March of the Living commemorates Holocaust victims in Budapest
The march held for the fourteenth time began at the Dohany Street Synagogue and made its way to St Stephen's Basilica. There the commemorative event was addressed as main speaker by Geza Rohrig, the lead actor in Laszlo Nemes Jeles' Academy Award-winning film, Son of Saul, along with representatives of Hungary's historic churches and the Israeli ambassador.
Rohrig said the Holocaust and Auschwitz fundamentally changed human norms in two distinct ways. For one, it brought to the surface the horrific acts humans are capable of committing against one another. Secondly, it demonstrated how far God allowed people to go in their actions without intervening, he said.
"Our perceived images of ourselves and God changed forever. Auschwitz is to history what the theory of relativity is to science: nobody understands it, but it affects everyone," Rohrig said.
This year's commemorations marked the first time that the March of the Living was addressed by representatives of Hungary's historic churches.
Chief Rabbi Robert Frolich said that although the Synagogue and the Basilica are just a few minutes' walk apart, "there were times when the sobbing of the Synagogue and the cries for help from Jews who were to be sent to die fell on deaf ears and closed doors." But today, Frolich said, Christians and Jews pay tribute to the martyrs of the Holocaust together. "Today the Basilica's doors are open and the Jewish voices have found their way to Christian churches." He said Christians and Jews have built a bridge which they have started crossing together. "We must look back on the past but move ahead toward the future, together, if we want to prevent a repeat of the tragedy and the shame" of the Holocaust, he said.
Catholic Bishop Janos Szekely, who heads the Christian-Jewish Council, said "we must take the steps of the March of the Living in our hearts" by confronting the past and getting to know, love and respect other cultures and people. He noted that recently a group of Orthodox rabbis released a statement saying that Christians and Jews must work together on resolving the world's moral challenges and making the world a better place. These rabbis felt that it was the right time and God's will to open a new chapter in the relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities and "extend each other a brotherly hand".
Istvan Szabo Bogardi, of the synod of the Hungarian Reformed Church, said that while walking in the march today, one should think about those who could have also walked the same streets with their grandchildren today, had they not been "thrown for no reason into the hell of war" as innocent victims.
Bishop Peter Gancs, the leader of the Lutheran Church in Hungary, said he asked God's blessing on the marchers who should be caretakers and the advocates of human life.
Israeli Ambassador Ilan Mor said the most important message of the March is that "being different is not an illness, and hatred against someone else cannot be a cure."
What a democracy today ensures in society is not only equal rights, but the right to be different as well, he said.
"But as long as discrimination exists against any member of society because of their racial, religious or sexual orientation and there are violent acts triggered by hatred, it is our duty to march together year by year," the ambassador said.
At the Synagogue the crowd was greeted by March of the Living Foundation board member Laszlo Bandi, who said it was only freedom and free will that could bring about the peace that Hungary's Jewish and Christian communities both crave. He said the foundation had been working for fourteen years on "building bridges between neighbours". The foundation's job is to reject all forms of racism and discrimination, "because we have tried to learn the lessons of the Holocaust", he said. "A single slap or a snide remark can lead to a tragedy."
The marchers paid tribute to Nobel laureate Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz, a Holocaust survivor, who died on March 31.