Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hungary's thriving Jewish community faces spike in antisemitism, Holocaust revisionism

Via Jerusalem Post (h/t Honestly Concerned):

Budapest has 23 shuls, often within sight of one another, and numerous Jewish institutions – including schools, hospices, and a hospital – for its estimated 50,000 Jewish residents, who comprise the vast majority of the country’s Jewish population.

Take a closer look, though, and you discover a darker side to this ostensibly quotidian idyll of Jewish revival in post-communist Hungary.

Szabadság Tér (Freedom Square) lies within easy walking distance of the Dohány Street synagogue, which draws busloads of tourists from around the globe daily as Europe’s largest shul and a historical hub for the homegrown liberal stream of Neolog Judaism. At the entrance to the square stands a statue to the “Victims of the German Occupation.”

Erected in 2014 by the country’s democratically elected but increasingly autocratic conservative government, the statue commemorates the Nazis’ seizure of power in Hungary on March 19, 1944. It leaves the identity of those “victims” unexplained, but there is no real mystery.

The memorial features a German imperial eagle swooping down, talons at the ready, on the archangel Gabriel, who is depicted as an effete and defenseless youth and is a stand-in for wartime Hungary. In the recrudescence of historical revisionism that has swept postcommunist societies from Hungary to Lithuania, the memorial seeks to whitewash the role of many Hungarians in the persecution and murder of Jews during World War II by lumping the perpetrators and their Jewish victims together as equally guiltless victims of the Germans.

“This statue is a symbol of the Hungarian government’s blatant disregard of history in the service of a nationalist agenda,” fumes Fruzsina Magyar, a Jewish-Hungarian dramaturge who has been at the forefront of rowdy protests against the statue by grassroots groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, since early 2014, when its construction got underway.

“It’s a disgrace. It tells you about the state of affairs in this country,” she adds.

For months on end, the protesters – led by Magyar and her husband, Imre Mécs, a leftwing politician who once spent time in prison for his role in the Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule in 1956 – sought but failed to stop the memorial from being built through daily acts of nonviolent resistance. Then on July 21 of that year, when the statue was to be officially unveiled, hundreds of protesters formed a human chain around the memorial, bickering with right-wing provocateurs and tussling with police officers, to prevent the ceremony from happening. They succeeded: the statue has still not been officially unveiled.

Two years on, many local Jews are still protesting it. They gather daily at the site for discussions, fiery speeches, poetry readings, performances and concerts. On a recent Friday afternoon, some three dozen protesters, including several elderly Holocaust survivors, sang and clapped along energetically to a Hungarian rendition of “Hava Nagila,” performed for their benefit by an operetta singer on a patch of lawn behind the statue.

Just a few hundred meters away, on a nearby square outside the country’s flamboyantly gothic Parliament building, a different group of people was singing another tune. Some members of the widely popular far-right party Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary) had arrived bearing flags and insignias styled after those once carried by members of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement, which played a pivotal role in the murder and deportation of 600,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944 and 1945. Their middle-aged speaker railed against “alien-hearted influences” and the “tyranny of minorities” (code words for Jews) before a thunderstorm scattered the gathered.

“I think antisemitism is worse now than it was in 1938, before the war,” laments György László, a Jewish engineer who frequents Freedom Square to meet like-minded Jews. “Most people in this country have been inculcated with antisemitic views.”
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