BUDAPEST — Hungary’s annual “March of Life” commemorating the Holocaust drew a record 25,000 people on Sunday as part of events marking 70 years since the start of mass deportations of Hungarian Jews in World War II.
There was an open-air concert in front of the House of Terror museum in Budapest before a procession from the Elizabeth Bridge — where a new sculpture was unveiled — to the Keleti railway station.
A train then left for Auschwitz carrying 600 people, one for every 1,000 Hungarian Shoah victims, ahead of a ceremony Monday at the former Nazi death camp in Poland to be attended by Hungarian President Janos Ader.
“Today is important because it is important for Hungarian society, and the international community, to remember what happened 70 years ago,” Israel’s ambassador to Hungary Ilan Mor, who unveiled the sculpture together with a Holocaust survivor, told AFP.
Around 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust after Nazi Germany’s invasion of Hungary on March 19, 1944, either worked to death in labor camps or gassed. Only around 100,000 survived, mostly in Budapest.
The 12th annual March of Life, which last year attracted 10,000 people, comes amid strained relations between Hungary’s 120,000-strong Jewish community and the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
A program of events organized by the government to mark the 70th anniversary has been boycotted by Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation, Mazsihisz.
The group complains that Orban, re-elected earlier this month, has presided over a rise in antisemitism in the EU member state and is seeking to rewrite history.
It is angered in particular by a planned Budapest monument due to be unveiled on May 31 dedicated to “all the victims of the Nazi occupation of Hungary” that Mazsihisz says minimizes the role Hungarians themselves played in the Holocaust.
The far-right Jobbik party, one of whose MPs sparked outrage in 2012 by calling in parliament for a list of Jews posing a “national security risk”, saw its share of the vote rise to 20.5 percent in the April 6 election.
On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres warned against growing European anti-Semitism, particularly in Hungary.
“Hungary has known good times in its relations with the State of Israel,” Peres said in a video message recorded for the event. “But the Holocaust has left a black stain on those relations to this day.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.