(JTA) — It isn’t every day that Jewish organizations reject funding for Holocaust commemorations.
But that’s what happened in Hungary this spring when Jewish groups refused nearly $1 million in special state grants to protest what they see as the government’s whitewashing of Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust.
“We wanted to send a very strong message to the government that we are interested in truthful, not symbolic, remembrance, and this is something money cannot buy,” said Andras Heisler, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, known as Mazsihisz.
Now a group of Jewish communities and cultural organizations are uniting in an effort that organizers say is unprecedented for Jewish groups in Hungary. They banded together into a fund-raising alliance, called Memento70, that is using crowdsourcing and social media in a bid to raise money on their own for their now unfunded projects.
The campaign went live in April, the 70th anniversary of the Nazi ghettoization of Hungarian Jews. The launch coincided with the official start of a special year of Holocaust memorial observances organized by the state but boycotted by much of the organized Hungarian Jewish community.
These are bold moves for a Hungarian Jewish community that remains highly dependent upon government funding. But the activist stance reflects potentially broader changes for Hungary’s Jewish community, which numbers as many as 100,000, most of whom are unaffiliated with the official communal bodies.
Heisler took the helm of Mazsihisz in 2013 and has outlined an agenda aimed at making the umbrella group a more respected, pluralistic representative body that can credibly lobby for Jewish interests at a time of growing nationalism and open xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
“We are not afraid,” Heisler said. “On the contrary, the Jewish community is reacting and finding itself. It feels alive.”
Mazsihisz is largely financed by the state’s funding of religious organizations and Holocaust compensation funds. The Memento70 boycott deals only with the Hungarian government’s special Holocaust commemoration grants.
In February, Mazsihisz had decided to boycott the government’s Holocaust year events because of three specific issues that it said played down Hungarian involvement in the Holocaust.
The umbrella group objected to a planned memorial in Budapest to the 1944 German occupation that critics feel portrays Hungarians solely as victims of the Nazis. Mazsihisz was upset as well by the government’s refusal to share plans for a new state-sponsored Holocaust museum or to involve organized Jewry in developing its exhibition.