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February 13, 2014 5:48 pm

Hungary’s Holocaust Controversy

avatar by Ronald S. Lauder

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Victims of the Arrow Cross in the courtyard of the Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest.

This week, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) declared it would stay away from official commemorations marking the 70th”Ž”Ž anniversary of the deportation of 437,000 Jews to the Nazi death camps. As president of the World Jewish Congress, I sent a letter to the Mazsihisz fully supporting its decision, which was read aloud at its official parley in Budapest on Sunday.

Mazsihisz explained that it could not countenance the government’s obfuscation of the role of the wartime Hungarian fascist regime in the genocide, and it made clear that it could not participate in Hungary’s year-long commemoration until the government’s position changes.

Hungary has one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe – 120,000 – but in many ways the country has not come to terms with its government’s conduct during World War II, when it was ruled by the fascist Regent Miklos Horthy and allied with the Nazis. An anti-Semite, Horthy promulgated laws restricting Jews and allowed some deportations. The deportations of Hungarian Jews sped up with the Nazi occupation of the country in March 1944. Soon after, genocide specialist Adolf Eichmann ensconced himself in a villa in Buda to oversee the transports.

The Arrow Cross, a home-grown fascist militia, shot Jews on the banks of the Danube in Budapest and dumped their bodies in the river. In all, some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered, according to Yad Vashem.

It’s an ugly history, and Hungary’s Jews are right to be sensitive to its distortion – especially when expressions of anti-Semitism are all too common in today’s Hungary.

In particular, Mazsihisz objects to the installation in central Budapest of a monument that depicts all of Hungary as the victim of the Nazi regime. It contends that an official memorial center under construction at a Budapest train station that was a hub for death camp deportations whitewashes Hungarian Holocaust collaboration. Mazsihisz also wants the government to remove the director of a new history institute because he called a 1941 deportation of tens of thousands of Jews “a policy procedure for aliens.”

I sincerely hope that the controversy can be resolved by dialogue between Mazsihisz and the Hungarian government. Hungary will have elections in April, and this issue must not become part of the election campaign. But everyone must know that the world Jewish community will not accept the obfuscation by interested parties of events that took place during World War II.

Ronald S. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress. This article comes from his blog at

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  • Alicia Schonthal

    The government of Viktor Orban has continued to permit hate-filled speech and has failed to prevent well publicized events such as Jobbik party rallies in a synagogue (Esztergom) in a town that their predecessors made Judenfrei.
    They published a wonderful plan for Holocaust commemoration and then every step along the way made cynical and hypocritical announcements which made lies out of their own plan. One of many examples is to almost destroy the existing and legitimate Holocaust Museum and replace it with another directed by a well-known anti-Jewish historical revisionist who refused to have the Jewish community participate in its planning.
    Hungarians are tired of this controversy-not hard to understand when one third of the population lives in poverty.The government has failed to exercise leadership by having a 70th anniversary commemoration year respectful of the memory of half million murdered by local collaborators.
    Instead they have succeeded in creating a fresh wave of antisemitism and squandered the opportunity to educate the general population and children in schools about the tragedy which took place among them.