The World Jewish Congress is supporting the Hungarian Jewish community’s decision to boycott planned commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary.
Last Sunday, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) declared the boycott of all events associated with Hungary’s 2014 Holocaust remembrance year, over allegations that the government has recently been engaged in historical revisionism in order to minimize its role in the genocide.
On Friday, the WJC urged Hungary to reconsider its plans of erecting a monument in commemoration of the German occupation, saying it is part of an official effort to obscure the role played by Hungary in the deportation and murder of Jews during World War II.
“If [Prime Minister] Viktor Orban and the Hungarian government seriously believe that the statue should also be a memorial for the Jewish victims, at the very least they should listen to the Jewish community’s concerns, take them into account and reconsider their plans,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in an op-ed, which appeared in Hungarian newspapers this weekend.
Last month, the Mazsihisz issued an ultimatum, following a statement by a senior government historian diminishing the significance of Hungarian actions during WWII, demanding that Sándor Szakály, director of the state-sponsored Veritas Historical Research Institute, resign.
Lauder insisted that Budapest must do more in acknowledging the role of its wartime fascist government in collaborating with the Nazis.
The Hungarian Jewish community – of slightly over 400,000 – was wiped out during the Holocaust.
“Hungary has one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe – 120,000 – but in many ways the country has not come to terms with its government’s conduct during World War II, when it was ruled by the fascist regent Miklos Horthy and allied with the Nazis,” Lauder wrote on his blog. “An anti-Semite, Horthy promulgated laws restricting Jews and allowed some deportations. The deportations of Hungarian Jews sped up with the Nazi occupation of the country in March 1944.
Soon after, genocide specialist Adolf Eichmann ensconced himself in a villa in Buda to oversee the transports.”
The complicity of the Hungarian ruler is a thorny issue in the country that has seen a resurgence in far-right and nationalist sentiments, with the far-right Jobbik party openly using anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“It’s an ugly history and Hungary’s Jews are right to be sensitive to its distortion – especially when expressions of anti-Semitism are all too common in today’s Hungary,” Lauder wrote.
Jobbik’s party held a political rally in a former synagogue on Friday, sparking a counter demonstration of 100 protesters – some pinned the yellow star of David on their coat – that attempted to keep his party members out of the building, the BBC reported.
Recent expressions of anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish sentiments in Hungary prompted the Israeli Foreign Ministry to summon Budapest’s envoy for a talk.
The Ministry of Human Resources issued a statement on Friday in which it assured that it and “the entire government consider any form of anti-Semitic behavior or Holocaust denial unacceptable and will take the strongest measures against the offenders.”
It went on to address the issue of education, saying that “no person, company or foundation making such statements at any forum shall take part in the advanced training of teachers.”
Sam Sokol, Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.