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Csaba Latorcai, state secretary at the human resources ministry, attended a commemoration marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Budapest’s Holocaust Documentation Centre on Monday.  In his address, Latorcai advocated “learning from the past, gaining strength from the sacrifice of the victims of 20th century dictatorships and from the example of those who saved lives”.

“It is up to us whether we promote peace or allow unrest to take over the world around us,” he said.

Tamás Kovács, head of the centre, noted that one-third of the people who died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp had been deported from Hungary. “Their only sin was being Jewish or Roma, or being unwanted for some other reason,” he added.

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Latorcai praised the government’s “achievements in preserving the memory of the Holocaust”. He said government measures in the past 9 years “put the assessment of those dark periods in Hungary’s history on new foundations” and helped build an environment in which there is an “unprecedented blossoming of Jewish culture”, while “Hungary means security for Jews in Europe”.

He called it alarming, however, that Europe, “whose identity has for centuries been determined by traditions of a Christian-Jewish culture” is “about to take a hazardous path which could destroy those foundations”.

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“Unless we cooperate and stop that trend in time, a world similar to the godless dictatorships of the 20th century may come, in which the self-determination of nations and peoples is not tolerated, religious roots are upturned and the continent is forced to give up its culture,” he said.

Addressing the same commemoration, Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yakov Hadas-Handelsman warned that anti-Semitism was again on the rise across the world. He said xenophobia went hand in hand with Holocaust denial and relativisation. He said anti-Semitism was not only a problem for Jews but also for societies where it appeared because it could lead to other kinds of discrimination and hatred that affect minorities. Fighting anti-Semitism, he added, was in the interest of the world rather than just a Jewish interest, he added.

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Vladimir Sergeev, Russia’s ambassador to Hungary, said he was proud of the “fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers” who had served in the Red Army and liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Budapest ghetto. He noted that some 50,000 Soviet soldiers died during the siege of Budapest, while about as many are buried across Hungary. “They gave their lives, and we are obliged never to forget what happened in the 1930s and 1940s,” he said.

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In a statement, the Socialist Party (MSZP) said people needed reminding of their shared responsibility not to allow a repeat of “history’s darkest period”.

Democratic Coalition leader Ferenc Gyurcsány noted on Facebook that as prime minister he had visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. “I stood there pondering that my predecessors, in violation of their most basic political, human oath, had failed to protect the country’s citizens, instead sending them to their deaths like animals.”

LMP said in a statement that the protection of human dignity did not encompass physical violence only, but written, verbal and political propaganda, too.

The Hungarian Liberal Party noted that more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported and murdered, aided by the Hungarian authorities, from 1941 to 1945, and one in three of the million people murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau was Hungarian. “The anti-Jewish laws passed by the Hungarian Parliament paved the way to these brutal murders,” it added.

Párbeszéd warned against forgetting “the tragic, inhuman consequences of exclusion, discrimination and judgement”. World leaders and everyone should be vigilant in rejecting incitement to hatred, it added.

In the featured photo: state secretary Csaba Latorcai. Photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI