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An Exploration of Oral History in Central and Eastern Europe

“Story collection”. Oral history archives in Hungary
Tour d’horizon de l’histoire orale en Europe centrale et orientale
András Lénárt
p. 232-253


Cet article aborde l’histoire orale hongroise non pas du côté de l’historiographie mais plutôt de celui de la méthode mise en œuvre dans les collectes de témoignage, et son évolution des années 1980 à nos jours. Il aborde cette question de l’utilisation des sources orales en Hongrie à partir de la période socialiste et jusqu’à aujourd’hui à travers le MCG (Memories Collection Group au sein de l’ancien Institut pour l’histoire du parti), le CHI (Collection of Historical Interviews) et l’OHA (Oral History Archive au sein de l’Institut à partir de 1956).

This article focuses on Hungarian oral history less from the point of view of historiography and more from the point of view of the method used in the collection of oral histories, and its evolution from the 1980s to the contemporary day. It discusses the use of oral sources in Hungary from the socialist period until today through the MCG (Memories Collection Group within the former Institute for Party History), the CHI (Collection of Historical Interviews) and the OHA (Oral History Archive within the Institute from 1956).

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Mots-clés :

histoire orale, Hongrie


oral history, Hungary
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  • 1 To read more on the narrative interview method and on its theoretical background, see: Eva Kovács (...)

1Oral history methods have been widely used in Hungarian social science since the 1980s. In almost all cases, studies based on historical interviews dealt with political taboos, trying to reconstruct the history of the 1956 revolution and the Shoah. The reason for this was quite simple: the bulk of written documents had been lost or remained unavailable. It later turned out, however, that with the application of oral history methods it was impossible to describe past events as they had really happened. Another problematic feature was that this method could not actually cope with the relationships of the actual events and their memories. This method does not reflect (not being its subject matter) on the difference between memory, experience and the past event, i.e. on the—unconscious—process of the selection of the moments that are “worthy of preservation”, of “included in memory” from the past by the subject.1 For both the practitioners of oral history and those who pay attention from a distance a huge amount of exciting issues have still remained unsolved: What is the value of subjective sources? What could we say about the authenticity of interview subjects? How can be statements controlled? How can we find relevant persons and make them speak? What are the conditions under which we are allowed to use recorded material? Who makes the transcripts? What rules should be observed in making the transcripts? How should we archive texts? And so on.

2Instead of describing the historiography of Hungarian oral history, I prefer to tackle the interviewing and interview-elaboration practices of some major although to a large extent forgotten collections; their disappearance can be traced back to both the system change of 1989/1990 and to the changes in memory politics of the post 2010 era: in a parallel chain of events workshops have been closed and new institutions that better complied with government expectations have been established. Knowing their history is at least as important concerning the future of Hungarian oral history attempts as the records of individual research projects.

3The collection and use of oral sources in Hungary during the socialist period and after the system change will be presented by analysing MCG (Memories Collection Group within the late Institute for Party History), CHI (Collection of Historical Interviews) and OHA (Oral History Archive in the Institute of 1956). The low scholarly appraisal of spoken (verbal) history was followed by a slow and recoiling change of outlook and—in the case of Centropa—the appearance of a new mode of thinking. Chronologically I deal first with the formation and functioning of MCG; this will be followed by the history of CHI, Oral History Archive and Centropa.

4Oral history or, in a wider sense of the term, the collection of stories and the verbal reviving of the past began with the story of political turnovers of the 20th century, the great historical transformations and political cataclysms. The most important milestones: Hungary in WWII, the fate and destruction of the 2nd Hungarian Army on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1942-1943 and first of all the end of the war, the so-called Liberation and reconstruction. As all these are sensitive issues with different interpretations, their cautious and increasingly subtle elaboration could take place only from the 1970s. The same is true to the political transition between 1945 and 1948: the phenomenon of the “directed democracy” and so-called “third wayist” ideas. This latter was best represented by the People’s Colleges that tried to balance between bourgeois democracy and Communist dictatorship; the merits and weaknesses of this movement were recorded by the participants themselves (then middle-aged personalities). But the “counter-revolution” (as was officially called) of 1956 still remained a strict taboo. Its concealed details were gradually explored by opposition movements and one of the most significant interview-series that later, after 1990 also laid the base of a most important research institute of contemporary events could be prepared in the beginning of the 1980s already with the tacit approval of the power elite. Especially interesting is the economic reform of 1968 that, although short-lived and the relative liberalization of the intellectual sphere was followed by a brutal reprisal became an important symbol and point of reference for many. Increasing economic fallback and pathfinding owing to the stagnation of the standard of living in the beginning of the 1980s revived the memories of the failed experiment of 1968; on this subject matter, a lot of conversations were recorded as well. In the last decade of the socialist system the stories of the hitherto supressed Jewish identity and Holocaust were recorded and interviewed by several teams of sociologists, psychologists and historians. But let us turn back to the late 1940s, to the establishment and history of the first memory collecting institution.

The Memories Collection Group within the Institute of Party History

5In the aftermath of the second world war the elaboration of the past soon began. The organization of post-war reconstruction, party struggles and propaganda activities required that war criminals be punished and heroes awarded. Presentation (or juggling away) of documents was urgently needed for both legal and political reasons. If written materials were not available one had to resort to witnesses.

  • 2 On the Institute and its successor, the Institute of Party History see in more length: Kerekasztal (...)

6The Working-Class Movement Institute was established by the Communist Party in 1948 with the goal of collecting available documents.2 Collecting materials served unambiguously propaganda purposes: to help the legitimization of the Party. The selection of employers was based on political loyalty instead of previous scholarly achievements. The Institute that was renamed Institute of Party History in 1957 was regarded as a party organ and not as a scholarly institution by the general public. In an atmosphere of constant distrust it was by no means irrelevant what kind of papers would be available to co-workers with higher party connections. Priority was given to the working-class movement of the interwar period although some research studies at the turn of the century had also been produced.

  • 3 Just as auxiliaries for school ceremonies included complete ceremonial materials and popular opera (...)

7Memories Collection Group was officially established in 1962. Its primary goal was soothing the enormous lack of documents and digging out as many sources as possible on the history of Hungarian working-class movement for party historians. It was hoped that by a controlled procession of texts researchers would get insight into the secret of the past by means of informative, authentic and at the same time individual and readable stories. An additional value of the collected materials was that after publication they would prove most valuable both in party history and school trainings for professors and students alike.3 Their secondary goal was “playful tutoring”; i.e. the true stories by eyewitnesses’ accounts could lend individual colouring to the dry description of historical events (party formation, organizing of demonstrations, acts of sabotage etc.).

  • 4 Edit S. Vincze, Bevezető tanulmány a Tanúságtevők című sorozat első kötetéhez. [Introduction to th (...)

“Memoirs and reminiscences are valuable literary products. […] They are confessions of eyewitnesses, i.e. historical sources, but being subjective, sometimes one-sided, even superficial a very strict critical approach is needed. Their utmost value is to present the reader with something that the historiographer by even the keenest insight and artistic inspiration is uncapable of reconstructing: the atmosphere of bygone times, the sentiments and thoughts, modes of living and everyday habits of the people.”4

  • 5 Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 3. ő.e., 14.

8The most important target group included the one-time “warriors” of the working-class movement. To the second category belonged the sympathizers of the movement, while the third included, with some reservations, bourgeois politicians. In a plan of 1964 the medical conditions of the involved persons were also taken into consideration as an essential factor of urgency.5

  • 6 The more significant were the recollections of Géza Révész (1878-1955), Hungarian-Dutch psychologi (...)

9The pre-established reminiscence-recording plan usually could not be upheld because organization and execution took much more time than previously estimated. In the first period, recollections still poured in: 104 recorded and 38 shorthanded texts were completed. To this were added writings individually sent in by their authors.6

  • 7 Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 2. ő.e. 8.
  • 8 There was a separate list of such materials that were deemed as useless in order to be prepared in (...)

10The fact that 1376 recollections arrived upon the invitation of the Committee of Old Party Members was the sign of both discipline and enthusiasm; of these 517 have been processed and included into the Central Party Archive. This increase was, however, overshadowed by the fact that reminiscences were often not up to expectations: more than 60% of local and county materials were regarded as “valueless”, because local party organs did not select among written texts sent in as a sort of duty.7 Value can be measured by the following factors: historical importance, the standard of formulation and, first of all, by authenticity. Most of the troubles were connected to the person of Lenin. The veterans of the movement preferred to present themselves socializing with the legendary leader but in reality there were only a few who could at least see Lenin and even less who could have been in direct contact with him. In spite of this quite a bundle of recollections arrived describing important missions accomplished by Hungarian communists upon the direct order of Lenin. Such recollections were deemed unserious by collectors and were expelled into the group of the valueless although observable materials.8

  • 9 Petrák, op. cit., p. 34.

11Katalin Petrák, head of MCG summarized her methodological ideas in 1975, and later in 1980.9 This manuscript supplemented by archive sources provided a good view on the techniques used by collectors. First, unlike in recent terminology she never used the word “interview”, preferring reminiscence or memoir instead. She regarded reminiscences as being relatively short and dry, focusing only on the individual’s life or some of outstanding events. Memoires, in contrast are lengthy, isagogic writings of important (i.e. competent) persons providing abundant information.

12The aim was to archive an edited and chronologically ordered text which possibly could also be made public. In this sense and despite considerable differences edited reminiscences became homogenized. Collectors were especially annoyed by too dryly formulated and compact texts which, however, was quite often the case since the subjects often had to answer a pre-established series of questions.

13To be able to manage their material collectors often found it worthwhile to adapt to their informants. Experience taught them to prefer multiple sessions that increased the chances of a better understanding and contact. They also observed that introducing the sessions by small talk increased chances to dissolve inner closure. Trust between the partners was of course even then crucial:

  • 10 Petrák, op. cit., 45.

“Recording memories must not be resemble police interrogations or other official hearings […] In case of dispute we must avoid making the informant feel that disclosing his/her opinion could be dangerous.”10

  • 11 Minutes of the conference of Reminescenses-Collecting Group, 9 May, 1965. Institute of Political H (...)

14Good recording needs undoubtedly a considerable amount of trust between interviewer and interviewee. The staff of MCG could have been in an especially difficult situation in this respect for they were eventually entrusted by the Party which meant that informants could not flatter themselves that party organs would not be aware of their incidental secrets. They were approached by the Firm, this is why behaving according to official standpoints seemed to be a must. The constraint of responsiveness towards surveyors was obviously omnipresent; in this case, however, it was even greater. Surveyors had always been struggling for authentic answers, i.e. for true stories, but the result often contradicted their hopes. Informants frequently gave stereotype answers for security reasons because they considered remembering as a party or social duty. Among others this was the reason why so many useless materials were collected.11

15The aim was to prepare a chronologically ordered text that was free of factual mistakes, grammatical errors, superfluous repetitions or unfinished sentences while with retaining individual stylistic features it proved to be personalized and exciting. According to methodological instructions questions could be omitted and only inserted if the surveyor deemed them reasonable and necessary. If surveyors did not proceed in this way,

  • 12 Petrák, op. cit., p. 50.

“the given person would not recognise them as his/her own sentences and would not authorize them and would not send them back to our collection either.”12

16As producing historical sources and their careful archiving were the main tasks of MCG the re-production of texts did not provoke professional-methodological tensions. In a 1965 conference on issues of memories’ collection the representative of a minority standpoint, Elek Karsai argued against text-editing (as there is still no consensual opinion among practitioners of oral history concerning the handling of verbal texts it is worth citing him literally):

  • 13 Minutes, op. cit., 46. Elek Karsai (1922–1988) historian and archivist was the editor of the first (...)

“…informants may be wrong in some respects but the essence is that the material should reflect the historical atmosphere of an age. To tell the truth I abhor editing memories. First thing is to keep all recorded materials unchanged; the hard copy is saint and inviolable, nobody is allowed to touch it. There may be parts I dislike, it can contain repetitions but if I listen to it twenty times it begins to down on me.”13

17In case of publications there is of course a tighter control; the aim is invariably a literary text that is free of factual mistakes. Preparations for anniversaries could especially motivate the staff of MCG to publish whole volumes. The year 1945 was the absolute point of reference but the anniversaries of 1917 (Russian Revolution) and 1919 (Hungarian Soviet Republic) seemed to be also important. Parallel with the special attention the press paid to these historical events, MCG also tried to do its best. The most illustrious publication became undoubtedly the book series Witnesses. The volumes dealing with the history of the Hungarian working-class movement had a very similar structure: an introduction describing the given period from the point of view of the working-class movement was followed by about 25-30 reminiscences each with a short biography written by the editors. An index of names closed each volume. In hindsight the popularity of these volumes helped surviving MCG. Their scientific value was dubious enough as judged by historians but they actually satisfied massive needs both in party life and education.

18From the sixties onwards collections of reminiscences became an all-national program and were totally incorporated into local history. In the eighties, oral history as a new approach to history became a fashionable method not only in the socialist countries but in Western-Europe as well. Paul Thompson saw a democratization of history in the verbal representation of the neighburhood; in the German Federal Republic so-called Geschichtswerkstȁtte served as means to elaborate and backbite Nazi past. Drifting apart from the fifties and after the consolidation of the Kádár-regime in Hungary, well-defined standards were created that gave guidance of what and how things should be told. The tension following the waves of political retaliation loosened both in power holders and the public. Fear was replaced by caution which, however, did not inhibit researchers to survey witnesses’ opinion on their “heroic” past.

Other research concerning the history of the working-class movement

19Apart from the official Party History Institute other organizations also recorded discussions with the witnesses of the century and with the participants of events that were deemed important. These interviews either stood under the professional control of the Institute or were conducted upon local initiative. At times the collection of reminiscences complemented or prepared the local preservation and representation of memories, e.g. by school commemorations or inauguration of statues.

20The presentation of the past of the working-class movement sometimes met with the displeasure of the higher authorities:

  • 14 Az MSZMP Központi Bizottsága Agitációs és Propaganda Bizottságának állásfoglalása a munkásmozgalmi (...)

“The position of the Agit-Prop Committee of 16 September 1969 stressed that independent museums and places of memory should only be established for outstanding personalities or historical events. Attending local traditions must be endorsed but according to the Committee the initiatives should rest on solid bases and, additionally the relevant political positions and state instructions should be followed.”14

21Presumably this was the point referred to by Ágnes Ságvári, director of the Budapest City Archives (BCA) when she called upon the cooperation of archives and other organs in the interest of a regular memories-collection:

  • 15 Ágnes Ságvári, Budapest Főváros Levéltárának Nehézségei és problémái a levéltári munka során. [Dif (...)

“The Agit-Prop Committee of MSZMP voted for the organized collection of reminiscences. Individual archives achieve this task in a haphazard manner and within their limited possibilities. Wouldn’t it be more reassuring formulating some kind of central idea and coordinating it with the individual institutions?”15

22The staff of the people’s republic department of BCA actually conducted interviews. This effort could rely on previous research work. The Public Index of Budapest, 1945–1950 edited by László Halasi was published in 1980. It included the biographical data of past members of both the National Committees of Budapest and the People’s Front Committees. The publication of this work was justified by its editor in the following manner:

  • 16 In the official terminology Budapest and Hungary were liberated by the Soviet Army from the German (...)

“To familiarize the period from the liberation until the establishment of the councils of Greater Budapest this time we call to witness a definite group of actors from the capital city and its surroundings.”16

  • 17 Samizdat: from thew Russin szamo-izdatyelsztvo (self-published) illegally printed and distributed (...)

23The articles of Who’s Who in Budapest, 1945–1950 thesaurus, i.e. the biographical data were essentially limited to this five years’ period, but some supplementary data of well-known personalities were also included. During the survey about 2,500 questionnaires were sent out and committee members of the past were also contacted in person. It remained without echo. Another reason of disinterest could have been the more frequent publication of exciting memoirs, documentaries, sociological or sociographic works either by well-known publishers or in samizdat17on “hotter” issues (second world war, Jews, Gypsies, forced relocations etc.). While past member of the National Committees and their family may have welcomed their names in the index, no scientific analysis was born, relying on the book. On the other hand, approaching a variety of personalities and the experience of the discussions may have given impetus to record more detailed life-histories.

24The memory-recording program that had begun at the end of 1981 fitted into the preliminary works of the 6th volume of a comprehensive history of Budapest. Almost nothing is known of preparations, the technical procedures, methodological problems and the identities of the surveyors. The four large boxes containing the material, however, has been preserved in BCA and were made available to researchers. From 76 recorded reminiscences 3 were lost but the major problem was not this; rather, the identities of the surveyors and auxiliary materials to the program were completely missing.

25The criteria of publication suited to contemporary expectations. Based upon the rules of transcription, “incorrectness” of spoken language was corrected and after this procedure the interview-fragments that were relevant to public activity were made available. Dialog form was possibly left out—for a double reason: to win further space, parts that were “rich in information” and also because by these means, i.e. focused the texts seemed to be more serious and scientific. Such criteria of original texts still survive e.g. in the publications of Oral History Archives.Voice recorded cassettes of the seventy interviews are still missing. Based on the authentic transcriptions it is worth investigating once again what kind of additional knowledge this relatively bulky and thematically and periodically focused material could provide.

  • 18 Worth to mention here only two women, wives of top communist politicians Mrs. Rezsőné Nyers, Mrs. (...)

26After the change of the system in 1989–1990 there was no further need for a minute and propagandistical disclosure of the working-class movement. The Institute of Party History was transformed into Institute of Political History and managed to survive, although under less favourable conditions and with decreasing academic importance. MCG, on the contrary ceased to exist, recording of memories stopped, moreover several people wanted to get back materials they used to leave there. No one will remember the staff of MCG either.18

The Collection of Historical Interviews in Széchényi National Library

27The Cabinet of Historical Interviews (CHI) is perhaps the most well-known and most complete national video oral history collection. Although frequently mentioned in a variety of contexts the materials that are hosted by the collection are far less known. Many clips in popular tv-series and documentaries may refer to the values of the accumulated material but owing to legal restrictions neither complete recorded interviews nor their transcripts are available to the general public. This is why I could only investigate the collection relying on some press reviews, data on the website of CHI and my personal experiences.

28Although the history of CHI is rooted in the sixties in its present form it is, rather the characteristic cultural product of the eighties—the late Kádár-period. Many ideas were born to exploit the material and intellectual richness of both outdated public institutions: the Hungarian State Broadcasting and MAFILM, the Hungarian Film Studios, which was established in 1948 and was the largest and most significant film studio in Hungary. On the basis of earlier television and movie experiences the head of Budapest Pictures Studio, one of the organizational units of MAFILM formulated the idea that collecting the documentary background materials of former movie and television productions into a new archive would result in an unparalleled collection that could have been fruitfully exploited by future researchers in their scholarly efforts.

29Gábor Hanák graduated in Hungarian literature and history at ELTE University and was employed by the Hungarian Television where he was included into the staff of the tv-series Our Century and soon became the head of the social science department. The pieces of Our Century dealt with twentieth century Hungarian history in a popular manner and under the management of Péter Bokor lasted from 1965 until the system change. The raw material of the documentaries and the filmed interviews became the basis of CHI. In 1986 he was assigned the task of managing CHI in the National Széchényi Library and he held this function until 2007. As by OHA (see below) both the intellectual profile of the Archives’ founder, the connivance of the “lazy dictatorship” and the financial support of George Soros (later of the Soros Foundation) were decisive factors. The establishment of CHI was dependent on these factors, its survival after the system change was due first of all to the ambitions and efforts of Gábor Hanák.

30«Historical turns of fate”—the term used in the official statement—like “in the backstage of history” as formulated in the research program of OHA to be dealt with later made the scope of interview subjects quite wide. It was an unsaid but unanimously accepted principle of cultural policy at that time that not only unconditional supporters of the socialist order could be interviewed. Money was individually transferred, amounts in USD were exchanged into Hungarian florins by the Ministry of Culture, the institutional background was provided by the Széchényi Library, with the professional control by the State Scientific Board.

31Gábor Hanák summarized the aims of the archive in 1987 as follows:

  • 19 Video-emlékiratok. Beszélgetés Hanák Gáborral a Történeti Interjúk Táráról. [Video-Memoirs. Talkin (...)

«We would like to interview personalities and witnesses whose career and life-path not only reflects the history of our century but whose experiences, opinions, personal appearances and gestured accounts would complement our perception of this period by irreplaceable, nowhere else available information. This work amounts to a sort of rescuing evidence.19 (italics in the original).

32This passage contains three elements that have been crucial in determining the criteria of collection since then: interviews were conducted mostly with well-known personalities, public actors; visual representation was crucial for it provided additional information compared to the written or vocal material. Moreover conducting video interviews means a kind of social commitment for preparing and accumulating filmed material that can only be made in the present its use; however, is a future task.

  • 20 Members of the board in the early phase included Domokos Kosáry (historian, president of the Hunga (...)

33Attending to famous personalities is possibly a right and easily justified criterion. Many nonconformist personalities did not have the opportunity—both for political reasons and the lack of an adequate and cheap technique—to express their thoughts and relate their life-histories in a visual form. In their case conducting video interviews was extremely convenient for this proved to be the only possibility to summarize their life-work. At the same time filming well-known personalities was useful from the point of view of later usage in films and television productions alike because they, their acts and thoughts were what history was about—at least according to their interviewers. Thus the targeted group necessarily included only the elderly members of the Hungarian elite. The criteria of selection were influenced by the usage in television productions, the personal network of relations—both for surveyors and informants –, the fashionable contemporary historical themes—second world-war, the fate of the Second Hungarian Army during the fights by the Don river, Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring countries etc.—and the age of the informants. Although the activities of the collection were theoretically controlled by historians who also proposed personalities worth interviewing, Hanák himself did not call it research but rather “rescuing evidence”.20 This blurs out the ultimate purpose: research studies relying on the interviews.

34According to information provided by the staff about 1500 interviews have been collected in the archive. Compared to this number the ninety interviews we are aware of seems to be quite disappointing since neither the original recordings nor their transcripts are available. Not even the list of the interviews is public. Getting the triple license to look into the material has been consequently the researchers’ burden which makes any research absolute impossible not to speak of the fact that we simply have no information of the materials guarded in a public collection. Building up a database, securing researchability—of course respecting relevant authors’ and personality rights—ought to be a fundamental element of today’s archives and especially of the public type. In the case of CHI the structure that was formed in the eighties has not changed a lot; moreover the tasks of the archive have been complemented by several disconnected activities (Movie Treasures Collection, documents of Radio Free Europe Hungarian Division, BBC audio materials, recordings of five tv-channels). We are not competent to judge such changes but one thing is certain: it is to be regretted that capacity difficulties should make certain materials unavailable for research.

The Oral History Archives in the Institute of 1956

35Although academic interviewing and interview-elaboration are in several places at home in Hungary—see first of all the research work in the sociological and psychological departments of the universities—only OHA succeeded in arriving at a phase of institutionalization that has made possible a continuous activity extending for almost 40 years. Earlier the National Council of Trade Unions and the Reminiscences Collecting Group within the framework of the Party History Institute (presented in outlines earlier) targeted at writing and elaborating socialist memoirs; their activity was, however, stopped by the system change. At present OHA has by far the largest and oldest collection for explicit historically and sociologically oriented use.

  • 21 The word truth is deliberately unbracketed. It is my conviction that although postmodern thinking (...)

36OHA was born and succeeded in surviving in a very special historical situation which for the sake of simplicity we call “Kádár regime in the state of dissolution”. The credit belongs to the founders that they did not hesitate to challenge the ideology of the tyrannical system, even the key historical events of its genesis. No theoretical discussions took place in the interviews but the interviewed persons themselves could have been eyesores for the ruling power. The revolution of 1956 was regarded as taboo for three decades; its events were supressed from memory, only trustworthy ideologues and party historians were allowed to discuss them. In this atmosphere a great deal of courage was needed to, on one hand, turn to the persons who were involved in such a delicate subject that was deemed to oblivion, and on the other hand, to make a sound recording and later a transcript of their messages. The aim was to document the existence of analternative history against the official one. As archival sources were available to “court” historians alone disclosing truth required different means.21 In the atmosphere of a dictatorship, conducting interviews was used not only as a means of scientific knowledge; its application was motivated to a considerable extent by a search for truth akin to fact-finding journalism. The subject matter in this case was 1956 and the task to refute its official history with all the concomitant lies. This process did not conclude in alternative histories but rather in a sort of anti-history. This is what made sociologists—or other professionals—with tape recorders to identify with the freelance oppositional intellectual’s role in conducting their interviews; and this is what made them the depositaries of the producer and “knights” of the true story. To all of this, however, aids were required.

  • 22 First of all from Márton Tardos (Head of the Institute of Economics) and Iván Vitányi (sociologist (...)
  • 23 Gyula Kozák and Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár (Eds.) Budapesti Oral History Archívum 1981–1 (...)

37The aids came, logically, from among the party opposition of 1956. Due to personal connections the founders of OHA could turn to people who had suffered retaliations owing to their behaviour during the revolution but by the eighties had been given important positions; on the other hand support could be expected from institutional managers with oppositional, reformist attitude.22 (It is therefore not surprising that this cooperation survived less than a decade later when its protagonists were partly included into the party elite of both the Socialists and the Free Democrats.) The collection was housed between 1981 and 1985 first by the Institute of Economy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, then—with the support of the Soros Foundation—by the Institute of Cultural Studies of the National Popular Culture Centre.23

38Two important surveys had been completed before OHA would have extended its scope with its program “In the Backstage of History” that sounded sufficiently wide and apolitical. First, in 1981 group interviews extending over several months were conducted with participants of the revolution. Second, Another important survey was the manager-study that began in 1981. The research study The Organizational Structure of Our Economy was completed in the framework of the Institute of Economy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. It also included life-path interviews with technological, economic and political managers. The main subjects of the interviews conducted (under the direction of András Hegedűs B. and Gyula Kozák) by a team consisting mainly of young economists were the New Economic Mechanism introduced in 1968, and the following economic processes that ensued: a series of economic measures including market elements accompanied by cautious political liberalization. It lasted until the supression of the Czech reforms of 1968 that also meant the end of Hungarian liberalization and the withdrawal of the majority of the economic measures. The staff was also interested in family backgrounds and professional career building. 156 interviews evaluated and processed by senior researchers were conducted in four years.

39As already three decades had elapsed since the revolution of 1956, interviewing became especially urgent. Rescuing evidence and collecting the stories of past actors became the primary target. Interviews were meant to make up for the lack of written sources and remove the “blazes” of 1956. This enterprise was justified by the fact that the traumatic history of the revolution had been largely concealed in Hungarian society; while in Western countries the stories of the Shoah were the topic of discussions and re-discussions, in the framework of the dictatorship an alternative interpretation of the revolution had almost no chances whatsoever.

40Owing to their extended network the heads of OHA—who were involved personalities themselves—used a snowball-method in approaching informants. Due to this the intellectuals of the capital city became soon over-represented. 1956 took an outstanding place in the “interview-sketch”: informants had a sort of pre-existence (family history–socialization–starting a career) and a post-existence (retaliation– prison years–isolation–vegetation and/or gradual comeback) but the main point was to record the events of 1956 as detailed as possible. Consequently the so-called Summary included in the interview-aids also followed such a threefold pattern. To summarize the contents of the individual interviews in a few pages may help orientation but replacing the index by such a compendium and the lack of a clear encoding makes the use of computer database quite difficult. The result was a heap of life-histories giving a very detailed account of the days of the revolution which absolutely corresponded to the researcher’s intentions although was not quite plausible from the point of view of the informant. Both the activities of OHA and of revolution research as a whole were limited to the chronicle-like description of events and writing the participants’ biographies even after the system change.

41The system change created a role-confusion in the functioning of OHA. Archival materials have become increasingly available and historians could get hold of their “justified property” like contemporary minute-books, police and court documents etc. Theoretically there was already no need for supplying deficiencies and collecting stories with traditional story-telling methods. While this would have forced interwievers into a defensive position the progress of research—plus the efficient institutional organizing—justified the surviving of OHA. The scholarly value of reliving historical events and their subjective interpretation seemed to approach the level of more conservative history-interpretations. The director of OHA justified the sense of interviewing in the first Yearbook of the Institute as follows:

  • 24 Gyula Kozák, Az Oral History Archívumról. [Thoughts about the Oral History Archive in Budapest] In (...)

“We regarded audiotaped life-histories as a means to get a relatively extensive knowledge of the subjective experiences or otherwise unavailable ideas of the individual’s role in history that couldn’t have been verbalized without the interviewer’s interference. At the same time we have always been aware of the fact that interviewing itself was not sufficient for history-writing which was true vice versa though: relying only on traditional sources would have distorted our perception.”24 (italics – A.L.)

42From the mid-nineties onwards a new research program has been started in OHA. Zsuzsa Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár published their volume I lived with secrets in my soul in 2000 and this book proved to be a gem of oral history in Hungary. Relying on their earlier network they selected one group, i.e. the children of convicted inmates after 1956 and investigated how the stigmatization revealed itself in their everyday life.

“In our research we looked for answers to the following: What kind of memories do these inmates’ children retain of the days of 1956; their parents’ roles; and of the suppression of the revolution and the retaliation that followed? How did all these affect the inmates’ families? How did they live under the changed circumstances and elaborate their traumata? What kind of discrimination did they suffer? What were the informal and formal reactions of their narrower and wider surroundings (micro-communities, school, workplace, military) to the otherness of the children and how did they themselves react?”

43The questions referred to specific life-situations, behaviour patterns and attitudes. The bundle of interviews (43 interviews were conducted in this research project) could not only reveal individual fates but group characteristics as well, i.e. through spontaneous comparisons we can form an image of the relationships and attitudes of people living under dictatorship. This extensive project provided further novelties, too: the life-history centred interview as framework still remained but the size diminished as compared to earlier versions. A psychologist was also included into the survey; she probably helped sociologists to analyse the effects of trauma. And finally, the authors were capable of getting rid of the constraints of fact-finding.

  • 25 Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár, Titokkal a lelkemben éltem. Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 2000, (...)

“We show what the informant recalled during the conversations. We do not investigate the factual and truth value, i.e. the authenticity of anything we hear. We are not entitled to override them and this is not our task either. We should accept everything and have no means to control any story or sentiment they evoke. These are co-existing, relative histories for there is not one universally valid story.”25

44This book with its fresh approach surpassed anything the oral history works of the preceding decade were able to offer. After the promising methodological transformation, however, no works of similar quality followed this pioneering book. The Memory of the Sixties and The Memory of the Revolution that were published in 2004 and 2007 respectively are both entertaining and exciting selections but they actually mark a retreat to the tradition—to be overcome—of thematic volumes. The Other Hungary project that started in 2005 with much enthusiasm and investigated critical-oppositional groups in the widest sense of the word has not fulfilled expectations: it has not been summarized and elaborated since then. These interviews with more recent ones taken about the resilience and the democratic transition in 1989/90 have been, however, later used and integrated into international research and memory frameworks on the same topics.26

45A recurrent problem of oral history methodology is representativeness. The same applies to the history of OHA. The editors in the introductions of individual volumes or essays frequently refer to this issue. Let’s see an example:

“Neither the revolution of 1956, nor the historical epoch in the wider sense that preceded the revolution can be adequately interpreted without its antecedents and consequences. This is one reason why in selecting our informants we laid great stress to their representativeness (of course not in a statistical sense) of both in terms of the period between 1953–1963 and in a wider sense of Hungarian history after 1945 as a whole.” (italics – A.L.)

46In this and similar formulations lack of statistical representativeness is dealt with as an unpleasant fact although with the additional remark that reminiscences do include essential and authentic information.

47Representativeness was regarded as “not statistical, mathematical”, or else as something “qualitative”. A sufficient number of different persons could relatively well reflect the characteristic macro-groups of Hungarian society. But as this required serious mathematical operations a representative sample would be out of question. Moreover qualitative data-collection, i.e. interviewing by putting the fate of individuals into flashlight and not considering members of large groups as a homogenous mass tries to correct the weaknesses of quantitative methods. By the turn of the century, however, the reality of large social strata was increasingly blurred and traditional hard variables (gender, age, education, financial situation, place of residence, social status etc.) gave way to consumers’ habits in describing different smaller—and homogenous—strata. In the OHA volumes such variables were applied—in a sort of quota sampling method—to present characteristic types.

48Let me comment on the evaluation of oral history in general and OHA in particular. The majority of OHA publications consists of different—shorter or lengthier—interview-selections. Excerpts from reminiscences have been usually included into thematic volumes as “relaxing” materials, i.e. as illustrations. The appeal of edited materials is dependent on featuring well-known personalities especially when a public actor reveals his/her unofficial, human face. Such stories can be pleasant and exciting readings although their scholarly value is clearly not equivalent to that of professional essays.

49As the heroic, evidence-rescuing period of the eighties closed down it was rather the order of magnitude than importance or applicability of the interviews that evoked the visitors’ veneration. In the three years preceding 2006 about annually 30-35 researchers visited the archive. By the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution, however, their number tripled. The everyday activity of the staff has focused on accumulation, the development and refreshment of data storage and the production of scholarly aids, rather than on new surveys or large-scale interviewing. Owing to the early application of this method and their enormous empirical experience members of the staff could have been regarded as acknowledged gurus of national oral history. This is, however, not the case. Why? Because their theoretical thinking that was not apt to innovations and to the relevant foreign literature is not sufficiently taken into consideration either. Another problem was the loose connection to university education; a closer contact would have contributed to the study of new problems and the application of alternative methods.

Centropa Foundation

50An international foundation with different aims and organization has come into being since the beginning of the 21st century in Budapest. Centropa has been dedicated to the memory of the life of Eastern-European Jewry in the 20st century.

51The founder of Centropa is the Austrian-American photographer, documentary film-maker and journalist Edward Serotta. By the end of the 1980s, he had managed to build his personal archive of photographs collected from Jews of Eastern European origin. He was also devoted to taking photographs and recording interviews. After a long preparation period, the Central Europe Centre for Research and Documentation was registered as a non-profit NGO in the USA in the mid-1990s, with its headquarters located in Vienna, Austria and an additional office in Budapest, Hungary.

52In the framework of the project “Jewish Life-Histories in the 20th century”, life-path interviews have been conducted in 15 countries and a collection of visual material has been built up. Since 2000, Centropa has interviewed 1,200 elderly Jews. Most of the interviews were carried out between 2000 and 200727.

53The target group of the interviewers has been quite definite: the age group born between 1910 and 1935. These elderly persons have been offered the opportunity to tell the story of their families in the first half of the century, in the period of the Shoah and after. The primary purpose of the research project has been to document the everyday life of Jewish families, the best source of which are privately owned photographs. Photos have a key function in the project for they not only have documentary value but frequently can help in evoking memories. Explanations added to the pictures, the stories evolving from the explanations complement visual memory very well, moreover they are in themselves quite informative and worth to be recorded for posterity.

  • 28 A similar although much more modest effort can also be observed in OHA, see the Everyday Life in t (...)

54In the materials of Centropa, photo and text have approximately the same value although the genesis of the foundation has been mainly due to the accumulated photographs. The difference between Centropa and other oral history archives in Hungary is not only the equal role of the interviews as compared to visual documents; the Internet as mediator of contents plays a far more significant role than either by OHA or by CHI. Photos and interviews have been prepared mainly for the public with propagator and pedagogical purposes. The task of the interviewer does not run out with the organization of the interview, the filling out of the (quite lengthy) questionnaire, the drawing of the family-tree, collection of the photos, the preparation of the transcript and the completion of the interview. The transcript of the tape-recorded material should be edited to a twenty-thirty pages long “reader-friendly” form. Centropa tries to reach the possibly widest publicity28 which presumably also has a reinforcing, legitimizing effect for the foundation itself.

55An earlier version of the website showed additional explanations to concepts and words; the current version makes neither these nor the methodological guidelines available. One of the biggest advantages of the present platform is that one can search in the database and explore the texts and images by categories such as state, individual, occupation, place, activity, document, Holocaust or military rank. It aims to reach a wider public. Hence the online platform is not concerned with the “raw” texts and sounds. These are, however, available to researchers upon request.

  • 29 At any case they could make public the scope of the original interview. And we would prefer to rea (...)

56On the Hungarian website, one can browse among 220 edited interviews and approx. 5,000 digitised photographs; photographs and interviews were collected between 2000 and 2008. From 2007 the foundation has been carrying out educational programs, exhibitions, commemoration events, social live for Holocaust survivors. What is missing a bit is perhaps the analysis of accumulated data although this may be not their task either.29

A Sad Epilogue

  • 30 The 1956 Institute were first included into the National Library, then with an unexpected politica (...)
  • 31 The “Veritas” Institue inherited the collection of the OHA after the final smash of the formal Res (...)
  • 32

57As remarked earlier the political changes in Hungary have not been favourable for the survival of OH workshops,30 and they have the same detrimental effects on the practice of human studies and social history as well. The newly established research institutes (Veritas Research Institute and Archive, NEB – The Committee of National Remembrance, Research Institute and Archives for the History of Regime Change – Retörki) do dictatorship research investigating the forms of suppression of the Communist system, its perpetrators and victims.31 They primarily satisfy political needs and are reluctant to use OH both as far as interviewing and analysis are concerned. Although practitioners of social sciences do make studies based on interviews these materials have been included mostly into scholarly essays but their follow-ups and secondary application are not solved. This makes the initiative of the TK research group of Lorand Eötvös Research Network (earlier Hungarian Academy of Sciences)–Voices of the 20th Century Archive, collecting materials of sociological surveys including interviews of the last decades—especially important.32 The digital archive, established in 2007 contains an additional 50 interviews made with sociologists and several collections of interviews conducted with Holocaust survivors.

  • 33 Ferenc Erős, “A zsidó identitás ‘felfedezése’ Magyarországon a nyolcvanas években. [The Discovery (...)
  • 34 Éva Kovács - András Lénárt - Anna Lujza Szász: Oral History Collections on the Holocaust in Hungar (...)

58The first steps towards the collecting the oral memories of the Shoah were taken by two psychologists, Ferenc Erős and András Stark. They were interested in how the first-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors coped with the anxiety stemming from their Jewishness or from its concealment.33 In the mid 1980s further ambitious research projects were started and articles were published in the 1990s based on the approximately 150 in-depth interviews conducted a decade earlier by interviewers with various social backgrounds.34 Another interview project, this one related to psychoanalysis, was started in 1986–87. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Social Scientific Board of the Soros Foundation supported a research project entitled “The effect of prolonged and vitally dangerous social discrimination on the psychic life of survivors’ children”.

59These early collections of interviews were adopted and elaborated by “Voices” like the material of later Holocaust research. In 2002, the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior initiated an international project for the worldwide recording of testimonies given by survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp and its satellite camps. The Hungarian team recorded 52 audio and 5 video interviews in Hungarian, using the narrative technique. One copy of each interview, of the collected artefacts as well as of their additional documentation came to Hungary in the autumn of 2011. Since 2012, the material has been accessible through an online platform. Another bundle of survivors interviews was initiated by the German Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ – Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft). As the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II was approaching, the EVZ intended to give voice to those individuals who were deployed as forced labourers or slave workers in the Third Reich between 1939 and 1945. The Hungarian team, led by Éva Kovács, conducted fifteen interviews in Hungary and four interviews in Slovakia, all of them in Hungarian. Voices of the 20th Century Archive and Research Group finally got the copyright for these interviews in order to promote further research on the material in Hungary.

60Ironically, original copies have been guarded by Blinken Open Society Archive of the CEU (for the time being in Budapest) and not by state institutions—for security reasons. Much more worrisome is the wider context: it has been a general experience of many researchers since the mid-2000s that making interviews has been increasingly difficult in Hungary; people have become reluctant to express their opinions and were afraid of undesirable retorsions. All this seems to be quite similar to the pre-1990 period...

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Beszámoló az Intézet 1993–1994. évi tevékenységéről. (1994) In Évkönyv III., Budapest, 1956-os Intézet.

Sándor Horváth, 1956 történetírása a rendszerváltás óta. Századvég, Új folyam, 2002, 7. évf.,, 107.

Kerekasztal-beszélgetés az Intézet múltjáról, jelenéről, jövőjéről létrehozásának 50. éfordulóján (1999). Múltunk 44/1., 202-215.

Éva Kovács, Interjús módszerek és technikák. In Közösségtanulmány. Módszertani jegyzet, szerk. Kovács Éva, Budapest, 2007, 269-276.

Eva Kovács and Júlia Vajda, Mutatkozás. Zsidó Identitás Történetek, Budapest, 2002, 61-78.

Kozák Gyula – Kőrösi Zsuzsanna – Molnár Adrienne (Eds.) (1996), Budapesti Oral History Archívum 1981–1996. Budapest.

Gyula Kozák, Az Oral History Archívumról. In Évkönyv I. Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 1992, 256.

Kőrösi zsuzsanna – Molnár Adrienne (szerk.) (2000). Titokkal a lelkemben éltem. Budapest.

Petrák Katalin (1975), A visszaemlékezés-gyűjtés módszertanáról. Kézirat, Budapest.

Rosenthal, G. (1989) May 1945; The Biographical Meaning of a Historical Event. International Journal of Oral History, 10, 3., 183-192.

Rosenthal, G., (1995) Erlebte und erzȁhlte Lebensgeschichte, Gestalt und Struktur biographischer Selbsbeschreibungen. Frankfurt-New York.

Schütze, F.(1983) Biographieforschung und narratives Interview. Neue Praxis, 13, 283-294.

S. Vincze Edit (1974), Bevezető tanulmány a Tanúságtevők c. sorozat első kötetéhez. In Petrák Katalin vál., szerk., Visszaemlékezések a magyarországi munkásmozgalom történetélből 1869–1905. Budapest, 5.

Párttörténeti Intézet Levéltára (PIL[A1]).

Ságvári Ágnes (1979), Budapest Főváros Levéltárának Nehézségei és problémái a levéltári munka során. In Gáspár Ferenc (szerk.), Budapest Főváros Levéltára Közleményei, Budapest, 19.

Tóth Eszter Zsófia (2005), Munkásság és oral history, Múltunk, 50.,, 78-99.

Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. Dokumentumok.(1958, 1960, 1967) Ed. Karsai, Elek with Benoschofsky, Ilona, I–II., III. Magyar Izraeliták Országos Képviselete.

Video-emlékiratok. Beszélgetés Hanák Gáborral a Történeti Írók Táráról (1987). Új Tükör, 35.évf., augusztus 16,

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1 To read more on the narrative interview method and on its theoretical background, see: Eva Kovács and Júlia Vajda, Mutatkozás. Zsidó Identitás Történetek, Budapest, Múlt és Jövő, 2002, p. 61-78.; Gabrielle Rosenthal, Erlebte und erzȁhlte Lebensgeschichte, Gestalt und Struktur biographischer Selbsbeschreibungen, Frankfurt-New York, Campus, 1995.

2 On the Institute and its successor, the Institute of Party History see in more length: Kerekasztal-beszélgetés az Intézet múltjáról, jelenéről, jövőjéről létrehozásának 50. éfordulóján [Roundtable discussion about the Institute’s past, present and future on the 50th anniversary of its founding.] Múltunk, 1999, 44/1., p. 202-215.

The research institute was renamed to Institute of Political History due to the political changes, and the archives were under constant attack after 2010; first they were forced to include one part of their free available materials to the National Archives, then the restricted staff had to leave its headquarters originally facing the building of the Parliament.

3 Just as auxiliaries for school ceremonies included complete ceremonial materials and popular operas with detailed cast etc.

4 Edit S. Vincze, Bevezető tanulmány a Tanúságtevők című sorozat első kötetéhez. [Introduction to the first volume of the Witnesses series.] In Katalin Petrák (Ed) Visszaemlékezések a magyarországi munkásmozgalom történetéből, 1869–1905. [Recollections from the history of the workers' movement in Hungary 1869–1905.] Budapest, Kossuth, 1974, p. 5.

5 Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 3. ő.e., 14.

6 The more significant were the recollections of Géza Révész (1878-1955), Hungarian-Dutch psychologist, regarded as one of the pioneers of European psychology, Pál Justus (1905–1965) writer, member of the Socialdemocratic Party and Árpád Szakasits (1888–1965) social democrat then comunist politician, president of Hungary 1948–50. Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 2. ő.e., 7.

7 Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 2. ő.e. 8.

8 There was a separate list of such materials that were deemed as useless in order to be prepared in case the informant would wish to supply new informations to earlier reminescenses, Katalin Petrák, A visszaemlékezés-gyűjtés módszertanáról. [On the methodology of memory collection.] Manuscript, Budapest, 1975, p. 22.

9 Petrák, op. cit., p. 34.

10 Petrák, op. cit., 45.

11 Minutes of the conference of Reminescenses-Collecting Group, 9 May, 1965. Institute of Political History, (PIL), 280 f./ 4. ő.e., p. 47.

12 Petrák, op. cit., p. 50.

13 Minutes, op. cit., 46. Elek Karsai (1922–1988) historian and archivist was the editor of the first volumes published on the persecution of Jewish people in Hungary: Vádirat a nácizmus ellen. [Indictment against Nazism Vol. I-II-III.] Budapest, MIOK, 1958, 1960, 1967.

14 Az MSZMP Központi Bizottsága Agitációs és Propaganda Bizottságának állásfoglalása a munkásmozgalmi emlékek megőrzéséről, 1975. december 23. [Resolution of the Agitation and Propaganda Committee of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party on the preservation of memories of the labour movement] In MSZMP határozatai és dokumentumai. 1975-1980. [Resolutions and documents of the MSZMP 1975-1980] (Ed.) Henrik Vass. Budapest, Kossuth, 1983., p. 140.

15 Ágnes Ságvári, Budapest Főváros Levéltárának Nehézségei és problémái a levéltári munka során. [Difficulties and Problems of the City Archives of Budapest in the course of archival work.] In Ferenc Gáspár (Ed), Budapest Főváros Levéltára Közleményei, Budapest, 1979, 19.

16 In the official terminology Budapest and Hungary were liberated by the Soviet Army from the German occupation. Budapest was united with its suburbs in 1950, forming Greater Budapest including eight new districts – fomer suburban villages and towns.

17 Samizdat: from thew Russin szamo-izdatyelsztvo (self-published) illegally printed and distributed opposition materials.

18 Worth to mention here only two women, wives of top communist politicians Mrs. Rezsőné Nyers, Mrs. Antalné Apró, Rezső Nyers was named to the Central Committee, remaining a member until 1989. Antal Apró served as Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary between 1971 and 1984. His granddaughter Klára Dobrev is the wife of the former Prime Minister (2004-2010) Ferenc Gyurcsány.

19 Video-emlékiratok. Beszélgetés Hanák Gáborral a Történeti Interjúk Táráról. [Video-Memoirs. Talking with Gábor Hanák about the Collection of Historical Interviews] Új Tükör 35. évf. (1987. augusztus 16.) 33. sz. p. 15-16.

20 Members of the board in the early phase included Domokos Kosáry (historian, president of the Hungarian Aademy of Sciences from 1990 until 1996), György Ránki (historian), Gyula Juhász (historian and Chief Librarist), Iván Berend T. (historian, Head of the Hungarian Academy od Sciences between 1989-1990, member of the Party Central Comittee between 1988 and 1989), Elemér Hankiss (sociologist, president of the Hungarian Television from 1990 to 1993) and Miklós Vásárhelyi (journalist, representative of the George Soros Foundation in Hungary in the 1980’s), later Vera Gyürey, head of the Hungarian Film Institute, Géza Poprády from the Széchényi Library, Zsigmond Gábor Erdei and Tamás Erdei, managers of the Hungarian Foreign Trade Bank.

21 The word truth is deliberately unbracketed. It is my conviction that although postmodern thinking does not accept the homogeneity and exclusiveness of this notion, the truth-falsehood dichotomy is still existing in our everyday perception and the founders of OHA probably could not distance themselves from the simplifying but very plausible traditional view.

22 First of all from Márton Tardos (Head of the Institute of Economics) and Iván Vitányi (sociologist, director of the Cultural Research Institute from 1980 to 1986). A past member of the party opposition, Miklós Vásárhelyi –leading representative of the Board of Soros-MTA Foundation, formally the personal representative of George Soros – could help the activities of OHA from the other side.

23 Gyula Kozák and Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár (Eds.) Budapesti Oral History Archívum 1981–1996. [Oral History Archive in Budapest] Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 1996, 8.

24 Gyula Kozák, Az Oral History Archívumról. [Thoughts about the Oral History Archive in Budapest] In Évkönyv I. Az 1956-os Intézet Évkönyve. [The Yearbook of the 1956th Research Institute] Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 1992, 256.

25 Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Adrienne Molnár, Titokkal a lelkemben éltem. Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 2000, 27. [English version: Carrying a secret in my heart. Children of the victims of the reprisal after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Budapest - New York, Central European University Press, 2003.].

26 See the Hungarian related interviews and descriptions of the homepages: and


28 A similar although much more modest effort can also be observed in OHA, see the Everyday Life in the Kadar period online development. By CHI a different, moreover contrary tendency, prevails.

29 At any case they could make public the scope of the original interview. And we would prefer to read more about the identities of the interviewers.

30 The 1956 Institute were first included into the National Library, then with an unexpected political move it was incorporated into the newly established Veritas Institute in 2019. The staff seeing the probable unfavorable follow-up collectively quitted.

31 The “Veritas” Institue inherited the collection of the OHA after the final smash of the formal Research Institute of the 1956 Revolution. Part of the interviews are still available in the website of the now private foundation as a sign of resistance against the aggresive intervene of governmental memory politics.


33 Ferenc Erős, “A zsidó identitás ‘felfedezése’ Magyarországon a nyolcvanas években. [The Discovery of the Jewish Identity in Hungary in the 1980’s] In. Katalin Bárdos – Ferenc Erős – Pál Kardos: In memoriam Virág Teréz. Budapest, Animula, 2003, 53–58.; Ferenc Erős and András Kovács and Katalin Lévai, Hogyan jöttem rá, hogy zsidó vagyok? [How Did I realise that I am a Jew?], In: Medvetánc [Bear’s Dance] 2-3, 1985, 129-145.

34 Éva Kovács - András Lénárt - Anna Lujza Szász: Oral History Collections on the Holocaust in Hungary 52 S: I. M. O. N. Shoah: Intervention. Methods. Documentaion.

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András Lénárt, « An Exploration of Oral History in Central and Eastern Europe »Bulletin de l'AFAS, 48 | 2022, 232-253.

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András Lénárt, « An Exploration of Oral History in Central and Eastern Europe »Bulletin de l'AFAS [En ligne], 48 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 14 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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András Lénárt

Titulaire d’un doctorat en histoire économique et sociale de l’université ELTE de Budapest (Hongrie), il est actuellement chargé de recherche au sein du Holocaust Memorial Center de Budapest. Au cours de sa carrière professionnelle, il s’est spécialisé dans l’histoire orale, la micro-histoire, l’histoire intellectuelle de l’après-guerre, l’histoire de l’émigration hongroise en 1956 et, récemment, l’histoire et les représentations de l’Holocauste. En 2022, il a édité un volume de conférence intitulé Where do we go from here? Jewish families after WWII. Membre du nouveau groupe d’experts en photographie de l’Holocauste de l’EHRI (European Holocaust Research Infrastructure), il est le rédacteur en chef de deux sites qui mettent en lien photographies et histoire : et

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