A Terrifying Poignancy – Randolph Braham: Encyclopedias Of Sorrow (Part Three)

It took twenty years of painstaking work for Randolph Braham to research and write his seminal work on the Hungarian Holocaust. In 1981 that two volume, 1,269 page study, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust of Hungary was published. It set a standard that has never been surpassed. Braham’s work was a product of extreme thoroughness, with the emphasis on extreme. He presented a massive amount of information within the framework of a compelling narrative. It showed how the Holocaust came about and then was carried out in Hungary. The book was then, as it is today, the premier reference work on the topic. That is because it was based upon thousands upon thousands of hours of research from a wide variety of sources in multiple languages. Collecting and assimilating the research was one thing, it was quite another to organize it into a coherent whole. Braham did this with considerable skill. The incredible amount of detail found in the two-volume, thirty-two chapter work cannot be understated.

A Nightmare During Daylight - Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A Nightmare In Broad Daylight – Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Resurrecting Truth – From Darkness Into Light
It is hard to fathom how one person could have the intellectual capacity, ambition and passion to do this much academic research, then carry it to conclusion after two decades of work. A monumental amount of patience and effort was needed to complete both the main narrative, as well as four appendixes, a ten page long chronological timeline of key events, seven page glossary of terms and an index three times that long.  All this added up to the most comprehensive coverage of the Hungarian Holocaust ever put down on paper. The Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators would have been astounded to discover that anyone would go to such lengths in cataloging their crimes. Their efforts to destroy the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews tragically succeeded, but those same efforts to destroy history failed miserably. Braham singlehandedly reconstructed the Hungarian Holocaust from archives in Europe and the United States. He turned out to be the ultimate antidote to those who had tried to erase the Jewish presence in Hungary.

Braham was relentless to the point of obsessiveness. This allowed him to resurrect history that many felt was better off left buried. Braham delineated the actions and intentions which led to the destruction of a large proportion of Hungarian Jewry. His work left the guilty nowhere to hide. They could be found in the pages of his two volume classic. To immerse oneself in such dark subject matter for years on end took someone of great mental stability. Braham never broke down under the strain of his research and writing. It would surely have been easy considering the subject matter. He readily admitted to being consumed by a mission. Stating in his characteristically direct style, that “My function is to pursue the truth.” That pursuit meant going to extraordinary lengths in order to ensure the truth was brought from darkness into the light.

Braham’s work was a duty to the memory of those who were murdered, as well as a gift of knowledge to future generations. The only way not to repeat one of the gravest sins in history was to educate and illuminate. In this Braham succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. The Politics of Genocide was more than a book, it was also an artifact that would provide scholars, students and other interested parties the knowledge needed to understand the how and why of the Holocaust. To give future generations the correct information to help them fathom how an entire race of people could be murdered for no other reason than who they were. Braham made the unfathomable understandable. Few have performed such a feat of historical scholarship. The most incredible thing was that Braham was just getting started. There was more, much more from him to come.

Randolph Braham - The Scholar of Hungarian Jews' Sorrow

Randolph Braham – The Scholar of Hungarian Jews’ Sorrow

The Forces Of Fascism – A Mania For Deportation
The culmination of Braham’s decades of research on the Holocaust were brought to fruition with the publication of The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust In Hungary. These three volumes were published in 2013, over three decades after the Politics of Genocide. The Encyclopedia managed to go into even greater detail than Braham’s previous works. He acted as the editor and primary contributor, while at the same time overseeing the efforts of twenty other scholars who contributed articles. The volumes once again relied on Braham’s hallmarks, intensive research from a wide range of sources. If there was a source worth reading than Braham or the other contributors read it. A brilliant mind, Braham brought together the intellectual brainpower that could handle the enormous task of documenting 600,000 Hungarian Jewish lives being lost in less than a year.

A withering array of details were documented. This included information concerning the Holocaust’s effect on even the tiniest of villages. There were many entries for places with only a handful of Jews. The scores of villages affected were given space in the text alongside cities. Such minute details from remote villages made for a terrifying poignancy. Arresting and deporting Jews meant scouring villages in the most remote areas of Hungary. The mania for deportation knew no bounds. Jews in tahe Hungarian countryside suffered more than most. The once serene countryside was stalked by the forces of evil for months on end. No Hungarian Jew was safe from the forces of fascism. Braham’s work showed that the devil really was in the details.

A Nightmare During Daylight - Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A Nightmare During Daylight – Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Truth Sitting On Shelves – A Life’s Work
Randolph Braham’s work on the Hungarian Holocaust was done to ensure that the world would never forget what happened to the Jews of Hungary during the latter part of World War II. Because of Braham many people have not forgotten, but others have managed to dissemble, misremember or deflect blame. That was why in 2005, Braham returned his Order of the Star of Romania. Less than a decade later, he did the same with his Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. It was unconscionable for Braham that nationalist governments were misrepresenting what had really happened during the Holocaust. Braham had explicitly outlined this history in his works. If only the present generation could bring themselves to read and study his books. The truth is sitting on shelves all over Europe and the United States awaiting rediscovery. That was Braham’s great gift to the world, if only we could accept it.

Click here for: From One Life To Another – Randolph Braham: A Duty To Discover & Document (Part Two)

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