö Institutes in Birmingham being just one example, and that Hungary was considered to be a bridge between East and West. Hungary no longer meant just ’goulash, Puskás, and 1956’.

We were beginning to learn about Hungarian expertise and aspirations in Science, Mathematics, Music and Art, as well as in society in general (there were even later exchanges of police forces!) In July 1989, just after the barbed wire was first cut in May (Tom Leimdorfer was there, twenty miles south from where he escaped by crawling under it in December 1956), the Lord Mayor of Kecskemét reminded us that whilst it was important that the Iron Curtain should be removed physically, ’it also needs to be removed in people’s hearts and minds…as more and more educational links are forged between ordinary people in the East and the West, so it will become impossible for politicians to keep the existing barriers up, or to build new ones…’ Coventry had long been interested in reconciliation between Western and Eastern Europe – we could now help bring this about by our practical support for the teachers and people of Kecskemét. This public statement, from a then member of the ruling communist party in what was still a ’People’s Republic’, gives a clear indication of the importance of these exchanges and contacts between ’ordinary people’ in the tearing down of the curtain and the fall of the wall, now more than a generation ago.

Into the Nineties: TEMPUS and IATEFL

In October 1989, I entered one country and left another without crossing a second border. On the anniversary of the 1956 Uprising (no longer referred to as a Counter-Revolution), the name of that country had changed from the ‘Hungarian People’s Republic’ to ‘the Republic of Hungary’. It was during that week that I also received formal invitations to become an Associate Tutor at the Kecskemét College of Education, meeting its Principal and staff. I returned on Valentine’s Day 1990, having won the sponsorship of the Westhill and Newman Colleges in Selly Oak, Birmingham, to establish a student-teacher exchange. I began teaching at the College, supervising teaching practice in the primary schools, and working on the joint application to Brussels for TEMPUS Funding from Birmingham, Rennes and Kecskemét. One of my first duties was to give a presentation on the Higher Education system in England and Wales to the College Staff Meeting. An elderly colleague at the back of the room protested at the brevity of the Ministry of Education’s recent letter informing institutions that they were now free to follow their own path. ‘We don’t know how’ he pointed out, ‘we’ve always got our instructions from the Ministry!’

The first leg of the student-teacher exchange took place the following January with a visit to Birmingham of the Kecskemét students, who were training to become specialist teachers of English at the primary school level (6-14 years of age).  The students were given a multi-cultural tour of Birmingham, its schools and its churches, Quaker meeting houses, mosques, gudwaras and synagogues.  In February, at the same time as the Birmingham lecturers were visiting in order to set up the TEMPUS programme, the first Hungarian IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Conference was being held in Kecskemét. With many American and British guests visiting the Conference, among teachers from all over Hungary, it suddenly felt as if the whole world had descended, with the snow, on the small provincial town. The following poem, written for the twenty-fifth anniversary of this event, takes up the story:



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   Kata Ittzes and Péter Medgyes plant a tree in commemoration of the twenty-five years of IATEFL’s work among the teachers of Hungary, 22nd Oct 2015.

Another Brick from the Wall: My (Small) Part in its Downfall, 1987-92   1 comment


Quaker (Photo credit: kendoman26)

Another Brick from the Wall:

My (Small) Part in its Downfall

by Andrew J Chandler

It’s now thirty-one years since I first ‘set foot’ in Hungary, on 22nd October 1988, as the Organiser for the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project. In May 1987, at what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Cold War, I was concerned about both international conflict and interpersonal conflict, having experienced both verbal and physical abuse against teachers and between pupils, as a teacher in Coventry. The Project, based in the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham at Woodbrooke, George Cadbury’s home, was also set up to continue to support teachers with work on controversial issues in the classroom, later characterised as ‘peace versus patriotism’ in a late-night TV programme I was invited to take part in. Since the hottest days of the Cold War, Quakers had answered invitations to visit schools throughout the West Midlands to show the film The War Game and give their views on Disarmament. The Project organised balanced debates between CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organisers) and advocates of Peace Through NATO.  These used the BBC ‘Question Time’ format, with fifth and sixth-formers ‘firing’ prepared questions at the speakers, who had no time to prepare their answers, however.

The Project also gave scope for considering Human Rights as well as Earthrights, with a simulation of rainforest destruction with paper cups! We broadened the range of international issues dealt with to include, for example, Hong Kong, eight years before the 1997 handover. This work on global issues led to a  Sixth Form Conference at Woodbrooke with participants from Stafford, Sutton Coldfield and Coventry. Based on a quote from Peter Kropotkin, the Russian scientist, about what learners should demand of teachers, it was entitled ’What kind of world? How do we build it?’ Held over a weekend, it consisted of a series of workshops which were designed to give the students the opportunity to place themselves in the various conflict situations and to think of ways in which they might empower themselves to tackle some of the major issues facing the world at the end of the twentieth century. Various guest speakers, including Jerry Tyrrell, who had been recently appointed as Field Worker to the Ulster Quaker Peace Education Project, presented  ’case studies’ of the conflicts from their countries and regions.

Looking back, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting on the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the last year of the decade marked a significant turning point in the life of the Project in more way than one, held during the collapse of the Ceaucescu régime in Romania, the latter sparked by in Temesvár by the resistance of the Hungarian Reformed Church. Reference was made to the pack for upper school pupils, prepared by teachers from the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, ’Conflict and Reconciliation’, the resources for which had been provided by the Project. It aimed to develop an awareness of interpersonal and conflict between cultures at a community, as well as an international level. Although I left in February 1990 to take up an appointment, through Westhill College, with the Hungarian Ministry of Education in Coventry’s twin town of Kecskemét, Hungary, I  returned to complete work on the pack in Belfast in the Spring. This was eventually published by the Christian Education Movement, by then also based in Selly Oak, and launched at a workshop in Sutton Coldfield in the Summer of 1991.

At the time, the work between Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK where the Government-funded Peace Education as part of EMU (Education for Mutual Understanding) and the West Midlands attracted the attention of the Belfast Telegraph and The Times Educational Supplement. Soon after, I was invited to make a presentation on it to an EU-sponsored Peace Education Conference in Brussels which was published in the journal, Trans-Europe Peace (1988). The CEM’s Conflict and Reconciliation pack served as a lasting testimony to the work of Q-PEP, as its Preface contains the remark that we were responsible not only for gathering together much of the material for use in the classroom but also for the insistence on pupil-centred activity-based learning. But the ultimate credit here, as in that of the Preface, goes to teachers like Terry Donaghy, from Belfast, from whom I learnt about the importance of faith-based education in helping pupils to reach out to people of other faiths and traditions. Following the Northern Ireland ‘Peace Accord’, EMU was transformed into Education for Reconciliation, a cross-border initiative which held its last conference recently, in 2012.

Hungary: visa and stamps
Hungary: visa and stamps (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

The link between Coventry and Kecskemét went back decades, one of twenty-six twinnings resulting from the Blitz of November 1940.  It had, however, been dormant since the Hungarian troops had been sent to help suppress the Prague Spring of 1968. In the run-up to the 50th Anniversary of the Blitz, the City Council asked the One World Education Group, which met at the Elm Bank Teachers’ Centre, to produce a pack of materials for use in schools. The Project was asked to help with this. At the same time, members of our Steering Group were keen on the idea of developing school and youth group East-West links, as were Friends elsewhere. In 1987, the Project had already helped co-ordinate the production and staging in Solihull and elsewhere of an exhibition on Life in the Soviet Union, based on an exchange involving Quaker women. In 1988, we had received an invitation to visit the DDR. Tom Leimdorfer, Peace Education Advisor at Friends’ House, himself a Hungarian exile from 1956, and I met teachers from ’behind the iron curtain’ at the second International Teachers for Peace Congress in Bonn in May of that year. Although we recognised that the sight of one swallow didn’t make a summer, I wrote in the Q-PEP newsletter shortly afterwards, that…

… coming as it did just before the Moscow summit, there was a distinct atmosphere of Glasnost, which meant that the exchanges between the participants were relaxed, open and constructive… the spirit was very much in evidence in the opening session when children from the USA and USSR joined together spontaneously in songs from a peace musical.

It was also apparent in the openness with which a Soviet representative spoke about the new Soviet Children’s Fund, a baby of Glasnost, through which they were beginning to deal with child abuse and the problems of the one-third of families in which the parents were divorced. We were also particularly impressed by the frankness of Hungarian delegates who reported how, after establishing exchanges with other countries, parents meetings were held and children were enabled to speak about their experiences of abuse.

Since Éva Horváth, of Hungarian Teachers for Peace, had visited the West Midlands Q-PEP with a delegation the previous year, we looked forward to the 1990 Congress in Budapest, little knowing that she would be inviting the delegates to a very different country. Prior to that, in the Autumn of 1988, a group of us, Quaker teachers, were invited to visit Hungary, as the guests of the state-sponsored, but increasingly independent, Hungarian Peace Council.  On the first full day of our visit, the anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, our guide and hostess became very excited about two announcements on Kossúth (state-controlled) Radio. The first was that the Uprising would no longer be described, officially, as a ’Counter-Revolution’ and the second was that the Soviet troops would be invited to leave the country.  This came as a dramatic confirmation of the sense we were already getting of a far freer atmosphere than we knew from Friends and teachers existed in other Warsaw Pact countries, including the one we were looking across the Danube at, Czechoslovakia. We visited Kecskemét a few days later and a link was formed with KATE, the English Language teachers association in the town, who needed an invitation to attend the International ELT Conference at the University of Warwick the next year.

So, with the approval of the Project Steering Group and the support of the City Council and Martin Pounce at the Teachers’ Centre in Coventry, an exchange was established through the One World Education Group, with me as facilitator (one result of this was that Martin later became the LEA’s International Officer). The twelve KATE teachers were hosted by Coventry and Warwickshire Friends and teachers in the Spring of 1989, and a twelve-strong OWEG group were invited to Kecskemét the following summer, including Frank Scotford, a retired teacher and ’elder statesman’ from Coventry, Gill Kirkham, a music teacher from Kenilworth, John Illingworth, a special needs teacher and bell-ringer from Monks Kirkby, and Gill Brown, a Quaker teacher at the Blue Coat School.  Stefánia Rozinka was one of our hosts who had been unable to take part in the first leg of the exchange due to her university studies in history, just as I had been unable to accept an invitation to visit the DDR the previous year because of mine, and so, academic work over, we became engaged within a week of meeting each other and the rest, as they say, is literally, ’personal’ history! This exchange also had longer-lasting effects in terms of school, teacher and trainee-teacher exchanges, the latter attracting significant funding from the EU.

I believe that the significance of Q-PEP’s work in this area cannot be overstated. At the time, the Project was reported in the local press in Hungary as having the purpose ’to educate for peace, to develop mutual understanding within the scope of a subject which is not compulsory in school in order that the children should have an all-embracing picture of the world’.  In explaining the purpose of the exchange, we tried to emphasise that ’Britain is not too great to learn from Hungary’, the Petö Institutes in Birmingham being just one example, and that Hungary was considered to be a bridge between East and West. Hungary no longer meant just goulash, Puskás, and 1956. We were beginning to learn about Hungarian expertise and aspirations in Science, Mathematics, Music and Art, as well as in society in general (there were even later exchanges of police forces!) In July 1989, just after the barbed wire was first cut in May (Tom Leimdorfer was there, twenty miles south from where he escaped by crawling under it in December 1956), the Lord Mayor of Kecskemét reminded us that whilst it was important that the Iron Curtain should be removed physically, …

… it also needs to be removed in people’s hearts and minds…as more and more educational links are forged between ordinary people in the East and the West, so it will become impossible for politicians to keep the existing barriers up, or to build new ones …

Coventry had long been interested in reconciliation between Western and Eastern Europe – we could now help bring this about by our practical support for the teachers and people of Kecskemét. This public statement, from a then member of the ruling communist party in what was still a ’People’s Republic’, gives a clear indication of the importance of these exchanges and contacts between ’ordinary people’ in the tearing down of the curtain and the fall of the wall, now more than twenty years ago.

Following my three-semester secondment to the Hungarian Ministry of Education, and a further year as a teacher-fellow at Westhill College in Birmingham, I was then invited to return to Hungary to co-ordinate a teacher-exchange being set up by Devon County Council with Baranya County Assembly in southern Hungary, in 1992. By that time the coup had failed in the former USSR, and the Cold War was officially over, so longer-term ‘transition’ programmes could take shape, like the wholesale re-training of Russian Language Teachers to teach English as a Foreign Language in Hungary, a process which took a further four years with the support of ‘NESTs’ (Native English-Speaking Teachers) who took the place of their Hungarian colleagues in the classroom while the latter attended university training colleges part-time. My initial period of work in and with Hungary, therefore, came to an end in 1996, by which time a remarkable transformation had taken place in the education system there, as elsewhere. Fifteen years later, I returned to Hungary in 2011, to take up a role as a Consultant in English Language Teaching (CELT) for the Church Schools in the town. Since September 2012, I have also been a teacher-fellow at the College of Education in the town, now part of Neumann János University.

First published, October 2008

Updated May 2012, October 2013, November 2019.

Village Voices & The Hungarian Holocaust   1 comment

As The Land Remembers Them:

Village Voices

& The Hungarian Holocaust





Andrew James Chandler



In July 1989, Dr Bill Campbell and myself, from the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, joined an exchange programme between the twinned municipalities of Coventry and Kecskemét, to establish an exchange between Westhill and Newman Colleges of Education and the Kecskemét College of Education. The following February, I took up a post as Associate Tutor for the Colleges, based in Kecskemét, at the invitation of the Principal of Westhill College, Rev Gordon Benfield and Dr Márta Dovala, of the Kecskemét College, under the guidance of József Vida, the Head of Modern Languages. The Hungarian Ministry of Education agreed to sponsor the appointment, and Gordon Benfield visited Kecskemét in March to formally establish the exchange programme. The benefit of a visit to the UK the following January for the Hungarian students in their four-year English Studies programme was fairly obvious. What was not, at first, as clear was the English Studies Programme the benefit that the student teachers from Birmingham would gain from a visit to Hungary the next spring, as part of their four-year B. Ed. Programme.

As both Westhill and Newman were built on strong Church foundations, both Free Church and Catholic, specialising in Religious Education, it was felt that it would be useful for them to engage with studies of the roles played by the churches in the various towns and villages throughout Bács-Kiskun County. Of course, they also visited primary schools and helped with English lessons, but, in 1990-91, and for some years following, there was no Religious Education provision in Hungarian schools. So, the key question which was under investigation during their visit was, ‘what are the values of the people and communities following the establishment of the Republic of Hungary and after forty years of the Hungarian People’s Republic?’  Coming from a multi-cultural society in the West Midlands, we wanted to know, in particular, why the town’s synagogue no longer had a worshipping Jewish community, and how the churches worked together to promote their beliefs and values in a more mono-cultural ‘Magyar’ society.

Coalescing with these developments, the Colleges established a Joint European Programme under EC TEMPUS funding, and Dr Éva Kruppa was appointed to the International Office in Kecskemét College of Education, to co-ordinate this. In planning the student exchange, she suggested a visit to Apostag, since she was aware of the work being done there to both restore the synagogue for community use, largely completed by 1987, and to commemorate the village’s victims of the Holocaust of 1944-5. So it was that in the autumn of 1990 that Bill Campbell (RE) and John Gosling (English), visiting Kecskemét, came with Éva, József and myself to visit the village, see its synagogue and meet its residents, some of who had known the victims well as children and young people. What follows here is the result of their testimony, given at that initial meeting and during the visit of the students from Birmingham, Michael and Ruth, who spent a week in the villages of the territory in April 1991. None of their testimony could have been recorded without the painstaking translation provided by Hajnalka Szigeti (pictured below in 1991), an excellent student from Kiskunfélegyháza at the College of Education in Kecskemét, and now a teacher near Hastings. The original intention was to transcribe the testimonies together the following autumn, but that summer my recall to Westhill and Newman Colleges, as a Teacher/Fellow, prevented this.


AJC, 27/1/2013: Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz/ Holocaust Memorial Day




Habakkuk’s Protest;

The Lord’s Answer;

Habakkuk’s Prayer;

Hungarian Jewry – A Doomed People?


Chapter One: A Timeline of the Hungarian ‘Shoah’


Anti-Jewish Laws, 1938-41

The Census of 1941

Occupation and Deportation



Chapter Two: Apostag – The Village in View




The Village Chronicle to 1918

The Synagogue & the Jewish Community

Village Relationships Between the Wars


Chapter Three: Fifty Years of Division & Sorrow


Anti-Semitic Laws & Outbreak of War

Deportation, May 1944

Continuation & Conclusion of War

The Aftermath

The Village in the Nineties


References & Bibliography


© 2013 Andrew James Chandler/ Team Britannia, Hungary




Habakkuk’s Protest:

Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk apart from what is in his book. Because he mentions Babylon (1:6) it is assumed that he lived at the end of the seventh century B.C., when the Nebuchadnezzar’s forces ‘ended’ Israel and Judah was exiled.  The prophet questions God about his justice: why does he turn a blind eye to Babylon’s cruelty and deportations? How can he use wicked people to punish people who are better than them? These are questions that many Jews must have echoed on their way to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and other death camps, as well as inside them, centuries later:

‘How long, O Lord, must I call for help,

But you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

But you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

There is strife and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralysed,

And justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous,

So that justice is perverted.’

(1: 2-4)


The Lord’s Answer:

God gives no direct answer, but promises that one day he will punish all oppression and injustice:


‘Woe to him who builds his city with bloodshed,

And establishes a town by crime!

Has not the Lord almighty determined

That the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire,

That nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge

Of the glory of the Lord,

As the waters cover the sea.’

(2: 12-14)


Habakkuk’s Prayer:

The book concludes with a statement by the prophet that he will trust God, no matter what happens:

‘I heard and my heart pounded,

My lips quivered at the sound;

Decay crept into my bones,

And my legs trembled.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity

To come on the nation invading us.

Though the fig tree does not bud

And there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails

And the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen

And no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in my saviour.


The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

He enables me to go on the heights.

(3: 16-19)


Hungarian Jewry: A People Doomed?

I’d gladly resign my claim to the Hungarian Jews if only I were certain that their patriotism would save them from the misery of antisemitism…But the Jews of Hungary will also be overtaken by their doom, which will be all the more brutal and merciless as time passes, and wilder too, the stronger they get in the meantime. There is no escaping it.

Theodor Herzl, 1903

‘Tivadar’ (his given name in Hungarian) Herzl was born in Budapest in 1860 at a time when Hungarian Jews were so well-integrated into national life that their Chief Rabbi sat in the Upper House of Parliament. This integration had taken place over the two previous centuries, so that at the beginning of the twentieth century they had become part of the Hungarian nation legally, socially and culturally. All that really marked them out as different were their synagogues and religious practices, though even here, the laws relating to food were being abandoned by the 1920s, as the testimony below shows.

After the sudden wave of anti-Semitic horror which engulfed Hungary for the last two years of the war had passed, the Communists made any mention of the Jews as a people a taboo topic, except in the context of a ‘scientific’ study of it as a religion. This was applied to Jews and non-Jews alike. Such studies were restricted to the confines of Marxist academia. Any form of Religious Education in schools was strictly prohibited and church activities were severely restricted. Any discussion of the events as genocide was frowned upon, if not punished. The victims of the Holocaust were called those persecuted by the Nazis. So it was only after the forty years from 1948 to 1988 that the unresolved anti-Semitic laws of the Hungarian Horthy Government, the actions of the Hungarian Fascists and the Nazi deportations could be examined in the clear light of day, and spoken about in public. Of course, this, in itself, remained a difficult process, since many of the small number of those who participated in these actions were still alive and identifiable as neighbours in the village.

More recently, the task has been made still more difficult, though even more important, by the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in Hungary, even within the very same Parliament building where the Chief Rabbi sat (quite comfortably) a hundred years ago. An MP belonging to the anti-Semitic ‘Jobbik’ Party recently suggested that a new national register of Jews be kept, provoking huge controversy and protest both within the country and internationally, reminding everyone of the 1941 Census, used by the Nazis in 1944 to rapidly deport most of the Jewish population. Even among my own Hungarian friends and family, partly Jewish itself, I have heard more anecdotal anti-Semitic remarks in the past two years since returning to Hungary, than I ever heard in the two years of 1989-91, when this project was conducted. In fact, from 1991 to 2011, I encountered more anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attitudes in the Churches I attended in Britain, than in Hungary. Recently, however, in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary, Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, memorials have been defaced and damaged, and, perhaps most sinisterly, rabbis have suffered abuse in the streets.

More positively, however, there has also been a new emphasis on Jewish identity in the last fifteen years, most noticeably in music and culture, which previously was considered a thing confined to the distant past, as if it belonged to a different country. Perhaps this is due to an increasing recognition that post-war politics has not allowed for the social resolution of this trauma. Hungary never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for any of the events of 1938-88. After the Holocaust, Hungary was the only country in Central Europe to retain a significant Jewish population, so this remains a practical issue for both Jews, Gypsies and Magyars alike. Until the country comes to terms with its twentieth-century past, at least in regard to current attitudes, it will remain stuck there, paralysed and unable to move on to become the  twenty-first century democratic nation it longs to be. It’s in this spirit of reconciliation that I decided to share these testimonies for Holocaust Memorial Day, 2013.

Chapter One: A Timeline of the Hungarian ‘Shoah’

Anti-Jewish Laws, 1938-1941:

Starting in 1938, the Horthy Government in Hungary passed a series of anti-Jewish laws based on Germany’s Nürnberg Laws. The first, passed on May 29th, 1938, restricted the number of Jews in each commercial enterprise, in the press, among physicians, engineers and lawyers to twenty percent. The second anti-Jewish law (May 5th, 1939), defined Jews as a racial group for the first time. People with two or more Jewish-born grandparents were declared Jewish. Private companies were forbidden to employ more than 12% Jews. 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their income. Most of them lost their right to vote as well.

In the elections of May 28th–29th, Nazi and Arrow Cross parties received one-quarter of the votes and 52 out of 262 seats. Their support was even larger, usually between a third and a half of the votes, where they were on the ballot at all, since they were not listed in large parts of the country. The ‘Third Jewish Law’ (August 8th, 1941) prohibited intermarriage and penalized sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.

The Census of 1941:

The census of January 31st, 1941 found that 6.2% of the population of 13,643,620, i.e. 846,000 people, were considered Jewish according to the racial laws of that time. In addition, in April 1941, Hungary annexed the regions of Yugoslavia it had occupied, adding over a million people to its population, including a further 15,000 Jews. This means that inside the May 1941 borders of Hungary, there were 861,000 people who were considered to be Jewish. From this number, 725,000, nearly 5% of the total population were Jewish by religion.

When the Nazis invaded in March 1944 they used the lists of members of the Jewish community to organise one of the swiftest and most efficient episodes of the Holocaust. With the ready assistance of Hungarian officials and the Gendarmerie 440,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz within a few weeks, most to their deaths. On some days the gas chambers and crematoria processed more than a thousand people an hour.

Occupation and Deportation:

A Jew living in the Hungarian countryside in March 1944 had a chance of less than one in ten of surviving the following twelve months.In Budapest, a Jew’s chance of survival of the same twelve months was fifty/fifty.

On March 18th, 1944, Hitler summoned Horthy to a conference in Austria, where he demanded greater collaboration from the Hungarian state in his ‘final solution’ of his Jewish problem. Horthy resisted, but while he was still at the conference, German tanks rolled into Budapest. On March 23rd, 1944, the government of Döme Sztójay was installed. Among his other first moves, Sztójay legalized the overtly Fascist Arrow Cross Party, which quickly began organizing throughout the country. During the four-day interregnum following the German occupation, the Ministry of the Interior was put in the hands of right-wing politicians well-known for their hostility to Jews. On April 9th, Prime Minister Sztójay agreed to place at the disposal of the Reich 300,000 Jewish labourers. Five days later, on April 14th, Adolf Eichmann decided to deport all the Jews of Hungary.

From his SS headquarters in Budapest’s Majestic Hotel, Eichmann proceeded rapidly in rounding up Jews from the Hungarian provinces outside Budapest and its suburbs. The Yellow Star and Ghettoization laws, and the deportation, were accomplished in less than 8 weeks with the enthusiastic help of the Hungarian authorities, particularly the Gendarmerie. The plan was to use forty-five cattle cars per train, four trains a day, to deport 12,000 Jews to Auschwitz every day from the countryside, starting in mid-May; this was to be followed by the deportation of Jews of Budapest from about July 15th.

At the end of April,the Jewish leaders of Hungary, together with the Hungarian leaders of the Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Lutheran Churches, in addition to Horthy, received a detailed report about the deportation to Auschwitz, but kept their silence, thus keeping the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and their Christian neighbours in ignorance, and enabling the success of Eichmann’s timetable. The reality that no one in the villages knew anything about the plan in advance of it being carried out is borne out by the testimony of the Apostag villagers below.

The first transports to Auschwitz began in early May 1944 and continued even as Soviet troops approached. The Hungarian government was solely in charge of the Jews’ transportation up to the northern border. The Hungarian commander of the Kassa railroad station meticulously recorded the trains heading to Auschwitz with their place of departure and the number of people inside them. The first train went through Kassa on May 14th. On a typical day, there were three or four trains, with ten to fourteen thousand people on each. There were 109 trains during these 33 days through to June 16th, as many as six trains each day. Between June 25th and 29th, there were a further 10 trains, then an additional 18 trains between July 5th and 9th. By then, nearly 440,000 victims had been deported from the Hungarian towns and countryside, according to official German reports. Another 10 trains were sent to Auschwitz via other routes from Budapest, while seven trains containing over twenty thousand people went to Strasshof at the end of June, including two from Baja, which may well have picked up the Jews from Apostag at Kalocsa.

In total, one hundred and forty-seven trains were sent to Auschwitz, where 90% of the people were exterminated on arrival. Because the crematoria couldn’t cope with the number of corpses, special pits were dug near them, where bodies were simply burned. It has been estimated that one-third of the murdered victims at Auschwitz were Hungarian.For most of this time period, 12,000 Jews were delivered to Auschwitz in a typical day. Photographs taken at Auschwitz were found after the war showing the arrival of Jews from Hungary at the camp.

The devotion to the cause of the ‘final solution’ of the Hungarian Gendarmerie surprised even Eichmann himself, who supervised the operation with only twenty officers and a staff of a hundred, including drivers, cooks, etc. Very few members of the Catholic or Protestant clergy raised their voices against sending the Jews to their death. A notable exception was Bishop Áron Márton, in his sermon in Kolozsvár on May 18. But the Catholic Primate of Hungary, Serédi, decided not to issue a pastoral letter condemning the deportation of the Jews.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a letter to his Foreign Secretary dated July 11, 1944, wrote:

 “There is no doubt that this persecution of Jews in Hungary and their expulsion from enemy territory is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world….”

Admiral Horthy ordered the suspension of all deportations on July 6. Nonetheless, another 45,000 Jews were deported from the Trans-Danubian region and the outskirts of Budapest to Auschwitz after this day. The Sztójay government then rescheduled the date of deportation of the Jews of Budapest to Auschwitz to August 27th. But the Romanians switched sides on August 23, 1944, causing huge problems for the German military, and Himmler ordered the cancellation of further deportations from Hungary on August 25th. Horthy finally dismissed Prime Minister Sztójay on August 29th.

However, in spite of the change of government, Hungarian troops occupied parts of Southern Transylvania, Romania, and massacred hundreds of Jews, starting on September 4th.

After the Arrow Cross coup d’état on October 15th, tens of thousands of Jews of Budapest were sent on foot to the Austrian border in death marches, and most forced labourers under Hungarian Army command were deported to Bergen-Belsen. Two ghettos were set up in Budapest. The big Budapest ghetto was set up and walled in the Erzsébetváros part of Budapest on November 29th. Arrow Cross raids and mass executions occurred in both ghettos regularly. In addition, in the two months between November 1944 and February 1945, the Arrow Cross shot between ten and fifteen thousand Jews on the banks of the Danube. Soviet troops liberated the big Budapest ghetto on January 18th, 1945. On the Buda side of the town, the encircled Arrow Cross continued their murders until the Soviets took Buda on February 13th.

The names of some diplomats, Raoul Wallenberg, Ángel Sanz Briz, Carl Lutz, Giorgio Perlasca, Carlos de Sampayo Garrido and Alberto Teixeira Branquinho deserve mentioning, as well as some members of the army and police who saved people (Pál Szalai, Károly Szabó, and other officers who took Jews out from camps with fake papers) and some church institutions and personalities. Rudolph Kastner deserves special attention because of his enduring negotiations with Eichmann to prevent deportations to Auschwitz, succeeding only minimally, by sending Jews to still horrific labour battalions in Austria and ultimately saving 1,680 Jews in Kastner’s train.


An estimated 119,000 Jewish people were liberated in Budapest (25,000 in the small, ‘international’ ghetto, 69,000 in the big ghetto and 25,000 hiding with false papers) and 20,000 forced labourers in the countryside. Almost all of the surviving deportees returned between May and December 1945, at least to check out the fate of their families. Their number was 116,000.

It is estimated that from an original population of 861,000 people considered Jewish inside the borders of 1941–44, about 255,000 survived. This gives a 30% survival rate overall under Hungarian rule, but only because the projected deportations from Budapest did not take place. As has already been stated, the survival rates for Jews from the Hungarian countryside were far lower. This number was even worse in Slovakia. On the other hand, the Hungarian-speaking Jewish population fared much better in the Romanian-controlled Southern Transylvania, since Romania did not deport Jews to Auschwitz. According to another calculation, Hungary’s pre-war Jewish population was 800,000, of which 180,000 survived.



Chapter Two: Apostag – The Village in View


Location of Bács-Kiskun county in the Southern...

Location of Bács-Kiskun county in the Southern Great Plain region (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The village is in the County of Bács-Kiskun, occupying an area of thirty-two square kilometres, and with a population of just over 2,100. It’s located close to the eastern bank of the River Danube, to the south of Budapest on Hungary’s Southern Great Plain region. It is both a village and a municipality.


When we visited Apostag for the first time, in the autumn of 1990, we were met by a group of villagers at the Village House, the former Synagogue. There were no surviving Jewish residents or relatives of residents from the earlier period, so we realised very quickly that our project would depend entirely on the testimony of the Christian inhabitants who had contact with, and remembered, the families, together with the Church leaders, charged with the responsibility of commemorating these people and events.

The witnesses initially told their stories uninterrupted by ourselves. I remember that the testimony of one elderly woman was particularly moving, and she sobbed as she gave it. Similar accounts were recorded in the later visit to the village, which took place in the spring of 1991, in notes and on magnetic tape.

Several interviews were conducted over the course of the week, involving people altogether, at least six of who were eyewitnesses. Their testimonies have been merged to some extent, where common observations or experiences were described. Individual stories are reported using Christian names only. Full names are only used in connection with the Jewish victims, when given to us. The text follows closely the original words, in translation, used by the witnesses, and contains very few interpretations and additions by me.

The Village Chronicle to 1918:

The Catholic Priest told us that before the Hungarian tribes settled in the Carpathian Basin, there were some ‘Bulgár’ people living on this territory and they built their ancient Christian Church here. They called it ‘the Church of the Twelve Apostles’ which is where the name ‘Apostag’ comes from. It was a twelve-cornered rotund building, almost round, and couldn’t have been built in this form by the Magyars, who built in a totally different style.  It is thought that the name ‘Hungary’ may originate from these Bulgar people and not, as is commonly but erroneously supposed, from the Huns, the nomadic people who had built up a powerful Eurasian empire in the fifth century, under their leader Attila (406-453). In the seventh century, the Magyars settled in the former lands of a Bulgar-Turkish trading alliance along the Danube. These people were called ‘On-Ungour’, which meant ‘Ten Arrows’, or ‘Ten Tribes’ in Turkish, mutating to ‘Ungar’ in German and ‘Hongrois’ in French, no doubt passing from there into ‘Hungary’ in English, hence the confusion with the Huns.

For these early Christian traders up the Danube from the Black Sea ports, Apostag was no doubt an important port, as well as a centre of their faith, to which the stones of this ancient church on the site of the present-day Reformed Church, bear witness. So when the Hungarian people settled in this territory, they found this church, which remained here until the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the Calvinists were growing in numbers following the end of the Ottoman occupation and needed a bigger place of worship. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the settlement was a very important centre of Roman Catholicism, because the priests from all over Hungary gathered here, before going to meet the King. There are records of these meetings in the Vatican archives. The Ottoman troops destroyed this early settlement on the way to Buda. A settlement named ‘Apostag’ then grew up on the other side of the Danube during the Turkish occupation. The lands on this western, or left bank remained under Hapsburg control for most of the period.

Although still quite a small village by Hungarian standards, its central location and role in the territory meant that there were strong congregations for all the main Christian churches, Catholic, Evangelical (Lutheran) and Reformed (Calvinist). The Evangelical congregation was the oldest and richest congregation in the village. They escaped from persecution in the Hapsburg territories to this territory, because it was under Turkish occupation. They were able to save some money here, and they soon became rich. However, it was only when the occupation ended at the end of the seventeenth century that the settlement on the right bank was fully restored by the Reformed Church, who became owners of the site of the ancient church.

The Calvinists were soon followed by Evangelical and Catholic people who settled down in what began to look like the large, traditional Magyar village of today. By the middle of the eighteenth century there were about 150 Catholic families in the village and in 1991, there were a total of about 1,200 Catholics living in the village. There are two other villages belonging to the Church territory today, Dunaegyháza and Dunavecse.

There were also a lot of mixed marriages. Pál, a retired teacher in 1991, had a mother who was Lutheran and his father was Catholic. His wife was Lutheran and her father was Calvinist. So, there was a real mixture of ‘religions’. However, he stressed that they could all live together without many problems.

The Synagogue and the Jewish Community:

There has been a Synagogue in Apostag since 1768, the Jewish population having developed into a sizeable, settled community, worthy of its own place of worship, by the 1760s. The earliest place of worship was completed by the end of the eighteenth century. The Jews had settled in this part of Hungary at the beginning of the Turkish occupation, following the Battle of Mohács in 1526. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that they came to the village selling small goods like needles, and at first they were very poor. They saved a lot of money and by the second half of that century they had become rich enough to think about building a synagogue. The proximity of the settlement to Buda/ Pest along the Danube meant that the richer Jews living in the cities were in a position to help the Jews of Apostag with both money and materials. They not only helped each other, but earned a reputation for honesty in their trading relations with others as well.

In 1820, the Synagogue, together with a large part of the village, was destroyed by fire. The new building had to be larger, since the congregation numbered more than six hundred by this time. It had a plain, simple appearance from the outside, as the Jews did not want it to stand out too much. However, inside it was very ornate in parts, decorated in a baroque style, with a magnificent four-pillared ‘bimah’ as its central feature and a beautifully crafted ‘Aaron-cabin’ housing the Torah on the eastern wall. These can be seen in their restored form in the synagogue today. The interior bears a striking similarity to the Protestant churches of the Great Plain. The men in the congregation worshipped in the main hall of the synagogue, with the women and young children occupying the galleries, according to Judaic custom.

The village was an important centre of trade, because it was a central crossing place over the Danube and the place where cereals, wood and building materials were traded. The Jews became rich mainly because of the trade in wood, since the merchants brought wood along the Danube from the Upper Austro-Hungarian territories, which later became part of the new state of Czechoslovakia in 1918-20. The Jewish traders bought and sold the wood in Apostag, making a lot of money, which they then used to buy most of the land in the territory (around Apostag). This territory was very famous for its agriculture and the Jewish families were dealing with the growing of all kinds of vegetables and maize.

The Catholic Church has some documents dating back to the nineteenth century. According to these, in 1863, there were as many as 900 Jewish inhabitants, and among them were the richest people in the village.

Village Relationships Between the Wars:

By the end of the Great War and the beginning of the living memory of those giving oral evidence, there were some 2,300 inhabitants of the village and 104 Jewish families. Some of them owned land and some rented it, so not all the Jewish families were rich, and some remained quite poor. There were between one and three children in the families (smaller than the average ‘Magyar’ family). Twenty-four councillors were elected for the Village Council, one for each group of ten families. These representatives needed to be fairly wealthy landowners to qualify for election, and the fact that twelve of these councillors were Jewish also shows how integral a part of the leadership of the village they had become.

When the Jewish people bought most of the land and began to deal with the trade in cereals, they then began to buy shops. Most of the shops belonged to these families, and, for example, the Chemist’s now (in 1991) was a butcher’s shop at that time (1918-38). All the houses on the same corner of the main street were Jewish, and there were a lot of Jewish homes in that one street. The head of one of the families was a tanner, making and selling leather, and others in the street were leather-workers.

For the most part, there weren’t any problems between the Jews. They really helped each other. It was interesting that when new Jewish people arrived in the village there was a house, a room just for this purpose of providing accommodation until the family could find their own flat or house, and work, in the village. They didn’t want to keep their money for themselves. On the whole, there were very good relationships between the Jewish people and the other Hungarians. The Jewish people were so kind to the Hungarian people that they lent, or gave money to the poor.  They weren’t really rich families, but had enough money to live on. Some of these Jewish tradesmen lent them some cereals if the poor peasants didn’t have any, although they had to pay it back with interest. The Hungarian people didn’t keep it for a long time, but only for a year or two. Most Magyars liked the Jewish people, but some didn’t, because those who were merchants, dealing in cereals, bought them at a very cheap price in the village and sold it at a very expensive price in Budapest, so high that nowadays (1991) the price is almost the same as it was then.

The Jewish families not only bought land, but they rented it as well, and they had very modern equipment and machines. They had a lot of animals and they had land of a very good quality.

Pál, a retired teacher (in 1991), was born in Apostag of peasant parents. He remembers that in his childhood there was a disabled Jewish boy in this street who was very ill with and he died before the Jews were taken away. He used to go to that house because they were quite rich and he was given a lot of sweets and he read books out loud to the boy because he couldn’t read because of his illness.

There was a Chemist in the village, and they had a daughter, who was one year younger than Pál, and sometimes he met her on the street when she was out walking with her French au pair. They liked each other, and the girl asked her mother to ‘buy this boy for me, if you can!’ So she thought that her parents could buy anything!

This girl now lives in Israel, and she came home to the village, but they weren’t able to meet. Her name was Klára Hetényi.

Pál could remember well that from around 1934, Lajos Nagy, the writer, was collecting topics for writing a book and in his most famous book he wrote about these Jewish families. Lajos Nagy’s wife was Jewish and they visited Apostag several times. He was able to meet up with his wife here and they were able to escape deportation by going from here to Budapest. He was said to be a Communist writer, but he wasn’t really, he was just interested in these socialist topics and sociology. In his books he doesn’t really speak in a very kind way about Jewish people.

In a Jewish family, they had several servants to do the housework, even if they weren’t so rich. The richest one, by giving her a job as a washing lady, helped the poor Jew.

In a Hungarian family, even if they were rich, they just did it themselves. So, the wife had to do the housework. They didn’t spend their money on this.

There were some women who weren’t very kind to their servants, but it happened not only with Jewish women, but with others as well. Small Hungarian peasant families originally owned the Jewish houses and it was claimed that they had collapsed because of fires. The poor Hungarian peasants couldn’t repair these houses, so the Jewish people bought them. There was gossip that these weren’t accidents, but someone set fire to them. Most of the houses in the main street belonged to Jewish families. We don’t know if these story is true or not, but people thought there must be some truth in them. Perhaps this was evidence of anti-Semitism.

However, an example of the good relations between the Jews and the Hungarians was that in 1937 there was a really big storm and lightning destroyed the house of a Jewish woman. A lot of people, not only Jewish people, but also Hungarians, tried to save the house, but it was ruined.

Anna was born in Apostag in 1919, and spent all her life in the village. So, she remembers her childhood and the Jewish families, because they often asked her mother to help them cook something, and she used to help her mum. Instead of going home, she would always spend the afternoons in the Jewish houses. She can remember all the families living in the main street and she can tell all the names and stories. They had a very good relationship with them.

To help her mother, Anna had to learn the Jewish food customs. They were not supposed to eat from Friday evening until Sunday. They were fasting, and the Saturday was their Sabbath, ‘Shabbat’, so they didn’t work on that day. If they ate bread, it had to be special, unleavened bread. They also ate this special ‘matzo’ bread on New Year’s Eve. Anna remembered her mum helping a young servant prepare the Passover meal, according to the Judaic food laws, washing the meat together and taking it to the Cantor.

The Jews ate only meat which was ‘kosher’, from their own butcher’s shop, chopped with a special knife, and they had to kill the animal with only one blow of the knife, without breaking its bones. The blood was unclean, and they had the special unleavened bread, matzoh. Only the elderly people were eating this meat and bread; the younger people ate pork as well, so they departed from these rules. However, some of older people continued to keep the food laws.

Anna remembers from when she was a young girl that her sister asked her to go to a shop to get some bicarbonate of soda and the shopkeeper asked ‘what shall I give you? Soda as well as an ox?’ (a play on words in Hungarian). The Chemist was Jewish, and the doctor as well. She remembers seven shops, two of which belonged to Magyars, and five to Jewish families. She remembers a greengrocer’s shop, which was also a butcher’s shop and she remembers that family. They didn’t have any land to grow vegetables, so (during the war) they had only the butcher’s shop but it was interesting that they could make a living out of it alone.

Pál didn’t spend all his life in this village; he spent some years in a town. He thought that ‘nowadays’ it wasn’t better to live in a village than it was then. It was better in ‘the old days’. There were eight shops in the village, and now there are only two ‘ABC’ shops, small supermarkets, where you can buy everything. Then there were eight of these, so the standard of living was better and the inhabitants, though not rich, had everything they needed, even from foreign countries. For example, they could buy needles and thread from England. He only just found the thread, which reminded him of this. The streets weren’t covered with concrete. It was muddy, so they didn’t walk through it after rain. There were no streetlights at all, but the water pipe was very good, because there weren’t any wells in the neighbourhood, so the pipe had to be very good.

In their free time, they couldn’t really use the Danube banks to swim, because it was quite dirty and polluted. A lot of people had ‘hobby gardens’ or allotments, in which they tried to grow things.

There was also a Jewish doctor in the street and just opposite there was a famous house, or mansion, which belonged to Ákos Hetényi, and this is now called ‘Ákos Garden’. Three families were living in that mansion, and Pál used to go there to collect tennis balls, because they had a tennis court. It was a real experience to visit that garden because they had many bushes, trees and flowers there. He had several fellow students who were Jewish.

János, born 1918, attended a Lutheran (Evangelical) School, famous for its strong teachers. Most of the Jewish children studied there, so he remembers them well. In particular, three children in the same class as him, though they were younger, the youngest being the doctor’s son, whose family lived in the house next to the school. They were all very good friends with him. The parents of the other two children were ‘bailiffs’, who gave orders to the peasants about where and how to work, and what to do.

The doctor’s son was a bit lazy. He was clever, but he didn’t do anything in school time, or in the holiday, nothing. He preferred talking and just staying in bed and on Monday mornings he usually asked his friend to do his Maths homework and paid him for it. János could buy a lot of chocolate and sweets for this! Later on they left that school and went to a Grammar School, so they didn’t meet up as often.

Chapter Three: Fifty Years of Division & Sorrow


Anti-Semitic Laws and the Outbreak of War:

Pál’s father was the Justice of the Peace in the village law court when the anti-Semitic laws began to be introduced. His father was always very humane towards the Jewish people in the village: He gave several certificates to them to pass on to the German or Russian leaders. Some of the children moved to Budapest at this time, so they met only rarely.

János’ parents rented some of the land of the Jewish families who moved to Budapest, just as the war began. Before the laws restricting Jews from owning shops were introduced, János worked together with these Jewish families, and he was apprenticed to one Jewish family, training to be a butcher, working with two Jewish butchers in their shop. He went to a school in Budapest to train there, but he had to return to Apostag, because the Jewish butchers weren’t allowed to work in their own shop, because of the anti-Jewish laws. So they sold the shop to him, and he became the butcher.

János’ father was a ‘hussar’, a light cavalry soldier, who was in the Hungarian Army for seven years, fighting alongside the Jewish soldiers. The Jewish people living in Apostag were not just Jewish in culture, but also Hungarian. Some part of their hearts was Hungarian.

At the outbreak of the war, Pál had just enrolled as a student teacher at the Training College in Budapest. When they began the course there were fifty students, of whom only fifteen graduated when the war ended, not just because they became soldiers, but because some left Hungary to live in other parts of the world rather than join up. It wasn’t compulsory for them to join up, but they were put under a lot of pressure to do so. They hated this recruitment campaign.

Pál stated that there were no real arguments between the two ethnic groups until Hitler’s troops came into Hungary. This, he said, was the story of Hungary, because we are at the gate of the west and the east, and everybody runs through this gate, and we don’t know what to do. We can’t help this. First the Mongols, then the Tartars, then the Turks, then the Russians, then the Germans and every one of them ruined this country.

However, János said that it was the 1941 Census that marked the real beginning of the legal discrimination against the Jewish people. Everyone had to show their grandparents’ birth certificates, or Christening certificates. János remembers that, as a soldier, he had to show this certificate as well. He didn’t know why at the time, but now he does.

For example, he remembers a town clerk from before the war who belonged to the Fascist Party (the Arrow Cross) and the Jewish people first suffered because of him and his party. It wasn’t a very happy life, even for János, because he needed to get a license to slaughter the animals, so he wasn’t able to do as much for the Jews as he wanted. He couldn’t give them as much meat as he wanted to, because of the new laws.

It only became worse only in 1943/4. So, the Nazis only came in March 1944, but by that time the Horthy Government had a lot of people in place in key positions in the towns and villages of Hungary who had wanted to become the leaders in these places for some time, and that was a sad time for everybody.It was a very moving moment when, in March 1944, Anna saw her Jewish neighbours wearing the yellow star for the first time. She met a woman wearing the star, and nodded her head because she couldn’t look at the star, and the woman was really upset about it. The woman told her that they would have revenge on someone for this, that they would do something in the years to come.

Another woman spoke to us on our first visit to the synagogue, of a close Jewish friend who, although not related, looked almost like her identical twin sister, so much so that, before the war, they would try to fool the villagers by exchanging clothes and pretending to be each other. On the ‘Shabbat’, Saturdays, she would occasionally take her friend’s place with the other children and their mothers on the balcony of the synagogue during worship. Her head was covered, and no one looked at her too closely while the service was taking place. Meanwhile, her Jewish friend was playing outside. In return, the Jewish Girl would sneak into the back of the Church her friend attended the next morning.

When the Hungarian Fascists, the ‘Arrow Cross’ Guards came to the village in March 1944, the two friends put their similarity to more serious use.  From this time onwards, the Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on the streets and in the fields. If they were found outside without them they were routinely beaten up, there and then, by the Fascists, who would also take pleasure in abusing the Jewish girls in particular, without any reason to do so other than their ethnicity, when they saw them coming. One day, the young Christian girl suggested to her friend that they should swap coats, and she would wear the coat with the star. That day, she took the beating and the abuse.

The Deportation; May, 1944:

János had joined the army in 1940 and was a soldier until 1948. He was only given leave once during this time, and this, crucially and perhaps poignantly, happened to be in May 1944. While he was at home, the Jewish families were taken away from the village. There is no evidence that anyone in the village, even soldiers like János, had any prior knowledge of the Nazi deportation plan. Even if they had heard something, there were only two cars in the village in 1944, so there was no real possibility of escaping abroad in the days and nights before it was so rapidly and ruthlessly enacted.

As it happened, János was surprised by the speed with which the Hungarian soldiers came in and took the Jewish people to Kalocsa. No one knew where they were being taken, or how long they would stay there, or what would happen to them. They were told to gather what they needed and they had to leave this village. Two little girls, aged 9 and 11, were somehow left behind, and they were able to stay on for a while, but one day the soldiers came and took them to Kalocsa as well. He was able to talk with the Hungarian soldiers who said that they weren’t very happy to take the girls away, but they had to do this. He went to Kalocsa to see the parents of these two girls and was able to talk with them. Then he returned to army. When he finally arrived home in 1948, he met some of the relatives of the family, who then owned the house where they had lived. He bought the house from them and was still living in it in 1991.

Some of the Jewish people tried to escape persecution by changing their faith, becoming Calvinist or Catholic. But this didn’t help, since the 1941 Census formed the basis for the rapid deportations, and they were taken away as well. However, they went to work in several Christian houses before being deported. There was a Jewish man who lived and slept in Anna’s house, and many years after one of his relatives came back and asked whether they could visit the house and remember ‘the old things that happened here’ because he got food and shelter there, and was sleeping there. But they didn’t come back. We don’t know what happened to them.

On the other hand, a lot of Hungarian men were told they would get the land or houses or shops of the Jewish people if they helped them to rid the village of them, and many wanted to do this. It is unlikely that they were from the same village, or that this was done more than a few hours beforehand, however, since rumours would have forewarned the intended victims. Hungarian forces, including the Arrow Cross, carried out the ‘evictions’. The witnesses all reported that, at this stage, the Germans didn’t really come into the village, but those people who became Communists after the Russians came in had supported the Fascists before. They were the same people, but they changed their minds!

When the Jews had to leave this village, Anna saw a little girl in someone’s lap, crying, ‘don’t let me go away, I want to stay here’, but she had to go as well. Everybody had to leave this village. When the Jews had to leave the village, they didn’t want to leave their houses and were wailing at the walls. They were kissing the walls with their lips and caressing them with their hands. The children were crying. It was really terrible. Some of the Christian families who lived close to the Jews went to the Jewish houses to say goodbye, and it was a very sad event, such a sad thing that they cannot forget it.

All the witnesses agreed in their evidence that the village people who weren’t Jewish couldn’t do anything to save their Jewish neighbours. The villagers also told us how they had watched from the nearby woods, in secret disbelief, as the soldiers took the Jews away in May 1944. They went on carts from the village to Kalocsa, which although further south of Budapest along the Danube, was apparently used as an assembly point for the Hungarian Jews being sent to the concentration camps. The villagers all stated that they did not know this at the time.

So, when the Jewish people were taken away from the village, nobody knew anything about where they would go. When the Jewish people had to leave the village, they went by horse and cart to Kalocsa, some with their non-Jewish servants driving, so unaware were they of the ghastly reality which awaited them.  All anyone knew was that they would stay for a while in Kalocsa, but nothing else.

Explaining their apparent ‘naivety’ at the time of the deportations, the witnesses referred to the apolitical nature of Hungarian country people. The people of Apostag were no exception to this. We were told that they ‘preferred not to deal with political matters’ and ‘preferred to work rather than talking about politics’. They were simple, unsophisticated, agricultural workers, unlike the residents of Budapest, but they remember very clearly what happened to the Jewish people. It all happened very quickly, because the German troops came in on 19th March 1944, and they were taken away in May.

On his return to working as a soldier, János became a courier – his task was to carry letters from one town to another. He became more aware of what was happening in all the parts then controlled by the Hungarian Army. He met some Hungarian Jews in Yugoslavia and shared some pálinka (brandy) with them. They were very grateful, because they couldn’t get anything like that usually. They were rich, well-educated, but they had to remain and work in Yugoslavia.

After the war, very few Jewish people were able to return to this village. Only the Cantor and six of the six hundred deported Jews returned to live in the village, according to the synagogue’s records. These included two young women and a two couples, on of which were known to be living in Budapest in 1991. The other husband and wife had both died in the village by that time, as had the two young women. In addition some of their relatives came to settle the families’ affairs. They could find only some of their houses, however, and they sold these houses to other people. The land that belonged to the Jewish people had already been taken over by the co-operatives, so they could only sell their houses. Nothing could be seen of them in 1991, and nothing was written down. Only a very few houses could be seen in their original state, because many had become ruined, but there were some which could be viewed. There was one which was a kindergarten to which Pál went there as a child in 1921-23.  A Jewish man gave this land and the building. His name was Lajos Hetényi, and for many years there was a marble plaque on the kindergarten, a memorial to him. The building can still be seen, but not the memorial.

Anna remembers that from one of the families which was taken away, only the daughter could return. When Anna heard that the daughter had returned to their house, she went there to meet her, but she was very bitter. When Anna asked her how she was and what had happened to her, the daughter told her that it had been really terrible for her. They had had to do the most menial, basic hard labour, carrying bricks and doing everything that is not good for a woman.

Another couple came back after the war. One day, they asked to borrow a hoe to repair the hedges around the garden gate, and they did this, but couldn’t go on living in the building, because it was too full of people they didn’t know. So they moved to another house in the village. She came to Anna’s house one day, to get some milk. This couple had converted to Catholicism by then, but the woman told Anna that she found it difficult to worship in Hungarian, that she could only worship in the Hebrew. The couple died here in Apostag.

Otherwise, it was mainly the relatives of the Jewish people who returned to sell the houses, not those who had lived in them themselves.

The witnesses all said that they felt sorry for the Jews, as did 99% of the population of the village. There were those who were still jealous of them because of their prosperity, but most people liked them and couldn’t imagine how it could have happened.

The Continuation and Conclusion of the War, 1944-5:

During the war, there wasn’t any fighting in the village itself, but in the neighbourhood there was a lot. Only a few people died due to bombing, and only one bomb fell on the village itself. There was a woman who had just given birth and she died, but the child survived.

In the village, there were some German soldiers towards the end of the war. There was one in his parents’ house and he asked him whether the Germans would win the war and he replied, ‘naturliche, yah!’, (‘of course’), but only he was sure of it, nobody else. There wasn’t really any fighting in the village. The Russian troops did run through the village, but they couldn’t go to the other side of the Danube because the bridge had been bombed, so they stayed outside the village.

Anna remembered that on 3 November 1944 a lot of Russian soldiers came into this village, and her father told them that no matter what happened, they always had to give food to the soldiers, whether they are German, Russian or Hungarian, and then they wouldn’t do any harm. She remembers that one day soldiers came and knocked at the door and she wanted to give them some bread and bacon. Next day they came back and she gave them some pork and from that day on they came back every day to have breakfast, lunch and supper, and she always had to give them some food. One day they didn’t appear any more, and they didn’t know what happened to them. A lot of people stayed in their living room, Russian soldiers, and they were even sleeping on the table, because there were no more bed-spaces for them on the floor. So it was really terrible, but it was the war, so no one could help this.

The first Russian troops were very kind, only looking for German soldiers in the sewers, and they collected only small amounts of food from the villagers. But those who came later were terrible. They collected everything they could find. His family had a small pig they had somehow saved, and they kept it in the house, out of sight. To keep him quiet they gave him corn all the time. He became so fat that he couldn’t even stand, just sit, and in the end they gave him to an abattoir in Budapest to get some money.

The Russian soldiers collected some goods in another village and gave them to this village as a present. They had a pair of oxen, each ox with only one eye, so it was difficult to arrange them so that they could see to do their work! There were some Russian soldiers who didn’t want to return with the army, and they tried to help with the housework around the village houses and they were told to go to the edge of the village, because there were cereals there and they wanted to use the oxen to bring them into the village. So, one Russian soldier went in front of the oxen and one went behind, and on the other side of the Danube there were Fascistic Hungarian soldiers and they began shooting because they thought the cart was carrying military equipment. So it was dangerous for the oxen as well as the Russians!

Later, a lot of Hungarian people were deported to the Soviet Union for hard labour. Pál was one of them, but he managed to escape. He was allowed to stay in Hungary, but under forced labour, and he helped to build a wooden bridge near the Danube which was bombed and a lot of people were killed there. In 1944, on Christmas Night, more than a hundred people of the village were sent to build the bridge at the Danube. There was an aeroplane, they still don’t know to today whether it was German or Russian, they just thought that it must be German, and it dropped a bomb, and 43 people died. Pál wasn’t working there at the time it actually happened, but he had the memorial plaque placed on the Town Hall, because he could so easily have been killed there. There were some other deaths after that, but not many.

The Aftermath:

The Synagogue was ruined only by the passing of time. After the war it was in a very good state, and in the winter of 1944/45  soldiers were camped there and the people brought them food and blankets. There was a sign on the side of the synagogue written in Hebrew, but it’s not there nowadays, so nobody knows what it said. Later it became a cereal storehouse. The roof became ruined, but it had been restored by 1987, though there are some differences. For example, the gate is on the other side from where it was. Anna remembered this from playing there. When they were restoring the Synagogue and building the library, they found many broken glasses under the bimah. After the priest blessed the newly married couple, they broke a glass under their feet, the idea being that they were allowed to divorce only when this glass became a whole glass again. So when they were rebuilding the synagogue they found a lot of broken glasses. They also built a passage on one side of the (reconstructed) synagogue, but Anna remembered that she was playing there one day and she cut the cat’s whiskers, so she remembered that there wasn’t (originally) a passage there!

It was only in the 1950s that the people in the village found out what had happened to the Jews. János first heard something in 1946, because he was in the army. The Hungarian people couldn’t do anything to stop this, though they felt sorry for them; they were frightened for their own lives. Ordinary people couldn’t imagine that this could happen. Not only the Jewish people, but also a lot of Hungarian people were told to leave their towns and villages, and they had to go to the Soviet Union and work there. It was not only what happened to the Jewish people that was so tragic, but also what happened to the Hungarian soldiers who were put into forced labour in the Soviet Union (János was there for three years). Those who were taken prisoner by the Soviet troops could only return home years after, maybe even fifty years later. There were some who could come home only last year (1990). One old man spent five years in the Soviet Union. This could happen to everybody and anybody, though only the Jewish people died in gas chambers, or were starved to death.

In the 1956 Revolution there was no fighting in the village, but there were a number of ‘interesting events’. The soldiers beat some of the teachers through the streets because they were thought to have encouraged the young to rebel. At the end of October, one man was caught climbing over a gate into a wine cellar owned by a company of merchants, because he wanted to get his money out of the safe that was kept inside.

The Village in the Nineties:

In 1991 the Evangelical congregation hadn’t got a priest, they had only the church, which is the largest church in the village. They didn’t know what the future of the congregation would be, because they couldn’t really do what they wanted. It was also seen as a sad fact that the younger people had ‘escaped’ from the village because they didn’t want to work in the co-operatives, day and night, without earning money, so they had ‘escaped’ to other parts.

The village had changed a lot since Anna was a child, she felt. They were all together before the war, and it was only one community, but in 1991 it was split.

After the war János became a tradesman, dealing in animal husbandry, especially in beef cattle. He came home from Russia in 1948 and he didn’t think we could imagine how very difficult that time was for them. Not only the Jewish families suffered from the war, but everyone who lived here, either as a citizen or as a soldier. When he came back, as regards the ‘faith’, that time was a turning point in Hungarian life, because the churches and their social services were nearly destroyed by the Soviets, and there were also so many other problems. It was a great shame, but there were so many other problems at that time, both historically and in private lives.

The sorrow felt about the deportations lessened a little when the Hungarian people had their own troubles after the war and during the forty years following the communist takeover, when they had to deal with their own problems and didn’t have time to think about the Jewish people. Nowadays, it’s becoming easier to think about these problems again, and they feel solidarity for those families. They try to remember and to commemorate the families. If they were not thinking about these people with joy and love in their hearts, and if they didn’t love them, then they wouldn’t have kept them in our memories. We wouldn’t even be able to use their names to talk about them. The Primary School is named after the Hetényi family, and the garden is called the Ákos garden, and many of the shops have kept the names of the Jewish people. The Jewish names live in the language of the people, because they are still used to refer to fields and parcels of land after the Jewish people who owned them before, in spite of the fact that they have changed hands more than once. That’s because the names are written in the hearts of the people.

The Church leaders felt that God had helped them during this difficult period, these forty years, and that they had to believe that he would help them in the future. In 1989-91, these forty years were usually mentioned as the reason for everything that was really bad then, and it’s the same with the churches, so people often said that they were in a bad state because of these forty years. But most of the children could be members of the different churches and the parents of these children, who weren’t allowed to go to churches previously, could take their children there. They hoped that these children would remain as members when they became adults. For their parents, there was no Religious Education in schools either, so people under the age of forty have no experience of such classes.

004 The Library in the Village House (former synagogue), Apostag, 1991.

References & Bibliography:

Bart, István (1999), Hungary & The Hungarians. Budapest: Corvina Books.

History of the Jews in Hungary:


‘Borderlines’: The Damned Barbed Wire of Freedom   2 comments

033The national and international news has been rather depressing of late, bringing real winter blues after all that jubilation, if not exactly real sunshine, of last summer. However, as a Facebook post ‘card’ reminded me the other day, sometimes you just have to make your own sunshine, whether summer or winter. Mind you, I prefer these cold, crisp, clear Hungarian January mornings to the wild winter winds of the western seaboard or the pervading gloom of ‘foggy Albion’ at this time of year.

This January, following the fortieth anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ a year ago, it was good to receive New Year greetings from Derry, or Londonderry, at the beginning of that city’s year as the ‘UK capital of culture’. This not only balanced out the rather bad news coming out of the ‘backsliding’ big-sister City of Belfast, but also reminded me that this year marks twenty-five years since I visited both cities with a group of students from Birmingham and a colleague who hailed from the shores of Lough Neagh and whose father had been one a ‘B-special’ policeman in the province. We were supposed to have both Catholic and Protestant trainee teachers in our group, but somehow the students from Newman College failed to materialise, much to the disappointment of our hosts at the Corrymeela community, where we were staying and studying peace for the weekend. I know it was June 1988 because I received a copy of a book of poetry written by poets from both sides of the Derry-Donegal border, one of whom, Jerry Tyrrell, signed the book as ‘full-time Peace worker; part-time navigator!’ As the minibus-driver come trainer on the course at Corrymeela, I had met Jerry some months earlier on his visit to Birmingham at the beginning of his time as my ‘opposite’ number on a project at Magee College. I had been running the Quaker Peace Education Project in the West Midlands from a resource centre in the Selly Oak Colleges since May 1987.

Magee College became a campus of the Universit...

Magee College became a campus of the University of Ulster in 1969 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Jerry was born in west London, and went to live in Derry/ Londonderry in 1972, shortly after the events of Bloody Sunday. He worked as Organiser of Holiday Projects West until April 1988, when he took up the role of organiser for the Ulster Peace Education Project.  A registered charity, Holiday Projects West provided cross-community opportunities for young people in the western area of Northern Ireland to meet and live and learn together during organised holidays, work camps and other activities. All proceeds from the slim volume of poetry went towards supporting the charity, a life-long supporter of which had been Jerry’s aunt, Joan Winch, who had died a year earlier, aged eighty. She it was who encouraged Jerry, among many others, to write, having published her own book in 1960, so it was apt that donations in her memory be used to help publish Borderlines: A Collection of New Writing from the North West. Jerry ‘s contributions included a piece of prose and a series of ‘Haikus for Joan Winch’, reminiscent of her love of all things Japanese. The collection of writing was given its title because its contributors came from both sides not just of the border, but also from both banks of the River Foyle, which on its way to the Atlantic Ocean passes through the Derry, assuming a social-political value in symbolising the differences within the City.


In his introduction to the volume, Sam Burnside suggests that the borders giving definition to the heart of this collection are neither geographical nor social-political. While many of the stories were ‘embedded in time and place, they are concerned to explore emotional and moral states, and the barriers they articulate are, more often than not, those internal to the individual, and no less detrimental to freedom for that.’ He continues:

If borders indicate actual lines of demarcation between places and between powers, they suggest also the possibility of those barriers being crossed, of change, of development, from one state to another. And a border, while it is the mark which distinguishes and maintains a division, is also the point at which the essence of real or assumed differences are made to reveal themselves; the point at which they may be forced to examine their own natures, for good or ill.’

 A song which has haunted me ever since I first heard it, and long before I first realised it was about Derry, is Phil Coulter’s ‘Town I loved so well’. It sums up the ‘bruised, never broken’ spirit of the City. A native of the from before ‘the Troubles’, Coulter moved away to make his name as a musician, but on his return was horrified to see barbed wire surrounding the wall where he used to play football with his classmates, and by the militarisation of the townscape:

There was music there in the Derry air, 

The Bogside, looking down from the entrance to...

The Bogside, looking down from the entrance to the city walls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a language that we could all understand.

I remember the day that I earned my first pay,

When I played in a small pick-up band.

There I spent my youth, and to tell you the truth,

I was sad to leave it all behind me;

For I learned about life, and I found a wife,

In the town I loved so well. 


But when I returned, how my eyes did burn

To see how a town could be brought to its knees 

English: Derry Guildhall. Looking over the roo...

English: Derry Guildhall. Looking over the rooftops of the shopping centre towards the 19th century guildhall and the River Foyle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the armoured cars and the bombed-out bars, 

And the gas that hangs on to every breeze. 

Now an army’s installed by the old gas-yard wall 

And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher; 

With their tanks and their guns, oh my God, what have they done 

To the town I loved so well? 




Now the music’s gone, but they carry on, 

English: River Foyle, Derry, County Londonderr...For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken: 

They will not forget, but their hearts are set 

On tomorrow and peace once again. 

For what’s done is done and what’s won is won,

And what’s lost is lost and gone for ever: 

I can only pray for a bright, brand new day, 

In the town I loved so well.


Coulter’s thread of faith in the spirit of the people and hope for a future peace, expressed in his prayer, is on which also runs through Burnside’s collection of new writing from a decade later, though it took yet another decade for his prayer to be fully answered. Burnside’s own poem Outside the City makes the clearest connection between these themes and the surrounding landscape. Born in County Antrim, Burnside worked for the Workers’ Education Association in Derry, where he lived. He coordinated the Writers’ Workshop, from which the collection sprang, and won prizes for his short stories and poems. In the poem he gives the reader directions to the hills of County Donegal and interposes the descriptions of the landscape with memories of a lover:

English: Morning on the River Foyle, Derry Cit...

English: Morning on the River Foyle, Derry City centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The People farm a little; they fish a little; they have a little dole

From Dublin. The land is poor in places, marshy yes, but there may be oil under it.

And the coastline is rich in wrecks; it is said some contain gold. And tomorrow a deal may be carried off – it all depends on who you know; and the people generally are hopeful.

And it is so peaceful, so restful here; little stress; such a healthy air…




Descend through the wide glen, circumnavigate the standing stone at Asdevlin

Then, before returning to the city,

The River Foyle at night

The River Foyle at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walk along the shore as far as Fahan, place of poets and saints:

On a moonlight night you may be lucky enough to see the Abbey walls, raised again,

Standing white between water and mountain.

On a quiet night, when the tide has retreated, you may be graced

To hear men’s buoyant voices singing devotions.

One of the areas where the RUC were unwelcome ...

One of the areas where the RUC were unwelcome was the Bogside area of Derry often known as Free Derry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


When I think of Derry now, I remember picking up Jerry and driving over the Foyle Bridge, passing army posts with tall barbed wire and soldiers walking backwards in pairs, automatic rifles and machine guns sweeping the scene. I remember the great mural proclaiming ‘You are now entering Free Derry’ and thinking how glad I was to have this local, albeit a west Londoner, on board. Although ‘the Troubles’ seemed to be coming to an end at this time, I felt real fear for my life, for the first time in my life, and a great burden of responsibility for the young lives of my students. I wondered how people lived, day-to-day, under such militarised conditions. Then came the contrast of the peaceful landscape of Donegal. This taught me, as Frank McGuinness’ preface proposes, that ‘freedom is full of contradictions, arguments, the joy of diversity, the recognition and celebration of differences’. It’s about diversity, not about making everyone the same, equal in indifference. That’s what Northern Ireland taught me.

‘Integrated schools? Yes, they could be part of the answer,’ a Catholic school teacher told me, ‘but our kids first need to feel secure in their own cultural identity before they can learn to appreciate those of others.’ That same autumn emboldened by these experiences and insights, I went beyond the barbed wire for a second time, this time visiting Hungary, at that time still behind the iron curtain. My well-travelled Quaker colleague asked if the sight of heavily armed police at the airport troubled me. Not after my visit to Ulster, I thought!

In October 1989 I found myself crossing a border into the People’s Republic of Hungary for a third time and leaving the Republic of Hungary a week later. One geographical location, the same border, but two very different countries in the transition of time. At least one could make that assumption at that time, as pieces of barbed wire became symbols of freedom. A point of revelation, with no room for turning back. In Ireland, twenty-five years later, the barriers, ‘peace-lines’ and barbed wire are still in evidence, but the symbols are internalised in individuals, rather than entrenched, with the potential to become part of a shared identity. While Belfast may still be troubled, might the capital of culture yet recreate itself as a place of mind, heart and spirit where differences and diversity are affirmed and celebrated? One thing’s for sure, to adapt the poster I bought at Corrymeela and which goes to every new job. We need to be patient with each other. God isn’t finished with any of us yet! If there’s one place in the world that’s proved this true, its Derry/ Londonderry. So good they named it twice!

Corrymeela Community

Corrymeela Community (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photo of Craigavon bridge over Foyle ...

English: Photo of Craigavon bridge over Foyle river located in Derry. Català: Foto del pont de Craigavon sobre el riu Foyle al seu pas per Derry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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