Budapest is home to the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe, and second largest in the world. The Great Synagogue was built in 1857 and was based on the biblical descriptions of the Temple of Solomon, which explains the two towers.
Deterred by the long line to enter the synagogue, we opted instead to visit only the Memorial Garden along side of it.
Prior to World War II, 25 percent of Budapest’s population was Jewish. Hungary was the first European country to enforce “Jewish Laws” in the 1920’s. Although aligned with Germany in World War II, Hungary resisted executing its Jewish citizens. Hitler grew impatient and invaded Hungary in 1944. Jews were forced to live in a small walled ghetto surrounding the synagogue and were allowed no contact with the outside world. Within two months, trains full of Jews were heading to Auschwitz. During the Soviet siege that ended the Nazi occupation, many Jews who had not been deported died in this ghetto of starvation, exposure, and disease. Soon after the Soviet liberation, a mass grave was dug here for over 2000 Jews.The trees and headstones were added later.
This sculpture represents the forced march of the Jews to death camps.
The same sculptor, Imre Varga, created the moving “Tree of Life” in the garden just behind the synagogue. It is a weeping willow in the shape of an upside-down menorah.
Each metal leaf bears the name of a Holocaust victim.
We also toured the “House of Terror”, an excellent museum recounting the terror endured under both the Nazi regime and the Soviet regime. This building was actually the former headquarters of both the Arrow Cross (Nazi-occupied Hungary’s Gestapo) and the AVO/AVH (communist Hungary’s secret police). No photos were allowed inside, but I recommend it to you highly.
These two visits really heightened our awareness of what a painful and dark recent history Hungary has suffered.
Against that backdrop, it was comforting to take an evening boat ride showcasing the enduring beauty of the city.