Wandering through the heart of Budapest, it is easy to stumble across Liberty Square. Entering the Park from the South, you are immediately confronted with a monument for “Victims of the German Occupation of 1944.” Hungary, represented by a helpless angel Gabriel, is depicted as having no choice but to acquiesce to the aggressive German Imperial Eagle.
Approaching the monument, a smaller protest installation can be found in front of it. Signs on the protest indicate that this monument, erected overnight in June 2014, is part of a systematic effort to minimize Hungary’s role in the Holocaust.
This is far from the truth. Hungary passed one of the first anti-Semitic laws in Europe in 1920 and was the first nation to join the Axis Powers in 1940. The Hungarian National Police and the Arrow Cross Party, which was given control over the government, actively and willingly assisted the Nazis in their attempt to ghettoize the Jews of Budapest and carry out the Final Solution. By the end of the war, more than half a million Hungarian Jews were killed.
On the barbed wire fence that is the protest monument, people have attached photos, stories, and left other memorials for the Hungarian Jews that were killed by Hungarians. Signs on the protest monument indicate that they are attempting to remind the country of what really happened and counter the attempts to make Hungary blameless for the acts of the Holocaust.
In the face of rising anti-Semitism in America and around the world, we must be especially wary of attempts to rewrite history and shift blame of who is responsible for the persecution of Jews. When we create new, sympathetic, sanitized versions of history, we are doomed to repeat history’s mistakes. The protest monument is a call for us to take responsibility for how history is remembered. May we never forget what happened, and work tirelessly to ensure it never happens again.
Aaron Torop is a first-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.