BUDAPEST – Amid a backdrop of an increasingly powerful and virulently anti-Semitic political party in this nation, thousands of Jewish Hungarians marched in the capital Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the mass Jewish deportation to Auschwitz-Berkinau.
The march memorializing the nearly 600,000 Jews sent to the notorious death camps is a prelude to a Monday march in Auschwitz to Birkenau, to be attended by over 10,000 international high school students on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In a symbolic gesture of solidarity, the Hungarian Jews attending the Poland march will travel by train to Auschwitz on what is being called “The Train of the Living.” All of the events have been organized and sponsored by International March of the Living.
Shortly before Sunday’s march, Elizabeth Semesh, an octogenarian survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau still living in Hungary, lamented that anti-Semitism in this nation of 10 million has returned with unusual force.
“When I walk down the street they yell at me to go to Israel,” said Semesh, as she sat beside her cane in a chair in the lobby of the Budapest hotel where numerous IMOL events have been held. “I was in America last year and the survivors there said I was stupid to stay in Hungary, and they are right.”
Buttressed by the radical right wing Jobbik Party, which has garnered nearly 25 percent of the electorate in a recent election, Semesh said anti-Semitism has not been this pronounced in Hungary since the fall of Communism in 1989.
“Communism was very good for us because no one cared if you were Jewish because we were all equal,” she said. “When Communism ended, the Hungarian people said they don’t want Jewish people here. Now it is even worse.”
Asked if she feels as if she is in danger and would like to move away, Semesh said she feels she has few options.
“I feel like I am in danger, but I’m 87 years old, so where can I go?” she asked. “My family is here and my son and daughter are married to Christians so now my family is now safe.”
Baruch Adler, an Israeli on the board of directors for IMOL, flew to Budapest for the memorial march.
“I feel some of the Jews here are very afraid,” he said. “It’s terrible to hear that they feel this way after enduring such a terrible history.”
Although Jobbik did garner a sizable percentage of the vote, Tibor and Zsofi, both non-Jews in their mid-20s, marched at the memorial to express their anger over the party’s growing popularity.
“We’re here because we have some Jewish friends and we are very angry because of the growing anti-Semitism here,” said Tibor. “It’s still safe [for Jews] because Jobbik is a relatively small, but very noisy party.”
George Csaszar, who attended the parade with his two young sons and wife, said the situation in Hungary has become so intolerable that he is planning on moving his family away.
“I think anti-Semitism is rising year by year and we don’t want our children to live in this situation,” he said. “My grandmother survived World War II and every day now she tells us to leave the country.”
Andrew Kardos, whose parents were deported during the war, expressed pride as he marched in the enormous procession.
“I am very proud that I am Jewish and it’s very important to show that we live here and are strong,” he said. “We just want to live in peace and work normally.”
Still, Kardos conceded that anti-Semitism in the country is even worse now than when Communism ended.
“Jobbik is getting stronger and stronger,” he said. “They got a lot of votes and that’s a shame because they don’t have any ideas for improving the economy. All they represent is hatred of gypsies and Jews.”
According to Miriam Ekiudoko, despite Jobbik’s growing popularity, the party mostly engenders support from fringe nationalists living in the rural eastern region of the country.
“In Budapest, which is mostly liberal, most people see them for what they are,” she said. “But in the country-side, where there is less education and income, there message of hate against gypsies and Jews has found an audience.”
That is why Dr. Levai Adrrienne, an attorney based in Budapest, said she was marching.
“There is a lot on anti-Semitism in Hungary and that is why this march is very important,” she said. “We need to stand up against it and protest it.”
Meanwhile, Balint Havas, a 16-year-old high school sophomore wearing a tank-top, backward baseball cap and carrying a skateboard, echoed Ekiudoko’s sentiments about the provincial nature of the growing anti-Semitism.
“It depends on where you are in the country,” he said. “The farther away from Budapest in the eastern part of the country, the worse it is.”
Nonetheless, although Havas said he has not directly experienced anti-Semitism here, he is becoming increasingly concerned about Jobbik’s rising popularity.
“It scares me that people are voting for them,” he said. “They got close to 25% of the vote in the last election. In four years it could be much more.”