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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Israel upset at Hungarian minister’s praise for WW2 Hitler ally

The honoring of a statesman complicit in the Holocaust is unacceptable, the embassy said

Israel and the US have condemned the public celebration of Admiral Miklos Horthy, a Hungarian statesman who aligned his country to Nazi Germany and persecuted Jews during World War II. The protest came after a Hungarian government minister called Horthy “a true patriot.” 

Horthy ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944. He struck an alliance with Adolf Hitler and participated in the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. According to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Horthy adopted several anti-Jewish laws, but had initially resisted Hitler’s demands for harsher persecution, including forcing Jews to wear identification badges, placing them into ghettos, and deporting them to death camps. However, he bowed down to the pressure in 1944 and allowed the deportation of Hungary’s Jewish population.

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Horthy remains a controversial historical figure in modern Hungary, where some praise the politician for securing independence shortly after World War I and for overseeing the country’s development in the interwar years.

On Sunday, Construction and Transportation Minister Janos Lazar, attended a memorial service in Kenderes, Horthy’s hometown, marking the 30th anniversary of his reburial. “If anything, Horthy was three things: an exceptional head of state, a true Hungarian patriot, and a heroic soldier,” Lazar, who was representing the government at the event, said in a speech.

The minister called for “an objective assessment” of Horthy’s life. “The further we get from 1920-1944, the more objectively we can judge him,” he argued.

Israel’s embassy in Budapest, however, blasted the commemoration. “Glorifying a person who’s deeds brought a catastrophe upon the Hungarian people and especially the Jewish compatriots of which around 600,000 innocent men, women and children were murdered, has no place in a modern Hungary,” the embassy wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter).

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US Ambassador David Pressman also condemned the honoring of Horthy, saying that Washington was “concerned by the participation of a senior [Viktor] Orban government official in efforts to rehabilitate and promote his brutal legacy.”

Responding to the backlash, Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government, said that while Budapest “does acknowledge Miklos Horthy’s role in Hungarian state and nation-building after World War I, we are clear about his actions during and leading up to World War II.” He pointed to Prime Minister Orban’s 2017 speech, in which he said that his country’s failure to protect the Jews and collaboration with the Nazis during WWII was a crime.