In 2015, a monumental building with a massive, visible star of David in Budapest was created to become a Holocaust museum. However, it has still yet to be opened due to the immense criticism the project initially received. The dispute is part of growing fears among Hungarian Jews and international scholars that the right-wing government, led by Viktor Orban, is downplaying Hungary’s role in the Holocaust.
It is by far the tallest and most conspicuous Holocaust memorial in a country where the task of commemorating the genocide is complicated by the fact that many locals were involved at the time. It has become a symbol of the fierce battle on how to commemorate the Holocaust. An important milestone was recently achieved in the effort to reopen and break the project deadlock when a local Jewish organization recruited a team of eminent historians who were dedicated to historical accuracy and removed the museum from the political sphere. However, the story of the museum also shows how deeply divided Hungarian Jews are over how to commemorate the Holocaust.
This story began in 2012 when the Orban government was accused of hiring controversial right-wing historian Maria Schmidt to guide its installation. Her controversial history led many in Jewish circles to worry if the museum would accurately chronicle Hungary’s role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, as she is accused of being a Holocaust revisionist by some. This is further corroborated by the fact that in 2014, she wrote that the approach for the House of Fates would be “a story of love between Hungarian Jews and non-Jews” and expressed hope that it would show the “common fate shared by all Hungarians, Jews and non-Jews alike,” during World War II. In the piece, she accuses “forces” of unfairly calling Hungary anti-Semitic and fascist “to discredit the Hungarian nation as a whole.”
Thanks to Schmidt, the project had limited support in Jewish circles from the start. In 2014, openness to it was completely lost when Orban’s government and Hungary’s largest Jewish group, the Magihish, clashed openly over the erection of a statue honoring the victims of Nazism in Budapest. Critics said the statue was an attempt to cover up local collusion with the Nazis. Mazsihisz said it was boycotting the new museum, as was Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Museum.
However, we are making progress toward the museum’s final opening. In 2018, the government handed over control of the museum to the Hungarian Jewish group EMIH. EMIH chairman Rabbi Slomo Koves told the Jewish Telegraph Office in August that Schmidt had disappeared from the museum and that EMIH planned to rename it Etz Hayim, the Hebrew word for “tree of life.” Koves hopes to open the museum by 2024.
“House of Fates: Hungary’s Controversial Holocaust Museum.” CNN. Cable News Network. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2018/11/world/holocaust-museum-hungary-cnnphotos/.
Kakissis, Joanna. “Hungary’s New Holocaust Museum Isn’t Open Yet, but It’s Already Causing Concern.” NPR. NPR, February 8, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/02/08/690647054/hungarys-new-holocaust-museum-isn-t-open-yet-but-it-s-already-causing-worry.
Hoare, Liam. “What Will Be the Fate of the House of Fates?” Moment Magazine, December 23, 2021. https://momentmag.com/what-will-be-the-fate-of-the-house-of-fates/.
“The Controversial House of Fates Holocaust Museum.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. https://www.jpost.com/opinion/the-controversial-house-of-fates-holocaust-museum-586940.