Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked the country’s main Jewish group to delay negotiations on controversial steps that triggered its boycott of government events on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
Orban asked to resume talks after Easter, citing the political campaign underway for April 6 parliamentary elections, according to a letter the premier wrote to Mazsihisz, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities. A copy of the letter was posted on the government’s website.
Jewish leaders decided on a boycott after the government ordered a monument commemorating the 1944 Nazi invasion, in which Hungary, a German ally in World War II, would be depicted as Archangel Gabriel being swooped down upon by an imperial eagle representing Germany. Critics said it was an attempt to deflect the nation’s responsibility for the Holocaust. More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center.
“This moment is hardly apt to share with each other our opinions with empathy and composure,” Orban said. Yesterday he signed a decree delaying the monument’s inauguration to May 31 from March 19. It was unclear whether any changes would be made to the statue.
Andras Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz, didn’t respond immediately to a phone call seeking his reaction.
The monument was one of three issues cited by Mazsihisz earlier this month for the boycott. The other was a demand that the head of a historical research institute set up by Orban’s government quit after calling the 1941 deportation of Hungarians, mostly Jews, to their deaths an “immigration-control procedure.” About 18,000 were deported and handed to death squads in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mazsihisz also demanded to be consulted on the plans for a new Holocaust memorial center in Budapest, citing concern that the new museum may be an attempt to revise Holocaust history.
The Holocaust in Hungary was the culmination of decades of discrimination against Jews. Hungarian lawmakers in 1920 approved what is considered to be the first anti-Semitic law passed in Europe after World War I, restricting university access to Jews.
Admiral Miklos Horthy governed Hungary from that year until October 1944, leading the country into World War II on Adolf Hitler’s side. He resigned several months after 437,000 Hungarians had been sent to Nazi death camps between May and July of that year.
Hungary has Europe’s largest indigenous Jewish community, numbering as many as 120,000 in a country of 10 million.