World Jewish Congress pans Hungary for Holocaust memorial

WJC President Ronald Lauder accuses prime minister of ‘falsifying’ history ahead of 70th anniversary of mass deportations

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) during a trip to China on February 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/ROLEX DELA PENA
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) during a trip to China on February 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/ROLEX DELA PENA

BUDAPEST — The World Jewish Congress on Saturday accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government of trying to “falsify” history, adding its voice to concerns about Holocaust commemorations this year.

“The attempt to falsify history instead of commemorating the annihilation of two-thirds of Hungary’s Jews has caused profound disappointment,” WJC president Ronald S. Lauder said in a letter published by the Nepszabadsag daily.

Lauder said he supported last week’s decision by Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation Mazsihisz to boycott events marking the 70th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Jews when the Nazis took power in 1944.

The events have been overshadowed by a planned new monument — depicting 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.

In January, 26 Hungarian historians signed an open letter saying that the Holocaust took place “with the active contribution of the Hungarian authorities”.

The government says it has acknowledged the state’s role in the Holocaust on several occasions, and Orban has said the memorial is a “show of respect for the memory of victims and requires no further explanation”.

Orban has also been criticised for presiding over a rehabilitation of Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally until 1944, Miklos Horthy, who oversaw Jewish deportations and promulgated anti-Jewish laws before the Nazis took over.

In January a historian close to Orban who heads a new historical research institute characterised the 1941 deportation of 18,000 Hungarian Jews to the Soviet Union — of whom 10,000 died — as a “police procedural action against aliens”.

Last month prominent US Holocaust scholar Randolph L. Braham returned a Hungarian state decoration and said his name could not be used for a department at the Holocaust Museum, saying he was “shocked” by attempts to whitewash Horthy.

Orban, who is running for re-election in April, 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.

On Friday the far-right Jobbik, Hungary’s third largest political party, sparked outrage by organising a rally in a former synagogue in the town of Esztergom, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Budapest.

Earlier this week Israel’s foreign ministry summoned Hungary’s ambassador in Tel Aviv to express concerns about anti-Semitism, while recognising positive steps taken by the government, the Hungarian state news agency MTI reported.

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