After a lovely and musical luncheon at the Talmud Torah Federation Center, adjacent to the magnificent Dohany St. Synagogue, our Tour guide extraordinaire Agi took us on a stroll of the Budapest streets.
We visited a large Plaza where a grandiose cathedral stands: the St Stephen Cathedral. We learned that the catholic church is very political in Hungary, and is presently lobbying for the leading government with all its fascists undertones.
We then passed by the Central European University, founded by George Soros, which has a Faculty of Jewish studies. We had the chance at noon time to meet Professor Michael Miller, an American scholar who lives in Budapest for many years now, and teaches courses on Nationalism and its impact on Jewish communities in Central Europe. He gave us a very interesting talk on that during the luncheon.
We then arrived into Liberty square and we saw the elegant building of the American Embassy ironically facing a monument in appreciation of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from the Nazi regime. The monument consists of an obelisk crowned with a five-pointed Communist star. Hungarians are not terribly fond of this monument and would prefer to see it removed. Not only is it a reminder of the Soviet occupation, but to add insult to injury, the monument stands at the exact location of a protest once held against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which resulted in the loss of almost three quarters of Hungary’s territory.
After that, we passed by a protestant church with a bust of Miklos Horthy, the controversial Regent of Hungary during the war who eventually signed the decree that allowed the deportation of the countryside Jews. Some say he saw his country as trapped between two strong powers, the soviets and the Nazis, both of them dangerous, and he considered Hitler to be the more manageable of the two. This church is a meeting place for members of the extreme right party Jobbik, and we already knew a lot about them from our encounter with their former leader, Csanad Szegedi (lots of emotions stirred in that meeting!!!).
Next, we visited a very recently placed and controversial Memorial for the victims of the Nazi occupation. The Jewish community is deeply upset about this statue depicting Hungary as the innocent Archangel Gabriel attacked by an eagle (Nazi Germany). This is an attempt to blame all the sins of the Shoah on the Germans leaving the Hungarians in the role of innocent bystanders. Members of the Jewish community placed a line of posters with pictures of fascist Hungarians attacking and shooting Jews during the war. It was very moving to see there some possessions from the victims (luggage, shoes, spectacles, letters, etc).
With a heavy heart we visited the Glass House where the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz distributed visas and protection letters. That huge glass factory was also a hiding place for hundreds of Jews during the Nazi occupation. We saw a small size replica of the building showing all the hidden rooms where they had the Jewish families hiding, just like the Anna Frank story. At one time, about 3,000 Jews found refuge at the Glass House and in a neighboring building from Hungarian fascists, antisemitic murderers and the German Nazis. The Glass House was also used as a headquarters by the Jewish youth underground which saved many lives. In 1942 Carl Lutz was appointed as Swiss vice-consul in Budapest. He soon began cooperating with the Jewish Agency issuing Swiss safe-conduct documents enabling Jewish children to emigrate. Once the Nazis took over Budapest in 1944 and began deporting Jews to the death camps, Lutz negotiated a special deal with the Hungarian government and the Nazis: he had permission to issue protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to Israel. Lutz then deliberately misinterpreted his permission for 8,000 as applying to families rather than individuals, and proceeded to issue tens of thousands of additional protective letters, all of them bearing a number between one and 8,000. He also set up some 76 safe houses around Budapest, declaring them annexes of the Swiss legation, the most famous of which was the Glass House. Although more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, 125,000 survived, half of them thanks to the efforts of Carl Lutz, named a righteous gentile by the Israeli government in 1964.
We had our Seudah Shlishit there before walking to the Shoe Memorial on the West Bank of the Danube River where we had Havdallah.
The heart breaking Shoe Memorial honors the Jews killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during the war. Jews were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river. The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron, including little children’s shoes. Visitors often lay flowers or candles, but not a long time ago Hungarian fascists desecrated the memorial placing pigs’ feet inside the shoes.
After so many experiences, with our loaded hearts we boarded an exclusive boat (just for us) and enjoyed a magnificent night time cruise along the Danube River. It was our last night of a memorable trip together and many tears, hugs and laughs were witnessed by the Budapest stars.
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