Nobel peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel has renounced a Hungarian state award he received in 2004 in protest against what he said was a whitewashing of the role of former Hungarian governments in the deportation of Jews during the second world war.
In a letter to the Hungarian parliament’s speaker, Laszlo Kover, Wiesel, 83, said he was furious that Kover had participated in a ceremony honouring a writer who was a loyal member of Hungary’s second world war far-right parliament, an act he suggested reflected the authorities’ willingness to gloss over the country’s dark past.
“It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian governments’ involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens,” Wiesel wrote in his letter.
According to Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre, 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, with most of them deported to death camps after the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany in March 1944.
The Nazi Arrow Cross party, which led the Hungarian government from October 1944, was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, local historians say.
Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi camps who has chronicled his suffering in numerous books, told the Hungarian parliament during a 2009 visit that the country should consider banning Holocaust denial to improve its image abroad.