Well if Slovenia was the morphing location between the Balkans and Central Europe I am now well and truly catapulted into the Austro Hungarian Empire. No more orthodox churches but plenty of RC and once again a country with a strong Jewish culture and quarter.
The Jews here primarily came from German speaking backgrounds and before the war they numbered around 900,000. Hungary chose to align with Hitler’s axis at the start of the war and as a result they were not invaded while the Nazis focussed on the domination of other countries. However in 1944 the Hungarians realised that the Germans would lose the war and so they switched sides. This had a very bad outcome for the country and the Jews. In anger at this switch Hitler invaded and occupied Hungary almost immediately and the occupation lasted until the end of the war. They also upped the deportation of as many Jews as possible. – quite easy to do given they were already living in a ghettoised area of the city. In just two months 440,000 were deported to Auschwitz and very few ever returned. Some of the people in charge in Hungary then tried to slow this process down when they realised they would be seen as complicit in this genocide but by then a lot of the damage was done. In the end something like 80% to 90% of Hungarian Jews were murdered by the nazi.
Post war the Jews who were left were also put in a ghetto as there was an initial far right wing government in power. This lasted for about 6 weeks before the soviets “liberated” the country but by then another 10,000 of the 70,000 in the ghetto had died of starvation or hunger. So really all very depressing but nevertheless good to see that an active Jewish community remains in the city. This is not the case in some of the other parts of Europe badly impacted by the holocaust.
The top part of the Great Synagogue is ow a museum aiming to teach about Jewish customs and holiday. Thankfully people working in other museums took and Hd them during the war. Lots of interesting artefacts but the most heartbreaking were the menorah candle holders (top left) made out of dough that were found in the ghetto. This person gave up much needed food to make this important symbol.
While the exterior of the Great (or Dohány Street) Synagogue was impressive (2nd largest in the world after the one in NYC and it holds 3000 people) it was also kind of weird. Here’s the exterior which has clear moorish influences.
But to me why it is weird is that the inside looks like a synagogue trying to look like a cathedral. An organ? Two pulpits? The seating? The placement of the Torah? There are various theories why this is. They couldn’t find any Jewish architects? It just doesn’t feel right to me ….
I did like the adjacent gardens though. This includes the Tree of Life sculpture which is a memorial to those lost in the holocaust with each lead having names engraved on it. Also memorials to the “righteous ones” – those who helped to save Jews at great risk to themselves and to the many Jews who died in the ghetto where hundreds of bodies found heaped up after liberation.
There was also a big mention for Sir Nicholas Winton – the young Brit who created the concept of kinder trains which enabled many Jewish children from Prague to escape certain death. If you’ve never seen this little video I recommend it. It’s a tear jerker.
Having been somewhat flummoxed by the Great Synagogue I was much more entranced with the Hungarian Art Deco style Kazinczy Street synagogue. The outside is drab but the interior is pretty fab and certainly unusual but this time in a good way.
The Jewish quarter has many kosher restaurants, shops and bakeries so I had to enjoy a traditional flodni cake while in the locale – poppy seeds, walnuts and yumminess.
The Ruin bars are also omnipresent in this area. Originally crumbling communist buildings that had long fallen into disrepair they weren’t taken over by entrepreneurial youth and turned into rough and ready pubs and eating places. They are very popular – but mostly with tourists unless you get off the beaten track. I went during the day so I could see the whacky decor and avoid being soaked in other people’s’ beer!