Monkeys

I was having a drink in my favourite bar in Budapest (well, maybe a couple of drinks), when I ran into Zoli (that's not his real name). We've known one another for a few years now and we've always been on the best of terms, despite the fact that we belong to very different political camps. Zoli is one of the kindest, most amiable people I know. He is a gentle giant, good-humoured, considerate and extremely knowledgable about culture and the arts.

Zoli had already had quite a lot to drink by the time I arrived. Like many men in Hungary, Zoli enjoys having a few shots of unicum, a bitter-sweet Hungarian liqueur, along with several glasses of ice-cold lager. It's a lethal combination that, on the only occasion I tried it, left me with a pronounced headache.

I don't know how the subject came up but, along with a mutual acquaintance, we started to talk about monuments. There's been quite a lot of discussion in the Hingarian and foreign media, in the past year, about a controversial monument that the government commissioned in Szabadság Tér, which commemorates the victims of the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944. As many eminent historians have pointed out, commemorating the victims of the German occupation of Hungary (overwhelmingly Hungarian Jews) appears to absolve Hungarian society, especially the notorious Gendarmes, civil servants etc, without whom the huge administrative task of deporting several Hundred thousand Hungarians Jews to the death camps could not have been accomplished. After all, the Germans only sent Adolf Eichmann and two hundred German associates to oversee this massive and compex operation, which could not have been carried out without extensive Hungarian support.

In protest at the erection of the fatuous and intellectually dishonest monument to the victims of the German occupation, a counter-memorial has been constructed immediately in front of it. This is a poignant and fragile structure, consisting of balck and white photographs of Hungarian Jews who were consumed in the Shoah, of shoes, briefcases and other personal memorabilia.

"Jewish monkeys!" Zoli exclaimed drunkenly two or three times, referring to the mostly elderly Jews who come to lay stones by the counter-monument, in memory of their dead parents, siblings or other close realtives. I haven't seen Zoli since that evening. It's been at least couple of months. I  don't know why he hasn't been back.

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