When traveling I love learning about history of the area I am in. The thing with history is, it isn’t always pretty or doesn’t always make us proud of those who came before us. Nope, but it is history and important to look at as a way towards understanding people and societies.
Today we are a sum of all the events that have taken place in an earlier time and to evolve we need to embrace history.
Unfortunately Budapest has its fair share of the type of history that is really ugly and makes us uncomfortable.
War is ugly but WWII and its repercussions to Jews was especially this way. This was true for the Jews in Budapest too. Early during the war the Jews in Hungary were basically left alone since Hungary sided with the Nazi’s. But as the war dragged on Hungarian support changed and so did the treatment of the Jews.
In March 1944 Germany occupied Hungary. Ghettos were formed in Budapest and 200,000 Jews were moved into squalid conditions. Food was not let in, waste and trash was not collected and the dead were piled high or buried in a mass grave at the Dohany Synagogue.
Budapest has many memorials to its Jews that lost their lives during WWII. Some of these monuments are at the Dohany Street Synagogue, the 2nd largest synagogue in the world.
In the courtyard of the synagogue is the mass grave of thousands of Jews from the Budapest Ghetto. This is very unusual for a synagogue since according to Jewish law the dead are not to be buried on the grounds of a synagogue. In this case, there really was no other option.
As a memorial to all Hungarian victims of the Holocaust is the weeping willow. Made out of steel with each leaf containing a name of a victim, this commemoration was built in 1989 and sponsored, in part, by the Emanuel Foundation which was created by Tony Curtis in honor of his father, Emanuel Schwartz, who emigrated from Mateszalka Hungary to New York.
One of the most disturbing is the “Shoes on the Danube” monument. On the edge of the Danube near the Parliament building you will see bronze shoes standing at the waters edge. As the war was coming to its end, the Nazi’s realized they were loosing. They installed the faschist Red Arrow Party in Budapest and empowered them to round up groups of Jews, take them to the rivers edge and shoot them so they would fall into the Danube. Prior to shooting them, they were required to remove their shoes. Estimates are that 10-15,000 Jews died in this manner.
In 1941 there were about 246,000 Jews living in Budapest and at the end of the war almost 50% had died with most of these deaths occurring after May 1944.
History is philosophy teaching by example and also by warning.