Hungary Holocaust museum won’t open without agreement on narrative – PM’s office

Israel says it’ll only back institute if its content is presented in way ‘consistent with the objective historical and professional interpretation’

The House of Fates Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest. (Yaakov Schwartz/ Times of Israel)
The House of Fates Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest. (Yaakov Schwartz/ Times of Israel)

The Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday that the Hungarian government reaffirmed that a new Holocaust museum in Budapest will not open without consensus on its narrative, after critics said the planned institution could minimize the complicity of Hungarians in the murder of Jews during World War II.

Earlier, Hungarian government officials met in Jerusalem with representatives from the Foreign Ministry and the PMO to discuss the House of Fates museum, which Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center and some in Hungary’s Jewish community are boycotting due to the historical account presented by the museum on events leading up to and during WWII.

“The Israeli government reaffirmed its stance that it would only agree to a narrative that meets standards consistent with the objective historical and professional interpretation of organizations like Yad Vashem and similarly respected research institutes,” the PMO said in a statement.

The Hungarian government will adopt an “updated vision” for the museum in the coming months, according to the PMO, which expressed hope Hungary would consult with organizations such as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and Yad Vashem during this process.

The PMO also said it hopes Hungary will include local Jewish groups in the work on the museum, such as the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, known as Mazsihisz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) hold a Rubik’s Cube at the Hungary-Israel Business Forum in Budapest, Hungary, on July 19, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

An Israeli official told Channel 10 news Wednesday that the Foreign Ministry is firmly against any deviation from the historical facts about Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust, as documented by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Center and the Washington Holocaust museum.

The new institute is scheduled to open next year, marking 75 years since the extermination of Hungarian Jewry began in 1944.

Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) which rejects the museum, arrived in Israel this week for an emergency visit about the project and anti-Semitism in Hungary, Channel 10 reported. He will meet with Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog, Yad Vashem officials, and chairman of the Yesh Atid political party Yair Lapid, whose father was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. But Heisler will not meet with anyone from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Yad Vashem said it backed out of an international advisory forum on the House of Fates project in 2014 “due to substantial criticism of the museum’s concept and content presented to the forum. Since then no different concept has been presented, and Yad Vashem’s position remains unchanged.”

The Hungarian government in September handed over ownership of the $22 million House of Fates and education center to the Jewish community, which is deeply divided over the project.

Control of the museum was entrusted to the Association of United Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, which is working with the government on anti-Semitism projects.

Andras Heisler (YouTube screenshot)

However, the Mazsihisz community group, which has warned that Hungary’s right-wing government is encouraging anti-Semitism and whitewashing complicity during the Holocaust, said it believes the museum will not operate independently.

A key concern was over the government’s appointment of Maria Schmidt, a historian who has equated Nazism and communism, to head the museum. The controversy over this issue, which serves to depict all Hungarians as victims of invaders, delayed the museum’s opening by at least four years.

Many Jewish groups consider equating Nazism and Communism a form of Holocaust distortion.

Hungarian troops and officials under Nazi collaborators Miklos Horthy and later Ferenc Szálasi actively hunted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, at times killing them brutally without German involvement.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, ties with Orban have warmed, prompting criticism from the local Jewish community over the Hungarian prime minister’s attacks on Jewish billionaire George Soros, which critics say flirt with anti-Semitic stereotypes, and his past praise for a former Nazi ally.

The controversial Hungarian statesman, who has been accused of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes, visited Israel in 2018.

Stuart Winer and JTA contributed to this report.

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