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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 01:44 GMT 02:44 UK
Hungary marks first Holocaust Day
Hungarian Parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day
Hungary took a long time to commemorate the event
By Nick Thorpe in Budapest

Hungary has held the first commemoration for its hundreds of thousands of victims of the Holocaust.

The day was marked solemnly with a plenary session of parliament.

Schoolchildren have in the past month received a new text book dedicated to the subject.

Some 600,000 Jews and gypsies from Hungary perished in Nazi concentration camps, most of them in the last year of the war.

Hungarian responsibility

The Hungarian president, Ferenc Madl, sent a message from his hospital bed.

Hungarian Chief Rabbi Jozsef Schweitzer and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
The day marks the foundation of Hungary's first ghetto in 1944
The speaker of parliament, Janos Ader, condemned racial discrimination in all its forms, and said the deportations did not happen at the will of the majority.

Hungary's chief rabbi, Jozsef Schweitzer, reminded deputies that the anti-Jewish laws of the 1930s and 40s were passed in the same chamber where they now sat, and that the Hungarian government handed over its own citizens to their executioners.

A survivor of the Holocaust also addressed parliament.

Deportations of Jews only began from Hungary when German forces occupied the country in March 1944 and established a puppet state led by Hungary's small fascist party, the Arrow Cross.

Bitter controversy

The degree of Hungarian involvement in the deportations has been a source of bitter controversy ever since.

Jewish leaders argue that as Nazi Germany was already losing the war, a Hungarian refusal to co-operate would have saved thousands of lives.

The government plans to hold annual commemorations every 16 April, the anniversary of the foundation of the first ghetto in Hungary in 1944.

This year's ceremony was held a day later because of the Easter holiday.

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See also:

27 Jan 01 | Europe
Europe remembers the Holocaust
23 Oct 00 | UK
Holocaust memorial online
27 Jan 00 | Europe
Work starts on Holocaust memorial
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