Ghetto liberation 79: "We are prisoners of hope"

2024. Január 24. / 16:48

Ghetto liberation 79: "We are prisoners of hope"

On the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest ghetto, hundreds of people, including Holocaust survivors, leaders of Jewish organizations, diplomats, politicians and students, took part in the commemoration organized in the Dohany Street synagogue. They were addressed by Chief Rabbi Péter Kardos, Holocaust survivor, and Mester Tamás, president of the Budapest Jewish Community (BZSH), vice president of Mazsihisz, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities.

A beautiful, worthy and uplifting event took place at the synagogue on Dohany Street, where a commemoration was held to mark 18 January 1945, the liberation of the Budapest ghetto.

The event was attended by dr. Andor Grósz, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz); dr. Péter Kunos, managing director of Mazsihisz-BZSH; Tamás Mester, president of BZSH, vice president of Mazsihisz; dr. Péter Nógrádi, vice president of Mazsihisz; the rabbis of the Federation, including dr. National Chief Rabbi Róbert Frölich; György Szabó, president of Mazsök, the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Public Foundation.

Representatives of diplomatic and political life were present, including David Pressman, ambassador of the USA; Julia Gross, Ambassador of Germany; Moran Birman, Deputy Head of Mission of Israel. Several politicians were also present, including mayor Péter Niedermüller, and deputy mayor Balázs Szűcs from Budapest district Erzsébetváros. Many young people were present, including some 150 students and several instructors of the BZSH Foreign Trade Technical School, led by headmaster András Salusinszky

Volinist Zoltán Tordai and his band, as well as cantor Immánuel Zucker and organist Eszter Ferenczi participated in the commemoration.

Zoltán TordaiZoltán Tordai

The president of the BZSH, the vice-president of Mazsihisz, began his speech with a historical review, pointing out that the size of the German Eichmann commando would not have been sufficient to ghettoize and deport the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews, their activities were greatly helped by the supportive cooperation of the Hungarian authorities: under the burden of the German occupation, the Hungarian state delivered its Jewish citizens and actively participated in the destruction of 600,000 of our brothers in faith.

Our brothers died as martyrs in the hell of Auschwitz and the other death camps, in the labor service, on the death marches, on the banks of the Danube, or right here in the Budapest ghetto, said Tamás Mester.

He touched on the processes that led from the entry into force of the numerus clausus in 1920, through the Jewish laws, to the tragic end, and then he recalled the history of the Budapest ghetto: on November 29, 1944, the ghetto was established in Budapest’s seventh district by order of the Arrow-Cross (Hungarian Fascist Party) Minister of the Interior, Gábor Vajna.

"70,000 to 80,000 people were crammed into the forced accommodation created to isolate a significant part of the Jews in the capital, which was the last and largest ghetto in Europe. In addition to the deprivation of all their property and rights, the Jews of Pest, humiliated to the extreme in their humanity, deprived of their most basic human needs, fought daily for their lives. They were constantly starving, the hygiene and health conditions were unbearable, and as a result of this and the brutal murders of the Arrow Cross gangs, the Jews died en masse," he emphasized.

Tamás Mester thanked the liberators: "The citizens of Pest, including the Jewish people still alive in the ghetto, were liberated by the Soviet Red Army and freed from the mindless Nazi-Arrow Cross rule. Respect and gratitude to the heroic Red Army soldiers".

Tamás MesterTamás Mester

Immanuel ZuckerImmanuel Zucker

He stated that from the perspective of eight decades, the descendants of the survivors, as well as the domestic and international democratic public, have other obligations besides the task of commemoration. In this regard, he quoted the alleged words of General Eisenhower, which were uttered after the liberation of one of the concentration camps:

"Capture everything, collect the films, collect the witnesses, because one day the time will come when some bastard will stand up and say that none of this happened."

He added: unfortunately, Eisenhower's sad prophecy has come true in certain circles, the denial or relativization of an era of the Shoah is reaching an increasingly large social base, not only in Central Europe, but also in the Western world. According to recent surveys, more than a third of students in the USA and Canada do not believe that there was a Holocaust.

In Hungary, the proportion of those who believe that there were never gas chambers in the concentration camps is 15 percent, and 21 percent believe that the Jews invented most of the Holocaust only after the events.

This unfavorable process was tragically reinforced by the "seventh of October", the bloodshed of the terrorist organization Hamas in Israel.

Tamás Mester elaborated that inexplicably, the tragedy in Israel on 7 October incited a new wave of anti-Semitism in circles that consider themselves progressive in the United States and Europe, so it can be seen that - as he put it - we still have a lot of work to do seventy-nine years after the liberation of the Budapest ghetto.

Above all, such a task include the remembrance, which cannot be based on anything else but reality; also, a primary task is to take care of the survivors who are still among us; recording and documenting the survivors' narratives; educating and informing about the real and authentic historical events. Steadfast remembrance of the heroic soldiers of the liberating Soviet Red Army is an eternal task that cannot be overshadowed by later historical and current political events.

Tamás Mester concluded his speech by saying: "let us remember with a silent bow of our heads the martyrs of the Budapest ghetto, our family members, friends, acquaintances, the civilian victims of the battles in the capital, the heroic soldiers who fought against Nazism, may their memory be blessed!".

Péter Kardos: We always believed everything and never believed anything

Péter KardosPéter Kardos

The mood of the sermon of the chief rabbi, a Holocaust survivor himself, was set by one of Zoltán Zelk's verses: "We live as long as we live, but our childhood is more immortal than God". In connection with this, Péter Kardos said: "I can attest to the truth of the poet's lines". It is true even if this childhood is spent in the ghetto; if this involves the loss of father, relatives, friends; if it goes without the toys of childhood; when playing ball is replaced by collecting bomb shrapnel, the storybook is replaced by leaflets scattered by airplanes, and meals are replaced by reading food recipes.

As he explained, in a new era, in the time of "never again", he should talk about what happened seventy-nine years ago in the ghetto, in the sheltered houses and on the banks of the Danube, but he refrained from doing so, because those present had heard it many times, read it in songs and poems, and seen it in films and in plays.

Then he added emotionally: "I will not talk about the piles of corpses in Klauzál Square and Kazinczy Street, about the hunger, the cruel cold, about the first Soviet soldier, about the piece of bread received from him that meant life, I will not talk about the sight of the evening muzzle flashes that we perceived as the light of hope, about what an eight-year-old child saw and heard".

Péter Kardos emphasized: those who think that almost eight decades is enough time to objectively judge what happened then are right, and this is true even from the point of view of the few still surviving ones. He then asked the question: what does "objectivity" mean? He continued saying: "we survivors cannot be objective. We can only be biased and subjective. Biased because we were the suffering part of the story, we are subjective because we keep in our memories those who died by our side or lost their lives for our liberation.”

The chief rabbi stated that the starting point is that "it is confirmed by our entire history, and that is why we have taken this upon ourselves, Asire Hatikva, we are the prisoners of hope. And if we are, then let's declare that we have always believed everything and never believed anything!" Péter Kardos elaborated:

"We believed what the great powers declared after the World War: no more war! What do we experience? You know this. We thought we were Hungarians. We experienced eighty years ago that we are not! We thought they were taking us to work. We experienced that they were taken to the ghetto or Auschwitz".

In his sermon, he touched on the fact that "forgetting is sometimes a positive characteristic of a person, but God does everything to ensure NOT TO FORGET! his commandment should not be forgotten, and as the decades pass, man's stimulus threshold will become higher and higher, and therefore the stimulus threshold of his creature can only be reached with an increasingly shocking event or spectacle. After the Shoah, swastikas or arrow crosses on the wall, later comes the questioning that the Holocaust happened, then comes the covid epidemic with curfews and shopping time slots, as it happened THEN". He continued: "and when we thought that this could not be increased , we have seen that it is possible. It seems that God's methodology is inexhaustible about DON’T FORGET! After all, on October 7th, a terrorist attack hit Israel, which is an unparalleled tragedy of the post-Shoah era: so many Jews have not been murdered since the Holocaust - in a few hours. God won't let us forget!".

Péter Kardos called the anti-Semitic wave that is now dominating the world unprecedented, and as he noted: the NO is also unprecedented. But the DON'T FORGET! this also fits into his methodology. We are prisoners of hope! Or were we? This is the question of questions in the "never again" era. Then what can we trust, what can we hope for today?

The rabbi's answer: hope, which, according to the saying, dies last, seems dying. In this situation, prayer should come, but not mechanically muttered prayer, but a plea to the Lord of Heaven that rises from the depths of the heart and soul.

At the end of the event, the commemorators lit candles at the Emanuel memorial tree, and the event ended with the laying of wreaths on the liberation memorial plaque in Wesselényi Street.

Photos: Ákos Szentgyörgyi

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