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New Post - 30 April 2013

During the week of 15 April I made two special country visits to Hungary and Poland.  These trips were special in the sense that they combined a Chair’s visit with the programs of the Multi-Year Work Plan’s Holocaust Memorial Days Steering Committee.  In this capacity I was accompanied by Advisor to the IHRA Steven Katz as well as the Executive Secretary. 

In Hungary we had a very full and productive program over the three days of our visit.  We began with a meeting with the President of MAZSIHISZ (Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communes), Mr. Péter Feldmájer, and the CEO of MAZSIHISZ, Mr. Gusztáv Zoltai, followed by a meeting with the Hungarian Head and Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Gergely Prőhle and Ms. Komáromy. 

On 16 April, Hungary marks the National Memorial Day of the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust.  This date is the anniversary of the establishment of the first ghetto on Hungarian territory in Munkács in 1944.  The Memorial Day was established by a political declaration of Parliament and was first commemorated in 2000.  We traveled to Hódmezővásárhely, where we were welcomed by the vice-Mayor.  The first ceremony we attended in Hódmezővásárhely was opened by Minister of Defense Mr. Czaba Hende, and commemorative wreaths were laid on behalf of the government, the municipality, the IHRA, and the local school.  Professor Katz then gave a speech to the students. 

I was also interviewed by a national TV station and the Hungarian news agency MTI issued a detailed article on the speeches in Hódmezővásárhely.  The press coverage of the National Memorial Day and our visit was impressive and far-reaching – two large newspapers published articles about the Hódmezővásárhely speeches in their editions, and the commemoration event at the Holocaust Documentation Center, which included Professor Katz’s speech, was broadcast live on Duna Televízió.  The government of Hungary also established a special website for the National Memorial Day, which is also available in English.  

The second official ceremony in Hódmezővásárhely included an address by vice-Mayor Mr. Peter Kószó and a lunch hosted by the city afterwards.  I was honored to have the opportunity to deliver the keynote speech at this ceremony.

Back in Budapest we attended the evening ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Centre, during which extracts from student essays on the topic “Losses of Hungarian Culture” were read.  A temporary exhibition entitled “Memories-Images: Unforgettable Life Stories from the 20th Century” was opened by Monika Balatoni, Minister of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations at the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice.  The 2013 Wiesenthal Awards were also presented alongside performances by the Budapest Klezmer Band.  Professor Katz gave the memorial speech at the evening event and participants paid tribute to the memory of the victims by lighting candles at placing stones of remembrance.  Following the event, a commemorative ceremony was held at the “Shoes on the Danube” memorial site to the victims of the Holocaust.

On our final day in Budapest, we had a number of high-level political meetings to discuss IHRA business.  We first met with Under-Secretary of State Mr. Péter Mikecz and Chief Advisor for Holocaust Remembrance Issues Mr. Zsigmond Perényi at the Prime Minister’s office.  There we were briefed on the plans for the Hungarian Holocaust 2014 Memorial Committee, and I was pleased to learn that events will be taking place throughout the entire year of 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportations of Hungarian Jews in 1944.  We made a visit to the Parliament before meeting with Mr. József Kaposi, Director General of the Institute for Educational Research and Development (OFI).  Our last meetings were held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Deputy Head of Delegation Ms. Andrea Komáromy and Secretary of State Mr. Zsolt Németh. 

The trip to Hungary offered a wide range of meetings and the opportunity to speak with a variety of people at both the practical and political levels.  I was personally very moved by all of the impressive events that we attended and am glad to have had the opportunity to be in Hungary on a meaningful occasion such as the National Memorial Day of the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust.

Following our visit to Hungary we flew to Warsaw, where we attended a commemorative ceremony at the Monument of the Evacuation of Warsaw Ghetto Fighters.  Many dignitaries from the diplomatic corps were present, and Symcha Rotem, organizer of the evacuation, was also in attendance as a special guest.

After the ceremony we met with Deputy Foreign Minister Jerzy Pomianowski as well as the Head and Deputy Head of Delegation of Poland, Mr. Olendzki and Mr. Rejak.  Professor Katz delivered a lecture on the Jewish resistance movement during the Holocaust at the Jewish Historical Institute.  The events on 18 April concluded with a solemn concert by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. 

On 19 April, the date of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the main commemoration event was held near the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument.  Speeches were given by Mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz and President of the Republic of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski.  I also had the chance to view the inside of the building of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews.    

While in Warsaw I took the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR).  We discussed concrete collaboration on assisting OSCE-participating States that are not IHRA member countries to establish a common effort for Holocaust Memorial Days.