Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán appear at a news conference in Budapest on July 18. Photo by Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

In Hungary, rising anti-Semitism, growing fascism – and a Jewish renewal


On Shabbat morning in Budapest last week, Hungarian Jews did the same thing they’ve done every Shabbat for centuries: They went to shul.

But since theirs is among the world’s older and more established Jewish communities — Hungary’s first Jewish settlers arrived in Buda, west of the Danube River, as early as the 12th century — the Jews of Budapest do not daven in any ordinary shul. They pray in the historic Dohány Street Synagogue, known as “The Great Synagogue,” distinct for being the largest in Europe and the second-largest in the world.

When I arrived around 10:30 a.m. on Shabbat, I had to convince the guard I was not a tourist but a Jew who wished to pray. I passed through a metal detector and checked my phone into a lockbox, before I was ushered down a corridor to the synagogue doors.

Built in the mid-19th century in the Moorish Revival style, Dohány is one of Budapest’s most popular tourist destinations. Countless tour buses pass here daily, offloading visitors to take selfies in front of its grand, red-brick façade. Tourists visit even on Shabbat, when the synagogue and its adjacent museum, built on the site where Theodor Herzl was born, are closed to the public.

Passing through the synagogue doors feels like entering a secret world. The interior is opulent and stately: With three gallery levels, stained glass, glimmering chandeliers and a ceiling so high you must tilt your head to see the frescoes hovering above, the synagogue rivals the great cathedrals of Europe. There are enough pews to seat 3,000 people. And it is easy to imagine a time when it did.

But this Shabbat, just 30 are davening Musaf.

Most of the congregants appeared older and male. Wrapped in tallitot, they scattered themselves among the pews as if they were leaving room for latecomers. Toward the front, a young couple flirted over an imaginary mechitzah, since the vast upper galleries that once served as the women’s section have long been abandoned. Still, the presence of youth felt promising, until I discovered the couple was not Hungarian, but Israeli. And they were only visiting.

In front of me, an elderly, petite woman dressed in black turned around and tried to make conversation in Hungarian. Seeing my perplexed expression, she switched to English.

“I’m a survivor,” she whispered. 

At the end of the service, an eerie silence swept in, replacing the cantor’s chanting. The congregation departed in unison and gathered around a small memorial to say Kaddish with a feeling that suggested this is what they were here for — after all, this community was decimated during the Holocaust, when it is estimated as many as 600,000 Hungarian Jews were deported and killed inside of eight weeks. If there is any one thing that defines the Jews of Budapest, it is loss.

I turned to the survivor and asked if there is still anti-Semitism here.

“There are anti-Semites everywhere!” she said with a thick accent. Then she leaned in, as if to tell me a secret. “People don’t love us. I don’t know why.”

A defaced, government-sponsored billboard in Hungary, part of a campaign targeting Jewish financier George Soros. It reads, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” Many say it comes with anti-Semitic overtones.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why Hungarian Jews feel unloved. Their community was nearly annihilated during World War II, and even that catastrophe is but one example in a long history of anti-Semitic deeds and policies carried out both by the general population and successive Hungarian governments. The Communist rule that followed World War II sustained many of the Nazi-era, anti-Jewish hostilities that devastated the community.

Today, Hungarian Jews continue to live on edge. Although they carry on with normal lives and daily routines, they cannot shake a feeling of dread. Most of them move about their days trailed by an uneasy feeling that danger lurks just around the corner, and that no matter how “good” life might get, it all could disappear in an instant.

So it isn’t a stretch to connect the pestilence of anti-Semitism that has plagued this community for centuries with the fact that only 30 people are praying in a synagogue built for 3,000. But to offer only a grim portrayal of another lost community of Europe would belie a more complicated reality for Hungarian Jews.

Jewish life in Hungary has suffered primal and perhaps permanent wounds, but the country’s remaining Jews are dogged and determined. There is plenty of evidence that they are striving to pursue avenues to Jewish identity despite rising anti-Semitism and deep distrust in a right-wing, authoritarian government many say is duplicitous.

“The prime minister has said and written that our government will defend the Jewish community and the Jews here in Hungary,” Chief Rabbi Robert Frölich told me. “That’s what he says.”

“Do you believe him?” I ask.

“I believe in God and that the Mashiach will come,” he replied.

In recent weeks, tensions with the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party have escalated. Although the government professes official support for the Jewish community in public statements and gatherings, it also encourages a Hungarian ethnic nationalism that undermines it. Words like Lebensraum (“living space”) have crept into national discourse in recent years, used to describe Hungarian geopolitical goals the same way Hitler used the term. To gin up national pride, Orbán has praised former Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy, the World War II regent who oversaw the deportation of half a million Hungarian Jews to death camps. Although some believe Horthy conspired in private to defy Hitler, his rise to power in 1920 was accompanied by the “White Terror,” a two-year campaign of violence and repression that targeted Jews, and his government is credited with passing the first anti-Semitic law of the 20th century.

Chief Rabbi Robert Frölich

Even if, as some say, he saved Jews, he wasn’t exactly Oskar Schindler. Orbán described Horthy as an “exceptional statesman.”

Earlier this month, the government displayed its indifference to Jewish sensitivities when it sponsored a multimillion-dollar anti-immigration campaign, targeting Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros, whose face is plastered on thousands of bus stops and billboards around the country. “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh,” the poster reads in Hungarian, referring to the Holocaust survivor’s support for policies that would allow immigrants to enter the country.

“He is public enemy No. 1,” said Judy K., a 64-year-old teacher and private tutor who asked that her full name not be printed, referring to Orbán. “There is an atmosphere of intimidation here and they can easily retaliate.” She said the Soros campaign is a perfect example. “It reminds me of the [George] Orwell novel ‘1984’ because it seems as if the government is following the same script: Pinpoint the scapegoat who can be blamed for everything,” she said. “And it has rather severe anti-Semitic connotations.”

Many in the Jewish community agree that the campaign panders to anti-Semitic tropes, depicting Soros as a wealthy internationalist Jew with outsized power who poses a threat to the Hungarian nation. Soros has compared the campaign against him to “Europe’s darkest hours,” a reference to the Nazi years, adding in a statement last week, “I am distressed by the current Hungarian regime’s use of anti-Semitic imagery as part of its deliberate disinformation campaign.”

Jewish concern with the campaign is reflected in the Anti-Defamation League’s definition of anti-Semitism, which it defines as “a form of hatred, mistrust, and contempt for Jews based on a variety of stereotypes and myths, [which] often invoke the belief that Jews have extraordinary influence with which they conspire to harm or control society. It can target Jews as individuals, as a group or as a people.” 

The Soros campaign made international headlines in recent weeks after leaders in the Hungarian community denounced its sinister undertones. András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, wrote a carefully worded letter to Orbán asking him to remove the posters. Although “not openly anti-Semitic, [the campaign] is capable of inducing anti-Semitic sentiments,” Heisler wrote.

In a rather tetchy response, Orbán replied that his campaign against immigration was in fact protecting the Jewish community. “I don’t expect thanks or recognition for our struggle against illegal migration, but a little help from your community would be nice.” 

It is amid this fraught atmosphere that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an official visit to the country this week, the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister since 1989, when Yitzhak Shamir made an unofficial visit to Budapest for one day. But locals had low expectations and mixed feelings about Netanyahu’s historic visit.

“We don’t really care; it doesn’t really help us,” Kata Nadas, a 33-year-old Jewish tour guide told me.

If there was any hope that the Israeli prime minister might provide moral support to the local community and denounce the Soros campaign, it was dashed when instead of criticizing the government, he criticized Soros.

Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest in Europe. Photo from Wikipedia

“If Netanyahu is a person who doesn’t think this [campaign] is anti-Semitism, then for me, if he’s here or not here, it doesn’t make a difference,” Nadas said.

By the afternoon of July 18, news had spread that Orbán struck all the right rhetorical notes with the Israeli leader. “I made it clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the government will secure the Jewish minority and that we have zero tolerance to anti-Semitism,” he said.

In a stunning about-face, he also appeared to accept responsibility for Hungarian collaboration in the Holocaust. “We decided in World War II, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to cooperate with the Nazis. This will never happen again. Former Hungarian governments made a sin not protecting Jews.”

Despite Orbán’s overtures to Netanyahu, Hungarian Jews question his sincerity. In 2014, Orbán came under fire for hastily erecting a Holocaust monument that many felt whitewashed Hungary’s crimes. Although the monument is a memorial to victims of World War II and includes an inscription in Hebrew, it depicts Hungary as the archangel Gabriel as he’s about to be mauled by a German imperial eagle, a clear implication that Hungary was an innocent victim of Germany, and not a willing accomplice. It raised the ire of locals who erected their own counter-monument in protest.

Orbán’s latest concession to the Israeli prime minister looked to some like a quid pro quo for Netanyahu’s refusal to denounce the anti-Soros campaign.

Last week, Israel’s ambassador to Budapest, Yossi Amrani, published a statement on the Israeli embassy’s Facebook page, calling for “those involved in the current billboard campaign … to reconsider.”

“The campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” he said. “It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.”

But soon after his message was posted, Israel’s foreign ministry stepped in and backpedaled. “Israel deplores any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred,” the statement read. But, “in no way was the [ambassador’s] statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected government by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Hungarian Jews felt betrayed. Even if Netanyahu has a legitimate beef with Soros, who has supported organizations in the Jewish state that have criticized his government, to allow the Hungarian government to depict him as a singular source of menace and evil — in a country that associates him with Judaism — it was a step too far.

“Whether the intention behind the campaign was consciously anti-Semitic or not, the posters both verbally and visually resemble political discourse in the interwar years, and even worse,” Rabbi Radnóti Zoltán wrote to me via email. “By now it is clear that it evokes dormant anti-Semitism: several of the posters have been inscribed with Stars of David or slogans such as ‘dirty Jew.’ It is pure hate-speech directed against one individual — who happens to be a millionaire and a Jew, which [several forums], including state media, are eager to point out.”

The back and forth over this campaign has been intense. Paul Nussbaum, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, told me, “I broke my long-standing rule, which is: I never publicly criticize the Israeli government in writing because I consider it to be ‘inside baseball,’ but this is not inside baseball.”

Nussbaum is the son of two Hungarian Holocaust survivors and has relatives who live here. Last week, he traveled to Budapest to protest the Soros campaign in a meeting with Orbán’s top ministers. “It is very disappointing to see the Israeli leader pandering to the right-wing, totalitarian, revisionist government in Hungary,” Nussbaum said. “Orbán has been ostracized by the European Union and the European community because of his turn to the right and his dismantling of democratic institutions.”

The majority of local Jews I spoke to expressed dismay at what they see as an unholy alliance between Orbán and Netanyahu. Many say it is symptomatic of a worldwide trend in which populist leaders are using their mandate to dismantle or diminish democratic institutions and weaken opposition to their power. It is not uncommon to hear comparisons of Orbán with Netanyahu, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — and President Donald Trump.

“These illiberal governments get legitimacy from each other,” Nussbaum said. “Their club is a very small club.”

Some describe Orbán’s governing style as “state capture.”

“His policy is divide and rule,” Judy K., the teacher said. “We have a completely incapacitated opposition, and there are no checks and balances to check those in power — for example, there are no opposition members in any of the major institutions, including the constitutional court, law enforcement and legislation.”

The economy also is stagnant. “The middle class is shrinking very rapidly,” Judy K. added, “and Orbán has waged a war against the European Union. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have left to work in Germany, Austria and London. The young professionals have left. People cannot make plans for the future because it is so unpredictable. This is not a pretty picture.”

But it does provide a perfect opportunity for a scapegoat.

“What you do when the domestic situation is awful is you try to get everyone to focus on something beyond the domestic,” Nussbaum said. “So you focus on borders and followers of Islam coming through and destroying Hungarian culture. That’s why you could successfully wage the Soros campaign, which is like a cartoon out of Der Stürmer, [the Nazi-era tabloid], or ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ It works: You blame your problems on a Jewish extra-rich capitalist who is trying to control events inside the country.

Chief Rabbi Frölich also said the economic downturn is partly to blame for the rise in anti-Semitism. “When people become poorer and poorer, they have to find someone to blame. This is the experience of the last couple hundred years; the Jews are always there to be blamed.”

Despite general indifference to Netanyahu’s visit, some say it is a powerful signal to Orbán that Hungarian Jews are a force to be reckoned with, and Jewish leaders welcomed a show of solidarity with Netanyahu’s office.   

“When the prime minister of Israel visits us, it’s an honor for us,” Frölich said. “It shows that we cannot be put down, that we are a significant part of Hungarian society.”

Although he stopped short of describing Hungarian Jewry as flourishing, Frölich said Jewish life in Budapest is strong. Population estimates hover around 100,000. The city has synagogues, schools and kosher restaurants. There are Jewish newspapers, Jewish theater and Jewish cultural events. Earlier this month, the Jewish street fair, “Judafest,” celebrated its 10th anniversary, convening 28 Jewish organizations and attracting an estimated 10,000 Jews for a weekend of cultural, educational and religious programs.

“Jewish life is pretty good here because you have everything you need to keep your religious life — you can go to services every morning, you have kosher food, you have a Jewish educational system — anything you need, you have,” said Frölich, who ministers at Dohany Street Synagogue.

A Jewish summer festival in Budapest is a sign of a reawakened community.

Chabad Rabbi Slomó Köves, who leads the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), also offered an optimistic portrait.

“When I look at Jewish life in Hungary, I see that religious life and communal life is thriving,” he said by phone from Berlin.

The 38-year-old Köves was born in Hungary to secular parents but now leads an Orthodox congregation. “To be Jewish today in Hungary, you don’t need a survival strategy,” he said. “But if I go to France and walk down the street in a kippah, I need a survival strategy.

“I’m speaking to you now from Berlin,” he added, “and when I entered the synagogue, I had to go through three gates of security. In Hungary, if you go to the synagogue, you can go freely.”

When I point out that I had to pass through security myself on Shabbat, he challenged me. “Where?” he asked. “You should go to different synagogues. If you go to any synagogue in Europe, you have to call ahead and give your passport. But forget about this. Just look at the figures.”

Köves cited statistics from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which tracks hate crimes throughout the continent. According to the OSCE, in 2015 there were 786 anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom, 715 in France and 79 in Hungary in 2014, the latest year statistics are available. The U.K. and French governments report their own statistics, while Hungary depends upon “civil society” reporting.

“I’m not saying there’s no work to do; anti-Semitism in Hungary is definitely an issue,” Köves said. “But it’s very different from anti-Semitism in Western European countries. Since there is no Muslim community here in Hungary, there’s practically no anti-Semitic assault.”

Ah, there’s the rub.

Muslims, of course, are the real target of the government’s anti-Soros campaign. The feared “illegal immigration” and “migrant” problem that has obsessed Orbán’s government for the past several years is a direct reference to the wave of Syrian and other refugees fleeing war and famine in the Middle East.

“In their [Hungarian government’s] proxy war against the immigrant, Soros has become a symbolic figure of somebody who is for bringing in immigrants,” Köves said. But that should not, he insisted, be confused with anti-Semitism.

“I wouldn’t call [the Soros campaign] anti-Semitism; I would call it something which touches on sensitive nerves of the general public and the Jewish community,” he said. “This political campaign is definitely, in my view, not a very elegant one, but I believe it’s a mistake if we turn the criticism into a Jewish criticism. It could end up a self-fulfilling prophecy. … Even if some people think it could be understood [as] anti-Semitism, why should I come and confirm them? Why should I say to the general public, ‘Well, whoever criticizes Soros is an anti-Semite.’ ”

Judy K. said Köves and his community provide cover for the Hungarian government. “Orbán uses his closeness [to the EMIH community] to demonstrate that he wants to protect Jews against the migrants.”

But the majority of Hungarian Jews I spoke to weren’t mincing words. “Anti-Semitism runs deep, deep in the Hungarian DNA,” said Hungarian-born film producer Robert Lantos, who is a friend of mine.

Even for Soros haters, the anti-immigration campaign reeks of something rotten. And yet, like Netanyahu, Lantos feels no love lost for Soros, who has contributed millions of dollars to left-leaning organizations in Israel, some of which define themselves as human rights groups, most of them ferociously critical of Netanyahu’s government. “Soros is an enemy of Israel and there’s no reason for Israel to defend him,” Lantos said.

As far as I can tell, Hungarian Jews are like most Jews: proud, opinionated, diverse, defensive, politically differentiated and devoted to Jewish continuity. The difference for those who live here is that they live with a persistent, gnawing anxiety, “an intangible kind of threat,” as Judy K. put it, that exists just beneath the surface of civility but which could explode into physical danger or violence at any moment.

How thin is the veil that could eclipse the good life they’ve worked so hard to rebuild? After all, Hungary is a place in which the memory of the Holocaust is not a distant story but an ever-present reality. It transpired on its neighborhood street corners and along the beautiful banks of the Danube River, the now merged cities of Buda on one side, Pest on the other. For Hungarian Jews, this country will always exist as part living graveyard.

How much longer will things remain tolerable?

The threat of anti-Semitism “is growing stronger and stronger,” Frölich said. “The dangerous level is when anti-Semitism shows itself in deeds. Now, here in Hungary, we have ‘only’ the verbal anti-Semitism. But we’re not so far from the dangerous level.”

Tens of thousands participate in March of the Living in Hungary


Three Christian bishops were among tens of thousands who took part Sunday in the March of the Living in Hungary, as well as the country’s largest anti-racist rally of the year.

“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.

It marked the first time that three Christian bishops took part together in the march, which is held annually to commemorate the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and gave speeches on the same stage. March of the Living is now in its 14th year.

Janos Szekely, a Roman Catholic bishop, said: “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.”

The march started from the downtown Dohany Street Synagogue and ended at the downtown Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in Budapest.

It began with a moment of silence in memory of Imre Kertész, the Hungarian Jewish writer who died earlier this month at 87, and whose Holocaust novels won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002.

The largest applause was for Hungarian Chief Rabbi Robert Frolich, who in his address was openly critical of the Christian churches.

“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,” he said.

Numerous diplomats attended the rally, including the Israeli ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor.

“This is now the March of the Living and not as it was 72 years ago, when it was the March of the Dead,” Mor said. “Now this is the March of Hope.”

The star of the Academy Award-winning Hungarian film “Son of Saul,” Géza Röhrig, also appeared at the event.

The Hungarian branch of the March of the Living Foundation, ahead of the March of the Living to Auschwitz, also holds an annual anti-xenophobic and anti-racist rally in Hungary.

Other events on Sunday included the dedication of a memorial statue in Budapest to the some 100,000 forced laborers during World War II,  The monument in the 8th District, which had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust, was created by Hungarian-Israeli artist Dan Reisinger.

The statue was supported by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense.

Non-Jewish activists link arms with Hungarian Jews in ‘symbols war’


Hungarian officials likely anticipated some Jewish opposition to their decision to erect a monument in Budapest to a Holocaust-era lawmaker who promoted anti-Semitic legislation.

What they probably didn’t expect was that the Feb. 24 unveiling of a bust honoring Gyorgy Donath would attract a protest of mostly non-Jewish Hungarians. The protest would lead to the statue’s indefinite removal over vandalism concerns.

Hungary’s Jews have been fighting what one leading rabbi has called “the symbols war” against the government for years over the public veneration of Holocaust-era figures who promoted anti-Semitic laws. But the mostly non-Jewish protest, in which participants carried EU symbols and chanted anti-fascist slogans, was taken as a sign that the effort is winning allies beyond the Jewish community.

Hungarian Jews launched the monument battle in 2014, when a statue seen as minimizing Hungarian complicity during the Holocaust was unveiled in Budapest’s Freedom Square. The monument, which depicted an angel (understood to represent Hungary) attacked by an eagle (understood to represent Germany), was vigorously opposed by the Hungarian Jewish umbrella group Mazsihisz, which briefly suspended its ties with the government after its unveiling.

“It began with Jewish community activities but has spread beyond to a protest front with members of many affiliations,” said Adam Csillag, a filmmaker who has documented the protest since that unveiling.

That protest movement, which comprises a loose coalition of Christians, liberal political activists and Hungarian Jews, scored its first victory last year when Prime Minister Viktor Orban scrapped a plan to erect a statue of Balint Homan, another Holocaust-era politician who prompted anti-Semitic laws. The Faith Church, a Pentecostal body with 70,000 members, provided approximately half the 700 protesters who gathered at a site 30 miles west of Budapest in December to protest the Homan statue, which was canceled following an international outcry.

A statue of Gyorgy Donath in Budapest, Feb. 24, 2016. (Adam Csillag)A statue of Gyorgy Donath in Budapest, Feb. 24, 2016. Photo by Adam Csillag

“Every time an anti-Semitic figure is honored, there is a significant resistance from the civil society, and the members of Faith Church often take part in these protests as anti-Semitism is contradictory to our moral values and faith,” said Daniel Kocsor, a 20-year-old church activist.

The symbols war comes at a time of rising nationalist fervor in Hungary driven by several factors: economic crises, opposition to EU interference in the country’s affairs, growing Russian assertiveness and the recent arrival on Hungary’s borders of hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants from the Middle East. Wary of losing support to the far-right Jobbik party, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has cracked down on liberal activist groups and increased efforts to celebrate figures like Donath and Honan, who are considered patriotic by the right.

Both wartime politicians supported legislation in the 1940s that targeted Jews. Homan, who served as culture minister, authored a law to limit the number of Jewish university students. Donath argued for a measure to bar any sexual relationship between a Jew and a non-Jew.

They died at the hands of communists and have been embraced by the far right as nationalist symbols of communist oppression. But critics of the government believe the effort to portray them as freedom fighters is merely a thin veil intended to obscure their virulent anti-Semitism.

Homan is “a marginal figure,” Kocsor said. “So the point of the monument … is to send a message because he’s a racist and an anti-Semite. That’s outrageous.”

Other partners to the anti-government coalition include Kovacs’ group Living Memorial, which started in the wake of the Freedom Square protest and now meets in the square twice a week to display alternative commemorations featuring Holocaust-themed artwork. Also participating is Dialogue for Hungary, a small opposition political party that took part in the Donath protest.

“There’s a nostalgia toward the good old Hungary” of the 1940s, historian Eva Balogh said. “It’s scaring a lot of people and driving them into action.”

Cache of Holocaust-era documents found in wall of Budapest apartment


An “unprecedented” cache of documents on the Jewish population of Budapest in 1944 before its liquidation by the Nazis was found hidden in a wall during the renovation of a city apartment.

The 6,300 documents that comprise a census of the Hungarian capital’s Jewish population that year were uncovered in August, the French news agency AFP reported over the weekend. The documents were believed to have been destroyed during World War II.

The papers have been turned over to the city’s archives.

“The content and scale of the finding is unprecedented,” Istvan Kenyeres, director of the Budapest City Archives, told AFP. “It helps to fill a huge gap in the history of the Holocaust in Budapest.”

The census forms found in the Budapest apartment contain names of each building’s inhabitants and whether they are Jewish or not, with the total numbers of Christians and Jews marked in the corners, according to AFP. The Jews listed on the forms were later moved into apartments set aside for Jews, who were later moved into the city’s ghetto.

About 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, most of them in Auschwitz.

Survivor: Marianne Klein


“Get out, move,” Nazi and Arrow Cross soldiers shouted in German and Hungarian as they burst into the crowded four-story Swedish safe house in Budapest, Hungary, on Jan. 8, 1945. Marianne Klein — then 13 and called Marika Roth — had escaped to the house only days earlier. Shattering any illusion of immunity, the soldiers herded the residents onto balconies overlooking the building’s courtyard and ordered them to stand with their arms raised. 

“People were shouting and screaming,” Marianne recalled. Suddenly, soldiers in the courtyard began firing. Marianne dropped to the floor, feigning death as bloodied bodies fell around her. After the shooting ceased, she lay motionless, even when a soldier kicked her sharply in the ribs to ascertain whether she was dead. “All I wanted was to survive so I could see my father,” she said. Later that night, convinced she was the only survivor, she sneaked down the stairs and made her way to a park alongside the Danube River, where she hid under a bush.

Marianne was born in Budapest on Nov. 24, 1931, to Erzsebet Weisz and Joszef Roth, a gambler by profession who afforded his wife and only child a comfortable life. Erzsebet, with her aristocratic aspirations, provided Marianne with a German nanny, piano lessons and excellent schooling. Marianne felt loved, although her parents’ marriage was strained and they separated when she was 6.

In early 1940, Erzsebet contracted tuberculosis. Ill and also fearing for Marianne’s safety amid increasing anti-Semitism, she placed her in a convent, where Marianne tried to adjust to the regimented life and teasing by other students. Gradually, she became familiar with Catholicism and took comfort in staring at the crucifix, identifying with Jesus’ pain. She was drawn to Saint Therese of Lisieux, who, like Erzsebet, had suffered from tuberculosis.  

While Erzsebet had forbidden Joszef to visit Marianne, he occasionally appeared at the convent’s garden gate when the students were out walking. There, he and Marianne were able to chat briefly. Then one day, hearing how unhappy she was, he hoisted her over the fence to freedom. 

When Erzsebet discovered that Marianne was living with Joszef, she moved Marianne to a children’s institution. But its owners were abusive, and, after a few weeks, Marianne escaped, returning to her mother. 

Soon after, Erzsebet persuaded her father, Karoly Weisz, to take Marianne. She lived with Karoly and his 94-year-old father in a small, filthy room in the working-class neighborhood of Angyalfold, or Angels’ Pasture, where Karoly made Marianne do the cooking and cleaning and treated her with contempt. But Marianne’s great-grandfather was gentle and kind. When he died in his sleep on Dec. 9, 1940, “He took a piece of my heart with him,” she said. 

By fall 1942, Karoly felt Marianne was too great a burden, so Erzsebet moved her to a Jewish orphanage with 200 girls. Now almost 11, Marianne enjoyed the purposeful environment, with school, chores and friends. 

At Friday night services, Marianne, a choir soloist, was assigned a front-row seat in the balcony. From there she could see her father, who was forbidden to visit her but who attended the public services. He always hid a care package — cookies and a note — in the lobby for her. 

On March 31, 1943, Marianne learned her mother had died. She felt an immense loneliness. 

A year later, on March 19, 1944, German troops invaded Hungary, seizing the orphanage for offices. Marianne fled to her father. Three months later, they and all of Budapest’s Jews were forced to move into yellow-star apartments. 

One night, German soldiers forcibly entered the apartment building where Marianne and her father lived, ordering the men and boys to line up in the courtyard. From her second-story balcony, Marianne threw kisses at her father, who returned them. Then she watched as he was marched away, recalling that he had recently promised, “No matter what happens, I’ll always come back to you.” 

Soon after, Nazi soldiers rounded up the remaining residents in Marianne’s building, marched them to a nearby park and stole their valuables. Marianne slipped away after dark, eventually finding her way to the Swedish safe house. 

After surviving the safe house massacre, curled up in the snow under a bush, Marianne woke to the sound of soldiers shouting, “Attention. Remove your shoes.” She heard people screaming and crying. Shots followed, then the sound of bodies splashing into the Danube River.

That night, Marianne hiked to her grandfather’s apartment in Angyalfold. But his apartment was boarded up and a neighbor informed her that her grandfather had been dragged outside and executed a week earlier.  

With nowhere to go and the Russians bombing the city nightly, Marianne, calling herself Maria Nagy, made her way to a different shelter each night. Finally, she found a deserted fourth-floor apartment where she cut off her lice-infested hair, nursed her feverish body and subsisted on moldy bread. 

Not long afterward, in mid-January 1945, she heard people shouting and dancing in the streets. Russian soldiers had liberated the area. A few days later, her scalp covered with scabs and her feet wrapped in newspaper, Marianne made her way back to Budapest, where she hoped to find her father. In the meantime, she stayed with her grandmother and other relatives, despite their inhospitality.

Marianne made regular visits to Budapest’s train station, where survivors were returning, and their names were posted at the entrance. Sometime in the spring, she learned that her father had been deported to Bergen-Belsen, where he died shortly before liberation. She remained in denial. 

By November 1945, as Marianne came to accept that her father was not returning, and as she watched the Russians gaining political control, she knew she needed to leave Hungary. She joined a Zionist group, hoping to join the fight for independence in Palestine. After a stopover in Ulm, Germany, however, in an austere and crowded displaced persons camp, she instead moved to Paris in spring 1946. 

There, Marianne, now 15, was accepted into a Canadian adoption program, and a year later, she traveled by ship to Montreal. But no adoption match materialized, so she was placed in foster care and sent to work sewing men’s shirts.

During this time, she befriended a boy she had met on the ship, a troubled lad named Frank. She became pregnant and, unwilling to give up the baby, married Frank in October 1948. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born two months later and their son, Harry-Joszef, followed in May 1950. But Frank was uninvolved and increasingly abusive. 

In 1953, having separated from Frank, Marianne moved to Toronto with her children, supporting her family by working as a waitress. Frank tracked her down a year later and demanded to visit the children in daycare, which Marianne had no legal right to refuse. He took them out for a walk one day and never returned. 

Marianne hired an attorney to locate the children. She also worked on improving herself by reading and attending modeling school. Two years later, she learned that Frank had brought the children to the Jewish Welfare Bureau in Montreal, declared her an unfit mother and had them placed in foster care. Marianne was allowed to write to them and later to visit them. She returned to Montreal. 

Her relationship with the children, awkward at first because they had been brainwashed by Frank, slowly improved. Finally, in 1963, when she was in a marriage-like relationship with a former boss, Robert Rossignol, and could be an at-home mother, she qualified for full custody. 

But Robert gave up his fashion business and moved the family to a farm, where they struggled financially. He, too, began acting cruelly toward Marianne. Her children, Elizabeth and Harry, now in their 20s, moved out, and then Marianne left, as well, finding work in various hospital administrative jobs. 

In 1978, Marianne moved to Los Angeles, where, over the years, she worked as a model for Juschi, a Beverly Hills boutique; as a special-events coordinator for Occidental Petroleum; and a director of membership for the Century City Chamber of Commerce. 

In 1978, while taking creative writing classes at Beverly Hills Adult School, Marianne met Leonard Lipton. They remained together until his death in 2010. 

After Leonard died, Marianne began volunteering weekly at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. She also paints — her work was exhibited at Santa Monica’s Edgemar Center for the Arts in 2013 — and she has written scripts for two romantic comedies. 

Now 83 with one grandchild, Marianne has written a memoir, “All the Pretty Shoes,” which was published in 2011 (alltheprettyshoes.com) and is available on Amazon (under the name Marika Roth). The book is meant to honor Leonard and leave a legacy for her children. But she doesn’t enjoy discussing her childhood tribulations.  

“I prefer to look into the future than behind me,” she said.

In Budapest, thousands mark the Holocaust at March of the Living


Thousands came out for the the March of the Living in Budapest, where World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder  reminded the Hungarian government to speak out against anti-Semitism.

Lauder also denounced the far-right Jobbik party, the second largest in the country, as “extremist” on Sunday at the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in the Hungarian capital.

“The March of the Living also reminds us what happens when the world is silent,” Lauder, the event’s keynote speaker, told the crowd, which was estimated as high as 10,000. “We will never be silent again. And when it comes to anti-Semitism, the Hungarian government must never be silent.

“Today, when the world looks at Hungary, it does not see its great culture. It does not see its beautiful cities. It does not remember its great and glorious past. Today the world sees Hungary and they see Jobbik. They see an extremist party that promotes hate.”

Jobbik is behind only the ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

About 560,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, most of them in 1944. Today, Hungary’s Jewish community numbers around 100,000.

Lauder stressed that the Hungarian Jewish community is “alive and well.”

“And the Hungarian Jewish community is not going anywhere. We march today to say: We are here. We are alive. And here we will remain,” he said.

Lauder said the Jewish community had contributed much to Hungarian society.

Budapest street exhibition on Holocaust survivors defaced


An exhibition about Holocaust survivors was defaced in Budapest.

The incident was reported Sunday by the Hungarian Jewish community’s watchdog on anti-Semitism, the Action and Protection Foundation, or TEV.

According to the report on TEV’s Facebook page, unknown individuals on Saturday splashed red paint on 14 portraits showing Holocaust survivors with the youngest members of their families.

The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, set up the exhibition of 24 portraits near the Madach Theater in central Budapest to celebrate Hungarian Jewry’s continuity after the genocide that nearly wiped out the community.

In a separate incident, TEV reported that unknown individuals painted a swastika in front of a Budapest synagogue on Wesselenyi Street, located five miles northeast of the Madach Theater, shortly before April 3. The Nazi symbol was removed shortly after its discovery, TEV wrote.

Both reports followed the April 1 release of TEV’s second annual monitor of anti-Semitic attitudes in Hungary, which showed a decrease in the prevalence of such beliefs.

In the survey, conducted late last year by the Median polling company, 31 percent of the 1,200 respondents displayed what TEV defined as anti-Semitic views, compared to 38 percent in a similar survey conducted last year. The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.

Budapest synagogue site of interfaith rally supporting Israel


Thousands filled Budapest’s Great Synagogue and the street in front of it in an interfaith rally in support of Israel.

Sunday’s rally was organized by the Hungarian Jewish federation Mazsihisz and the Christian Faith Church and held in the downtown synagogue.

A counterdemonstration was held near the synagogue building by the far-right Hungarian political party Jobbik. Protesters carried signs reading “Murderers” and “Down with the colonialist Zionists.”

“Israel is not fighting against the Palestinian people and not fighting against the Muslims, but fighting against terrorism,” said Ilan Mor, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary, during the synagogue rally, attended by an estimated 4,500 people.

Jobbik, which is the third-largest party in the Hungarian Parliament, called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Hungary last week during an anti-Israel demonstration in front of the Israeli Embassy in Budapest.

Organizers announced at Sunday’s rally that Israeli children living in areas affected by the Gaza conflict will be brought to Hungary for a respite to help Israeli “children to forget the terrible sound of the sirens of the present war.”

 

Work completed overnight on Hungarian WWII monument


A controversial Nazi occupation monument was erected in downtown Budapest in the middle of the night after an appeals court rejected a petition to halt its construction.

Workers completed the main components of the memorial in Freedom Square after midnight Sunday following the decision by the Budapest Court of Appeals the previous evening, according to local reports.

Speaking Monday at a news conference in Budapest, Janos Lazar, a senior representative of the Hungarian government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said there will be no unveiling ceremony because of the controversy surrounding the monument.

Critics of the monument, which depicts Hungary as an angel being attacked by a German eagle, say it glosses over Hungary’s active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust. The Hungarian government disputes the interpretation, arguing the figure attacked represents all victims of fascism and not the Hungarian state.

Orban in February postponed a ceremony commemorating the country’s victims of World War II following protests by Jewish groups over the monument that they said obfuscates Hungary’s Holocaust-era role. Following his reelection, he asserted in early May that construction would go forward despite the Jewish community’s objections.

The Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary pulled out of all government-led activities for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Hungary because of the monument.

In a statement Monday, Mazshihisz wrote, “Our efforts have not been in vain: Outstanding Hungarian scientists, clergymen and philosophers have strongly criticized [the erection of the monument] which followed a hundred days of continuous protest.”

Government workers began constructing the monument in April, but work was halted after the lawsuit filed by a former leader of the Socialist Party.

The site was secured early Sunday morning by 100 police officers to allow the completion of the monument, according to local reports. Protests have continued since then at the site, according to reports.

In Budapest, young Jews angling for slice of communal pie


Peering through dusty apartment widows isn’t an uncommon pastime in this capital city’s crime-infested 8th District, with its many drug addicts and alcoholics seeking for a fix.

But Adam Schoenberger wasn’t scouting for a place to rob on his peeping tour of the district earlier this month.

An activist who recently moved his Jewish organization’s headquarters into the neighborhood to save on rent, Schoenberger was looking for the small apartment synagogues that persist in the area despite its few Jewish residents.

Eventually Schoenberger spotted a Star of David hanging on the wall of a ground-floor apartment on Nagyfuvaros Street. Around the corner he found another small synagogue behind a heavy, locked metal gate.

The synagogues are maintained by Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, which controls hundreds of little-used real-estate assets across Hungary. The synagogue on Nagyfuvaros Street serves a congregation of fewer than 20 people. A nearby shul on Teleki Ter normally opens on Shabbat, though not always with the prayer quorum of 10 Jewish men.

“Some of the money that maintains inactive synagogues and other heritage real estate would have much more impact if it were spent on supporting the grassroots Jewish scene, which lacks the funding to really blossom,” Schoenberger said.

To Schoenberger, the community’s continuing support for such synagogues — not to mention some 1,300 cemeteries across the country — reflects the misplaced priorities of Hungary’s Jewish leadership, which preserves such facilities even as it provides little support for the country’s vibrant Jewish youth scene.

Schoenberger is a founder of Marom, whose 13 employees and network of 100 volunteers operate the Budapest bar and cultural center Siraly, run an annual Jewish festival and does outreach to the beleaguered Roma minority in Hungary, yet receive no funding from the local Jewish community. Marom and other such groups rely on donations from abroad to survive.

Mazsihisz’s president, Andras Heisler, declined to answer questions from JTA about the organization’s funding priorities. But Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti of the Bet Shalom congregation in Budapest and a Mazsihisz employee said the umbrella group has not supported Marom because it doesn’t exclude non-Jews from its programming.

Radnoti said the Mazsihisz mandate is to cater only to Jews.

“Mazsihisz cannot check if someone at B’nai B’rith or Siraly are Jewish,” he said. “There are some non-Jews that enter among Jews because it’s fun, and that’s fine. But Mazsihisz doesn’t want to give money to such activities.”

Since the fall of communism, Hungary’s Jews have struggled to manage hundreds of properties confiscated during the Holocaust that were returned after the fall of the regime.

According to a 2010 report by the Israeli Knesset‘s research department, the Hungarian government gave Mazsihisz at least 100 properties following the passage of a 1991 law on communal restitution. The Mazsihisz list of rural cemeteries comprises 1,304 graveyards.

A prominent communal figure told JTA that maintenance and taxes on returned properties amounts to a few hundred thousand dollars annually, though Mazsihisz would not confirm the figure.

Hungary is not the only post-communist country with a relatively poor Jewish population coping with vast assets inherited from a time when the community was much larger. But unlike Slovakia, Romania and other former communist countries that are home to fewer than 10,000 Jews, Hungary has 100,000 Jews — the largest community in central Europe — and its younger generation is increasingly demanding greater investment in activities that meet their needs.

Marom, which is about to reopen Siraly after it was closed down by the city last year because it was operating out of an illegal squat, is one of the major players in Budapest’s Jewish youth scene. Also active in the capital is the Israeli Cultural Institute, which promotes cultural exchange between Israel and Hungary; Haver Foundation, an informal Jewish education platform; and Minyanim, which conducts tours of Budapest, cultural events and conferences for young Jews.

None receive funding from Mazsihisz. The reopening of Siraly was made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Jewish Federations of North America.

“The Moishe House, Marom — none of us are supported by the local Hungarian Jewish community,” said Tomi Buchler, the director of Minyanim, which receives funding from the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Meanwhile, the Mazsihisz youth division is largely inactive, according to several sources. Its former director, Mate Feldmajer, had to resign last year after saying that gays were not welcome on the Mazsihisz board, a statement that drew furious reactions from several grassroots Jewish organizations.

Mazsihisz does, however, operate large synagogues in cities like Vac and Gyongyos, where very few Jews live and where worshipers rarely reach a prayer quorum.

“It is important to show a presence in such places, which are part of who we are,” Radnoti said.

Buchler is one of several young Hungarian Jewish activists advocating greater investment in the needs of younger Jews as well as outreach to non-Jews, but he recognizes the sensitivity of the dilemma.

“My own great-grandparents are buried in cemeteries managed by Mazsihisz,” Buchler said. “Our heritage sites are part of our story. And if Mazsihisz won’t take care of our heritage sites, then no one will.”

The tension around communal resources led Buchler to help organize a conference last month about the issue. Sponsored by the Washington-based Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the From Me to We conference gathered dozens of young Jewish activists in Budapest for sessions on how to reconcile the competing commitments in Hungary and elsewhere,  as part of the Foundation’s global Connection Points program.

The discussions come amid a larger debate about reforming Mazsihisz policies and finances in the wake of a recent shakeup that saw Peter Feldmajer, the group’s former president, replaced by Heisler. Shortly after, Gusztav Zoltai, who had served for decades as the organization’s all-powerful director, resigned in what was widely seen as a forced retirement connected to alleged financial irregularities, though Heisler denies this.

“For the first time in a long time, there is a chance for change, but it will be gradual and slow,” said Mircea Cernov, CEO of the Haver Foundation. “It will take time to change the current distribution of resources within the Jewish community, which is designed to resist change instead of encouraging development and growth.”

Buchler is hoping for a more radical change, one that will do more than just redistribute community funds. His organization is working to instill a culture of giving in a country where years of corruption and militant communism have left many with a cynical attitude toward social altruism.

“Heritage preservation is done with the government’s money and young Jewish groups operate on funding from abroad, but almost nothing is coming from the community itself,” Buchler said. “We need to focus on changing that through instilling financial transparency. The rest will follow.”

Tens of thousands participate in Budapest Holocaust memorial march


Tens of thousands of Jews and Jewish supporters participated in the 12th March of the Living Hungary in Budapest.

Sunday’s event, considered the largest civil anti-fascist event in Hungary, was held on the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Jews from Hungary by the Nazis.

Holding posters saying “Never again” and “History cannot be re-written!,” the participants marched from the Danube River to the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest to commemorate the loss of Hungarian Jewry in 1944, when two-thirds of Hungarian Jewry — nearly 600,000 people — were deported and killed.

Dozens of Hungarian Holocaust survivors were the guests of honor at the march.

“We go to Auschwitz, but this time we will return,” Ilan Mor, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, said in an emotional speech.

Mor will be part of the Hungarian delegation in Monday’s Auschwitz commemoration, where Hungarian President Janos Ader will deliver a speech at the Auschwitz memorial site of Hungarian Holocaust victims.

The International March of the Living Conference was part of weekend memorial events in Budapest, including a panel discussion on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe with the participation of members of parliaments from Poland, Greece, Spain and Canada.

Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister and lawmaker, as well as a human rights activist, chaired the panel.

“Jews died in Auschwitz, but anti-Semitism did not die, and we are experiencing anti-Semitism yet again,” he told JTA. “Now the time to mobilize all of humanity against this anti-Semitic phenomenon that again has come.”

Cotler visited the Budapest site of the daily protest against a monument being constructed to honor the country’s victims of World War II. Jewish groups have protested that it obfuscates Hungary’s Holocaust-era role.

“I hope that the Hungarian government will cease and desist from putting up this memorial as it now stands because in the end of the day, it will not serve neither the interest of remembrance nor the truth, or not even the interest of the Hungarian government, which I don’t believe want to be seen as mischaracterizing the Holocaust,” he said.

Yad Vashem rejects Hungarian memorial initiative


Yad Vashem has decided not to participate in a project to build a Nazi occupation museum in Hungary.

The House of Fates project invited representatives of the Jerusalem-based Holocaust museum and memorial to attend an international meeting of experts to discuss the memorial center to be built in Budapest.

Yossi Gevir, senior assistant to the chairman at the Yad Vashem Directorate, turned down the invitation in a letter last week to Maria Schmidt, head of the House of Fates project.

“Yad Vashem will not be taking part in gatherings or activities organized by the House of Fates Museum project, because the project’s administration has consistently and unilaterally pursued the development of the Museum without any genuine, substantial involvement of the representatives of the Hungarian Jewish community or of relevant international parties, including Yad Vashem,” Gevir wrote.

The letter also said the project cannot use the Yad Vashem name in any way or context that would indicate its support or involvement in the project.

Earlier this month, Andras Heisler, president of the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, withdrew the federation’s participation in the advisory body for the House of Fates project.

Mazsihisz voted last month to boycott state-sponsored Holocaust memorial programs after accusing the government of glossing over Hungarian Holocaust-era culpability.

On Emil Jacoby’s 90th birthday, a tribute to a life well lived


In late March 1945, a young Czech Jew hiding in Budapest organized a Passover service for escapees from the Nazis and for those working in the rescue efforts. Most of the people who gathered that day had worked and lived together in hiding. When a stranger appeared, the young Czech organizer decided to honor him by asking that he recite the haftarah, a chapter that told the story of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.

As this young Czech listened to the man chant, he was taken by the sense that the ancient words were speaking directly to him. And it was in that moment that he decided to dedicate his life to making dry bones live again, to ensuring the continuation and renewal of the Jewish people. He promised himself that, if he survived, his job would be to help transmit the tradition, to help his community remain Jewish and to attempt to inspire others also to serve klal Yisra’el.

Thus began the career of Emil Jacoby, a career that lasted well over half a century and that has touched the lives of thousands of children and families in Los Angeles.

Many articles could be written about Emil Jacoby. Between the two of us, one could describe what it is like to be his son and to learn so many life lessons from him. One could write about Emil Jacoby, the mentor, supervisor, colleague and friend. We choose to focus on him as a model and inspiration. 

We will call him by a name that neither of us often use, but by which many of his closest friends and relatives have known him: Uzi. Short for Uziel (God is my strength), it is the name he acquired as a Zionist activist during and immediately after World War II.

Love what you live. Love what you do.

Throughout his career, Uzi was motivated by the experiences of his youth, which instilled in him a love of Judaism and a respect for community. Uzi’s mother lived by the principle of hiddur mitzvah, delighting in each mitzvah; she brought beauty and the joy of living into the family’s home and taught her family to appreciate the value of Jewish life. Indeed, hiddur mitzvah is an apt description of the experience that anyone fortunate enough to grow up in Uzi’s home, to go with him to Camp Ramah or join him at his synagogue, Adat Ari El, would have encountered.

Keep an open mind. Respect differences. Respect the past. Honor the present.

Uzi’s father was the secretary of the entire kehillah (congregation) of his hometown of Cop, in Czechoslovakia, trusted by the entire community — from Chasidim to liberal Jews. This is where Uzi learned the value of the klal, of the totality of the Jewish community, above and beyond any differences among individuals.  

Perhaps more than any other quality, respect for pluralism and diversity characterized Uzi’s tenure as a leader for decades at BJE: Builders of Jewish Education. This respect, in turn, was complemented by an insistence on open-mindedness, a value Uzi internalized in his teen years, when his studies included both classical Jewish texts and the insights of Haskalah (enlightenment). After enrolling first in a traditional yeshiva, Uzi later transferred to the Hebrew Gymnasium, a Jewish school that included secular subjects — Latin and English — alongside Jewish history, Hebrew literature and Tanach. The Gymnasium’s expanded curriculum offered the foundation for the greatest joys of his intellectual life. His teachers there were powerful role models of Jewish commitment, leadership and caring, the model for what Uzi would become for hundreds of his own students in Los Angeles.

Don’t just survive. Rescue. Build.

After the liberation, Uzi used his background and skills to create educational programs needed for the young Jews returning from concentration camps and years of hiding. In the years immediately following the end of the war, he trained counselors and teachers, published books, organized a regional school and conducted summer camps. This experience strengthened his resolve to continue to serve as a Jewish educator.  

In about 1950, Uzi immigrated to New York, where he was a teacher, even as he also studied to advance his own formal education. He was also reunited with his fiancée, Erika, who had come to the United States via Cuba — but that’s another story.

By the time Uzi arrived in Los Angeles, in 1953, he’d had abundant training and experience, and he set out to develop one of the premier Conservative congregational schools in the United States. From 1953 until 1976, under his leadership, the school at Adat Ari El (then known as Valley Jewish Community Center) grew from 200 students to 1,500, and it earned a well-deserved reputation for excellence. At the heart of this success was Uzi’s effectiveness in nurturing other educators and developing an esprit de corps among his staff. Well before the notion of “family education” entered the lexicon of Jewish education, Uzi implemented a vast array of family and intergenerational programs.

Even as he built a model school, Uzi took on two other assignments of critical importance to Jewish education. First, he became director of education at Camp Ramah in California, where he helped build a camp program that nurtured an entire generation of rabbinic and lay leadership. At the same time, he was appointed to the faculty of Jewish education at the University of Judaism (now known as American Jewish University). There, through the 1960s and ’70s, he raised up a cadre of educators who continue to serve with distinction in communities throughout North America.

In 1976, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE) turned to Uzi to serve as its associate director. In that capacity, he called upon all of his remarkable skills and experiences in providing educational support to a community network of more than 150 schools serving 30,000 students. By 1982, his vast knowledge and unique background, his ability to work with professional colleagues and lay leaders, and his intimate familiarity with the Los Angeles Jewish community made him the appropriate choice for appointment as executive director of the Los Angeles BJE.

During a decade of service as CEO of the second-largest BJE in the nation, Uzi built a harmonious and productive community of educators, spanning all school types and ideologies. He mentored dozens of emerging Jewish educational leaders. He fostered outstanding inter-agency cooperation, and developed an active and supportive board of directors. 

In 1993, after 40 years of educational leadership in Los Angeles, Uzi turned his prodigious energy to an ambitious BJE initiative: the development and implementation of an accreditation process for all school types — including early childhood centers, day schools/yeshivot and congregational (part-time) religious schools.

Characteristically, Uzi worked skillfully in partnership with school-based educators, consultants from outside school systems, accreditation commissions and colleagues to devise approaches to self-study and external review that would help L.A. schools think about desired outcomes and strategies for getting “from here to there.” BJE’s school accreditation program — which Uzi coordinated for 15 years — became a national model. It helped schools reimagine curriculum and instruction to more effectively meet learners’ needs.

In 2008, Uzi and his wife, Erika, joined 136 L.A. teens, as well as staff and other survivors, on the BJE March of the Living. They shared with the high school seniors their experiences of adolescence and young adulthood — telling them of a very different reality. Erika, a survivor of Auschwitz, marked her 80th birthday by returning to that location, recounting there what it was like to be a 16-year-old in the death camp. Uzi shared the experiences of those outside the camps who were active with rescue efforts.

Uzi continued to serve until he finally retired at age 85 from his professional work at BJE. His leadership continues today to inform BJE’s mission, and to impact the lives of children and families of multiple generations. Uzi has surely helped bring renewed vitality — fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision — to Jewish life worldwide in the generations after the Holocaust. 

As he turns 90 this week, on Nov. 30, his family, friends, admirers, students and younger colleagues join together in saying: Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu — how happy and fortunate are we to benefit from the wisdom and inspiration of Dr. Emil “Uzi” Jacoby, a model Jewish educator.


Jonathan Jacoby is senior vice president of Programs for Jewish Life at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Dr. Gil Graff is executive director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education.

‘Fiddler’ makes the world richer


On a visit to Budapest earlier this year, my wife and I asked the concierge at our hotel for a restaurant where we could find authentic Hungarian fare.  As we took our seats in the bustling little place he recommended, I was encouraged to see a house band tucked away in the corner, and our meal was accompanied by what I assumed to be traditional Hungarian and Roma tunes.  About halfway through the meal, however, the musicians took a short break and then returned to start their second set with “If I Were a Rich Man.”

How a hit song from a Broadway musical entered the global pop culture is one of the wonder of wonders that is explored and explained with both charm and authority by theater critic, journalist and scholar Alisa Solomon in her wholly winning book, “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof” (Metropolitan Books, $30).

Solomon tells the whole story of “Fiddler” from beginning to end, starting with the story by Sholem Aleichem in which Tevye first appeared in 1894, and showing us in suspenseful detail how  “Fiddler on the Roof,” created by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Joseph Stein (book), reached the Broadway stage in 1964. In that sense, “Wonder of Wonders” is a rich and lively slice of theater history.

For example, Solomon points out that, even as late as the 1950s, “Broadway’s musical makers, though most were Jewish, were not yet putting overt Jewish characters front and center.” To be sure, Jewish audiences were afforded the opportunity to attend “Yinglish revues,” such as “Bagels and Yox” and “Borschtcapades,” but the Yiddishkayt of a character like Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” was encoded in a single line of the song he sings: “I’m just a no-goodnik. All right already. It’s true. So nu?”

No detail is overlooked. She reveals that the Sholem Aleichem family received a 4.8 percent royalty, but an enterprising producer who had tied up the theatrical rights to the stories demanded a royalty nearly twice as large. “From underwear to overcoats, [costume designer Patricia] Zipprodt used natural fibers that would have been available in 1905 for the 165 costumes she made.  But the makers of the musical were unwilling to make the show too authentic; by choosing the name for the character of Yenta the matchmaker, Solomon points out, “[Joseph] Stein made one of his book’s few concessions to the Yiddish language, which the authors had vowed to avoid.”

Solomon reminds us that “Fiddler” was not universally admired when it opened on Broadway. Irving Howe complained that the producers “discard[ed] the richness of texture that is Sholem Aleichem’s greatest achievement,” and Robert Brustein accused them of “falsifying the world of Sholem Aleichem, not to mention the character of the East European Jew.” But she also insists that director Jerome Robbins deserves to be remembered and praised for “labor[ing] mightily to burn away the schmaltz that for two decades had encased the world of the shtetl like amber.”

Robbins is also credited for the crucial casting decision that put Zero Mostel into the role of Tevye. “There would have to be some madness in his Method,” as Solomon playfully puts it. Among the actors in contention were Danny Kaye, Rod Steiger, Red Buttons and Eli Wallach. But there was much off-stage drama before Mostel accepted the role. Much of the tension was provoked by the fact that Robbins had named the wife of Jack Gilford — Mostel’s co-star in “A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum” — before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. “But it wasn’t just political bad blood that caused Mostel to call Robbins ‘that sonofabitch’ in place of his name,” Solomon explains. “Mostel was an unstoppable force, Robbins an immovable object.”

The author, of course, is fully aware that “Fiddler” is much more than a record-breaking Broadway hit and a celebrated Hollywood movie. She points out how “Fiddler,” like the earlier incarnations of Tevye on the Yiddish stage, has come to serve as a “Jewish signifier” for both Jews and non-Jews: “ ‘Now I know I haven’t been the best Jew,’ ” Homer tells a rabbi from whom he is trying to borrow money in an episode of “The Simpsons,” “ ‘but I have rented “Fiddler on the Roof,” and I intend to watch it.’ ” But she also shows how “Fiddler” came to be embraced and celebrated far beyond the Jewish world, which is yet another wonder of wonders. 

“[Tevye] belongs nowhere,” Solomon concludes. “Which is to say, everywhere.”


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. His latest book is “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” (W.W. Norton/Liveright), published in 2013 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Kirsch will be discussing and signing copies of his new book at Shaarey Zedek synagogue in Valley Village on Oct. 27; at American Jewish University on Oct. 30; at University Synagogue in Irvine on Nov. 1; at Stephen S. Wise Temple on Nov. 14; and at Sinai Temple on Nov. 21.

Budapest to receive $22 million Holocaust memorial center


Budapest will erect a $22 million memorial at a train station from which many Hungarian Jews were deported during the Holocaust.

Janos Lazar, the Hungarian prime minister’s chief of staff, said the memorial will feature an educational center and will be opened by spring next year at Budapest’s Jozsefvaros train station, the Hungarian news agency MTI reported Thursday.

That timing coincides with the 70th anniversary of the deportation of 437,000 Hungarian Jews, which began in the spring of 1944.

Some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Many of them were deported to Auschwitz from the Jozsefvaros station, which hasn’t been used since 2005.

Balazs Furjes, a government commissioner who heads the commemoration project, told MTI that the center will cover four acres, including a park and a parking lot. The exhibition space will be underground and the old station building will be preserved, he said.

In a meeting earlier this week of the Hungarian Holocaust-2014 Memorial Committee, Lazar said that the government plans to set up memorials at as many locations as possible throughout Hungary next year.

Child victims of the Holocaust will receive special commemoration and an emphasis will be placed on Hungarians who saved Jews during the Holocaust, MTI reported.

Additionally, the government will allocate a little over $6.5 million toward setting up a fund for Hungarian Jewish public organisations, civil organizations and educational institutions to finance local projects that help remembrance, Lazar said.

Last year Hungary announced plans to double pensions paid to Holocaust survivors by 2014.

Survivor: Irene Rosenberg


“Mommy, I’ll be right back.” Irene Rosenberg — then Irene Grunfeld — said as she was leaving the apartment of her cousin Mancy Weiss, where she and her mother were staying temporarily. It was a Friday afternoon in May 1944, and Irene, who was almost 22, was stepping out to shop for food and looking forward to a last Shabbat before all three fanned out to different hiding places in Budapest, as Irene’s father and sisters had already done. But when Irene returned, no one was there. Her mother had left a note that read, “I will be back in half an hour.” Irene waited. 

“My mother never came back,” she said.

Born on June 25, 1922, in Budapest, to Herman and Fanny Grunfeld, Irene had a twin sister, Chava, and an older sister, Rose, born in 1921. The family was Orthodox and lived in an apartment in relative comfort.

In 1927, however, Irene’s father lost his import business and the family moved to Vác, a town about 20 miles north of Budapest, where Irene’s mother’s family resided.

Irene attended a Jewish school. After graduation, her parents advised her to learn a trade, and she became a seamstress. In 1939, she and her sisters rented a room in Budapest, where Irene worked for a dressmaking company.

While Irene experienced anti-Semitism from a young age, it wasn’t until Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, that her “whole life changed.” Suddenly Jews could not travel safely, and they were forbidden to be outdoors except from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Every day there came out a new law,” Irene said. 

Irene would sit riveted to the radio, which was forbidden, and hear stories from refugees who had escaped to Budapest from Poland, Germany and Austria. “We knew everything,” she said. “We knew about Auschwitz.”

Still, she and her family didn’t believe Hitler had the power to harm them as the Russians were moving in. “We thought there was no time to deport or kill us,” Irene said.

When Irene and her sisters returned to Vác in April, their father decided they should go into hiding in Budapest, separately and under false names. 

In May, after Irene’s mother and Mancy disappeared, Irene began using the false surname Landau, and, along with her cousin Paula Zicherman, she moved into an apartment in a building designated for Jews. They had little money or food. “I don’t know how we managed,” she said. 

One summer afternoon, Irene went to the post office and searched the Swedish telephone book for people named Grunfeld. She found an Alex Grunfeld and sent him a telegram, telling him they were related and asking him to send a schutz-pass, a special protective pass, for her and her family. He replied, instructing her to pick up the papers at the Swedish Embassy. 

Irene stood in a long line at the embassy. But when she noticed police picking people out of the line, she became frightened and left.

In August or September, all women ages 18 to 40 were ordered to report for work. Irene was sent to a labor camp outside Budapest. 

After a month she was transferred to a hospital on Wesselényi Street in Budapest, where she lived and worked as a nurse. 

One day, however, after learning that the young hospital workers were to be transferred to a labor camp, Irene escaped. Using papers with the non-Jewish name Irene Beke, she moved in with a Christian woman, caring for the woman’s 10-year-old son. 

During this time, Irene learned that her father had been sent on a forced march to the Austrian border. There, Raoul Wallenberg, Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest, approached the group, who were waiting to be transported to a camp, and asked if anyone had Swedish papers. Irene’s father, although half-dead at that point, knew about the schutz-pass at the embassy sent by Alex Grunfeld and was taken to a Swedish safe house in Budapest. 

On Feb. 16, 1945, the Russians liberated the Buda section of Budapest, and Irene was reunited with her father and her sisters, who had survived in hiding.

The family returned to Vác, but Shabbat dinners were no longer the same for Irene. “I felt that I didn’t have a hand because my mother didn’t sit next to me. Such a feeling never leaves me,” she said. 

Irene’s father became business partners with a Christian baker whose Jewish wife and children had been taken away. 

Every day Irene carried a large basket filled with fresh brioches and other pastries to the Vác station where trains carrying survivors stopped on their way to Budapest. She distributed the baked goods and always asked if anyone had seen her mother or her cousin Mancy. One day someone answered, “We know Mancy is alive.” 

Indeed, Mancy returned, and she told Irene that she and Irene’s mother had been transported to Auschwitz. When they arrived in the pouring rain, Mancy had wrapped her raincoat around the two of them. But as they approached Josef Mengele, he separated them, sending Irene’s mother to the gas chamber. 

In the summer of 1945, Irene and her family moved to Budapest, and in 1946 they moved to displaced persons camps in Linz and Ebelsberg, Austria. 

In 1948, the family immigrated to Israel, living in Jerusalem. There, Irene met Moshe Israeli, a survivor from Beregszász, Czechoslovakia (now Berehove, Ukraine), and they married in December 1950. Their son, David, was born a year later. Irene and Moshe later immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York in 1956 and divorcing soon after.

In 1957, Irene moved with David to Montreal, where her sisters were living. She worked with her twin sister, who had a workshop in the basement of her two-story apartment building, where she made upholstery for the seats on Air Canada planes. 

In August 1959, Irene met Tibor Rosenberg, whom she had known in Budapest. His wife had died in 1957, and he was a widower with three children: Gabe, born in 1942, Robert, in 1946, and Eva, in 1953. Irene and Tibor married in November 1959. 

Two years later, Irene and Tibor moved to Los Angeles with David, the other children following later. Irene worked as a seamstress and also operated a business out of her home, Irene’s Discount Linens, which she closed only two years ago. 

Tibor died in 1975. 

In June 2011, Irene moved to the Jewish Home. Now 90, she enjoys walking daily, playing Bingo and spending time with her family, including her nine grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren.

Irene credits her survival and that of her family to miracles. But she continues to mourn the loss of her mother. “My mother was the jewel of the family,” she said.

Yom HaShoah: An eternal nation, bound together by our faith


A few months after my bar mitzvah, my father disappeared.

We didn’t know what had happened to him.

In our apartment in Budapest, there was a couch under the window and I would stand on it day after day looking into the street, watching, waiting for my father to appear.

In a way, I waited for almost 50 years.

In all that time, I never forgot him.

Even in my dreams.

As I slept, I would feel him bending over me.

And I would wake relieved that he was there … and then confused that he wasn’t.

I had this dream on and off for almost 50 years.

It was only when my family found out what happened to him that the dreams stopped.

Once I knew what happened, I wanted to do something.

I wanted to honor his memory. 

But mostly, I wanted to stand in the place where he perished to see if I could feel him.

So here I am, with all of you in Birkenau.

I know he was also here, under this same sky.

Just like almost half a million Hungarian Jews, he came to this place in a wagon, and almost immediately after arriving, disappeared as smoke into this sky

I was 13 when I lost my father and now I am 82 and, you know, I still miss him.

To the young people here today, I want to say that your mother and father always matter — even when you get to my age.

And honoring your parents matters very much while they are alive — and when they are no longer with us.

I still feel the loss of my father, but there is something I have gained.

You see, there were things about him that i did not know. 

I knew he was a good man, a good father, a religious Jew who believed in God.

He worked as a travelling salesman and he was modest.

I never realized that he had strength — the spiritual strength — to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau.

No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin.

They could break his body but they could not break his spirit.

The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with god and he was ready to die for them.

And he did.

He did so in front of others who knew what was in his little bag and who tried to stop him from protecting it.

In front of all his people, he fought for his faith with a spiritual courage I never knew he had.

You see, my father was an ordinary man.

But in extra-ordinary times, people do extra-ordinary things, if they have it in them in the first place — well,  he certainly did.

Hugo’s legacy lives on in four generations. Besides me,  three grandsons and a great-granddaughter represent them here today.

Also here today are two people who are important to my father’s story.

Allan Lowy, who you just saw on the film, is the son of Meyer Lowy who witnessed what happened to my father and told us about it.

Meyer Lowy was not a relative but grew close to my father on this journey and lived to tell the story.

And Dr. Roland Huser, from Germany, is also here with us.

We found the wagon at his museum and he gave it to us to restore and place it here in Birkenau.

Three years ago when the wagon was brought here, I had the privilege to place my own tallis and tefillin in the wagon, to replace those torn from my father’s hands.

For me, this helps to heal the brokenness of the past.

Some two centuries ago, Rabbi Nachman of Breslev taught, “If you believe the world can be broken, then know that it can also be fixed.”

Fixing means understanding what happened, healing the pain, and building a better future.

The Nazi’s wanted not only to destroy the physical presence of the Jewish people, but to wipe us out spiritually as well, and leave no trace.

But look at us here today.

Perhaps all those Hungarian Jews, including my father, who disappeared into this sky are looking down on us today.

They see how young, how strong, and how full of promise you are.

They see how the plan to break and crush us, has made us stronger.

Throughout history, others have tried to destroy us as a nation but none have succeeded.

We are an eternal nation, bound together by our faith.

Am yisroel chai!


Frank Lowy, co-founder of the Westfield group, delivered this speech at the March of the Living ceremony held April 8, 2013 in Auschwitz, Poland.  The ceremony honored his father, Hugo Lowy, who was murdered in the concentration camp.  The speech followed a six minute film entitled, “Spiritual Resistance” which tells the story of Hugo Lowy. The video begins at 1:11.

On its 10th anniversary, Lauder Business School looking West for new students


With more than 250 students living, studying or partying on its campus, quiet moments are rare at the Lauder Business School. But when a lull does occur, it reminds managing director Alex Zirkler of this Jewish university’s opening 10 years ago, when it had only seven students, 15 lecturers and many silent hallways.

“I don’t like to remember those absurd times,” said Zirkler, a Vienna native who has been with the institution ever since the American cosmetics magnate and Jewish philanthropist Ronald Lauder envisaged opening a first-rate business university for young Jews from across Europe and beyond.

The school’s rapid growth owes largely to an influx of students from the former Soviet bloc, who make up 70 percent of current enrollees. With its ample scholarships and reputation as a boutique university, the school offers them a rare shot at a Western education.

LBS offers an English-language bachelor's program in international business administration and a master’s in international management and leadership. With a scholarship, students from outside the European Union pay about $7,000 annually — a fee that includes housing and three kosher meals a day, as well as compulsory courses in Hebrew and Jewish studies.

But as LBS marks its 10th anniversary this year, the school's directors are striving for a more equal balance between East and West that they say will enhance academic performance and fulfill the school’s mission as a rare melting pot for Jewish European academics.

“People come here to network with fellow students in a Jewish, international setting,” said Jacob Biderman, an Israeli-born Chabad rabbi and the LBS chairman. “It is in their interest that the school facilitate cross-fertilization: Our students are not looking to study with only French people or only Ukrainian people, or they would not have come here in the first place.”

Biderman acknowledges it will be a challenge. Given the attractive pricing, students from the East are “obvious, natural clients,” he says.

But Biderman believes LBS has the potential to attract many Western European Jews who are seeking an institution that combines a top-rate secular education with Jewish studies — similar to what Yeshiva University and Brandeis offer in the United States. For students from the East, LBS offers more than just an education, but an opportunity to gain a toehold on new lives in more affluent central and Eastern European countries.

Gabor came from Budapest to study at LBS in 2005. He now works in the banking industry in Vienna.

“Graduating in Austria is pretty powerful when applying and makes it much easier to find work,” he said.

Tatyana Belousova came to LBS from Vladimir, a town east of Moscow, and secured a job in Germany even before she graduated last year.

“An opportunity of getting higher education in Europe and living a Jewish life with no compromises was a decisive factor,” she said of her decision to enroll in LBS at the age of 17.

Some 300 to 400 students apply for admission each year, of which approximately 100 are accepted. Applicants are evaluated by the LBS academic committee on the basis of their grades, but to receive a scholarship and housing, they must apply to the Jewish Heritage Fund, a separate body that is comprised of several private donors and charities.

The fund assesses the “compatibility” of applicants in deciding whether to offer them a spot in the dormitories and up to 80 percent of their tuition. A major part of assessing compatibility, Biderman said, is whether a student is Jewish according to religious law.

The separation between the school and its dorms permits LBS to qualify for funding from the government of Austria, which otherwise would not be allowed to support a school that considers religion in admissions decisions. About one-quarter of the $3.2 million LBS budget comes from the Austrian government. LBS gets significant additional help from public authorities in Austria. The government made an exception to its rule requiring publicly funded schools to admit anyone with a high school diploma, a regulation that would have undercut LBS aspirations to admit only the best.

Austria also helped LBS work around a European rule requiring universities to have at least 2,000 students to be accredited independently. The school's entire campus, an 18th century palace that once was home to Princess Maria Theresa, was donated by the Vienna municipality. The five buildings have more than 100,000 square feet of floor space, and are arranged around a 54,000 square foot courtyard. Lauder spent $8 million renovating the campus, to which the school has title for 60 years.

Such favorable treatment is part of the reason LBS elected to operate in Austria, where Lauder made many close contacts during his tenure as U.S. ambassador from 1986 to 1987.

“The fact that Ronald Lauder is the institution’s president adds much to our stature in Austria and elsewhere,” Biderman said, though he dismissed the notion that LBS enjoys special dispensations solely on this account.

Austria is keen “to re-establish Vienna as the seat of Jewish intelligentsia,” Biderman said. “They understand we can’t put together the numbers because of the Holocaust.”

On campus, the ancient palace facade creates a jarring juxtaposition with the modern, high-tech classroom interiors, complete with projectors, sound systems and new furniture. Enhancing the mix of old and new is the large metal-and-glass auditorium planted at the center of the ancient interior yard between the classrooms and dorms.

Every year, a few graduates end up staying in Vienna and marrying Viennese Jewish spouses, according to Biderman. In total, the school has learned of 30 weddings of former students who met on campus. The institution even has a photo album with a picture from each wedding.

“We recently received a postcard from Israel with a picture of a baby born to two of our graduates who made aliyah after meeting here,” Biderman said. “We call them LBS babies.”

‘Rescue during the Holocaust’: Honoring courage to resist


You would not suspect anything out of the ordinary was happening  as the silver-haired interviewee describes his day at the office. But Per Anger and his colleagues in Budapest, Hungary, were on a mission. His self-effacing modesty veils the significance of his role in attempting to rescue the Jews of Budapest from certain death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I had been searching the USC Shoah Foundation database for eyewitness testimony of Raoul Wallenberg and was right to assume that among the 52,000 audio-visual life histories, I would find survivors talking about how Wallenberg rescued them in the summer of 1944. I had not expected to find Per Anger, a lesser-known accomplice of Wallenberg. As the camera rolls, the mission comes to life: It was Anger who was the first to hand out Swedish protective papers to Jews, and it was he who first called for assistance — which Wallenberg answered. Anger describes the difficulty of snatching Jews from under the noses of the Nazis, the day he opened a cattle wagon and took out 100 Jews, and then the problem of housing and feeding 20,000 people they then had in their care.

This year, the theme of the United Nations International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is called “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.” Wallenberg  would be 100 years old now, and so to celebrate his life, the United Nations and UNESCO — among many other organizations — have been highlighting the actions of rescuers such as Wallenberg and Anger.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Schindler’s List,” the feature film that depicts the unlikely hero Oskar Schindler. His motivation to run his factory in Poland was far from altruistic. He was knowingly invested in a system that used slave labor. Only when faced with the reality of people on his shop floor did his attitude change to the point of absolute defiance of the Nazi intention to work them to death. Schindler changed from collaborator to resistor.

My USC colleague Wolf Gruner and I have been trying to work out what it is that provides the impetus for resistance, studying those who did engage in acts of defiance, from Anger to Schindler to Wallenberg and everyone in between. Resistance came in many forms during the Holocaust, and overwhelmingly we find that Jews did not go like “lambs to the slaughter,” which is a terrible myth that has to end. Survival was a state of mind, and Jews across Europe did everything possible to survive, in direct defiance of the Nazis.

What Gruner discovered is that Jews were more actively defiant than we have hitherto understood; there were small acts of heroism every day. We also discovered many more non-Jews working in resistance networks. Many were not successful in their attempts to undermine the Nazis, but those acts are important to know about. It remains true that the vast majority of people did nothing to assist, but that should make the actions of those who did try all the more valuable. Their actions are the key to a more secure future.  

I, too, have been watching more testimony of rescuers, of which the USC Shoah Foundation has more than a thousand in its archive. The more I listen and watch the purposefulness of their decisions, the more I realize that rescuers were not primarily performing acts of altruism, although most were altruists at some level. They need to be reclassified as the ultimate resistors. As individual citizens, they chose to take actions in direct contravention of Nazi policy. Their decisions were just as ideologically motivated and personally courageous as the partisans in the forest or the fighters in the ghetto — maybe more so, as they were rarely armed and were often surrounded by collaborators and informers who were more than willing to cash in on their courage.

They may not have been in organized fighting units, but their determination to defy the Nazis, with the likelihood they would die trying, takes courage — not the courage to care (as caring as they were), but the courage to resist.

We often ask why weren’t there more who defied the Nazi’s hell-bent determination to murder every Jew without exception. As I listen to the voices one at a time of those who committed to that ultimate act of defiance, I realize we are asking the wrong question. Even if there were only one person who had such courage, I find I have to ask the question, ‘How were there so many… and how might I be like them?’


Stephen Smith is executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

Hungarian airline opens low-cost Budapest-Tel Aviv line


The Hungarian airline Wizz Air started operating low-cost regular flights from Budapest to Tel Aviv.

The maiden flight took off on Dec. 6 from Budapest with 175 passengers, Wizz Air said in a statement. Fares are available from $70 and can be booked online.

The first flight featured a fashion show at 30,000 feet with six Russian models strutting in the aisles wearing fairy tale-themed clothes designed by Frau Blau, an Israeli fashion house.

“The idea was to have the first flight bring Israeli culture, via fashion, to Hungary,” said Rebecca Mandel of Bottom Line Consulting, the Tel Aviv-based PR agency that organized the show.

Noaz Bar, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, said he was confident the new service, which is starting with four flights a week, would increase the number of tourists visiting Israel.

Wizz Air said it plans to start operating a daily flight in June.

According to Chabad Budapest, thousands of Israeli tourists visit Hungary every year. The city has a community of approximately 1,000 Israeli expats and businessmen that divide their time between the two countries.

Israeli flag burned in front of Budapest synagogue


An Israeli flag was burned in front of a Budapest synagogue reportedly by members of Jobbik, an ultrarightist Hungarian political party.

Tuesday's incident took place at the Dohany Street Synagogue, in the downtown central part of the Hungarian capital. Jobbik members reportedly were taking part in the day's events recalling the Hungarian anti-communist revolution in 1956.

Israel's ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, appearing Tuesday on the liberal opposition’s Hungarian television program on the ATV channel, demanded that “Hungarian democratic forces should refuse this unacceptable anti-Israeli act and criticism.”

Jobbik leader Gabor Vona as part of the revolt's commemoration criticized any cooperation between Hungary and Israel, saying the “agreement between Hungary and Israel should be canceled.”

Hungarian radio station praises attack on Jewish leader


A Hungarian nationalist online radio station called the recent assault on a Jewish community leader in Budapest a “response to general Jewish terrorism.”

“Predictably and unfortunately, the good attackers were captured very quickly,” the news edition of Szent Korona Radio, or Holy Crown Radio, reported.

The report was about the arrest of two men, 20 and 21, last Friday on suspicion that they physically and verbally assaulted the 62-year-old president of the Jewish congregation of the Hungarian capital's South Pest district.

Founded in 2006, Szent Korona Radio broadcasts talk shows and music in Hungarian over the Internet.

The website of the Hungarian police said the victim, Andras Kerenyi, was attacked near Budapest’s Teglagyar Square because of his religion and that his injuries did not require medical treatment. The two men are being held as indictments against them are being drawn up, the report said.

Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, told the Hungarian news agency MTI that Kerenyi was kicked in his stomach as the assailants shouted obscenities at him and told him he was going to die.

The police report said that after the attack, Kerenyi followed the suspects and at the same time reported the incident to police. A police patrol arrested the men 32 minutes after the attack at a nearby house. The report named the suspects as Mark F. and Tibor P.

In June, Jozsef Schweitzer, a retired Hungarian chief rabbi, was accosted on a Budapest street by a man who told him he “hates all Jews.”

Hungary, Claims Conference exchange harsh words over Holocaust money


The Claims Conference accused Hungary’s government of “depriving” Holocaust survivors through “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

The allegations came after Budapest demanded on Monday that the Claims Conference, an organization representing world Jewry in compensation talks on Holocaust-era crimes,” return” $12.6 million to Hungary’s treasury.

An announcement published on the website of the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice cited “discriminatory” methods by the Claims Conference that had “failed to properly report” on expenditure. Hungary would give the Claims Conference no more funds until the issue is solved, the announcement said.

Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider told JTA that this was the first time in the organization’s 62 years of operation “that a country has reneged when it came time to pay. We hope that intervention at the highest level in Hungary will resolve this issue for Hungarian survivors who need help.”

According to the Hungarian ministry, the money Hungary is demanding is part of $21 million pledged by the government in 2007 for the following five years for Holocaust survivors in Hungary and abroad. A new settlement was to be signed this year.

The money was transferred initially from the treasury to the Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, or Mazsok—a committee of government officials and Jewish representatives. Mazsok transferred $12.6 million to the Claims Conference for distribution outside Hungary, the ministry said.

But the Claims Conference told JTA that the Hungarian government had failed to transfer $5.6 million of the $21 million pledged. In an email to JTA, the Claims Conference said it only spent approximately $8 million received from Hungary.

“As a result of such conduct, thousands of Holocaust survivors will, unfortunately, be deprived of the assistance they so desperately need and had reason to expect,” the Claims Conference added. It called Hungary’s allegations “disgraceful” and “deceitful tactics.”

In its statement, the Hungarian ministry said distribution of funds by the Claims Conference “was made on a far-from-equal footing, which represents discrimination to the detriment of Holocaust survivors living in Hungary.” Based on the report submitted by the Claims Conference to date, “it is impossible to identify the individuals eligible for compensation,” the ministry wrote on its website.

The Claims Conference, according to the email it sent JTA, gave Budapest a 400-page report containing the names of all recipients and how much they received.

“Every penny was transferred to a Hungarian survivor, not even one cent was spent on administration or any other expense,” the Claims Conference said.

The email also said that funding for Holocaust survivors stopped after 2010, when the Fidesz party came to power.

“We call upon Prime Minister Orban to intercede in order to help needy Hungarian survivors who happen to live outside of Hungary today and comply with international agreements,” it said.

Israeli soccer team under ‘severe threat’ in Hungary, coach says


The Israeli national soccer team was warned of a “severe threat” to their safety in Budapest where they played a friendly match against Hungary on Wednesday, Israel’s coach said.

After returning to Tel Aviv on Thursday, coach Eli Guttman said the Israeli delegation had been warned by security officials that they were at risk in Budapest.

“I don’t know how much was known about this in Israel, the players were aware, but there were very severe warnings of a possible attack,” Guttman told reporters at Ben Gurion airport.

No major security incidents were reported during the match at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in the Hungarian capital which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Guttman gave no give further details. Hungarian police said the Israeli team, which had their own security detail, had not been under threat but did not elaborate.

“There was no terror threat towards the Israeli soccer players,” police spokeswoman Bettina Kovacs said.

Guttman said that after the match, the team’s official bus left the stadium empty, as a decoy, and the players were taken to their hotel in another bus later.

“Our bus was sent out of the stadium after the match with a police escort and sirens sounding so that people would think it was us. We were asked to stay behind and we left later in a bus with the blinds drawn,” Guttman said.

Israelis traveling abroad are regularly told to lower their profile and be aware of potential threats to reduce risks to their safety.

Last month a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in a Bulgarian resort city on the Black Sea.

In 1972, 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and judges were killed after being taken hostage by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Olympics.

Additional reporting by Krisztina Than and Sandor Peto in Budapest, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Robert Woodward

Munich 11 remembered at Budapest exhibit opening


One minute of silence was observed in memory of the Munich 11 during the opening of an exhibit at the Hungarian Jewish Museum in Budapest.

The tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972 came spontaneously at the request of an audience member during the opening ceremony of the new exhibit.

The new exhibit, created by the Hungarian Jewish Museum in conjunction with the Hungarian Sports Museum, features the lives of Hungarian Jewish sportsmen, who once won Olympic gold medals for Hungary, but were then deported from the country and killed during the Holocaust.

The one minute of silence was held in the presence of the Israeli Ambassador to Budapest, David Admon, who was an invited guest to Monday’s opening, timed not by chance for the day after the London Olympic Games ended.

Wiesenthal Center’s most wanted Nazi located in Budapest by tabloid


A fugitive Nazi war criminal who helped send 15,700 Jews to their deaths was tracked down in Budapest by a British tabloid newspaper.

The Sun newspaper on July 15 reported that it had found Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary, 97, with the help of information supplied by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel. Csizsik-Csatary had been No. 1 on the center’s Most Wanted list of Nazi criminals.

He “played a key role in the deportation of over 15,000 Jews to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 and of hundreds of Jews to Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine, where almost all were murdered, in the summer of 1941,” said Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office.

Sun reporters Brian Flynn and Ryan Parry wrote that they found him living in a two-bedroom apartment in a “smart district” of the Hungarian capital. The Sun published photographs of Csizsik-Csatary at his apartment door and walking in the street. His whereabouts, it said, had been a mystery for 15 years.

Police question Budapest rabbi over misuse of information


A whistle-blowing Budapest rabbi was questioned by police for what has been described as the misuse of sensitive private information stemming from a personal conflict within the Jewish community.

Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti was interrogated June 22 at a local police station, fingerprinted and photographed. The investigation stems from a case last year in which Radnoti revealed that a high-level official in the Jewish community was not Jewish according to Jewish law, as his mother was Christian.

At the time, the man, who was identified publicly as E.O., was the president of a Budapest synagogue and also a senior legal adviser to the leadership of Mazsihisz, the main Jewish umbrella organization. As a result of Radnoti’s revelations, E.O. lost his position.

O.E. subsequently complained to police that Radnoti’s revelations had prevented him from practicing his religion and that the rabbi had misused his personal data. Radnoti said that as a religious authority, he was maintaining halachah, or Jewish law.

On Tuesday, Mazsihisz and Hungary’s chief rabbi issued statements pledging to support Radnoti, saying that the case was an internal Jewish religious affair and should not be dealt with by the police or civil court.

Budapest Holocaust memorial defaced


A Holocaust Memorial on the banks of the Danube in Budapest was defaced just days after unknown vandals hung pigs’ feet on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg.

Hungarian media on Friday published a photo of the monument with spray-painted stars of David and the phrases “This is not your country, dirty Jews” and “You are going to be shot there,” with an arrow pointing to the river.

Many Hungarian Jews were shot on the banks of the Danube by local Arrow Cross fascists during World War II.

The memorial, erected by the then-communist government in 1986, is a copy of a memorial statue at the Mauthausen camp in Austria. It honors “resistance fighters, deserters and persecuted ones who were murdered on the bank of the Danube in the winter of 1944-45.”

The vandalism apparently took place Thursday night, just days after the defilement of the statue of Raoul Wallenberg that is the centerpiece of a monument honoring the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Shoah.

Young families bringing new life to Budapest synagogues


Linda Ban is a rebbetzin, but with a mass of curly hair and chunky rings on the fingers of both hands, she hardly fits the stereotype of a Central European rabbi’s wife.

A mother of two in her mid-30s, Ban is married to Tamas Vero, the 38-year-old spiritual leader of Budapest’s Frankel Leo Street Synagogue, a neo-Gothic building hidden in a courtyard near the Danube.

The congregation may hold a key to the Jewish future in Hungary.

“My husband and I are building a Jewish community at our synagogue,” Ban says. “But my goal is that our members take Judaism home—into their homes.”

Frankel Leo is among a handful of Budapest synagogues that has seen an upsurge of membership and communal engagement in recent years thanks to active young rabbis and a family-friendly focus.

“A year-and-a-half ago, after I took over as rabbi, our synagogue was almost empty, with just eight or nine people coming on Friday nights,” said Rabbi Istvan Darvas, 38, of the Dozsa Gyorgy Street Synagogue. “Now we have 60 or more each Friday, and we are still growing.”

Another of these congregations, Bet Shalom, had such an increase in membership that it outgrew its premises.

The week before Passover, Bet Shalom, which in the past decade or so has jumped from about 20 members to approximately 250, celebrated the gala inauguration of a rebuilt synagogue complex that includes a new sanctuary that doubles the seating of the previous one to 169. 

The event received mainstream media coverage; speakers included the Israeli ambassador.

“It’s the first time in 80 years that a congregation has grown so much that it needed a bigger synagogue,” said Jozsef Horvath, 43, Bet Shalom’s president. “Our old synagogue was too small for the number of people, and there was no place for kiddush and no space for learning.”

With an estimated 80,000 Jews, Budapest has the largest Jewish population of any central European city. It is home to about 20 Jewish congregations, ranging from the dominant Neolog (moderate Conservative) stream to traditional Orthodox and Chabad, to American-style Reform, to informal minyanim such as Dor Hadash, an independent egalitarian congregation that is associated with the Masorti (Conservative) movement.

As in other post-communist countries, there has been a revival of Jewish life and identity since the Iron Curtain came down more than 20 years ago. But the rate of intermarriage remains high—according to surveys about 50 percent—and most of the city’s Jews have nothing to do with organized Jewish life.

Studies show that those who do affiliate often experience Jewishness outside the home and outside the synagogue through organizations that range from the city’s Jewish community center, to youth groups, to the Jewish summer camp at Szarvas in southern Hungary.

Many self-identifying young Jews reject established Judaism and gravitate toward an alternative Jewish youth scene that focuses on cafes and cultural events in the trendy downtown Jewish quarter.

Against this background, the Frankel Leo, Dozsa Gyorgy and Bet Shalom synagogues are, some say, changing the face of Jewish religious life in Hungary.

Led by local rabbis who came of age after the fall of communism, they are attempting to engage young people within the organized mainstream and promote the synagogue as the focus of community, learning and long-term Jewish continuity.

“Real and strong communities can grow around synagogues where families are engaged,” said Mircea Cernov, an educator who attends the Dozsa Gyorgy synagogue. “Probably the children raised in this environment will have an influence in future years.”

Horvath, a civil engineer whose wife is a convert to Judaism, agrees. “This is the future,” he said.   

He said he had grown up in an unaffiliated, nonreligious home. It wasn’t until he was about 20 that he learned his mother, a child survivor of the Holocaust, was Jewish. He drew closer to the Jewish world, and to Judaism, when he began to play basketball for the Maccabi sports club in his 20s. He eventually served as the chairman of Maccabi in Hungary for 12 years.

“It was when my first son was born that we decided to start keeping more Jewish rules at home, to light the candles,” Horvath said. “And then, two or three years ago we started coming to Bet Shalom as a family.”

Each of the growing congregations has a different orientation, but all three come under Mazsihisz, the official Jewish umbrella organization. Vero, Darvas and Zoltan Radnoti, the rabbi at Bet Shalom, were all trained at the Neolog Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest.

Radnoti now regards himself as Modern Orthodox, and the new Bet Shalom sanctuary includes a mechitzah, the ritual barrier separating men and women.

He and Darvas both reach out to intermarried families or other non-Jews who wish to convert.

Most of the congregants at Frankel Leo are young couples and families who joined Jewish youth organizations and went to the Szarvas Jewish summer camp as children and teens but had little else to do with organized Jewish life afterward. Now that they are married and have children, said Linda Ban, they are coming back.

“Our congregation is totally based on people we knew at Szarvas or other youth activities, but some of them we haven’t seen for 15 years,” she said. “When they become a family, they want to be Jewish again. But they don’t know how to bring Judaism home, how to have a Jewish home. And I find that sad.”

A rarity in Hungary, Ban and her husband both grew up in traditional Jewish homes. They use their own lives and upbringings as examples in their teaching of Jewish values, traditions and culture to the young families now joining their congregation. 

In particular, Ban has incorporated her own family history and experiences in a series of illustrated children’s books that explain and explore Jews, Jewishness and Judaism in simple yet meaningful terms geared toward everyone in any extended modern family.

“Countless parents have difficulty talking to children about Judaism because they are full of unanswered questions themselves,” she wrote in “What Does It Mean to Be Jewish,” one of her books that also was published in an English-language edition.

“I would like to create opportunities,” she wrote, “for all members of the family—grandparents, parents, step-parents and children, Jews and non-Jews, believers and non-believers alike—to talk to each other openly and honestly about Judaism, without taboos, expectations or prescribed answers.”

Opinion: Pesach dilemmas in Budapest


Budapest may be the only capital in Europe where a member of Parliament could raise the blood libel accusation against Jews and essentially get away with it.

The blood libel accuses Jews of murdering Christian children to use their blood to make matzah or carry out other rituals.

And in a speech before Parliament less than 24 hours before the start of Pesach, a lawmaker from the far-right, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Roma Jobbik Party essentially did just that.

MP Zsolt Barath cited a notorious blood libel case that took place exactly 130 years ago in the Hungarian village of Tizsaeszlar.

In April 1882, just a few days before Pesach, local Jews were accused of murdering a teenage Hungarian girl. The case touched off a wave of anti-Semitic violence and political agitation that lasted for years.

The Jews were eventually acquitted after a lengthy trial. But in his speech last week, Barath questioned the verdict, saying it had come due to “outside pressure” and that Jews were “severely implicated” in the case.

Barath’s speech and the lack of immediate response from top officials shocked and outraged Jews here.

It confirmed for many the widespread perception that  anti-Semitism in Hungary is becoming not just increasingly open, but increasingly tolerated and legitimized.

“Jobbik has already made too many such statements,” said Israeli ambassador Ilan Mor. “It’s time to state clearly that “enough is enough.”

Rabbi Ferenc Raj hammered this home the next night at a communal seder organized by Bet Orim, an American-style reform congregation he helped found. Raj, who left Hungary in 1972, is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley and divides his time between Budapest and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Zsolt Barath must resign,” he told the dozens of guests seated at long tables in the auditorium of the modern Balint House JCC in downtown Budapest.

“Hungary’s prime minister cannot remain silent,” he said. “You can’t just sweep it under the rug.”

The degree of anti-Semitism in Hungary has been a constant subject of discussion for years, but the debate sharpened since Jobbik won nearly 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections that gave an overwhelming mandate to a right-wing government led by the Fidesz Party.

A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released last month added fuel to the fire.

Based on a telephone survey in which callers asked 500 people in 10 countries four questions regarding anti-Semitic stereotypes, it concluded that a whopping 63 percent of Hungarians held anti-Semitic attitudes.

The survey prompted headlines in the Hungarian media, with some commentators citing it as proof of a huge rise in anti-Semitism.

But Mircea Cernov, who heads an organization called Haver that teaches schoolchildren about Jews, Roma and other minorities, called it “superficial” and “manipulative” and said it could have a negative impact on organizations like Haver that were trying to carry out serious social action and other educational work.

Sociologist Andras Kovacs, Hungary’s leading analyst of both Jewish communal development and anti-Semitic trends in Hungary, called into question its accuracy on several counts.

Kovacs has been methodically tracking anti-Semitism in Hungary for more than 15 years. He told me that according to his research, the proportion of anti-Semites in Hungary would be 20 to 25 percent.

That still might mean that Hungary is the most anti-Semitic country of the 10 surveyed by the ADL, but it is still much lower than what was shown in the ADL survey.

Kovacs faulted the ADL survey for employing a faulty methodology that favored responses from hard-core anti-Semites.

“People who were undecided or uninterested or who simply didn’t want to reply to such questions from unknown cold-callers on the phone would not have answered,” he said.

In addition, he said, the survey used questions about stereotypes that could lead to ambiguous interpretations.

“We don’t know how much the fact that someone holds a stereotype can be used to measure his or her actual hatred of Jews,” he said.

Naturally anti-Semitism was a theme that came up in conversations I had with my Jewish friends in Budapest before and during Pesach.

It was clear that most were concerned, some of them very concerned, but at the same time, they were not letting fear rule their lives.

“Many people are afraid, but in their everyday normal life they are not in danger,” Andras Heisler, a former president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, the Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, told me.

They are certainly not cowering behind barred doors.

At Pesach, I made a “seder crawl” that took me to the Bet Orim seder and two others on the first night and one additional seder on the second.

I had been invited to all of them, and seder hopping was how I dealt with the dilemma of having to make a choice about which to attend.

Each was a big communal affair for dozens of people, organized by one of Budapest’s plethora of different Jewish groups and congregations. They all took place in and around the city’s downtown old Jewish quarter, in venues ranging from a modern JCC auditorium to the formal dining room of a popular restaurant to a funky basement youth cafe.

“There are a lot of positive things going on in Budapest,” Cernov told me. “Jewish community life is not about anti-Semitism.”


Ruth Ellen Gruber writes frequently about Jewish life and heritage in Europe. Her books include “National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe” and “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” She also blogs on Jewish heritage and travel at jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com.