US joins Hungary protest over pro-Nazi Homan statue

Anti-Homan vigil in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, 13 Dec 15 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The vigil in Szekesfehervar highlighted the political controversy over Balint Homan

US and other diplomats joined a rally in Hungary against a planned statue honouring a pro-Nazi minister who fomented anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

The diplomats were with several hundred Hungarians at a candle-lit protest in Szekesfehervar, southwest of Budapest.

The city's mayor says a private foundation is entitled to honour Balint Homan with a life-size bronze statue.

The US government's special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, said "we're shocked by it".

Hungary's Jewish community has urged the right-wing Fidesz government of Viktor Orban to prevent the statue going up.

Nazi Germany and its fascist Arrow Cross allies in Hungary murdered some 565,000 Hungarian Jews during World War Two, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum says.

As a government minister in the 1930s Balint Homan spearheaded anti-Semitic legislation and in 1944 called for the deportation of Hungarian Jews.

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944 some 424,000 Jews were deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where nearly all of them died.

Homan, a historian, was in the Arrow Cross, which also slaughtered thousands of Jews on the banks of the Danube.

In communist-run Hungary in 1946 a court sentenced Homan to life imprisonment for voting to declare war on the Soviet Union in 1941. He died in prison in 1951.

In March this year the Budapest municipal court posthumously rehabilitated Homan.

The Jewish population of Hungary is estimated today at 35,000-120,000, the World Jewish Congress says. The higher estimate is the figure given by the Hungarian Jewish organisation Mazsihisz.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jews and Catholics rallied against the statue - and also marked the Jewish Hanukkah festival

'Shocking insensitivity'

Establishing a precise figure is difficult because definitions of Jewish identity differ and many Hungarian Jews are married to non-Jews.

The project to erect the statue is an initiative of the private Balint Homan Foundation.

Szekesfehervar Mayor Andras Cser-Palkovics, a Fidesz member, said the foundation "has a right to do so in a democracy", but he asked them to return the funding they had received from the city and government.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor condemned the project as "a shocking display of insensitivity towards the Jewish people".

"A man who played a direct role in the killing of so many people is being honoured in such an open and public manner - it is sending a strong message that Jewish lives do not matter."

He said it was "disturbing and unconscionable" to call Homan a Hungarian patriot.

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