Monday, April 16, 2007

Yom Hashoah in Budapest

The sirens didn't wail here in Budapest like they did in Israel this morning. Traffic didn't come to a standstill, people didn't stop working or talking. Life goes on as usual here in Budapest on Yom Hashoah.

This morning I visited the great synagogue of Budapest. This massive structure is over 200 years old, and was initially part of the Neolog "stream" of Judaism...similar to Reform. The Chatam Sofer put a "cherem" on this shul, and I therefore did not enter the building, but took pictures of the outside and visited the areas surrounding the building.

If you click on the picture above, you'll notice dots on top of some of the letters of the pasuk "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכה" -- and I haven't figured out why.

During the Holocaust the shul was used as a concentration camp. Adolf Eichman had an office behind the rose window in the women's balcony, and the Germans used it as a radio tower. In the courtyard of the synagogue, there are mass graves of thousands of Jews from the ghettos in Budapest.

(picture of mass grave)

Raoul Wallenberg who came to Budapest as secretary of the Swedish Foreign Ministry in July 1944 with instructions to save as many Jews as possible. He issued thousands of Swedish identity documents to Jews to protect them from Nazi deportation and is credited with ultimately saving as many as 100,000 people. He worked with the Swiss consul Charles Lutz, as well as Portuguese and Spanish legations to create "protected" houses and a "protected" ghetto to house the Jews with international identity papers. Wallenberg was last seen leaving the city on January 17, 1945, right after the Soviet army liberated the city.

Wallenberg and other righteous gentiles are memorialized in the shul's courtyard.

In the holocaust museum next door, there were all sorts of objects I had never seen before in real life from the Holocaust.

This dress was made out of tallit -- to degrade and defile it.

Torah scrolls were cut up and used as parts of drums.

The following was rather interesting:

Here is a "Haftorah Scroll"...if you click on it, you'll see that although it's a scroll, there's nikud and simanei kriya written in as well (makes reading it rather easy)

Anti-semitic sentiment in Hungary during the Holocaust...

The Jewish ghetto in Budapest.

This visitor seemed a bit out of place in the museum.

A Chevra Kadisha tzedakka box in the museum...I thought it was rather morbid.

Yet, of everything I saw this morning I found this the most surprising. Outside the museum was the following "souvenir" coin machine...which would engrave on coins different "mementos."

I found the sign on it rather...offensive?

Will write more later.


Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


Ezzie said...


Shmilda said...

Amazing. I regret skipping the Dohany Street Shul on my visit. The letters with dots add up to 618, probably indicating that it was built in 5-618 (1858).

Anonymous said...

great post.

1) "life goes on here as usual in Budapest on Yom Hashoah"

2) "If you click on the picture above, you'll notice dots on top of some of the letters of the pasuk "ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכה" -- and I haven't figured out why."

according to prat katan reckoning, the dotted letters correspond to 1857/8, probably related to a stage in its construction/dediction.

3) "Torah scrolls were cut up and used as parts of drums."

i saw these when i worked in the rare book room at jts.
just like here in brooklyn

4) "was initially part of the Neolog "stream" of Judaism...similar to Reform."

i'm not familiar with this specific shul, but "reform" shuls in eastern europe (e.g. hungary and poland) were usually orthodox by our definition. in hungary, for example, placing the bimah at the front of the shul rather than in the center was all that was needed to brand it reform. similarly in poland, preaching in polish rather than in yiddish was all it took (like at the great synagogue of warsaw, where my grandfather somethime snuck away from his shtiebel to daven. the warsaw synagogue was blown up as a present to hitler following the liquidation of the warsaw ghetto. before:


-ari kinsberg

Anonymous said...

that should have read:

1) "life goes on here as usual in Budapest on Yom Hashoah"

just like here in brooklyn [this line is misplaced in #3

-ari kinsberg

Soccer Dad said...

While the name of souvenir machine is offensive to us, is it at least possible that it is due to an unfamiliarity with English rather than any malign intent?

Jack's Shack said...

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

perfect for Yom Hashoah

Emily said...

I agree with Soccer Dad, the sign at the end was most likly the result of a Hungarian English Dictionary, a fondness for alliteration, and absolutly no familiarity with English idioms. (in the US they're called coin crushers, probably to avoid this problem.) Let's not ascribe to malicious intent what can just as easily be accounted for by simple ignorance.
Great post though.

Jill said...

Thanks so much for this post - i'll need to read it a few more times.

Same thoughts as Emily and Soccer Dad re: Penny Pincher - have you ever heard about how, when Coca Cola went into China, they didn't do a proper translation of the phrase Coke Adds Life and it ended up being "Coke raises your dead from the grave" or something very very close to that? Very offensive to the Chinese (this was in the 70s or early 80s I believe -I was a Chinese major for a couple of years in college - that's how I heard about this).

Anyway - also - the cherem and the Chatam Sofer - what was the reason? BEcause of how it had been used? BEcause of not wanting to remember? What is the reason behind such an action? I'm just not familiar with the practices.


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

IMHO days like Yom HaShoah and Tisha B'Av are best spent in chutz l'aretz. It's hard, sometimes, to mourn when vibrant Israel is going on around you.

Was anyone else from work with you or was it a private tour?

Excellent post. Thanks, and thanks for getting it up so quickly! Have a safe journey home ...

Gee a Moron said...

I spent almost a year going back and forth from Israel to Hungary ten years ago on a major telephony project so I've seen much of what Jameel depicted - though I never saw the penny pincher - which, as was already suggested, seems to me to be more like butchery of the English language than malicious intent.

My understanding is that the Neolog Shul in Budapest was "Avi Avot Hareform" - the first in what became the Reform movement in Germany and then the US. The changes that they wanted were sermons in Hungarian and the Rabbi speaking from the front.

I went inside the big Shul but they never used it while I was there because it is so big. They daven in the "War Heroes" (World War One) shul next door because on a "busy" day such as Purim a few hundred including tourists show up and on a regular Shabbat a few tens.

Nowadays there are some 100,000 Jews in Hungary, mainly in Budapest, mostly assimulated. They turn out for the High Holidays which is the only time the big shul is used as such.

The funny/sad thing is that the Neologs and Orthodox in Budapest still squabble as if there still was a community worth fighting for. There is a daily minyan in both. I somehow fell into the Neolog group where they were perpetually short for the minyan - nine old men + me many mornings. One day after davening I went int othe kosher bakery up the street and someone from the "Orthodox" shul asked me where I had davened and when I told him he started screaming about how I shouldn't go there.

However I couldn't see how it was "Reform" in any modern sense. Just another group of Jews trying to daven. They had some ancient minhagim that they were preserving. In the winter they said slichot every Monday and Thursday of the weeks of "Shovivim Tata" (Shmost, V'era...Terumah Titzaveh") what was listed in my siddur as "Selichot L'Tachluei Yeladim R"L" (Selichot for children's illnesses which were apparently winter seasonal. On Taanit Esther afternoon/Purim evening they davened Mincha in inverse order - first the Shmona Esrei, then the Torah reading of Vayichal for the fast and the Haftorah. The Haftorah was followed immediately by the Megillah and then Maariv. On Shabbt Hagadol I was given Maftir but, to my disappointment, I was told they did not read the Haftorah V'arva unless erev Chag was Shabbat and I read the regular Haftorah for Parshat Metzorah (it was a leap year so Pesach was "late"). Fortunately I was home two days later for Pesach. I would not have wanted to spend a major festival in Budapest with the depressingly small number of active Jews and the petty squabbling.

Today Yom Hashoah I was in a business meeting in Seoul S. Korea where the sirens do not sound and there is near zero awareness of the Holocaust that took place half a world away. However thanks to the Internet I was able to participate/listen. At just before 16:00 (10:00 Israel) I paused our meeting, gave a brief explanation that was understood by all and put on the radio siren for those few minutes.

Sorah said...

I think I would consider your thought more heartbreaking than small.

JoeSettler said...

Tu dem bese mudyerole?

Neshama said...

Oh, my, Jameel!

This, maybe, was the best tribute to Yom HaShoah online, together with the commenters. For sure you should receive a JIB Award for something. You always manage to trump us all with an excellent display/entry.

Those scenes at the ghetto are riveting. Can't imagine I'd have the courage to mingle like that. They must have developed such a morific state of mind in order to keep going.

I'm speechless now.

For sure, it's time to GO HOME at

tnspr569 said...

Wow. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny that you didn't go in due to a cherem from a time when Jews actually lived there. Wouldn't you say the time of the cherem has expired? Doesn't that strike anyone as ironic? A Yom Hashoah posting about an empty shul that you wouldn't go into because of a cherem from the 1920's? And outside there's a mass grave of the executed. I don't think the Nazi's cared what their synagogue affiliation was.
Sorry if I'm a bummer, but doesn't anyone else find the Holocaust an unfortunate symbol of Jewish unity? We're all the the same.
Larry (The Maggid of B)


time to move on
hay ear is in a few days

Anonymous said...

Those who guessed that the letters with the dots give the year of building are correct. That is why the Chasam Sofer (died in 1839) did not put in under cherem. But others did. And as it was correctly pointed out, it wasn't hard to qualify for the cherem, Hungarian drashos, bimah in front were enough. But this shul happens to have greater issues such as mixed seating, organ playing on shabbos and yom tov, mixed choir, etc. If you don't go in b/c your rabbi tells you not to (like mine would under normal circumstances), that's ok, but don't blame it on the cherem that would not allow you to enter most of the orthodox shuls in the world.

Joe in Australia said...

They could have marked the date with only four dots (two shins, a vav and a bet). Instead they chose to do it in a very elegant and almost symmetrical way, marking the start of the first word, all of the second and third words, and the first and last letters of the last two words. Very nicely done.

Jimmy Christ said...

"This visitor seemed a bit out of place in the museum."

How amusingly judgemental of you. If only you were as respectful as he is.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Jimmy: Amusingly judgmental? You think that a "skull and crossbones" jacket is appropriate attire for a museum commemorating the wholesale slaughter of 6 million people?

While I'm happy he showed up and I hope he learned something from the museum, respectful attire is basic decency.

If only you were as respectful as he is.

And that means what exactly?

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