U.S. State Department officials and representatives of leading Jewish organizations, convening in Budapest for a conference Tuesday, strongly condemned plans to erect a statue in honor of a vehement Holocaust-era anti-Semite in Hungary.
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A private foundation located in his hometown is behind the initiative to honor Balint Homan, who served as minister of religion and education before and during World War II and was known as a proponent of anti-Jewish legislation and a staunch supporter of the Nazis.
Thus far, the right-wing government headed by Viktor Orban has not responded to pleas by the Hungarian Jewish community and others to block the plans.
Speaking at the conference in Budapest, Rob Berschinski, a senior U.S. State Department official, noted that Homan had played a key role in the annihilation of a major portion of Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust. “The words Balint Homan wrote into law, without question, contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children,” he said.
Berschinski, who serves as deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, called the erection of a statue in Homan’s honor an attempt to “whitewash” the past.
“The United States, other governments, and concerned groups from around the world are not, and cannot, dictate to Hungary how it chooses to interpret its past,” he said. “Whether this statue is built is an issue for Hungarians to decide. We can, however, call upon the government of Hungary to state without qualification that a memorial to Balint Homan shall never exist. Not a statute or a plaque. Not now, not six months from now. Not ever.”
The plans are to erect the statue in front of a school in Székesfehérvár, Homan’s hometown. Responding to recent protests both at home and abroad, the mayor of Székesfehérvár last week announced that he had requested that the private foundation reconsider its plans.
Tuesday’s conference was convened to explore the life and legacy of Homan. Also speaking at the event, Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “hypocritical” for such a statue to be built on public land and with public funds while Hungary serves as chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The foundation pushing for the statue has received government funding for the project.
“The historical record is clear,” he said. “Balint Homan was an anti-Semite, fascist cheerleader and Nazi collaborator whose actions helped create the framework that led directly to the murder of almost 600,000 [Hungarian] Jews.”
William Daroff, director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said a statue in Homan’s honor “would be a stain on Hungary’s reputation and a cause for alarm within this country’s booming Jewish community.”