Péter Rudolf and Sándor Terhes in “1945.” Photo courtesy of Menemsha Films

‘1945’ Examines Postwar Angst in Hungary

An ancient train, belching black smoke, pulls into a station near an unnamed Hungarian village and out step two Orthodox Jews. Not losing a moment, the stationmaster sounds the alarm: “The Yids are coming!”

The year — and the title of the movie — is “1945,” a time when the inhabitants of the village and the rest of their countrymen have arrived at a junction in history and are unsure which path to follow.

While Hungary’s Holocaust-themed movie “Son of Saul” won the Academy Award for foreign-language film two years ago, exhibiting the full horror of the Shoah and its concentration camps, the postwar “1945” probes the potential for greed and selfishness in every human being.

“We are the third postwar generation,” director Ferenc Torok said in a phone interview from Budapest. “And a lot of people are asking what their parents and grandparents did during the world war.”

The film takes place in the middle of summer as the villagers till their fields, smoke and drink endlessly, and prepare for the wedding of the son of a domineering town clerk to a pretty peasant girl. Nazi Germany had surrendered two months earlier, in May, and while some Soviet troops have arrived, the Communist puppet government has not yet assumed power.

The two arriving Jews — the older clad in a black coat and hat and his adult son wearing a workman’s cap and clothing — unload two large trunks and hire a horse-drawn cart and its driver to carry their load for the hourlong trip to the village, while father and son follow behind on foot.

As the odd procession wends its way through the countryside, the stationmaster’s warning stokes the villagers’ fears that the survivors among their former Jewish neighbors now will demand the return of the houses, businesses and furniture they left behind when they were deported to concentration camps. That means the town clerk would no longer own the drug store and his wife could no longer glory in the beautiful rugs, dishes and silver menorah of the previous owner.

“1945” probes the potential for greed and selfishness in every human being.

In the ensuing panic, some try to hide their ill-gotten gains, while others put their hopes in papers, signed by the pro-Nazi wartime government, “officially” transferring the abandoned homes and goods to the gentile neighbors.

When horse, cart and the “Yids” arrive at the village, women peek through shutters, the pharmacist tries to hide his tubes and bottles. Rumors spread that the trunks contain perfumes and beauty aids to sell to the village women.

Finally, the cart and two men arrive at the gates of the abandoned Jewish cemetery. The younger Jew, with a concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm, takes a key out of his pocket and opens the rusty gate, as a posse of hostile villagers gathers nearby. Inside the cemetery, father and son open the trunks and bury the unexpected contents. In the final scene, the two strangers reboard the train, their mission accomplished.

The result is a masterfully directed, acted and photographed movie, which again disproves predictions that the time of the Holocaust-themed movie has expired, even as the last eyewitnesses are dying.

Torok, who is not Jewish, said that part of the continued interest in a place like Hungary, whose Jewish population was decimated during the war, has to do with the fact that for many years while the nation was a Communist satellite, the subject of the Holocaust — and particularly the participation of many Hungarians in it — was taboo. The same applied to the collaboration of many Hungarians with Hitler’s regime, as German and Hungarian troops fought together in the invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

The film started as a short story by Hungarian Jewish writer Gabor T. Szanto, titled “Homecoming,” which won the Yad Vashem Avner Shalev Prize for best artistic representation of a Holocaust-related topic. Torok, relying on Szanto’s intimate knowledge of Jewish life and rituals, asked him also to write the screenplay.

In a separate phone interview, Szanto, editor of the Hungarian-Jewish magazine “Szombat” (Sabbath), made a number of observations on Hungarian Jewry, past but mostly present.

“The Holocaust is still the cornerstone of our thinking, not only for Hungary’s 80,000 Jews (compared with 450,000 before World War II) but to every other Nazi-occupied nation,” he said. “This film is really Europe’s story.”

In general, Hungarian Jews, like their American counterparts, tend to be liberals and left-leaning and they are concerned by their country’s political shift to the right, Szanto said. Among the worrisome signs is the growing strength of the nationalistic Jobbik party.

Another sign is the recent public poster campaign by the Hungarian government, depicting George Soros, a Hungarian-American and Jewish billionaire and philanthropist, as the mastermind of a massive of influx of illegal immigrants from the Middle East into Hungary.

“As a writer, I am a bit of an outsider and try to look at Hungary and its Jewish community realistically,” Szanto said. “We have many problems, but I don’t think they can be solved by ideologies. We can believe in ideals, but our solutions must be realistic. You can’t change human nature.”

“1945” begins screening on Nov. 25 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center in Encino, as well as Westpark 8 in Irvine. On Dec. 8, the film will open at the Laemmle’s Claremont 5 in Claremont.

Review: ‘1945’

The Hungarian Jewish experience during WWII was unique among European countries. Until 1944, Hungarian Jews lived in relative safety despite anti-Jewish laws that existed since 1920 and pogroms in which the military participated (e.g. the 1942 Novi-Sad pogrom where 1000 Jews were murdered).

But then, in March 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary, Adolf Eichmann implemented the “final solution” in that country and was surprised by the collaboration and great help received from the Hungarian authorities. Thus, the deportation and murder of Hungarian Jews was swift and unparalleled among any other European country – in a few months more than 600,000 Jews were identified and sent to the murder camps.

Only now, more than 70 years after, “Yad Vashem” has succeeded to identify the names of 80% of those who perished but the issue of their property and belongings has hardly been addressed.

For that reason, the new Hungarian film “1945”, currently playing in NYC theaters and soon opening across North America, is quite relevant to today. But not only because of that…

On one clear day, after the war ended, two Orthodox Jews appear in a small village in Hungary, hiring two locals to carry two trunks labeled “perfumes” for them. All they do is walk slowly, across the village, after the wagon carrying their trunks, but their appearance evokes strong feelings of guilt and remorse that slowly make the village community deteriorate.

It seems most of the villagers collaborated in extraditing the Jews that lived there up to a year before and gladly took over their property, from kitchenware to their houses.

Shot in beautiful black and white, director Ferenc Torok (who is not Jewish) interprets Gabor Szanto’s (who is Jewish) short story “Homecoming”, with vast strokes of sensitivity and a final mesmerizing emotional effect.

“1945” is a real masterpiece, heightened by the end of the film when we, the audience and the villagers, understand the real mission of these two Orthodox Jews. It’s a rare moment where one of Judaism’s most important contributions to the world, that of guilt and remorse over moral wrong doings and the sanctity of life, are presented in such a heart wrenching way on film.

What is most astonishing is that the two Jews have not travelled to this village to claim their stolen property, but the emotional effect of their silence provokes this issue out from the conscience of the villagers.

The issue of the stolen property of the Jews is still relevant today. Just recently the Polish government issued a new law which states compensation funds will be awarded only to people that are Polish citizens in the present, thus withholding compensation to the Jews and their descendants whose property was absconded in Poland during these years.

Although Germany started compensating Jewish victims in the 1950’s, most Eastern European governments are still dragging their feet on this issue.

The film “1945” is an astonishing new achievement which I highly recommend every human being to see, regardless of his/her religion.

Abraham Foxman is the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League. 

Union Station in Los Angeles. Photo from Wikipedia

A musical mix from Hungary: Cimbalom at Union Station

Union Station has long been a repository of emotional memory and civic history. 

Many generations of displaced Easterners got off the train there to begin their new lives.  Multitudes of military personnel moved through America’s last great urban train station, which opened in 1939. And any movie buff can look around that stately tiled annex and summon a flood of movie and TV memories.

On Sept. 22, a free drive-time performance by The Cory Beers Cimbalom Band in the historic ticketing hall will give Union Station commuters a taste of Old World soul. It’s part of the Metro Art Presents, a music-weighted series that brings poetry, movies and other events to the city’s train stops.

It’s likely that many people have never seen or heard a cimbalom, Hungarian for a mallet instrument, introduced in the 1870s, that looks like a cross between a large dulcimer and the guts of a piano.  With warm, soothing tones that conjure Eastern European cafés, the Hungarian Gypsy instrument found its way into classical music: Stravinsky and Lizst wrote it into their “Renard” and “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 91,” respectively.

Cimbalom, formed in 2014, plays traditional music from various Eastern European regions as an outgrowth of Romanian folk music, crossed with jazz and klezmer. Though the band uses violin and accordion, Beers will be joined by trumpeter Charles De Castro, guitarist Alex Novice and bassist Dave Tranchina.   

“What we do jibes pretty well with the music of that region,” Beers said.

Beers, 33, grew up in Norfolk, Mass., near Boston.  A lifelong drummer, he was playing tympani in junior high school. After his family moved to Santa Barbara before he was out of high school, he found his way to Cal Arts for its unparalleled music resources, celebrated pedagogy and percussion studies.

 “Experimentation and exploration are the main things there,” he said. “I learned a lot of things there you can’t learn elsewhere.”     

Boobears, a percussion group that uses dryer drums and plates as part of its instrumentation, was formed at Cal Arts and still convenes. Beers studied in Moldova for two years, beginning in 2012. 

“I went to the Conservatory of Music in Kishinev,” he said.  “I lived there just to learn the cimbalom.”

The music of Romania holds special fascination for Beers. “It’s difficult to point to what drew me,” he said, “except that it has to do with the rhythms and the scales and the harmonies and how they all fit together.  You can hear far-out rhythms and harmonies elsewhere, of course, but you won’t hear the soul and the melancholy.”

Heidi Zeller of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is behind the Union Station booking. 

“We started this four years ago,” she said, “and saw it as a chance to reflect L.A.’s wide cultural array of different media, genres and different ethnic communities. We see the free series as a chance to experiment by bringing different bands, soloists and unusual instruments to the public.”

With a background in arts presentation, Zeller formerly programmed for the Craft and Folk-Art Museum and contributed to shaping the Freeways series.  She’s been with the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for six years.  “I’ve always been interested in exposing people to art in public places,” she said. “We tried a video program on the busses. It didn’t go over so well because people spend so much time looking at their hand-held devices. I saw the Metro program, in particular, as a chance to leverage the relationships we had with all of the incredible talents living here.”        

One of Zeller’s presentations was Sk Kakraba from Ghana.  He plays gyil, a xylophone with its own resonating gourds.  “Sometimes the performers we have are playing beautiful, one-of-a-kind objects d’art,” she said. “He builds his own instruments, and I noticed these white spots on the gourds.  I thought they were paint but they were actually spider webs; apparently they help create the sound.”   

“We’re attempting to integrate art into the transit experience,” Zeller said. “Beautiful music at the end of you day is a nice respite from the working day.  We like to think we send people home with something special.”

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.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Hungarian President Janos Ader in Budapest on July 18. Photo by Haim Zach/Israeli Government Press Office

Anti-Semitism, Hungary and Netanyahu: What you need to know

To critics of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Hungary this week was a disgrace and an abandonment of local Jews in their fight against a government that is widely seen as one of Europe’s worst promoters of anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism.

Yet other Hungarian Jewish leaders and observers of Israel-Hungary relations viewed the visit as both vital to his country’s own interests and effective in assisting Hungarian Jews to promote theirs.

Such were the dynamics when Netanyahu held a joint news conference Tuesday with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, during which Netanyahu devoted exactly 35 words to what he called “the concerns” of the Jewish community in Hungary. He did not specify those concerns in the statement, which kicked off the three-day visit in Hungary — the first by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of communism.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Orbán the concerns that I heard raised from the Jewish community,” Netanyahu said. “He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly. I appreciate that. These are important words.”

It was a vague and mild reference to a growing list of grievances fueling an escalating row between a significant part of Hungarian Jewry and their government. This includes alleged anti-Semitic incitement by the government in the form of attacks on the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros; the glorification of Nazi collaborators; crackdowns on Jewish opposition groups, and state-sponsored xenophobia against other minorities.

Zehava Gal-On, the leader of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, wrote on Facebook ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that in view of the track record of Orban’s government, Netanyahu “has become a collaborator of anti-Semites.” Andras Heisler, president of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation of Hungary, said ahead of the visit that his community felt “left in the lurch” by Israel because of its perceived indifference to some of the issues at play.

Also prior to the visit, Heisler told JTA that he hoped Netanyahu “condemns strongly any kind of hate campaign or hate speech.”

Netanyahu’s photo op with Orban on Tuesday was not the rebuke that Mazsihisz had been seeking, the chairman of its rabbinical council, Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, told JTA the following day.

“Bibi pushed away Hungarian Jews in favor of good relations with Orban, who can now dismiss accusations of anti-Semitism by citing Netanyahu’s support,” Radnoti said, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.

But to Rabbi Slomo Koves, leader of the Chabad-affiliated Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, or EMIH, the Netanyahu visit was instrumental in obtaining Orban’s first unequivocal rejection of Hungary’s fascist past, when Orban said the country had committed a “sin” in not protecting its Jewish citizens during World War II.

And the visit was crucial, Koves added, for strengthening Jerusalem’s alliance with one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the European Union and the only member state with a large Jewish population that is not under threat from anti-Semitic violence.

Some prominent members of Mazsihisz share his view.

Peter Feldmajer, its previous president and now a representative in the umbrella group for the Central District, said government-led campaigns to rehabilitate collaborators with the Nazis or demonize liberal Jews like Soros are “ugly” and they “hurt the Jewish community of Hungary.” He also agreed that the anti-Soros campaign had anti-Semitic characteristics.

“But the community is threatened not by these issues,” Feldmajer said, “but by Islamic violence and bans on ritual slaughter, both of which Orban opposes. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with Netanyahu being received here.”

Koves called Orban’s remarks, delivered at a joint news conference with Netanyahu, the “most outspoken rejection of Hungary’s fascist past and admission of guilt” ever.

The government of Hungary, Orban said, “committed a sin when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary.” Hungarians, he added, decided “instead of protecting the Jewish community to collaborate with the Nazis.”

Radnoti welcomed Orban’s speech but said it omitted a direct reference to the active murder of tens of thousands of Jews by Hungarian troops.

“Orban spoke of collaboration. But Hungarians did more than help the Germans kill Jews: They killed them themselves, and in thousands,” the rabbi  said.

Still, coming from a leader whose party openly glorifies late politicians with an anti-Semitic legacy, the Orban speech was precedent setting, according to Efraim Zuroff, a hunter of Nazis and head of the Eastern Europe operations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“It was very important,” Zuroff said of the prime minister’s words about the Holocaust. “I never heard this from Hungary.”

Indeed, two years ago, Orban was accused of whitewashing Hungary’s Holocaust-era record when he ignored Jewish protests about a monument built in Budapest about the Nazi occupation that featured an innocent angel being attacked by a vicious eagle. Only last month, Orban in a speech called the Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II leader, an “exceptional statesman.”

Orban’s statement made it counterproductive for Netanyahu to revisit the issue, Koves argued.

“I’m no diplomat, but I think it’s common sense that such a statement is more powerful coming from Mr. Orban than from Mr. Netanyahu,” Koves said while crediting Israeli diplomacy, at least in part, for obtaining the statement.

The statement was a step further than any gesture Orban had made previously regarding Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust. He also said the Hungarian government today has a “zero tolerance” attitude to anti-Semitism.

But the “problem is,” Zuroff said, “it doesn’t represent the reality on the ground.”

He was referring to a host of government initiatives celebrating fascists and obstructing efforts to bringing Nazi-era criminals to justice, as well as the recently terminated billboard campaign against Soros, a left-leaning American billionaire who funds opposition groups and organizations assisting Muslim immigrants both in Hungary and Israel.

Mazsihisz claimed the billboards, which featured pictures of a laughing Soros and a slogan saying “don’t let him have the last laugh,” encouraged anti-Semitism. Indeed, some of the posters were defaced with anti-Semitic slogans.

 “Soros’ name has a different meaning in Hungary [than] in Israel,” Heisler, the Mazsihisz president, told JTA earlier this week. “In Hungary, Soros is the symbol of the Jewish capitalist. The campaign against Soros in Hungary incited anti-Semitic reactions.”

The Chabad-affiliated EMIH, however, disputes the assertion, viewing the campaign as criticism only of Soros’ politics and actions. Organizations belonging to both EMIH and Mazsihisz receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funding.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, made a statement earlier this month that seconded the Mazsihisz view. But the following day, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign minister added a “clarification” to the Amrani statement saying that its “sole purpose” was to reflect that Israel rejects “any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred.”

The clarification added that in no way was the statement “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Regardless of the Israeli government’s open animosity toward Soros, Israel has good reasons to preserve its friendship with Hungary.

Netanyahu alluded to this in his statement, and later in a hot-mic incident in Budapest, where his private summit talk with Orban and three other leaders of EU member states in Central Europe was accidentally aired to journalists.

In his public address, Netanyahu thanked Orban for “standing up for Israel in international forums. You’ve done that time and again” – an apparent reference to Hungary’s public refusal to comply with European Union regulations requiring separate labeling for products from West Bank settlements and several similar cases.

Later, meeting with Orban and leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Netanyahu was heard calling the European Union “crazy” for insisting that closer trade ties with Israel will only come after the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He asked the leaders to help change that policy.

Insisting Israel downgrade its relations with Hungary over perceived anti-Semitism is “unrealistic,” according to Koves, who said doing so ignores Israel’s need for allies like Hungary. But it is also unjustified, he added, in light of the relatively positive situation of Hungarian Jewry.

According to TEV, a watchdog group on anti-Semitic incidents set up jointly by Mazsihisz and EMIH in 2013, there is no evidence suggesting the anti-Soros campaign is increasing anti-Semitic incidents. In its annual report for 2016, the group documented a total of 48 anti-Semitic hate crimes — a 16 percent decrease from the previous year.

The data, compiled according to international standards and without direct government funding, suggest that Hungary, which is home to 100,000 Jews, has the lowest per capita prevalence of anti-Semitic crimes of any EU state with a sizable Jewish population. This includes Britain (1,309 incidents in 2016), France (335) and Germany (461).

Hungary recently saw the opening of a major kosher slaughterhouse in its south amid vows by Orban to protect religious freedoms in his country. It came in stark contrast with steps to limit practices like kosher slaughter in Western Europe “that make life miserable for local Jews,” Koves said.

What these data and trends mean, Koves added, is that “Jewish communities are thriving and safer in Hungary, which is a reliable friend of Israel, than in many countries in Western Europe that do their best to isolate both their Jews and Israel. And the Israeli prime minister is supposed to boycott Hungary or destroy relations with it?”

Besides, Israel has leveraged its diplomacy in memory-related issues in Hungary, at times behind the scenes and at other times publicly, Koves said. He cited the 2012 withdrawal of an invitation to the Israeli Knesset extended to the Hungarian parliament’s speaker, Laszlo Kover, over his attendance at a commemoration of the anti-Semitic author Jozsef Nyiro.

Still, Zuroff said Israel can do more to counter Holocaust distortion and revisionism in Eastern and Central Europe while pursuing its strategic goals.

“Israel has abandoned ship, giving countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Ukraine a green light to continue with the vilest forms of Holocaust revisionism that reflect local anti-Semitism,” he said.

Israel needs to forge its foreign relations according to its own strategic road map, Zuroff said, but Jerusalem can still “leverage the fact that Israel has become a powerful economic player, a hub of innovation, to achieve” additional goals.

“There’s a way to do this without harming partnerships,” he said. “But not without political will.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, at a joint news conference at the parliament in Budapest on July 18. Photo by Karoly Arvai/AFP/Getty Images

Hungarian prime minister acknowledges his country’s ‘sin’ of abandoning its Jews to the Nazis

Hungary committed a “sin” in not protecting its Jewish citizens during World War II and collaborating with the Nazis, the country’s prime minister said while vowing it would never happen again.

Viktor Orban, speaking at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following their meeting Tuesday, also said that Hungary has a “zero tolerance” policy toward anti-Semitism and he would work to put a stop to it in Europe.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu told reporters he discussed with Orban concerns raised by the Jewish community about anti-Semitism and security in the aftermath of a government billboard campaign against the Jewish-American billionaire George Soros over his support for welcoming immigrants. Jewish leaders said the campaign incited anti-Semitic expression.

“He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly,” said Netanyahu, whose visit to Hungary came just after the campaign ended. “I appreciate that. These are important words.”

Orban told reporters, speaking about the World War II era, “We are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary.

“I want to make it clear that it is our belief that every single Hungarian government has the obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins. During World War II, this was something, a requirement that Hungary did not live up to, both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin, because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis.

“I made it very clear to the prime minister that this is something that can never, ever happen again, that the Hungarian government will in the future protect all its citizens.”

Orban asserted in a speech last month that Hungarian Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler, was one of “a few outstanding statesmen,” thanks to whom “history did not bury us beneath itself after all.” Horthy passed anti-Semitic laws and oversaw the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Referencing the immigration debate, Orban said he told Netanyahu, “On the part of the Hungarian government, I made it very clear that we respect and acknowledge the right of Israel to self-defense, and this is something we also believe of ourselves, that we would like our self-defense to be acknowledged by others.

“I have made it clear that we are in a serious, substantial debate with the European Union because we do not want to have a mixed population. We do not want to change the ethnic mix in this country by any artificial outside pressure. We would just like to remain the way we are, even if I have to admit that we are not perfect.”

Netanyahu, making the first visit to Hungary by a sitting Israeli prime minister, thanked Orban for “standing up for Israel in international forums.”

“You’ve done that time and again. We appreciate this stance,” he said, “not only because it’s standing with Israel, but it’s also standing with the truth.”

Israeli and Hungarian CEOs are set to meet Wednesday to discuss new economic and business ventures. The countries leaders also said they would discuss deepening cultural ties.

A poster with U.S. billionaire George Soros in Szekesfehervar, Hungary on July 6. Photo by Attila Kisbenedek/ AFP/Getty Images

Hungarian government denies ending anti-Soros campaign early

Hungary’s government denied a report that it prematurely ended its media campaign against billionaire George Soros amid pressure by leaders of Hungarian Jewry and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The report appeared Wednesday on the news website of the ATV television station, which is highly critical of the policies of Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban.

ATV reported that posters attacking Soros would be removed ahead of next week’s visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Budapest. The posters mock Soros, a left-leaning Jewish philanthropist, for his support of efforts to help immigrants from the Middle East resettle in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.

“As part of the preparations, it was decided it was better if Netanyahu does not see any posters that violate the sensitivity of the Hungarian Jewish community,” the report said.

But a government spokesman on Wednesday told JTA that the six-week campaign, which began in May, is ending as scheduled, not because of  Netanyahu’s visit or any other reason.

The campaign was “a success because it broke participation records and provided a very clear result: The Hungarians will not allow decisions that affect them to be made without them,” the spokesman wrote in an email. “We expect drawn out disputes on the issue.”

Mazsihisz, an umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, has urged the government to stop its campaign against Soros, which featured posters showing a laughing Soros and the tag line reading, “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.” Citing Soros’ Jewish ethnicity, Mazsihisz warned that the campaign risks encouraging anti-Semitism.

Not all Jewish groups agreed. EMIH, an influential Jewish group affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, criticized Mazsihisz for “injecting themselves into the debate about Soros.”

“They are in a sense appropriating his politics and associating them with the Jewish community,” EMIH’s leader, Rabbi Slomo Koves, told JTA.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, published a statement last week that repeated the Mazsihisz criticism of the campaign, but Israel’s Foreign Ministry subsequently published what its spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, called a “clarification.”

It said that Amrani’s statement was meant only to reflect Israel’s rejection of anti-Semitism and support for Jewish communities in “any country.” The Israeli government is often at odds with Soros, who funds Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that are often critical of Israeli policy. According to the Foreign Minsitry, Amrani’s statement was not “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Despite the government’s denial of  the ATV report, a Mazsihisz official credited Jewish objections in a Facebook post. Rabbi Zoltán Radnóti, the chairman of the rabbinical council of Mazsihisz, attributed the termination of the campaign to “the clear voice of the Hungarian Jewish community as well as many decent Hungarian citizens and others worldwide” who “made this happen.”

Hungary honors NY klezmer luminary Frank London

Hungary’s government awarded a state honor to Frank London, a prominent American-Jewish musician and a founder of The Klezmatics klezmer band.

London, a composer and trumpeter whose band in 2007 won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music, received the Order of Merit award last week at a reception from Reka Szemerkenyi, the Hungarian ambassador to Washington, the news agency MTI reported. His decoration is of the Knight of Cross, the lowest of six civilian classes making up the order.

A regular guest at Hungarian music festivals since the 1980s, London who is intimately familiar with Hungary’s music scene. The musician, who is in his late 50s, won the honor partly for his leading role in the Glass House Project, involving five American and three Hungarian musicians, which was launched as part of the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year in 2014.

“I was greatly inspired by Hungarian music and very impressed by the rich cultural life of Budapest, the unique musical traditions of rural Hungary and generally the complexity of Hungarian music,” London was quoted by MTI as saying.

In recent years, Hungary has come under international criticism, including by U.S. politicians, over issues connected to its commemoration of the Holocaust and efforts seen as minimizing Hungarian complicity during the Holocaust.

Israel’s justice minister: 70 percent of harmful content being removed from social media

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in Budapest that Facebook, Twitter and Google are removing some 70 percent of harmful content from social media in Israel.

“A joining of forces by justice ministers from all over the world against incitement and our joint work vis-a-vis the internet companies will lead to change,” Shaked said Monday at the opening of a conference in Hungary on combating incitement and anti-Semitism on the internet.

Shaked and Hungarian Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi opened the conference.

Shaked, who is leading a five-member Israeli delegation to Budapest, said in her opening remarks that “it is important to respect freedom of speech, but it is also important that, contrary to the American absolutist view, hate speech must be put under control and punished.”

Another member of the Israeli delegation, Haim Wismonsky of the Israeli Prosecutor’s office, spoke about measures Israel is taking to curb hate speech.

Nimrod Kozlovski, an Israeli specialist on hate speech on the internet, criticized legal systems in general, saying that “laws against hate speech are very limited” and the legal system in this respect is not effective enough.

“Technology is the best tool against hate crimes, and technology can help not just the terrorist, but also against terror,” Kozlovski said at the conference.


Hungarian police hold two in death of Israeli tourist

Hungarian police have detained two people in connection with the death of an Israeli citizen, who went missing in the country several days earlier.

Ofir Gross, 40, who traveled to Hungary for vacation from his studies in biomedical engineering in Germany, was found dead on Saturday evening. Conflicting news reports say his body was found by police in a forest or in a countryside apartment.

Gross was last seen on Thursday at a local countryside restaurant, in the small mideastern Hungarian town of Tiszakecske, a spa area famous for its hot springs, located  about 120 miles from Budapest, after which he reportedly contacted his family in Israel on his mobile phone, Hungary’s Klubradio reported. He reportedly was headed to the eastern city of Debrecen, Hungary’s second-largest city.

One of the suspects detained in the case, age 21, is from a nearby village and the second suspect, 19, is from the surrounding area.

Gross’ family arrived in Budapest on Sunday to identify the body.

Police have not issued any official comments on the alleged murder.

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.”

Iran proposes nuclear power cooperation with Hungary

Iran has proposed a project with Hungary to design and develop a small nuclear reactor that could be sold across Asia and Africa and also built in the Islamic Republic, Tehran's top nuclear official said on Thursday.

“We intend to fully utilise all commercial and technical opportunities, including the pursuit of peaceful nuclear activities, emanating from this deal,” Ali Akbar Salehi told a conference in Budapest.

He was referring to a landmark deal Iran reached with world powers last year under which it curbed its disputed nuclear activity, prompting the removal of sanctions imposed on Tehran and freeing it to reconnect with the global economy.

Salehi said he had in mind a joint pilot project with Hungary to design a 25-megawatt reactor and from that to develop a reactor of up to 100 megawatts, a size he said would be marketable across Asia and Africa.

Hungarian town votes down contested statue of anti-Jewish politician

Following an outcry, a municipality in central Hungary cancelled its plan to erect a statue commemorating a statesman who drafted anti-Semitic laws during the Holocaust.

The city council of Szekesfehervar voted down on Friday the plan to erect with public funding a statue in memory of Balint Homan, the Clubradio station reported.

Homan served as minister of education and religion in the 1940s and was partly responsible for drafting legislation in 1938 and 1939 to restrict the rights of Jews in Hungary and for the deportation in 1944 of 420,000 Jews to Auschwitz.

The plan to erect a statue in his honor provoked protests by local and international Jewish groups, including the World Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.

The private fund that initiated the statue’s erection this week sent a letter to the municipality and to the mayor, informing them that they are withdrawing the Homan statue project. The foundation also repaid authorities the $55,000 paid by them for the project.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also expressed his opposition to the the erection of a statue honoring Homan.

Hungary will not label West Bank products, its foreign minister says

Hungary will not label separately products made in the West Bank or the Golan Heights, its foreign minister said.

Peter Szijjarto, who is also Hungary’s trade minister, said on an overnight visit to Israel that the European Union’s guidelines for labeling goods that originate in Jewish settlements are “irrational” and do not contribute to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Szijjarto announced his country’s opposition to the labeling guidelines on Monday morning at the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, according to reports. Also attending the council meeting was Lars Faaborg Andersen, the head of the EU delegation in Israel.

Szijjarto also called the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night “a strong wake-up call for European politicians.”

Referencing the current refugee crisis, which he said should be called a “mass immigration,” Szijjarto said, “We must make serious decisions to protect our people because we are currently defenseless. We must get back the ability to control our borders. We should not be speaking about how to manage migration, but how to help these people to stay at home.”

He called on the European Union to strengthen its cooperation with Israel in fighting terrorism, citing Israel’s experience, knowledge and technology, according to The Jerusalem Post.

From a Romanian village to Jewish Los Angeles

The journey to Judaism was a long one for Kinga Dobos. She grew up in a poor village in Romania and struggled to fit in as a teenager in Hungary. She worked for years as an au pair in Great Britain and the United States, and it was the Jewish families that took her into their homes and welcomed her into their communities that persuaded her to entwine her destiny with theirs.

The slender 39-year-old redhead speaks with a slight British accent, which she picked up while studying English in London. She studied Jewish history at Santa Monica College and in Rabbi Neal Weinberg’s “Judaism by Choice” program, and converted in 2011 at American Jewish University. 

“I just felt culturally Jewish, and I wanted to be legitimate,” she said. “Nearly everybody I worked for in Los Angeles was Jewish, or one parent was Jewish. I was part of their lives, and I became fond of their culture. The emphasis on education. The close-knit family. No matter what your economic status is, you have an obligation to help others, because there’s always someone who is worse off than you are. And these were not everyday observations that I grew up with.”

She lives in Playa Del Rey, works as a video editor, and is active in Sinai Temple’s Atid young professionals group. She’s also writing a book of short stories based on her life. On Shavuot, she’ll have a bat mitzvah at Sinai Temple. 

Dobos was born in Transylvania, a beautiful and historic region of Romania that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I. Her family is Hungarian, and her Romanian classmates teased her about her accent. Despite the economic hardships during the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, she has fond memories of childhood in the industrial city of Brasov.

“It’s built around a mountain. We have very nice ski resorts there. My childhood was [spent] outdoors a lot. We were doing sports in the winter and going hiking and camping in the summer,” she said.

Her parents held odd jobs through the 1980s; her mother was a salesperson and a cleaner, her father was a house painter and held a government job overseeing heating for the city, even though the city had no heat.

“I remember, he was playing a lot of chess with his colleague. It was kind of a phony communist job. The one good thing about that job is, we went to his job once a week — my mom, my brother and I — and could shower there, because otherwise we had no warm water,” she said. “Our electricity was sporadic, we had it for a few hours at night, but we didn’t know when we would have it and for how long.”

Dobos’ relatives were all Christian, and she enjoyed attending church, where she could listen to Bible stories and speak freely with her Hungarian friends.

In 1989, in the months leading up to the fall of the communist regime, her parents escaped Romania and went to Budapest, Hungary. She and her brother stayed behind with their grandparents. The family reunited eight months later, after the revolution and Ceausescu’s execution. Dobos, then 14, boarded a train to Budapest carrying a duffel bag of clothes, a sewing machine and the dream of a better life.

“I was so idealistic and so naive,” she said. “In Romania, we always had to fight for necessities, for food and water and electricity. I thought once we moved to Hungary all of our problems were going to be solved.”

But life in Hungary wasn’t so easy. People viewed Transylvanians as less intelligent, and Dobos was again teased for her manner of speech.

“It’s as if I had a Southern accent and moved to California,” she said. “My classmates would mock my dialect. Every time I tried to talk, someone would repeat what I said, and it hurt my feelings.”

With her parents each working two jobs, and a guidance counselor who she says discriminated against her, she fell through the cracks at school. Despite her straight A’s, she was placed in a trade program rather than an academic one. She hated her classes, but graduated from secretarial school while working at a warehouse with her brother. She also volunteered at a Hungarian TV station, A3, where she took call-in requests for a music video show. After a few months, the station went bankrupt and she moved to England to be au pair.

She first worked for a family in Essex, but it wasn’t a good fit. Then she moved in with a Jewish family in London and lived there for a year. They had three daughters, and the father’s parents were Holocaust survivors. They kept a kosher home and asked her to keep kosher, even when she was outside the house. It was her first time learning about Judaism, she said.

“When I grew up and someone would say ‘Jew,’ people would usually whisper that word. So when I was very little, I thought maybe Jew was a dirty word,” she said.

The mother of the family tutored Dobos in English, and, after a year, she spoke fluently. She signed up with a Hungarian nanny agency and moved to Los Angeles to be close to the film industry. Her first job was in Huntington Beach, working for a divorced man with two young children, but after a few weeks she quit.

She answered a classified ad in the Los Angeles Times and found work with Dena Kleeman, a Jewish divorcee with two children and a law firm in Beverly Hills. 

“I hadn’t seen such a confident and assertive person before. I loved working for her. She was really good at balancing being a mom and working really hard. I hadn’t seen that in Romania or Hungary,” she said.

After her visa expired, she moved back to Hungary but soon got a call from Kleeman. Her boyfriend, who was also divorced with two children, needed a live-in nanny. Dobos worked for his family for two years, as well as for Kleeman’s sister, Maura Resnick, while studying at Santa Monica College. She transferred to UCLA to study film production, graduating in 2005.

“She worked to support herself. She really did it all on her own,” Resnick said. “I have such incredible admiration for that. I think she’s such a strong person. And she’s really a self-made person.”

She still helps Dena and Maura’s parents, Charles and Annette Kleeman, both 91, with household chores and errands.

“She’s a very intelligent and kind and loving and generous person, and a terrific help to us,” Annette Kleeman said.

After graduating from UCLA, Dobos adapted two books into feature screenplays and worked as a producer’s associate on a documentary film. 

When the recession hit, she went back to Hungary to visit her parents and spend time with her brother and his children. But after 13 years of living in the U.S., she said, she was stunned by the levels of misogyny and anti-Semitism she encountered in Eastern Europe.

“I realized I cannot live in that culture anymore. I’m too American and too Jewish,” she said, laughing. “There’s a great saying I heard: The mind that expands to new awareness can never go back to its original state.”

Dobos is struggling to make it in the cutthroat film industry. She’s writing a memoir and is considering going to law school. She’s dating a Jewish man and hopes to start her own family soon. She said her parents have supported her in every decision she’s made.

“When I fast on Yom Kippur, my mom fasts with me in Hungary. That’s the sweetest thing ever. She’s not Jewish. She’s very religious, she’s Protestant, but she wants to be with me in spirit.”

Survivor: Josef Kreitenberg

As the transport from Tacova, Czechoslovakia (then called Tecso, Hungary), pulled up to the Birkenau platform in late May 1944, the doors of the cattle cars slammed open. “Raus, raus,” the SS shouted, directing those fit for work into separate men’s and women’s lines. The others, mostly children and the elderly, were steered to another line. Josef Kreitenberg, 14, followed his mother and twin sister, Sura, to the group of nonworkers. Then he abruptly switched lines, joining his father, two brothers and other male workers. He stood on a stone he found nearby to make himself look taller. Josef doesn’t know what prompted him to move. “I guess I wanted to be with my father and brothers,” he said. 

Josef was born on Oct. 31, 1929, in Tacova, Czechoslovakia (now Tyachiv, Ukraine), to Elias and Chaya Kreitenberg. He had three older brothers — Sam, Yitzhak and Mendy — as well as his twin. 

The family struggled financially, living in two rooms in half of a house that had no electricity, sharing space with Elias’ shoe repair business and Chaya’s dressmaking shop. Josef’s maternal grandparents and three aunts, his mother’s younger sisters, lived in the other half of the house. “Life was not easy,” Josef said.

The family was traditional Orthodox, as were the thousand or so other Jews in their small town. Josef spent mornings in the Czech public school and afternoons and evenings in cheder, where he studied Torah. 

Anti-Semitism was always present, and Josef remembers running from boys calling out “dirty Jew.” But the Kreitenbergs also coexisted peacefully with the town’s Christians, people who patronized his parents’ businesses. 

In March 1939, Hungary occupied Tacova and Josef’s school became Hungarian.

Around 1943, Josef’s oldest brother, Sam, was taken to a Hungarian forced labor battalion. And Elias, because he was Romanian-born, was imprisoned for six months, until Chaya succeeded in securing his release.

On March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. And although it was Hungarian, rather than German, soldiers who entered Tacova, “Life quickly changed,” Josef said. The Kreitenbergs feared even to step outside of their house, because soldiers were beating up Jews. 

Then in mid-April, Tacova’s Jews were relocated to a ghetto at the end of town. Josef, his parents, Yitzhak, Mendy and Sura, along with two of his aunts, moved into a barn. His grandparents, meanwhile, had died, one aunt had moved to Budapest, and Sam remained in the forced labor battalion. 

In late May, the ghetto residents were marched to the train station and crammed into waiting boxcars. 

After arriving at Birkenau, Josef and the other men were taken to a barracks. The next day, they were processed, including being tattooed. Josef became 10192. 

They were then marched to Auschwitz and lined up as Germans called out for volunteers to work as muhlfahrer. Because muhl sounded like mel, the Yiddish word for flour, Josef, Elias and Mendy volunteered, thinking they would be working in a flour mill. Instead, they found themselves toiling in a garbage dump, and discovering that muhlfahrer meant garbage men. 

Yitzhak worked elsewhere with his friends. “We never saw him again,” Josef said. He later learned that Yitzhak, always fussy about his food, had refused to eat and died of starvation. 

In the garbage dump, which was located outside the camp, Josef, Mendy and Elias, along with 35 or so other inmates, sorted wagonloads of trash as well as debris from arriving transports. But the work had its benefits. “Sometimes we could find things to eat,” Josef said.

After a transport from Lodz, Poland, arrived in August 1944, Josef came across a large cookie with a gold bracelet hidden inside. Through a connection in the camp bakery, he traded the bracelet for seven loaves of bread and some sugar. He hid the food in the barracks and also filled a canteen he found with a mixture of breadcrumbs and sugar. 

Then, in a selection that took place in late December 1944, his father, Elias, was taken away. “I never saw him again,” Josef said. 

Around the same time, as the prisoners were returning from work one day, a Gestapo guard gratuitously smacked Josef across his face. “I saw fire in front of my eyes,” he said. 

In the very early morning of Jan. 17, 1945, the prisoners were ordered outside and evacuated, walking all day and all night. “Anyone who couldn’t make it was shot,” Josef said.

They arrived at Gleiwitz, Poland, the next morning and were loaded onto open boxcars, so crammed they had to stand almost motionless. “I was lucky to have my brother. He watched over me,” Josef said of Mendy. They traveled for several days with no food or water, trying to catch the falling snowflakes. Josef, however, still had the canteen with breadcrumbs and sugar, which he shared with Mendy. “That’s what kept us alive,” he said.

Finally they arrived at Dora-Nordhausen in Germany. Thirsty after exiting the train, Mendy drank some water that made him ill. After a week or two in the barracks, he couldn’t even stand, and Josef was forced to leave him.

In early April 1945, as the war was winding down, the prisoners were loaded into closed boxcars and transported to Bergen-Belsen. There, they found no food or water, just hundreds of prisoners sick and dying from a typhus outbreak. 

On April 15 the prisoners were summoned to roll call and informed that the British had liberated the camp. That was a relief to Josef. But, he said, “Mainly what went through my mind was, ‘Where and what do I get to eat?’ ”

The prisoners were transferred to a former German army barracks in the nearby town of Celle, which became the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp. 

Josef was later trucked to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, where he caught a train to Budapest. There, in a refugee center, he unexpectedly encountered Mendy. 

The brothers headed for Tacova, where they found their three aunts and Sam, who had spent the war in a labor battalion. Eventually they all made their way to the Gabersee displaced persons camp near Wasserburg, Germany.

In Gabersee, Josef and Mendy, who were both 18 or younger at the time, qualified to receive special orphan visas to immigrate to the United States, arriving in January 1947. They were sent to Los Angeles, where they rented a room, paid for by Vista del Mar. 

In 1949, Josef and Mendy (now Mike) brought Sam to Los Angeles. Their three aunts, by then married, also joined them.

Josef attended Roosevelt High School, graduating in January 1951. After high school, he attended Los Angeles City College, hoping to become a teacher. But the Korean War had broken out, and he was drafted, assigned to a heavy-weapons company in Metz, France, where, from 1953 through ’54, he taught English and arithmetic to soldiers.

In 1954, Josef visited Israel while on furlough. During his return to France by ship, he met Marlene Laufer, who was joining her sister in South America. Josef and Marlene corresponded for three years while Josef returned to the U.S. and earned a degree in accounting at Los Angeles State College.

Marlene came to Los Angeles in 1957, and they married on Aug. 31 of that year. Josef worked as an accountant for several electronics companies and then, in the 1960s, he and Marlene’s brother formed K & L Construction, building apartments and condominiums. 

Josef and Marlene have three sons: Irv, born in December 1959; Steve in April 1962; and Mordechai in May 1967. 

Sam died in 2008. Mike is alive, but has Alzheimer’s.

Josef retired in the late 1990s, but, now 85 and the grandfather of 18, he continues to manage some properties. He also occasionally speaks to school groups. 

The tall young man on the right is Yitzhak Kreitenberg. On his right is Mendy Kreitenberg and next to him, in the hat, Elias Kreitenberg. The child in the center, partially seen, is Josef.

Around 1979, Josef learned that a trove of photographs from Auschwitz had been discovered and compiled into a book called “The Auschwitz Album.” Josef ordered it, discovering that the photographs specifically chronicled the arrival of his transport. “When I opened the book and I saw the pictures of my family, I cried. I cried very hard,” he said. These are his only photographs of Sura and his parents.

The girl in the top left is Suri Kreitenberg, Josef’s twin sister. On her right is their mother, Chaya Kreitenberg.

Josef doesn’t know how or why he survived. “Even when I was in Auschwitz, when I was going to work, I used to pray, whatever prayers I knew by heart,” he said.

Hungary’s Jobbik drops some hardline policies in push for power

Hungary's Jobbik party will leave behind its far-right origins, keep the country in the European Union and come to terms with foreign investors as it sets its sights on government, its leader said on Tuesday.

Jobbik, condemned throughout Europe as anti-Semitic and racist, is now the strongest opposition party in opinion polls and on Sunday won its first parliamentary seat in a first-past-the-post contest, an important electoral milestone.

Unveiling what would amount to major policy shifts for the first time, Jobbik leader Gabor Vona drew parallels between his approach and a drive by Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, to ditch her party's hardline image and appeal to people fed up with the traditionally dominant parties.

“Politics will change; how exactly nobody knows,” Vona, who is 36, told Reuters in his spartan office in the Hungarian parliament building, overlooking the Danube river.

“Like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary is knocking on the door of government. These parties are new in ways we are only beginning to grasp,” he said in the interview.

Hungary's next parliamentary election is in 2018. The last time a far-right party was in government in an EU state was in 2000, when Austria's Freedom Party joined a coalition government. The rest of the bloc isolated Vienna in response.

Jobbik's critics say its attempt to recast itself as a mainstream party is a sham, designed only to win votes. They point to people within the party who have made anti-Semitic statements, but have not been thrown out.

A Jobbik member of parliament who in 2011 spat on a Holocaust memorial and called the Nazi genocide a lie but kept his job after issuing an apology.

In a speech in the Hungarian capital at the weekend, World Jewish Congress leader Ronald S. Lauder said Jobbik's rise was hurting Hungary's image abroad.


Jobbik denies it is anti-Semitic or racist. In the interview, Vona said Jobbik would break with its extremist past even in the face of resistance within his party. “I am much more consistent now about the wild offshoots that I used to allow, look away from, or sweep under the carpet,” he said.

“The responsibility that flows our way from Hungary's voters demands we do that. … With time the (extremist) elements of Jobbik you may see as prevalent will fade out because they no longer find their calling here.”

On the EU, Vona said that a Jobbik government would not try to leave the bloc, though it would try to reform Hungary's relationship with Brussels. Previously the party has said it would seek to reopen Hungary's accession treaty and even hold a referendum on an exit from the EU.

“There is no gut rejection of the EU in us…. Easing the resentment toward European integration would be Jobbik's success. People don't hate the EU because of me but because of the experience they have had,” said Vona.

He said he would challenge EU rules so that Hungary can protect some sectors of its economy from competition, especially food producers.

A 2012 incident when Jobbik's deputy chairman Elod Novak burned an EU flag at a protest was “an emotional reaction… justifiable in that situation,” Vona said. But he said the incident would not be repeated.

On tax policy, Vona softened Jobbik's previous stance blaming foreign multinationals for many of Hungary's problems. He said he would keep windfall taxes imposed under the centre-right government in power now, which have hurt many multinationals.

But he said: “We need to find the middle ground where multinationals and banks share in our burdens without hurting their prosperity or their mission … Clearly we do not want to expel multinational capital from Hungary.”

Vona said Hungary's foreign debt under a Jobbik government would not be restructured unilaterally. Instead Jobbik would see whether creditors would be open to the idea, and would seek new lenders, including in places like Russia or the Middle East.

Jobbik has cordial ties with ruling circles in Iran, Russia, and Turkey, prompting allegations the party is receiving financial support from them.

Vona denied that. He said it was in Hungary's interest to be friendly with Moscow while Iran was “a very important nation of the world.”

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.

Hungary’s Orban acknowledges country’s complicity in Holocaust

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban apologized for Hungarians’ role in deporting Jews to concentration camps, his first acknowledgement of Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust.

In a speech Monday at a Jewish cemetery in Budapest, Orban called the Holocaust a “national tragedy” for Hungarians.

“We were without love and indifferent, when we should have helped, and very many Hungarians chose bad instead of good, the shameful instead of the honorable,” Orban said, according to the French news agency AFP.

Orban also paid tribute to Jewish Hungarian soldiers who fought in World War I.

“Without the sacrifices that Hungarian Jews made during the First World War, it would have been impossible to defend our homeland,” Orban said Monday at a ceremony to mark the renovation of World War I-era graves in the Kozma Street Cemetery, the largest Jewish burial place in the Hungarian capital.

Orban said hundreds of Jewish soldiers who fought in the war, from 1914 to 1918, were buried in the cemetery. The Hungarian government provided funding for the graves’ recent renovation.

Some Hungarian Jews criticized the timing of the event, one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau. Half a million Hungarian Jews were killed at the concentration camp.

Ex-Hungarian Jewish leader’s government gig sparks talk of betrayal

In the 22 years he ran Hungary’s Mazsihisz Jewish umbrella organization, Gusztav Zoltai was called out for many things.

Zoltai, a former secret police agent who led the Jewish federation until his retirement earlier this year, was accused of corruption and labeled a relic of dark times. Others took issue with his flirtatious behavior toward women.

Yet for all his perceived flaws, no one had called Zoltai a traitor or questioned his loyalty to Hungarian Jewry — until September, when in the wake of a fierce war of words over what many Jews saw as the Hungarian ruling party’s pandering to far-right voters, Zoltai abruptly switched sides.

Just hours before the first meeting between community leaders and the government since relations came to a halt in February over a disputed Holocaust monument, Zoltai accepted a position as a government consultant. In the Sept. 12 meeting, Zoltai sat with Hungarian officials opposite his former Jewish colleagues.

“Betrayal. That’s the only way to call what Zoltai has done,” said Judit Csaki, a journalist who led a series of recent protests against the planned staging of a pro-fascist production at a municipal theater. “Zoltai gave his name and his face to a classic divide-and-conquer tactic designed to break up the Jewish community for its criticism of the government.”

Andras Heisler, the newly elected president of Mazsihisz, said Zoltai had “destroyed his life’s work — that wasn’t immaculate to begin with.” The board of the famed Dohany Street Synagogue, where Zoltai once served as president, voted to expel him.

For Zoltai, a Holocaust survivor who has represented the Jewish community in restitution talks with the government, being branded a traitor was painful. Raised in a Budapest suburb, Zoltai lost 27 members of his family in the Holocaust. His father died en route to a concentration camp. The fate of his mother remained unknown until 1995, when Zoltai brought back her remains from Germany, where she had died in a camp one day after its liberation.

“People who say I am a traitor are not right in the head,” Zoltai told JTA in a brief interview at his new synagogue at Bethlen Square. “I took this position to help the community, not the government. And my credentials speak for themselves. I’m no right-wing nationalist.”

Mazsihisz Vice President Peter Tordai also defended Zoltai, telling the media that the treason charge is “ridiculous.”

Raised in an orphanage, Zoltai went to work in a textile plant at the age of 18. In the harsh postwar years, he was married twice but both wives died young.

Zoltai went on to serve as an airport border guard in the feared AVO secret police. Later he joined the Worker’s Guard, a communist militia set up to suppress resistance following the failed 1956 rebellion against the Soviet-backed government.

“Zoltai had absolutely nothing,” said Peter Feldmajer, a former Mazsihisz president who worked with Zoltai for 20 years. “The party was his way to get ahead in life.”

But instead of pursuing a government career, Zoltai became the director of a small theater in the 1980s before assuming the directorship of Mazsihisz. Some allege Zoltai was forced out as part of Heisler’s attempt to reform a notoriously opaque organization that owns assets worth millions of dollars.

“The man knows everything, every little dirty secret about every community leader, past and present,” said Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, who heads a popular synagogue in Budapest. “That he could share this knowledge with his new employers is very frightening to them. I know the government likes this, and I think Zoltai enjoys seeing them shake with fear.”

The Holocaust monument dispute followed a series of moves by the ruling rightist Fidesz party that critics allege were designed to compete for the nationalist vote against the rising far-right Jobbik party. Among the government’s decisions were plans to name a Budapest street after an anti-Semitic author and to stage a play by another at a municipal theater.

But the monument fight turned out to be a turning point. Like other community bosses, Zoltai had previously lambasted the government over the monument, which depicts an angel being attacked by an eagle. Critics charged the statue was a symbolic statement of Hungary’s innocence in the wartime murder of 500,000 Jews, a claim the government denied. Efforts to have the design altered foundered in February, after which Mazsihisz suspended contact with the government.

Citing a confidentiality clause in his contract, Zoltai would not say what his new government position requires of him, nor how much money he is earning.

Like many Hungarian Jews, Radnoti is furious with Zoltai, but the rabbi also describes him as a kind man. When Radnoti’s father lost an eye in a car accident that rendered him jobless and penniless, it was Zoltai who put him up in a community-owned home within a day of being asked to help.

Working for the government, Radnoti says, is above all Zoltai’s way of reinserting himself into the center of the action.

“This is a man who ran the show for decades but has been excluded just like that against his will,” Radnoti said. “He took the government job because can’t let go now. It would kill him. He needs to be in the center. He needs to have power.”

To Feldmajer, that Zoltai should be ostracized for accepting a government position is a paradox that is indicative of the problems facing Jews in a society that has failed to fully come to terms with its Holocaust-era culpability.

“What’s really sad about this whole case is that in any other country, the Jewish community would be honored to have a former leader become a consultant,” Feldmajer said. “But this is Hungary.”


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.”

Far-right surge expected in European elections

Armed with ropes and long sticks, a group of teens in Germany’s capital headed out under the cover of night. Their goal: to tear down from lampposts the campaign posters of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NDP).

The young people are one small posse among those who fear gains for far-right parties in the upcoming elections for European Parliament.

While the NDP seems unlikely to get more than a single seat, far-right parties in other European countries are looking forward to major advances.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in an interview that he is worried about “a surge in the number of extremist, racist and anti-Semitic lawmakers in Strasbourg and Brussels.”

The parliament, he said, should establish a “no platform policy toward those parties to ensure that they are completely marginalized in the decision-making process.”

Taking place May 22-25 amid economic hard times, the elections are expected to yield a strong showing for far-right, far-left and anti-establishment parties.

Polls suggest that Euroskeptic parties are likely to take a quarter or more of the parliament’s maximum 751 seats. Despite their antipathy toward the European Union (EU), such parties — some unable to win significant representation in the national parliaments of their own countries — are eager for the platform provided by the European Parliament.

The president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, warned that anti-establishment and anti-European parties on the far left and far right are a danger to “all Europeans, including Jews.”

While some Euroskeptic parties have built alliances with like-minded factions from other countries, they are a fractious lot.

There is a divide between left and right, as well as fissures within the right. Far-right parties aiming for broader appeal have been reluctant to cooperate with overtly fascist parties.

“Even if those Euroskeptic extreme-right parties will be more powerful in the next parliament — and they will be — their power will not be enough to block legislation. I don’t believe this will happen,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a French researcher on anti-Semitism and far-right parties, citing such divisions.

But their growing power reveals profound discontent with how the EU is being run. More and more people are saying, “The kind of Europe that is being offered is not our cup of tea,” he added.

Extremist parties have become “more polished, more professional in communication and have changed their way of saying things so they don’t appear as extremist as they are,” said Viviane Teitelbaum, a member of the Belgian Federal Parliament who serves on the steering committee of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians.

For example, she said, the leader of France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen, “doesn’t use the same language against democracy in general as her father [party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen] was using. … She does not deny the Holocaust like her father did. But it is a matter of time.”

Teitelbaum went on to say, “You cannot be just a little bit democratic or a little bit fascist. When you are a fascist, you are a total fascist.”

In France, the National Front is expected to garner nearly a quarter of the vote for European Parliament and potentially will be first among all French parties. It has agreed to form a parliamentary alliance with Holland’s Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, which polls suggest could take some 17 percent of the Dutch vote.

The UK Independence Party, an ardently anti-EU group, is predicted to finish first in Britain’s European Parliament election, even though it holds no seats in the country’s House of Commons. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has said he will not form an alliance with the National Front, citing the French party’s record of “anti-Semitism and general prejudice.”

The alliance being formed by Wilders and Le Pen also would not include more extreme parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary.

Golden Dawn, with its swastika-like symbol and anti-immigrant platform, could finish third or fourth in the Greek vote for European Parliament. Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, a Holocaust denier, is currently in prison with other party activists facing charges filed in the wake of the murder of an anti-fascist Greek musician.

Earlier this month, a Greek court ruled that the party would be allowed to participate in the European Parliament elections.

“We are worried, yes, but not afraid,” said Victor Eliezer, secretary general of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. “We are sure that European democratic forces generally — and especially in Greece — will safeguard the principles of democracy.”

Jobbik, Hungary’s third-largest party, won 20 percent of the vote in national elections and is expected to post a similarly strong showing in the European Parliament contest. It is fervently anti-Roma, and its leaders have often used anti-Semitic rhetoric.

By contrast, the NDP has never managed to pass the 5 percent threshold necessary to gain a seat in Germany’s national parliament, though it currently has seats in two state legislatures.

But the NDP has a chance of breaking into the European Parliament for the first time. A German Supreme Court ruling in March eliminated the threshold to gain a seat in the European Parliament, so a party needs only about 1 percent of the vote to claim one of Germany’s 99 seats on the EU body, the largest representation of any country.

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.

Survivor: Edith Jacobs

“You are being relocated to a labor camp,” the Hungarian gendarmes, or police, announced to the Jews of Sopron, Hungary, who had spent the previous two weeks confined to a windowless tobacco factory. Edith Jacobs (née Rosenberger), her parents, three sisters and the other Jews were marched to the train station. There they were loaded into cattle cars where they were crammed together so tightly they couldn’t speak. Still, Edith and her family weren’t frightened. “We didn’t know,” Edith explained. But three days later the train pulled up to the Auschwitz platform, and the prisoners were unloaded and separated so quickly that Edith didn’t realize what was happening. “I never saw my mother again,” she said. “I never saw my father.” It was July 8, 1944; Edith was 18.

Edith was born on Feb. 16, 1926, to Zsigmond and Maria Rosenberger. She had an older brother, Jenö; two older sisters, Katalin and Piroska; and a younger sister, Olga. They lived in the village of Gyömöre, where Zsigmond was a bookkeeper.

Around 1932, the family moved back to Sopron, Edith’s parents’ hometown. There, Zsigmond owned a small grocery store, and Maria worked as a seamstress. Edith attended Jewish elementary school and then public high school.

The family was close-knit. They were Orthodox, and Friday nights were always special, celebrated with a white tablecloth and a challah. “You never can imagine how beautiful it used to be,” Edith said. And every Sunday, Zsigmond took the children on hikes in the mountains, a half-hour walk from Sopron.

In 1939, Edith was 13 and not allowed to perform office work because she was Jewish, so she apprenticed to a Jewish woman to learn dressmaking. She worked for three years with no pay and then a year or two with a small salary.

During this time, many Jews from Austria, which had been annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938, escaped to Sopron, just across the border. But the Sopron Jews were not worried. “Everyone thought that it will never happen to us. We were Hungarians first and then Jews,” Edith said.

But things changed. 

In 1942, Edith’s brother was taken to a labor camp in Köszeg, Hungary, where he worked in aluminum mines. And in fall of 1943, the young Jewish women of Sopron were assigned to work details. “We heard they will let us live in peace if we do this,” Edith said. She and Olga were taken daily by bus to weed vegetable fields. “It was very hard work,” Edith said.

Then, on March 19, 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, and on April 7 the Rosenbergers celebrated their last seder. “It was very sad,” Edith recalled, as her brother was not with them. By the end of June, they and the remaining Sopron Jews were imprisoned in the tobacco factory.

At Auschwitz, Edith and her sisters were processed, shaved and each given a dress. Then they were taken to barracks, where they slept on the floor with no mattress or blanket. The first night their uneaten bread rations were stolen.

After two weeks, Kato, the oldest sister, became sick with scarlet fever. “They said they were taking her to the hospital,” Edith said, “but they took her naked in a truck and that was the last time we saw her.”

A week later, on July 30, Edith, her two remaining sisters and the other young women all were taken by train to Bremerhaven, arriving at a work camp on Aug. 2. Even though they slept on a barracks floor, Edith said, “it was not so bad,” as there was no roll call and they were given some food. 

Six days a week, Edith and the other prisoners were taken by open truck — “it was very cold in the morning,” into the city, where they cleaned up debris from Allied bombings. “We were always happy when the city was bombed, because the next day we had food,” Edith said. They ate what they found amid the debris, but had to do so surreptitiously, when the guards weren’t looking, and they couldn’t bring anything back to the barracks.

At some point Edith and her sisters were transported to Roden, Germany, along with 500 other Hungarian and Polish young women, where they worked in a cement factory.

There, they met two women working in the kitchen who had run a restaurant in Sopron. They gave Edith and her sisters food — “a little bread, a little margarine,” Edith remembered — and, in exchange, Edith sewed for them.

In late March 1945, with the Allies approaching, they all were taken to Bergen-Belsen. “It was terrible,” Edith said. As prisoners died in the yard, other prisoners came in groups of four to pull them away, each taking a hand or a foot. “Bodies were stacked up like a house,” she said. “There were so many dead people.”

One day the Germans disappeared, and the Hungarian army took over. The soldiers stood on the guard towers and fired randomly at the prisoners, hitting one woman who was standing next to Edith. “They loved killing. Life was very cheap,” Edith said. After a day or two, the Germans returned. 

The next day, April 15, 1945, the British liberated the camp. Edith and her sisters were so weak they couldn’t talk. The British cooked soup and set up showers for the freed prisoners.

Edith and her sisters were later moved to the Belsen displaced persons camp, a former German army barracks nearby, where, Edith said, they had a beautiful kitchen and beautiful rooms. Edith and Olga both were sick with typhus, but they didn’t tell anyone, as they didn’t want to be hospitalized. Their sister Piri took care of them. 

Then, on May 8, the day Germany surrendered, Piri arrived at their room with food. She announced that she was very tired, lay down on the bed and died. The doctor later said she had been suffering from dry typhus.

Piri was buried in a mass grave. Edith ordered a gravestone, paying the craftsman with sugar and flour. Two Englishwomen from the Jewish Brigade helped Edith and Olga install it. 

It wasn’t until December 1945, that Edith and Olga left the displaced persons camp. They didn’t go home, as they knew everyone was dead, so they headed to Palestine by ship in April 1946, with Aliyah Bet, as part of the first illegal immigration. They eventually settled in Tel Aviv, where Edith worked as a dressmaker.

In February 1947, Edith met Meir Jacobs, who had come to Palestine in 1938 and who had lost all his family, except one sister. Edith and Meir married on May 20, 1947, and settled in Holon, where their daughters were born — Miriam in 1948 and Esther in 1950.

Life in Israel was difficult, however, and in December 1958, the family immigrated to the United States. After a short stay in Florida, they moved to Los Angeles in May 1959.

Meir opened a furniture refinishing business, and Edith worked as a seamstress. Around 1965, Meir brought Brown’s Wilshire Bakery and, later, the J&T Bread Bin in the Farmer’s Market. He retired in 2009.

Although she’s 87 now, Edith still works as a seamstress. She also enjoys spending time with her family, including her two children, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Edith never talked about the Holocaust, even to her family, until 1995, when she was among the survivors interviewed by the Shoah Foundation. And then she spoke only minimally because it was too painful. 

To this day, she said, “I sleep with it, and I wake up with it. You cannot even tell how horrible it is.”

Hungary recognizes involvement in Holocaust, vows to fight anti-Semitism

Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics said the country’s leaders recognize Hungarian involvement in the Holocaust and vowed the state will combat anti-Semitism and racism.

“We know that we were responsible for the Holocaust in Hungary. We know that Hungarian state interests were responsible,” he said Tuesday at the opening session of “Jewish Life and Anti-Semitism,” a two-day international conference in Budapest sponsored by the Tom Lantos Institute.

More than 550 people from more than 50 countries attended the meeting in Hungary’s parliament building. The conference focused mainly on the political aspects of Jewish life, anti-Semitism and the fight against anti-Semitism.

Participants gave a standing ovation to Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos when he described his government’s crackdown on the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party. Navracsics was standing in for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who conference organizers said could not attend because he was recovering from a recent injury.

Several speakers, including Hungarian Foreign Minister Zsolt Nemeth, noted the significance of a conference taking place in the very hall where Hungarian legislators passed anti-Semitic laws decades ago. In his address, Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Ilan Mor thanked Nemeth for voicing strong support for Israel.

Speakers stressed the need for education to help combat Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. To this end, the Hungarian government has declared 2014 as Holocaust Remembrance Year, with an array of initiatives marking the 70th anniversary of the deportation of at least 450,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in 1944.

Mor and Hungarian Jewish leader Andras Heisler stressed the importance of a new national high school curriculum that will teach about Jewish history and the Holocaust. The curriculum is being developed in consultation with the Jewish community, the Israeli embassy and Jewish educators.

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.

Alex Friedman, 93

Alex Friedman, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America after the 1956 Hungarian uprising, died Aug. 18. He was 93.

Friedman was born Sándor Friedman on March 21, 1921, in Kiskunfélegyháza, Hungary, to Mihaly and Rachel Friedman. He was the youngest of six children in an Orthodox family. 

On March 19, 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, and by April all the Jews in Kiskunfélegyháza were ordered to wear yellow stars and relocate to the ghetto. Friedman, 19 at the time, and his parents moved into one room. “Everybody was thinking — though no one was saying it out loud — that they brought us to the ghetto to kill us,” he told the Journal in a 2012 interview. 

In November 1944, Friedman was taken to Dachau and then sent to Mühldorf, a Dachau subcamp. He remained there for five months, until the camp was liberated by American troops on May 1, 1945.  

Friedman spent three months in the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp. 

In August, Friedman returned to Kiskunfélegyháza and moved into his sister’s house. She and all his siblings, as well as his parents, had been killed in Auschwitz, with the exception of his brother Naftoli, who was liberated from Mauthausen and who lived with Friedman until Naftoli’s death in 1987.

It was in Kiskunfélegyháza that he was introduced to Eva Goldman, who had spent more than a year in Auschwitz. The couple married on Dec. 4, 1945. Their son, Andrew, was born on April 26, 1947.

After the communists came to power in 1949, the family settled in Budapest. But on Dec. 4, 1956, after the Hungarian uprising, they walked all night until they reached Austria. In January 1957, they arrived in Los Angeles with little money and no English.

Friedman found work as a typewriter repairman. He saved money and, after two years, began buying convenience stores, accumulating seven. In 1978, at 57, he retired, renting out the stores and making other real-estate investments. His wife died in 1998.

Friedman was the president of numerous L.A. synagogues, including Congregation Machzikei Hadas and Congregation Anshei Sfard. He was also the heart and soul of Congregation Bais Naftoli, which was named after his brother. 

Friedman is survived by his son, Andrew, four grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Hungarian war criminal Laszlo Csatary dies at 98

Hungarian war criminal Laszlo Csatary has died while awaiting trial for torturing Jews and deporting thousands of them to their deaths during World War II.

According to the French news agency AFP, Csatary died in a hospital in Budapest on Saturday of complications connected to pneumonia. He was 98.

Csatary, a former police commander of the Kassa internment camp in Slovakia, was sentenced to death in absentia for his crimes in 1948 by a Czechoslovakian court after he fled to Canada. He was deported back to Hungary in 1997 and arrested last year in Budapest, the capital, after the Sun daily newspaper in London published his picture and whereabouts.

“The fact that a well-known war criminal whose Nazi past was exposed in Canada could live undisturbed for so long in the Hungarian capital raises serious questions as to the commitment of the Hungarian authorities to hold their own Holocaust criminals accountable,” the director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement Monday.

Last month, the Metropolitan Tribunal of Budapest suspended Csatary’s trial three weeks after it began, citing double jeopardy because of the 1948 conviction.

Slovakia had asked that Csatary be extradited to face additional charges, but Hungary declined the request.