By Cnaan Liphshiz/(JTA) – More than 70 years after fascists took Elie Wiesel to the train station of Sighet in Romania, hundreds of the city’s residents retraced his steps in a march to protest against antisemitism. Organized by local authorities and the Limmud FSU Jewish learning group and co-sponsored by the Claims Conference, the march on the evening of Sept. 10 began at the home where Wiesel, who passed away last year, was born, and ended at the station where, in 1944, he boarded with his family a train to the Auschwitz death camp. The march drew Jews and non-Jews from far and wide. At the end of the march, the local train station was renamed after Wiesel, a renowned author and Nobel Prize winner.
Occurring amid a rise in antisemitic hate crimes in Western Europe, the event in Sighet was a “powerful reminder that we are not as alone as we used to be,” said Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU. “When fascists marched Elie Wiesel and his family with the knowledge of the local population, they were isolated, branded and silenced. Now we walk united, loud and hand in hand.”
But for many of the Jewish participants of the march through Sighet, a city of 37,000 that used to be part of Hungary during the Holocaust, the event was a stark reminder of the scope of devastation of Hungarian and Romanian Jewry, when the Nazis and their collaborators killed a million Jews from those countries alone. Romania, once home to 800,000 Jews, now has about 7,000 of them, including a few dozen Jews living in Sighet. In Hungary, which also used to have a close to one million Jews, now live only 100,000. “Nobody speaks of the mass theft, conducted on a state level, by private people, in Hungary today,” said Robert Frolich, the chief rabbi of Hungary for the Federation of Jewish Communities of that country.
In addition, Holocaust denial and revisionism remains a problem in both. It was a point addressed by Yair Lapid, a prominent opposition lawmaker from Israel with Hungarian roots who attended the march (along with Gila Gamliel, Israel’s minister for social equality.) “Now as in the 1940s, antisemites only understand force,” said Lapid. “And this event, it advertises our strength – the Jews and non-Jews who oppose it.”