Friday, 5 October 2012

World War 2 History Tour - Part 31 - Final Part & Index

This is the final instalment of the World War 2 History tour which I participated in from Saturday September 17 to Wednesday September 28th, 2011.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive look at WW2 and really only covers a small part of it, but it does include many significant events of the war.
I found this tour to be well planned and organised by Procom Tours who delivered on every promise, and their guides were outstanding. On the “Beyond Band of Brothers Tour”, our guide was Nikki Koves (seen in Part 4, image 7), and on the “Holocaust Tour”, our guide was Steven Graning, (seen in Part 26, image 248).

Walking the actual grounds of battlefields, war cemeteries and monuments has brought a completely new dimension of the war to me. As I mentioned previously, the experience is not necessarily depressing but meditative. And time was also available for sightseeing of many other attractions, a welcome interlude at times.

This is meant to be a permanent account of what I learned on my trip which I consider an important event in my life.

Reference material in the writing of the separate parts includes notes from the tour and personal photographs, publications from the many bookshops visited, and internet sources (including actual WW2 photographs). I will get great satisfaction knowing that I  have informed my readers with my accounts which in itself will justify this trip. The focus has been more factual rather  than a presentation of my thoughts and feelings. I would encourage anyone with interest in this subject to experience for themselves a tour such as this one. Watching documentaries thereafter will be a whole new experience!

As the writing of instalments was a work in progress, it was not possible to include an index at the beginning.

Thus, the index of the various parts is included here and is as follows :


London Prelude
Littlecote House, England
Operation Overlord
The Atlantic Wall
Normandy War Cemeteries
Normandy War Museums, Monuments & Memorials
Operation Market Garden
More Museums!
The Battle of the Bulge, Belgium
Mardasson American Memorial + German War Cemetery, both near Bastogne
Luxembourg American Cemetery
National Military History Museum Diekirch, Luxembourg
Dokumentation Obersalzberg and Nazi Bunkers + Eagles Nest

Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
SS Shooting Range, Hebetshausen + Typhus Epidemic
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague Jewish Quarter + Prague Jewish Cemetery
Terezin, Czech Republic – Main Fortress/Ghetto + Small Fortress
Krakow, Poland
Wieliczka Salt Mines, Poland
Auschwitz 1, Poland – The Hub of the Holocaust
Holocaust Trains
Auschwitz 2 – Birkenau, Poland
Budapest, Hungary
Jewish Monument on Danube, Budapest
Jewish Synagogue on Dohany Street, Budapest + Budapest Ghetto
Memento Park, Budapest
The House of Terror, Budapest

Image 307 – The number of participants on this tour varies from time to time. On this occasion we set off with only 5 tourists and 1 full-time guide (local guides were also brought in at various places). Accordingly it was appropriate to use this hire van as our bus which seats 8 people comfortably. It’s a Renault and it went really well. We also had portable DVD screens installed to keep us amused whilst travelling from place to place. We saw episodes of the TV hit series “Band of Brothers” and various other WW2 related movies. Our guide also kept up the supplies of snacks and drinks as required.

Image 308 – All of our luggage was stowed in the rear of the Renault. We quickly learnt the most efficient way to fit everything in. That’s David “Woody” Wood  making sure all bags are accounted for.

World War 2 History Tour - Part 30 - The House of Terror -Budapest

The “house of terror” sounds like an amusement park attraction, but it is indeed dead serious history. It is a startling museum charting two of the most tragic periods of Hungary’s ghastly history, the totalitarian terror regimes of the fascist Arrow Cross Party from 1944 – 1945, and then the Soviet dictatorship which took its place and lasted for more than 43 years. April 4th 1945 was the day that the German forces and their fascist Hungarian sympathizers were finally chased out of Hungary. It was also the day that the Soviet occupying forces came in to take their place. The fascists employed unbridled internal terror to control the people, turning the country into a battlefield and totally destroying the already completely demoralised country. Then the Soviets looted, destroyed and murdered their way through the country and brought with them a new age of violence and suffering as part of the retaliation against the German army and its allies. The economy and the infrastructure became inoperable, effectively destroyed. At the WW2 peace talks, the West acknowledged the political and economic interests of the Soviet Union in Eastern-Europe, and thus the future development of Hungary was entrusted to the Soviet Union. As a result, political oppression in Hungary continued to grow, people’s freedom was drastically reduced, and in every aspect of life terror increased. The Soviet occupiers set up a “new world order” in Hungary, in which there was no place for old values or old virtues. It was a Soviet world, fit for Soviet-type people, but it was alien and unacceptable to the majority of Hungarians. The Soviet occupiers persecuted religion and  instead of God, the Party’s leaders Stalin and Rakosi had to be venerated. Patriotism was prohibited. They demanded that Hungarians identify with the aims and interests of the Soviet Union. The brave ones who defied the atrocious terror regime were wiped out and buried in unmarked graves. This oppressive system did everything in its power to eradicate even their memories.

The house of terror is a museum now and is a reminder of the dreadful acts of terrorist dictatorships, and a monument to the memory of those Hungarians held captive, tortured and killed in this building. It was witness to two shameful and tragic periods in Hungary’s 20th century history. It was truly a house of terror.

Having survived these two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to these victims of terror. The building was purchased in Dec 2000, (after having been used as offices and a club) then refurbished to recreate the past and opened as a museum in Feb 2002. It focuses on the crimes and atrocities committed by both Hungary’s fascists and Stalinist regimes, presenting the horrors in a tangible way.

People visiting this museum can understand that the sacrifices made for freedom were not in vain and that good will triumph over evil. Ultimately, the fight against the two cruellest systems of the 20th century ended with the victory of the forces of freedom and independence.

I found this tour to be more meditative then depressing.

Throughout Eastern-Europe, there are now many new museums exposing the ugliness of the communist era.

Photography is forbidden within the house of terror so I have accessed a limited number of images.

Image 301 – Located on one of the most beautiful and elegant avenues of Budapest, the address of the House of Terror is 60 Andrassy Avenue. This tree-lined street, with its lavish residences and stately apartment buildings, connects downtown Budapest to Hero’s square. This Neo-Renaissance building was designed by Adolf Feszty in 1880.
In 1944, during the gruesome domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, it was party headquarters of the Hungarian fascists. In the basement, members of the Arrow Cross tortured and killed hundreds of people. Then in 1945, the abandoned Arrow Cross headquarters was taken over by the notorious communist terror organisations, the AVO (State Security Office) and its successor the AVH (State Security Authority) who remained here until 1956. This building was used for very similar purposes by these equally repressive totalitarian regimes. It was here that Hungarians suspected of being an enemy of the State were given sham-trials, tortured and routinely executed.
The tour is over 4 floors, these being the basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor. The basement contains tiny windowless cells where torture took place, including a room where the occupant was made to sit or stand in water for prolonged periods.
That awning on the building casts a shadowy outline of the word “terror” against the walls or pavement, depending upon the time of day.

Image 302 – The outside of the building is ringed with ceramic tributes to the victims of the communist era.
It was here that Hungarians suspected of being an enemy of the state , even for mundane and ridiculous reasons, were given sham-trials, were horribly tortured and routinely executed without hesitation, even on the strength of confessions extorted during brutal interrogations. During the most unimaginable and horrific interrogations lasting for weeks, many of the victims died. Many of these people could not withstand the torture and gave testimony against themselves or innocent friends. Those who survived the body-crushing and soul-debasing pain were ready to sign any document. Throughout the country, no one felt safe. Their prosecutions used trumped up charges on pre-composed scripts. Even the former Minister of the Interior was falsely accused of espionage by his former comrades and thrown into prison. There they tortured him, drew out from him an admission of guilt, then in an open court they convicted him and finally executed him.
A whole host of informers, a shadow army, watched people on factory floors, in offices, at universities, in churches, in theatres or wherever, noting down their every move. Nothing or no one could feel safe from the plain clothed secret police informers. Informants abounded in every area of life. Hundreds of thousands were employed as secret police, operational officers, agents, networkers and in other positions. Many of them reported on their confidantes, best friends and even family members. It even became compulsory to inform against one’s family. Family members and different generations were turned against one another.

Image 303 – The permanent exhibition in the house of terror is entitled “Double Occupation”.
At left we see the Arrow Cross Party emblem, and at right that of the communist party, the 5 pointed star.
The House of Terror  launches a specially scathing account of the Stalinist years, offering a most damning view of life behind the iron curtain. A common theme is the absolute hatred for communism and the Soviet Union. Everyday life under communism involved almost endless lining up to buy basic goods from state run shops. In the 1950’s, lard on bread was the standard dinner. Hungarians could not travel, speak or even meet freely for fear of the secret police, imprisonment or worse.

Image 304 – The House of Terror official logo.

Image 305 – Upon entering the museum you see this Soviet WW2 tank in the atrium, with a vast wall behind covered with thousands of photographs of those who were held prisoner here.
There are many rooms with exhibits relating to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes with a lot of effort being expended in creating a multimedia experience. There are also reconstructed interrogation rooms, old uniforms, old photographs, torture and prison cells, posters, artefacts, and exhibits covering gulag life and propaganda.

Image 306 – Here we stand in a courtroom wallpapered with files from the secret police, and watch video excerpts from sham trials in which officials deemed to be not sufficiently loyal to the communist cause being humiliated and sentenced to prison. Those files would contain what would now be regarded as completely useless and trivial information on certain individuals. Between 1945 & 1946 some 50,000 persons were brought before these courts accused of sedition. Close on 400 of them were executed.
Today Hungary is a democracy, and a member of the European Union which allows visa free travel across the continent, unimaginable under communist rule.

World War 2 History Tour - Part 29 - Memento Park - Budapest

Memento Park, Budapest

Memento Park is a unique tourist destination located 10 km south-west of the city centre of Budapest. It is simply a museum of a historical era with the most significant part being  ‘Statue Park’. Here, between 40 and 50 political statues from the years 1947 – 1988 which once ‘graced’ the streets of Budapest are found. It was officially opened on June 27th, 1993 and built on the Tetenyi moors in the 22nd district of Budapest. It is a popular tourist destination in Budapest getting approximately 60-70,000 visitors annually, about half overseas visitors and half Hungarians. The site of Memento Park, its statues and buildings all belong to the state and  local governments.

Hungary finished the Second World War in 1945 on the losing side. April 4th 1945 was the day that the German forces and their fascist Hungarian sympathizers were finally chased out of Hungary. It was also the day that the Soviet occupying forces came in to take their place. This Soviet army brought with them an era of fear as they  looted, destroyed and murdered their way through Hungary.  After the Soviet victory, the proletariat dictatorship was established, state terror reigned and oppression became a fact of daily life. Hungary went from the oppression of one dictatorship straight into the arms of another. Many of the survivors of the war initially greeted the Soviet Red Army as liberators. However it didn’t take long to realise that the Red Army soldiers has come as conquerors and their primary goals were the gradual occupation of the country and the bringing of the communist party into power by force. Political oppression continued to grow and people’s freedom was drastically reduced, and in every aspect of life terror increased. With the support of the occupying Soviet Red Army, communist politicians took power and a Soviet-style totalitarian dictatorship was established. During subsequent decades, all over the country, thousands of public statues were unveiled which glorified the communist ideal and its representatives.

The Iron Curtain
One of the most obvious methods that the communist countries used in their exercise of power was closing the population off from the outside world, and especially from the detrimental effects of other ideologies.
Between the years 1948-1989, people in Hungary lived in spiritual and physical quarantine. Western radio programmes were interfered with using a huge technical apparatus, foreign newspapers, books and even simple postal packages and letters only got into the country via the censor. At the border posts, every news item or piece of literature was confiscated.
Until the beginning of the 1960’s foreign travel was absolutely impossible, and later it was allowed only under strict conditions. Authorities went to great lengths to ensure that nobody could escape from the country. In the summer of 1989, refugees from the communist East Germany who were trying to reach West Germany flooded through Hungary and Austria. Resulting from this, and within a space of a few months this migration turned into a mass exodus causing the opening of the Hungarian-Austrian border. This ensured that the tearing down of the iron curtain became inevitable and as a result, the confinement of Hungary and the other Eastern Block countries became nonsense and impossible to enforce. The processes that were initiated then soon led to the collapse of the Berlin wall and the reunification of Germany.

Fall of Communism & Communist Monuments
With the fall of communism, the Eastern-European dictatorships fell in 1989-90. This was the victory of Democracy over Dictatorship. As part of this political resolution, the fate of the public memorials to communist ideology became an important issue. While regimes fall, so too do their monuments. Most socialist monuments in Eastern Europe were torn down and destroyed in the catharsis of revolution with many monuments ending up on the trash heap. One section of public opinion in Budapest supported this. However the city council immediately rejected this and instead resolved to create a thematical statue park, thus the idea for Memento Park was born to house the communist monuments which previously “graced” the streets and squares of Budapest. Memento Park is not about communism, but about the fall of communism and includes the well known Statue Park, an exhibition and education centre, movie hall and tourist centre. It was opened on June 29, 1993, the second anniversary of the retreat of the Russian troops from Hungarian territory.  The city’s  district mayors then formed a committee to decide which statue was to be included in this park. This matter generated lots of interest at the time : in newspapers, on TV and radio. The end result is considered a shining example of how to culturally and elegantly display a sensitive subject, neither making a mockery of or honouring the display.

According to the original design, further buildings are planned to be developed over time. Once these are finished, the display will be complete and will become a historical era theme park where everyone will be able to learn about the history of the communist era which is important in the history of Hungary.

Statue Park
Statue Park, a part of Memento Park, is an open-air museum where we see statues from the communist dictatorship past placed here after the iron curtain came down. Whimsical is definitely not the word to describe it. Here we find statues of historical figures including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin, Dimitrov, Bela Kun and other “hero’s” of the communist world. Included herewith are images of some of the statues found there.

Image 287 –Entering Statue Park and in the foreground we see a statue of Lenin with his arm outstretched. Nowadays tourists will not find any remaining Lenin statues in Budapest. This statue was originally placed in front of Budapest’s largest iron and metal works factory on November 7, 1958. This came about after the then Soviet party first secretary Nikita Khrushchev visited Budapest and commented that a statue of Lenin should be placed at the gates of this factory to remind the workers of the power of communist ideology and at the same time enthuse them on their way to work! Ten years later this hurriedly thrown together poorly made bronze had deteriorated and a re-casted statue was made and exchanged in absolute secrecy. During the statue removals that took place following the 1989-90 political changes, this statue was a prime target for destruction. However it was hidden in a storage room by communist sympathising factory workers only to be found years later by the factory’s new owners who then donated it to Statue Park.

Image 288 – Workers’ Movement Memorial dating from 1976. According to the official explanation, the ball represents the perfect ideology which has been fought for, realised and perfected by the workers’ movement. The 2 hands are defending and protecting this fragile treasure, while at the same time opening up so that it can be seen by and made available to everyone.
The ball was originally made of plastic but because of its defacement, was replaced in 1982 by one made of granite.

Image 289 – ‘The handshake’, the Hungarian-Soviet Friendship memorial. The body positions of these two figures is very telling : the Hungarian worker at left  is sincerely offering his friendship with both of his hands, whilst the Soviet soldier is holding himself back and coolly offering one hand only.

Image 291 – Another statue of Lenin cast in bronze and standing 4 m high. It was originally placed on the side of Parade Square in Budapest  where the capital’s mass political and military rallies were held. In 1988 this statue was taken down for repairs, then, in the light of the political changes, was never reinstated, instead finding its place in Statue Park.

Lenin (1870 – 1924) was the founder of the Soviet Union and its prime minister. Following his death, Lenin became the symbol of socialist and communist belief, his ideology considered undisputable and inerrant. He also became the most portrayed person, his statue was a compulsory fixture in the centre of socialist capitals, country capitals, large towns, and on office desks whilst his portrait  was hung on the wall of every office, institution and school classroom.

Image 290 – This was based on a 1919 communist revolutionary poster and was originally placed in 1969. The purpose of these giant symbolic statues was to constantly remind people of how great and powerful the Soviet system was and as symbols of authority. Under the communist regime, art was acceptable only if it furthered the goals of the state. Today they are a reminder of an anti-democratic society. The fact that they can be talked about at all  is representative of democracy.

Image 292 – Stalin statues sprung up everywhere in Eastern Europe from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. They were cult objects that demonstrated the almost mystical power of Stalin. This monument to Stalin erected in central Budapest’s Hero’s square was completed in December 1951 as a gift to Joseph Stalin for his 70thbirthday from the Hungarian people. It served as a rallying point and parade route for the communist regime. The bronze statue was 8 m high over a 4 m high limestone base. A bronze inscription read ‘Stalin, Hungary’s leader, teacher and best friend’.
By 2005, nothing remained of the statue, grandstand or dais.

Image 293 – The conditions of dictatorship and the dissatisfaction caused by the deterioration in the standard of living finally led to an uprising, protesting against the communist dictatorship, the state of terror and the Soviet occupation. It started with peaceful student demonstrations, but soon developed into armed fighting. On 23 Oct 1956, 200,000 enraged anti-Soviet protesters attempted a revolution. In this anti-dictatorship uprising they tore down the bronze statue of Stalin, leaving behind only its giant boots, whilst chanting ‘Russia go home’.  The boots that remained became a mockery of the dictator. The following day the statue was dragged through the streets where it was broken up into pieces by souvenir hunters.
This uprising was brutally crushed by the communist forces but many thousands died or were wounded in the fighting. In the aftermath, thousands more died, and almost 200,000 escaped abroad.
In this image from 1956 you see protesters tearing down the bronze statue of Stalin.

Image 294 – This would be the most curious item in Statue Park, a replica of Stalin’s giant boots on a full scale replica grandstand and dais.  Though this revolution was brutally crushed by communist forces, this replica serves as a reminder of those lost in this Hungarian uprising.

Image 295 – Red Army Soldier of Liberation statue dating from 1947. The statue radiates the power and self confidence of the occupying forces. This stood on a 7 m high plinth and located in the centre of Budapest where it could be seen from anywhere in the city. This statue was knocked down in the October 1956 revolution. After the crushing of the uprising, it was replaced in 1958 by an exact copy.

Image 296 – A monument to hero’s of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 which only lasted 6 months.
From left :   - Szamuely Tibor (1890-1919), a Jewish born Hungarian Communist leader killed when fleeing to Austria.
                        - Bela Kun (mentioned below with image 298).
                        - Landler Jeno (1875-1928), a Jewish born Hungarian Communist leader.

Image 297 – A monument to people using mobile phones!!! Hey, only joking! This was a memorial to the Hungarian Fighters who fought in the Spanish International Brigade. On the side of the memorial are the names of Spanish towns, locations of battles in the civil war in which Hungarian volunteers fought. This civil war in Spain lasted from 1931 to 1939, with General Franco of Spain victorious. The Spanish government had invited men from more than 60 nationalities to volunteer for their International Brigade.

Image 298 – This is the Bela Kun memorial originally placed in a park in Budapest’s 1st district. It is cast in bronze, chrome and red copper.
At the rear with arm outstretched is the image of Bela Kun, leader of the short-lived 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. In 1986 the governing communist party commissioned this monument to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bela Kun. The figures in the group from left to right symbolise the historical process that took place from 1918 to 1919. On the left are civilians representing the “Aster revolution”. As you head right we then see the demonstrating communist workers, who then develop into Red Army soldiers charging in attack. In this monument, Bela Kun is seen showing the way, leading the assault while he is waving goodbye with his hat. During the fall of communism, members of the opposition wrapped this statue up, painted it and put a clown’s hat complete with bells onto Kun’s head.

Bela Kun was a left-wing politician and professional revolutionary. At the outbreak of WW1 he was called up and in 1916 was made a prisoner of war by the Russians. During this time his communist convictions were strengthened. In 1918 Kun became the chairman of the Hungarian group of the Russian Communist Party. At the end of 1918 he returned home and established the Hungarian Communist Party, of which he was voted chairman. After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic on August 1, 1919 Bela Kun escaped and settled in Soviet Russia where he was entrusted with new revolutionary tasks. He became an active player in the intra-party power struggles, the final result of which – following the “customs” of the communist dictatorship – was elimination by his own comrades. On 29th  June 1937, on the orders of Stalin, he was arrested and later died in prison under suspicious circumstances; it’s possible he was executed.

Image 299 – Soviet-Hungarian Friendship Memorial.

Image 300 – Also found in Memento Park is a Trabant motor vehicle, an East German car (mentioned in Part 26) which has become a symbol of the failed former East Germany and the fall of communism. It is here so visitors can experience what it is like to sit in a Trabant. It is not a memorable experience!

World War 2 History Tour - Part 28 - Jewish Synagogue in Dohany Street, Budapest + Budapest Ghetto

Included in this Part 28 are downloaded actual WW2 images obtained from Wikipedia.
Dohany Street Synagogue.
This is the second-largest Synagogue in the world and its complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Hero’s temple, the graveyard, the Holocaust memorial and the Jewish museum. It was built between 1854 and 1859 in a fusion of Moorish and Byzantine styles. The building consists of 3 spacious aisles and seats more than 3,000 people. Due to its strong Oriental style, the use of colourful mud bricks, as well as the wrought-iron structure in its interior, the Dohany street Synagogue is notable as an architectural landmark and is among the top 10 sights of Budapest. During WW2, it served as the boundary of the Budapest Ghetto.
During the war, the Dohany Synagogue was hit 27 times. Though the damage was not fatal, there was an urgent need for a complete restoration. This began in 1990 thanks to the donations of several thousands of charitable people. The temple was inaugurated in its renewed form and original beauty on September 5, 1996.
The History of Jews in Hungary.
The true emancipation of the Jewish religion started only at the end of the 18th century when in his decree the Hapsburg emperor, Joseph 2nd declared the equality of every religion. He also approved the settling of the Jews in the suburb of Pest. These settlements became the beginnings of the future Jewish quarter. By 1848, more than 10,000 Jews lived in Pest and this was rapidly growing. Before WW2, approximately 750,000 Jews lived in Hungary with 200,000  living in Budapest, making it the center of Hungarian Jewish cultural life. Budapest was often referred to as the “Jewish Mecca”.  In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Budapest was a safe haven for Jewish refugees, until the German occupation of March 1944. The Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party, aligned with the Nazis then instituted a reign of terror upon the Jews.  The Jews of Hungary were rounded up, with most of the Jews from the provinces being deported to Auschwitz within 3 months. By the end of July 1944, the Jews in Budapest were virtually the only Jews remaining in Hungary. In November the Arrow Cross ordered the remaining Jews in Budapest into a closed ghetto. This would be the last ghetto of Europe, set up at the beginning of December 1944. This ghetto would include 162 buildings of the streets behind the synagogue. 600,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives in WW2.
Towards the end of WW2, Budapest was partly destroyed by British and American air raids. Also from 24 Dec 1944, to 13 Feb 1945, the city was besieged during the Battle of Budapest with the city suffering major damage caused by the attacking Soviet and Romanian troops and the defending German and Hungarian troops.
When Soviet forces captured Budapest on Feb 13, 1945 approximately 100,000 Jews remaining in the city at this time, 70,000 in the ghetto and 20,000 in specially marked houses outside the ghetto. The ghetto lasted for less than 3 months.

Image 270 – The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest Jewish prayer house of Europe and the second largest one in the world after the New York Temple Emmanuel. The ceremonial inauguration took place on 6th September 1859.
This synagogue was bombed by the Hungarian pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party on 3 Feb 1939 and was later used as a base for German radio and also as a stable during WW2. The building suffered some severe damage from aerial raids during the Nazi occupation but especially during the ‘siege of Budapest’. During the communist era after WW2 the damaged structure again became a prayer house for the much diminished Jewish community. It was only in the 1990’s following the return to democracy that renovations could begin starting in 1991 and ending in 1998.

Image 271 – This building is hardly reminiscent of the usual orthodox synagogue. The fa├žade has many similarities to the elements and symbolism of a gothic catholic cathedral : two high towers, a rosette, and a triumphal arch-like entrance. The Hebrew language inscription above the main entrance is a quotation from the 2nd Book of Moses : “Prepare a sanctuary for me, so I may live among them”. 

Image 272 – Upon entering the synagogue and looking ahead. This building was designed by the Austrian architect Ludwig Forster who mainly had deigned catholic churches, which is why it looks different to typical synagogues. It is often described as the most beautiful catholic synagogue in the world! We get an impression of being in a classical catholic church with the 3 aisles.
The inner space of the synagogue is more stunning then its outside. It was designed by Frigyes Feszl. The total length of this longish temple is 75 metres. The wooden seats gleam in the light of the wrought iron lights, chandeliers, colored attic and stained-glass windows.
The original 2 large chandeliers were used to cast guns during the war, and have since been replaced. They each weigh 1.5 tons and have 124 bulbs. 

Image 273 –View from the front and looking back to the entrance. On the ground floor there are 1360 seats for men, while the galleries above provide 1466 seats for women. 

Image 274 – a garden was put in the courtyard of the synagogue during a reconstruction phase in 1931. This garden would play a tragic role in the life of the Jews of Hungary when the synagogue became part of a closed ghetto in 1944.
During the 2 months of the winter of 44/45, 10,000 Jews froze to death or died from starvation, illness and bloodshed in the closed ghetto. The garden then became the cemetery for over 2,000 of these victims who were buried in 24 mass graves in the garden.  A significant number of these were unnamed due to the lack of surviving relatives. By the 1960’s, memorial plaques were placed in the garden to serve as symbolic graves. According to Jewish tradition, cemeteries cannot be on the premises of the house of prayer, but this graveyard is the result of the tragic events of WW2.

Image 275 – Behind the synagogue in the rear courtyard is a memorial park with this most impressive object, the Holocaust Memorial Tree which commemorates the 600,000 Hungarian Jewish victims of WW2. The weeping willow tree is made of stainless steel and silver and was founded by the Emanuel Foundation, headed by American actor Tony Curtis for the memory of his perished father. The leaves of this tree bear inscriptions with the names of Holocaust victims.

Image 276 – Also behind the synagogue we find this memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, a non- Jew  Swedish diplomat posted to Budapest who is credited with directly saving the lives of about 35,000 Hungarian Jews during WW2 who had been threatened with deportation to the death camps. During the war, he and 250 co-workers were working around the clock to save Jews from being sent to Nazi concentration camps. This was achieved by giving them false protective documents (Schultz-Pass) and taking them under his consular protection.
He also dissuaded the Nazis from destroying the Budapest ghetto and killing its 70,000 inhabitants.
As was mentioned in Part 19, when visiting Jewish graves, it is a Jewish custom to place a small stone on the headstone or monument using the left hand. This shows that someone visited the gravesite or monument, and that you respect the one who has passed on. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. If the amount of stones left become excessive they would be removed by the curators of the cemetery or monument.

Image 277 – A portrait of Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian serving as a Swedish special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944.
On January 17, 1945 during the siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained by Soviet authorities on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared, never to be seen again. It is believed that Wallenberg was executed on July 17, 1947 (aged 34) while a prisoner in Lubyanka Russia.
Wallenberg has monuments, streets and buildings named after him all over the world, including Australia. As recently as July 26, 2012 he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress “In recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during the Holocaust”.

Image 278 – Jewish people standing in line to receive their Schutz-Pass, a document offering diplomatic protection. With such a document the Jews were allowed to live outside the ghetto and were placed in one of 34 buildings rented by Wallenberg who declared them Swedish extraterritorial and protected by diplomatic immunity. About 20,000 fortunate Jews were granted such passes.

Image 279 – The Schutz-Pass, a protective document. This document identified the bearer as a Swedish subject awaiting repatriation thus preventing their deportation. Although not legal, this document looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities who sometimes were also bribed.

Image 280 – This map shows the confines of the Budapest ghetto which was on the Pest side of the Danube. Its lower perimeter is Dohany street. The area consisted of several blocks of the old Jewish quarter which included the 2 main synagogues of the city.

Image 281 – Part of the high stone wall fence which surrounded the ghetto. It had rows of barbed wire along the top. The whole perimeter fence was guarded so that contraband could not be sneaked in, and people could not get out, and was completely cut off from the outside world : no food was allowed in, rubbish and waste was not collected, the air was putrid with the smell of rotting garbage, the dead lay on the streets and piled up in the bombed-out store fronts, parks and even in the garden of the main synagogue. The buildings were overcrowded leading to the spread of diseases such as typhoid. All the misery, poverty and suffering were out in the open, without shame or mercy. The dead were eventually buried in large pits without any attempt at identification. Minimum ritual was observed.
The last remaining section of this wall was demolished in 2006.

Image 282 – Jews removing belongings from their apartment for transfer to the ghetto. These apartments are high end real estate, a world away from conditions in the ghetto.

Image 283 – These optimistic Jews and moving their belongings to the ghetto. Their fate was still a tightly held secret at this time.

Image 284 – A homeless man in the ghetto.

Image 285 – Members of the Arrow Cross escort Jews during their deportation from Budapest.

Image 286 –Jewish men, women and children on their way to the ghetto watched by the local population. A photograph can never convey the fear and panic experienced by these Jews. Some local observers appear to be enjoying these proceedings.