Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has announced plans to reject a Hungarian award eight years after it was given to him, following recent “whitewashing” of the country’s fascist WWII associations.
The 83 year-old author, a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor, issued a letter to Hungarian officials repudiating the Grand Cross Order of Merit in protest at two recent examples of the country honouring wartime Nazi colluders.
Referring to Hungarian government ministers’ decision to participate in a ceremony last month to honour controversial wartime Hungarian MP Jozsef Nyiro, as well public outcry over last month’s decision to rename a small square n Gyomro (30 kilometres/20 miles east of Budapest) after Second World War leader and Nazi colluder Miklos Horthy, Wiesel wrote:
“It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian government’s involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens.”
The letter, addressed to Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover from New York, where Wiesel now lives, is expected to receive an official response this week, according to the Hungarian government.
Wiesel, who became a Nobel laureate in 1986, as a result of his work as a “messenger to mankind”, insisted his move was not to tar the Hungarian people with a sense of “collective guilt” but to encourage the government to address its past in a factual and honest way:
“I don’t believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in taking a position about matters that happen today,” he said, adding that “to celebrate and honour leaders of fascist Hungary is wrong.”
Nyiro served as a member of the Hungarian parliament during its WWII collusion with Nazi Germany. He fled the invading Soviets in 1945 and emigrated to Spain where he later died and was buried in 1953.
Nyiro was also well-regarded as a poet and his works are still read in Hungary, where they are also assigned reading in schools. Last month’s ceremony honouring him had originally been designed as a reburial, but after officials from Romania (where he was originally born before the area was absorbed by Hungary) rejected to the plans, the memorial went ahead without his ashes.
Nyiro was also a staunch supporter of Hungary’s wartime dictator and Hitler ally Horthy, who passed a series of laws targeting the Hungarian Jewish population from 1938, designed to emulate Germany’s Nuremberg Laws, by restricting the number of Jews allowed to operate in any specific industry.
The then-administration is also accused of having greatly colluded in the operation to deport Hungarian Jews, a policy which reduced the original pre-war population of 800,000 to 180,000 or 22% of the former community.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has increasingly come under fire for presiding over a rehabilitation of Horthy’s wartime reputation, as many accuse him of stirring Hungarian nationalist sentiment.
The controversial official honours have been accompanied by a rise in anti-Semitic activity in the country, which saw the former Hungarian Chief Rabbi verbally abused, in addition to reports that renowned Hungarian actor Jozsef Szekhelyi was described as a “filthy Jew” in the official minutes of a local cultural board meeting in the northern town of Eger.