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Statement on the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Hungary

Today marks a somber anniversary – 80 years since the Nazi invasion of Hungary during the Second World War. Annette Lantos, our Chair Emeritus and wife of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, has written a statement reflecting on that dark day in history and its relevance to our current moment in history. We hope you will take the time to read it and consider supporting the Lantos Foundation’s vital work to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Thank you so much for being part of our community of human rights defenders and champions.

Statement by Annette Lantos on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Hungary

On this day exactly 80 years ago, my life changed forever. The Nazis invaded my native Hungary in what they referred to as “Operation Margarethe,” but I knew only as the day my childhood abruptly ended. Although I was only 12 years old, I sensed intuitively that my mother and I were in grave danger. We left our home with the clothes on our backs and never returned.   In the following days we learned that indeed our family’s name had been near the top of the list of those to be rounded up for deportation. When the Gestapo did not find us at home on the next day, they were so enraged that they tragically killed the doorman of our building, accusing him of letting us escape, and hurled our possessions out of the 6th floor windows. I would never again return to the home of my childhood.

What followed those early days was a horrifically efficient implementation of the Nazis’ genocide against the Jews. Hungary had the largest remaining Jewish population in Europe. In a matter of mere months, more than half of this population, including members of my own family, were deported, primarily to Auschwitz. The vast majority were then killed in the gas chambers upon arrival. Others, like my beloved father, were murdered in cold blood on the banks of the Danube River. The speed of the Nazis’ “final solution” in Hungary was enabled by its close cooperation with the Hungarian Arrow Cross party. We were among the lucky ones. Of the more than 800,000 Jews living within Hungary’s borders before the Nazi invasion, only about 250,000 survived.

When I look back on this fateful day in history, I can still feel the fear and the incomprehension at why anyone would want to murder my family – simply because we were Jewish. These experiences of my youth are forever seared into my consciousness. Tragically, I find myself today increasingly recognizing that same fear and disbelief as I watch antisemitism and virulent anti-Jewish hatred surge around the globe. I would never have imagined that I would see the evil of my early years return in such a disturbing and widespread way.

Yet, as I reflect on the tragic past and shocking present, I also remain hopeful that this time it will be different. This time, I hope and believe there will be many more who will, as Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz did, refuse to stay silent or turn away in the face of evil. I believe there will be many more who recognize antisemitism for the ancient and enduring evil that it is, and who will name and shame those who engage in it. On this day of somber remembrance, I hope people in Hungary, the United States and around the world will commit more firmly to fighting against this hateful prejudice with all their strength and determination. It is impossible to deny the reality of antisemitism as we see it engulf the world, but this is also a moment for men and women of goodwill and courage to show who they are. Let us each pledge to pick up the mantle of courage worn by Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, Varian Fry, Jozef Walaszczyk, Corrie Ten Boom, Sir Nicholas Winton, Irena Sendler, Tibor Baranski, and others who were willing to put their own lives at risk to save innocent Jews. I will never be able to repay the debt that I owe to my rescuers but each of us must try in our own way to pay it forward.

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