Iranian ambassador attends Wallenberg tribute

Official Iranian participation in an event marking the Holocaust is unusual given Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.

raoul wallenberg 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
raoul wallenberg 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 War II.
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.
While 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 denial.
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 was 32.
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 East.”
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 security.
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.
Among 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.