Protesters held a silent demonstration in central Hungary on Monday against a plan to unveil a statue of a former minister of religion and education who helped draft and supported anti-Semitic legislation in the 1930s.
The protest was held in the city of Szekesfehervar, where a statue commemorating Balint Homan is expected to be unveiled Dec. 29. The plan has been strongly criticized by local and international groups, including a Hungarian teachers’ union, the World Jewish Congress and several U.S. members of Congress and government officials.
Art historian Andras Renyi, a speaker at the protest, said that while it was possible to draw a distinction between Homan’s work as minister and historian and his anti-Semitic acts and views, “the statue legitimizes his whole historical figure.”
“This includes his roles as an anti-Semitic lawmaker and a politician with serious responsibilities,” Renyi said.
Homan was a strong supporter of the deportation of Hungary’s Jews. About 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most of them deported to Nazi death camps like Auschwitz in 1944.
Hungary’s anti-Semitic laws of the 1930s, for example, restricted the number of Jews allowed in certain professions and banned them from being employed by the government.
Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and several members of the U.S. Congress have sent letters to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the matter.
Lauder called on Orban “to intervene in this matter and to ensure that this statue is not built with public funds,” Lauder said. “If this happens, Hungary would send out the wrong message on how to deal with sensitive issues such as the Holocaust.”
While the government repeatedly distanced itself from the statue and condemned Homan’s anti-Semitic actions, the statue is being made in part thanks to funds donated by the Justice Ministry.
“Plans to honor Homan exacerbate disturbing national trends of historical revisionism and rehabilitation of Hungary’s disgraced wartime leadership and are inconsistent with your stated policy of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” said a letter signed by U.S. Reps. Chris Smith, Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kay Granger, Steve Israel, Peter Roskam and Ted Deutch.
Homan, also a respected historian and credited with introducing valuable reforms in Hungary’s education system, was condemned to life in prison for war crimes by a people’s tribunal in 1946. He died in prison in 1951, but was posthumously rehabilitated by a Budapest court in March.