Yad Vashem: Hungarian Holocaust museum is a ‘falsification of history'

Hungarian government recently announced the transfer of the museum to the Chabad Jewish federation in Hungary, although the liberal Jewish community opposes participation in the project.

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September 21, 2018 12:35
4 minute read.
Rabbi Slomó Köves, Mária Schmidt, and Gergely Gulyás at press conference by House of Fates

Rabbi Slomó Köves, Mária Schmidt, and Gergely Gulyás at yesterday’s press conference in front of the House of Fates. (photo credit: HUNGARIAN SPECTRUM)

 
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Yad Vashem has publicly criticized a new Holocaust museum in Hungary, known as the House of Fates, which is slated to open next year.

The museum is being built by the Hungarian government at a cost of over 28 million euros, but is being formally transferred to the ownership of the Chabad EMIH Jewish federation in the country.

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The government announced this decision during a press conference earlier this month just before Rosh Hashanah together with head of the EMIH Rabbi Shlomo Köves and controversial historian Maria Schmidt who has directed the curation of the permanent exhibition of the House of Fates.

In light of this announcement, Yad Vashem has come out in public opposition to the museum, saying that it ignores anti-Jewish laws passed by the Hungarian government in 1938, the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in forced labor imposed by the government, and the participation of Hungarian authorities in the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz. 

Köves said in response that EMIH had reached out to Yad Vashem in July to gain professional support from its historians in creating the museum’s content to ensure the historical validity of the House of Fates exhibitions.

He added Yad Vashem was not familiar with the current content of the museum, and that a senior advisor at Yad Vashem made an informal visit to the museum last week. Yad Vashem could not be immediately contacted to confirm this.

Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries and an expert on Hungarian Jewry in the Holocaust, has said that Yad Vashem was approached by the Hungarian government to participate in an international advisory forum for the House of Fates.

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He said, however, that Yad Vashem’s historical and educational experts who studied the project raised significant concerns with the proposed concept and content, together with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and passed on these concerns to the Hungarian authorities and museum management. 

According to Rozett the project organizers did not provide any serious response to the issues raised with the museum and its concept, and said that Yad Vashem subsequently disassociated itself from the project altogether in 2014. 

Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said at the government press conference announcing the cooperation with Chabad that the museum will “present personal fates… particularly from the perspective of the child victims of the Holocaust.”

Rozett said that this confirmed that the original, flawed concept remained the same, in particular focusing specifically on the personal narrative of child victims and not the broader historical context of Hungarian Jewry and the Hungarian government’s actions before the coming to power of the Fascist Arrow Cross party in October 1944.

The majority of Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis were deported between May and July 1944.

Rozett said that the museum ignores the crucial role played by the Hungarian authorities and a individual Hungarians in the persecution and deportation of Jews following the German invasion in March 1944 until the Hungarian Arrow Cross took power in October 1944.

He said therefore that the museum advances a narrative in which only the Germans and Arrow Cross were responsible for the murder of Hungarian Jewry. “In other words,  visitors to the House of Fates are to be shown and taught that, except for a tiny, criminal and fanatic minority, the citizens of Hungary were essentially blameless for what was inflicted upon their Jewish neighbors,” says Rozett. 

“To this patently misleading distortion, the concept's planners have added a statistically disproportional over-emphasis on rescue attempts on behalf of Jews, by Hungarians. Thus, it is implied, that Hungary was actually a nation of rescuers. This is a grave falsification of history.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Rozett said the purpose of the museum was “to focus on suffering only, and not teach about the context, and the role of their own people in the deportations by Hungarians, by the gendarme, the police, and the Interior Ministry.”

Kovesh said in response that "EMIH is fully committed to the development of a holocaust educational center which presents the history of the Hungarian holocaust with perfect historical credibility and the same time with the most effective tools and means suitable for the education of the younger generations.

He also called upon Yad Vashem to assist EMIH in achieving this aim, and for a meeting with Chairman of Yad Vashem Avner Shalev to discuss the and cooperate on the museum.

"The presentation of the current concept and the communication channel [with Yad Vashem] would be especially important, since Yad Vashem and its experts are not familiar with the current state of the content and definitely not aware of EMIH’s plans and position in this regard."

The Hungarian Prime Minister's Office which is overseeing the project could not be immediately contacted for comment. 

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