Budapest, April 17 (MTI) – A memorial of Hungarian forced labour victims during WW2 was inaugurated at Teleki Square in downtown Budapest on Sunday, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. A large crowd of people, including diplomats, participated in the March of the Living, which commemorates the victims of the Holocaust, in Budapest on Sunday afternoon.
The square was earlier a central market place for the Jewish community, János Fónagy, a state secretary, said at the event, noting that trains transporting Jews from Budapest to Auschwitz left from nearby Józsefvaros train station during the Holocaust.
Ilan Mor, the Israeli ambassador, said at the event that the memorial is a true reflection of history and serves the victims a historic justice.
György Szabó, the president of the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Endowment said the memorial pays tribute not only to forced labourers but all other innocent people who were sent to die from there.
The memorial has been designed by Hungarian-born Israeli artist Dan Reisinger.
Since 2001 Hungary marks as Holocaust Memorial Day April 16, when in 1944 the incarceration of Jews into ghettos began in Transcarpathia (now western Ukraine). This was followed by deportations of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews into concentration camps in Austria, Germany and Poland.
Hungary had a Jewish community of 725,000 before the second world war. Two-thirds of them were exterminated in the Holocaust.
March of the Living commemorates Holocaust victims in Budapest
The march held for the fourteenth time began at the Dohany Street Synagogue and made its way to St Stephen’s Basilica. There the commemorative event was addressed as main speaker by Géza Röhig, the lead actor in László Nemes Jeles’ Academy Award-winning film, Son of Saul, along with representatives of Hungary’s historic churches and the Israeli ambassador.
Röhig said the Holocaust and Auschwitz fundamentally changed human norms in two distinct ways. For one, it brought to the surface the horrific acts humans are capable of committing against one another. Secondly, it demonstrated how far God allowed people to go in their actions without intervening, he said.
“Our perceived images of ourselves and God changed forever. Auschwitz is to history what the theory of relativity is to science: nobody understands it, but it affects everyone,” Röhig said.
This year’s commemorations marked the first time that the March of the Living was addressed by representatives of Hungary’s historic churches.
Chief Rabbi Róbert Frölich said that although the Synagogue and the Basilica are just a few minutes’ walk apart, “there were times when the sobbing of the Synagogue and the cries for help from Jews who were to be sent to die fell on deaf ears and closed doors.” But today, Frölich said, Christians and Jews pay tribute to the martyrs of the Holocaust together. “Today the Basilica’s doors are open and the Jewish voices have found their way to Christian churches.” He said Christians and Jews have built a bridge which they have started crossing together. “We must look back on the past but move ahead toward the future, together, if we want to prevent a repeat of the tragedy and the shame” of the Holocaust, he said.
Catholic Bishop János Székely, who heads the Christian-Jewish Council, said “we must take the steps of the March of the Living in our hearts” by confronting the past and getting to know, love and respect other cultures and people. He noted that recently a group of Orthodox rabbis released a statement saying that Christians and Jews must work together on resolving the world’s moral challenges and making the world a better place. These rabbis felt that it was the right time and God’s will to open a new chapter in the relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities and “extend each other a brotherly hand”.
István Szabó Bogárdi, of the synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, said that while walking in the march today, one should think about those who could have also walked the same streets with their grandchildren today, had they not been “thrown for no reason into the hell of war” as innocent victims.
Bishop Péter Gáncs, the leader of the Lutheran Church in Hungary, said he asked God’s blessing on the marchers who should be caretakers and the advocates of human life.
Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor said the most important message of the March is that “being different is not an illness, and hatred against someone else cannot be a cure.” What a democracy today ensures in society is not only equal rights, but the right to be different as well, he said. “But as long as discrimination exists against any member of society because of their racial, religious or sexual orientation and there are violent acts triggered by hatred, it is our duty to march together year by year,” the ambassador said.
At the Synagogue the crowd was greeted by March of the Living Foundation board member László Bándi, who said it was only freedom and free will that could bring about the peace that Hungary’s Jewish and Christian communities both crave. He said the foundation had been working for fourteen years on “building bridges between neighbours”. The foundation’s job is to reject all forms of racism and discrimination, “because we have tried to learn the lessons of the Holocaust”, he said. “A single slap or a snide remark can lead to a tragedy.”
The marchers paid tribute to Nobel laureate Hungarian writer Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor, who died on March 31.