Two steps back on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Two steps back on Holocaust Remembrance Day

As survivors and the descendants march at Auschwitz today for Holocaust Remembrance Day, election results yesterday in nearby Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party earned 16.7 percent of the vote, evoked memories of that time in a very different way: 

Jobbik’s leader, Gabor Vona, 32, is a former history teacher who tapped into a growing nationalism fanned by economic hardship. He is a founding member of the Magyar Garda, an association whose uniforms are reminiscent of those worn by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s wartime Nazi party. The group, which was outlawed last year but has not disbanded, has revived dark memories of World War II, when Jews and Roma were deported to concentration camps.

Analysts said Jobbik’s growing popularity illustrates how the economic crisis was helping to fuel a regional backlash against minorities, as people look for someone to blame. In Hungary, at least five Roma have been killed in the past two years and Roma leaders have counted about 30 firebomb attacks against their people’s homes.

Hungary’s Jewish population of nearly 100,000 has also been one of its targets, with Jobbik claiming that “foreign speculators,” including Israel, want to control the country. A recent edition of the party magazine showed a statue of St. Gellert — an 11th-century martyred bishop — holding a menorah instead of a cross. “Is this what you want?” it asked.

Pope Benedict’s personal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa also had the Holocaust on the mind last week when he compared attacks on the church over the ongoing sex abuse scandal to the "collective violence" inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. A retired Italian bishop also reportedly blamed the scandal on "Zionists," though he has denied making the comments. 

While it’s certainly not fair to say sentiments like these are widespread, these incidents provide a disturbing contemporary backdrop to a day of historical commemoration.