Participants at the March of the Living in Budapest. (AP/ MTI, Balazs Mohai) Participants at the March of the Living in Budapest. (AP/ MTI, Balazs Mohai)
March of the Living
Ron Lauder

Ron Lauder addresses the March of the Living. (AP/MTI, Zoltan Balogh)

A few days before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, thousands of people joined the annual March of the Living event in Budapest, vowing “Never Again!”

Thousands joined the annual March of the Living Holocaust commemoration in Budapest on Sunday ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be marked on Thursday. World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald Lauder addressed the gathering, demanding that the Hungarian government do more to fight anti-Semitism in Hungary and Europe.

Lauder told AP that he was concerned about the increasing popularity of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, particularly among young voters, positing that it was gaining power because Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party and the opposition Socialists “are not giving them any hope.”

Lauder, whose maternal grandparents were born in Hungary, said that many younger voters were turning to the extremist Jobbik party led by Gabor Vona not because of anti-Semitism, but because “they’re looking for an alternative. They’re looking for something different.”

Recent polls indicate that Jobbik is the second-most-popular party after Fidesz and that lately, it has steadily been closing the gap.

Jobbik is mostly shunned by its critics and opponents in Hungary, but Lauder insists that dialogue is crucial. “I believe … that it’s important to speak to them,” he said. “I believe it’s important to speak to anybody who’s willing to listen.”

Lauder said that it was hard for him, as head of WJC, to meet with a group like Jobbik because it could be misinterpreted as condoning their politics.

“But the fact is that we, the Jewish people, and also Christians and other faiths, have to meet together with anybody to talk about what can be done in the future,” Lauder stated, adding that not everyone in Jobbik is anti-Semitic.

Hungary Holocaust march of the living

US Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell at the March of the Living. (AP/MTI, Zoltan Balogh)

Addressing the March of the Living event, which was attended by US Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell, Lauder said that Jobbik was harmful to Hungary’s international image. “Jobbik hurts Hungary. Do not allow Jobbik to destroy Hungary. The people of Hungary are too good for that,” he said.

“The March of the Living also reminds us what happens when the world is silent. We will never be silent again. And when it comes to anti-Semitism, the Hungarian government must never be silent,” Lauder declared.

“Today,” he continued, “when the world looks at Hungary, it does not see its great culture. It does not see its beautiful cities. It does not remember its great and glorious past. Today the world sees Hungary and they see Jobbik. They see an extremist party that promotes hate.”

Despite Jobbik, “the Hungarian Jewish community is not going anywhere. We march today to say: We are here. We are alive. And here we will remain,” Lauder asserted.

Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, mostly in the summer of 1944. Approximately 100,000 Jews live in Hungary now, making up the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe.

By: United with Israel Staff and AP