The ceremony is the only one dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the years of torment in Europe. The ceremony – in its eleventh consecutive year – took place at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest Scroll of Fire Plaza with some 900 people in attendance including hundreds of Border Patron cadets and high school students. This year’s event memorialized the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, president of the Zionist Federation in Hungary during the Holocaust, chairman of the Hungarian Jewish community’s clandestine.
Assistance and Rescue Committee and later also director of the International Red Cross “Department A” responsible for rescuing Jewish children. Komoly oversaw the rescue of 5,000 Jewish children through the establishment of 52 shelters that were staffed by members of the Zionist Youth Movement and protected by Red Cross sponsorship. He also supported the legal—and later the clandestine—escape of Jews from Hungary to Palestine via Romania through which an estimated 15,000
Jews were saved. Komoly was the Jewish community’s principle interlocutor with Hungarian leaders and with the neutral foreign entities that operated in Budapest. On Jan. 1, 1945—barely two weeks before the liberation of Pest by the Red Army— Komoly was kidnapped from his Red Cross offices by agents of the Arrow Cross fascist regime and never heard from again. He is assumed to have been murdered, along with thousands of other Jews, on the banks of the Danube. Over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, the vast majority in the months leading up to the end of the War.
A “Jewish Rescuers Citation”, sponsored by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B’nai B’rith World Center, was conferred at the ceremony on a group of some 30 rescuers who operated in the underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary. 40 citations have been presented to date to rescuers who conducted rescue activites in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary. The award was presented to Otto Komoly’s granddaughter and grandson, Orna Barnea and Oded Furst, in in his name.
Speakers at the event included outgoing Minister of Science, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz (whose grandfather worked in partnership with Otto Komoly in the underground), Hungarian ambassador Hon. Zoltan Szentgyorgyi, KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Dr. Haim V. Katz, Border Police Training Base Commander Ronnie Ochana and Komoly granddaughter Orna Barnea.
In his address, Ambassador Szentgyorgyi said that at the time of the Holocaust, Hungarians were not up to the challenge to resist the wave of anti-Jewish violence promoted by Nazi Germany. In his message, Haim Katz called on the ambassador to convey to the responsible leadership of Hungary not to remain silent in the face of increasing anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism in his country. Efi Stenzler declared that every Israeli should see himself as having survived the inferno and serve as a messenger of the victims of the Holocaust. Minister Hershkowitz declared that Jews did not go to slaughter like sheep, as is popularly held. The Assistance and Rescue Committee, led by Otto Komoly alongside Israel Kastner and Yoel Brand, that did not enjoy the backing of a state, an army or assests, were endowed with unimaginable daring and even negotiated with the devil in order to cease the extermination. They did not go like sheep to the slaughter.
Prior to the ceremony, an emotional meeting took place between soldiers and survivors during which personal testimonies were presented by the survivors.
The phenomena of Jewish rescue and the instructive stories of thousands of Jews who labored to save their endangered brethren throughout Europe are yet to receive appropriate public recognition and resonance. Many who could have tried to flee preferred to stay and rescue others; some paid for it with their lives. With great heroism Jews in every country in occupied Europe employed subterfuge, forgery, smuggling, concealment and other methods to ensure that some Jews survived the Holocaust in Europe or assisted them in escaping to a safe heaven and by doing resisted the Nazi murder machine. The few rescuers who are still alive remain reluctant till today to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the German tormentors and their collaborators.
Considering the fact that many of the rescuers were young at the time of their activity, the organizers of the ceremony view it as especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage.
News of the event was carried widely in the Israeli and international media including IBA news in English and Hebrew, JTA, YNet, Jerusalem Post, Arutz 7, Times of Israel, Israel National News, Israel Radio, European Jewish Press, News1 and the Australian Jewish News.