WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today was joined by 29 senators and representatives in calling on Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to reconsider his current plans for the construction of a controversial monument in Budapest commemorating the victims of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the lawmakers expressed their concerns that current plans for the monument ignore the pro-Nazi Hungarian government’s role in the deportation of more than half a million Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, most of whom were murdered in Auschwitz.
“We believe that the current plans for the monument do history a disservice and don’t tell the whole story of the Nazi occupation. If the Hungarian government proceeds as planned, many people both in Hungary and around world will view this monument as an effort to sweep a tragic part of history under the rug,” said Rep. Engel. “The Hungarian government should build a memorial that lays out the entire Hungarian narrative of the Nazi Occupation—not one that whitewashes the truth.”
The initiative of Prime Minister Orban, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation, has been heavily criticized by the Jewish community in Hungary, including the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, and the greater international Jewish community.
Rep. Engel is also Chairman of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians.
The full text of the letter to Prime Minister Orban follows.
His Excellency Viktor Orban
1357 Budapest, Pf. 6.
Dear Prime Minister Orban:
As Members of the United States Congress, and long-standing supporters of Hungary and the U.S.-Hungarian partnership, we are writing to express our deep concern over your government’s decision to move forward with the construction of a controversial monument commemorating the tragedies suffered in Hungary under Nazi occupation.
The Nazi occupation of Hungary was a horrific period in Hungarian history, which caused incalculable suffering and tragedy to millions of innocent people. And while there were individuals in Hungary who actively helped those persecuted by the Nazis, it cannot be ignored that there was also a portion of the population at that time that willingly participated in Nazi activities, including the deportation of Hungarian Jews. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, one of the preeminent institutions on the history of the Holocaust, in mid-May 1944, Hungarian authorities in coordination with the Nazis began to systematically deport Hungary’s Jews. In less than eight weeks, nearly 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary, most of whom were murdered in Auschwitz. In total, over 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation.
While we understand and greatly appreciate the desire to honor all Hungarians brutalized during the Nazi occupation, we also believe that Hungary’s remaining Jewish population should participate in determining the appropriate way to remember the suffering of Hungary’s Jews during this period. They too share in the Hungarian historical narrative and it is their leadership’s opinion that the current proposal whitewashes the fact that there were Hungarians complicit with the systematic murder of their relatives. This issue is compounded by the fact that next year Hungary is set to assume the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the recent rise of the Jobbik party, widely believed to be formed, in part, around an ideology that employs anti-Semitism.
Mr. Prime Minister, as a member of the European Union and NATO, Hungary is a friend and key ally of the United States. We greatly value the strong and enduring relations and partnership between our two nations, and it is with that in mind that we urge you to reconsider your government’s current plan to construct this monument against the wishes of the Hungarian Jewish community. We are confident that a memorial which appropriately respects the sensitivities of all of Hungary’s citizens can and should, be erected to commemorate the tragedy and hardship of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. We stand ready to help find a resolution to this issue, and should you want to discuss this with us at greater length, we welcome the opportunity to meet with you or your designee.
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response.
Eliot L. Engel
Charles E. Schumer
Debbie Wasserman Schultz