The Jewish community of Hungary has threatened to boycott all events associated with their government’s yearlong commemoration of the Holocaust.
The ultimatum, delivered via the website of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) on Sunday, comes in response to a statement by Sándor Szakály, director of the state-sponsored Veritas Historical Research Institute, allegedly minimizing the Holocaust.
Szakály reportedly termed the deportation and massacre of tens of thousands of Jews in Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine, during the Second World War a “police action against aliens.” Mazsihisz and other Jewish organizations have demanded that Szakály apologize and step down.
On August 27–28, 1941, near the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi, some 23,600 Jews were killed, most of them Hungarian Jews (14,000- 16,000).
Mazsihisz, citing Szakály’s “relativization of the Holocaust” as well as the “falsification of history” by government and media figures, stated that it was “contemplating refraining from participation in the events of the Holocaust Year,” according to a translation of the statement on the Hungarian Spectrum weblog.
“Moreover, we will make use of the grant we received from the Civil Grant Fund only if there is a change in the direction of the whole project,” the group promised.
Such “attempts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust” are “extremely common in post-Communist Eastern Europe,” Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wisenthal Center said.
The center expressed “support for the call by Mazsihisz to all politicians to refrain from using the 70th anniversary of the mass deportations of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz in the upcoming elections and for a halt to falsifying the past in a disrespectful manner which will destroy the credibility of the events scheduled during 2014 to mark the tragedy.”
The European Jewish Congress also expressed support for Mazsihisz.
“During the year in which we commemorate the annihilation of half a million Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, we would expect the Hungarian government and its institutions to ensure that this event isn’t trivialized or minimized.
The European Jewish Congress fully understands and supports the decision by its Hungarian affiliates to take such action in the face of the many recent provocations which have shown that far too many have failed to learn the lessons of history,” a representative told The Jerusalem Post.
“Mazsihisz’s quasi-ultimatum pushes [President] Viktor Orbán into a corner. He either has to sack Szakály... and give up the idea of erecting a monument to the German occupation which is an important part of the myth he wants to create about the innocence of Hungarians in the Holocaust, or he loses the support of the Hungarian and international Jewry which he seems to find very important,” the Hungarian Spectrum commented.
Orban’s attempts to rehabilitate Hungary’s past stem partially from his need to draw voters away from the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, which came out of nowhere to become Hungary’s third-largest parliamentary faction during elections in 2010 and will seek to expand its representation in April’s vote.
During a recent interview, Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman said that Jewish organizations must “strengthen the backbone of the political leadership of [countries such as] Bulgaria, Romania [and] Hungary, to stand up and say no” to extremist parties rather than to accommodate them out of “political expediency.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder last May called on Orban to ban Jobbik.
“Through its anti-Semitism, its hostility to the Roma, and its paranoid rantings at the outside world, Jobbik is dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud,” Lauder declared.
Szakály’s views do not reflect those of the Hungarian government, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office informed the Post.
Orban’s office said that Szakály “is a historian, and the Veritas Institute was established to provide a forum for historians to discuss certain issues.”