(JTA) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban opposes the erection of a statue honoring a World War II-era politician who had held anti-Semitic views.
Orban’s opposition to the statue, a life-sized homage to Balint Homan scheduled to be unveiled later this month in Szekesfehervar, was welcomed by the World Jewish Congress in a statement Wednesday. Homan, a government minister in the 1930s and 1940s, participated in drafting legislation restricting the rights of Hungarian Jews and called for their deportation.
“Prime Minister Orban’s clear statement on this matter comes very late, but it is nonetheless welcome,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said. “I thank him for making the standpoint of the Hungarian government very clear: No honors must be given to those who prepared the ground for the mass murder of 600,000 Hungarian Jews by Nazi Germany in 1944.”
The Homan statue is the brainchild of the Szekesfehervar-based Balint Homan Foundation, but it was to be funded in large part with public money, most of it in the form of a grant from the Hungarian Justice Ministry.
The foundation now wants to postpone the unveiling of the statue, initially planned for December 29, and start a fundraising campaign to pay for it privately, according to the WJC.
“It would have been a travesty if the taxpayer, including more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews, would have had to contribute toward a statue for a man who not only hated Jews, but who helped actively in their persecution,” Lauder said.
Orban also announced his opposition to the erection of statues in Hungary to honor Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian ruler in whose government Homan served. Horthy ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944 and, after 1933, aligned it with Hitler’s Germany.
On Sunday, the U.S. special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, joined hundreds of protesters against the statue for a demonstration in Szekesfeherva, during which he lit candles for the eighth night of Hanukkah with Israeli and Canadian diplomats and Hungarian Jewish leaders.
“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,” Forman told Reuters Sunday.