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Hungarian intellectuals relieved to see anti-Semitic play scrapped

(JTA) – It’s a relieved Judit Csaki from Budapest that calls journalists with the anticlimactic news: The dramatic news conference on state-sponsored anti-Semitism that she had scheduled for next week is canceled, as Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos has just announced the scrapping of plans to stage an anti-Semitic play at a city-funded theater.

For the international journalists, her call merely means searching for a new item. For Csaki, a theater critic, and her peers, it is reassurance that someone in power still checks the rampant anti-Semitism that Hungarian intellectuals — Jews and non-Jews alike — say they see as growing.

The canceled play, "The Sixth Coffin," is set in 1920 France and features a group of powerful Jews plotting to destroy Hungary and plunge humanity into another world war shortly after World War I had ended. The drama was set to premiere early next year in Budapest’s renowned New Theatre, which had received $500,000 last year from the municipality. 

For Csaki and Adam Fischer, the general music director of the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, the issue was a test case, indicative of increasing government tolerance to anti-Semitic behavior.

They and other intellectuals formed an unofficial working group called It Cannot Be that lobbied Tarlos, actors’ associations and the local media to stop the staging of what they regarded as “incitement.” The mayor had been silent on the issue until Tuesday’s announcement. 

“Some blame the mayor for letting the whole thing balloon into what it is,” Csaki said. “Others blame him for appointing an extreme rightist as director of the New Theatre and for never actually condemning the play. But I don’t agree. At least the mayor said something.”

On Sept. 4, Fischer, Csaki and other members of the It Cannot Be group were going to announce an international petition calling for a boycott of New Theatre because of the staging of the anti-Semitic play. 

That was before the mayor’s announcement that Gyorgy Dorner, a rightist actor and director of the New Theatre, told him that the theater would scrap the controversial play and would perform an earlier play by Istvan Csurka, who wrote "The Sixth Column." The mayor said the new play would be “about a completely different subject.”

Fischer told JTA that his involvement in the issue “has to do with my family, and all the other victims of the Holocaust. But it is not the Jews alone, not even the Hungarians alone, that worry me; I do believe that tendencies in Hungary … are a danger for the whole of Europe.”

The play’s plot revolves around two Hungarian scientists who invent a time machine that shows the 1920 signing of the Treaty of Trianon — part and parcel of the Versailles Peace Treaty that ended WWI. The machine shows how powerful Jews orchestrated the part in which Hungary loses 72 percent of its former territory.

According to the script, which was not made public but was obtained by JTA, four Jews had decided to “dismember Hungary” and agitate the hostility that erupted into World War II. One of the Jews, Edmond James Rothschild Rothschild — presumably the famed Baron Edmond de James Rothschild — is a member of the secret society of Jews and others.

Later in the play, Rothschild says that “countries must keep blaming each other for their strife. I have no interest in giving money for peace.” Rothschild is a close friend of Leon Trotsky, the communist Soviet leader. 

“Thus, the capitalist and the communist Jews are intertwined as the two faces of Jewry,” says Sandor Radnoti, a philosopher and arts scholar at Eotvos Lorand University who is among the intellectuals who criticized the play.

Fischer says the staging and sponsoring of “The Sixth Coffin” would have been part of an ongoing process of growing acceptance of anti-Semitism in Hungary.

"Things that were unthinkable five years ago are acceptable today,” he recently told the newspaper Nepszabadsag. “An artist must speak up when a publicly funded theater in the capital of an EU country plans to show anti-Semitic pieces — something that has not happened since the war,” he said, referring to the end of World War II, during which Hungary was led by a pro-Nazi government. 

Noting that the ultranationalist political party Jobbik, whose leaders have made anti-Semitic remarks, is the country’s third largest party, Fischer also told Nepszabadsag, “It’s not that there is a far-right party in the Parliament, but that the parties in power don’t suppress rampant anti-Semitism, thereby encouraging it.”

In June, Peter Feldmajer, the president of Hungary’s Jewish community, said in a speech before members of the European Parliament in Brussels that Hungarian Jews “feel increasing danger” in a country with a government that condones anti-Semitism.

Csurka, the playwright, was a novelist turned politician who once defined Jews as “chief enemies of the nation.” He eventually left politics to direct the New Theatre. He died last year. “The Sixth Coffin” is his last known play. 

Csurka and Fischer had clashed in the past. Last year, Fischer launched a petition signed by 10,000 people against Csurka’s appointment to co-direct the New Theatre with Dorner. The duo, Fischer warned, would turn the New Theatre into “The New Anti-Semitic Theater.” Tarlos ignored the petition but said he would not allow anti-Semitic content.

For her part Csaki, a writer for the liberal weekly Magyar Narancs, says she is not happy, “but I am content for now" with the cancellation of "The Sixth Coffin."

"I know that in a few weeks there may be neo-Nazi demonstrations, perhaps outside New Theatre," she says. "I know that shortly, some other form of ugliness will present itself. But at least here is one less exhausting battle for us to fight.”

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