Hungarian and Nazi flags

Hungary’s relationship with the Holocaust has generated several headlines this week, as a respected Shoah expert withdrew his name from a national memorial while Hungarian officials simultaneously apologized for their country’s role in World War II-era deportations of Jews.

On Sunday, Randolph Braham, a distinguished Romanian-born professor considered a foremost expert on the history of Hungary during World War II, formally requested his name be removed from Budapest’s Library and Information Center at the Holocaust Memorial Center, which was named in his honor.

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Braham also returned the Medium Cross of the Republic of Hungary, the nation’s highest honor, which was bestowed upon him in 2011.

Braham’s motivation is the Hungarian government’s alleged “whitewashing” of its culpability in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Nazi camps in World War II.

“I reached this decision with a heavy heart, having followed the recent developments in Hungary with great concern,” Braham wrote in an open letter, referring to the political career of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s autocratic leader during the war. Jewish groups have long decried the current government’s tolerance of statues and memorials set up to Horthy across the nation.

In 2012, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel similarly returned his Order of Merit to Hungary, also over the nation’s seeming glorification of Horthy.

“The history-cleansing campaign of the past few years calculated to whitewash the historical record of the Horthy era, including the changes in the constitution that ‘legalized’ the sinister measures that were subsequently taken to absolve Hungary from the active role it had played in the destruction of close to 600,000 of its citizens of the Jewish faith, have left me, and I assume many others, stunned.”

Braham then took to task the Hungarian government’s recent decision to erect a memorial marking German occupation, a presumed move to paint Hungary as an innocent bystander in the deportations.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back in my decision was the government’s resolve to erect a national statue relating to the German occupation – a cowardly attempt to detract attention from the Horthy regime’s involvement in the destruction of the Jews and to homogenize the Holocaust with the ‘suffering’ of the Hungarians – a German occupation, as the record clearly shows, that was not only unopposed but generally applauded.”

Also Sunday, Hungarian Ambassador to the United Nations Casba Korosi addressed the UN, saying, “Institutions in the then-Hungarian state were responsible for the Holocaust…This apology must be made part of the national memory and identity of the Hungarian state.”

And on Monday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Hungarian President Janos Ader extended the conversation, saying, “Auschwitz may be hundreds of kilometers from Hungary but it is part of Hungarian history. This death camp was the scene of the inhumane suffering, humiliation and death of nearly half a million of our compatriots.”

An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

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