BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Speakers at an event Sunday commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary called for dialogue with the government, condemning its plans for a disputed memorial to Nazi Germany's 1944 occupation.
Thousands took part in Sunday's "March Of The Living" remembrance walk, which was held for the 12th time in Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Over the past several months, Hungarian Jewish groups have expressed their frustration at what they say are efforts by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to diminish the role local authorities had in the death of around 550,000 Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust.
Government officials have said repeatedly, also recently, that Hungarians were both perpetrators and victims of the Holocaust. President Janos Ader said Auschwitz, where a third of those killed in the death camp were Hungarian Jews, "forms part of Hungarian history."
Still, most of the reproach has been centered around a monument planned to be placed on the south side of Freedom Square, at the opposite end of a Soviet war memorial. The structure is set to show the figure of Germany's imperial eagle swooping down on the archangel Gabriel, symbolizing Hungary.
Hungary was on Germany's side during the war, but Germany invaded after Adolf Hitler became suspicious that Hungary was looking for a way out and reach a peace deal with the Allied forces. In a February letter to the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Orban promised to hold talks about the statue after Easter and pushed back the planned unveiling of the work from March 19 to the end of May.
However, two of days after Orban's Fidesz party won its second consecutive landslide victory in parliamentary elections on April 6, crews began readying the foundations of the monument. Activists have repeatedly dismantled the fence guarding the construction area, but work has continued.
"We would like to believe that all is not lost and that there is room for dialogue," said Gabor Gordon, an organizer of the march. "The memorial is unacceptable to us in its known form." His words were echoed by other speakers at the "March of the Living," including Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues, who called for "constructive engagement" on the disputed issues, and Chief Rabbi Peter Kardos, an Auschwitz survivor.
"We want to live in a country where a memorial which falsifies history cannot be built," Kardos said, drawing sustained applause from the crowd.