“The International day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, the Shoes on the Danube Embankment memorial and the commemoration of tragedy also bear with them hope”, István Mikola, Hungary’s Minister of State for Security Policy and International Cooperation, said at the Government’s memorial ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Budapest.
According to the Minister of State, remembrance also bears with it the hope that through openly stating historical lessons “we can reach people and reach souls so that we can prepare the next generation to build a more humane world through suitable school programmes that teach them to better respect both ourselves and others”.
At the Shoes on the Danube memorial, Mr. Mikola said that during World War II “we ourselves still lacked the courage and determination to protect our own citizens” against the arbitrary actions of Arrow-Cross brigades. The Hungarian State failed during the time of the Holocaust, he declared.
When we bow our heads and remember, we know what an irreplaceable loss we have suffered, he added.
The absence of the hundreds of thousands of our Jewish and Roma compatriots at the hands of the Nazi killing machine during the time of the Holocaust is still painful wound that only remembrance that serves as a warning for future generations can alleviate somewhat. Our national identity, our faith and our self-confidence were compromised because of our weakness at the time. According to Mr. Mikola, we gave up values that were rooted in Jewish-Christian cooperation and which strengthened the immune system of Hungarian society and represented a survival opportunity.
The Minister of State also spoke about the fact that history cannot, unfortunately, be undone and “the pain of remembrance still throbs within us”.
“We have faced up to our behaviour during the time of the Holocaust, we have repented our historical actions, weaknesses and treachery, but this is still not enough and we still have much to do to ensure that such horrors never happen again in a country whose strength lies precisely in its diversity”, he said.
The State of Hungary has instituted a policy of zero tolerance with regard to all representations of anti-Semitism. The Governments policy centres around humanity, preserving human dignity and the interests of families and communities, but this is still not enough, because evil notions continue to endanger civilization even today”, he said.
According to Mr. Mikola, states cannot in themselves prevent another Holocaust; what we require today are “Humans with a capital letter”, who are responsible for their actions and for themselves, and who must also bear this responsibility with regard to their fellow men, because human communities, families and the national community are all built from the undertaking of joint responsibility.
“Wounded smile” of the Danube
In his speech, Chief Rabbi Róbert Frölich (Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities) said the Danube is the city’s smile, and there is a perpetual wound on that smile, adding that this wound belongs to Jews and Hungarians, who still today cannot understand what caused the murderous hatred that “shot them into the Danube”.
“We Hungarian Jews, Jewish Hungarians bear the perpetual wound of the Danube Embankment in our souls, and in our hearts. We who were born after the Holocaust bear it; our children and the whole of Hungarian society will continue to bear this wound, because while these shoes are here they will serve as a reminder of the tragedy of the Holocaust”, he said.
The shoes are a warning that there was once a terrible period in the life of Hungarian society and Hungarian Jews, he added. “And it is our responsibility and that of future generations to keep this period in our memories and sentence it to never happening again”, he stressed. As the Chief Rabbi put it: “we drink from the once bloody waters of the Danube and move in without forgetting the past, at peace and trusting in a happier future”.
We have our own Auschwitz in Budapest
Senior Rabbi Slomó Köves (Unified Hungarian Israelite Community) spoke about the fact that “we have our own Auschwitz in Budapest” and the shoes on the Danube remind us how easily men can turn into animals and lose their humanity. “It is a trick of fate that our Hungarian Auschwitz is in the centre of the city”, he pointed out.
“We must remember the past, but must look to the present and to the future”, he said adding that “When we pass by the Danube Embankment every day, we must think of responsibility and about what we can do today to ensure that the world doesn’t turn into a place where what happened 70 years ago can happen again”.
The Senior Rabbi reminded those present that human bones had been found at the foot of Margaret Bridge a few years ago, which were proven to be the remains of Jews who were tied together, shot and pushed into the Danube 71 years ago. He asked everyone who has an opportunity to help to work together to ensure that these people receive the proper final respects.
Auxiliary Bishop Imre Cserháti from the Esztergom-Budapest diocese, who is responsible for providing pastoral services for Hungarians living abroad, retired Reformed Bishop Mihály Márkus and Retired Lutheran Bishop Imre Szebik all said prayers at the memorial service.
The participants of the remembrance service, including members of Parliament, members of the Cabinet and members of the diplomatic corps, lighted candles at the Shoes as well as playing stones at the Memorial in accordance with Jewish tradition.
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared 27 January, the day on which the concentration camp in Auschwitz was liberated, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
photos: Gergely Botár/kormany.hu