Divers from Israeli search and rescue organization, ZAKA, yesterday began searching the River Danube in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for the remains of tens of thousands of Jews who were shot by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators almost 75 years ago.
ZAKA has undertaken a protracted three-year campaign to receive permission for the historic search and recovery mission, including requests made at the highest level of government. The decision to allow ZAKA divers to commence work was announced following a meeting this week between Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in Budapest with his Hungarian counterpart, Sandor Pinter.
The organization is well-known and respected in Israel, undertaking often harrowing but holy work in some of the world’s worst disasters or terrorist atrocities. Their remit, as stark as it seems, is to collect as many body parts of a Jewish victim as possible – especially in a terrorist explosion – so that it can a person can bury the bones in accordance with Jewish law. In this particular instance, the movement of the water and boats, natural decay and even repair work to the bridges over the Danube all add to the logistical headaches of the project.
The ZAKA divers will be assisted in their search by a recently-purchased sonar device, which can descend to a depth of 150 meters and scan within 130 meters, quickly identifying objects and transferring the information and exact location to the device operator.
ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who has personally been involved in this project over the last three years said: “This is the final act of chesed (kindness) that we can do for these holy martyrs who were murdered in Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name). ZAKA sees this as a mission of the highest order and value, to do everything we can to finally bring them to burial in accordance with Jewish law.”
At the start of the Second World War there were more than 800,000 Jews (according to Nazi racial laws, i.e. at least one Jewish grandparent) living in Hungary, the majority in Budapest. They lived relatively unscathed until 1944, when the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party took power. They began to enact anti-Jewish pogroms and sent hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews – in a matter of only a few months – to Auschwitz. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial estimates that 565,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust.