BUDAPEST (JTA) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban apologized for Hungarians’ role in deporting Jews to concentration camps, his first acknowledgement of Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust.
In a speech Monday at a Jewish cemetery in Budapest, Orban called the Holocaust a “national tragedy” for Hungarians.
“We were without love and indifferent, when we should have helped, and very many Hungarians chose bad instead of good, the shameful instead of the honourable,” Orban said, according to the French news agency AFP.
Orban also paid tribute to Jewish Hungarian soldiers who fought in World War I.
“Without the sacrifices that Hungarian Jews made during the First World War, it would have been impossible to defend our homeland,” Orban said Monday at a ceremony to mark the renovation of World War I-era graves in the Kozma Street Cemetery, the largest Jewish burial place in the Hungarian capital.
Orban said hundreds of Jewish soldiers who fought in the war, from 1914 to 1918, were buried in the cemetery. The Hungarian government provided funding for the graves’ recent renovation.
Some Hungarian Jews criticized the timing of the event, one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau. Half a million Hungarian Jews were killed at the concentration camp.