Hungary Jews Back Orban-Boycott on Holocaust Anniversary

Hungary’s largest Jewish association backed a boycott of government-sponsored events on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust unless Prime Minister Viktor Orban cancels a planned controversial monument his cabinet ordered.

Leaders of Mazsihisz, the Budapest-based Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities, voted to support the boycott at a meeting, saying a statue marking the 1944 Nazi invasion of Hungary was an attempt to deflect the nation’s responsibility for the Holocaust, the organization said on its website.

The monument, which would depict Hungary, a Nazi ally in World War II, as the Archangel Gabriel being swooped down upon by an imperial eagle representing Germany, was just one of several projects that questioned the government’s sincerity in Holocaust commemorations, Mazsihisz said. More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center.

“The plans don’t take into consideration the arguments and sensitivities of the victims of the horrors of the Holocaust,” Mazsihisz said.

The monument, planned to be inaugurated March 19 in Budapest, would be a tribute to all victims and there is “hardly a need for explanation,” Orban wrote in a letter to Jewish groups on Jan. 22. He will write a new letter next week, Janos Lazar, Orban’s chief of staff, told reporters on Feb. 6.

Whitewash Effort

Jewish groups are concerned by what they see as concerted government efforts to whitewash Hungarian responsibility for the Holocaust. Orban’s lawmakers have included in the preamble of a new constitution that Hungary lost its sovereignty with the Nazi invasion on March 19, 1944 -- before mass deportations started to Nazi death camps -- and didn’t regain it until the end of communism in 1990.

Hungarian lawmakers in 1920 approved what is considered as 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.

Deportations initially started in 1941, when Hungarian authorities rounded up foreign Jews in Hungary and local residents without identification documents. About 18,000 were deported and handed to death squads in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Mazsihisz also called on Orban to dismiss Sandor Szakaly, the head of Veritas, a historical research institute set up by the government which started work this month. Szakaly last month said the 1941 deportations amounted to an “immigration-control procedure,” sparking furor among Jewish groups who called on the director to quit. Szakaly later apologized for his comment.

Holocaust Center

The government should also suspend a planned new Holocaust memorial center in Budapest as the project’s organizers have rejected engaging with Jewish groups in its development and haven’t made public their plans, Mazsihisz said.

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 after Orban’s government expanded the reading curriculum for schools to include books by Jozsef Nyiro. Nyiro, a member of parliament during World War II, was an ally of Ferenc Szalasi, a former head of the fascist Arrow Cross party who was executed for war crimes.

Hungary has Europe’s largest indigenous Jewish community, numbering as many as 120,000 in a country of 10 million. The radical nationalist Jobbik party is the third-largest political party in the Hungarian parliament. One of its lawmakers in 2012 called for the compilation of a list of Jewish legislators and government members who pose a “national security risk.”

Orban’s government was 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 the organization’s website.