Today, I spoke before a gathering of Hungarian political leaders, diplomats, non-governmental organizations, and the news media, regarding the plans to erect a statue of Balint Homan, a World War II era Hungarian politician who was a key architect of Hungary’s anti-Semitic policies in the 1930s and 1940s. Below is my statement:
My name is William Daroff, and I am the Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington Office for The Jewish Federations of North America. We are the umbrella organization for 151 Jewish federations and 300 network communities across North America. Federations collectively raise more than $2 billion annually to serve the needs of the Jewish community in North America and across the world.
Representing an organization known as the central address of North American Jewry, I have traveled over 7,000 kilometers to express our deep concern and objection to plans to erect a statue honoring Balint Homan in the city of Szekesfehervar. Homan played an integral role in the events that led to the deportation and murder of nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, nearly eradicating Hungary’s pre-war Jewish population. A statue in Homan’s honor would be a stain on Hungary’s reputation and a cause for alarm within this country’s booming Jewish community.
Let us take a step back — Homan, who served as Minister of Religion and Education in five Hungarian governments between 1931 and 1942 and remained an active member of parliament during Hungarian wartime, was the architect of numerous anti-Semitic policies that stripped Hungarian Jews of their economic and civil rights.
When the gruesome realities of Hitler’s “Final Solution” became known throughout Europe, many Hungarian politicians nobly advanced legislation to protect their Jewish citizens. Holman, on the other hand, actively opposed these policies, urging the government to take advantage of the opportunity to rid Hungary of its “Jewish problem.”
Some defend plans for this statue, citing Holman’s accomplishments as an historian and as a politician bringing public works to his hometown. But this is not a complete list. Holman’s support for the deportation of Hungarian Jews require that we add to his “accomplishments” the fact that one of every three Jews gassed at Auschwitz and one of every ten Jews murdered during the Holocaust was Hungarian.
To think that the Hungary would allow the construction of and to provide funding for a statue of someone largely responsible for over a half-million deaths is inconceivable. But this is even more troubling in light of Hungary’s Chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the government’s pledge to promote transparent and historically accurate commemoration and education on the Holocaust, both at home and abroad.
Statutes are diverse. They can take many forms and be made of countless materials. But statues are universal in that they are almost always created because artists want to produce a permanent reminder of the subject at hand. If this statue is erected, it will not act as a permanent reminder of a man who helped his local community; rather it will act as a permanent reminder of when the Hungarian Government turned its back on its Jewish community, both in the 1930’s and 1940’s and again in 2015.
On behalf of the U.S. Jewish community, I implore Prime Minister Viktor Orban to publically condemn Homan’s actions towards innocent Hungarians and to ensure that this vile individual is not celebrated through the erection of this statue. We believe this is the Hungarian Government’s opportunity, Prime Minister Orban’s opportunity, to make a strong message to the Hungarian Jewish community that this is their home, and to ensure the international community knows that the atrocities of the Holocaust will never be forgotten.