In spite of their collaboration as a country, the Hungarians were only temporarily spared from the evil of Nazism. The Gestapo set up headquarters in the synagogue and deportation of Hungarian Jews began late in the war (1944), when Jews were shot or deported to the death camps. After the reign of terror by the the
(Hungarian fascists), and the starvation following the siege, over 2000 victims were buried in 24 mass graves in the garden of the synagogue. One of Budapest’s bridges has a sculpture depicting those who were shot on the bridge, falling into the Danube. Of the 800,000 Jews living in Hungary during World War II, 600,000 were killed in five months.
The synagogue was badly damaged during World War II, and liberated on January 8, 1945 by the Soviet Red Army. Restoration began after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and now includes a cultural center, the synagogue, a museum and library.
A memorial tree, resembling a willow, was commissioned by Tony Curtis, of Hungarian Jewish origin. Made of metal and having names of victims on its leaves, it stands in the Raoul Wallenberg Park, as does a gravestone of this Righteous Gentile. Patrons can buy a willow leaf and have it engraved with the name(s) of loved ones. In the same courtyard, memorials stand to the Jews who died surround the courtyard, and a special marker honors
This unanticipated visit, following our introduction in Baja to the history of Hungarian Jewry, was a sobering precursor to another visit I was to take in 4 days: to Auschwitz.