By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Officials of Hungary’s Orthodox Jewish community have urged the government to urgently provide police protection amid growing extremism and violent attacks in the country.
Religious Jews still try to pray at the few synagogues functioning normally in Budapest. With some 100,000 people, Hungary has the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe, after Russia.
Yet, representatives of Orthodox Jewish groups have suggested it is increasingly difficult for Jews to openly express their faith amid extremist violence and death threats.
The Chief Rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, Slomó Köves, told BosNewsLife he has asked the government to provide police protection for his synagogue and cultural center.
Köves, 30, said he fears a repeat of what happened in Mumbai where the rabbi and his wife, who he knew personally, were among five hostages found dead inside the remains of the Jewish center held by Islamist militants.
“My family has received death threats,” Köves explained in an interview with BosNewsLife at his Budapest apartment, located behind an electric iron gate. Last Saturday, he and his two young children were apparently harassed by supporters of the Hungarian Guard, or Magyar Gárda, a paramilitary group.
“I was walking with my children to the synagogue and there was a group of these people and they said: ‘Oh you Jewish worms, we are going to kill you, and get ready to be hanged’,” Köves recalled. “My children didn’t understand what [words] were flying. They didn’t understand why they were upset at us. And we have asked the police and prime minister for constant police…”
The July 4 incident came shortly after police broke up a demonstration of the Magyar Gárda, whose members wear uniforms and flags that were used by Hungary’s pro-nazi regime during World War Two.
Magyar Gárda has close ties with the far right party Movement For a Better Hungary, or Jobbik. Although Magyar Gárda has been banned by a court, supporters of its perceived anti-Jewish and anti-Roma views, remain active.
“Even at subway stations we are not safe,” added Köves. He said a fellow rabbi and his family were threatened and a colleague later nearly stabbed in a metro station by a knife wielding man who shouted “Holocaust loving Jews.”
Above ground, another member of the same Jewish congregation was beaten up by what Köves described as a hit-and-run gang. Last week, he said, “Three young people followed this young man into his apartment building. They closed the door behind him and asked: “Are you Jewish?” And when he said yes, they started kicking him and said: “You should go back to Auschwitz [concentration camp], you stinky Jews.” They kicked him till he fell down and left.”
The injured man reported the case to police who have said they are investigating three suspects.
Jewish officials want the government to help them halt the violence against Jewish and other communities, including Gypsies, also known as Roma.
They say far right groups such as Magyar Gárda and Jobbik are involved in spreading hatred at a time when Hungarians are searching for scapegoats because of the economic crisis.
Jobbik representative and member of the European parliament Krisztina Morvai has denied any wrongdoing. She said Jobbik’s Magyar Garda protects Hungarians. “That’s exactly what the Magyar Gárda does. They don’t use arms, they don’t use violence. They just show power. So that we are not tortured…”
Yet, for now, rabbis like Slomó Köves, have to be on their guard, as authorities claim they have no money to boost security. Persecution is nothing knew for Köves, who was the first rabbi to be ordained in Hungary since World War Two.
Some 600,000 Hungarians Jews died in the Holocaust. (Part of this BosNewsLife News story also airs via Deutsche Welle, the international broadcaster of Germany).