The mayor of Budapest announced this past week that the Hungarian capital was canceling its plans to present an anti-Semitic play at a theater that is funded by the local government.
“The Sixth Coffin,” which takes place in France in 1920, focuses on a group of powerful Jews who engage in a conspiracy to destroy Hungary and foster another world war soon after the conclusion of World War I. The drama was scheduled to open in early 2013 in Budapest’s famous New Theatre, which had been granted $500,000 from the city last year.
The mayor’s decision was a victory for a group of Hungarian intellectuals, known as “It Cannot Be,” who intensively lobbied actors’ associations and local media outlets to help prevent the staging of a production they felt could incite anti-Semitism. “Some blame the mayor for letting the whole thing balloon,” said Csaki Fischer, whose husband Adam is the general music director of the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. “Others blame him for appointing an extreme rightist as director of the New Theatre and for never actually condemning the play. But at least the mayor said something.”
According to the mayor, New Theatre director Gyorgy Dorner informed him that the theater would replace “The Sixth Coffin” with another play by the same playwright on a completely different subject.
“My involvement in this issue has to do with my family, and all the other victims of the Holocaust,” Adam Fischer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “But it is not the Jews alone, not even the Hungarians alone, that worry me; I do believe that tendencies in Hungary … are a danger for the whole of Europe.”
The storyline of “The Sixth Coffin” features two Hungarian scientists who invent a time machine that visualizes the 1920 signing of the Treaty of Trianon, an element of the Versailles Peace Treaty that brought World War I to an end. In the historical scene as displayed by the time machine, powerful Jews maneuvered post-war arrangements to cause Hungary to relinquish 72 percent of its territory.
The play’s script portrays four Jews who allegedly decided to “dismember Hungary” and arouse the international tensions that generated World War II. One of the Jews, Edmond James Rothschild is shown as a member of the secret society of Jews and a close friend of Leon Trotsky, the communist Soviet leader. “Thus, the capitalist and the communist Jews are intertwined as the two faces of Jewry,” noted Sandor Radnoti, a philosopher and arts scholar who spoke out against the play.
Fischer believes that a government-subsidized production of “The Sixth Coffin” would have been another manifestation of the current phenomenon of increasing acceptance of anti-Semitism in Hungary. “Things that were unthinkable five years ago are acceptable today,” he insisted. “An artist must speak up when a publicly funded theater in the capital of an EU country plans to show anti-Semitic pieces — something that has not happened since World War II.”
In June, Peter Feldmajer, the president of Hungary’s Jewish community, declared in a speech to members of the European Parliament in Belgium that Hungarian Jews “feel increasing danger” in a country whose government appears to tolerate anti-Semitism.
“I am content for now that this play has been canceled,” said Csaki Fischer. “I know that in a few weeks there may be neo-Nazi demonstrations. I know that shortly, some other form of ugliness will present itself. But at least here is one less exhausting battle for us to fight.”