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Hungary Jewish Group Threatens to Spurn Holocaust Commemoration

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s biggest Jewish group is considering a boycott of government-sponsored events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust to protest what it says are steps aimed at whitewashing the country’s past.

Budapest-based Mazsihisz wants the government to abandon plans to erect a memorial to the country’s invasion by Nazi Germany in 1944, President Andras Heisler told reporters in Budapest today. The group is also seeking the resignation of the head of a new government historical institute after comments it said downplayed responsibility in the murder of Jews during World War II, Heisler said.

Jewish groups are concerned that Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is backing projects that seek to deflect Hungarian responsibility for the Holocaust. The preamble to the new constitution passed in 2011 states that Hungary lost its sovereignty with the Nazi invasion on March 19, 1944, before mass deportations started and didn’t regain it until the end of communism in 1990.

“There’s only one thing that doesn’t fit into the many ways one can commemorate the Holocaust” and that’s “if someone lies about it or tries to distort it,” Heisler said. Mazsihisz is interested in dialog and has asked Orban for a meeting to sort out differences and prevent a boycott, he said.

The memorial planned for a central Budapest square would depict Germany as an imperial eagle and Hungary, its Nazi-era ally, as Archangel Gabriel. The composition amounts to “falsifying history” because it ignores the Hungarian government’s responsibility in the atrocities, Krisztian Ungvary, a historian who studies the 20th century, wrote in a hvg.hu editorial today.

‘All Victims’

The government intends to build a monument to “all victims” of Nazi Germany’s invasion and the plan shouldn’t be transformed into a “political question,” it said in a statement today. The Hungarian state bears responsibility for the Holocaust and needs to face up to that fact, Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics said on Oct. 1.

A year earlier, Orban’s government expanded the reading curriculum for schools to include books by Jozsef Nyiro, a member of parliament during World War II and an ally of Ferenc Szalasi, a former head of the fascist Arrow Cross party who was executed for war crimes. More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center.

‘Political Mudslinging’

“They say one thing one day and another thing another day,” Rabbi Slomo Koves said in an interview today, adding that a boycott of Holocaust memorial events may not help the country’s face its past. “We need to take out” Holocaust remembrance from the “terrain of political mudslinging.”

Hungarian lawmakers in 1920 approved what is widely considered as the first anti-Semitic law passed after World War I, restricting university access of Jews. Admiral Miklos Horthy governed Hungary from that year until October 1944, leading the country into World War II on Adolf Hitler’s side and resigning several months after 437,000 Hungarians had been sent to Nazi death camps between May and July of that year.

Mass deportations started in 1941, when Hungarian authorities rounded up Jews of foreign nationality living in Hungary as well as local ones without identification. About 18,000 were deported and handed to death squads in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The deportation amounted to an “immigration-control procedure,” Sandor Szakaly, the head of Veritas, the government-funded history institute that will start work next month, told MTI state news service on Jan. 17, sparking furor among Jewish groups. Szakaly later apologized for his comment. The government said his views didn’t reflect the views of the Prime Minister’s Office, according to an e-mailed statement.

Hungary was unanimously elected in October to take over the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2015, an inter-governmental organization dedicated to placing “political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research,” according to a website the Budapest-based government set up for the memorial year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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