Hungary has made its first official apology for the role it played during the Holocaust, Hungarian news agency MTI reported on the weekend.
The apology comes at a time when the country's wartime history is being bitterly debated, sparked by the government's proposal to erect a monument commemorating its occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944.
The Hungarian government under Miklos Horthy enacted a series of anti-Semitic laws from 1920 onwards and willingly cooperated in the deportation of over 600,000 Jews to the Nazi death camps.
Hungary’s United Nations ambassador Csaba Korosi told MTI that he had apologized twice last Thursday – first at a press conference marking the 70th anniversary of the Jewish and Roma Holocaust and later at the opening of an exhibition organized by the Carl Lutz Foundation, the Tom Lantos Foundation, the American Hungarian Coalition and the Hungary Initiatives Foundation.
“We owe an apology to the victims because the Hungarian state was guilty for the Holocaust. Firstly, because it failed to protect its citizens from destruction and secondly because it helped and provided financial resources to the mass murder,” Korosi told the press conference in the UN headquarters in New York.
“Hungarian state institutions at the time [shared responsibility] for the Holocaust. This apology today by the Hungarian state must become part of national memory and identity,” he added.
Korosi also outlined the planned Holocaust memorial events in Hungary during 2014, highlighting rescuers and child victims.
“Nobody has ever expressed the responsibility of the Hungarian state for [its role in] the Holocaust in this form and on behalf of the Hungarian state,” Korosi told MTI.
After the design for the monument proposed by the Hungarian government - which shows an angel representing Hungary being attacked by an eagle representing the Third Reich - was unveiled last week, opposition figures and Jewish community leaders objected that it completely failed to acknowledge official Hungarian complicity in the wholesale slaughter of a large part of the country's Jewish population.
The proposal was announced just a day after an election was called for April, leading some to accuse the governing conservative Fidesz party of stoking nationalism in order to see off the challenge from the far-right Jobbik party.