Wiesenthal Center

International pressure but there could be a way out for Viktor Orbán

As of this moment there is no word from Viktor Orbán on the Hungarian Jewish communities’ decision to boycott the Holocaust Memorial Year if the present plans are not altered. Orbán promised an answer by today but as far as I know he is already on his way to China.

Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of various Jewish organizations, wrote a letter to the prime minister yesterday in which it offered a way out of the impasse. Instead of opening a new Holocaust Museum, the government should think in terms of a number of Houses of Coexistence which would feature “the Hungarian-Jewish symbiosis” that created a unique Hungarian culture in the twentieth century. The money saved on scrapping the museum at the Józsefváros railroad station would be enough to set up the House of Coexistence in and around the reconstructed synagogue on Sebestyén Rumbach Street, which would be the center of several similar exhibits in other large cities and towns. The rest of the money could be spent on increasing the subsidy to the Holocaust Memorial Center on Páva Street.

I think that would be a capital idea because the Jewish contribution to modern Hungarian culture is enormous. Here are a few figures. In 1920 22.7% of actors,  27.3% of writers and scientists, 17.6% of painters,  23.6% of musicians, 50.6% of lawyers, and 59.9% of physicians were Jewish. Older and younger Hungarians might learn that their favorite writers and actors were actually Jewish. I bet there would be many surprises. I do hope that Viktor Orbán will see the light and agree to a change of plans.

The Jewish organizations are ready to discuss the topic of the monument as well. In the letter to Viktor Orbán Mazsihisz called the attention of the prime minister to “the message that the monument conveys,” which hurts Hungary’s image abroad. Indeed, it does. What the letter didn’t mention was Sándor Szakály’s appointment to the directorship of the Veritas Institute. This would indicate that there can be no negotiations over his position.

If I were Viktor Orbán, I would jump at the opportunity to extricate myself from a very uncomfortable situation. Pressure is mounting. Below are two letters addressed to Viktor Orbán from important international Jewish organizations.

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American Jewish Council urges Hungary to respond to Jewish’s community’s concerns

February 10, 2014 — New York — AJC supports the Hungarian Jewish community’s decision to boycott Holocaust commemoration events this year until the FIDESZ-led government reverses its actions that minimize the role of Hungary in the Nazi extermination of Jews.

“The Jewish community’s decision to protest planned Holocaust memorial events is painful, but then the efforts of the Hungarian government to rewrite history are absolutely traumatic,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs. “The posture of FIDESZ is all the more surprising following the declaration that 2014 would be the year of Holocaust commemoration.”

ajcPlans to build a memorial to the German occupation, controversial remarks by the director of a government-sponsored research institute, and refusal to share plans for building a second Holocaust museum in Budapest are all viewed with suspicion by the federation of Jewish communities in Hungary, known by the acronym MAZSIHISZ.

The Hungarian government thus far has refused to alter these plans for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust or engage in a genuine dialogue with Jewish community leaders. They are increasingly concerned that the government intends to rewrite the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, relieving Hungarians of responsibility and placing all blame on the German occupation which came late during World War II.

“We urge Prime Minister Victor Orban to address the Jewish community’s concerns without delay,” said Baker. “On this 70th anniversary, the government has an opportunity to openly confront Hungary’s past and responsibility.”

Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, addressing an international conference on anti-Semitism in Budapest last October, declared “We Hungarians were responsible for the Holocaust here.”

Hungary is home to the largest Jewish community in Central Europe. Alongside a genuine revival of Jewish life and culture, there is growing anxiety brought on by the electoral success of the extremist Jobbik Party and increasingly populist messages coming from FIDESZ.

A recently released survey of Jews in eight EU countries conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that 48 percent of Hungarian Jews have considered emigrating in reaction to growing anti-Semitism in the country.

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Wiesenthal Centre to Hungarian Prime Minister

“Domestically Holocaust and contemporary anti-Semitism are a function of political mortgages with the extreme right. Memory cannot serve as a fig leaf for hate.”

Paris, 10 February 2014

In a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels noted that “last year, together with our Centre’s Associate Dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, we met in Budapest with your Deputy Prime Minister, Tibor Novrascis, to discuss the rising antisemitism in your country and the plans to mark 2014 as the 70th anniversary of the deportation of over half a million Hungarian Jews to their deaths. We heard apologies for Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust and welcomed details for educational commemorative activities throughout the year”.

wiesenthalThe letter cited “a December 2013 United States Mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Statement on Incidents and the earlier, June 2013 Brussels Institute/TEV Report on Antisemitic Hate Crimes and Incidents in Hungary, should have acted as a sobering call for government action”.

Samuels stressed that, since then “our membership has been outraged by:

– the continuing rehabilitation of Miklos Horthy, the architect of Hungary’s Axis alliance and the overseer of the Jewish deportation, described by the historian of the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust, Randolph Braham, as a “catastrophe for Hungarian Jewry.”

– the refusal by world renowned pianist, Andras Schiff, to perform in Budapest after the inauguration of a Horthy statue in the city’s centre.

– permits for marches granted freely to the ostensible successor to the ostensibly banned Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard, modelled on its Hitler Youth style wartime namesake).

– the growing influence of Jobbik, the third largest party in the Hungarian Parliament and present in the European Parliament. Its increasingly blatant antisemitism and Gypsophobia are encouraged by uncontested rallies bearing unadulterated swastikas, the latest planned for a synagogue venue.

– the recent ambiguous statement by Sandor Szakaly, (Director of the newly government founded Veritas Institute) on the atrocity committed in the mass murder of Hungarian Jews on Ukrainian territory.

– the mystification regarding the identities of those to be commemorated by a planned monument to “the victims of the German occupation”, with the hanging question if this is an intended whitewash of Hungarian collaborators.”

The Centre advised the Prime Minister that “in the context of the above-listed events, the wonderful idea for a “House of Fates” (based on the Imre Kertesz Nobel Prize – winning book ‘Fatelessness’) and the announced theme focusing on “the Children’s Holocaust” would seem to be a fig leaf for international opinion, while the Holocaust itself and contemporary antisemitism are left as a function of domestic politics and political mortgages with the extreme right.”

The letter emphasised that, “in such circumstances the Simon Wiesenthal Centre can only applaud and endorse the decision by Mazsihisz – the representative body of Hungarian Jewry – ‘to stay away’ from the government-sponsored 2014 Holocaust commemoration programme until effective measures are taken to counter the above developments.”

“Memory cannot serve as a fig leaf for hate,” concluded Samuels.