Thousands took to the street on 16 April in Budapest to commemorate the March of the Living Memorial Day in remembrance of the 6 million Jewish people, including 600,000 Hungarian victims, who were murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. In 2001 the first Orbán government introduced 16 April as the Day of Remembrance for the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust marking the day in 1944 when the Hungarian police, collaborating with the Nazi occupiers, began to set up the first ghettos in the country.
This year’s march was dedicated to remembering the forced labour prisoners who were sent to concentration camps during the Second World War. Participants walked along the 1.9-kilometre route connecting two Budapest memorials for Jewish victims of forced labour service.
Gábor Gordon, who heads the boards of trustees of the March of the Living Foundation, highlighted in his speech that from 1939, over 100,000 Jews and non-Jews from Hungary were used as forced labourers, and 60,000 of them didn’t survive.
The guest of honour of the march, Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life, acknowledged the thriving Jewish life in Budapest but said eight out of ten Hungarian Jews still say anti-Semitism is a problem; therefore,
she welcomed the Hungarian government’s efforts to draft its national strategy against anti-Semitism.
US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman highlighted that it’s important not to forget about the fact that the Holocaust not only could not have been perpetrated without the vial hatred of the executioners who managed the gas chambers and the watchtowers, but it also could not have happened without the complicit passivity of people who knew and saw what was happening but failed to act.
Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yacov Hadas-Handelsman noted that the march in Budapest was the largest demonstration in Europe against anti-Semitism and racism, and highlighted the vital role education plays in abolishing anti-Semitism, stressing that today’s youth must be made aware of the crimes committed during the Holocaust. He emphasised that since Holocaust survivors are the only living link to the past, it’s essential to keep their stories and testimonies alive for all the generations to come.
In 2020, a shocking American nationwide survey among adults under 40 showed that one in ten respondents did not recall ever having heard the word ‘Holocaust’ before; 63 per cent of those surveyed did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and over half thought the death toll was fewer than 2 million.
Life Triumphs Over Death
One hundred fifty-five people from Hungary travelled to Poland to attend the International March of the Living on 18 April, where nearly 10,000 participants from 54 countries marched the 3 km route between the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau lagers. The march was held on Yom HaShoah, which is Israel’s National Day of Mourning for the victims of the Holocaust.
This year marked the 35th March of the Living,
whose theme was ‘Honouring Jewish Heroism in the Holocaust,’
as this year also marked the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In Warsaw Jews revolted against their Nazi oppressors who had forced them to live behind barbed wire walls in horrific conditions.
Forty Holocaust survivors and their children participated in this year’s march, including Halina Birenbaum, who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and survived a gas chamber at the Majdanek death camp as the Nazis ran out of poison after she was locked in with other would-be victims.
The Hungarian delegation led by State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office Csaba Latorcai also commemorated in front of the I.18 building, where an exhibition is dedicated to Hungarian victims. The State Secretary highlighted in his speech that the Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies of Hungarian Jews and in history; therefore, ‘we must keep the memory of the Holocaust alive so that future generations, knowing the past, cannot commit the same atrocities that once happened.’
In 2018 I also had a chance to participate in the annual March of the Living at Auschwitz with my school, which was an experience that I will never forget. During our two-day journey to Auschwitz, as Reuven Rivlin, the tenth President of Israel, put it in his memorial speech, ‘we marched from death to life. From the Holocaust to the rebirth. From Auschwitz to Jerusalem.’ I strongly remember that after visiting Auschwitz for the first time and seeing where one of the darkest, bloodiest and most cruel genocides of history happened, we got sick at even the thought of having to go back there for the march on the next day. However, the next day when we arrived at the March of the Living event at Auschwitz, the whole camp had a different atmosphere. Auschwitz was filled with life and hope: 12,000 young and old people remembered the dead and
celebrated that life triumphed over death, as the final plan of the Nazis didn’t succeed.
One of the most cathartic moments for me at the March happened when the anthem of Israel, the Jewish people’s home, ‘Hatikvah’ (which in Hebrew means ‘The Hope’) intoned as we left the death camp.
New Forms of Anti-Semitism Rage On
As a Holocaust survivor close to me phrased it, ‘It must always be borne in mind that the genocide of the Jewish people can no longer occur, for these horrors can come so unexpectedly. Now that we know this can happen, we need to pay attention much sooner to everything that is hate and racism. We must be aware of what is happening in the world, and we should not hope that things will go well on their own.’ One day before Israel’s Independence Day, Jewish people remembered the Fallen Soldiers of the Wars of Israel and Victims of Actions of Terrorism on the National Memorial Day called Yom HaZikaron. Tragically only since the beginning of 2023, there have been 18 victims of terrorism in Israel and the West Bank, including three pairs of young siblings. Although the anti-Semitic hatred that led to these terror attacks is the same that led to the Holocaust, there is a new form of anti-Semitism, as Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yacov Hadas-Handelsman explained at a conference of the Danube Institute, which often appears in anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli violence and sentiments.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, seven people were shot and killed and several more wounded in a terror shooting attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighbourhood. As Jewish people were reliving the pain of losing their loved ones as a result of anti-Semitism, Palestinian groups fired off fireworks and celebrated the death of seven Israelis. On 28 January, a 13-year-old Palestinian terrorist from East Jerusalem shot and wounded an Israeli father and son at the City of David site. This series of deadly attacks have been followed by multiple terror attacks against Israeli Jews in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The most recent attack that has shaken the whole Jewish nation was the terror attack in which Lucy Dee, 48 and her two daughters Maia, 20 and Rina,15 were killed on 7 April in an ambush by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank while they were driving to Tiberias in northern Israel for Passover. The Dee family made Aliyah in 2014 from the UK and were living in Efrat, a settlement in the West Bank.
A Hope Realised — Israel’s 75th Independence Day
The March of the Living annually features seven torchbearers–six for each million Jews murdered and another one celebrating the birth of the State of Israel. From the evening of 25 April until 26 April, the Jewish State celebrated its 75th Independence Day. Although, as Robert C. Castel noted in a Hungarian Conservative interview, Israel is still living the realities of 1948, and the War for Independence still continues, but now the Jewish people can finally have an army and defend themselves and their country.
The final event of the March of the Living was the march in Jerusalem on Independence Day, where people celebrated the State of Israel, and the fact that the Jewish people now can and will protect themselves, and will not allow its enemies to inflict the very pain, suffering, and devastating loss Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust.
President Katalin Novák posted a congratulatory video to Twitter on the occasion, in which she said: ‘Neither Theodore Herzl nor our ancestors at the time suspected what more Jewish people will have to endure to fulfil their dream. Not with the human mind, only with the heart can we comprehend that in spite of the devastation caused by the historical Evil, the tragedy of the Holocaust, many have kept their faith that there is a place in the world where the Jewish people can be truly at home. The founders believed that life is stronger than death, destruction is overcome by construction, and hard work can conquer the desert. Seventy-five years, the time of a human life went by, and the dream of the Jewish people living in dispersion for two millennia became a living reality...We are proud of the key role Hungarian Jews played in these 75 years and proud that alongside the State of Israel, Hungary is also a place where Jewish communities can live in peace. I believe that it is the common interest of Jews, Christians and Muslims for Israel to be safe and enjoy security.’
The President added that Hungary affirms its unwavering support for Israel and will further strengthen the friendship between our countries.
Even though Jewish people in Israel still have to live their life in constant threat of terrorist attacks, they have unbreakable resilience, optimism and thankfulness that,–as it is phrased in their hymn, The Hatikvah–‘The hope of two thousand years, To be a free nation in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem,’ was realised 75 years ago.