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Far right party tries to rehabilitate war criminal

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BUDAPEST, Jan. 30 (JTA) – Hungarian Jewish leaders are protesting a call by a far-right party to retry the case of the nation’s executed wartime prime minister.

The leaders said they were “deeply shocked” after the Hungarian Justice and Life Party – which holds 12 seats in the nation’s 386-seat Parliament and is known by its Hungarian acronym MIEP – questioned the sentence imposed on Laszlo Bardossy.

Executed in 1946 for war crimes, Bardossy was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

“Bardossy was one of the darkest figures of Hungary’s history in World War II, whose decisions led to the death of hundreds of thousands of our brethren,” the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities said in a statement.

The federation also said it is considering filing international protests.

Lorant Hegedus, MIEP’s deputy chairman, accused local Jewish leaders of using the threat of international pressure against Hungary’s chief prosecutor, who has been asked to review the case.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, wrote a letter to the Hungarian government, calling on it to reject the demand for the posthumous rehabilitation of Bardossy.

“We join the Hungarian Jewish community in protesting this step and hope that the government will have the good sense to reject this demand, which not only makes a mockery of the just conviction of a major war criminal, but also deeply insults the memory of his many victims,” Zuroff wrote.

A spokesman for the Hungarian Prosecutor’s Office said it will take several months to review the case.

Bardossy declared war on the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, England and the United States during his 11 months as Hungarian prime minister, from 1941 to 1942.

Under his government, anti-Jewish laws were passed based on the German model. The laws banned mixed marriages and physical intimacy between Jews and non-Jews.

Historians say some 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust.

With approximately 100,000 Jews today, the Hungarian community is the largest in Central Europe.

Bardossy’s name is connected to the transfer in 1941 of 15,000 “homeless” Jews to Kamenets-Podolsk, which was then in the Soviet Union. There, at least 10,000 were killed by the Germans.

In 1945, the Hungarian People’s Court, which after the war sentenced to death almost 200 people for war crimes, found Bardossy guilty of complicity in the murder of Hungarian Jews at Kamenets-Podolsk and Novi Sad in Yugoslavia, and he was hanged in 1946.

Istvan Csurka, MIEP’s leader, has called “Bardossy’s martyrdom a foundation stone for the building of the new Hungary.”

The far right has already tried several times in the last 10 years to rehabilitate Bardossy, but this is the first time the MIEP has taken any official steps.

Maria Ormos, a leading Hungarian historian, said that postwar decisions by the People’s Court can be questioned from a legal point of view, but “the historic responsibility of Bardossy cannot be disputed.”

Hungarian Chief Rabbi Laszlo Deutch has also weighed in on the issue.

“Even if we cannot prevent the legal rehabilitation of men of evil and war criminals, it is our duty to raise our voice in protest and thereby honor the memory of our martyrs,” he said at a recent ceremony to mark the Jan. 18, 1945, liberation of the Budapest Ghetto by Soviet troops.

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