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Cautious welcome to Holocaust pension hike in Hungary

In this May 1944 photo provided by Yad Vashem Photo Archives, Jewish women and children deported from Hungary, separated from the men, line up for selection on the selection platform at Auschwitz camp in Birkenau, in Nazi-occupied Poland. (AP Photo/Yad Vashem Photo Archives)

BUDAPEST: The head of one of Hungary's leading Jewish organisations welcomed Wednesday a pension hike for the country's dwindling number of Holocaust survivors but said the government needed to do more to combat extremism and anti-Semitism.

"These are very positive steps," Peter Feldmajer, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, told AFP.

"Much more needs to be done, however," he said. "Commemorating the Holocaust needs to be backed up by more condemnation of modern-day far-right extremism."

Hungary's cabinet announced December 20 that from January 1 a special pension set up in 1997-8 for Holocaust survivors -- estimated to number 7,000-8,000 now -- would increase by 50 percent and by a further 50 percent one year later.

Last year the pension amounts ranged from 5,000-30,000 forints (17-100 euros, $23-133) per month depending on age, Feldmajer said.

He also welcomed the government's announcement of a new committee to coordinate with Jewish civic groups memorial events in 2014 to mark 70 years since the mass deportation of Hungary's Jews began in 1944.

But he said that relations between the government and the Jewish community had been soured recently by the inclusion on a new national school reading list of a number of wartime Hungarian authors with fascist leanings, as well as the recent granting of state aid to a prominent Budapest theatre whose director has a far-right background.

"These acts have poisoned the atmosphere and are difficult for us to accept," he said.

"The basis of not repeating the Holocaust is education, but such moves make it harder to educate people and children about it as well as strengthen the far-right," he added.

At least 450,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust. Around 100,000 people of Jewish origin live in Hungary today, although the number of those actively involved in Jewish community life is estimated at 5,000-10,000.

In recent months the government of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has had to answer criticism that it is not doing enough to counter anti-Semitism and the rise of far-right extremism in Hungary.

In May, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary's highest state honour because of what he called a "whitewashing" of history in the European Union member state.

In November, a deputy of the far-right Jobbik party caused uproar in Hungary and abroad by proposing in parliament drawing up a list of people "of Jewish origin (who) present a national security risk to Hungary."

The government was criticised for its slow initial response although Orban said a week later that "we Hungarians will protect our Jewish compatriots".

 

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