Controversial historian won’t run Hungarian Holocaust museum, new Jewish owners say


(JTA) — A leader of Chabad Hungary said his organization doesn’t plan to employ a scholar accused of Holocaust distortion at a museum on the genocide gifted by the state after its opening.

Slomo Koves, the executive rabbi of the Chabad-affiliated EMIH group, told JTA on Wednesday that the role of Maria Schmidt “will be over” when EMIH opens the $22 million House of Fates museum on the Holocaust next year in Budapest. The government built the museum and transferred ownership to EMIH last week.

The appointment of Schmidt, who has repeatedly equated and lumped together the Holocaust and the Soviet domination of Hungary, caused other Jewish groups and Yad Vashem, Israel’s state museum on the Holocaust, to boycott the House of Fates. This resulted in a four-year delay in the institution’s opening. The Simon Wiesenthal Center called Schmidt’s assertions a form of Holocaust distortion.

Last week, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced at a news conference that the government and EMIH would cooperate on running the new museum. The government decree on the subject, obtained Wednesday by JTA, says it ”agrees to transferring ownership of the House of Fates” to EMIH and allotting roughly $1 million to that group for running the institution, in addition to other fees.

Koves called this a “big responsibility.” He said the 80,000-square-foot museum is expected to host 100,000 visitors annually from the school system alone. It will have an education center as well as temporary and permanent exhibitions offering “a personal experience point of view” of the Holocaust “that is designed to resonate with young people.”

Asked about Schmidt’s role in the museum, Koves said: “Ms. Schmidt together with us will finish the main exhibition she started and then her role is over.” The museum will operate independently of the government, Koves said.

In Hungary, Jewish groups, including the Mazsihisz federation of Jewish communities, have clashed repeatedly with the government over its narrative of Hungarian victimhood versus complicity during World War II, when the country’s government was an ally of Nazi Germany.

“We will seek dialogue,” Koves said. “We will not agree to any content we find unacceptable.”

In one of her essays about Hungarian history, Schmidt wrote: “After 25 years of frightening of the right-wing press, a Jewish-communist world conspiracy seemed to materialize.” Schmidt has said Nazism was no worse than Soviet communism — a narrative favored by nationalists across Eastern Europe.

Zoltan Radnoti, the chairman of the rabbinical council of Mazsihisz, told JTA he is “not buying” Koves’ reassurances.

“EMIH does what the government tells it to do. There is no way this museum will operate independently, and the evidence is in how Schmidt is a partner to designing its permanent exhibition,” Radnoti said.

Koves said Mazsihisz’s reaction is “unfortunate.”

“I would like to see Mazsihisz join us in leading forward this museum,” he said. “Communal tensions exist, but they must not be allowed to overshadow the task of teaching about the Holocaust, especially today.”

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