The head of Budapest’s Petofi Literature Museum, Szilard Demeter, accused US investor and philanthropist George Soros on Saturday of having made Europe his “gas chamber”. After violent protests by domestic and foreign politicians, diplomats, Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, Demeter withdrew the comment on Sunday.
“I agree with my critics insofar as that Nazi ascriptions nowadays mean a relativization and that Nazi comparisons themselves involuntarily hurt the memory of the victims,” he wrote in a statement published on the government-affiliated portal index.hu. The 44-year-old literary functionary enjoys the unreserved trust of the right-wing national premier Viktor Orban in matters of cultural policy.
In the article, which was also written for the government-related internet portal origo.hu, he wrote, among others: “The poison gas that is fatal for the European way of life escapes from the barrels of the multi-cultural open society.” Soros is committed to an open, liberal society and promotes organizations around the world that stand up for human rights and the rule of law.
Demeter had spoken out on the EU budget dispute, in which Hungary and Poland blocked important budget decisions worth EUR 1.8 trillion with their veto. In this way, the two Central European countries want to prevent a new rule of law mechanism from becoming effective. This threatens countries whose governments intervene in the independence of the judiciary with the withdrawal of EU aid.
Demeter wrote: “The ‘Liberal Aryans’ (Liberals) now want to throw the Hungarians and Poles out of the political community as members of which they have rights. We are the new Jews.” The Holocaust survivor Soros, who was born in Hungary, is the “liberal” leader “,” he wrote using the German name for the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
The Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Christoph Heubner, condemned the statements. “Not only in Hungary are Holocaust survivors disgusted and appalled by this bizarre and hateful agitation.” In Hungary, the Israeli embassy and the Jewish umbrella organization Mazsihisz protested.
The Association of Hungarian Jewish Religious Congregations protested against the statements on Saturday evening. It was “tasteless to call Europe a gas chamber”, and 75 years after Auschwitz, it was “unforgivable” for the head of a state institution, the association said. “More than 430,000 Hungarians were gassed in Auschwitz.” Anyone who relativizes this in connection with current political questions is insensitive to “the pain of Hungarian history and Hungarian Jewry in the 20th century”.