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Museum Warns of Danger in Hungarian Plan to Honor Antisemitic Holocaust-Era Government Minister

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WASHINGTON, DC—Through a grant of 15 million Hungarian forints to the City of Szekesfehervar, the Government of Hungary is planning to erect a statue honoring Balint Homan. Homan served as Minister of Cults [Religion] and Education in five Hungarian governments between 1931 and 1942 and remained an active member of parliament in the Hungarian wartime governments led by Regent Miklos Horthy and Arrow Cross Party leader Ferenc Szalasi. Those governments were responsible for the murder of nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews, including the deportation of 425,000 of them to Auschwitz. 

Homan shared the pro-German orientation of both the Horthy and the Szalasi regimes, both because alliance with Nazi Germany promised (and delivered) the return of significant territories lost by Hungary at the end of World War I, and because Homan approved of the extreme antisemitic policies that Nazi Germany promoted. In early 1938, Homan presented then-Prime Minister Kalman Daranyi with plans for a new law to restrict the rights of Hungarian Jews who, Homan asserted, exerted “disproportionate influence” in Hungary’s economy, industry, commerce, banking, media, and cultural life. Following the passage of the first “Jewish Law” in May 1938, which restricted Jewish participation in professional and cultural life, Homan worked on a special committee tasked with writing a second, more restrictive “Jewish Law,” which was submitted to parliament in December 1938 and became law in May 1939. This second “Jewish Law” not only further tightened economic and cultural restrictions, but defined Jews based on religious affiliation, deprived the entire group of certain political rights, and introduced the possibility of the forced emigration of Hungarian Jewry.

From his ministerial position, Homan made it clear to Regent Horthy and then-Prime Minister Pal Teleki that even these restrictions were insufficient in his view. He summarized his approach in writing in 1940: “At long last, we must break with the system of compromises when treating the Jewish Question … . We must finally wake up to the fact that the Jew, even when privileged [i.e., exempt from the anti-Jewish measures], is necessarily the enemy of the current governmental system—and so is the person of Jewish descent, as is the person who has Jewish relatives. If he were not the enemy, he would be denying his own self … . [N]o matter how submissive they may seem, it is in their nature to be unrelenting, and that is why, secretly, they will always be working against us.”

Continuing to serve as Minister of Cults and Education, Homan sought the complete removal of Jews from Hungary’s high schools and universities and the establishment by law of a racial definition of “Jew.” The third “Jewish Law,” or “Race Protection Law” of 1941, put a racial definition of Jews in place that echoed Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws. Homan also succeeded in revoking the equal status of Judaism as an “accepted religion” in Hungary, which had been granted to the Hungarian Jewish community in 1895.

After 1942, while no longer a government minister but still serving as a member of parliament from Szekesfehervar, Homan opposed government policies that throughout the year 1943 resisted handing over Hungarian Jews to the Germans. In February 1944, with Soviet troops approaching the borders of Hungary, Homan joined with a group of more than 20 other members of parliament who sent a memorandum to then-Prime Minister Miklos Kallay urging that the opportunity to rid the country of Jews not be lost and demanding their deportation. When German troops entered the country unopposed just a month later, accompanied by Adolf Eichmann and his  “Special Detachment” (Sondereinsatzkommando), the radical approach to the “Jewish problem” in Hungary that Balint Homan had advocated throughout his political career became a reality under prime minister Dome Sztojay. Between May and July 1944 Hungarian authorities enthusiastically cooperated in the mass deportation of more than 435,000 Hungarian Jews, most to their deaths on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In the summer of 1944, Homan joined a group of parliamentarians (Legislators’ National Alliance) that conspired with German authorities to ensure Hungary’s continued partnership with Nazi Germany. After Regent Miklos Horthy was removed as head of state in October 1944, following his very late attempt to exit the war and end Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, Balint Homan continued to play an active political role in parliament during the reign of terror inflicted on the surviving Jews of Budapest under Szalasi’s Arrow Cross regime.

In early 1945, as Budapest fell to the Red Army, Homan fled west with the escaping Arrow Cross government leadership and was taken into custody by American forces. He was returned to Hungary and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1946. While it may be possible to debate the procedural adequacy of Hungarian postwar legal proceedings, there can be no question regarding the role that Balint Homan played in advocating for antisemitic legislation that removed Hungarian Jews from the protection of the law, targeted them for discrimination and deportation, and, in the final analysis, culminated in the murder of nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews—one of every three Jews gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of every ten Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is firmly opposed to honoring such heinous individuals in Hungary or elsewhere. To honor Balint Homan, with a statue or in any other manner, creates the impression that the Government of Hungary and the City of Szekesfehervar believe that antisemitism, racial and religious prejudice, and genocide merit praise rather than universal condemnation.

Video: An Introduction to the Holocaust in Hungary