Hungary’s Jews To Boycott State Holocaust Memorials

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The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities said Sunday it will boycott all government events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary unless the government cancels some of the planned memorials.A group of Jewish community organisations has announced a boycott of all state-organized events. They say that rather than remembering the past, history is being rewritten to absolve Hungary’s WW II regime of complicity in a genocide that wiped out 70 percent of the country’s pre-war Jewish population.

And with elections approaching in a political landscape overshadowed by the presence of an openly anti-Semitic party, there are fears that the commemorations are being hijacked by politicians keen to boost their nationalist credentials with far-right voters.

On Sunday, board members of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities – known as Mazsihisz – passed a resolution vowing to stay away from all state-sponsored events marking 70 years since the deportation of more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews to the concentration camps.

“We will not attend the commemorations organized by the government in the future until the position of the government changes,” Peter Feldmajer, the vice-president of Mazsihisz, said. “The memorial year should be an open and real memorial, not whitewash the Hungarian fascist regime.”

The debate over the historical narrative comes against the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Hungary, and as the nation prepares for elections in two months. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces a challenge from the far-right Jobbik party, which took 47 seats in the 2010 elections to become the third-largest group in parliament. Jobbik is known for public vitriol directed at the Roma and Jewish communities, and the party leader has advocated a state register of Jews who pose a “national security risk”.

Mr. Orban has been intolerant to any offensive speech directed at the Jewish community, but his Fidesz party faces accusations of not doing enough to silence the rhetoric, out of fear of alienating the electorate.

At the heart of the debate is a stone and bronze memorial which is to be unveiled on March, 19, marking 70 years since the Nazi invasion of Hungary. It depicts an eagle swooping down on the Archangel Gabriel. The allegory is clear – Nazi Germany attacking its innocent Hungarian prey. Omitted from that particular interpretation of history is any mention of the decades of persecution Hungary’s Jews faced ahead of the 1944 invasion, or state complicity in the deaths of 437,000 Holocaust victims in the space of a few weeks in the summer of 1944.

From 1920 until he was deposed in 1944, Miklos Horthy passed a number of anti-Semitic laws. He allied himself with Hitler and in 1941 sent up to 18,000 Jews to German-occupied Ukraine, where they were executed. When the Nazis started the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to the concentration camps, they did so with the assistance of many police still notionally under Horthy’s command. Horthy has been enjoying a revival of late: in November Jobbik supporters unveiled a bust of the former regent in Budapest.

Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy, a member of the Democratic Coalition, last month labelled the new Second World War memorial “a symbolic gesture extended by Fidesz to the Hungarian radicals, extreme right, and neo-Nazis”.

At the end of January the President, Janos Ader, made a rare public acknowledgement of Hungarian collaboration in the Holocaust.

Moshe Kantor, the president of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress, said: “While the Nazis physically destroyed this community, its ideological descendants in Jobbik are destroying it once more with their intended rally. This rally will be literally and figuratively trampling on the graves of Holocaust victims.”