“A Prime Example for Working through the Past”

In the month of April this year, the March of Life took place in Hungary, Austria, the United States, and Paraguay in 60 cities with a total of more than 5,000 participants, taking a stand for friendship to Israel and against anti-Semitism.

With 300 German and Hungarian permanent participants and events in 12 cities with an additional 2,000 participants, the March of Life in Hungary took the reverse route of the former death march and led the 250 km from Sopron to Budapest. Among the participants were numerous Hungarian and German descendants of members of the Wehrmacht or the SS, of the police or the administration, who had been involved in the Holocaust in Hungary. They had come to break the veil of silence covering their forebears’ guilt.

The main event in the Festival Hall of the Jewish community in Budapest was attended by the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, András Heisler, as well as the Israeli Ambassador, Ilan Mor, the German Ambassador Dr. Matei Hoffmann, and other church representatives. Ambassador Mor described the March of Life as a prime example for working through the Holocaust. The initiator and founder of the March of Life, Jobst Bittner, pointed out the German responsibility for the Holocaust in Hungary. According to Mr. Bittner it would only be possible to overcome anti-Semitism in Hungary once the history of Hungarian perpetrators was worked through.

The following day, 400 participants walked across the Chain Bridge to the square in front of the Hungarian Parliament for an Open Air event with the Holocaust survivor, author, and awardee of the Buber-Rosenzweig medal, György Konrad. In a joint prayer of repentance, the Hungarian participants committed to breaking the veil of silence over hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism and to standing in steadfast friendship with Israel.

Numerous survivors of the Holocaust, among them the Chief Rabbi and survivor of Auschwitz, Peter Kardos, expressed their gratitude for the exceptional project. “This is something unique in life. A rabbi, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, welcomes the descendants of the perpetrators in the very synagogue that is also a memorial for the Holocaust. My father was shot by Hungarian Arrow Cross members at the border. Meeting you today literally means compensation to me after 70 years.” At the event, church representatives, such as the Catholic bishop, János Székely, and the president of the Hungarian Pentecostal Association, Albert Pataky, offered public prayers of repentance for the churches’ joint guilt in the Holocaust.

Finally, the participants of the March of Life joined the “March of the Living” in Budapest. Jobst Bittner was among the key note speakers for the closing event with 25,000 participants. Frank and Bärbel Pfeiffer joined the memorial train to Auschwitz as representatives of the descendants of the perpetrators.

The March of Life in Hungary was supported by more than 20 representatives of almost all Christian denominations and representatives of a great variety of groups of social life. On occasion of the 70th anniversary of the German surrender we are planning on holding Marches of Life in a hundred cities in Germany, Austria, Poland, and in other European countries.

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