New synagogues inaugurated in memory of Danube Holocaust victims

600,000 letters in each Torah represent the 600,000 victims of the massacre.

 Religious leaders fill in the final letters of each newly dedicated Torah. (photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
Religious leaders fill in the final letters of each newly dedicated Torah.
(photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
BUDAPEST – “From the ashes, this community is being revived.”
These were the words of Rabbi Simcha Weiss of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
On Sunday afternoon, a bittersweet ceremony was held on the banks of the Danube River.
The Jewish community in Budapest celebrated the opening of two new synagogues and the dedication of two new Torah’s in memory of some 600,000 Hungarian Jews murdered on the banks of the river during the Holocaust.
Between December 1944 and January 1945, the Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews at the Danube River, which runs through Budapest.
The first synagogue was inaugurated in Budapest and the second in Szentendre, a small town just outside the capital city.
Referring to the Torah, Weiss stressed that “you can kill us, but our message will live on.”
“No one could destroy their neshamas (souls),” Weiss of the Jews murdered at the Danube. “There are 600,000 letters in the Torah... those killed at the Danube have now come full circle.”
Weiss made it clear that each letter of the Torahs that are being inaugurated represent each of the 600,000 murdered, and that it was truly significant that the ceremony was taking place at the place where “their neshama came to rest here... they are now resting in peace.”
He also praised the strong relationship between Israel and Hungary, and this Jewish community’s contribution to the world.
Rabbi Shlomo Koves, chief rabbi of the EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Alliance and a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, told attendees that “it was important to live and learn our own traditions,” and said these two synagogues would give Jews in Budapest and Szentendre the opportunity to do so.
“This is dedicated to the future, but we must also be proud of our traditions,” he said.
Hungarian Holocaust survivor and State Secretary of Parliamentary Affairs Concerning National Assets János Fónagy said he had no memories of the years he was in the Holocaust, and it was the Shoe memorial that “gives me memories.”
He said he was born in 1942 and “there is no one in my family to give me those memories,” adding that much of his family had been murdered during the Holocaust.
“This memorial is remembering those who did not survive and those who are missing their own personal memories,” he said. “We have duty and responsibility to remember, to respect the past, but also the future.
“The Torah is the heart of the Jews, it is the symbol of life itself,” he said, adding that it must be passed on to the next generation.
For Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, chief of the Orthodox Rabbinate of Budapest, this ceremony had special meaning. He grew emotional recalling his father, a Holocaust survivor, telling him of how he watched the killings of Jews at the Danube. He added that his father’s fake identity papers saved him from the same fate.
“It’s a privilege to be standing here today,” he said. “We are passing on the spirit of these martyrs through these Torahs.”
The Klein family told The Jerusalem Post how their father and brother had been murdered at the Danube.
Mr. Klein, who asked for his first name not to be used, became deeply emotional as he knelt down to light candles by the Shoe Memorial for the loved ones he lost.
From there, the entourage traveled to Szentendre in several buses, escorted by Police.
Leaders and community members danced through the streets of the small town as the Torah’s were brought to the newly built synagogue.
Locals and onlookers watched in awe as the dancing moved through, stopping to take pictures and some even leaning out of their windows to get a part of the action.
Koves joked that if the locals didn’t know there was a synagogue before, “now they do.”
Dancing and prayers continued for some time into the evening. As the celebrations came to a close, the shofar was blown in the spirit of Elul, Rosh Hashana and the theme of renewal.
The writer is a guest of the EMIH.