The U.S. Holocaust Museum issued a statement on Wednesday strongly condemning the Hungarian government, including a personal reference to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, for attempting to "rehabilitate the reputation of Hungary’s wartime leader, Miklos Horthy, who was a vocal anti-Semite and complicit in the murder of the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust."
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The Museum, which is the leading institution commemorating the Holocaust in the United States, put out the statement in reply to a speech by Prime Minister Orban last week at a public ceremony. Orban called Horthy during that speech an "exceptional statesman" and credited the fascist, anti-semitic politician with Hungary's survival.
"Identifying Horthy, who served as Hungarian head of state from 1920 to 1944, as an 'exceptional statesman' is a gross distortion of historical fact," said the Museum's statement. "It constitutes an insult to the memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and once again prevents the honest confrontation with history that the citizens of Hungary deserve."
Orban, the museum asserts, has been leading an attempt to "rewrite history" and erase Hungary's responsibility for crimes that took place during the Holocaust. The statement also says that "The Museum is firmly opposed to honoring leaders who played an important role in perpetrating the Holocaust because it creates the impression that the government of Hungary believes that anti-semitism, racial and religious prejudice, and genocide merit praise rather than universal condemnation."
The statement was followed by five paragraphs of historical context, explaining how Horthy's government enacted systematic anti-semitic legislation, sent more than 18,000 Jewish Hungarians to their death in early stages of the war, and eventually, cooperated with the Nazis' extermination of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
"Apologists have argued that after the entry of German military forces into Hungary in March 1944, Horthy had no power to halt the deportations. But the facts disprove this assertion," the Museum said. "On July 6, 1944, Horthy ordered the deportations to stop, and three days later they did. In August he changed his mind, and with Horthy’s approval the government prepared a written agreement with the Germans to resume deportations."
Hungary's dark history became part of a political controversy in Washington earlier this year, when it was reported that Sebastian Gorka, a counter-terrorism adviser to President Trump, has ties to Vitézi Rend, a nationalistic Hungarian organization which Horthy helped co-found in 1920. Gorka fiercely denied holding anti-semitic views and said that his association with the organization was symbolic and based on its' opposition to the Communist rule in Hungary after the war, and on his father's participation in the Hungarian resistance movement.