March of the Living: Christian church leaders participate in Hungarian commemoration

19 Apr 2016
19 Apr 2016 Facebook Twitter Email Print

In Budapest, thousands of people, including for the first time bishops, took part in the annual March of the Living to commemorate the 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Some 437,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz in 1944, and the majority of them gassed at the Birkenau death camp. Only a few thousand survived.

This year’s march started Sunday from the Dohány Street Synagogue and ended at the Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in Budapest. For the first time, three bishops took part in the March of the Living and gave speeches on the same stage.

“It is a historic moment, when the leaders of the Christian and the Jewish religion are on the same stage together,” Gabor Gordon, the head of the March of the Living Hungary Foundation, said in his introduction.

The rally started with a moment of silence in memory of Imre Kertész, an Auschwitz survivor and Hungarian writer who died earlier this month at the age of 87, and whose novels won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002.

The largest applause was for Hungarian Chief Rabbi Robert Frölich, who in his speech was openly critical of the Christian churches saying: “What if the doors of the Basilica had been left open then, during the Holocaust? … But the doors were not open, the Basilica was closed when it needed to be open.”

Catholic Janos Szekely told the crowd: “We are here now at the March of the Living in Budapest to express our pain and repentance over the killing of more than half a million Hungarian Jewish compatriots.”

Numerous diplomats attended the rally, including the Israel's Ambassador to Hungary Ilan Mor.

The star of the Oscar-winning Hungarian film 'Son of Saul', Géza Röhrig, also appeared at the event.

Other events on Sunday included the dedication of a memorial statue to the forced laborers during World War II in the 8th district of Budapest, which had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust. The monument was created by Hungarian-born Israeli artist Dan Reisinger. Some 100,000 men and women were forced to work for the Hungarian state and the army during World War II. The statue was supported by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense.

For the past 14 years, the Hungarian March of the Living Foundation has organized the event. Last year, more than 40.000 people commemorated the victims of the Shoah and heard a keynote speech from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

The March of the Living is the largest civic demonstration against racism, anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi and anti-democratic movements in Hungary.