Shabbat service in Hungary’s first new synagogue since the Holocaust. The Chabad Lubavics Synagogue was opened last week in Budapest, which also commemorated the liberation 60 years ago of the Hungarian capital’s central ghetto.
"This synagogue is proof of a renaissance of the Jewish faith and culture in Hungary," said Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in an interview with BosNewsLife. Metzger opened the building in down town Budapest by cutting the ribbon, to symbolize the removal of a barrier for a new period in Hungary, which supported Nazi Germany.
An estimated 600.000 Hungarian Jews were massacred during World War Two by Nazis and Hungarians supporting them. "There were a lot of Hungarian Jewish people who were worried to say they are Jews, because they were afraid of anti-Semitism," said Metzger.
Hungarian Vera Vadas said it was "a miracle" she could attend the service in the new synagogue because she was born 60 years ago in a concentration camp near Prague. She now runs a travel agency promoting Jewish culture. "But my mother is still afraid to travel, especially with the train", as it was used by the Nazis to deport Jews to the camps.
Under the Communist regime that followed the war religion was discouraged, but in recent
years an increasing number of people have been searching for their Jewish roots, said the synagogue’s rabbi Slomo Koves. "I only discovered that Jews had a religion when I was about twelve years old. Till than I thought you could only recognize Jews because of their blue eyes and red hair."
He added the revival of the Jewish faith reminded him to the Torah which says that all Jews who died, "including Holocaust victims", will be alive again when the Messiah comes. "In some ways this process has already begun, they are here with us today…"
Last week, in an older nearby synagogue, Holocaust survivors and politicians recalled how on January 18, 1945, Soviet forces freed at least 70,000 Jews still waiting to be deported from Budapest’s main Jewish ghetto. "My grandparents lived there behind a wall," the 25-year old Koves recalled.
During the turbulent week six decades ago, Soviet soldiers also detained Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. The anniversary of his disappearance has also been remembered in Budapest this month.
But when the Russian ambassador to Budapest, Valeri Musatov, spoke on behalf of Russia’s government at the highly charged ceremony in the Dohany Synagogue, he did not mention Wallenberg and other controversies surrounding Soviet soldiers, who first liberated and than occupied the country for decades. Instead he urged survivors never to forget that his nation played a major role in ending World War II.
"It was 60 years ago" he said, "that the Red Army liberated the main ghetto of Budapest and freed thousands of Hungarian Jews, mainly women, children and elderly people, and saved them from death." Musatov stressed the action of the Soviet Army sent "a special message to those who survived by defeating fascism and giving them new hope."
Among those who survived the Jewish Ghetto was Hungary’s chief rabbi, Joszef Schweitzer, who still remembers the horrors he and his family went through.
CRYING AND PRAYING
Schweitzer said "that people were crying and praying in the synagogue before being deported to the ghettos by Hungarian forces." Later many people were taken away to death camps. Other speakers expressed concern about what they claimed is the still lingering anti-Semitism in Hungary, which has Eastern Europe’s largest Jewish community outside Russia, and recently joined the European Union.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany spoke of the need for tolerance in a speech in which he indirectly acknowledged Hungary’s controversial role in the Holocaust. "The Holocaust was not only a tragedy but a crime and Hungarians should never forget the pain that was caused to the Jewish people," he added.