- 21 May 2013 9:00 AM
Remarks by Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis at Centropa Town Hall Meeting - as delivered:
Good afternoon, everyone.
I would like to thank Edward Serrotta and Marcell Kenesei for inviting me to be with you today, as well as the staff of the Holocaust Memorial Center for hosting us as we mark the conclusion of Centropa’s remarkable and important Holocaust Education program.
I was with you for the inauguration of this program in July 2010, along with my colleagues, the Ambassadors from Germany and Israel. I remember that day very well. I had just finished reading Miklos Vamos’s novel, The Book of Fathers. It is the story of about 300 years of Hungarian history, told from the point of view of the first son, of the first son, of the first son, and so on, of a Hungarian family. At the end of the book, Mr. Vamos writes in his Author’s Note, that he was surprised when people assumed the book was autobiographical, and when they congratulated him on knowing so much of his own family history. His response to this was, “I have made up my family, because I lost my real one.” He said, “If I couldn’t write a novel about my father, why didn’t I write one about every Hungarian father?” So he gathered stories, created characters, and then adopted them as his own. I’m sure you understand why I think Miklos Vamos’s approach, albeit, as a novelist, is relevant to what Centropa has done here in Hungary with its work.
When the United States first agreed to support Centropa’s Holocaust Education program, we understood that teaching the Hungarian Holocaust to school teachers across Hungary, was critical. Many teachers had not received any other training – and it is a topic that is, frankly, challenging to address with students especially in a country where the Holocaust took place.
But it is really the bigger picture of how Centropa has addressed Holocaust education that impressed us the most. During the course of the program, some 200 elderly Jewish men and women throughout Hungary were asked to share not only their memories of what happened to their families during the Holocaust, but also how they lived - before, during and after.
Centropa also collected family pictures. And now more than 5,000 pictures belonging to Hungarian-speaking Jews are available at the click of a mouse. Every one of those pictures comes with a story. Some will make you laugh. Many will make you cry. Centropa’s effort has helped to preserve the memory of these families, and that is what is so incredibly important.
What The Book of Fathers does in a fictionalized way, Centropa has done as documentary. It has given real life stories back to the Hungarian people, old and young – but particularly to students. The teachers and students who have embraced these stories have made them theirs. And just as Miklos Vamos created stories to heal his own wounds, you have documented actual lives, in actual towns and villages, and doing so, can help heal the wounds of a nation.
Even though Centropa’s Holocaust Education program is coming to a close, the healing effect of your work will continue. With the stories you have collected, and the friends that you have made who value those stories so dearly, the history of Hungarian Jews before, during and after the Holocaust will live on. Most of the material you have explored and researched has been videotaped and can continue to be shared with students all over Hungary, as well as in America, in Israel – and beyond.
Whole worlds were lost during the Holocaust in Hungary. Beautiful, complex, sophisticated worlds with families, children, communities and all their contributions, big and small. After nearly four years in Hungary, I sometimes think I can begin to imagine the full value of what was lost, when I think about the small fraction of Hungarian Jews who escaped, or who survived, and made their way to the United States. Just that small fraction created an enormous positive impact on my country. I encourage you to read Kati Marton’s book, The Great Escape, and you can begin to see what I mean.
In 2010, not long after President Obama entered office, he signed the Presidential Study Directive making the prevention of atrocities a key focus of this Administration’s foreign policy. It is both a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. When we talk about the Holocaust, we say “Never forget, never again.” To all of you at Centropa, and all of you who participated in this effort, thank you. Thank you for advancing this important goal. And thank you because the work that you are doing will help to educate young people so that they might, in their own ways, contribute toward the prevention of atrocities around the world.
Source: U.S. Embassy Budapest
Photo: Ambassador Kounalakis delivers her remarks in the Holocaust Memorial Center (Embassy photo by Attila Németh)