30 Jewish US Congressmen, senators urge Hungarian PM Orban to reconsider Nazi occupation monument

Representative Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians (ICJP) and leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, was joined by 29 other Jewish senators and representatives in calling on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to reconsider his current plans for the construction of a controversial monument in Budapest commemorating the victims of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. 

Rep. Eliot EngelIn the letter, the lawmakers expressed “deep concern over [the] government’s decision to move forward with the construction of a controversial monument commemorating the tragedies suffered in Hungary under Nazi occupation.”

“Hungary is an important ally and partner of the United States. But we believe that partners need to speak frankly with one another,” said Rep. Engel.  “The Hungarian Jewish population suffered perhaps worse than anyone else in Hungary during the Nazi occupation, and any commemoration has to be sensitive to that.  We think that the Hungarian government should build an appropriate memorial that tells the entire Hungarian story of the Nazi Occupation, not one that whitewashes the truth.”

The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) recently decided to avoid official commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation over the design of the monument, in addition to a number of other contentious issues. Critics argue that the monument diminishes the prominent role the pro-Nazi Hungarian government had in the deportation of more than half a million Jews during the Holocaust, most of whom were murdered in Auschwitz.

“Hungary is a valued NATO ally and European partner with a long, impressive history — but one that includes a dark period of complicity during the Holocaust,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, adding: "I am concerned that this proposed monument glosses over the role played by Hungarian authorities at the time in deporting its Jewish population, and it is my hope that Prime Minister Orban will work with Hungarian Jewish organizations to design a memorial that respects the experience of all Hungarians during World War II.”
Full text of the letter

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.

Viktor Orban addressing the World Jewish Congress in May 2013The 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 US 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                      HENRY WAXMAN                     ERIC CANTOR        
Member of Congress             Member of Congress               Member of Congress
United States Senator             United States Senator             United States Senator
BRIAN SCHATZ                        BENJAMIN CARDIN                 AL FRANKEN
United States Senator             United States Senator             United States Senator
DIANNE FEINSTEIN               RON WYDEN                             BARBARA BOXER
United States Senator            United States Senator             United States Senator
STEVE ISRAEL                       ADAM SCHIFF                            BRAD SCHNEIDER
Member of Congress            Member of Congress                Member of Congress
SANDER LEVIN                     TED DEUTCH                           JERROLD NADLER           
Member of Congress            Member of Congress              Member of Congress

JOHN YARMUTH                  JAN SCHAKOWSKY                  BRAD SHERMAN
Member of Congress           Member of Congress               Member of Congress              
DEBBIE WASSERMAN        NITA LOWEY                              DAVID CICILLINE
SCHULTZ                               Member of Congress              Member of Congress
Member of Congress                                                              
JARED POLIS                        SUSAN DAVIS                          LOIS FRANKEL
Member of Congress           Member of Congress             Member of Congress
ALAN GRAYSON                    ALAN LOWENTHAL                STEVE COHEN
Member of Congress           Member of Congress             Member of Congress

About the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians

The International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians (ICJP) is a global network of Jewish legislators, government ministers, and other elected officials. Its aim is to promote dialogue, the principles of democracy, the cause of human rights and the rule of law, and to combat racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, terrorism and Holocaust denial. The ICJP supports Israel and contributes to the creation of enduring peace in the Middle East. The ICJP provides a forum for exchanges of ideas and fosters greater knowledge and understanding of the challenges facing Jewish parliamentarians and communities in Israel and the Diaspora.

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