An American professor and prominent Holocaust scholar said Sunday he was handing back a Hungarian state award in protest at the government’s “falsification of history”.
“After following developments in Hungary in recent years, it is with heavy heart that I have made this decision,” Randolph L. Braham, a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor and professor at the City University of New York, wrote in a letter to the Hungarian state news agency MTI.
Braham, 91, who received the award in 2011 for his research on the Holocaust in Hungary, also said he would not permit the use of his name for a department at the Holocaust Museum in Budapest.
“The campaign of history falsification which aims to whitewash the (Miklos) Horthy era has shocked me,” he said.
Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s controversial leader during World War II, oversaw the deportation of some 18,000 Jews to the German-occupied Soviet Union in 1941 — more than 10,000 of whom were murdered — and is seen by many as complicit in the mass deportations to Nazi death camps in 1944 which resulted in the deaths of around 450,000 Hungarian Jews.
Braham said the “history rewriting campaign” began shortly after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government came to power in 2010.
Orban has been accused of tacitly encouraging a rehabilitation of Horthy, despite telling a session of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest last year that he would ensure “zero tolerance” of anti-Semitism.
A remark last week in an interview with MTI by Sandor Szakaly, a historian close to Orban, that the 1941 deportation was merely a “police procedural action against aliens” has also provoked widespread outrage among Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community.
Szakaly, the head of Veritas, a new right-wing history institute set up by Orban in October, later apologised for the remark but has refused to heed calls to resign.
The “last straw”, Braham said Sunday, was a government decision last December to erect a monument for all the victims of the country’s invasion by Nazi German troops in March 1944.
Jewish leaders, historians and opposition parties however say the monument downplays the Hungarian state’s central role, overseen by the Nazis, in organising the 1944 deportations.
The structure, costing around 900,000 euros and due to be unveiled on March 19, will feature a German imperial eagle attacking a seven metre-tall Archangel Gabriel representing Hungary perched on 13 pillars.
“It sends the message that ‘we are all innocent’,” Krisztian Ungvary, a prominent historian, told AFP.
Ungvary and 25 other historians signed an open letter last week saying that the Holocaust in Hungary took place “with the active contribution of the Hungarian authorities”.
“It wasn’t the Germans who put us into the ghetto, but Hungarian soldiers, gendarmes and (fascist party) Arrow Cross members,” Andras Heiszler, head of Mazsihisz, Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation, said in an interview on the ATV television channel.
Maszhisz has threatened to boycott official events during the government-backed 70th anniversary Holocaust memorial year unless the plan is scrapped.
The government says it has acknowledged the state’s role in the Holocaust on several occasions, including last Thursday at the United Nations.
Last week in a letter to Heiszler, Orban said the memorial was a “show of respect for the memory of victims and requires no further explanation”.