March of the Living in the streets of Budapest
March of the Living in the streets of BudapestEMOTL

The 19th Budapest March of the Living took place on Hungarian National Holocaust Remembrance Day, with dozens of Holocaust survivors and Righteous among the Nations alongside thousands of mostly non-Jewish marchers.

Gabor Gordon, the founder and chairman of March of the Living in Hungary, opened the march, which was dedicated this year to forced labor. A total of 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were forced to serve in labor camps, and nearly 60,000 perished because of hard work and inhumane treatment. Gabor recalled the tragedy of Attila Petschauer, a legendary fencer and two-time Olympic champion who died as a result of forced labor, 80 years ago, on 20 January 1943. The Jewish fencing champion was stripped naked and doused in -40 degrees icy water by a Hungarian Army Officer who had also competed at the Olympics games.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission coordinator for combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, was the guest of honor. She said: “We are gathered today for the March of Living to commemorate the Hungarian Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered in the Shoah. The Holocaust was a European tragedy, but it happened locally. And not every victim was a Jew, but every Jew was a victim.”

Katharina explained that in October 2021 the European Commission presented its first-ever EU-wide strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life: “We want to ensure the broad public understands the roots and danger of antisemitism. We want to provide effective ways to learn the lessons from the Holocaust and to remember. We are building a European network of places where the Holocaust happened. We want to make sure deportation sites and places where Jews were rounded up are marked, but also places where Jews were hidden, and that they all become known to the public. To show how it happened locally and to never forget. We hope that places such as the Budapest Ghetto will become part of that European network. Twenty years ago, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel asked at a conference hosted by the European Commission: 'Why do the Jews always have to speak up against antisemitism – where are all the others?' I am pleased that here today the Jewish community in Budapest is joined by 'all the others.'”

The Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, Yaakov Hadas-Handelsman, stressed: “This march is one of the largest marches in Europe against antisemitism and racism and is certainly the biggest, most peaceful and civil demonstration in Hungary as well.”

The ambassador thanked those who stood up against antisemitism or any other kind of discrimination, “all those who did not remain silent!”

Michel Gourary, the Director of the European March of the Living, conveyed his deep appreciation to March of the Living of Hungary for their continuous efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive: “We commend your fantastic and innovative educational work when for example more than 160,000 visitors, mainly high school students, visited your wagon exhibit in the last 14 years, guided by young Hungarian High School students who were trained by the dedicated team from Hungary's March of the Living.”

“We will continue to support your efforts and our other partners’ efforts to organize national and local Marches of the Living and Marches of Remembrance in the centers of other European cities where the Jews used to live until they were taken to their horrible death during the Holocaust. And for that reason, we are marching here today in Budapest to remember the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were brutally killed during the Holocaust. We are also remembering how nearly 80,000 Jews, including old people, young children and pregnant women were forced, on November 8, 1944, to begin their horrible death march of some 220 km from Budapest to the Austrian border. This death march was initiated by Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, who was impatient to deport Hungarian Jews and could not wait for the trains to arrive in Budapest.”

A delegation from Hungary is on its way to attend the annual March of the Living in Poland, from Auschwitz to Birkenau death camps. They will join some 10,000 participants from around the world. Traveling with the delegation is Holocaust survivor Gabor Kovacs. Kovacs was born in Budapest on March 31, 1932. During the Holocaust, his father was deported in October 1944 and perished in Mauthausen in January 1945. Gabor spent the most difficult days with his mother in the Budapest Ghetto. The Red Army liberated them on January 18, 1945.

"The Holocaust did not start with the enforced wearing of the yellow star. It began much earlier, with the creation of hatred during the two decades following World War I. It started with discriminatory laws against Jews. We must not allow discrimination against people. Education should begin in kindergarten. If children receive a different kind of education at home than they receive through the educational system, it can create a serious conflict. Antisemitism still exists, but its forms and tools have been adapted to our era. Creating hatred is unacceptable!" said Kovas.