Members of the Hungarian government joined the local Jewish community last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Budapest ghetto by Soviet troops.
“It’s a must to remember those days,” Chief Rabbi Tamas Raj said at the ceremony. “It helps to heal the wounds.”
In below-zero temperatures, some 100 people gathered Jan. 18 at the entrance to the former Budapest ghetto to attend the commemoration.
The ceremony was organized by the Hungarian Holocaust Remembrance Committee.
Zoltan Gal, speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, along with two government ministers, joined the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community at the ceremonies.
While the commemoration was a poignant, emotional event for the Jewish community, for the Hungarian people at large the remembrance was not without controversy.
The liberation of the ghetto by Soviet troops also marked the beginning of an unpopular Soviet occupation and domination of Hungary.
Communist rule did not end here until the country’s communist government fell in 1989.
Some 50,000 Jews were liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 18, 1945.
Between Nov. 18, 1944, and that date, approximately 20,000 Jews died in the ghetto of starvation, disease, exposure or at the hands of thugs working for the fascist Arrow Cross.
Before the ghetto was created, some 450,000 Jews – almost 90 percent of the country’s Jewish population were sent to Nazi death camps after the German occupation of the country began in March 1944.
Budapest’s Jewish ghetto was one of the few in Europe to be left intact after the war.
Although the Nazis had placed land mines throughout the ghetto, they did not have the chance to destroy it because of advancing Red Army forces.
At present, an estimated 100,000 Jews live in Hungary, most of them in Budapest.
The country’s Jewish community is currently the largest in Eastern Europe.