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Hungary rehabilitates Nazi collaborators; Wiesel renounces award

Shoah survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has repudiated an award he received from the government of Hungary to protest the current government’s whitewashing of that country’s role in World War II.

In a letter to Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, Wiesel, 83, said he was furious that Kover had participated in a ceremony honoring a writer who was a loyal member of Hungary’s WW2 far-right parliament, an act he suggested reflected the authorities’ willingness to gloss over the country’s dark past.

“It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian governments’ involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens,” Wiesel wrote in his letter.

According to Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre, 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, with most of them deported to death camps after the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany in March 1944.

The Nazi Arrow Cross party, which led the Hungarian government from October 1944, was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, local historians say.
In the letter, Wiesel angrily complained that Kover and a senior Hungarian government official had attended a ceremony in Romania honoring writer Jozsef Nyiro.

Nyiro, who is a popular writer in the parts of Romania where ethnic Hungarians live, was a member of Hungary’s WW2 far-right parliament dominated by the Arrow Cross Party. The present conservative Hungarian government has made him part of the official school curriculum.

“I found it outrageous that the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly could participate in a ceremony honoring a Hungarian fascist ideologue,” Wiesel wrote.
Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, also said it was distressing that public spaces were named after Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s head of state when the country allied with Nazi Germany.

Wiesel received Hungary’s Grand Cross Order of Merit in 2004. You can read his full letter here.

Eva S. Balogh writes at the Hungarian Spectrum blog:

To determine how seriously the Hungarian government is taking all this it is enough to read [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán’s interview with Die Presse, the Austrian conservative paper, in which he takes absolutely no responsibility for the present situation and puts the burden on local communities. I also noticed with some amusement that Magyar Nemzet, a government paper, decided on June 18 to remember the 144th anniversary of Miklós Horthy’s birthday. What a nice round number! The article painted a positive picture of Horthy’s rule and his foreign policy while it was silent on the negative aspects.

Meanwhile the erecting of statues and renaming of streets continues. Nothing seems to divert the Hungarian government from this dangerous path. Another Horthy statue, this time a hideous looking bust, was erected in the village of Csókakő, and the square the statue stands on was renamed Greater-Hungary Square (Nagy-Magyarország tér). Getting closer and closer to the fire.

Some 50 members of the US Congress recently wrote to Orban expressing alarm at antisemitic and homophobic positions espoused by members of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party. Unfortunately they failed to mention the equally alarming positions and activities of members of Orban’s own Fidesz party, and his failure to deal with them.

Balogh reports on Orban’s response to the members of Congress:

The complete text is not yet available but I will quote as much as was published in the Hungarian media:

Your letter appeared just in time because I was on the verge of asking your assistance in a matter on which I failed to get satisfaction through international channels and through the [American] embassy…. Our political community [that stands on a Christian democratic basis] is the heir to the Hungarian freedom fighters. We are very proud that we could play an active part in the liberation of our country from Soviet oppression and in the overthrow of communism. Ever since we regained our freedom we have been continuously fighting for the respect of human dignity…. Our embassy in Washington will be glad to give you details on our successes in this respect.

Some of these anti-Semites call the Hungarian government and Viktor Orbán himself “hirelings of Jews,” and these forces “receive considerable support from the United States.” The Hungarian center of antisemitism is a website that operates on an American server. If that problem could get resolved the Hungarian forces of antisemitism would be considerably weakened. “I ask you to assist us in this matter because our request to close this site was rejected by the U.S. government.”

The truth is that the website to which Orbán is referring to is being produced in Budapest. The editors and correspondents are most likely all well known to the national security officers. The editor-in-chief according to rumor is a Jobbik member of parliament. The only thing the Hungarian police would have to do is to arrest the editors of the online paper. There is plenty of legal justification to do so. But neither the earlier governments nor this one has the guts or the will to do something.

I doubt that the fifty congressmen will be terribly impressed by this letter. They might not even understand what Orbán is talking about. I do hope that people familiar with the Hungarian situation will be able to explain to them that the antisemitic propaganda coming from–because this is the website Orbán is talking about–could easily be handled right in the Hungarian capital.

I also hope that someone will explain to these congressmen that the root of Hungarian antisemitism is not This website is only the manifestation of a very serious and deep-seated problem which the Hungarian government refuses to face and and combat.

(Hat tip: Karl Pfeifer)