Divers search Danube for holocaust victims

The Shoes on the Danube memorial. Photo: Julie Szego/AJN file

NEWS that divers from Israeli search-and-rescue organisation ZAKA are this week searching the River Danube in Hungary for the remains of Holocaust victims shot nearly 75 years ago has been welcomed by survivors in Australia.

According to Yad Vashem some 80,000 Jews were massacred on the banks of the river between October and December 1944 by Hungarian forces under the fascist government of the Arrow Cross Party.

The decision to allow the divers to begin their work followed a meeting in Budapest this week between Israel’s Interior Minister, Aryeh Deri, and his Hungarian counterpart, Sandor Pinter.

Director of education at the Jewish Holocaust Centre Lisa Phillips told The AJN that one of those murdered on the banks of the Danube was the mother of Melbourne survivor Susanne Nozick.

Phillips recounted, “They were all marched to the Danube River – in the dark of night, stripped naked, in freezing temperatures of minus 30 degrees.

“She remembers, on the shore of the Danube they were ordered to line up, ‘and then they shot us’. Miraculously, Susanne fell into the water of the Danube without being shot. Then somehow she made it to the shore where she collapsed.

“She was found by Hungarian soldiers who took her to their barracks, gave her some brandy and wrapped her in blankets. She begged the soldiers, ‘Don’t take me back to the Arrow Cross, rather shoot me!’

“The soldiers brought her to the ghetto. That’s where she was found by her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother’s first question was, ‘Where is my daughter?’ It was the worst moment in Susanne’s life as she had to tell her that Ibolya had been shot and killed.”

Phillips added, “The efforts by ZAKA are important for remembering the victims of the Holocaust as human beings, not just statistics – one of the victims being Susanne’s mother, Ibolya – as well as the role of the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross in their murders.”

A memorial, Shoes on the Danube, featuring dozens of pairs of empty shoes lined up at the edge of the river, where the Jews were shot, was unveiled in 2005.

ZAKA chairman Yehudah Meshi Zahav said the search for remains would be “the last act of goodness that we can do for these martyrs who were killed in the sanctification of God’s name, and ZAKA sees this as a mission of the first order to do everything to bring them to burial in Israel”.