Hungarian PM assures Jews of ‘respect’ despite beginning work on controversial memorial

Statue memorializing German occupation of former Nazi ally in 1944 began earlier this month, despite outcry from Jewish community.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (photo credit: Reuters)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
(photo credit: Reuters)
Despite beginning work on a controversial World War II memorial over the objections of the local Jewish community, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared his abiding respect for his “fellow Jewish countrymen” in a letter last Wednesday.
The government began construction earlier this month of the statue memorializing German occupation of the former Nazi ally in 1944, despite assuring the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz) that it would not do so until after consulting with the Jewish representative body.
Representatives of both sides had previously told The Jerusalem Post they had planned on negotiating a solution following parliamentary elections held earlier this month. The Mazsihisz is one of a number of civil society bodies boycotting the government’s 2014 Holocaust memorial year over allegations that the official commemorations are relativizing the role Hungarians played in the destruction of the country’s Jewish community.
The statue will depict a Germanic eagle descending on the angel Gabriel, a Hungarian symbol, and bear inscriptions reading “German occupation of Hungary, March 19, 1944” and “To the memory of all victims,” but will make no explicit reference to the Jewish community.
According to the Mazsihisz, the erection of a statue depicting Hungary as a quiescent and passive victim is inaccurate and serves to absolve the Nazi ally from responsibility for its actions.
Gusztav Zoltai, a senior Mazsihisz official resigned over the decision to begin construction on the memorial, although the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported he actually used the controversy as an opportunity to quit in a dignified way due to allegations of financial impropriety.
“Now is the time for renewal,” Orban wrote to Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler last week, according to a translation on the Budapest Beacon web site.
“The time has come for us to see the history of our nation in its entirety. The pain of Hungarian Jewry is the pain of every Hungarian person. Although the horrors of the Holocaust affected our fellow Jewish countrymen, and destroyed their lives and well-being, it was the nation’s communal pain and loss. Our perception is namely that Hungarian Jewry was part of the Hungarian people and remains that.”
Fenric Kumin, a government spokesman, told a delegation of Jewish reporters in Budapest several weeks ago that allegations that the statue is aimed at diminishing the Hungarian role in ordering the deportation of Jews is a “distortion.”
“That was not meant to be a Holocaust monument but a monument that would remember the Nazi occupation of Hungary that happened in 1944. The plan is to give a memorial site to all victims of the German occupation,” he said.
As a result, the Mazsihisz and other groups have formed a coalition of organizations called Memen70, which is raising funds for alternative Holocaust commemorations not linked to those being funded by Budapest.