Amethyst and I have been to Budapest twice. On our first trip I did not know I had any living relatives in Hungary, believing that they all had perished in the Holocaust. During that trip we visited the city of Sárospatak in northern Hungary where some of my Hungarian ancestors were from. You can read about that visit in the two links under the photo of theSárospatak Jewish Cemetery. When I posted photos of our visit I received an email that changed my life and lead to uncovering previously unknown family history.
Ervin Foldi wrote me and said he had met my grandparents in the early 1970s in Budapest and he believed we were cousins. I will be writing more about this wonderful discovery of new family in future posts. For now I will say that Amethyst and I were overjoyed to meet our Hungarian cousins and spend time with them in both New York and Budapest.
On our first trip to Budapest in 2007, we were not able to visit the Holocaust Memorial.
On this trip, in 2013, we had planned for our granddaughter to meet us in Budapest since she was already traveling in Europe. She was very interested in seeing the museum, so our cousin Eva took us all for a visit.
Toward the street an archway, separated by a stone wall, has been erected, communicating outward protection, and inward underlining the eternity of the Memorial Wall. The emphasis is on evoking the silence.
In the mental power field that has shaped the building we examined analogies from the nature. In the power-struggle of tensioning blocks, the horizontal is not horizontal, neither the vertical, and perhaps even the gravity is suspended. The symbols of architecture suggest that everything here is beyond the normality, as the Holocaust itself is unexplainable within human history. The glass hall of the entrance leading to the permanent exhibition is also supported by tilted pillars. The inspiration from the nature came from Tuscany, where a line of pine trees took the same tilted form under the pressure of the permanent sea storms. I see the murdered as a symbol of thousands of years of constant struggle for survival, endurance, and wished to generate the same image to the visitors….
Architect István Mányi
The exhibit on display showed the lives of three families over the decades prior to World War II and then described what happened to them as the war unfolded. As I recall there was a rich Jewish aristocratic family, a middle-class Jewish family who owned a shop and a Roma (Gypsy) family.
It was especially personal and moving to see the lives of real people before the war. Then as the Fascists took over Hungary, laws began to severely limit their lives. Then persecution began, ending as you know in the death camps.
The corridor in the photo was darkly lit. There was the constant sound of footsteps as we walked around. An eerie feeling that we were being taken away.
Sárospatak in World War II
This map shows Zemplen County. In the center is our ancestral city of Sárospatak.
Although Sárospatak was a very well known city in the 18th and 19th century, and was called the “Athens of Europe”, its history in the Holocaust was tragic and horrifying to its Jewish residents.
During the war, Sárospatak was a center for forced labor regiments, and from there the conscripts were sent to the Ukraine.
A thousand Jews doing forced labor were compelled to build an airport near the town. Those who ran the camp were arbitrary in their treatment of the Jews. When the Germans entered the town in 1944, a temporary ghetto was established in the Jewish school on April 15. The wealthy members of the Jewish community were tortured there in order to find out where their valuables were hidden. After a few days a train to the ghetto of Satoraljauhely transported them, a place notorious for its terrible conditions. From there they were taken to Auschwitz in four transports, which left Hungary between May 15 and June 2.
After the war about 100 men and women returned to Sárospatak, and the community reorganized. But slowly some left, and many immigrated to Israel. By the 1980s only nine Jewish families remain in Sárospatak, and the total number was about 20. (As of 2016 I believe no members of the pre-war families are living.) Read more about Sárospatak.
Páva Street Synagogue
Even though Amethyst and I knew quite a lot about the Holocaust, we learned a lot about the suffering of the Hungarians. As you can imagine it was a very emotional experience for all of us. I encourage you to visit to learn more for yourself.
As we exited the dark exhibit area we entered the beautiful Páva Street Synagogue. It was a great contrast of light and beauty to the darkness we had just witnessed. Click the photos below to see the synagogue and view the tributes to some of the people who perished.