Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has renounced a Hungarian state award he received in 2004 in protest against what he said was a “whitewashing” of the role of former Hungarian governments in the deportation of Jews during World War Two.
In a letter to Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, Wiesel, 83, said he was furious that Kover had participated in a ceremony honoring a writer who was a loyal member of Hungary’s WW2 far-right parliament, an act he suggested reflected the authorities’ willingness to gloss over the country’s dark past.
“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 governments’ involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens,” Wiesel wrote in his letter.
According to Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre, 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, with most of them deported to death camps after the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany in March 1944.
The Nazi Arrow Cross party, which led the Hungarian government from October 1944, was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, local historians say.
Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi camps who has chronicled his suffering in numerous books, told the Hungarian parliament during a 2009 visit that the country should consider banning Holocaust denial to improve its image abroad.
But in his letter, that was dated June 7 and was published by Hungarian website www.magyarnarancs.hu late on Monday and cited by a leading newspaper Nepszabadsag on Tuesday, he said the authorities had since gone in the opposite direction.
“I do not wish to be associated in any way with such activities. Therefore, I hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary granted to me on June 24, 2004, by the President of Hungary,” he wrote.
In the letter, Wiesel angrily complained that Kover and a senior Hungarian government official had attended a ceremony in Romania honoring writer Jozsef Nyiro.
Nyiro, who is a popular writer in the parts of Romania where ethnic Hungarians live, was a member of Hungary’s WW2 far-right parliament dominated by the Arrow Cross Party. The present conservative Hungarian government has made him part of the official school curriculum.
“I found it outrageous that the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly could participate in a ceremony honoring a Hungarian fascist ideologue,” Wiesel wrote.
Parliament’s press office confirmed to Reuters that Kover had received Wiesel’s letter, adding that the Speaker would reply on Wednesday. A government spokesman said he could not comment immediately.
Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, also said it was distressing that public spaces were named after Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s head of state when the country allied with Nazi Germany.
On Saturday, about 1,000 Hungarians attended the unveiling of a statue of Horthy in a village with activists in paramilitary outfits flying the flags of the far-right Jobbik opposition party and various nationalist groups.
The government says the debate about Horthy’s role in Hungarian history is an academic one in which it has no role. (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Andrew Osborn)