Thousands of ceremonies commemorating the memory of victims of the Holocaust were held worldwide on Monday, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day – but only one ceremony specifically remembers the Jews who took great risks to save their fellows during the Holocaust. That ceremony takes place in the hills outside Beit Shemesh, at the Martyr's Forest Scroll of Fire Plaza, and is held by the B'nai B'rith World Center and the Jewish National Fund.
This year’s event memorialized the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, President of the Zionist Federation in Hungary during the Holocaust,, whose actions saved the lives of thousands of Jews. Komoly was abducted by agents of the Hungarian Arrow Cross fascist regime on January 1, 1945, barely two weeks before the liberation of Budapest, and all contact with him was lost. It is presumed that he was murdered and his body dispatched into the Danube River along with thousands of other Jews. Over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, the vast majority in the months leading up to the end of the war.
The award was presented to Otto Komoly's granddaughter and grandson, Orna Barnea and Oded Furst, in in his name.
In addition, special citations, called the “Jewish Rescuers Citation,” sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center, were conferred at the ceremony on a group of some 30 rescuers who operated in the underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary. 40 citations have been presented to date to rescuers who conducted rescue activites in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary.
The phenomenon of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe is yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism, Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that some Jews survived the Holocaust in Europe or assisted them in escaping to a safe heaven and by doing resisted the Nazi murder machine. The few rescuers who are still alive remain reluctant till today to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the German tormentors and their collaborators.
The guests of honor at the ceremony were outgoing Minister of Science, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, whose grandfather collaborated with Otto Komoly in the underground and Hungarian ambassador, Hon. Zoltan Szentgyorgyi. KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz., and Barnea also spoke at the ceremony. Prior to the ceremony, an emotional meeting took place between soldiers and survivors during which personal testimonies were presented by the survivors.
Considering the fact that many of the rescuers were young at the time of their activity, the organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage, a Bnai Brith spokesperson said.