Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Thursday evening, January 23, “A Remembrance of the Holocaust in Hungary: 70th Anniversary Exhibition” was held at the United Nations. The event was of major historical importance in that His Excellency Csaba Korosi, Ambassador of Hungary to the United Nations, apologized to the world on behalf of the Hungarian government for its participation in the Holocaust
Jewish history in Hungary begins more than 1,100 years ago. In the beginning of the 20th century, of Hungary’s then population of 17,000,000, Jews represented 5 percent. They were doctors, lawyers, professionals, tradesmen, industrialists, merchant, scientists, and artists, playing a major role in the modernization of Hungary.
The Hungarian Holocaust is a tragedy of the Hungarian nation. Because of indifference and various levels of collaboration, most of Hungary’s Jewry in the countryside were murdered, amongst them a painfully large number of children.
The memorial year will serve to emphasize the tragic loss the Hungarian nation suffered socially, as well as in the fields of culture and science in consequence of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews. Seventy years after the tragic events, it is the duty of the entire Hungarian nation to face the past.
The true horror of the Holocaust, the suffering of children, must be demonstrated to young people. This year, memorial plaques will be installed on the walls of elementary and secondary schools throughout the country in remembrance of the children taken away to concentration camps and of teachers who tried to save them. The government will allocate funds to have every secondary-school student visit the Holocaust Documentation Center and Memorial Collection.
Memorial events will be coordinated with the Jerusalem Yad Vashem Institute, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and Hungary’s embassies and foreign representations abroad. Particular emphasis will be made in researching and identifying the child victims of the Holocaust. Austrian-Hungarian cross-border events will be coordinated with the Austrian embassy to teach secondary-school students the fate of Jewish communities at the time.
The Ambassador’s Personal Story
The ambassador told of his grandfather, Joseph, who aided Jews fleeing from the Germans when the deportations began. Deportation commandos, Hungarians working with Germans, directed by Adolph Eichmann, Hy’d, transported 437,402 people in 147 trains on 56 days beginning on Tuesday, May 15, 1944, right before Shavuos. The trains were composed of cattle cars, with 80–90 people crowded into each car. A train consisted of 35 cars. Three to four trains arrived daily at Auschwitz, where as many as 12,000 people were killed every day.
When the deportations began, Jews attempted to flee. Some sought shelter with gentiles along the way. A Jewish family knocked on Ambassador Korosi’s grandfather’s door, seeking food and lodging; they were willing to pay. The family was invited in. Food was shared and places to sleep were organized; the family left early in the morning. Joseph declined payment. The family left behind a teapot and a teacup as a token of consideration.
As the ambassador grew up, he always saw the teapot and teacup on an upper shelf in the kitchen, but did not know its significance. When he went to college, he took the teapot and the teacup along, as they were ideal for a college student away from home. When he returned from college, his grandfather asked about the teapot and shared its history. When the ambassador asked his grandfather if he knew the family’s name, he said it was Joseph, just like his own, and added that they were just like us.
Yad Vashem has recognized 806 noble-hearted Christian Hungarians by granting them the title of Righteous Among the Nations for their selfless safeguarding and help in saving Jews. This number does not include the many who were caught helping Jews and immediately executed.
The commemoration at the United Nations was also addressed by Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Communications and Public Information; Gyorgy Vamos, president of the Lutz Foundation; Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation; and Dr. Tamas Fellegi, president of the Hungary Initiatives Foundation. The closing prayer was delivered by Rabbi David Halpern, rabbi emeritus of the Flatbush Park Jewish Center in Brooklyn. The event was chaired by Maxmilian Teleki, president of the Hungarian American Coalition.
Important organizations joined in sponsoring this significant event, including the Carl Lutz Foundation, the Tom Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, and the Hungarian American Coalition.
The Tom Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice was established to carry on the legacy of Congressman Tom Lantos (1928–2008), distinguished Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, cofounder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and the only survivor of the Holocaust to be elected to Congress. Congressman Lantos, as well as his wife Annette, were amongst the 100,000 souls saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the righteous gentile who selflessly risked his life to save the last remnant of Eastern European Jewry. Congressman Lantos worked tirelessly to advance the role of human rights and justice in American foreign policy. The Foundation’s mission is to recognize, support, and honor the heroes of human-rights movements, to educate and mentor a new generation of young leaders, and to partner with and provide assistance to other human-rights organizations.
The Carl Lutz Foundation was established in Budapest in 2004 to preserve the memory of the rescue activities of Carl Lutz, former Swiss vice-consul representing American and British interests in Hungary during World War II, and to remember the Zionist Halutz youth, a Hungarian youth resistance organization that helped Carl Lutz’s efforts to save Jewish lives. The Foundation also operates a memorial room in the “Glass House” in Budapest, organizes related exhibits and events, supports publications, and develops cooperative programs with governments, local governments, and NGOs.
When he became head of Switzerland’s foreign-interests section in Budapest in 1942, Lutz helped 10,000 Jewish children emigrate to then Palestine. The Glass House was a glass factory used by him to protect 3,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Lutz is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews by providing diplomatic protection. The Glass House was one of 76 safe houses operated by Lutz.
A Footnote To History
Dr. Lawrence (Yitzchok) E. Levine serves as a professor of mathematics at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. Dr. Levine also served as a visiting professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Professor Levine is the author of Glimpses into American Jewish History. Professor Levine quotes Zalman Alpert, periodicals and reference librarian at Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library:
Joseph Stalin allowed more than 750,000 Polish Jews fleeing from the Nazi onslaught to settle in the USSR, and most survived the war. Menachem Begin, as prime minister of the State of Israel, expressed gratitude to the USSR for allowing hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews fleeing German occupation after September 1939 to enter the USSR. After 1941, tens of thousands more fled the advancing German armies. Many recall being in displaced-persons (DP) camps in Germany after the war. No children were around, and then suddenly, with the repatriation from Russia, whole families started to arrive safe and sound. Like all Russians, many starved and died in Russia from 1941 to 1945. In addition it was the Red Army in most cases that liberated the death camps, not the U.S. army.
Only about 60,000–100,000 Jews survived the camps. Most survivors were in the Soviet Union during the war. Estimates range from 500,000 to 1,000,000 Polish and other foreign Jews having survived in Soviet Russia. “The truth is the truth, even if the only ones helping Jews were fiends like Stalin, Trujillo, Franco, King Boris of Bulgaria. Progressives like FDR and the British leaders did very little.” v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.