Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracs
Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracs Reuters

Hungary must acknowledge its role during the Holocaust, the country's deputy prime minister said on Tuesday, AFP reports.

Speaking at a two-day conference on anti-Semitism in Budapest, Tibor Navracsics said the Hungarian state had "turned its back against its own citizens, and indeed took part in their elimination."

"We have learned from the past, we know exactly what happened here, every Hungarian is duty bound to face this responsibility: 70 years ago it was Hungarians who killed Hungarians," he added, according to AFP.

Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, most of them deported to death camps in Poland and elsewhere in 1944. The local Jewish community in Hungary is still one of the biggest in Europe, however, at around 100,000.

In recent years, however, 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.

The deputy prime minister's comments on Tuesday also stood out amid criticism that the Hungarian government has not done enough to fight the growing anti-Semitism.

In May, the World Jewish Congress held an assembly in Budapest to send a strong signal about the rise in anti-Semitism in the central European country.

At that time, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pledged to fight anti-Semitism, which he said was "unacceptable and intolerable."

"Today's Hungarian democracy will protect all its citizens against those who want to incite hatred," Navracsics vowed Tuesday, adding that Holocaust education was key "to ensure the horrors are not repeated."

He also denounced remarks made in parliament last November by Marton Gyongyosi, a member of the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party, who proposed drawing up a list of Hungarian Jews to identify possible national security threats.

Such remarks "tarnished" the image of Hungarian democracy, Navracsics said.

U.S. representative Ira Forman, special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, welcomed Navracsics's "important and explicit" words at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Europe.

The same conference was also attended by Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who said that Hungarians shared responsibility for the deaths of Jews in the last months of World War II.

"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.