Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Finding Faith in Budapest

As you travel, you never know where you will find stories of faith that will amaze you. Such was the case in Budapest. Hungary is predominantly a Roman Catholic country, and the largest church in Budapest is an amazing structure with an interesting history. St. Stephen's Basilica, named after the first king of Hungary who converted the Hungarians to Christianity, holds 8500 people.

Started in 1851, the church, built in a Neo-classical style, took over 5 decades to build. The dome of the church collapsed in 1868 and the church had to be rebuilt almost from scratch, but when completed it was definitely a stunning masterpiece.

The most sacred treasure of the church is the mummified right fist of St. Stephen which is on display in a side chapel in an ornate glass reliquary.

One of the most moving parts of our trip to Budapest was the time we spent in the Jewish Quarter, which has seen a tragic history, especially during the Holocaust period of this last century. Our tour started in the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the second largest synagogue in the world,  just behind Temple Israel in New York City. Today, the Jewish community stands strong, with around 100,000 Jews calling Budapest home. The Quarter is home to 20 synagogues and prayer houses, schools, restaurants, and  a hospital.

The Dohány synagogue seats 3000 people and was built in 1859.

The wives, mothers and daughters assemble on the balcony level so that the men can worship without distraction.

At the beginning of WW II, some 240,000 Jews made their home in this area with 125 active synagogues, but all that was to change, when in 1944, the Germans installed a Hungarian Fascist party, the Arrow Cross Party, who set up a reign of terror. Over half of the Budapest Jews were lost in the last year of the war.

In the Garden of Remembrance, some 2281 people are buried in 24 mass graves right beside the synagogue, even though this was against Jewish law to be buried so close, but there was no other option at the time. The synagogue served as a detention center for many. As many as 20,000 Jews met their death when they were forced to march to the edge of the Danube River, and then shot and thrown into the river. Tens of thousands were assembled to go on death marches to concentration camps. Thousands died on the march, either from being shot or from starvation.

The remaining Jews left behind were gathered into an area called the Jewish Ghetto and enclosed by makeshift walls to contain them, where they suffered horrible conditions, lack of any medical care, insufficient food and frigid winter weather. 100, 000 people lived in these appalling conditions until liberated by the Soviets in January of 1945.

In the gardens behind the synagogue stands a metal weeping willow tree, a memorial to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed at this time. American actor, Tony Curtis, of Hungarian-Jewish descent, founded the Emanuel Foundation which restores Hungarian synagogues, and their group erected this memorial. The silver and stainless steel sculpture also represents an upside down menorah.

The names of victims are engraved on each of the leaves and remain as a chilling reminder of how wrong things can go when a society goes so far astray.
We stood in silence and respect as the truth of the story made its way into our hearts. The Hebrew inscription on the black granite archway sums up their loss, 
"Is there a bigger pain than mine?"

A sober and  moving memorial to so many lives wasted.


  1. This was so educational and such a poignant journey...
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I like Budapest on your pictures, please continue

  3. Oh what a beautiful, beautiful tribute to a place that does not get enough attention. Paris, London, and many other fabulous cities seem to be the hot spots for blogging topics and OUR DREAMS...but there is a world out there yet to be discovered by the masses. THANK YOU for showing us that! I am sorry that when you came to visit me that the link to my real home was deleted. I believe I am being stalked by someone and revealing my home will no longer be a part of my blogging...unfortunately. I enjoy sharing my home that is changing today!


  4. ...and thank you my dear, for seeing what I am trying to do...I am actually reading a lot about how to write poetry. My aim is to speak to the human heart. It is fascinating the things I am learning. Practice this summer is what I am indulging myself with, and it is glorious. THANK YOU for being a reader! And I LOVE TURQUOISE!!!!

    Have a pleasant weekend my dear! Anita

  5. It makes me cry to read this. Thank you for taking pictures of it. May it never happen again.

  6. I spent a few days away from Google Reader and came upon 8 posts from you when I signed on today! This one especially caught my eye/ear because I just completed reading a book entitled, "The Invisible Bridge." It mostly details the life of a Hungarian Jew who spent time in Paris before the war but ended up back in Budapest during the war. Needless to say, he and his family endured much of what you describe here. It's historical fiction but very well done. I couldn't put it down. I thought of you all the way through since so much of it took place in your beloved Paris and then Budapest. Enjoyed seeing your pictures and reading your post about this tragic time in their history. Let me know if you want me to bring you my copy of the book when I see you soon.