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BUDAPEST – Iran’s ambassador to Hungary took part in a ceremony here Tuesday
launching events marking the 100th birthday of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish
diplomat who saved more than 20,000 Hungarian Jews in the waning days of World
Israeli diplomatic officials pointed out that not only did
Iranian Ambassador Seyed Agha Banihashemi Saeed remain for the duration of the
two-hour ceremony, but that he did not walk out when Minister- without-Portfolio
Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor, addressed the gathering.
the officials downplayed the overall significance of the Iranian ambassador’s
presence, noting the entire diplomatic corps stationed in Budapest was invited
to the event, official Iranian participation in an event marking the Holocaust
is unusual given Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s history of Holocaust
The ceremony, in a highceilinged, ornate, portrait hall in
Budapest’s National Museum, took place 67 years to the day that Wallenberg was
last seen alive on the streets of Budapest.
Hungarian Foreign Minister
Janos Martonyi said Wallenberg “showed that it is indeed possible to remain
human in the face of inhumanity.” Wallenberg was posted in Hungary in July 1944,
four months after the Nazis marched into the country, and in the space of a few
months managed to save 20,000 Jews from deportation and the nationalist
socialist Hungarian Arrow Cross through the issuing of Swedish diplomatic papers
and the establishment of “safe houses” throughout the city.
He was taken
into custody by the Soviets on January 17, 1945, and never heard from again. He
Martonyi, acknowledging his country’s role in the extermination
of 600,000 Hungarian Jews, said the Hungarian government at the time “did not
live up to expectations and protect its own citizens,” but allowed them to
become homeless and deprived of their rights.
Martonyi said the
commemoration was a good opportunity to reiterate the “special emphasis” Hungary
placed on Israel’s security. While Hungary, he said, was not indifferent to any
country’s security, it was “especially important in the Middle
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who took part in in the
ceremony and earlier in the day took a tour of Wallenberg related sites in the
city, said the Wallenberg centenary was not only an opportunity to remember him,
but “more importantly to think and reflect” what his actions meant. Bildt said
it was imperative to “carry the lessons of those years into our respective
political action.” He added that as long as minorities were discriminated
against, democracies and freedoms under threat, and anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia in evidence, then the ideals Wallenberg labored under were
unfulfilled, and his work was not done.
Unlike Martonyi, Bildt did not
use the event as an opportunity to reiterate a commitment to Israel or its
The ceremony took place at a time when the conservative
Hungarian government is facing intense criticism from within the EU for what is
widely perceived as a series of authoritative- type laws that critics argue
threatens the independence of the country’s central bank, media and judiciary.
On Tuesday, the European Commission meeting in Brussels warned that it would
take Hungary to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, if it
does not bring the controversial laws into line with EU standards.
other events to be held during the year in Hungary to mark the Wallenberg
centenary will be a conference on democracy and human rights, the issuing of a
commemorative postage stamp, a competition for high school students on Holocaust
history in Budapest, and a meeting of Hungarians who have been designated as
“Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem for saving Jews. This commemorative
year was planned months earlier by the government led by Prime Minister Viktor
Orban and his Fidesz party.
Annette Lantos, the wife of the late US
Congressman Tom Lantos who was saved by Wallenberg and later spear-headed
international awareness of Wallenberg’s actions, received a special award for
her efforts perpetuating his memory. She said Wallenberg needed to be remembered
because of his message to “be our brother’s keeper.” Not only does she and her
husband owe their lives to Wallenberg, Lantos said, but so, too, do her two
daughters, 17 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
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