US and Jewish leaders lambast Hungary over ‘anti-Semite’ statue

State money funds monument to supporter of Nazis and anti-Jewish laws

A demonstrator taking part in a protest in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, on Monday against a planned statue of Balint Homan. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

A demonstrator taking part in a protest in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, on Monday against a planned statue of Balint Homan. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

 

Hungary’s government is under pressure from the United States, Israel and Jewish community leaders to block plans for a statue honouring a prominent academic who was also a notorious anti-Semite.

The populist government of prime minister Viktor Orban has been accused of trying to rehabilitate Hungarian officials who served during the second World War, when the country was allied with fascist Germany and ultimately sent some 600,000 Jews to their deaths in Nazi camps.

Mr Orban has also come under fire from some European leaders for his reaction to the current refugee crisis, and calling the arrival of mostly Muslim asylum seekers a threat to Europe’s security and traditionally Christian values.

The town of Szekesfehervar intends to unveil a statue to Balint Homan on December 29th, the 130th anniversary of his birth.

Homan was a historian and minister of religion and education before and during the second World War, but is better known by many for drafting anti-Jewish laws and being an unrepentant Nazi supporter until he died in jail in 1951.

“From the US government perspective we feel very strongly that history and the damage that this man did to Hungarian citizens who happened to be Jewish cannot be ignored, and to put up that statue seems incomprehensible,” said Ira Forman, Washington’s special envoy against anti-Semitism.

“We think it’s important to know what this man did to Hungarian citizens in the 1930s and 40s, taking away their citizenship rights and then arguing for them to be deported, which eventually meant going to Auschwitz,” he added.

“Honouring a man like that – we’re shocked by it,” Mr Forman said at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in Szekesfehervar.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, added: “Let us hope that the light of the candle will chase away darkness, that the light of these candles will show the way to the people of Szekesfehervar, the leaders of the city, to the right decision, not to erect this statue.”

The town’s Balint Homan Foundation is funding the statue in conjunction with the state, which has provided around €45,000 for the project.

“It is quite outrageous that the Hungarian taxpayer should fund a monument for a man who was not only an anti-Semite, a key figure in the persecution of Hungarian Jews…but who also remained unrepentant until his death,” Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a recent statement.

“Today, I call on prime minister Viktor Orban to intervene in this matter and to ensure that this statue is not built with public funds.”

Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress, said the statue would send “a strong message that Jewish lives do not matter.”

“These people were Hungarian citizens so to call this man a Hungarian patriot is simply disturbing and unconscionable,” he added.

“Hungary must do a far better job of dealing with its past and this statue is turning back the clock and engaging in direct Holocaust revisionism by rehabilitating a man with so much blood on his hands.”