Posts Tagged ‘Red Army’

The Hungarian Reaction to Sacha Batthyany and the Rechnitz Massacre (by Caroline D Schmitz)

What has always been especially disturbing to us about the circumstances of the Rechnitz Massacre is that its victims were Hungarians, and that yet the Thyssens, from whose castle the massacre was launched, had relied not just once, but twice on an adopted Hungarian nationality of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza for the post-war salvation of their German fortune. A fortune that has allowed the Thyssens to retain an iron grip on their public image. And a fortune from which Sacha Batthyany too has profited. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Hungarian reaction to Sacha Batthyany’s book is somewhat more critical than that seen in Western Europe.

At the end of August, Könyves Blog in „Already in April Sacha Batthyany’s Book Was Being Critised“ referred to our defensive position and Eva Kovacz from the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies reported very interesting new details under the title „The Austrians Have Holocaust Memorials Especially About Us“. Then came „We Prefer The Victims“ by Peter Kövesdi on Vasarnapi Hirek and Ban Zoltan Andras on Unikornis, who described Sacha Batthyany as a spoilt yuppie and his book as being a crude literary attempt full of plattitudes. And now Julia Szaszi on has published an excellent article from which we quote as follows (Please note: this translation is reliant on the Google Translate Service!):

„Andreas Lehner of Refugius says his organisation will not stop until the graves of the victims have been found and the victims can receive a dignified burial……..(Many developments for the better have taken place in Rechnitz).….In the past, the people of Rechnitz have been suspicious of outsiders. The turning point came with the English author David R. L. Litchfield and his 2007 book „The Thyssen Art Macabre“. It is full of facts about the history of the Thyssens which show disturbing parallels to the Rechnitz story. It put a spotlight on this family which was unheard of before in Austria in this way. The book contains interviews with many witnesses……….The English author also rejected the old story of the Russians burning down the Rechnitz castle and instead stressed that the much more likely turn of events was a burning down by the retreating Germans in order to extinguish incriminating evidence……..

The Sovjets found the graves of the Jewish victims very quickly. 21 graves with 10-12 bodies in each grave. The victims showed signs of torture. A second exhumation took place in the context of the 1946 court procedings. But then the area map was lodged with the local public prosecutor whereupon it mysteriously disappeared. Andreas Lehner of Refugius says that the Sovjets were only interested in the graves of their own fallen soldiers. The graves of the Jewish victims were irrelevant to them. Of course, this is no explanation for why the map lodged with the Austrian authorities vanished. Perhaps it was taken back to Russia together with thousands of documents when the Russian occupiers left Austria in 1955. There are reports now of a serious new attempt by Austrian historians to put a group together to search the Russian archives to find this map. It will be very difficult of course to find this single document amongst what must be millions of files……..

Technical methods of excavation are getting more and more sophisticated all the time……Of course it would have been much more convenient to have been told the location of the graves by those who knew. But Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and her husband Count Ivan Batthyany fled Rechnitz in advance of the approaching Red Army. (Equally so Franz Podezin and Joachim Oldenburg)……….Following the Sovjet withdrawal, they came back to Rechnitz where they engaged in hunting……When they died in 1985 and 1989 respectively, the Batthyany family living near Güssing refused permission for them to be buried in the family crypt……..

The mayor of Rechnitz, Engelbert Kenyeri, says that the events of the Rechnitz massacre unfortunately add a negative aspect to the otherwise unblemished history of the Austro-Hungarian Batthyany dynasty and that this is particularly unfortunate, as they were only really involved through Ivan Batthyany’s marriage to Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s daughter Margit……….Josef Hotwagner, the town historian, who died a few years ago, had lived through the period in question in Rechnitz and had also over the years spoken to many local people with information….. And today there is for instance Andrea Hütler, a teacher at the local high school, who studies the events with her 14-year-old pupils and organised a project that won the Fred Sinowatz award“……..

(the pupils also went to Budapest and met with Gabor Vadasz, son of Geza Vadasz and nephew of Arpad Vadasz, who were both murdered in Rechnitz. Gabor has for years desperately attempted everything in order to facilitate the finding of the graves. According to an article by Judith Gergaly, he has even written to high-ranking Austrian politicians and to the Pope).

“……..The Rechnitz Memorial, which began with a simple commemorative plaque, was extended in 2012 to become a big educational centre that was opened by the Austrian head of state Heinz Fischer. People involved with resolving massacre issues in other places have spoken about the difficulties of negotiations, mediations and financial battles which mean the resolution of these events can take a long time. Refugius feels somewhat reluctant to undertake this kind of unpleasant administration even if it would mean the murdered victims could be found on the former Batthyany estate lands“. (End of excerpt from the article)

We are reassured by the Hungarian reaction and validation of our work (and particularly by the article of Julia Szaszi, who is also Vienna correspondent for the big Hungarian daily newspaper Nepszabadsag) and hope that the writings of the Hungarian commentators will engender many positive new outcomes in this sad matter.

So, should Sacha Batthyany, whose book, seven years later, contains no new information on the Rechnitz case whatsoever compared to his 2009 newspaper article (in fact less, since, for some reason, he has taken out the evidence concerning Margit Batthyany-Thyssen’s protection of the two main perpetrators, Franz Podezin and Joachim Oldenburg!) and instead takes attention away from the Rechnitz case and onto an entirely different story, perhaps interrupt his busy lecturing tour and concentrate on this rather more difficult endeavour? He could certainly salvage his family’s name much more impressively if he did that than if he continued to promote his self-righteous book which even he admits to being somewhat fictional.

Unfortunately, jugding by the article by Ficsor Benedek in Magyar Nemzet, Sacha Batthyany now seems to have started rebranding himself as a victim of the Thyssens’ behaviour rather than accepting his own family’s guilt.

This is now an ideal, historical chance for the Thyssens to publicly accept their guilt and to get involved in the resolution of the Rechnitz case in order to heal the wounds of the tremendous harm done to the Hungarian victims and their families, as well as to the people of Rechnitz.

Julia Szaszi, former Vienna correspondent for the big hungarian daily newspaper Nepszabadsag, led interviews in Rechnitz and has reported several times on the Rechnitz case in the hungarian media. On the internet platform she reports in hungarian on all matters austrian.

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An admission of the Batthyany-Thyssens’ guilt – served through a revolving door

UND WAS HAT DAS MIT MIR ZU TUN? or ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’ may or may not have literary merit. As far as I am concerned, the point is irrelevant. Sacha Batthyany is, in my considered opinion and by way of fair comment, an arrogant, self-obsessed, duplicitous, redundant Hungarian aristocrat, whose small book struggles to qualify as non-fiction, while his conflict of interest becomes ever more obvious.

I would have to admit to not feeling particularly charitable towards Sacha Batthyany as the result of his criticism of the accuracy of my writing, which he claims to have been the inspiration for his book. It is however noticeable that while I reveal my sources of information, he fails to do so, apart from making much of his reliance on both his grandmother’s diaries (which he mysteriously plans to destroy; after he has revealed their edited contents) and the diaries of one of his family’s Jewish victims.

But as well as admitting to owing Sacha Batthyany a debt of gratitude for confirming that the Rechnitz massacre did indeed take place and that his ‘Aunt’ Margit Batthyany (nee Thyssen-Bornemisza) was indeed involved, I do have to admit to his skill in achieving another, quite remarkable objective. By means of literary alchemy and without any formal qualifications (apart from a diploma in journalism) or reliance on academic research, Sacha Batthyany has turned his rigors of guilt into a burden of condemnation and vilification, that could well result in large sales, behind which he and many like him can hide their aforementioned guilt without the need to any longer rely on the somewhat tired excuse for their forefathers’ crimes as having only been the result of ‘obeying orders’.

Sacha Batthyany also manages to hide what comes close to being displays of anti-Semitism behind his stance on what he claims to be a Jewish involvement in the development of communism. His virulent anti-communism and spectacular demonization of Josef Stalin will find a sympathetic ear amongst those, including many English and Americans, who will agree that Stalin’s crimes against humanity were so much worse than those of Adolf Hitler. But his main bone of contention with the communists appears to be an insistence that they were responsible for the loss of the land, power and glory of the Batthyany family; forgetting to remind his readers that in the case of Rechnitz Castle (nee Batthyany Castle), they had in fact lost the same along with five thousand acres of land to more financially potent owners (and ultimately the Thyssens) well before 1906.

Sacha Batthyany’s coverage of the Rechnitz massacre in 1945 only forms a small part of his book; almost by way of a prologue. He favours the Austrian authorities’ version of events and repeats the familiar claim that the Jews were only killed to prevent the spread of typhoid, and in direct response to a telephone call received at Rechnitz castle from a higher order. He casts doubt over the presence of ‘Aunt’ Margit’s husband, Ivan Batthyany, on the fateful night. He also denies all the evidence given to him by the late Josef Hotwagner, the town’s historian. He repudiates our evidence, ignores the published results of the Russian investigation and accuses the people of Rechnitz of looting the castle rather than accepting the evidence that they were attempting to extinguish the blaze that the fleeing German soldiers had been responsible for starting in order to prevent the building’s use by the invading Red Army (part of the Nero Decree, the local implementation of which would have been the much more likely overall reason for said ‘telephone call’).

This same derogatory attitude towards the local residents of Rechnitz had also been voiced by Christine Batthyany back in 2007 in answer to questioning by the Jewish Chronicle. She denied any complicity in the massacre on the part of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen and claimed that conflicting reports had been ‘spread by resentful villagers’. In light of the fact that prior to the 20th century, the town and the surrounding estate had been a fiefdom, ruled over by the Batthyanys, who were to become, like the Thyssens, Nazi collaborators, it is perhaps understandable that some of the villagers might have lacked a relationship rich in warmth and brotherly love; though Sacha insists that the town’s people were ‘embarrassingly’ deferential to him.

Sacha Batthyany completes his coverage of the Rechnitz massacre with an unsupported claim that he was ‘certain’ that ‘Aunt’ Margit ‘had not been shooting…… She did not kill Jews, as the papers were writing. There is no evidence. There are no witnesses…’. Though of course he can’t be certain. I never claimed that she had personally shot any Jews but, as witnesses had reported her apparent pleasure in watching Jewish forced labourers, who had been kept in the cellars of the castle, being beaten and killed, and as she was trained in the use of fire-arms, it seemed highly likely.

So, having appeased the families’ (both Thyssen and Batthyany) conscience concerning the Rechnitz massacre, but displayed little in the way of apologetic concern for the deaths of one hundred and eighty Jews, or the fact that his branch of the family continued for many years to rely on the profits of the German war machine via ‘Aunt’ Margit, Sacha Batthyany then moved on to address his family’s other crimes against humanity in support of his self-obsessive search for absolution. He should perhaps be reminded that as a result of his great-aunt’s financial support and granting of a safehaven for Sacha’s branch of the family, Margit’s brother Heini Thyssen was of the opinion that they were little more than a bunch of ineffectual scroungers. This somewhat extreme opinion was possibly understandable if, as Heini claimed, one appreciates the fact that Margit’s husband ‘Ivy’ displayed his socially superior attitude towards the Thyssens by having an affair with Heini Thyssen’s first wife, Princess Theresa zu Lippe Bisterfeld Weissenfeld.

Finally, I was somewhat surprised that the beleaguered UBS bank, who admittedly need all the good press they can get, invested sponsorship in this book; as did an ominous Swiss entity called the Goethe Foundation. So far, none of the Thyssens or the Batthyanys (and in particular those branches of the family who did not succumb to a convenient dependency on Thyssen finance) have seen fit to make any statement concerning ‘What’s That To Do With Me?’; particularly in the form of thanking Sacha Batthyany for his presumably much appreciated reassurance concerning the Rechnitz massacre. We await further developments in this direction with interest.

Saint Sacha, replacing the conscience of the guilty with the suffering of the innocent (photo copyright: Maurice Haas)

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