BUDAPEST, April 17 (JTA) – For the first time in Hungary’s history, the nation’s Parliament has hosted a ceremony to commemorate Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Soon after an international conference on the Holocaust was held in Stockholm last year, the Hungarian government declared April 16 as the nation’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day.
The commemoration marks the date in 1944 when the Nazis established the first Jewish ghetto in Hungary, in the northeastern town of Munkacs, which is now a part of Ukraine.
Hungary had a prewar population of 800,000 Jews. About 600,000 died during the Holocaust.
Today, the Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in Central Europe, numbers between 80,000 and 130,000.
Among those attending Monday’s ceremony in Parliament were members of the government, Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors. Among the diplomats in attendance was Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Judit Varnai Shorer.
Those boycotting the session included Istvan Csurka, the leader of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, which has 12 seats in the Parliament.
In his speech, Chief Rabbi Jozsef Schweitzer called on the government to stand up against discrimination.
Janos Ader, the Parliament speaker, stirred some controversy when he told the audience that the majority of Hungarians had not backed the Nazis.
“This is not true, and should have been left out of the speaker’s remarks,” Matyas Eorsi, a liberal Jewish legislator, told JTA.
The leadership of the nation’s Jewish community used the commemoration to call on the nation “to make a clear distinction between the dark and light” portions of the country’s history.
Jewish leaders also called on the president of Hungary to avoid shaking the hands of legislators belonging to the Hungarian Justice and Life Party.
“It is very important that the schools teach the Holocaust from now on, but we ask for more responsible political behavior as well,” said Ferenc Olti, the deputy head of the Hungarian Jewish Community.
This year marked the first time that Hungarian schools commemorated the Holocaust.
“We recommended that teachers use this occasion to provide a better understanding of this tragic event,” Zoltan Pokorni, the minister of education, told JTA.
“The memory of the Holocaust does not belong only to the Jews, but to all of us. It is not only about the past, but also about the future.”