(JTA) — The U.S. special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism joined a protest in Hungary against a planned statue of a World War II-era politician who had held anti-Semitic views.
“From the U.S. government perspective, we feel very strongly that history and the damage that this man did to Hungarian citizens who happened to be Jewish cannot be ignored, and to put up that statue seems incomprehensible,” Ira Forman told Reuters on Sunday from the Hungarian town of Szekesfeherva, located an hour’s drive west of Budapest.
Forman also told the French news agency AFP, “There is no excuse for this statue, that’s something we won’t let up on.”
Some 300 protesters gathered in the town where a life-size bronze statue of Balint Homan, largely funded by the Hungarian government, is scheduled to be unveiled later this month. During the protest, Forman lit the eight Hanukkah candles with top Israeli and Canadian diplomats in Hungary, as well as leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community.
Six buses of Jews from Budapest, the Hungarian capital, came to Szekesfehervar for the demonstration organized by the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz.
Istvan Neubart, who heads the Szekesfehervar Jewish community, told JTA the protest was in memory of the Jewish victims deported from the town who were killed at Auschwitz.
“We had 2,500 Jews living here before the Holocaust,” he said.
The crowd cheered when Ilan Mor, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, said “No to fascism, no to anti-Semitism and no to racism!”
Homan, a minister in Hungary in the 1930s and ’40s, participated in drafting legislation in 1938 and 1939 that restricted the rights of Hungarian Jews, and in 1944 he called for their deportation. Some 420,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.
Earlier this month, a U.S. congressional task force on anti-Semitism sent a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban protesting the monument.