Zoltan Kékesi

Zoltán Kékesi is a cultural historian of Central and East Central Europe with a focus on Holocaust research, Jewish history, and memory studies. He works as a research fellow at the Centre for Collective Violence, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University College London. He studied German Studies, Hungarian Studies, and Comparative Literature, and holds a Ph.D. from ELTE (Budapest). He has worked internationally for several years and held research fellowships at the Center for Jewish History in New York, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem, the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin, and elsewhere. At UCL, his work focuses on “Final Account: Third Reich Testimonies,” a collection of oral history interviews, and is generously supported by the Pears Foundation.


Selected publications

(2023) Memory in Hungarian Fascism: A Cultural History (London / New York: Routledge)

(2023) “Perpetrator Memory and the Fascist Exile in Argentina: A Case Study,” in Perpetration and Complicity under Nazism and Beyond: Compromised Identities?, ed. by Mary Fulbrook, Bastiaan Willems, Stephanie Bird, Stefanie Rauch (London: Bloomsbury)

(2023) “Beyond Multidirectional Memory: Opening Pathways to Politics and Solidarity,” Memory Studies, June 5 (with Máté Zombory)

(2022) “Antifascist memory revisited: Hungarian historical exhibitions in Oświęcim and Paris, 1965,” Memory Studies (5) (with Máté Zombory)

(2020) “Eine ‘entsetzliche Einsicht.’ Zur Emotionsgeschichte des ‘besiegten Selbst’ im ungarischen Antisemitismus,” in: Emotionen und Antisemitismus, ed. by Stefanie Schüler-Springorum und Jan Süselbeck (Göttingen: Wallstein) 233–246.

(2018) “Tracing their Steps. Symbolic Topography and Anti-Jewish Politics in Budapest,” in Yad Vashem Studies, 2, 91–113.

(2015) Agents of Liberation: Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Art and Documentary Film (Budapest / New York: Central European UP)

(2014) “Spur und Monument. Romuald Karmakar: Das Himmler-Projekt,” in: Signaturen des Geschehens. Ereignisse zwischen Öffentlichkeit und Latenz, ed. by Zoltán Kulcsár-Szabó / Csongor Lörincz (Bielefeld: Transcript), 463–475.

(2013) “Das neugeordnete Archiv. Nachleben der Bilder in Harun Farockis Aufschub,” in: Zwischen Pygmalion und Gorgo, ed. by Csongor Lőrincz (Berlin: Kadmos), 351–372.

(2011) “Die Falle der Erinnerung: das ‘Treblinka-Lied’ in Claude Lanzmanns Shoah,” in: Ereignis Literatur. Institutionelle Dispositive der Performativität von Texten, ed. by Csongor Lőrincz (Bielefeld: Transcript), 331–347.


Research project as CALAS fellow (Transatlantic Tandem with Virginia Veccioli)

Title: Why Perpetrator Memory Matters? A Trans-Generational Approach to Understanding Multiple Legacies of Perpetratorship in Central Europe and Latin America

Abstract: The recent rise of right parties and right social movements in Latin American and Central European countries involves different political and civic challenges. The progressive consolidation of a public agenda that vindicates the demands of those who favor authoritarian regimes of the past is particularly alarming, as can be seen especially in the cases of Hungary, where autocracy has recently replaced liberal democracy, and in Brazil, where former President Bolsonaro denied the existence of crimes against humanity committed by the Armed Forces in the period 1964-1983 and referred to the coup d'état with the expression “64’s Revolution”. In countries with fascist and/or authoritarian pasts we see the consolidation of right-wing agendas (Hungary) and the electoral success of far-right parties in more stable democracies, such as the AfD in Germany or the FPÖ in Austria. In Argentina, the shocking electoral triumph of the party La Libertad Avanza, a political party led by an economist who claims to be an anarcho-capitalist, Javier Milei, and a vice-president who leads the Center for Legal Studies on Terrorism and Victims, a civil association that claims for military members condemned convicted by violation human rights and vindicates a complete memory about the seventies.

The project will analyze the conditions of possibility of the rise of a right-wing public agenda and the crisis of the consensus achieved from the post-war and post-dictatorship periods based on empirical research about the production and transmission of memories that starts with the generation of perpetrators and reaches the younger generations, their descendants. How did the perpetrators and their public intellectuals justify their actions in defense of these regimes? How is the world of values, interests, and relationships to describe that made it not only plausible to support authoritarian regimes but to fully participate in them? In which ways did they contribute to the construction and interpretation of the political reality of that time? How do the political and professional trajectories of the perpetrators and the public intellectuals who supported these authoritarian experiences connect with those of their descendants? How do their descendants position themselves in relation to these conflictual pasts? How are these memories produced among the young generations? What do these youngest generations do with the legacy of perpetrators in their family? Did former fascists and their descendants contribute during their exile in Argentina to consolidate a support network for the dictatorship? Do the current descendants of the Argentine perpetrators contribute to transnational networks of the new rights in the global space? What lessons can be drawn from comparing the experiences of émigrés from countries in Central Europe and perpetrators of South American dictatorships in the face of these authoritarian legacies?

What interests us is to carry out a comparative analysis of these actors and groups, accounting for their trajectories, their position in the social space, their spaces of sociability and networks of relationships in the national space, their participation in transnational networks, in civil associations and political parties, of their publications, public performances and other resources used to mobilize and try to give respectability and moral authority to their claims, of the way in which they evaluate their trajectories—and those of their ancestors—in the postwar and the post-dictatorship eras, and of the public controversies in which they are inserted. It is important for us to understand the involvement of differentiated moral economies among perpetrators and their public intellectuals and among perpetrator’s relatives and descendants.

What moral coercions face those who participate as intellectuals in the public sphere and those who do so as relatives of the perpetrators? Which is the place of enunciation of their demands? What moral categories are activated? What transformations can we identify between the memories of the perpetrators and that of their descendants? In the comparison, we will seek to identify a field of convergence between the different case studies proposed based on the parameters listed here. These convergences will obviously not relate to specific events linked to the holocaust or the dictatorship taken out of context, but to the ways of dealing with the memory of difficult pasts. Analogies will be based on the moral conditions of enunciation of these speeches vindicating authoritarian regimes, the plausibility of these speeches in their respective historical contexts, their public controversies and the position taken by the perpetrators, their supporters, and descendants in the public space. 

Cono Sur y Brazil