(JTA) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Jewish community leaders that he would build a controversial Nazi occupation monument despite their opposition.
Orban presented his firm position on Wednesday during a meeting with leaders of the the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, the news site www.nol.hu reported.
Mazsihisz believes the monument of an eagle attacking an angel whitewashes the prominent role that pro-Nazi Hungarian governments had in the murder of more than half a million Jews during the Holocaust by presenting Hungary as a mere victim.
The federation has pulled out of government-led activities in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion into Hungary, and has boycotted the planned unveiling of the statue at Budapest’s Freedom Square on May 31, pending talks with the government on replacing it with an alternative monument.
But during the meeting Wednesday, Orban said “there is no room for maneuvers” on the design, according to nol.hu. Andras Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz, told Hungarian media that he had a “frank discussion” with Orban that day but would not elaborate.
On Tuesday, Orban published an open letter defending the monument that he addressed to Katalin David, a lecturer on art and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts who had criticized the plan to unveil the statue.
“It is striking how quickly the assumption that the angel is analogous with Hungary has gained ground,” Orban wrote. “I, for instance, see in the angel the innocent victims and not some kind of innocent state.”
In his letter, Orban reiterated his government and previous governments’ recognition of widespread collaboration with the Nazis on the part of the Hungarian governments during World War II.
On Sunday, Heisler said he was “shocked” by the recent decision of the Holocaust Memorial Center, a government institution established in 1999, to cooperate with the newly established Veritas Historical Research Institute.
In January, the government appointed another controversial historian, Sandor Szakaly, to head Veritas. Szakaly said in an interview that month that the 1941 deportation and subsequent murder of tens of thousands of Jews was an “action of the immigration authorities against illegal aliens.”