On September 23rd, 2015, in the ceremonial hall of the Hungarian National Museum, the 2014 Yearbook and the first two volumes of the VERITAS Booklet Series were introduced to the wider public. The books were a joint publication of the VERITAS Research Institute for History and Magyar Napló Publishers.
In her welcoming remarks, Tünde Császtvay, the Deputy Director-General of the Hungarian National Museum, and a cultural historian herself, emphasized that it was indeed revealing that the VERITAS Research Institute for History was making more and more appearances in the ceremonial hall of the Hungarian National Museum. Sándor Szakály, the Director of the almost two-year-old institute, responded by thanking her for the museum’s support. He also stated that VERITAS wished to use books as a medium to reach the public; therefore, three different series of books had been launched, of which at that time the Gábor Ujváry-edited 2014 Yearbook and the first two volumes of the VERITAS Booklet Series would be introduced to the general public, and specifically, to those interested in Hungarian history.
Dr. Barna Mezey, Rector at Eötvös Loránd University and law historian, considered the VERITAS 2014 Yearbook as a multitudinous and thorough collection of research from the institute’s first year. Bound together by the declared objectives of the VERITAS Research Institute for History, the works in the yearbook covered 150 years of historical traumas, losses and undiscussables, while dissecting and reconsidering general historical doubts. The volume exceeded expectations in its evenhanded and objective treatment, while simultaneously being polemical and debate-inducing. The book was as
suitable for nightly reading as for deeper inquiry. Mezey emphasized that the yearbook made use of myriad sources, documents and new perspectives, enough to spur reassessments: which is to say, when it came to the study of history, cases were never considered as closed. The point of academic work was to question, to debate that which was considered infallible.
Of the sixteen works in the yearbook, the rector chose to highlight a few – among them Tibor Zinner’s, which he evaluated from the perspective of the shockin g immersion that humans were capable of in their relations, and which was at the same time a personal historical source in the study of the Holocaust. From László Orosz’s work on Fritz Valvajec, the Munich-based Hungarian Swab, he focused on the meaning of revisionism, the use of historical studies as an “effective fighting tool”. In three of the works (László Anka’s, János Rácz’s and Gábor Hollósi’s) he found significance in their historically more balanced presentation of the wrecking and subsequent rebuilding of an idealized image (Albert Apponyi and János Kádar) and of questions open to debate (the Numerus Clausus). Mezei considered Ádám Somorjai’s analysis of the legitimacy of sovereignty as the most captivating, since it raised extraordinary questions of Hungarian destiny.
Following the review of the yearbook, it was time for the assessment of the first two volumes of the VERITAS Booklet Series. János Botos’ The Fate of Hungarian Jewry’s Wealth 1938-1949 was reviewed by György Haraszti, Academic Advisor for the Institute of History at the Research Centre for the Humanities for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who reminded us that in the last years, János Botos had been the one leading the effort to audit, account for and name the rightful heirs of the abandoned (that is, “unclaimed”) assets. This work, so to speak, was a trailblazing thesis, and although it was a very interesting subject, only three attempts had come of it. Botos’ booklet had in fact established itself as a modest monograph. In his preliminary work, the author had found himself digging ever deeper into the files and the data, which he had viewed not only from the perspective of the historian, but also from those of the financial officer and the government administrator, and this problematic subject he had handled with workmanlike character. In two-thirds of his work, he had analyzed Régi (“Old”) Hungary’s Jewish policies, that of partial expropriation of property, for the period preceding March 19th, 1944. Then he had turned his attention to the post-German Occupation period, which had been marked by unchecked and absolute vulnerability. In an effort to paint an accurate picture of what had happened after the war, of what had happened to the “Gold Train” (which upon arriving in Austria and falling into American hands, had been thoroughly pillaged), he had been very precise with his figures. Even with all the work done to write this booklet, a similar research subject could be the question of what had happened to the real estate properties seized by the Allied occupiers or the state itself. György Haraszti used personal examples to broach this sensitive subject: the four-thousand West German Deutsche marks received as reparations for forced labor in Germany had been exchanged one-to-one for East German Deutsche marks by the Hungarian state and then wired. Or the example of his father, who had been a national resister, had received the maximum 300 acres in land restitution, which had then subsequently been “reduced” to twenty acres by the state. Finally the professor quoted Jókai, who once when commissioned to write a prologue, had put the following to paper to describe the 1850’s: “They were nice days, great days, and it’s great that they have passed!”
The other volume of the VERITAS Booklet Series was Orsolya Büky’s The Knights of the Age. The History of the Hungarian Corvin Chain, the Hungarian Corvin Wreath and the Hungarian Corvin Medal. In his critique of the book Pál Hatos, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Kaposvár University, said it reflected an aspiration toward truth, and that the history of the 1920’s-30’s cultural renaissance should be developed into a monograph! The author had presented the history of the awards with the precision of a conservator-restorer, and through this had introduced to the reader the diverse cultural world of interwar Hungary. Hatos stated that already with the title of the book, Büky had shown the other face of history, “the desire for evocation”; the author had done interesting philological digging. Everything found in the book was with us today: that since the defeat at Mohács and the Trianon Peace Treaty, the Hungarian nation had yet to come to grips with its tragic history. Yet at the same time, a feature of the volume was that it showed the continuity of Hungarian cultural polices since the time of József Eötvös’ tenure as the Minister of Culture. Her work was not primarily about the history of the awards, but about reflecting the unique perspective of the exciting artistry and culture that characterized the 1931-1944 era, which had also abounded with intellectual giants.
At the end of the book premier, Péter Boross, the Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the VERITAS Research Institute for History, said a few words about the vivaciousness of the institute. VERITAS, he said, had exceeded expectations, including his own, in living up to the values inherent in its name. VERITAS fought for truth, so that the layers of falsehoods that had accumulated over the decades about our past could be peeled away. The Chairman expressed his confidence in the success of this pursuit. As he emphasized: seeking truth and writing books are always laudable undertakings!