Monday, October 18, 2010

Great Synagogue of Budapest

My visit to the Great Synagogue of Budapest was a first for me. Architecturally, it is stunning. Designed by Viennese Ludwig Forster (possible a distant relative of mine?!?!), this synagogue is second in size only to the synagogue in New York City. The exterior is Moorish/Byzantine with onion-domed towers; the design is finished with Gothic flourishes. The interior is surprisingly like a Christian church with pulpits, pews, candelabra, and stained glass.

As with all Holocaust stories, the one of Budapest is a sad one. However, this one has an especially tragic twist. As World War II drew closer, Hungary was pulled into the Fascist Italy/Nazi Germany axis. Although Hungarians hoped to avoid direct involvement, the country's participation was inevitable. While involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hungary was also engaged in secret peace negotiations with the Untied States and the United Kingdom. Hitler discovered the betrayal and in 1944, German forces invaded Hungary.
It was then, in the very last days of the war, that more than 450,000 Hungarian Jews were killed. Most were sent to concentration camps, but many were killed and dumped into mass graves including the Danube River.

We visited the Jewish museum, attached to the synagogue. It was impressive, touching, and beautifully presented.