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Memories to Shape the Future

holocaust remembranceAmbassador of Hungary Péter Szabadhegy discusses the role of governments, politicians and civil society in combating anti-Semitism and promoting Holocaust remembrance and education

This year we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps by the Allied forces. In 1945, the world was horrified to discover the evil of mankind, and in 2015 a series of events have been held in Europe and beyond to remember this.  The message is clear: while the past cannot be undone, it is imperative to ensure that the lessons learnt from the Holocaust are never forgotten. This is our duty to both the victims and the survivors.

In 2015, the country I represent is proud to hold the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Established in 2000, the Alliance now has 31 member countries, eight observer countries and seven permanent international partners. It focuses on placing political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance, and research both nationally and internationally. Hungary joined the Alliance in 2002, and it is a great honour for us that this year Hungary chairs the IHRA for the second time.

The Alliance’s activities are based on the Stockholm Declaration, which sets out its founding principles. In this Declaration, governments pledged to strengthen their efforts to promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust.  They shared a commitment to encourage the study of the Holocaust in all its dimensions, to promote education about the Holocaust in schools, universities and communities.  Signatory countries shared a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honour those who stood against it.  This year marks 15 years since the Stockholm Declaration.

Before Hungary, the IHRA had been chaired by the UK for 12 months. Under the British Chairmanship, the alliance reaffirmed the Stockholm Declaration and its solemn commitments, which our governments undertook in 2000. Closer cooperation with the Vatican began. In a constructive way, the British Chairmanship addressed the challenges we were facing, like rising anti-Semitism and extremism throughout Europe.

In March, the Hungarian Chairmanship started a programme with full respect for the achievements of the preceding Chairmanships and taking into consideration these challenges. Our priorities are threefold: combating anti-Semitism; promoting Holocaust education; and commemorating the genocide of the Roma.

The terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen this year came subsequently to a string of deadly assaults on Jews across the continent. In times of increasing anti-Semitism and violence in the world, we need to turn our attention and enhance our cooperation to the fight against anti-Semitism. That is why we put this issue in the centre of our Chairmanship goals. We intend to organise a conference in November in Budapest on the issue of the use of Holocaust-related imagery and language in public discourse. In January 2016 an academic conference will be held in Budapest to discuss ‘The Phenomena of Rising Anti-Semitism in Western and Central-Eastern Europe.’

We share the general assessment that political anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, which fuels anti-Semitic acts and incidents.  Anti-Semitism can only be broken by political determination.  My Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has repeatedly stressed that the Hungarian government has a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ towards anti-Semitism and anti-Roma attitudes. His words have been supported by legislative changes to ensure that hate crimes, Holocaust denial and the use of totalitarian symbols are banned by the force of law in Hungary.

My Government considers that Holocaust education, remembrance and research are essential in combating anti-Semitism. Education can contribute the most to establishing a way of thinking that prevents people from acting and speaking with hatred against groups of people different from them. In the pursuit of the goals of the Stockholm Declaration, the Hungarian Government has made and keeps making serious efforts in this field too: for example, the education of the Holocaust is compulsory and is an integral part of the national curriculum. The Government declared 2012 ‘Wallenberg Year’ to commemorate the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews.  The year 2014 was dedicated to the remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust.  It was my honour to speak at the Yom Hashoah Evening last year in the Pinner Synagogue to mark this occasion.

Since we assumed the IHRA chairmanship in March, it has been my great privilege to work with the Jewish Community, Jewish institutions in the UK and the British Government to further the Alliance’s aims in the UK and beyond.

One of our first international public events under the Hungarian IHRA Chairmanship was held in London on 22 April: the Embassy of Hungary and Baroness Deech hosted a panel discussion in the House of Lords to mark the handover of the Chairmanship from the UK to Hungary. The discussion covered the role of governments, politicians and civil society in combating anti-Semitism and their role in promoting Holocaust remembrance and education. The Hungarian Chair of the IHRA visited London to attend this panel discussion: State Secretary Mr Szabolcs Takács set out Hungary’s priorities for the IHRA Chairmanship and talked about the challenges Hungary faces. He explained what the government does to combat anti-Semitism in Hungary and at international level. Vivian Wineman, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, paid tribute to the Hungarian government’s engagement with the Jewish community in the UK and beyond, and also highlighted the importance of Holocaust education. Mr Wineman recalled his visit to the Budapest Holocaust memorial ‘Shoes by the Danube,’ which draws attention to the horrible acts of Nazi occupiers and their Hungarian collaborators during World War II. Sir Andrew Burns, the UK’s post-Holocaust Envoy, highlighted the achievements of UK’s IHRA Chairmanship and expressed great confidence in handing over the chairmanship to Hungary.

The speeches were followed by a frank and open Q&A with the audience, and a reception at the Hungarian Embassy. As a representative of my country, I was honoured that so many members of the House of Lords, and Britain’s Jewish community – including Hungarian Holocaust survivors – attended the events.

Let me finish by quoting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who spoke this January at a memorial for Jewish soldiers who died defending Hungary during World War I. “The Holocaust,” Mr Orbán said, “is the tragedy of the Hungarian nation and the irredeemable loss of the Hungarian Jewish community. During World War II, we were loveless and indifferent when we should have helped, and there were many, very many, Hungarians who chose evil over good, who chose shameful acts instead of honest ones.”

We will use our role as the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten, never repeated. We will learn from the past and confront today’s challenges together.


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