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Culture wars over Holocaust anniversary

January 23rd, 2014

A left-wing commentator welcomes a statement by the leaders of the Jewish religious communities who are threatening to withdraw from the state commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust, unless the government changes its approach to history and stops implicitly whitewashing Hungarian wartime collaborators. A pro-government columnist accuses critics of denying Hungary’s occupation by Nazi Germany.

The National Council of Jewish Religious Communities (representing about 10 per cent of Hungarian Jewry) has asked the government to abandon its plan to erect a statue commemorating Hungary’s occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944 (See BudaPost, January 4). It fears that such a monument could become a pro-Nazi remembrance site and its message may be interpreted as suggesting that the Nazis were the only perpetrators of the Holocaust. They also demand the resignation of the director of a newly established historical research institute who called the expulsion of about 17 thousand “stateless” Jews in 1941 “an immigration office procedure”. (Most of them were then slain by Nazi troops and Ukrainian militiamen.) The Historian, Sándor Szakály apologised but refused to resign. He said he only intended to say that the case was not the first stage of the Hungarian Holocaust, which only started after Hungary’s invasion by Hitlerite Germany in 1944). Finally, the Jewish leaders asked for the right to supervise the construction of the planned new Holocaust Memorial site. (See BudaPost November 30, 2013) They said they were not issuing an ultimatum, but  would consider boycotting the Holocaust Centenary Year if they cannot reach agreement with the government.

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság suggests Fidesz cannot blame anyone but itself for that scandal. They should have been aware of the risks involved in their projects which, Népszabadság asserts, are aimed at rehabilitating war time leaders and institutions. The authors call it disheartening that Fidesz still does not seem to realise what it is doing. If the Jewish organisations withdraw from the commemorations, then “there will be no chance left for us to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust with decency and setting aside party politics and hatred”.

In Magyar Nemzet, Zsuzsanna Körmendy writes that a monument commemorating Hungary’s occupation by Nazi troops is so the more necessary since critics apparently have started denying the fact of the occupation itself.  Despite what is being alleged in ill-informed foreign newspapers, she continues, “we have absolutely no intention of celebrating Nazi invasion”. At a time when “we recognise how and when our ancestors sinned”, she writes, it is especially unfair and humiliating “to have our faces plunged into the mud”. While admitting the guilt of “our ancestors”, she recalls, however, that Hungarian Jews had been saved from deportation for years up until the Nazi occupation, and quotes Arthur Koestler who wrote that had her mother decided to pay a visit to her sister in Slovakia, she would not have survived: “she owed her survival to remaining in Budapest”. Körmendy believes that the new monument which will stand opposite the column erected after the war in honour of Soviet soldiers in Szabadság square, will remind passers-by of both consecutive occupations of Hungary by the two totalitarian powers.

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