BUDAPEST, Hungary — A Budapest church said Thursday it had canceled a controversial mass and memorial for Hungary’s Nazi-allied wartime leader Miklos Horthy scheduled for the United Nations Holocaust day.
The event is scheduled for January 27, designated by the UN in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date marks the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps.
“It didn’t enter our heads when we began organizing that it fell on that date,” Zoltan Osztie, parish priest at the church and leader of event organizers the Association of Christian Professionals (KESZ), told a religious affairs website.
Hungary’s main Jewish organization Mazsihisz criticized KESZ Wednesday as well as Sandor Lezsak, a lawmaker with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, who was scheduled to make a speech there.
Mazsihisz said the participation of Lezsak, also a deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, “tramples on the memory of all the Hungarian victims.”
Urging Orban to personally intervene, Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said Thursday that it was “truly disturbing that (the event) is being given legitimacy through the participation of a high dignitary of Hungary.”
Horthy, an autocrat who ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944, passed anti-Jewish laws and oversaw the deportations of several hundred thousand Hungarian Jews to Nazi German death camps.
Almost a third of the approximately 1.1 million victims at Auschwitz were Hungarian Jews, according to Mazsihisz.
An estimated total of 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished during the Holocaust.
Horthy had previously brought Hungary into an uneasy alliance with Hitler, until he was ousted from power by Nazi Germany in 1944.
The late leader is revered by far-right groups and some public figures for opposing a short-lived communist revolution in 1919 and restoring some of the territory lost by Hungary at the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty.
Last year Orban called Horthy an “exceptional statesman” in the period after World War I, though he has repeatedly said his government has a policy of “zero anti-Semitism.”