Interview with László Karsai--January 10, 2016

Interview with László Karsai, Professor of History at Szeged University in Hungary. The interview was conducted in Budapest, Hungary on January 10, 2016. To access an mp3 of the complete interview, click here.

László Karsai specializes in the history of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in Hungary. He has also written on the nationality question in France and on the Gypsy Holocaust in Hungary. 

His publications include: A cigánykérdés Magyarországon 1919-1945. Út a cigány Holocausthoz [The Gypsy Question in Hungary 1919-1945. Toward the Gypsy Holocaust] (1992), as well as with many works, including a book on the nationalities question in Belgium (Flamandok és vallonok, 1986), and a biography of the Hungarian Arrow Cross leader, Ferenc Szálasi (Szálasi Ferenc - Politikai életrajz, 2016). He also compiled and edited two extensive volumes of primary sources: one of anti-Semitic writings and another of writings against anti-Semitism in Hungary. 

Special thanks to Máté Rigó, Cornell University Ph.D. student, for preparing an inventory of the interview. 

Interview Themes

0:41 Family origins, Elek Karsai (b. 1922), Holocaust, survival of father in Buda in 1944
2:00 Holocaust in family history
3:20 1983 – Starts research on Hungarian Gypsy Holocaust
5:00 Elek Karsai’s Holocaust stories, his work on Szálasi’s trial
7:00 Ph.D. dissertation on the nationality question and Marxism, criticizes Marx and Engels
8:00 1978-79: his paper published in Magyar Filozófiai Szemle, identifies as a right-wing dissident at Szeged University
10:00 Publications on the Holocaust
11:00 Elek Karsai’s political trajectory, 1940s, finished rabbinical seminary, then became social democrat, then communist; starts his career as sociology professor around Sándor Szalai; After Szalai’s conviction he works as an archivist at the National Archives
15:00 Father rejoins the communist party in the early 1960s.
16:00 Karsai’s articles in Beszélő in 1980s, in which he criticized Tamás Krausz and László Béládi
20:00 Parallels between the leftist and liberal generations of intellectuals that came of age in 1945 and 1989: missed opportunities and the experience of having “screwed up”
22:00 Elek Karsai's documentary book on 1944/1945 Sorsforduló, protest by Czechoslovak embassy, book triggered political scandal, Soviet communist party initiates censorship of L. Karsai's work
24:00 Elek Karsai nominated as director of Trade Union Archive
28:00 Sociology as a discipline in late 1940s, József Szigeti, István Király
34:00 Fear as a defining experience of his father
35:00  László Karsai’s mother and grandmother, Emma Lederer
40:00 Grandmother and politics, Mihály Babits, Antonio Widmar, László Hárs
44:00 Political convictions of the women in his family; Mother worked at the Hungarian Television, travel to Cannes
49:00 Reading complete works of Marx and Engels
51:00 1956 Revolution as taboo, disillusionment with communism in late 1950s
56:00 Elek Karsai’s radio show
58:00 Protest of Hungarian writers at the UN
1:00:00 Exposure to anti-Communist literature in Paris in early 1980s, 1956 literature
1:03:00 1956 Revolution, Tibor Méray – Tamás Aczél, Tisztító vihar
1:07:00 Expulsion from Szeged University
1:12:00 History and historiography of the Holocaust
1:16:00 Historian as public intellectual in Hungary
1:17:00 Mistakes of the generation of 1989, Viktor Orbán, similar to Franz Joseph and János Kádár as “father figure” for Hungarians, corruption
1:22:00 The crisis of liberal democracy
1:28:00 Hungarian Jews and the migrant crisis, György Konrád, Hungarian Jews and politics after 1989
1:33:00 Migrant crisis, Muslim minorities from North Africa and the Middle East