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Churches Backed Anti-semitism in Wartime Hungary, Study Says

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The churches of Hungary voted to support anti-Semitic laws at the outbreak of World War II, according to a new study that is sharply critical of the role played by church officials in Hungary during the Nazi era.

“The Synagogue and the Church,” a study of anti-Semitism in Hungary, has just been released as the fifth in a series of booklets from the Ecumenical Study Center in Budapest.

The 74-page text — written by representatives of the Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and Reformed churches — focuses on the biblical, theological and ecclesiastical roots of anti-Semitism, which the booklet calls “a special form of racial hatred, the alarming signs of which can be seen in the whole of Europe.”

More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Nazi death camps during World War II, the study says, adding that “sore wounds are torn open even today” if one raises the question of how Hungarian churches behaved during the period.

In 1938 and 1939, representatives of Hungarian churches voted — “although with a bad conscience” — in favor of laws discriminating against Hungarians of Jewish origin.

It was only after the occupation of Hungary by the Nazis, when the deportations and persecutions began, that church officials realized the consequences of their actions, according to the study.

Although Protestant and Catholic church leaders sometimes intervened successfully on behalf of threatened Jews, “viewed retrospectively, those steps often weigh too light on the scales of Christian faith,” the study says.

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