(Miami, March 3, 2019)—In the few months between October and December, 1944, approximately eighty thousand Hungarian Jews, most of them residents of Budapest, were murdered on the banks of the Danube River, according to Yad Vashem, and the bodies typically were disposed of in the river. The shootings took place on the edge of the river, with the victims either bound together or with weights attached to their feet so their bodies would fall into the river and sink.
Research and Excavation
Since then, there has been no organized effort to recover their remains, until today. ZAKA, the Israeli search and recovery organization, has been conducting research and gathering evidence for the past few years, and is currently conducting sub-profiling of the river floor, with a full underwater excavation along portions of the river in Budapest to take place between September and November, 2019.
Targum Shlishi helped fund extensive research carried out by ZAKA beginning in 2017, much of it using sonar, video, and kinematic GPS instruments. Through this research, evidence was gathered to prove the exact locations of the shootings to the Hungarian government.
On the occasion of Targum Shlishi’s initial grant to ZAKA, Aryeh Rubin, director of the foundation, said: “We know from witness accounts that this was a systematic campaign that was typically carried out in the afternoons. Witnesses reported that the blood of the Danube would become red with the blood of the murdered Jews.”
That it has taken more than seven decades to organize an effort to recover the bodies and give them a Jewish burial is a travesty, according to Rubin, and a reminder that there is still so much work to be done: “honoring the victims, documenting history, and countering Holocaust denial are vitally important. Equally important is to respond effectively to the global rise of anti-Semitism.”
Permission to Excavate Granted
In January 2019, after three years of international negotiations, Israel’s Interior Minister, Arye Deri, met with Hungarian Interior Minister, Sandor Pinter, who announced that the Hungarian government would provide resources to assist with the search and that remains recovered would be given a Jewish burial. According to the Jerusalem Post, Deri said he was “pleased that the Hungarian minister promised to give the assistance and the human and technological resources to this effort,” and that ZAKA will “Do this act of goodness for the martyrs and offer them a Jewish burial. May God avenge their blood.”
Background of Recovery Efforts
In 2011, the bones of nine Jews killed during the Holocaust were found in the Danube during repairs on the Margaret Bridge. Extensive study was conducted to confirm that the bones were the remains of Ashkenazi Jews, and those bones received a Jewish burial in 2016. That discovery prompted research to determine whether other bones could have survived in the water for so long, and prompted ZAKA’s involvement in this effort.
- “Deri: Hungarian minister promised to find Jewish remains from Holocaust,” Jerusalem Post, January 14, 2019.
- Targum Shlishi press release on initial announcement of ZAKA project
View video (in Hebrew) of ZAKA’s project director, Chaim Otmazgin discussing the initiative.
ZAKA is Israel’s primary rescue and recovery volunteer organization, with thousands of volunteers on call 24/7 to respond to terror attacks, accidents, or disasters. ZAKA volunteers also work in specialist search and rescue units on land and sea and the UN-recognized ZAKA International Rescue Unit operates at mass casualty incidents around the world. A civilian volunteer organization with sole responsibility in Israel for dealing with incidents of unnatural death, ZAKA works in close cooperation with all the emergency services and security forces. For more information on ZAKA, visit its website.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter