Hungarian Jewry can strike back with ‘more than words’

Claims Conference ready to sign agreement to heal rift with Hungarian government.

June 24, 2013 22:39
3 minute read.
Gusztav Zoltai

Gusztav Zoltai 370. (photo credit: Sam Sokol)

Hungary’s Jewish community is ready to strike back against anti-Semites with the same methods with which they may be attacked, local community leader Gusztav Zoltai said.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem last week, the executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), said that thus far, most attacks on his community have been verbal in nature.

“Until this moment, we have [had] verbal attacks so we strike back with words, but we have more than words,” Zoltai said. The local Jewish population, including Holocaust survivors such as himself, he said “are not frightened.”

“We are strong and if we have to, we will strike back,” he asserted.

Zoltai said that there is now a “new generation” in Hungary that is “strong” and “self-confident” and who will “never let themselves be treated like they treated us during the Holocaust.”

While anti-Semitism has largely been restricted to vandalism and verbal attacks, violence is not completely unknown in Hungary. In April, Ferenc Orosz, the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Association, was beaten while attempting to silence fans at a soccer match who were chanting Sieg Heil.

Zoltai added that Hungary and the Conference of Material Claims Against Germany are on the verge of signing a new agreement after the government froze money transfers to the Holocaust restitution organization due to what it said was improper accounting for the distribution of the funds granted.

Hungary pledged $21 million in 2007 to Hungarian Holocaust survivors to be distributed over five years, in part by the Claims Conference. A new settlement was to be signed last year before Budapest’s decision to freeze money transfers.

Budapest also sought the return of $12.6m. that the government said it gave the Claims Conference. The Claims Conference said it only received $8m. for distribution among Hungarian Holocaust survivors living outside that country.

The money was transferred initially from the treasury to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok, a committee of government officials and Jewish representatives. Last year the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice said that based on the report submitted by the Claims Conference to date, “it is impossible to identify the individuals eligible for compensation.”

Government spokesman Ferec Kumin asserted in September that the issue at stake was “the need to provide complete and transparent accounting on the use of public monies. Plain and simple.”

“The Government of Hungary is firmly committed to providing restitution to Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust,” he wrote on his blog.

The Claims Conference, according to an email sent to JTA, gave Budapest a 400-page report containing the names of all recipients and how much they received.

“Every penny was transferred to a Hungarian survivor, not even one cent was spent on administration or any other expense,” the Claims Conference said.

According to Zoltai, the new deal could be signed before the end of the week and would ease the rift, allowing for the continuation of disbursement of restitution monies to the shrinking pool of elderly survivors.

Zoltai says that the problem comes down to a simple problem of mistaken identities.

“The Claims Conference did not make this money disappear,” he said. Rather, the Claims Conference’s list of survivors in Israel did not match the list of survivors held by the Hungarian government due to refugees arriving in Israel Hebraicizing their names.

“They could not identify the persons. That was the problem,” he said.

Once a new contract is signed, Zoltai said, “all the survivors will get their money.” Time is of the essence, he said, as “there are less and less survivors alive.”

The Claims Conference held up the final agreement, Zoltai said, and kept stipulating “newer and newer conditions.”

Speaking with the Post, György Szabó, president of the Mazsok, stated that the agreement is ready to be implemented and that it is just “waiting for signatures and everything will be completed.”

Upon completion of the agreement, Mazsok will transfer $5.6m. to the Claims Conference “so they can provide funds to Hungarian Holocaust survivors living in the Diaspora.” The negotiations, he said, took five months but all outstanding issues have been resolved and he expects the document to be signed by Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Claims Conference declined to discuss the deal, telling the Post that “as soon as anything is finalized we will announce it.”

The Hungarian Prime Minister’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

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