Hungary and Israel will jointly search for the bones of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, whose corpses were tossed into Danube River in Budapest. On Monday, Interior Minister Arye Dery discussed the operation with his Hungarian counterpart Sandor Pinter.
A press release on Dery’s behalf said that Hungary has promised to provide professionals trained in searching riverbeds, as well as advanced technology, to assist in the search.
The voluntary search and rescue organization ZAKA announced that divers on its behalf, equipped with sonar equipment, are already in Budapest. ZAKA’s chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said that “this is the final act of grace we can do for these holy victims, who were killed in sanctification of the Lord’s name.”
He added that ZAKA sees this operation as of the utmost importance, geared at to bringing these victims to burial. Dery expressed hope the search would prove fruitful by as soon as Tuesday.
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Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most of them by the Germans in death camps. The victims whose bones will now be searched for belong to thousands of Jews who were shot by Hungarians and thrown into the Danube between 1944 and 1945. A monument called “Shoes on the Danube” was erected in their memory in 2005.
In 2011, several skeletons were found in the river, and an argument ensued as to whose remains they were, Jews, Germans or Russians.
Holocaust memory and Hungary’s role in collaborating with the Nazis are sensitive topics in Hungary. Recently, a stormy debate broke out in Hungary around the construction of a new Holocaust museum in Budapest.
The local Jewish community is concerned that the government, headed by Viktor Orban, will use the museum to whitewash the truth and diminish Hungary’s role.
Funding for it came from the government but it is owned by the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation, known as EMIH, a small group headed by Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Koves.
One of the museum’s biggest critics is the president of the large and long-established Hungarian Jewish Federation, Andras Heisler. He and his colleagues had been quoted as expressing fears that the museum might gloss over or minimize Hungary’s involvement in the Holocaust, distort history and be exploited by the right-wing nationalist Hungarian government. Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which had been excluded from talks held ahead of the museum's opening, had a similar concern.
Hungary's government, which has appointed a Chabad rabbi as the museum’s director, claims it recognizes Hungary’s part in Nazi crimes and will not whitewash history.