On March 19, the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Nazi Germany into Hungary, the Eastern European country is expected to unveil a Holocaust memorial that is drawing sharp criticism because it portrays Hungary as a victim of the Nazis, not a willing collaborator.
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According to a report in The Economist, the 7.5 meter statue to be installed in Budapest's Freedom Square will portray a German imperial eagle attacking the Archangel Gabriel, which symbolizes an innocent Hungary. Although Hungary's Jews went unscathed for most of the war, in the summer of 1944, 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz with the active help of the Horthy regime.
Randolph Braham, a professor and historian of the genocide of Hungarian Jews at the City University of New York, says the memorial is an attempt to whitewash Hungary's role in the extermination of Jews, a "brazen drive to falsify history." Professor Braham, a Holocaust survivor, recently returned a high state award presented to him by the Hungarian government to protest what he believes to me its attempt to absolve itself from its part in the Holocaust.
The government, currently led by Viktor Orban, rejects the criticism, arguing that it is a memorial to all Nazi victims and signifies the loss of Hungarian sovereignty, and not part of the government's official Holocaust memorial program. However, Hungary's president Janos Adler explicitly stated the country's collaboration with the Nazis on Holocaust Memorial Day last month.
Also last month, Hungary’s United Nations ambassador Csaba Korosi made the country's first official apology for the role it played during the Holocaust. “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 a press conference in the UN headquarters in New York.
Jewish leaders in the country claim there were no negotiations over the statue. According to the Economist article, one of the reasons for the statue is likely political. General elections will be held in Hungary on April 6, and the ruling Fidesz party is hoping that by unveiling a statue showing the innocence of Hungary under the Nazis, it may get supporters of the far-right (and third-largest) Jobbik party to vote for them instead.