By: Jillian Lipman

The story of 1945 begins and ends on a hot day in July in post-War Hungary as two Orthodox Jews with large wooden boxes enter a rural town. Written by Gábor T. Szántó, adapted for the screen in 2017 and directed by renowned filmmaker Ferenc Török, this story paints a picture of a community’s response to supposed mysterious returners to a town, as townspeople moved into the homes and repossessed the objects of the Jews who had been deported. In the wake of the appearance of these strangers, town authorities and villagers have different responses– panic, guilt, defensiveness, and indifference, to name a few. All the while, the voices of the two Jews are not heard, they simply march through the town with their goods in a silent procession. 

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Picture from the film 1945, Directed by Ferenc Török.

Both the short story and the film offer a narrative that is often left untold. Many depictions of the Second World War end at liberation, lending to the belief that after camps or hiding, the lives of survivors went back to normal, that the war ended for them as well. However, we know this is not the case. Survivors experienced additional trauma after their liberation– at the hands of liberators, by authorities in transit, and by community members and even governments upon their returns. This story offers answers to why some Jews did not want to go back to their so-called hometowns, and why many of those who did soon emigrated. The short story can be found online in Hungarian here, and will soon be available in English. The film can be purchased wherever movies are sold, or through the Zachor Foundation’s Website

The lessons of this story are still important today when considering the plight of refugees. That is why the USC Shoah Foundation and the Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance developed activities for students based on both the short story and the film. 

1945– Homecoming

The lesson about the film is available in both English and Hungarian on the USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness platform.

  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Grades: 8-12

In this activity, students examine primary sources, for example, an inventory detailing Jewish property confiscated by the state. They consider the concept of legality, the role of the state, and the role of the citizen.

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Screenshot from Pál Bárdos’s testimony, available on IWitness.
USC Shoah Foundation.

Students also watch testimony from Pál Bárdos, a Hungarian survivor who describes his experiences returning to his hometown. Using additional testimony, in combination with clips from the film, students consider the emotions and behaviors of both Jewish survivors and the townspeople.

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Students are asked, “Do you thing Ágnes Heller’s statement (“People wanted to forget it”) can also refer to other members of society, other than the survivors? What might have been the motivation of others? What do you think they wanted to forget and why?
USC Shoah Foundation.

As it is written in the activity, “A central topic of the film and this activity is “averting responsibility” for what the local population, members of the majority society, bystanders, did or did not do.” The students are asked about collective remembering, forgetting, and about the different emotions, behaviors, actions, and roles of the state, citizens, those who have returned, and other members of society.

Short Story Analysis: “1945”

1945
Short Story by Gábor T. Szántó

The lesson about the short story is available on the Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance website both in Hungarian and in English, and the Hungarian version was featured on the Association of Hungarian Literature Teachers’ Website.  

  • Duration: 2 x 45 minutes
  • Grades: 9-12

Developed by two Hungarian teachers, Moldvay Zsolt and Nárcisz Vida, in this activity, students read and analyze the short story, developing their interpretation of novels and also reflecting on different patterns of human behavior and motivation.

The procession slowly approaches the pub. Those inside swarm to the window and door to follow the spectacle. (…) The majority of those present keep silent. This is not so simple, they think with a tint of uncomfortable embarrassment, considering their furniture, carpets, linen, and clothes that they bought at a real discount at the auction in the market square back last summer. (…) They are ashamed, this feeling angers them, but they also fervently protest against it. (…) and direct their passion towards the two newcomers…

This activity provides teachers with charts that ask students to organize and evaluate responses to the homecoming. They examine the reaction of the villagers, and are asked to reflect upon these reactions and give multiple explanations for the behaviors and emotions of the villagers.Through their analysis, students explore the relationship between time and space, recognize point of view,  interpret emotional content, and consider moral questions about behavior and responsiblity.

We want your feedback. What are your thoughts on this activity? Would you use it as an educator when talking about attitudes towards refugees today? You can share your thoughts by leaving a reply below. Be sure to check out the USC Shoah Foundation and The Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance on Facebook-.

IWitness is an educational website developed by USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education that provides access to more than 1,500 full life histories, testimonies of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides for guided exploration. IWitness brings the human stories of the Institute’s Visual History Archive to secondary school teachers and their students via engaging multimedia-learning activities. It connects the students with the past, engages them in the present and motivates them to build a better future.

Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance is an educational and professional development NGO in Hungary, whose mission is to raise the awareness of educators andstudents of diverse backgrounds on issues like Jewish tradition and culture, anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice, and human rights in order to strengthen Jewish identity and to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. By offering primary-source personal stories and other educational materials to study Jewish life before the Shoah and the lessons of the Holocaust, we help students make necessary connections between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives.