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Hungary's Jews Mark 70th Anniversary of Nazi Invasion

Hungarian Jews gather at the Grand Synagogue in Budapest, mark 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of the country.
By Elad Benari and AFP
First Publish: 3/20/2014, 3:44 AM

Wall bearing the names of victims at Budapest's Holocaust Memorial Center
Wall bearing the names of victims at Budapest's Holocaust Memorial Center
Reuters

Several thousand Hungarian Jews on Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Hungary with a memorial service outside the Grand Synagogue in Budapest, AFP reported.

The service, organized by Mazsihisz, the country's largest Jewish organization, was the first in a series of events marking the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of some 600,000 Hungarian Jews, most deported to Nazi death camps.

The anniversary has been marred over Hungary's own role in the Holocaust including a row over a plan by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to build a monument in Budapest depicting Hungary under attack by Germany.

Local Jewish organizations and historians said the monument appears to whitewash the central role of Hungarians in organizing the 1944 deportations. In protest, Jewish leaders in Hungary threatened in January that they would boycott the official Holocaust memorial events this year.

The Hungarian government later agreed to postpone the inauguration of the monument and rename it.

The monument, which will be unveiled on May 19, will no longer be "dedicated to the memory of the German occupation" but to the "victims of the German occupation.

One 60-year-old in the crowd at Wednesday’s memorial service, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, told AFP that she would "jump off the top of the monument if it was erected".

Gusztav Zoltai, a Holocaust survivor and Maszihisz director, said the Nazis met little resistance when they invaded Hungary.

Anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents have increased in Hungary in recent years, leading some to accuse Orban's government of turning a blind eye to the problem.

Only last Friday, residents of the Jewish community in Tatabanya discovered that unknown vandals had desecrated the local Jewish cemetery.

The vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the tombstones, including swastikas and statements such as, “Smelly Jews” and, “The Holocaust didn’t happen, but it will.”

Other anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary in recent years include the country’s chief rabbi being verbally abused on a Budapest street, anti-Semitic chants at a football match against Israel and pig's trotters being placed on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Budapest Jews in World War II.

Israeli ambassador to Hungary Ilan Mor told the crowd at Wednesday’s memorial that it was unacceptable that people should live in fear in any country just because they are Jewish.

Hungary's Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen also attended the event.

Much of the anti-Semitism in Hungary has been perpetrated by the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party. In November of 2012, one of its members released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of government.

He was followed by another Jobbik member who called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.

Orban has pledged to fight anti-Semitism, which he said was "unacceptable and intolerable."