by Rich Landesberg
It was a full day in Budapest. Our morning lecture was about the Jewish community here that was decimated by the Nazis and local fascists in 1944 and 1945. We had previously seen the sculpture of shoes lining the banks of the Danube. The empty shoes represented Jews rounded up by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, marched to the river bank, and shot, falling into the Danube and turning it red with innocent blood. Our hotel is on the edge of the old Jewish ghetto where 200,000 people were forced to live in 2,000 homes before being sent to concentration camps and murdered. Hitler is said to have stood on the (now gone) upper floor of the hotel to watch parts of the ghetto burn. From my room, you can see the old synagogue.
After class, we walked over to the restored synagogue for a guided tour. The building is magnificent, with moorish architecture and interior parts reminiscent of a Catholic church. Even in the late 1800s, the Jewish population tried to blend in to keep from attracting the attention of those who would do them harm just because of how they chose to worship. Our guide was born just as the war ended, with a Jewish mother and Catholic father, both of whom lived in the ghetto. Her father is credited with saving hundreds of Jewish lives and his name is enshrined on a wall outside the synagogue. During the war, the Nazis used the building as a stable. Now, this biggest syngouge in Europe is once again a house of worship.
After that sobering morning tour, it was time for lunch before a city tour at 2:30. That took us to all the major sites incuding hero’s square in Pest (the lower part of the city) and old Buda (the mountain on the other side of the river, overlooking Pest). Great views and many photo ops were part of our afternoon as well as talking with our guide who was 15 when the Soviets finally left her country. The evening was spent over dinner and working on group projects for this blog.