Demonstration against anti-Semitism in Hungar
Demonstration against anti-Semitism in HungarReuters

An American professor and prominent Holocaust scholar said Sunday he was handing back a Hungarian state award in protest at the government's "falsification of history".

"After following developments in Hungary in recent years, it is with heavy heart that I have made this decision," Randolph L. Braham, a professor at the City University of New York, wrote in a letter to the Hungarian state news agency MTI.

Braham, 91, who received the award in 2011 for his research on the Holocaust in Hungary, also said he would not permit the use of his name for a department by the Holocaust Museum in Budapest.

"The campaign of history falsification which aims to whitewash the (Miklos) Horthy era, has shocked me," he said.

Miklos Horthy, Hungary's rabidly anti-Semitic leader during World War II, encouraged the passing of anti-Jewish laws, and was actively complicit in the mass deportations to Nazi death camps in record time in 1944, which resulted in the deaths of around 450,000 Hungarian Jews. 

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government came to power in 2010, it has been accused of tacitly encouraging a rehabilitation of Horthy, despite telling a session of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest last year that he would ensure "zero tolerance" of anti-Semitism.

Braham said the "history rewriting campaign" began shortly after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government came to power in 2010.

The "last straw", Braham said, was a government decision last December to erect a monument for victims of the country's invasion by Nazi Germany in March 1944.

The plan has drawn criticism from leaders of Hungary's 100,000-strong Jewish community, historians and opposition parties.

Krisztian Ungvary, a prominent historian, told AFP that the monument sends a message that Hungarians were not to blame for the Holocaust.

Ungvary and 25 other historians signed an open letter last week saying that the Holocaust in Hungary took place "with the active contribution of the Hungarian authorities".

Jewish leaders in Hungary threatened on Tuesday to boycott official Holocaust memorial events this year, claiming the government was whitewashing the country's active role in the deportations of Jews to Nazi camps.

Last year the government announced a series of events in 2014 to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportations which led to the deaths of around 450,000 Hungarian Jews.

Local Jewish organizations have complained, however, that they haven't been properly consulted and that some of the events are misguided.

"There is a limit, which if overstepped by the official memorial events, will force us to withdraw our participation," Andras Heisler, leader of Hungary's largest Jewish group Mazsihisz, was quoted by AFP as having told journalists.

In recent years there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary. These incidents include Hungary's chief rabbi being verbally abused on a Budapest street, anti-Semitic chants at a football match against Israel and pig's trotters being placed on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Budapest Jews in World War II.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose Hungarian grandfather was killed by the Gestapo and whose father Tommy survived the war in hiding,  addressed a conference on European anti-Semitism in the Hungarian parliament last October, and said today's politicians must ensure such tragedies did not happen again.

"A genocide of this scope could not have happened without the active help of tens of thousands of Hungarians and the silence of millions of other Hungarians," said Lapid.

"There is a stain on the honor of this house. For years we have tried to ignore this stain, but history has taught us that ignoring is never the right course ... Anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head in Hungary again. Hatred is not disappearing," he added