US Congress

An exchange of letters between U.S. congressmen and Viktor Orbán

It was on May 22 that thirty members of the U.S. Congress urged Viktor Orbán to reconsider the erection of the Nazi occupation monument in its present form. The letter emphasizes two points. First, that “while there were individuals in Hungary who actively helped those persecuted by the Nazis, it cannot be ignored that there was also a portion of the population at that time that willingly participated in Nazi activities, including the deportation of Hungarian Jews” and, second, that “while we understand and greatly appreciate the desire to honor all Hungarians brutalized during the Nazi occupation, we also believe that Hungary’s remaining Jewish population should participate in determining the appropriate way to remember the suffering of Hungary’s Jews during this period.”

Here is the full text of the letter followed by Viktor Orbán’s reply of June 4, 2014. As you will notice, the Hungarian prime minister did not properly address either of these two issues. Instead, he talked about his great electoral victory and mandate and about his effort at “unifying the nation.” The message is that he and his government have every right to do as they please because “the people” entrusted them with this right.

As for the monument, according to Orbán it is not a Holocaust memorial. It symbolizes “the loss of state sovereignty.” The monument “reminds us all that the loss of our national sovereignty led to tragic consequences.” Thus, Orbán did not move an inch from his original position–the loss of sovereignty that began with the German occupation of Hungary and continued during the Soviet period.

Orbán stands squarely behind the preamble of the Fundamental Law of Hungary that states: “We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first elected organ of popular representation was formed.” And this is the crux of the matter. This is what the whole controversy is about. Historical facts do not support that view of modern Hungarian history, and thus the symbol the Hungarian government is erecting is false.

* * *

Dear Prime Minister Orban:

As Members of the United States Congress, and long-standing supporters of Hungary and the U.S.-Hungarian partnership, we are writing to express our deep concern over your government’s decision to move forward with the construction of a controversial monument commemorating the tragedies suffered in Hungary under Nazi occupation.

The Nazi occupation of Hungary was a horrific period in Hungarian history, which caused incalculable suffering and tragedy to millions of innocent people. And while there were individuals in Hungary who actively helped those persecuted by the Nazis, it cannot be ignored that there was also a portion of the population at that time that willingly participated in Nazi activities, including the deportation of Hungarian Jews.

According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, one of the preeminent institutions on the history of the Holocaust, in mid-May 1944, Hungarian authorities in coordination with the Nazis began to systematically deport Hungary’s Jews. In less than eight weeks, nearly 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary, most of whom were murdered in Auschwitz. In total, over 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation.

While we understand and greatly appreciate the desire to honor all Hungarians brutalized during the Nazi occupation, we also believe that Hungary’s remaining Jewish population should participate in determining the appropriate way to remember the suffering of Hungary’s Jews during this period. They too share in the Hungarian historical narrative and it is their leadership’s opinion that the current proposal whitewashes the fact that there were Hungarians complicit with the systematic murder of their relatives.

This issue is compounded by the fact that next year Hungary is set to assume the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the recent rise of theJobbik party, widely believed to be formed, in part, around an ideology that employs anti-Semitism.

Mr. Prime Minister, as a member of the European Union and NATO, Hungary is a friend and key ally of the United States. We greatly value the strong and enduring relations and partnership between our two nations, and it is with that in mind that we urge you to reconsider your government’s current plan to construct this monument against the wishes of the Hungarian Jewish community.

We are confident that a memorial which appropriately respects the sensitivities of all of Hungary’s citizens can and should, be erected to commemorate the tragedy and hardship of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. We stand ready to help find a resolution to this issue, and should you want to discuss this with us at greater length, we welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your designee.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

ELIOT L. ENGEL                      HENRY WAXMAN                     ERIC CANTOR
Member of Congress             Member of Congress               Member of Congress

CHARLES E. SCHUMER       RICHARD BLUMENTHAL        CARL LEVIN
United States Senator             United States Senator             United States Senator

BRIAN SCHATZ                        BENJAMIN CARDIN                 AL FRANKEN
United States Senator             United States Senator             United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN               RON WYDEN                             BARBARA BOXER
United States Senator            United States Senator             United States Senator

STEVE ISRAEL                       ADAM SCHIFF                            BRAD SCHNEIDER
Member of Congress            Member of Congress                Member of Congress

SANDER LEVIN                     TED DEUTCH                           JERROLD NADLER
Member of Congress            Member of Congress              Member of Congress

JOHN YARMUTH                  JAN SCHAKOWSKY                  BRAD SHERMAN
Member of Congress           Member of Congress               Member of Congress

DEBBIE WASSERMAN        NITA LOWEY                              DAVID CICILLINE
SCHULTZ                               Member of Congress              Member of Congress
Member of Congress

JARED POLIS                        SUSAN DAVIS                          LOIS FRANKEL
Member of Congress           Member of Congress             Member of Congress

ALAN GRAYSON                    ALAN LOWENTHAL                STEVE COHEN
Member of Congress           Member of Congress             Member of Congress

 

And here is Viktor Orbán’s answer:

* * *

Members of Congress
United States Senators
Washington DC

Budapest,  4th June 2014

Dear members of Congress,
Dear Senators,
Esteemed Friends of Hungary,

We Hungarians are always moved by and grateful for signals received from across the globe that show attention, compassion and sincere friendship. We are proud to have friends around the World, in America as well, who pay attention to the developments  of Hungarian life.

I consider it a gift of fate that as a result of the 2014 parliamentary elections, by the will and mandate of the voters, I have the opportunity to continue the policy of unifying the nation which I started during my first term as Prime Minister, in 1998. Following the guidance of your great president: of the people, by the people, for the people. We Hungarians turned our steps towards a future based on mutual understanding, the culture of respect and the unconditional respect of human dignity.

In Hungary, the decisions to give moral and spiritual restitution to the members of the Jewish community, who had lived with us throughout history and had become an integral part of the Hungarian nation, have been taken. We established the Holocaust Museum, we introduced Holocaust Remembrance Day and we declared zero tolerance against anti-Semitism. As you surely know, we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust this year. I can assure you that my government is counting on the opinion and the participation of the Hungarian Jewish community regarding every important moment of the Holocaust memorial year. We consider the Holocaust as an equally dark period in world and Hungarian history.

The monument that you referred to, which we are erecting on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Hungary’s German occupation, and the loss of state sovereignty, is not a Holocaust memorial. Moving Holocaust monuments and memorial sites already exist in Hungary.

The composition erected now is a freedom fighting people’s memorial of the pain of having its liberty crushed. This monument, paying tribute to the memory of the victims, reminds us all that the loss of our national sovereignty led to tragic consequences, claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, and brought immense suffering upon further millions, the entire nation.

For Americans, for a nation that celebrates its independence so proudly, the devotion of Hungarians to freedom might seem natural, and the pain caused by the loss of our sovereignty and freedom might be comprehensible. From March 19, 1944 until 1991, occupying troops were continuously stationed on the soil of our country.

The erectors of the monument are thus driven by the pain of losing our freedom, the aspiration to remind generations to come of the importance of freedom, and of the tragic consequences its loss has on the life of a nation. The inscription speaks clearly: “The German occupation of Hungary, March 19, 1944, in memory of the victims.”

In the spirit of respect towards you and the American people, let me please hereby thank you for your interest and your good wishes

Orban signature

 

 

 

Advertisements