BUDAPEST, Hungary - Holocaust survivor and historian Randolph L. Braham said Sunday he is returning a high state award to Hungary to protest what he says are government efforts to rewrite history and exonerate the country from its role in the Holocaust.
Braham also asked the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest to remove his name from the BrahamTheque Information Center, which collects his research results and publications.
His two-volume "The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary," from 1981, is considered one of the most important books about the subject. He received the Medium Cross of the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic in 2011.
Braham, born in Romania in 1922 and now Professor Emeritus at the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said in an open letter addressed to executives of the memorial center that the "straw that broke the camel's back" leading to his decision was the government plan to erect a memorial commemorating the March 1944 invasion of Hungary by the Nazis.
Braham said the memorial was "a cowardly attempt to detract attention from the Horthy regime's involvement in the destruction of the Jews and to homogenize the Holocaust with the 'suffering' of the Hungarians - a German occupation, as the record clearly shows, was not only unopposed but generally applauded."
Miklos Horthy was Hungary's autocratic leader from the 1920s through most of World War II.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has also been criticized by Jewish groups for tolerating statues of Horthy being set up by far-right groups in several places.
Orban said the memorial of the invasion wasn't part of the yearlong series of events marking the 70th anniversary of the deportation of over 430,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps shortly after the German incursion.
Sculptor Peter Parkanyi Raab's memorial will be around 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) tall and includes Germany's imperial eagle swooping down on the archangel Gabriel, who symbolizes Hungary. It is expected to be unveiled March 19 on Freedom Square, an area in Budapest that also includes a Soviet war memorial, the U.S. Embassy and a statue of Ronald Reagan.
Responding to the Jewish community leaders, Orban said the statue was "dedicated to the victims of the German occupation."
"I am sure that a show of respect for the memory of the victims requires no further explanation," Orban said in a statement Wednesday.
But Braham said he was "stunned" by the "history-cleansing campaign of the past few years calculated to whitewash the historical record of the Horthy era."
Hungary was on Germany's side during the war, but Adolf Hitler became suspicious that Hungary was looking to exit the conflict and reach a peace deal with the Allied forces. After the invasion, SS officer Adolf Eichmann came to Hungary to oversee the deportations of Jews, which were carried out mostly by Hungarian gendarmes and police.
The memorial has also been strongly criticized by historians, the leaders of Hungary's Jewish community and the left-wing opposition parties. The German Embassy in Budapest lamented that the decision about the memorial was made very quickly and without a broad debate.