“Palestinian Imam planned to bomb Budapest Holocaust museum”

April 14, 2004

* The New York Times, BBC fails to report properly...

* Getting it right about the Roma (Gypsies)...

CONTENTS

1. "Hungarian police foil terror plot" (Guardian, April 14, 2004)
2. "Budapest: Palestinian Imam planned to bomb Holocaust museum" (AP/Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2004)
3. "Hungarian Holocaust museum to be opened Thursday" (Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2004)
4. "Hungary: Jewish museum bomb plot, Katsav trip not linked" (Haaretz Service and Agencies, April 13, 2004)
5. "Holocaust memorial opens as Hungary faces up to past" (By Adam LeBor, London Times, April 13, 2004)
6."'Holocaust' plot foiled in Hungary" (By Harry de Quetteville, Daily Telegraph, U.K., April 14, 2004)



[Note by Tom Gross]

THE NEW YORK TIMES OBSCURES

I attach details of the Budapest story because, although it has been fairly well covered in today's European press, it has been virtually ignored in American papers such as the New York Times. The NY Times today runs the story as two paragraphs from Reuters at the foot of another news item. About half the subscribers to this email list live in North America.

THE BBC DOWNPLAYS THE JEWISH NATURE OF THE TARGET

While the rest of the media correctly notes that this was a bomb plot against Jews, probably those planning to attend the opening of the long-awaited Budapest Holocaust museum, the BBC online headline yesterday read "BBC, Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 12:31 GMT 13:31: UK Hungary foils 'anti-Israel plot'"

Almost every single news agency yesterday drew attention to the Jewish nature of the intended victims in their headline - but the BBC, perhaps because they believe their audience would not consider an attack on an Israeli target such a bad thing, tried to turn this into a primarily anti-Israeli attack.

Even the highly anti-Israeli Reuters news agency ran a headline yesterday "Hungary Holds Man Over Anti-Jewish Bomb Plot" (Reuters 13/4);

(As the article from Ha'aretz below makes clear, Hungarian Police said this was a plot probably aimed at Holocaust survivors and other Jews attending the opening of the Holocaust museum and is not connected with the current visit to Budapest by Israeli President Moshe Katsav.)

Friday, April 16, is Holocaust Memorial Day in Hungary.

THE GUARDIAN USES THE WORD TERROR, BUT DOWNPLAYS THE JEWISH HOLOCAUST

In a rare move as far as Israel and Jews are concerned, The Guardian today uses the word "terror" in its headline (rather than "militant," "resistance," etc).

However, The Guardian also uses the word Holocaust with a small "h" in its opening sentence, contrary to standard usage.

Furthermore, The Guardian's claim in its article today that of the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were "murdered in concentration camps" "at least... 80,000 [were] Roma [Gypsies]", is untrue. This is the latest in a long line of recent media reports, where journalists are relying (probably unwittingly) on new "research" by anti-Semitic Holocaust revisionists trying to establish that "less Jews, more Gypsies" died in the war and that "Jews have exaggerated their own suffering."

THE ROMA (GYPSIES)

No reliable historian, German, Jewish, Roma or otherwise, claims that 80,000 Hungarian Roma were killed in concentration camps, as The Guardian asserts today. Estimates by reliable historians of the total number of European Roma killed in World War II range from 90,000 to 196,000, out of a prewar population of several million, most of which did not die in camps but in mass shootings and forced labor.

[For those interested in this subject, at the very end of this email, I attach a book review by myself "A Forgotten People, a Terrible Ordeal: The Nazi Persecution Of The Gypsies," By Tom Gross, January 19, 2000, The Wall Street Journal.]

BUDAPEST, PERHAPS TODAY EUROPE'S MOST JEWISH CITY?

For those who don't know, despite the devastation of the Holocaust on Hungarian Jewry, more than 100,000 Jews (including tens of thousands belonging to Jewish communities) remain in Budapest. This probably makes Budapest the city which today has the highest proportion of Jewish residents of any capital city in Europe, proportionate to its overall population.

AND IN NEIGHBORING SLOVAKIA

Also yesterday, in neighboring Slovakia, another country whose Jewish population was devastated by the Holocaust, suspended sentences were handed down to three persons convicted of vandalizing tombstones at a Jewish cemetery last year. The Slovak news agency, TASR, reports that Slovak police who carried out the investigation determined that the actions were not racially motivated. Many of the other 620 Jewish cemeteries left unattended in Slovakia have been vandalized in recent years.

Both Hungary and Slovakia join the European Union in just over two weeks from now.

-- Tom Gross

 

I attach six articles, with summaries first:

SUMMARIES

1. "Hungarian police foil terror plot" (By Nick Thorpe in Budapest, The Guardian, April 14, 2004). "A possible plot to blow up a new holocaust museum in Budapest appeared to have been foiled yesterday when detectives arrested three men, a Palestinian and two Syrians, on suspicion of planning an attack... Police gave no further details of the suspects, but local media reports said the prime suspect was a 42-year-old Hungarian citizen of Palestinian origin, working as a dentist in the city. Two Syrians were also detained for questioning. The three men are believed to be associated with a small mosque or prayer room on Bartok Bela street. The mosque, founded three years ago, has been active in recent years in trying to improve the image of Islam in Hungary. In the past year posters have appeared across the city inviting visitors to attend daily talks on Islam at the mosque. After Friday prayers a small group of Muslims usually gathers on the pavement outside..."

2. "Budapest: Palestinian Imam planned to bomb Holocaust museum" (The Associated Press / The Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2004). "... Police identified the suspect as a 42-year-old dentist of "Palestine origin" and said he was the spiritual leader of a small Islamic community in Budapest. He is a naturalized Hungarian citizen. The suspect, whose name was not released, was charged with being involved in "preparation for a terrorist attack," said Police Lt. Col. Attila Petofi... This year is the 60th anniversary of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. More than 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives in the last years of the WWII."

3. "Hungarian Holocaust museum to be opened Thursday" (The Jerusalem Post, Apr. 13, 2004). "The Holocaust Museum and Documentation Center, which will showcase photos, artwork and artifacts, will open in a former synagogue in downtown Budapest on April 15... Controversy surrounded the building of the museum, its location criticized due to its location outside the ghetto, its inaccessibility and its nondescript surroundings. Moreover, the museum lacks a permanent exhibit, save a memorial wall displaying the names of 40,000 known victims, due to lack of space. Hungary's history regarding Jews is not a happy one. In 1920, the "numerus clausus" law restricted the admission of Jews to universities - the first anti-Jewish law passed in Europe ahead of the war. Nazi-allied Hungarian authorities started rounding up more than 437,000 Jews in April 1944..."

4. "Hungary: Jewish museum bomb plot, Katsav trip not linked" (By Haaretz Service and Agencies, April 13, 2004). "Hungarian police said Tuesday afternoon they had detained a Hungarian citizen of Palestinian origin who had planned to blow up a Jewish museum in Budapest and two Syrian men also suspected of links to the plot. Police also said there was no connection between the arrests and the current visit to Budapest by President Moshe Katsav... The museum has been criticized in Hungary. Historians have said the museum should have been built in the countryside, where most of the Jews lived in pre-war times, or in the former area of the ghetto in the capital.

The current location in a nondescript neighborhood with narrow streets not only lacks historical significance but is also difficult for cars and tourist buses to reach, critics charge. But the most stinging criticism is that there will not be a permanent exhibition documenting the Holocaust in place at the opening and, some argue, there is not even enough space for it on site. "It's a slap in the face to the Holocaust and its victims," Laszlo Karsai, one of the museum's curators, told Nepszabadsag newspaper last month in protest of the limited space."

5. "Holocaust memorial opens as Hungary faces up to past" (By Adam LeBor, London Times, April 13, 2004). [Note: This article was published a few hours before the bomb plot was revealed. Adam LeBor is a subscriber to this email list.]. "Hungary will confront its darkest era on Thursday with the opening of its Holocaust Memorial Centre, the first such complex in a former Soviet European country

... Balint Molnar, the centre's spokesman, said: "For 60 years, there has been no debate about the responsibility of Hungarian society for the Holocaust. Under communism, everything was blamed on the Germans and a handful of Hungarian extremists. There was no discussion over the role of the wartime Hungarian authorities, the lack of resistance and the wholesale looting of Jewish property. The Holocaust in Hungary was not the private tragedy of the Jews," he said. "It is part of Hungarian history, as much as the revolutions of 1848 or 1956. Even now it is hard to comprehend the profound damage that has been done to Hungarian society."

Hungary's four surviving post-communist prime ministers are expected to attend the centre's official opening ceremony, together with President Katsav of Israel and Nicholas Sarkozy, the French Finance Minister, who is of Hungarian descent. France contributed £270,000 towards the centre, which has otherwise been paid for out of public funds.

The event marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the deportation of Hungary's Jews... For Holocaust survivors such as Robert Ligeti, 74, the opening is an overdue recognition of Hungary's central role in the deportation and murder of its own citizens. He told The Times: "Without the help of the Hungarian authorities, the Germans would not have been able to eliminate the Jews of the countryside. The Hungarian Government drew up the lists of Jews. The Hungarian gendarmerie put the Jews in ghettos and on the train to send them to the camps."

The worst massacres on Hungarian soil were carried out not by Germans, but Hungarian Arrow Cross troopers. Most nights during the winter of 1944 and 1945 they marched dozens of Jews to the banks of the Danube before shooting them into the water... There are plans for every Hungarian secondary school pupil to visit the centre. Andras Daranyi, the director of the centre, said: "The Holocaust is not a closed historical episode. We want to educate young Hungarians, not just about the genocide of the Jews, but also about civic courage."

6. "'Holocaust' plot foiled in Hungary" (By Harry de Quetteville, Balkans Correspondent, Daily Telegraph, U.K., April 14, 2004). [This is the full article].

"A plot to blow up a new Holocaust museum in Budapest was foiled yesterday, Hungarian police claimed after arresting a Palestinian-born Hungarian and two Syrians days before it is due to be opened by President Moshe Katsav of Israel. Hungary's police chief, Laszlo Salgo, said the Palestinian-born man, who was not named, had admitted planning the attack. He is a 42-year-old dentist, now a Hungarian citizen and believed to be imam of a local mosque.

Mr Katsav was not a specific target, Mr Salgo said. But earlier yesterday Moshe Mizrahi, an official in the presidential offices in Israel said Hungarian authorities had confirmed that the president was at the centre of an assassination plot. The detained men were being held "on suspicion that they were trying to kill the president", he said.

Mr Katsav appeared relaxed later, saying: "I joked with the Hungarian president that it would be better if he kept three steps away from me." He added: "I trust Hungarian law enforcement and the Israeli security service." The arrests were made yesterday morning as Mr Katsav arrived in Budapest for the inauguration of the museum tomorrow."

 



FULL ARTICLES

HUNGARIAN POLICE FOIL TERROR PLOT

Hungarian police foil terror plot :
Three suspects held during visit by Israeli president

By Nick Thorpe in Budapest
The Guardian
April 14, 2004

A possible plot to blow up a new holocaust museum in Budapest appeared to have been foiled yesterday when detectives arrested three men, a Palestinian and two Syrians, on suspicion of planning an attack.

Although police refused to specify which building had been targeted, officers said the men were being held because of fears they were going to attack a Jewish museum. The Holocaust Memorial Centre is due to open tomorrow.

Early reports suggested the attack was intended to coincide with the visit of the Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, who arrived in Hungary yesterday on a three-day state trip which will climax with the opening of the centre.

His office in Jerusalem initially said the attack had been timed to coincide with his visit to the centre.

"Police in Hungary arrested three suspects on suspicion they tried to kill the president," Mr Katsav's aide Moshe Mizrahi told the Associated Press.

But this was denied by the Hungarian police.

According to Attila Petofi, the deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigations, the evidence consisted of intercepted telephone calls during which the suspect asked others to obtain explosives and detonate them at the museum.

Late yesterday Mr Petofi said one suspect had been charged with being involved in "preparation for a terrorist attack". The two others were charged "with preparations for a crime against property".

Police gave no further details of the suspects, but local media reports said the prime suspect was a 42-year-old Hungarian citizen of Palestinian origin, working as a dentist in the city. Two Syrians were also detained for questioning.

The three men are believed to be associated with a small mosque or prayer room on Bartok Bela street.

The mosque, founded three years ago, has been active in recent years in trying to improve the image of Islam in Hungary.

In the past year posters have appeared across the city inviting visitors to attend daily talks on Islam at the mosque. After Friday prayers a small group of Muslims usually gathers on the pavement outside. No one answered the phone at the mosque yesterday.

The community keeps a low profile in the city. One Muslim who attends the mosque, who asked not to be named, said only one of the worshippers he had met there over the years could be described as a fundamentalist.

Estimates of the number of Muslims in Hungary vary but rarely exceed a few thousand. Some are doctors who studied medicine in Budapest during the socialist years then stayed on and married.

A likely target of the alleged plot is the newly converted synagogue in the city.

The previous, conservative government in Hungary proclaimed April 16 Holocaust Day in memory of the 600,000 Hungarians who were deported by the Nazis and murdered in concentration camps in 1944. At least 500,000 were Jews, and 80,000 Roma.

The memorial centre is a state project designed to commemorate all victims.

Next door the synagogue has been carefully restored in a blaze of white, blue and gold, copied from the original 1920s design. But a high stone wall around the buildings indicates security concerns that increased after last November's bomb attacks on synagogues in Istanbul.

The first exhibition will display photographs of one family, taken before and at Auschwitz. A live television link-up is to take place between Budapest's memorial centre, the Holocaust Museum in New York and the barracks at Auschwitz where most Hungarians lived before they were taken to the gas chambers.

The Hungarian government was an enthusiastic supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and a transport brigade of 300 soldiers is based there. There has only been one previous attack on an Israeli target in Hungary.

In 1991 suspected members of the German radical group the Red Army Faction detonated a bomb on the road to Budapest airport as a coach containing 31 Russian Jews about to emigrate to Israel was passing.

The bomb missed the bus but hit an accompanying police car, injuring one officer. A German citizen, Andrea Klump, is now on trial in Stuttgart, accused of that attack.

 

BUDAPEST: PALESTINIAN IMAM PLANNED TO BOMB HOLOCAUST MUSEUM

Budapest: Palestinian Imam planned to bomb Holocaust museum
The Associated Press / The Jerusalem Post
April 13, 2004

Police arrested the spiritual leader of a small Islamic community in Budapest Tuesday during a visit President Moshe Katsav and suggested he was planning to bomb the city's Jewish museum. Two Syrians also were detained on related charges.

Israeli officials and diplomats had earlier spoken of three Arab suspects arrested in the Hungarian capital on suspicion they were planning to kill Katsav.

But senior law enforcement officials in Hungary denied that Katsav was the target of the planned attack. "During my meting with the Hungarian President, they told me that I may have been the target, but afterwards the information became clearer," President Katsav told Channel 2 Tuesday night.

"There is no connection whatsoever between today's official visit by the Israeli president and the police action taken this morning," said National Police Commissioner Laszlo Salgo.

Tibor Pal, a senior Interior Ministry official, also said that Katsav's presence in the Hungarian capital "has nothing to do with the police action taken today."

Police identified the suspect as a 42-year-old dentist of "Palestine origin" and said he was the spiritual leader of a small Islamic community in Budapest. He is a naturalized Hungarian citizen.

The suspect, whose name was not released, was charged with being involved in "preparation for a terrorist attack," said Police Lt. Col. Attila Petofi.

The two Syrians were charged "with preparations for a crime against property," Petofi said without elaborating.

Police officials said investigations leading to the arrest had revealed "no date named for the attack and no (named) target facility."

But monitored phone calls of the suspect revealed that he had asked acquaintances for explosives "to blow up a Jewish museum," said Petofi.

The only permanent Jewish museum in the capital is the Holocaust Memorial Center to be inaugurated Thursday by Katsav. The timing of the police sweep thus appeared linked to Katsav's planned visit to the museum.

Hungarian police named no link to Hamas, who vowed to kill Israeli leaders following the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Petofi added there was no immediate link to al-Qaida, although police were not ruling out that possibility.

"We do not yet know what the motives of the act were," he said. "We could not afford to wait ... for the preparations to turn into a real crime."

The suspect began making phone calls in November to friends "to get explosives," said Petofi. On one occasion "he asked an acquaintance to use the explosive to blow up a Jewish museum," he added.

The investigation had turned up no explosives or weapons so far, said police.

Earlier, Israeli and Hungarian media reported that an assassination attempt on the life of Katzav had been thwarted. The plot reportedly involved blowing up Budapest's new Holocaust museum during its inauguration by President Katsav.

No group has taken responsibility for the alleged plot.

Katsav arrived in Budapest Tuesday for a three-day offical visit to open the new Holocaust Museum of Budapest on Thursday.

Hungarian police said that the Arab nationals planned to blow up the museum in Budapest during its opening ceremony, Hungarian media reported. Hungarian media also report that foreign security agencies tipped off their Hungarian counterparts some weeks ago regarding a threat on the Israeli president's life.

Israel's embassy in Budapest denied Hungarian media reports that President Katsav's schedule in Hungary was changed four times following numerous warnings about threats to his life. Hungarian media report that the Arabs arrested arrived in Hungary last week.

Ynet reported that Budapest police had arrested the three Arab nationals after keeping them under surveillance and searching their homes.

A spokeswoman in Katsav's office in Jerusalem said the president was told that he had been the target. She had no information on the nature of the attack or how close the suspect got to carrying it out.

Israeli security officials say they had no prior warning of intended attacks against the president, but security around him is very tight. Since the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, they say, security around all leading Israeli figures has been tightened. Channel One TV reported that Israeli security agencies Mossad and the Shin Bet heard about the assassination plot "from the media". Both agencies are responsible for the protection of Israeli dignitaries abroad.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. More than 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives in the last years of the WWII.

A senior Budapest police official said security forces had bolstered their presence in the Hugarian capital in anticipation of terror attacks and President Katsav's visit.

Yosef Herring, an Israeli journalist speaking on Israel Radio from Budapest said that Hungarian police helicopters are circling the city, pointing to other Hungarian media reports that police may be looking for other suspects. The new Holocaust museum on Pavoh Road is next to the old synagogue in Budapest on Dohan Road, Herring said.

Katsav's office said he would continue with his visit according to schedule. In his first reaction to the report, President Katsav said he "trusted completely" in the abilities of the Hungarian and Israeli security services. "I jokingly told President Madl that it would be better if he stays three steps away me," Katsav told reporters.

Embassy officials denied reports that Katsav's schedule in Hungary had been altered several times because of the threat of a terrorist attack.

Katsav is scheduled to meet with Hungary's foreign minister and President in the coming days. He is also scheduled to meet with the heads of Hungary's Jewish community.

 

HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST MUSEUM TO BE OPENED THURSDAY

Hungarian Holocaust museum to be opened Thursday
The Jerusalem Post
April 13, 2004

The Holocaust Museum and Documentation Center, which will showcase photos, artwork and artifacts, will open in a former synagogue in downtown Budapest on April 15.

The renovated synagogue was built in 1923, transformed into a factory during World War II and later abandoned. Since the old synagogue will be used for exhibits and conferences, a small, new synagogue is being built on the premises for the neighborhood's Jewish community.

The opening ceremony will take place simultaneously with events at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and at the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. A temporary exhibition will consist of photographs of Hungarian victims arriving to Auschwitz from the northeastern village of Bilke, which is now part of Ukraine.

Controversy surrounded the building of the museum, its location criticized due to its location outside the ghetto, its inaccessibility and its nondescript surroundings. Moreover, the museum lacks a permanent exhibit, save a memorial wall displaying the names of 40,000 known victims, due to lack of space.

Hungary has eastern Europe's largest Jewish population, estimated at 60,000-100,000. But its history regarding Jews is not a happy one.

In 1920, the "numerus clausus" law restricted the admission of Jews to universities - the first anti-Jewish law passed in Europe ahead of the war. Nazi-allied Hungarian authorities started rounding up more than 437,000 Jews in April 1944. An estimated 600,000 Hungarians perished in the Holocaust, most of them Jews.

 

HUNGARY: JEWISH MUSEUM BOMB PLOT, KATSAV TRIP NOT LINKED

Hungary: Jewish museum bomb plot, Katsav trip not linked
By Haaretz Service and Agencies
April 13, 2004

Hungarian police said Tuesday afternoon they had detained a Hungarian citizen of Palestinian origin who had planned to blow up a Jewish museum in Budapest and two Syrian men also suspected of links to the plot.

Police also said there was no connection between the arrests and the current visit to Budapest by President Moshe Katsav, who is set to inaugurate the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest on Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the day Hungary's pro-Nazi regime started rounding up Jews to confine them in ghettos.

Police Lt. Col. Attila Petofi, deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation, told a news conference there was substantial information that the 42-year-old Palestinian-born dentist planned to blow up "a Jewish museum." He did not say whether it was the new Holocaust museum, as officials had earlier suggested.

Police said the Palestinian suspect was the spiritual leader of a small Islamic community in Budapest. He is a naturalized Hungarian citizen.

The suspect, whose name was not released, was charged with being involved in "preparation for a terrorist attack," said Petofi.

Police said they had also arrested two Syrian men. They said the Palestinian man had wanted to buy explosives from one of these two, and had wanted to commission the other to blow up the Jewish museum.

The Syrian suspects were charged "with preparations for a crime against property," Petofi said, without elaborating.

"There is no connection whatsoever between the Israeli president's visit and the particular police action taken today," Laszlo Salgo, chief of the national police, told a news conference Tuesday.

But a spokeswoman at the president's Jerusalem office said earlier Tuesday that Katsav had been told he was the target of an attack. She added, however, that the president's three-day state visit would continue as planned.

"They're all right. That's what we're concerned about," she said of the president and his wife, Gila, who arrived in Hungary on Tuesday morning.

Katsav told reporters after a meeting with Hungarian President Ferenc Madl that he was aware of the police actions but was confident in the security arrangements for his protection.

During his visit, Katsav will also meet with the Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and the foreign minister. A number of meetings with leading Hungarian businessmen are also scheduled.

"I trust in the Hungarian security forces and I trust in the Israeli security forces," Katsav said. "I jokingly told President Madl that it would be better if he stays three steps away me."

The Shin Bet security service said that it had not been aware of any terror threat ahead of the trip, Army Radio reported.

'We could not afford to wait'

Hungarian police officials said investigations leading to the arrest had revealed "no date named for the attack and no [named] target facility."

But monitored phone calls of the suspect revealed that he had asked acquaintances for explosives "to blow up a Jewish museum," said Petofi.

"We do not yet know what the motives of the act were," he said. "We could not afford to wait... for the preparations to turn into a real crime."

The suspect began making phone calls in November to friends "to get explosives," said Petofi. On one occasion "he asked an acquaintance to use the explosive to blow up a Jewish museum," he added.

The investigation had turned up no explosives or weapons so far, said police.

Museum 'must be a place for learning'

The museum Katsav is due to inaugurate Thursday will be the first Holocaust museum in central Europe.

Located on a narrow street in Budapest, the memorial center is built on the site of a pre-war synagogue which had served as an internment camp for Jews during World II.

An estimated 600,000 Hungarians perished in the Holocaust, most of them Jews.

French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is of Hungarian descent, is also expected to attend the inauguration.

"More than a museum, this must be a place for learning, especially for the young who must not only know of the Holocaust but make it part of their lives so that they will never allow it to happen again," museum director Andras Daranyi said.

The museum is the fifth state-funded Holocaust museum in the world according to its organizors, after ones in Jerusalem, Washington D.C., London and Berlin.

It will open with a temporary exhibition showing photographs of Hungarian victims arriving to Auschwitz from the northeastern village of Bilke, which is now part of Ukraine.

In the courtyard, the names of those who perished in the Holocaust are put on a memorial wall. Some 40,000 names are known and new ones are added as research discovers the identities of the victims.

The museum has, however, been criticized in Hungary, which has eastern Europe's largest Jewish population, estimated at 60,000-100,000.

Historians have said the museum should have been built in the countryside, where most of the Jews lived in pre-war times, or in the former area of the ghetto in the capital.

The current location in a nondescript neighborhood with narrow streets not only lacks historical significance but is also difficult for cars and tourist buses to reach, critics charge.

But the most stinging criticism is that there will not be a permanent exhibition documenting the Holocaust in place at the opening and, some argue, there is not even enough space for it on site.

"It's a slap in the face to the Holocaust and its victims," Laszlo Karsai, one of the museum's curators, told Nepszabadsag newspaper last month in protest of the limited space.

The museum's directors argue, however, that opening the museum even without a permanent exhibition was a moral obligation to educate Hungarians, for whom the participation of Hungary's collaborationist government in the deportations remains a sore topic.

"We want to be a springboard for debate in society about the Holocaust," Daranyi said.

The emphasis on education also resonates in Hungary, where the so-called "numerus clausus" law of 1920 restricting the admission of Jews to universities was the first anti-Jewish law passed in Europe ahead of the war.

"How did this degenerate into deportations and murder 20 to 25 years after the first anti-Jewish law was enacted? And how come so few raised their voices against this?" asked Daranyi.

"We don't want to give answers, we want to pose questions," Daranyi said.

 

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL OPENS AS HUNGARY FACES UP TO PAST

Holocaust memorial opens as Hungary faces up to past
By Adam LeBor
London Times
April 13, 2004

A new museum in Budapest is deliberately 'discordant and uneasy', aiming to educate its visitors

Hungary will confront its darkest era on Thursday with the opening of its Holocaust Memorial Centre, the first such complex in a former Soviet European country. Built around a restored synagogue on Pava Street, in the working-class ninth district of Budapest, the £5.2 million site includes exhibition halls, lecture rooms, a library and an archive research unit.

Supporters hope that the centre will make Hungarians address the active participation of their compatriots in the deaths of more than half a million Jews after the Nazis occupied the country in March 1944. Between May and July 1944, more than 430,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Tens of thousands more died in forced labour, or were killed by the notorious Arrow Cross militia, the footsoldiers of the Hungarian Nazi party.

Balint Molnar, the centre's spokesman, told The Times: "For 60 years, there has been no debate about the responsibility of Hungarian society for the Holocaust. Under communism, everything was blamed on the Germans and a handful of Hungarian extremists. There was no discussion over the role of the wartime Hungarian authorities, the lack of resistance and the wholesale looting of Jewish property.

"The Holocaust in Hungary was not the private tragedy of the Jews," he said. "It is part of Hungarian history, as much as the revolutions of 1848 or 1956. Even now it is hard to comprehend the profound damage that has been done to Hungarian society."

Hungary's four surviving post-communist prime ministers are expected to attend the centre's official opening ceremony, together with President Katsav of Israel and Nicholas Sarkozy, the French Finance Minister, who is of Hungarian descent. France contributed £270,000 towards the centre, which has otherwise been paid for out of public funds.

The event marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the deportation of Hungary's Jews, when the Pava Street synagogue was used as an internment camp.

The centre's design is partly inspired by Daniel Liebeskind's controversial Jewish museum in Berlin. Its angled walls and narrow windows are intentionally jarring, Mr Molnar said: "The Holocaust was an event with no reason, so we wanted the space to be discordant and uneasy."

For Holocaust survivors such as Robert Ligeti, 74, the opening is an overdue recognition of Hungary's central role in the deportation and murder of its own citizens. He told The Times: "Without the help of the Hungarian authorities, the Germans would not have been able to eliminate the Jews of the countryside. The Hungarian Government drew up the lists of Jews. The Hungarian gendarmerie put the Jews in ghettos and on the train to send them to the camps."

The worst massacres on Hungarian soil were carried out not by Germans, but Hungarian Arrow Cross troopers. Most nights during the winter of 1944 and 1945 they marched dozens of Jews to the banks of the Danube before shooting them into the water.

Hungary joins the European Union on May 1 and after years when the main political parties failed to take a firm line against anti-Semitism, they are keen to present a modern vision of the country.Hungary is home to about 80,000 Jews.

The centre also draws links between the genocide of the Jews and the racism suffered now by Hungary's Roma minority, such as educational segregation. One exhibition portrays the Roma Holocaust, known as the Poramus or "devouring". There are plans for every Hungarian secondary school pupil to visit the centre.

Andras Daranyi, the director of the centre, said: "The Holocaust is not a closed historical episode. We want to educate young Hungarians, not just about the genocide of the Jews, but also about civic courage."

 

A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE, A TERRIBLE ORDEAL

A Forgotten People, a Terrible Ordeal
By Tom Gross
The Wall Street Journal,
January 19, 2000

THE NAZI PERSECUTION
OF THE GYPSIES
By Guenter Lewy
(Oxford Univ. Press, 306 pages, $30)

THE HOLOCAUST IN ROMANIA
By Radu Ioanid
(Ivan R. Dee, 352 pages, $30)

By Tom Gross

To say that the Gypsy people have been ignored by historians, politicians and the media would be something of an understatement. The Gypsies - or Roma, as they are more properly known - are to be found in almost every European country, and in a good many other places too, including the U.S. Numbering at least eight million in Europe alone, they now constitute the continent's largest minority without a state of its own. And today they are arguably the most consistently persecuted minority as well, enduring everything from segregated schools and ghetto compounds in the Czech Republic to pogroms in Kosovo. Yet the international community has, for the most part, turned a blind eye to their plight.

Why should this be so? Well, when outright racism is not a cause, unthinking hostility and astonishing ignorance often are. Many people still think of "Gypsies" in crude stereotypes - as thieving vagrants, fortune-tellers or, at best, picturesque figures out of Bizet's "Carmen." They are, in fact, a distinct people who have preserved their own language and culture since migrating to Europe from India in the 10th century. Even so - to take but one example - the Times Atlas of World History in the early 1990s contained no entry for Roma (or Gypsies) in the section charting the movement of peoples.

This neglect is at its most shocking in regard to the fate of the Roma in Hitler's holocaust, in which they were the second most populous victims. Thus Guenter Lewy's "The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies" is especially welcome. Mr. Lewy's account is the most comprehensive and accurate treatment of the subject in English to date. (It surpasses Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon's admirable 1972 book, "The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies," which Mr. Lewy wrongly denigrates.)

Inevitably, Mr. Lewy takes us back before the Nazi era, since official modern prejudice against the Roma originates in the 19th century. In 1885, Bavaria issued measures aimed at controlling Gypsies and gathering information about them. In 1899, a Central Office for Gypsy Affairs was established by the Munich police; from 1911 it began fingerprinting any Gypsies it could lay its hands on. Other states supplied names and photos, and by 1925 this data bank included more than 14,000 names from all over Germany.

In the 1920s, states and municipalities throughout Germany approved measures for combating "Gypsies, Travelers and the Work-Shy." In 1929, the city council of Frankfurt was the first to set up what was officially called a "concentration camp for Gypsies." Yet this did not resemble the deadly concentration camps of later years. Though fenced in, camp inhabitants could enter and leave at will, and there was no permanent guard.

When Hitler assumed power in 1933, Germany's Roma constituted a small minority of about 26,000. They were of no particular interest to the Nazi leadership, whose racial policies were directed almost exclusively against the Jews. "Mein Kampf," for example, does not mention the Gypsies, and in his 12 years as Führer, Hitler mentioned them only twice, in brief remarks on their military service.

Yet, as Mr. Lewy explains, this indifference changed, largely as a result of pressure from below. Local communities that regarded Gypsies as asocial and criminal felt there was little place for them in a new social structure that placed excessive emphasis on law and order. By 1938, measures of control and harassment against Roma began to assume an explicitly racial nature. Decrees "for combating the Gypsy plague" made mention of their alleged racial inferiority.

From 1943, persecution turned into partial genocide, and a special "Gypsy camp" was established at Auschwitz, in which 20,000 Roma would die. Yet, as Mr. Lewy shows, Nazi policies toward the Gypsies remained inconsistent. Some types were targeted for extinction; others (though often treated very badly) were spared death. For this reason Mr. Lewy, like most historians before him, makes a distinction between the murder of Roma and the Nazi campaign to kill every single Jew.

Estimates by reliable historians of European Gypsies killed in World War II range from 90,000 to 196,000, out of a prewar population of several million. Although Mr. Lewy never gives a figure himself, he is dismissive of a new generation of Roma activists who, desperate to draw attention to the dire situation of their people today, vastly exaggerate the number of Roma victims of the Nazis.

Even so, the actual numbers were bad enough. It is worth noting that the Roma were the only other group subjected to anything approaching full-scale genocide, and some Roma-notably the children on whom Mengele "experimented" -were subjected to horrific treatment.

Given the discrepancy in the scale of genocide, Radu Ioanid's "The Holocaust in Romania" naturally concentrates on the fate of the Jews. Relying on hitherto inaccessible archives, Mr. Ioanid recounts in chilling detail the savage persecution of the Jews under the Nazi-allied regime of the heinous dictator Ion Antonescu. At least 250,000 died.

The book's account of the Roma outlines how almost 25,000 Romanian Gypsies-approximately 2.5% of the country's Gypsy population-were deported to Transnistria (now in Ukraine). All but 1,500 of these died there with the Jews.

Mr. Ioanid's book is especially timely since, amazingly, Antonescu is undergoing a rehabilitation in Romania today: streets are being named for him, statues erected and minutes of silence observed in his memory. What this perverse homage does to the memory of his victims is almost beyond reckoning.

(Mr. Gross, the Middle East correspondent of the London Sunday Telegraph, served as a special adviser to the United Nations on Czech Roma from 1992 to 1995.)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.