The Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Budapest Rabbi Robert Simcha Yisrael Frohlich has said of a current search for Jewish remains in the Danube River from the Holocaust era that he believes it would be more respectful of the dead to leave any human remains where they lie.
His comments join those of the MAZSIHISZ federation of Hungarian Jewish communities – the country’s umbrella Jewish organisation and EJC affiliate – which expressed opposition to the project earlier this month.
Some 80,000 Jews were massacred on the banks of the Danube in 1944 by Hungarian forces under the fascist government of the Arrow Cross Party, according to Yad Vashem. After several years of preparation, a search by an ultra-Orthodox Israeli group began last week using divers, imaging equipment and other means.
The beginning of the search was announced with some fanfare, including messages of thanks from an Israeli minister to his Hungarian counterpart for his promise to provide material support for the search.
However, MAZSIHISZ has publicly opposed the search, and Frohlich expressed his own opposition.
The rabbi pointed out that the remains of many people likely lie in the Danube, noting that large numbers of suicides that have been committed in the river over the years, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while shipping disasters and other historical incidents have also contributed bodies to the Danube.
Frohlich said that he did not know if any bones recovered could reliably be determined to be Jewish, and said that any DNA testing that might be possible would be “a dangerous direction” to go in and would stray into “racial theory,” which he said would be undesirable.
“Ethically we have no right to disturb the thousands of dead people in the river. It doesn’t matter if they were Jews or non-Jews,” Frohlich told the Post.
He also expressed bewilderment as to why a search is being conducted specifically in the Danube for the remains of Jews massacred in the Holocaust, as opposed to any other site of mass killings of Jews during the period across Europe.
“I myself have relatives who were shot into the Danube and found their resting place there. It is more respectful to leave the dead where they are,” said Frohlich.
In a statement earlier this month, MAZSIHISZ said that “Disturbing the resting place of the dead is a complex and sensitive issue” and that “Searching and probing for bones is superfluous, an affront to the honour and rest of the dead, Jews and non-Jews alike, and is in conflict with Jewish law.”
Like Frohlich, MAZSIHISZ pointed out that the remains of many non-Jewish people likely rest in the Danube, including those who died during the siege of Budapest by the Red Army in 1944.
Tens of thousands of Soviet, Nazi and Hungarian troops died during the battle for the city, as well as an estimated 38,000 civilians.
MAZSIHISZ also cast doubts as to whether or not any remains found could be reliably identified as Jewish.