World Jewish body urges Hungary to reconsider WW2 memorial

BUDAPEST (REUTERS) - The World Jewish Congress (WJC) urged Hungary on Friday to reconsider plans to erect a monument commemorating the German occupation in 1944 and to seek greater dialogue with the country's Jewish community.

Hungarian Jewish groups say the monument is part of an official drive to obscure the role played by Hungarians in the deportation and murder of the country's Jews during World War Two.

The Hungarian Jewish Congregations' Association decided this month it would boycott events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the June 1944 decision to send 437,000 Jews to Nazi death camps unless Prime Minister Viktor Orban heeded their concerns.

WJC president Ronald Lauder said in a statement he fully supported the Hungarian group's boycott decision.

"If Viktor Orban and the Hungarian government seriously believe that the statue should also be a memorial for the Jewish victims, at the very least they should listen to the Jewish community's concerns, take them into account, and reconsider their plans," Lauder said in an op-ed to be published in Hungarian daily newspaper Nepszabadsag on Saturday.

Lauder also expressed concern that the issue of Hungary's role in the Holocaust had taken centre-stage as the country prepares for parliamentary elections on April 6.

"Extreme-right forces must not be allowed to exploit this issue for electioneering purposes. The remembrance of the Holocaust and of the atrocities committed during World War II ought to unite Hungarians, not divide them," he wrote.

Anti-Semitism remains a sore point in Hungary, whose 100,000-strong Jewish community is one of the largest in Europe.

Orban, who is expected to win the April poll, has pledged to do everything to stamp out anti-Semitism in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party openly uses anti-Semitic rhetoric.

His government says it wants to commemorate all victims of the Nazi occupation of Hungary.

"The victims of events after March 19, 1944, deserve empathy and an honourable commemoration," a spokesman said last month.

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