Holocaust Remembrance Day: Jewish rescuers want their story told

Accounts of Jewish resistance against Nazi Germany are well known, but the rescue missions of fellow Jews – such as the Hungarian resistance – are less well known. come over.

HAZORE’A, Israel — Just before the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944, Jewish youth leaders in this Eastern European country got into action: They formed an underground network to in the coming months will save tens of thousands of fellow Jews from the gas chambers. .

This chapter of Holocaust heroism is barely remembered in Israel. It is also not part of the formal curriculum in schools. But some of the remaining members of the Jewish underworld in Hungary wanted their stories told. Bored at the prospect of being forgotten, they resolve to preserve the memories of their mission.

“The story of the struggle to save tens of thousands of lives should be part of the annals of the people of Israel,” said David Gur, 97, one of the few surviving members. “It was a beacon in the Holocaust, a lesson and example for generations.”

As the world marks International Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday, historians, activists, survivors and their families are all preparing for a time when there will be no more living witnesses to share first-hand account of the horrors of the Nazi genocide during World War II. During the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazis and their allies.

Israel, which was established as a refuge for Jews after the Holocaust, has worked hard over the years to recognize thousands of “Righteous Among the Nations” — non-Jews. The Jews risked their lives to save the Jews during the Holocaust.

Narratives of Jewish resistance to Nazi Germany, such as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, are mainstays in the national narrative but the rescue missions of fellow Jews – such as such as the resistance in Hungary – less well known.

Hungary was home to about 900,000 Jews before the Nazi invasion. Its government allied itself with Nazi Germany, but as the Soviet Red Army advanced towards Hungary, Nazi Germany invaded in March 1944, to prevent its Axis ally from making a separate peace agreement. with the Allies.

Over the next 10 months, as many as 568,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their allies in Hungary, according to figures from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.

Gur said he and his colleagues knew disaster was looming when three Jewish women arrived at Budapest’s main synagogue in the fall of 1943. They had fled Nazi-occupied Poland and brought disturbing news about people being sent to concentration camps.

“They have pretty clear information about what’s going on, they’ve seen many trains and they know what’s going on,” Gur said.

Gur oversaw a large-scale forgery operation providing fake documents to Jews and non-Jewish members of the Hungarian resistance. He said: “I was an 18-year-old young man when the heavy responsibility fell on my shoulders.

There is great personal risk. In December 1944, he was arrested at the smithy, interrogated and brutally imprisoned, according to his memoirs, Brothers of the Resistance and National Salvation. The Jewish underground freed him from the central military prison in a rescue operation later that month.

Forged papers were used by Jewish youth movements to run a smuggling network and run Red Cross homes that saved thousands of people from the Nazis and their allies .

According to Gur’s book, at least 7,000 Jews were smuggled out of Hungary, through Romania, onto ships on the Black Sea that took them to British-controlled Palestine. At least 10,000 fake protection cards, known as Shutzpasses, were distributed to Jews in Budapest, and some 6,000 Jewish children and accompanying adults were rescued in homes ostensibly under protection. guard of the International Red Cross.

Robert Rozett, a senior historian at Yad Vashem, said that while it was “the largest rescue operation” of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, the episode was still off “the main road map of the world”. story”.

“It makes a lot of sense because these activities have helped tens of thousands of Jews survive in Budapest,” he said.

In 1984, Gur founded the “Society for the Study of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary,” a group that raised awareness of the effort.

Last month at a kibbutz in northern Israel, Sara Epstein, 97, Dezi Heffner-Reiner, 95, and Betzalel Grosz, 98, three of the remaining survivors helped save Jews in Hungary due to Germany. occupation communes, received the Jewish Rescuer Commendation for their role in the Holocaust. The award was presented by two Jewish groups – the B’nai B’rith-Jerusalem World Center and the Committee for the Recognition of Heroism of the Jewish Rescuers during the Holocaust.

“There are not many of us left, but this is very important,” Heffner-Reiner said.

More than 200 other members of the underworld were awarded the prize after their death. Gur received the award in 2011, the year it was created.

Yuval Alpan, the son of one of the rescuers and a social activist, said the citations were intended to acknowledge those who saved lives during the Holocaust.

“This secret youth resistance movement saved tens of thousands of Jews in 1944, and their story is not known,” he said. “It was the biggest rescue operation in the Holocaust and nobody knew about it.”

The International Holocaust Day falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army 78 years ago. Israel is home to about 150,600 Holocaust survivors, most of whom are over 80 years old, according to government figures. That was 15,193 less than a year ago.

The United Nations will hold a memorial service at the General Assembly on Friday, and other memorial events are planned around the globe.

Israel marks its own Holocaust Memorial Day in the spring.

Associated Press writers Eleanor Reich and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/hungary-jewish-holocaust-rescuers-want-their-story-told/507-f0a466a4-9f96-4e80-9e5a-8b470bc5dca2 Holocaust Remembrance Day: Jewish rescuers want their story told

Edmund DeMarche

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