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In 1944 the Nazis occupied Hungary and with Horthy still in office about 437,000 Jews were deported over a period of 56 days, most to their deaths, according to Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre. The total number of the Hungarian Jewish victims during the Holocaust exceeded half a million.
Horthy’s role in that process has been debated but no compromise has been reached yet about his place in history. The far-right credits him with saving Hungary after the disaster of World War I, while leftists consider him a Nazi collaborator.
“To call Horthy a war criminal is unjust and historically wrong,” Jobbik representative Lorant Hegedus told Reuters after the unveiling ceremony. “He was not treated as a war criminal in Nuremberg, so why treat him like one now?”
Horthy testified as a witness at the Nuremberg trials after World War II but avoided prosecution and eventually died in exile in Portugal in 1957.
Gyongyosi told the unveiling ceremony that Horthy was the greatest Hungarian statesman of the 20th century.
FACING THE PAST
The government has said that Hungarians had a role in the Holocaust and that the country would pursue a policy of zero tolerance against racial hatred and anti-Semitism.
Hungary still has one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in Europe, mostly in the capital.
While there is a revival of Jewish culture, the far-right has remained strong and anti-Semitism, as well as hatred toward other minorities like homosexuals or the Roma, is still a serious problem.
“We have tried and failed so many times to face our past,” said former liberal lawmaker Imre Mecs, who protested against the statue. “This must happen for us to make any progress lest we will fall further behind the rest of Europe.”
“An economy can only be built atop a sound democratic foundation,” said Mecs, 80, who said the way Germany dealt with its own past after World War II was exemplary.
On the opposite side of the square near the church, pro-Horthy supporters shouted racial and anti-Semitic slurs at the opposition protesters. Lajos Molnar, 93, waved a photograph that he claimed showed that he served in Horthy’s police during the war.
“Horthy never hurt the Jews,” Molnar said. “It was Hitler not him who deported the Jews … Without Horthy Hungary would not exist today because the great powers of the world would have destroyed it like they planned to.”