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Anti-Semitism Overshadows Award Ceremony In Hungary

Sixteen Hungarians received Israel's Righteous Among the Nations award for saving Jews during the Holocaust. But as Stefan Bos reports, the ceremony was overshadowed by concerns over renewed anti-Semitism in Hungary and other parts of Europe.

Hungarian Jewish youngsters dedicated their music to the relative few Hungarians who saved Jews during World War II, when Hungary was for the most part a close ally of Nazi Germany.

About 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, carried out by German Nazis and Hungarian fascists.

But at least 16 Hungarians risked their lives to help Jews survive the war. At a ceremony in the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest Thursday, they received one of Israel's highest honors, The Righteous Among the Nations award.

It is given by Israel's Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial authority, Yad Vashem, to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust

In most cases only surviving relatives received medals, but some elderly rescuers managed to attend the ceremony. Trembling of old age and emotion, they stood on the platform, in front of the Hungarian president and other high ranking diplomats.

Among those honored Thursday were workers hiding one or more Jews in their basements and a supervisor of a Budapest Hotel who managed to save the lives of 100 Jews by using double lists of guests and false names.

And then there was Gizella Csertan, who was a young Christian girl inviting a Jewish family to stay in her village.

"One day a family without a man was knocking on the door… They were not wailing, they were not complaining, only their eyes spoke to us… The friendship of these two families, a Jewish and a Christian, brought together by the war, and this good friendship had cemented and is still cultivated.

Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom said in a brief speech that many more Hungarians saved Jews. But that view was not shared by Israeli officials.

Yad Vashem Chairman Yosef Lapid, a former Justice Minister, told VOA News that as a Hungarian Holocaust survivor he has mixed feelings about Budapest.

He still recalls the Budapest Jewish ghetto and Hungary's controversial role in the war. "I have very hard feelings about the behavior of the Hungarians in the Holocaust. Because most of them kept silent. And when you keep silent, you collaborate with those who do terrible things," he said.

Lapid is also concerned about a rise of anti Semitism in Europe, and especially in Hungary. "Yes, unfortunately there are now neo-Nazis very active in Hungary. And we don't have here the law that exists in Germany, for instance, which makes it a crime when someone uses religious or racial hatred to inspire crimes. I hope that the Hungarian authorities will pass such a law, because there have been atrocities [here] which are unthinkable nowadays."

While these controversial issues were not solved at Thursday's ceremony, organizers made it clear this event showed that at least some Hungarians risked their lives to save the others during the Holocaust era.