January 17, 2019 / 6:07 PM / 6 months ago

Hungarian Jews split about Danube search for Holocaust victims

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s largest Jewish organization on Thursday asked Israeli and Hungarian authorities to suspend a search for the remains of Holocaust victims in the Danube riverbed, saying the dead should be left in peace.

Volunteers of Israeli rescue and recovery organisation ZAKA survey images transmitted by an underwater sonar during a search for the remains of Holocaust victims murdered on the banks of the Danube river in 1944 in Budapest, Hungary January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas

At the request of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, an Israeli team this week began mapping out the floor of the Danube in Budapest in search of the remains of Holocaust victims murdered on the riverbank by Hungarian fascists in 1944 and 1945.

“Disturbing the resting place of the dead is a complex and sensitive matter,” the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz, said on its website.

“Bones have probably scattered in the 75 years and could have been washed as far downstream as the Black Sea ... searching for them is needless, and breaches the peace and dignity of the dead, Jewish or Goyim. It breaches the Halacha (Jewish religious law).”

More than half a million Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including thousands shot on the riverbank by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party, which briefly ruled Hungary toward the end of World War Two.

In 2016, after some Jewish remains were uncovered from the riverbed during the renovation of a Budapest bridge, the victims were honoured in a symbolic burial by all Jewish congregations. Mazsihisz says that was sufficient.

But Orthodox and Hasidic Jews asked the Israeli volunteer group ZAKA to look for more remains. ZAKA plans to return to Budapest with divers in February.

ZAKA’s project leader, Ilan Berkovich, said the project would go on unless the Orthodox and Hasidic communities said otherwise.

“I guess (the Mazsihisz complaint) has more to do with the internal politics of those groups; we try not to be involved.”

The Hasidic Unified Hungarian Israelite Congregation (EMIH), which plans to transfer the remains to Israel, said this week that it was “righteous” to transfer the dead to a new grave if the previous one had been flooded.

A spokesman said EMIH considered it a moral obligation to give a full burial to any remains still in the river.

It is not the first issue to split Hungary’s strong and vibrant community of about 100,000 Jews: a planned new Holocaust museum in Budapest, which EMIH owns but Mazsihisz and others criticized, was also a bone of contention.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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