Hungary backpedals on disputed Holocaust monument

Budapest delays inauguration of Nazi victims memorial, which Jewish groups say glosses over country’s role in genocide

The Great Synagogue on Dohany Street in Budapest, Hungary (CC-BY-SA, Yelkrokoyade, Wikimedia Coomons)
The Great Synagogue on Dohany Street in Budapest, Hungary (CC-BY-SA, Yelkrokoyade, Wikimedia Coomons)

BUDAPEST — The Hungarian government said Wednesday it had postponed the inauguration of a controversial monument which Jewish critics say glosses over Budapest’s active role in the Holocaust.

The monument, to be unveiled as Hungary marks the 70th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Jews when the Nazis took power in 1944, will also be renamed, according to a cabinet statement.

It will no longer be “dedicated to the memory of the German occupation” but to the “victims of the German occupation,” and will be inaugurated on May 31 instead of March 19.

Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation Mazsihisz said in February they were boycotting the memorial festivities, accusing the government of “ignoring” the sensitivities of survivors.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of trying to rehabilitate the image of wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy who oversaw Jewish deportations and promulgated anti-Jewish laws before the Nazis took over.

The planned monument depicts Hungary as an angel being attacked by a German eagle, which critics say absolves Hungarians of their active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths.

The World Jewish Congress accused Orban’s government of trying to “falsify history instead of commemorating the annihilation of two-thirds of Hungary’s Jews”.

The country’s leading newspaper the Nepszabadsag reported Orban would write a letter to Mazsihisz urging them to attend the celebrations.

It said the government wanted to avoid aggravating the situation before legislative elections in April.

Orban has also been accused of turning a blind eye to a rise in anti-Semitism in the EU member state, and even encouraging it through nationalist rhetoric.

Recent years have seen Hungary’s chief rabbi verbally abused on a Budapest street, anti-Semitic chants at a football match against Israel and pig’s trotters placed on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Budapest Jews.

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