Nobel laureate returns Hungarian honour over Holocaust 'whitewash'

Thu, Jun 21, 2012, 01:00

NOBEL PEACE Prize winner Elie Wiesel has renounced a major Hungarian award in anger at the government’s “whitewashing” of the country’s role in the Holocaust.

Mr Wiesel wrote a scathing letter to Laszlo Kover, Hungary’s parliamentary speaker, denouncing him for attending a ceremony in honour of Jozsef Nyiro, a writer and politician who supported the wartime Hungarian regime that was allied to Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Mr Kover is a close ally of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, whose government has included Nyiro and other writers who are widely seen as anti-Semitic on the national school curriculum.

“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,” wrote Mr Wiesel.

“I do not wish to be associated in any way with such activities. Therefore, I hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary granted to me on June 24th, 2004, by the president of Hungary.”

Mr Wiesel (83) was born in a part of northern Romania given to Hungary by Hitler under the so-called Second Vienna Award in 1940. Most of the region’s Jewish population was later sent to concentration camps, where Mr Wiesel’s parents and one of his sisters were killed.

The Nobel laureate expressed dismay that Mr Kover, along with a senior Hungarian culture official and the leader of the far-right Jobbik party, had attended the planned reburial of Nyiro’s ashes in his hometown in a largely ethnic-Hungarian area of Romania.

Romania’s government objected to the event, and border guards searched cars crossing the frontier to prevent Nyiro’s ashes being brought into the country.

Critics of Mr Orban say he is pandering to nationalist sentiment to shore up his dwindling support base and lure voters from Jobbik, which came third in Hungary’s 2010 general election after focusing heavily on the need to tackle “gypsy crime”.

Despite seeking a second package of emergency funding for Hungary from the EU and IMF, Mr Orban regularly lambasts foreign institutions for interfering in his country’s affairs.