Budapest (AFP) - Hungarian Jews and Soviet army veterans gathered Sunday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation by the Red Army of the Budapest ghetto in World War II.
Several hundred people, including dozens who survived the ghetto, attended the memorial service in the Grand Synagogue, Europe's largest place of Jewish worship.
"Many would not be sitting here today if the Red Army had not arrived that day," Robert Frolich, the synagogue's chief rabbi, told the congregation.
"We celebrate our lives we got back on January 18, 1944" he added.
Two Soviet veterans who took part in the liberation also attended, while the Red Army's Alexandrov Ensemble choir gave a performance.
In a speech Russia's Ambassador in Budapest Vladimir Sergeyev said some 50,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives in the liberation of Budapest.
In November 1944, the fascist Arrow Cross party, installed in power by Nazi Germany the previous month, ordered Jews in Budapest into a closed ghetto in the city's seventh district.
Until the arrival of Red Army forces it housed up to 70,000 people in cramped and unhygienic conditions.
Thousands died due to starvation, disease, or the effects of the harsh winter.
"Dozens of us lay in a cellar resigned to death," 79-year-old survivor Vera Salgo told AFP Sunday.
"Then suddenly our door opened and there was a Russian soldier, asking if there were Germans inside," she said.
Hungary fought alongside Nazi Germany during the war as a member of the Axis, but Hitler ordered a takeover on March 19, 1944, when he discovered Budapest had started secret peace talks with the Soviet Union.
Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished during the Holocaust, most deported to Nazi death camp Auschwitz after the German occupation began.
Around 100,000 Jews remained in Budapest when the entire city was liberated on February 13, 1945.
Hungary's commemorations of the deportations were plagued by controversy over how to properly commemorate the Holocaust.
Many groups organising commemorations refused or gave back funding from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, accusing it of playing down the Hungarian state's complicity in organising the deportations, a charge denied by the government.