Remembering Hungary’s Jews on Yom Hashoah

May 2, 2019 by David Zwartz
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The focus of Wellington’s Yom Hashoah observance on 1 May was the sad fate of Hungarian Jewry 75 years ago when hundreds of thousands were deported to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau between May and July 1944.

Budapest Ghetto survivor Steven Sedley lighting one of the six candles at Wellington’s Yom Hashoah observance with Shlomit Tal. Photo: HCNZ

An audience of about 80, including diplomatic representatives from Israel, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and USA, Tim McIndoe MP, and interfaith leaders, heard moving accounts from two survivors of the Nazi German aktion against Hungary’s Jews. Steven Sedley survived in a safe house within the Budapest Ghetto; being passed off as the child of a Christian nanny saved Mary Mowbray-Erdös.

The point was made, that as well as a day for mourning the deaths of six million, Yom Hashoah is also an occasion for remembering the heroism of the Jews who revolted, against all odds, against Nazi oppression – in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and at Treblinka and Sobibor, and even within Auschwitz.

Prue Hyman and Wellington Jewish youth, accompanied by Rabbi Ariel Tal, sing “Eli, Eli” at Wellington’s Yom Hashoah observance. Photo: HCNZ

The other face of heroism referred to during the Yom Hashoah service was that of the Righteous among the Nations. Specific examples in Hungary were given – the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Rotta; the diplomats Carl Lutz (Switzerland) and Carlos Branquinho (Portugal); and Scottish orphanage matron Jane Haining.

A group of children and members of Habonim and Bnai Akiva, led by Prue Hyman, sang “Eli, Eli” – whose words are written by Hungarian Hannah Szenes – and prayers were recited by Wellington’s two rabbis, Ariel Tal and JoEllen Duckor.

Referring to the recent massacre of Muslims in Christchurch mosques, it was suggested that New Zealand society is now well aware that hatred of a minority group can lead to violent death, in the same way that Nazi hatred of Jews led inexorably to the horrors of the Shoah.

The overriding message, strongly promoted by the Holocaust Centre of NZ in all its activities, is that we can all make the individual choice to be Upstanders, not Bystanders, and help prevent the repeat of racist-based violence.

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