BUDAPEST, Feb. 20 (JTA) — For some Jewish leaders, the battle for restitution continues no matter what the occasion.
On Tuesday, Hungarian President Ferenc Madl presented a medal to the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, for his efforts on behalf of Jews around the world.
“We highly appreciate your efforts in seeking appropriate compensation for the Hungarian Jews, once a major Jewish community in Europe,” said Madl, who during a ceremony in Parliament presented Singer with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary.
During his speech, Singer — who has represented the interests of Holocaust survivors in negotiations with several European governments — said that the honor was not for him, but for the Jewish people as a whole.
“One day, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies are going to be equal,” Singer said.
“The struggle has not been concluded yet,” he added.
In an indication of his readiness to continue the struggle, Singer spoke with Madl after the ceremony about an issue that has stirred passions among Hungary’s Jews.
The Hungarian Parliament is offering to make a one-time payment to relatives of Jewish Holocaust victims that would amount to about $140 — a pitiful sum in the eyes of the local community.
Singer made it clear during his conversation with Madl that he shared this view.
In an interview with JTA after the ceremony, Singer said, “One should remember what an insult it is to tell Jews that their relatives are worth so little.”
Singer also said during the interview that compensation efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors in Eastern and Central Europe were “too little, too late,” and called it a “crime and a scandal” that the West — Germany in particular — did not want to send hard-currency reparations to Jewish victims living in the former Communist bloc.
“In this part of the world, 80 to 90 percent of Jews died and were never compensated,” he said.
Singer also vowed action regarding the so-called Hungarian Gold Train, a shipment of Jewish property seized by the Nazis that fell into U.S. hands at the end of World War II, but which was never returned to its rightful owners.
Singer said he would press the Bush administration to deal with this issue. “It is the beginning, not the end” of restitution efforts, Singer promised.