BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A senior government official in Hungary came under sharp criticism Wednesday for praising the country’s World War II-era leader, an ally of Nazi Germany who is believed to have imposed Europe’s first anti-Jewish laws of the 20th century, as an exceptional head of state and a hero.
Minister of Construction and Transportation Janos Lazar made the comments Sunday during a ceremony held on the 30th anniversary of the reburial of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s regent during most of World War II.
A self-described antisemite, Horthy forged an alliance with Adolf Hitler and implemented laws that resulted in the deportation and deaths of thousands of Hungarian Jews.
A video of the commemoration held in Kenderes, Horthy’s hometown, features Lazar, a Cabinet member in the nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, heaping praise on the wartime leader while speaking at the ceremony in Horthy’s hometown of Kenderes.
“It is my conviction that a remembrance and homage is due to Miklos Horthy,” Lazar says in the video, which he posted Tuesday on his Facebook page. “It is due to Governor Miklos Horthy because in Miklos Horthy we can honor an exceptional statesman who was a true heroic soldier and a true Hungarian patriot.,” Lazar said.
The Israeli Embassy responded to Lazar’s comments Wednesday, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Glorifying a person who’s (sic) deeds brought a catastrophe upon the Hungarian people and especially the Jewish compatriots of which around 600,000 innocent men, women and children were murdered, has no place in a modern Hungary.”
The U.S. ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, also wrote on X that Lazar’s participation in the event honoring Horthy concerned the U.S. government.
“Miklos Horthy was complicit in the slaughter of Hungary’s Jewish population during the Holocaust. The United States is concerned by the participation of a senior Orbán government official in efforts to rehabilitate and promote his brutal legacy,” Pressman wrote.
The chief Rabbi of Hungary’s largest synagogue, Robert Frolich, posted on his own Facebook page about Horthy’s avowed antisemitism and promises to Hitler to “gradually phase out the Jews” in Hungary during World War II.
Horthy, who governed Hungary from 1920 to 1944, remains a divisive figure in Hungarian historical and political discourse. Efforts by his admirers to rehabilitate his reputation as a Nazi ally have created controversy in the past.
A bronze bust of Horthy was unveiled outside a church in central Budapest in 2013, spurring protests condemnation from Washington. Another Horthy bust installed last year in the parliamentary offices of a far-right party was denounced by the Israeli Embassy in the Hungarian capital.