Haaretz carries an article today with the sadly amusing headline, “Israel has a tough time finding a Hungarian leader not identified with anti-Semites.” The reason for Israel’s search is the commemoration, tomorrow, of the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust. As I wrote last month, the Knesset speaker, Reuven Rivlin, was forced to disinvite his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kover, over the latter’s attendance at a ceremony in honor of a deceased ethnic Hungarian fascist writer, Josef Nyiro, in May.
In Kover’s place, Hungary decided to send its newly elected president, Janos Ader. But it turns out that Ader, too, has something of a soft spot for dead fascists. According to Haaretz:
… Ader also expressed support for a controversial figure from the Holocaust, Albert Wass, a nationalistic anti-Semitic writer found guilty of murdering jews. In 2008, when he served as the Vice Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary, Ader unveiled a statue of the popular author, and said words of praise.
In 1946, Wass was tried in absentia in Romania, sentenced to death and branded a war crminial. Among other charges, Wass was found guilty of involvement in the murder of two Jewish sisters in Romania in September of 1940, as Hungarian forces reached northern Transylvania. The sisters were murdered while they attempted to escape from Wass’ ranch.
Responding to Haaretz, Rivlin’s office wrote that “following consultation with Yad Vashem, which will also take part in the important event commemorating Raoul Wallenberg, it was determined that the historical information in question has not been completely confirmed.”
Whether or not Wass was involved in the murder of the aforementioned individuals, however, his fascist sympathies do not appear to be in doubt. Last month, the Hungarian Jewish community protested about the addition to the national school curriculum of four writers, Nyiro and Wass among them, who “spread hatred and anti-Semitism during their lives.” In a letter to Kover complaining about the rehabilitation of Nyiro and other like-minded figures on the Hungarian far right (which sparked this whole controversy in the first place), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel said that Wass “cooperated heavily with the fascist Hungarian regime.” And in a statement on the US Senate floor last week, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a longtime friend of Hungary, drew attention to the Hungarian government’s historical “revisionism,” a disturbing aspect of which has been “efforts to rehabilitate convicted war criminal Albert Wass.”
Given the vast economic troubles it is currently facing, and the help it needs from its neighbors and friends in the West, the Hungarian government’s repeated provocations regarding long-settled historical questions continue to astound. If its leaders keep behaving in the way they have, Hungary may soon not have many friends left.
Photo Credit: Rita Molnár