All state-organised events in Hungary’s 2014 Holocaust memorial year are being boycotted by an umbrella group of Jewish organisations. A museum will be opened at a Budapest railway station where many victims began their journey to Auschwitz and in the centre of the capital, a new statue would honour the half a million Hungarian Jews who perished. They say that rather than remembering the past, history is being rewritten to absolve Hungary’s Second World War regime of complicity in a genocide that wiped out 70 per cent of the country’s pre-war Jewish population.
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 organised 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.”
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. 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”. 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. 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”.
Jobbik is due to hold a campaign rally in a former synagogue in the city of Esztergom, which lost its entire Jewish population 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.”