Shoes and Jewish monuments in Budapest
Hungary shares the grim history of WWII and the tragic fate of a once flourishing Jewish community.
It is worth to take a day to walk the Jewish quarters and visit Jewish memorials in Budapest.
The most beautiful and moving memorial are the iron cast shoes located between Szechenyi Istvan Square and Kossuth Square on the Pest side of the Danube.
Shoes that commemorate those who were shot into the river by the fascist Arrow Cross, during a time when shoes were worth more than a life.
The victims were told to take their shoes off before being shot. An absurd scenario.
I was thinking about my grandpa, who lost his brothers, his parents and barely survived the Holocaust himself. Nothing short of a miracle he went through three life threatening scenarios, one involved signing his own execution.
He died at the age of 96 but longevity was lonely, he used to say, when talking about his life.
Grandpa escaped the ghetto in Lwów (Ukrainian city today) and was a regimental doctor, then commander of four military hospitals in Poland during WWII. He later specialised in paediatrics and was assigned professor and head of the Department of Health at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin. He was engaged in medical research throughout his life and the author of many scientific publications.
Being offered a medical position in Switzerland and the opportunity to leave for Germany or Italy, he decided to stay in Poland. He changed his confession after WWII for various reasons and consequently I grew up in a catholic family of liberal believes.
Not being religious myself, I follow catholic traditions, I visit churches for their architectural and historical relevance, I went to a Catholic primary school.
Yet I wouldn’t consider myself religious. I do not believe in god, nor goddesses nor various other deities that came up during the last two thousand years.
Anyhow. Looking at the Danube, I was wondering if during times of war, religious and political fanaticism, I would be considered Catholic and hated, harassed, tortured or murdered.
These could’ve been our shoes.
I am puzzled as to why religion matters so much. Would people kill and hate each other all the same without (seemingly or definite) religious motives? Maybe there aren’t any answers.
We just have to make sure, that we learn from history and move on. (Which I am not so sure is happening, when reading about the radical nationalist agenda of the third largest political party ‘Jobbik‘ in Hungary.)
Walking the Jewish quarters means visiting the largest synagogue in Europe at Dohány Street.
The ‘Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs‘ resembles a weeping willow whose leaves bear inscriptions of names of the victims who were murdered during WWII.
Some passers-by gave us their tickets for the synagogue, which we didn’t have time to use. Lady Justice served herself.
We missed out on the whole synagogue complex and the Museum of Jewish history. One more reason to come back to Budapest.
Another synagogue, located on Kazinczy Street is build in the style of art nouveau.
You can check current gold prices at the Jewish community center. (Needless to say, I am just kidding. I cannot read Hebrew.)
There is a kosher restaurant nearby and I am not kidding when I say that bleeding animals to death without any sedation, be it the ‘kosher‘ or ‘halal‘ way, makes me wonder about the cruelty inflicted on animals, which civilized societies tolerate for the sake of religious beliefs.
The Gozsdu courtyard is a long passageway and was once inhabited by Jewish merchants.
A unique part of the Jewish district it has retained its former market-workshop atmosphere with a lot of traditional crafters.
While walking from Dob utca 16 to Király utca 13 through six courtyards we enjoyed a colourful flee market full of clothes, hand made jewellery, antiques and original souvenirs.
There were many artists and I spotted some stands reflecting on Jewish heritage.
Surrounded by live music and coming from the coolest market/ruin bar in Budapest, I almost forgot, that there were health food sellers and a café as well.
At Dob utca, at the entrance to the former ghetto, stands the beautiful Carl Lutz Memorial. Car Lutz was a Swiss consul who saved over sixty thousands Jews by issuing Swiss safe-conduct documents, protective letters and setting up safety houses.
This was the lively hub of Budapest’s trade and commerce and Jewish life for centuries.
It became the place of terror and tragedy as the Jewish ghetto was set up.
During our walk of the Jewish quarter, we saw traces of pre-war happy days, remarkable architecture, reminders of the Holocaust, the crumbling reality of the socialist era and the visible process of revival in form of new bars, restaurants, cafés and markets. A journey within Budapest not to forget.
I am going to write about Hungary’s most famous composer, who once also played the pipe organ at the Dohány Street Synagogue in the next post.
In the meantime, hold on tight. Every moment is precious.