Controversial Holocaust Memorial Draws Protests

April 10, 2014

2 min read

Holocaust
Nazi roundup of Jews in Budapest, Hungary, October 1944. (Photo: Faupel/ German Federal Archives)

Protesters broke through a construction cordon Tuesday to hold a vigil at the site of a planned Holocaust memorial in Budapest.  The monument is meant to commemorate the victims of Nazi atrocities, but opponents say it whitewashes Hungary’s complicity in the Holocaust.

The planned monument, which depicts Hungary as an angel being attacked by Germany’s eagle, was intended to be unveiled on March 17, but construction was postponed when Hungary’s largest Jewish organization, Mazsihisz, refused to attend.  March 17 is the anniversary of Germany’s occupation of Hungary.

Following national elections which took place on Sunday, construction was supposed to resume this week.  Roughly 300 protesters turned up to prevent that from happening.  Participants recited Kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer, at the site.

“It is an extremist memorial that covers up the past with a lie, and a gesture (by Prime Minister Viktor Orban) to the far-right,” remarked Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy, an opposition politician. “We won’t let it be built!”

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Miklos Horthy was Hungary’s anti-Semitic leader during the Holocaust.  When Germany invaded in 1944, the government actively participated in the deportation of 450,000 Hungarian Jews, most of whom were gassed in Auschwitz.  Even prior to the occupation, Horthy enacted a series of restrictive laws similar to the Nuremberg Laws which restricted Jewish freedoms in Nazi territories.

Socialist politician Csaba Horvath called the monument a “disgraceful Nazi memorial” and said it was meant as a “symbolic demonstration of power.”

Another protester, Gergely Karacsony, said the monument would “humiliate those that we should commemorate.”

The newly-re-elected government tried to tone down the memorial, saying it would no longer be “dedicated to the memory of the German occupation,” but to the “victims of the German occupation.”  They insist the work is progressing on schedule despite the protests, and will be completed by May 31.  The government considers it a priority to pay tribute to the memory of the victims on the 70th anniversary of Hungary’s occupation.

Anti-Semitism is a growing concern in Hungary.  The country’s far-right extremist Jobbik party made significant gains in Sunday’s elections, earning 20.5% of the votes.  Jobbik is blatantly anti-Semitic, despite the fact that one if its founders, Csanád Szegedi, recently discovered he is a Jew.  In the words on one Jewish resident of Budapest, “This party embraces everything that used to be the National Hungarian Guard, which was founded in 2000 and was outlawed.”

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