A historic event was held on Monday to mark 70 years since the Nazis marched thousands of Hungary’s Jews, Hy”d, to the banks of the Danube River in Budapest, ordered them to take off their shoes and shot them to death.
The emotional ceremony was opened by a March of the Living towards the Holocaust memorial for Hungary’s Jews on the banks of the river. It was the central event on the first day of a convention of 300 Rabbanim from all over Europe held by the Rabbinical Center of Europe. The march was led by the Kaliver Rebbe, a survivor, and Israel’s Chief Rabbis Harav Yitzchak Yosef and Harav David Lau.
Major traffic arteries in Budapest were closed by police to enable the hundreds of Rabbanim and relatives of the victims march in the path that the martyrs walked. The event was also attended by ministers in the Hungarian government, as well as the mayor of Budapest and city councilors.
Harav David Lau delivered the first address, and spoke about the halachic question of three families during the war who wanted to know if they were allowed to take the bread of a family that was taken by the Nazis and who were unlikely to return.
“If we don’t eat the bread, we will certainly die,” the families had noted. “It makes no difference what the halachic ruling was,” Harav Lau said. “These families laid down the Jewish path and the traditions that the Nazis tried to eradicate. We walked with our own feet on the same path that Jews who lived their lives according to Torah walked. This is the right way to go. This is the path that Torah and Yiddishkeit guide us on. This is the Judaism that the Nazis tried to erase. We will march on this path in their memory and we will see that the Jewish nation is continuing along the path of Yiddishkeit and spreading it around the world.”
The next speaker was Harav Dovid Moshe Lieberman, one of the elder Rabbanim of Europe and a member of the presidium of RCE and chief Rabbi of the Shomrei Hadas community in Antwerp, Belgium. The Rav, who is over 90, spoke in English and described how the Nazis mercilessly shot men, women and children. “It’s hard to find words to describe the horrors in Budapest 70 years ago, but it’s even harder to think that again, we are seeing incidents of anti-Semitism and hate crimes as well as Nazism in Europe.”
As one who experienced the Holocaust, Harav Lieberman noted how moving it was to see Jewish life thriving in Europe in general and in Hungary in particular. “The lesson we have to learn from the war is not to be busy with the past, but rather with the future, with rehabilitating. Just like the haters of Am Yisrael had the goal of destroying every Jewish male, we have to aspire to disseminate Judaism in all of Europe,” he said.
The Rishon LeTzion, Harav Yitzchak Yosef, recited Tehillim and Kaddish for the Kedoshim.
The keynote address was delivered by the Kaliver Rebbe, shlita, who went through the Holocaust. In a choked voice, tears rolling down his cheeks, he described what he saw and experienced in the death camps, and how he promised Hashem that if his life would be spared, he would disseminate the Name of Hashem and His Holiness all over the world. “From then and till now, I am working to fulfill my promise,” the Rebbe said, and noted how happy he is to have merited to see the Torah world grow and flourish. He concluded with Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim, as the assemblage stood up and recited Shema Yisrael. Then he led the audience in the song “Ani Maamin,” and the famed “Sol A Kokosh Mar,” accompanied by the choir from the cheder in Budapest. Hundreds of Rabbanim sang along, all clearly moved. The event concluded with Chazzan Avreimy Roth reciting Kel Malei Rachamim, and a huge memorial candle being kindled. Many could be seen wiping their tears.
During another session of the RCE convention, a report of the TLV organization in Hungary that tracks anti-Semitism in the country was presented. According to the study, one in every three Hungarians is prejudiced against Jews, and about 15-20 percent of them are considered radical anti-Semites. Compared to previous surveys, the year 2010 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents, and since then there has been a slight decline, although incidents have not dipped below pre-2010 levels.
Politically, the anti-Semites identify with the radical right-wing parties and most are members of the racist Jobbik party.
Another worrying figure is the significant rise in the percentage of Hungarians who deny the Holocaust, which has increased 19 percent since 2009.
At a meeting with journalists, deputy government secretary for foreign media Franz Coumin, said that Hungary’s Jews live in peace compared to the anti-Semitism and harassment of Jews throughout Europe.