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Sometimes when governments engage in anti-Semitic behavior, they are unabashed in openly criticizing Jews and Jewish communities. Other times, governments engage in “dog-whistle” anti-Semitism. This is a form of more nuanced bigotry where Jews are never explicitly mentioned but the intended audience understands that Jews, Jewish history or Jewish institutions are being undermined. This is the technique that is employed by the Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidez party.
In September, the Hungarian publication Népszava reported that the sole institution in Hungary that is dedicated to preserving the record of the Hungarian Holocaust, the Páva Street Holocaust Memorial Center, may be coerced to collaborate with three other Hungarian research institutes. These three institutes, which are controlled by the government, have engaged in Holocaust distortion and/or employed anti-Semites. The Népszava story also noted that the idea for this strategic cooperation appears to have originated with the Hungarian Research Institute, which is described as the brainchild of the government’s Minister of Human Resources, Kásler Miklós.
This proposed, coerced, strategic partnership fits a pattern of behavior by Orbán’s government of trying to rewrite the history of Hungary’s role as a German ally in World War II . Since returning to power in 2010, the Fidez government has championed a historical narrative which more often than not has downplayed the role of the Hungarian government in the killing of 70 percent of Hungary’s 1941 population of 861,000 Jews
As part of that narrative, the government in 2014 cut off paying rent and salaries to the state-funded Páva Street Holocaust Memorial Center where the anti-Semitic policies of the Hungarian government from 1920 until 1945 are meticulously recounted. The Memorial Center was saved in 2014 by the protests of the Jewish community, the United States and its allies. That same year the government installed a memorial statue in Budapest that implies Hungary was merely the victim of German invaders in 1944 and did not collaborate in the crimes of the Nazis.
In 2013 while starving the Páva Street Center of government funds, the Hungarian government decided to build a second Holocaust Museum in Budapest to be called the House of Fates. Unfortunately, the prime minister selected a Holocaust distorter to head up the development and administration of this project. This project has remained unfinished over the last seven years because of the unanimous opposition to the House of Fates concept from Holocaust historians and institutions such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Israel’s Yad Vashem.
Now the Holocaust Memorial Center is being asked to collaborate with the likes of Veritas Director-General, Sándor Szakály. Szakály is known for calling Hungary’s complicity in the first large-scale mass murder of the Final Solution “a police action against aliens.” In that “police action,” 18,000 stateless Jews and Hungarian Jews were deported by Hungarian authorities in the summer of 1941 into German hands where they were butchered at Kamenets-Podolsk.
Any such coordination would also include working with The Hungarian Research Center whose scientific advisor, Ernő Raffay, spoke at a conference where he glorified a post-World War I anti-Semitic mass murderer as a Hungarian hero and blamed the Freemasons for Hungary’s territorial dismemberment in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. In far-right circles, “Freemason” is used as a synonym for “Jew.” Raffy has also complained that Hungarian Jewish success deprived ethnic Hungarians of holding positions in science, banking, universities and other professions during this period of history.
There are many more examples of where the Fidez government in Budapest has been eager to rewrite the historical record to fit its ultra-nationalist vision. Perhaps we should not be scandalized when a regime that has been destroying Hungary’s independent judiciary, rigging elections, eliminating independent news outlets and engaging in massive government corruption is also insistent on erasing inconvenient parts of its history. Yet even the most cynical have to cringe when a government insists on building a Holocaust memorial designed by a Holocaust distorter and appears intent on pushing an existing Holocaust Center to collaborate with anti-Semites.