The head of one of Hungary's premier cultural institutions, the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, has retracted an article in which he likened U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros to Adolf Hitler’s genocidal Nazi regime.
Szilard Demeter, who is also a Hungarian culture commissioner, said in a statement on November 29 that he had withdrawn the article and deleted his Facebook page.
"My critics are right in that...the Nazi parallel can unintentionally offend victims' memories," he said.
Demeter's article, an opinion piece for the Internet portal Origo.hu, a Hungarian pro-government outlet, was widely criticized by Jewish and Holocaust memorial groups.
The criticism continued on November 29 as leading opposition politicians, including former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to fire Demeter immediately.
"His man, his cultural politician, wanted to establish his Europe politics, his shame," Karacsony said on Facebook. "Szilárd Demeter can no longer wear any public office from 8 am. The Prime Minister has a few hours left."
Demeter's article referred to Soros as the "liberal Führer," saying he is turning Europe into a "gas chamber."
The American Jewish Committee in Central Europe condemned the comments about Soros, who was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor, describing them as "horrendous."
"Such ignorance of history and minimizing the Holocaust have to be called out," the organization said on Twitter.
In the article, which addressed a dispute with Brussels over the EU budget, Demeter described Hungary and Poland as "the new Jews."
"Poisonous gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life, and we, the nations of Europe, are doomed to try to fight for the last sip of air by climbing on each other," he wrote.
Orban has repeatedly taken aim at Soros for his foundation's funding of liberal causes. He accuses Soros, a bête noire of the European right, of wanting to flood the continent with Muslim migrants and undermine national identity.
Hungary and Poland are holding up negotiations over the EU’s multiyear budget due to a new rule-of-law mechanism.
Both countries are under EU investigation for undermining the independence of the judiciary, media, and nongovernmental organizations, and they risk losing access to EU funding over the new mechanism.
Demeter’s statement was also condemned by the International Auschwitz Committee.
"Not only in Hungary are Holocaust survivors disgusted and appalled by this bizarre and hateful agitation," said Executive Vice President Christoph Heubner.
He said the vitriol signified a new low in a wave of anti-Semitic and anti-European campaigns in Hungary.
The Israeli Embassy in Hungary said in a statement that it rejected the "use and abuse" of the memory of the Holocaust for any purpose.
"There is no place for connecting the worst crime in human history, or its perpetrators, to any contemporary debate, no matter how essential," it said.