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Hungary Honors Soviet Liberation of Jewish Ghetto

  • Stefan Bos

Holocaust survivors and government officials from Russia and Hungary have commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the main Jewish Ghetto in Budapest by Soviet troops. Tuesday's ceremony was part of a busy week in the Hungarian capital, which is also marking the disappearance 60 years ago of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Rain and wet snow fell on Budapest's main synagogue as Holocaust survivors listened to a prayer for those who died before the liberation of the city's main Jewish Ghetto.

An estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust of World War II, when Hungary for the most part was a close ally of Nazi Germany.

On January 18, 1945, Soviet forces freed at least 70,000 Jews still waiting to be deported from Budapest's central Jewish ghetto.

During the turbulent week, Soviet soldiers also detained Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands Hungarian Jews. The anniversary of his disappearance is also being remembered in Budapest this week.

But when the Russian ambassador to Budapest, Valeri Musatov, spoke on behalf of Russia's government at the highly charged ceremony, he did not mention Mr. Wallenberg and other controversies surrounding Soviet forces. 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. Mr. Musatov says the action of 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 recalls the horrors he and his family went through.

Mr. Schweitzer said he remembers that people were crying and praying in the synagogue before being deported to the ghettos by Hungarian forces. Later he says, many people were taken away to death camps.

Other speakers at the ceremony expressed concern about what they say is the still lingering anti-Semitism in Hungary, which has Central 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 prime minister said that the Holocaust was not only a tragedy but a crime and Hungarians "should never forget the pain that was caused to the Jewish people."