Hungarian Jews threaten boycott of official Holocaust events

BUDAPEST Sun Feb 9, 2014 5:33pm GMT

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's main Jewish group voted on Sunday to boycott official Holocaust commemorations this year unless they more clearly show the role of local citizens in the Nazi deportation and killing of Hungarian Jews.

The Hungarian Jewish Congregations' Association (Mazsihisz) decided to stay away from events marking the 70th anniversary of June 1944, when 437,000 Jews were sent to Nazi death camps within weeks, and set conditions for a change of position.

In total, about half a million Jews perished before the Budapest ghetto was liberated in 1945.

Mazsihisz chairman Andras Heisler said the group objected to plans for a Holocaust monument and memorial center in Budapest as well as the appointment of a new history institute director who seemed to excuse the Holocaust deportations.

"If we do not get a real answer from the government on these issues, our decision (on the boycott) will become final," he told journalists, adding he expected a reply within a few days.

A lack of consultations about the projects have upset Jewish communities, he said, adding: "The unity that Hungarian Jews showed in that respect is unprecedented since the war."

Almost seven decades since the end of World War Two, anti-Semitism remains a sore point in Hungary, whose 100,000-strong Jewish community is one of the largest in Europe. Jewish leaders feel the country has not fully faced up to its wartime past.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right government, which has publicly pledged zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, is set to win reelection in April and a boycott will not change that.

But it could further dent the government's image abroad, which critics say has overlooked anti-Semitism fanned by the far-right Jobbik party, weakened democratic checks and balances,

and pursued unfriendly policies to many foreign-owned companies.


Among Mazsihisz's conditions for joining the official commemorations is that the government scraps a plan to build a monument near the U.S. embassy in central Budapest that would depict Hungary as a victim of German aggression.

"Its symbolism would significantly contribute to averting the national responsibility," Mazsihisz said in a statement.

Hungary's wartime fascist government was an ally of Hitler and fought alongside his troops against the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1944 after discovering that Budapest, after heavy losses on the eastern front, was secretly trying to negotiate a surrender to the Allies.

Mazsihisz has criticised an official memorial center under construction at a Budapest train station that was once a hub for the deportations to the death camps. It says the center plays down Hungarian collaboration in the Holocaust.

It 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 foreign nationals."

The government has said it wants to commemorate all victims of events after the Nazi occupation on March 19, 1944.

"The victims of events after March 19, 1944 deserve empathy and an honourable commemoration," a spokesman said last month.

Hungarian Jews say Budapest had stripped Jews of nearly all their rights even before the Nazi occupation. "It wasn't the Germans who locked me up in the ghetto, but Hungarian soldiers and fascists," Gusztav Zoltai, a Mazsihisz leader, said.

(Reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Comments (3)
AngelaBogaczy1 wrote:
‘It wasn’t the Germans who locked me up in the ghetto, but Hungarian soldiers and fascists’, Mr Gusztav Zoltai says. Yet he knows full well, for that is common ground among historians, that the ghettos were organised by Hungarian Jewish leaders, for the safety of Budapest Jews, none of whom were removed from the country while the Regent, Admiral Horthy, was head of state. Also, the residents of these ghettos were not ‘locked up’: they left the premises at will.

But apart from this, I welcome the decision of Mazsihisz to boycott the extravagant Holocaust memorial events, on which the Hungarian government plans to expand HUF6 billion/GBP16.2 million. The boycott should encourage the Hungarian government to cancel that intended expenditure. That astronomical amount is better spent on, say, food vouchers for Hungary’s working poor, or on its seriously underfunded hospitals.

It is worth noting also that Mr Gusztav Zoltai is a fanatical opponent not only of the Jobbik party but also of Hungary’s very popular Fidesz party. Readers will find interesting reading on this gentleman’s background here:

Feb 09, 2014 10:28pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
AngelaBogaczy1 wrote:
Mr Zoltai makes the strange claim that he was ‘locked up’ into the ghetto by ‘Hungarian soldiers and fascists’. not by the Germans. He surely knows that it was Jewish leaders who organised the ghettos, and encouraged Jews to move into them for their own safety, after Hungary became a German military operations zone on 19 March 1944. He must know also that Jews were not ‘locked up’ in them: living in was voluntary.

I welcome the decision by MAZSIHISZ to boycott the memorial events. Perhaps the Hungarian government will now cancel its declared intention to expend HUF1.5 billion/EUR5 million) on these memorial events. and divert the funds to the pathetically poorly paid Hungarian workers, perhaps as food vouchers, or to the country’s woefully underfunded hospitals.

Feb 09, 2014 2:15am GMT  --  Report as abuse
KyleDexter wrote:
Is this news??
The huganrian government should spend the money on its own people, not on useless holocaust museums!

Feb 12, 2014 1:58pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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