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Israeli Presence Stirs Emotions at Hungarian Holocaust Memorial

July 5, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Thousands of Hungarian Jews, who gathered here Sunday to witness the ground-breaking for a Holocaust memorial, reacted with cautious excitement at the unprecedented presence of the chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive.

The appearance of Simcha Dinitz, who spoke openly of Jewish unity worldwide, marked the first time that a representative of Israel shared the podium with representatives of the Hungarian government and with Jewish leaders.

Hungary broke off diplomatic relations with Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. “This is a breakthrough,” said Avi Beker, executive director of the Israeli branch of the World Jewish Congress, which arranged Dinitz’s visit with the Hungarian government last week.

Dinitz spoke of the cultural heritage that Hungarian Jews gave the world, before “the community life was cut off” by the Nazis.

But, he said, “the Jewish people, scattered all over the globe, preserved itself, because it knew how to, and it never forgot its sons and daughters, including those who died in the Holocaust and in defense of the State of Israel.”

As Dinitz spoke, there were stirring from the periphery of the crowd, and people began nodding to each other.

As Dinitz finished his speech, a few people began tentatively to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Their voices swelled in waves across the crowd, until the entire mass was caught up in the stirring song.

Although Jewish groups have spontaneously started singing “Hatikvah” in synagogues here very recently, this was the first time they had done so outdoors. Singing without fear encouraged them to sing louder and stronger.

Later in the afternoon, Dinitz paid an emotional visit to the site of the now demolished birthplace of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.


The visit was all the more moving because it took the place of, and superseded, the traditional yearly visit paid to Herzl’s grave on the anniversary of his yahrzeit, the 20th day of Tammuz.

That day falls this year on Tuesday, but Dinitz won’t be in Jerusalem to visit the grave on Mt. Herzl. Instead, he will be in Budapest meeting with Hungarian officials. He could not divulge the nature of these meetings, or with whom he would meet, prior to the events.

Dinitz, accompanied by Hungarian Jewish leaders and by Rabbi Wolfe Kelman of New York, who was representing the American Section of the WJCongress, recited Kaddish at the site.

Dr. Alfred Schoener of the Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest’s chief rabbi, and a member of the Hungarian Parliament, recited the “El Mole Rachamim.”

“There were many thoughts for saying Kaddish for Herzl in Budapest for the World Zionist Organizations, to see the place,” Dinitz later told the JTA. “History is making a whole cycle. We were accompanied by Hungarian police. Something is changing.”

Dinitz also visited the Dohany and Kazinczi Street synagogues, Miok– the Hungarian Jewish federation– and the only private Jewish nursing home in Hungary, which stands in utter want.

On Monday, he will travel to a Jewish children’s camp on Lake Balaton, about 80 miles from Budapest. The religious Jewish camp is also desperately in need of help.

Dinitz’s visit comes at the end of a week-long visit by the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, a New York-based organization affiliated with the WJCongress. The Emanuel Foundation originated and carried through the plans for the Holocaust victims and heroes memorial, which was realized by the Hungarian government.


The monument, designed by Hungarian sculptor Imre Varga, is a granite and steel inverted tree whose leaves will bear the names of Hungarian Jews who died in the Holocaust. Leaves can be purchased for $125 from the Emanuel Foundation.

The memorial will stand in a plaza behind the Dohany Street Synagogue on the site of the former Budapest Jewish ghetto, where a mass grave was found containing 5,000 Jews killed by the Nazis.

The Hungarian Jews who gathered here for the memorial came from such far away places as Sao Paulo, including Rabbi Bela Friedlander of the Congragacao Religiosa Judaica Paulista; Vienna, represented by Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg, whose parents are from Budapest; New York; Washington; Portland, Ore; Australia; and Israel.

The crowd was also greatly moved by the presence of Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue, who is known here for his work with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

During his stay here, Schneier met with Hungarian leader Karoly Grosz and other government officials.

Cantor Joseph Malovany of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue sang the “El Mole Rahamim” to close the ceremony, eliciting tears from Holocaust survivors. One elderly woman had to be escorted out when she became overwhelmed.

Leslie Keller, president of the Emanuel Foundation, also cried when he tried to express his feelings for having realized his dream of this memorial. “After all, everybody died in my family. That’s why I wanted to do this.”

The velvet curtain covering the ark at the Kazinczi Street Synagogue was a gift from Keller and bears the name of his parents and his mother’s parents.

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