Hungarian Jews mourn death of community leader

Gusztáv Zoltai led Hungary’s largest Jewish interest group from 1991 to 2013

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Mazsihisz

Gusztáv Zoltai, long-time leader of the Hungarian Jewish community and a defining figure of Jewish public life, died on Sunday at the age of 86, the Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities Mazsihisz announced.

Born in the suburb of Újpest — now part of the Hungarian capital, Budapest — on July 28, 1935, as Gusztáv Czukker, Zoltai lost both his parents during the Nazi occupation of Hungary in 1944. His father died in a labor camp in Hungary, while his mother was killed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Memorial pavement plaque of Zoltai’s parents in Budapest.

Zoltai worked as an artistic manager in various Hungarian theaters during the 1970s and 1980s and only became active in Jewish community life shortly before the end of communism. He was head of the Budapest Jewish Congregation from 1987 to 2014, the executive director of Mazsihisz from 1991 to 2013, the Hungarian director of the World Jewish Congress, and served as a ministerial adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government from 2010 to 2014.

He was the recipient of the Order of Merit of Hungary (2005) and honorary citizen of Budapest (2009).

“He was an emblematic figure in the history of Jewish institutions and of Hungarian public life in general, from before the regime change. He was an especially tormented member of a long-suffering generation,” Mazsihisz wrote in their eulogy.

Title image: Former leader of the Hungarian Jewish community Gusztáv Zoltai. (MTI/Zoltán Máthé)

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