In a unique annual commemoration ceremony held Monday as Israel marked Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, 28 Jewish Rescuers Citations were granted to Jewish rescuers who were active in Hungary during the war.
The event's guest of honor was Hungarian Ambassador to Israel Zoltán Szentgyörgyi.
The ceremony – likely the only one in the world putting a spotlight on Jews' rescue activities – was held by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) at the Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” plaza outside Jerusalem.
Forty citations have been presented since the citation’s establishment in 2011 to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary.
This year's event, the 11th annual ceremony, was dedicated to the memory of Otto Komoly, chairman of the Zionist Federation in Hungary, who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust until he was abducted by members of the fascist regime. It is assumed that he was murdered.
Oversaw rescue of 5,000 Jewish children
As chairman of the Hungarian Jewish community’s clandestine 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.
Commemorating Jews who have yet to receive proper recognition
Komoly was the Jewish community’s principle interlocutor with Hungarian leaders and with the neutral foreign entities that operated in Budapest.
On January 1, 1945 – barely two weeks before the liberation of Pest by the Red Army – Komoly was kidnapped from his Red Cross offices by members of the Arrow Cross regime and was never heard from again. He is assumed to have been murdered, along with thousands of other Jews, on the banks of the Danube.
Otto Komoly was represented at the ceremony by his granddaughter, Orna Barnea.
According to the B'nai B'rith organization, "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 chose 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 haven.
"The few rescuers who are still alive have often been reluctant to recount their stories, satisfied in the knowledge that they were able to overcome the Nazis and their collaborators."
The event's organizers added in a statement that "considering the fact that many of the rescuers were young at the time of their activity, it is especially important to expose Jewish youth to the phenomena of Jewish rescue during the Holocaust as a model for Jewish solidarity and courage."