Szilárd Demeter, Ministerial Commissioner and Director of the Petőfi Literary Museum, expressed his views on businessman György Soros and the current rule of law debate in the EU in an op-ed published on pro-government news portal Origo on Saturday. In the article, he wrote that “Europe is “George Soros’ Gas Chamber,” comparing the businessman to Hitler, while saying that Hungarians and the Polish are “the new Jews.” Since then, thousands have signed the petition demanding his resignation, while Hungarian and international Jewish organizations have spoken out against the article and condemned his words. Although Demeter stood up for his op-ed in another announcement on Sunday, he later withdrew the published article and deleted his Facebook page.
In an op-ed on pro-government news portal Origo, Petőfi Literary Museum director Szilárd Demeter wrote about Hungarian-American businessman György Soros, and the proposal linking EU payments to the rule of law. In the article, he wrote that “György Soros’ gas chamber is Europe: toxic gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life (…).” He also shared his position on the current EU debates on the rule of law, comparing the situation to the Holocaust and the Hungarians and Poles with the many millions of Jews killed during World War II, saying that “we are the new Jews,” and then likened Soros – who survived the Holocaust as a child hiding on Lupa Island – to Adolf Hitler.
Jewish Organizations: To describe Europe as a gas chamber is tasteless and unforgivable
Following the publication of the article, Hungarian and international Jewish organizations have spoken out against the op-ed and condemned Demeter’s words. The Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) wrote in response that it is in bad taste to describe Europe as a gas chamber, and “75 years after Auschwitz it is unforgivable from the head of a state institution.” They added that in Auschwitz alone, more than 430,000 of our compatriots were gassed. Mazsihisz wrote:
“Whoever relativizes this in the context of a current political debate, even indirectly, is insensitive to the pains of the 20th century Hungarian history and the Hungarian Jewish community.”
According to Mazsihisz, when Demeter calls “Europe the gas chamber of George Soros” is a textbook case of the relativization of the Holocaust and therefore “incompatible with the government’s zero tolerance towards all forms of anti-Semitism.”
The leading rabbi of the United Hungarian Jewish Community (EMIH), Slomó Köves, also responded to the statement.
Demeter’s reflections are tasteless and unworthy. It is possible to disagree and argue with George Soros’ political activity and business, but it is difficult to look at comparing Soros to Hitler and his activity to gas chambers- more than a stupid provocation.
“It is not only possible but necessary to give a valid conservative critique of the existing world order. However, being conservative means among other things, that we are exactly aware of language frameworks, which borders we do not cross and do not wash away. We do not vulgarize what cannot be vulgarized,” Slomó Köves wrote to Telex.
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Since then, the scandal has also reached international level: Szilárd Demeter’s op-ed was condemned by the Israeli embassy and the International Auschwitz Commission, but the American Jewish Committee also spoke out against the “horrible” outburst of the ministerial commissioner. The latter wrote that he attacked Soros and the EU in an anti-Semitic way. According to the president of the organization, this marks a new depth in the anti-Semitic, anti-European campaign in Hungary, which is repulsive not only to Hungarian Holocaust survivors.
Demeter: EU and Soros are practically importing a new kind of anti-Semitism
Although Demeter eventually withdrew his article after the storm of indignation and even deleted his Facebook page, he responded to Mazsihisz in a statement on Sunday morning, defending his standpoint. He wrote that the Holocaust and all that happened in the 20th century with the Jewish community, is “…inalienable. It is a common heritage for all of us. And it is the common responsibility for all of us to never let it – or something similar – happen again in Europe.”
Then he continued by saying that “…the focus is currently on the word ‘similar.’ In Europe, and more specifically in the European Union, illegal migration is now being promoted under the guise of an “open society.” The majority of migrants are Muslim. The EU’s voices, led by speculator György Soros, are practically importing a new kind of anti-Semitism – it is proven by a plethora of atrocities and terrorist attacks threatening the lives of Jews in recent years.” According to Demeter, “75 years after Auschwitz, we see that the liberal mainstream is operating a net of Nazi logic. It is unacceptable. And I don’t accept it.” He concluded by saying that he wanted Hungary to remain one of the safest countries in Europe for both Jewish and Christian Hungarians.
Public figures and politicians ask for Demeter’s resignation
So far, more than six thousand people have signed a petition and an open letter published on Sunday, according to which Szilárd Demeter should immediately resign from all public functions – including his position as the director of the Petőfi Literary Museum and as a Ministerial Commissioner – and withdraw from public life. The petition was also supported by Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony. Among the signatories there are several well-known public figures and artists (including Mátyás Erdély, cinematographer of the Oscar winning Holocaust drama, Son of Saul, poets and authors Lajos Parti Nagy, György Spiró, Árpád Schilling, and Péter Závada, and politicians such as Benedek Jávor of Párbeszéd, and Péter Ungár of LMP). At the same time, former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that if Demeter is still a government official on Monday, it suggests that what he wrote in his article reflects the government’s position.
In the featured photo: Szilárd Demeter. Photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI