The world can never cease its fight for justice and against racism, Finance Minister Yair Lapid told the Hungarian Parliament on Tuesday, during a visit to participate in a conference called "Jewish Life and anti-Semitism in Contemporary Europe".
The Finance Minister told the parliament of his complex emotions at attending an event in a building that, 70 years ago, bore a sign reading "no entry for Jews and dogs."
"We want to forget, but we cannot," he said.
Lapid told the story of his late father, the former journalist and politician Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, who at age 13 hid in a basement in the ghetto in Budapest as Nazis and Hungarian fascists took Jews on death marches and shooting them into the Danube River.
Yosef Lapid and his mother were sent on a march, and on the way, a Russian plane passed over them, and the Jews started running away. Germans shot into the air, and Yosef and his mother hid in an outhouse. The march continued without them, but they didn't know where to go and returned to the ghetto, hoping that the Russians would arrive before the next death march.
Years later, Lapid visited Budapest with his father, who took him to the outhouse where he had hidden. "This is where I was saved and my Zionism was born, because this is where I understood that there has to be a place I can go to," Yair Lapid recalled his father telling him.
"We were a statistical error. He was supposed to die, and I wasn't supposed to be born, but we were still there, against all odds, two men who needed to have a place to go to," Lapid said. He pointed out that 450,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the 10 months the Nazis occupied Hungary.
"I'm a guest, and guests aren't supposed to embarrass their hosts, but it would defeat the purpose of this event if we deny the fact that genocide of this scope could not help without the active help of tens of thousands of Hungarians and without the silence of millions of others," he said. "There is a stain on the honor of this house. For years, we all tried to ignore the stain, but history taught us that ignoring is the wrong policy."
The finance minister warned that, "anti-Semitism raised its ugly head in Hungary again, and we know today that we cannot disregard racism, we cannot let it grow. Hatred does not disappear. It is an awful fact of life that we must battle every hour of every day."
"We can never, never stop fighting against racism and hatred and for justice," he added.
Lapid concluded the speech by telling members of the Hungarian Parliament that they must "wake up every morning and say 'this will never happen again. Jews will not die on the land of Hungary just because they're Jews, and we are really committed to that.'"
Meanwhile, the Hungarian deputy prime minister on Tuesday made one of his government's boldest statements yet on the issue.
"We cannot allow, especially knowing our own responsibility, anti-Semitism to gain strength in Hungary," Tibor Navracsics told the conference. "We will crack down with legal means if necessary and, while we can, we will make sure through political means that Hungary remains a republic of good men."
Hungary still has one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in Europe, and Jewish culture has flourished there in recent years, despite the decimation of the population in World War Two, when some 560,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.
But Hungary has also seen a surge in anti-Semitism. The far-right Jobbik party has several times vilified Jews and the state of Israel in speeches in parliament, where it holds 43 out of 386 seats.
Anti-Semitic incidents have also spread. In the most recent case, on Sept. 17, bars of soap were nailed to the fence of the main synagogue in Szeged, Hungary's third-largest city, in a reference to the myth that the Nazis made soap out of the victims of the concentration camps.
The World Jewish Congress this year asked Hungary to do more to combat hatred. Prime Minister Viktor Orban strongly denounced anti-Semitism at that meeting and said in a newspaper interview Jobbik was a real danger to democracy.
Navracsics said the government had changed the law to allow class action lawsuits against certain cases of hate speech, and tightened rules in parliament after a Jobbik deputy last year called for a list of Jews among parliament members to be drawn up to assess their allegiance.
"We know Hungarians were responsible for the Holocaust," Navracsics said. "Hungarians were perpetrators, and victims. Hungarians were shooting, and dying. It is a huge responsibility we must face in central Europe.
"We have learned from the past. We know what happened and we will not allow it to happen again. This democracy will defend itself against anyone who wants to incite hatred."
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