A member of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party, delivers a speech to hundreds of far-right supporters during a rally against the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest May 4, 2013. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The World Jewish Congress has appealed to a Hungarian city not to erect a statue of a World War II-era fascist leader, in the latest round of a conflict over Holocaust memory in the former Soviet Republic.
On Wednesday, the Jewish organization announced that it had written to municipal leaders in Székesfehérvár, a city of some 100,000 inhabitants, entreating them not to honor Bálint Homan, a government minister in the pro-German government of Miklós Horthy. After the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, Homan also served in the fascist Arrow Cross puppet government of Ferenc Szálasi.
The Arrow Cross regime collaborated with the Nazis in the liquidation of Hungarian Jewry.
“Seventy years after the end of World War II, it is inconceivable and wrong for a city to erect a statue in honor of a known anti-Semite and a key figure in the persecution of Hungarian Jews before and during World War II,” said WJC President Ronald Lauder, calling Homan “unrepentant until his death.”
Andras Heisler, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, said that “Bálint Homan was an emblematic figure in the humiliation and deportation of Hungarian Jews.
He was an anti-Semite who does not deserve to be honored, and doing so would insult the victims of the Holocaust.”
In a letter to the central government in Budapest, Heisler wrote that Homan, “as culture minister in several Hungarian governments, played a key role in the systematic outlawing of the Hungarian Jewish people. His name is connected to the first anti-Jewish law. He supported banning Jews from exercising certain professions. Before the German occupation [in 1944], he wanted to expel Jews and later served as a member of the Arrow Cross regime.”
The fight over the statue in Székesfehérvár comes after the local Jewish community boycotted Hungarian Holocaust commemorations for all of 2014, alleging that the government sought to whitewash the country’s wartime collaboration.
The community’s decision not to participate in or accept funding connected with Budapest’s 2014 Holocaust Remembrance year came after Sándor Szakály – director of the state-sponsored Veritas Historical Research Institute – termed the deportation and massacre of tens of thousands of mainly Hungarian Jews in Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine, a “police action against aliens.”
The community also maintained that a planned Holocaust remembrance museum downplayed Hungarian complicity in German crimes, and that a monument being erected in Budapest commemorating the German occupation implied that Hungarians had been passive victims of their Teutonic conquerers.
Last year, Hungary’s ambassador to the United Nations apologized for his country’s role in the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Jobbik, a neo-Nazi organization, is the third-largest party in parliament.