“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)
This year marks a heartrending anniversary for Hungary: the 70th anniversary of the mass deportations, massacres, and death marches of 1944.
By the beginning of March 1944, Adolf Hitler had set his sights on the destruction of the last body of Jewry still in existence within his evil empire.
In April 1944, the Nazis and their corroborators began rounding up Hungarian Jews with the first deportations on April 29, 1944. This first transport arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on May 2, 1944 and the last transport arrived on July 11, 1944.
With dreadful efficiency, the deportations and killings proceeded. Three quarters of Hungary’s 800,000 Jews were sent to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
But Hungarian Jews were not only killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
After the deportations ended in July, under the national socialist Arrow-Cross government, many Hungarian Jews were murdered in systematic pogroms and death marches to Austria.
At least 25,000 of the 85,000 Jews sent on these death marches perished along the way by shooting, hunger, exhaustion, or disease.
To mark this tragic anniversary, from April 22 to April 27 in Hungary, Jews and Christians, Germans and Hungarians, the descendants of the perpetrators and the victims, and friends from around the world will follow the route of the historic death marches of 1944 from Sopron to Budapest in this year’s March of Life, which is entitled “Remembering, Reconciling, and Shaping the Future in Friendship.”
This Saturday, April 26, the March will culminate in Budapest at the Shoe Memorial on the Danube near the Parliament building.
The next day, participants of the March of Life will join the better-known March of the Living.
Each year, for the last 25 years, the March of the Living has taken place at various World War II death camps in Poland.
Holocaust survivors have marched together with Jewish youth from around the world to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust.
This year, for the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, March of the Living International has organized a special mission; they are bringing 1,000 Hungarian Jews to a program in Budapest and the March of the Living in Birkenau.
Between 400–500 youth and adults of Hungarian descent from around the world will join over 500 members of the Hungarian Jewish community for a special Shabbat (Sabbath) in Budapest.
They will attend prayer services in Budapest synagogues, participate in community events and meet with community leaders.
On Saturday night, after a ceremony at the main train station, the delegation will travel by train from Budapest to Auschwitz-Birkenau in a journey that mirrors the deportation of the Hungarian Jews who were sent to the extermination camp.
The commemoration of the Holocaust is all the more important in Hungary this year where anti-Semitism continues to grow, with a recent poll ranking Hungary among Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has stated publicly that his government is determined to stamp out this rising tide of anti-Semitism.
Nevertheless, the country’s third most popular party, the Jobbik Party, is considered to be neo-Nazi.
In memory of those Hungarian Jews murdered by the Nazis, leading figures of Hungarian descent will take a central role in the ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which is on Monday.
On that day, participants in the March of the Living will march from Auschwitz to Birkenau death camps, in remembrance of those who were killed.
Survivors will also share their stories, bearing testimony of the Holocaust and the savagery of Auschwitz.
One of the project’s sponsors, Project 6 Million, describes the march as an attempt to “honor the six million Jewish men, women, and children murdered during the Holocaust and activate six million people striving toward a world without intolerance.”
The organization is seeking to inspire at least six million people worldwide to stand up within their communities against injustice. (March of the Living)
The Holocaust was also featured this year at the UN headquarters in New York with a special photo exhibition commemorating 25 years of the marches. It opened on January 28th, the day after the UN-established International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Times of Israel)
Entitled “When You Listen to a Witness, You Become a Witness,” the exhibition underscores the educational nature of this year’s commemorative marches.
“The UN was a product of the Second World War; therefore, it is important that the Nazis’ atrocities and the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators solely because they were Jewish receive wide international coverage. Tens of thousands of people from around the world visit the UN Visitor Center in New York, and now all of them will be able to view this exhibit,” said the chairman of March of the Living, Shmuel Rosenman.