BUDAPEST – After facing strong condemnation, a Hungarian commissioner on Sunday begrudgingly retracted an article comparing American-Hungarian billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, a staunch critic of Hungary’s government, to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
“Europe is George Soros’ gas chamber,” Szilard Demeter, ministerial commissioner and head of the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, wrote in an opinion Saturday in the pro-government Origo media outlet. “Poison gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life.”
The comments drew outrage from Hungary’s Jewish community, including the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, which called the article “tasteless” and “unforgivable.”
“(It's) a textbook case of the relativization of the Holocaust, and is therefore incompatible with the government’s claim of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” the group said.
In a statement Sunday on Origo, Demeter said he would retract his article “independently of what I think" and will delete his Facebook page.
“I will grant that those criticizing me are correct in saying that to call someone a Nazi is to relativize, and that making parallels with Nazis can inadvertently cause harm to the memory of the victims,” he said in a statement.
In the article, Demeter, who was appointed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to oversee cultural production, compared Soros to Hitler, writing he was “the liberal Führer, and his liber-Aryan army deifies him more than did Hitler’s own.”
Soros, who was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor, is a frequent target of Orban’s government for his philanthropic activities that favor liberal causes. Government media campaigns targeting Soros have led to charges of anti-Semitism.
The article also noted the conflict over the European Union’s next budget, which Hungary and Poland are holding up over provisions that could block payments to countries that do not uphold democratic standards. Demeter referred to the two countries, both of which are under EU investigation for undermining judicial independence and media freedom, as “the new Jews.”
The government of Israel, a close ally of Hungary, condemned Demeter’s comments.
The Israeli Embassy in Budapest tweeted, “We utterly reject the use and abuse of the memory of the Holocaust for any purpose … There is no place for connecting the worst crime in human history, or its perpetrators, to any contemporary debate.”
Gordon Bajnai, a former Hungarian prime minister, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that if Demeter isn't removed from his post by Monday, “Hungarians and the rest of the world will obviously consider (his) statement as the position of the Hungarian government.”