Elie Wiesel, the writer, Holocaust survivor and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has returned a Hungarian presidential award he received in 2004 to protest senior Hungarian politicians' recent attendance of a ceremony honoring a World War II Nazi sympathizer. Wiesel's parents and sister were sent to their deaths by wartime Hungarian officials.
Wiesel, 83, said in a letter to Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover that he did not want to be associated with activities such as the 27 May ceremony honoring Jozsef Nyiro, a World War II member of Hungary's parliament whom Wiesel calls a "fascist ideologue" and "an anti-Semite."
“It is with profound dismay and indignation that I learned of your participation, together with Hungarian Secretary of State for Culture Geza Szocs and far-right Jobbik party leader Gabor Vona, in a ceremony in Romania honouring Jozsef Nyiro, a member of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Parliament,” Wiesel wrote, adding: "I hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit" bestowed by Hungary's president.”
He expressed outrage that Kover had participated in a ceremony honoring “a fascist ideologue of the Horthy and Szalasi regimes”. Miklos Horthy ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944 and made it an ally of Hitler Germany; Ferenc was the leader of the National Socialist Arrow Cross party, a predecessor of today's Jobbik.
Wiesel said he was also distressed by news that public spaces were being named after Horthy, that Albert Wass and other figures who had collaborated heavily with the wartime fascist regime were being rehabilitated and that authors with far-right ideas were included in the Hungarian school curriculum. When asked to comment on the letter, a spokesman for the Hungarian parliament said that Kover would reply later this week.
Last month's ceremony for Nyiro was originally planned as a reburial in what was part of Austria-Hungary but is now Romania, where Wiesel also was born. The area was annexed by Hungary, whose regime was friendly to Hitler.
Wiesel, his parents and three sisters were deported from the town of Sighet; only he and two sisters survived the Holocaust. "It's too close to home," Wiesel told the ‘Associated Press’ in an interview.
The ceremony in the city of Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania, took place without Nyiro's ashes following objections by Romanian officials.