Budapest

We arrived in Budapest, changed, and went downstairs for an introduction to Hungary. We learned some basic Hungarian words and how to get around in the city. Everyone was exhausted from the bus ride so we called an early night.

I woke up early the next day and walked down to the Danube before everyone else was up. It felt good to exercise and see the city. I walked for 2 hours. We got together at 9:00 and met with the US embassy outreach coordinator. We picked up a translator and walked to the synagogue. We toured the synagogue which was beautiful. It was rebuilt in the 80s. In the garden, we visited the mass graves of people who died in the ghetto and viewed the monuments. We walked through the former ghetto to a small restaurant. We were met at the restaurant by the USC Shoah representative who talked with us about the fight in Hungary over textbook content. Then we met with France Olti, who is the Jewish curriculum representative trying to get accurate information of Jewish culture and history in the textbooks. we concluded our meetings, and walked through the former ghetto. One interesting thing I found in Budapest was that in front of homes were holocaust victims lived, there is a small plaque in the sidewalk with the victim’s name and years of life. As you walk through town, you see markers all over. Next, we meet with the Israeli education outreach center who shared their educational programs that they offer to educate children about Judaism and tolerance. The meeting was very enlightening as we discussed stereotypes and the unique history of the Jews in Budapest. The Hungarian government rounded up and shipped all of the Hungarian Jews to German death camps….but they couldn’t send people from Budapest because it was surrounded by the Russians. After our meeting, we continued to walk through the former ghetto. There were two ghettos here…the ghetto and the International ghetto. The International ghetto was named International because the people there were able to get fake passports. We ended up in the middle of a political protest. The government, which has adopted a right stance, commissioned a monument to the holocaust. The monument depicts the Hungarian government as being uninvolved and the Germans did everything. The monument is not complete because protestors have held hands in a link and have surrounded the monument. in front of the monument, mementos of holocaust victims, photos, books wrapped in plastic, flowers have been laid in front. The government has troops protecting the monument. After we watched the protest for a while, we split up and I walked around downtown along the Danube. We got back together for a group debrief at 9 where we discussed our ideas and feelings from the past few days.
We dressed up and left early to meet with the Jewish government official who explained the problems with the monument and how the Jewish community gave all of their government funding back to the government in protest. We left the government office, and went to the Budapest holocaust archives. Unfortunately, there was not enough room for a group. We split up, and my group went to the holocaust museum. The museum had a very personal focus and had testimonies from survivors that were translated into English. I was really shocked by the unique experience in Hungary. When the Jews were collected and sent to the trains, the local population cheered. Two days after shipping them to camps, they had auctions for the rest of the town to buy all of their things. One survivor from Auswitcz said that when she went back to her home after making it through, the people in the town had even stolen all the bricks from her home…… I can’t even imagine. In 1956, the was a revolution against the Soviet Union…..and there were a couple Jews who had decided to work with the Soviets. As a result, many Jewish people left the country as anti-Semitism rose. When we talked to survivors, they described the current situation in Hungry as just as bad or worse than 1944. After the museum, the group split up and I went to find the shoe memorial. It was a 3 hour walk, but I finally found it. The shoes mark the spot where the Hungarian government rounded up Jews and shot them into the Danube. Later, a guide explained that to conserve bullets, people we’re tied together in threes and only the middle person was shot. There were a few survivors who were able to swim out…..not very many. It was our last night in Budapest, so we regrouped and went to a Jewish restaurant for a Shabbot dinner. We were joined by a research/ writer who collects the stories of women survivors, which provided a different experience in the work camps. We also were joined by the American consulate who shared her amazing story of how she got to Hungary from Brooklyn through Jordan, Israel, and LA. We had to leave early, so we returned to the hotel and turned in early.

At 8:30, we loaded into the bus to go to a smaller town. The country here looks exactly the same as Ohio except they grow wheat and Sunflowers. A. Little corn as well. We arrived in the town Koloscia and checked into a small bed and breakfast style hotel. We dropped off our luggage and went to the Holocaust monument and met the film maker of “There was Once”. The monument contains the names of the 332 Jewish Koloscian’s lost in the holocaust. The monument is a new 2009 reproduction of the one erected by survivors in 1948. Since the Communists were against any religion, the synagogue was used as a library and the original monument was taken to Budapest. The community found the original, but it was not able to be moved. The monument was right beside the synagogue, which is no longer being used as a library and empty. We went and had a group lunch and went to the high school where we met with a group of students and faculty. We had a screening of the movie (which was fantastic) and then had a dialogue with students and faculty. They wanted to know what American teens knew about Hungary and two students shared a 10 minute documentary they had done on a brother and sister who survived the holocaust which was also well done. We were given a tour by the students and staff of the school (think 1970’s US) which was 250 years old. I was very impressed with the students in Koloscia. We left the school and went to the Jewish cemetery. The is no Jewish population in the town, and 5 years ago, the cemetery was overgrown and unkempt. The filmmaker brought back Koloscian Jewish survivors for the rededication of the monument and they flew in from the US, Canada, and Israel. The town cleaned up the cemetery for the event. Now, the students in the high school maintain the cemetery as a community service project. On the day of the ceremony, there also was another ceremony across town that attracted anti-Semitic Hungarians. One of the Jewish participants was hit in the head by a slingshot. There are some complicated things going on in Hungary right now. After the cemetery, we went to a group meal, went back to the hotel and finished the night watching the World Cup.

On Sunday, we went to the bishop’s library which is one of the largest collections of books. We saw Guttenburg press books and Luther’s original translation of the Bible. The library was amazingly beautiful and reminded me of what I imagine Hogwart’s library looks like. We saw the first published map that only had three continents on it. After the library, we went to a Paprika museum. The town is famous for paprika ( although we never got any) which is not just sweet like in the states, but also spicy hot. The museum not only held the paprika museum, but also the Church treasury. They had all kinds of church relics including one that had pieces of the bones of all of the apostles. After the paprika museum, we went to the painted house museum. In the old days, the Hungarians used to paint flower wallpaper in the front of their homes in a room similar to a parlor. They would paint the rooms white, and female artists would come in for a month and paint flowers on the walls…it was quite beautiful. We had a group lunch, and left Koloscia for Pecs.
We made it to Pecs. While walking around, we got hit by a rainstorm. Pecs was having a music festival so clubs had live music outside. When the storm came, the bands had to stop. We ducked into a club, and the next band came in and decided to play acoustic indoors. They had a jug player, a banjo, and a guitar. They went through a set including Johnny Cash and Wagon wheel. The banjo player had an extra acoustic so I borrowed it and jammed to Crossroads, Hey Joe, Folsom, Matchbox, and a whole bunch of other songs. It was awesome to play guitar. After that, we had a group meeting. The group went to a club….which had a guitar in the corner. I sat down and wrote a song. The banjo player and I hung out for a while and he took me to a local place to watch the World Cup finals. It was a great night. The next day, we walked to find one of our survivor’s homes. It was Monday, and everything was closed. We found the house/ butcher shop and went to a factory redone as a museum place. We visited the American Corner….a place that lent books and movies to exchange students and then visited the only two museums open on Monday, the pottery museum and the Pink museum. The pottery museum was an open workplace showing how they made decorative pottery. The pink museum was a collection of pink pottery. We went for a walk. I got a sub for lunch….it had egg as one of the main ingredients. Pecs was very nice. We. I sited a church and talked with the church charity coordinator. Later I went down to see the band again, but they didn’t have a gig. The next day, we had a visit with a holocaust survivor. Her story was amazing. Out of 31 family members, 28 did not survive. She survived Auschwitz and was transferred to a work camp the repaired cables. I really liked her quote, ” life is not a series of coincidences, it is a collection of miracles.” After that we toured the synagogue. Later, we went to the local history museum of Pecs. Since it was our last night in Pecs, I went down and watched the Crazy Daisy Jug band play a set and bought a t-shirt. In Pecs, they had a wall of love locks. Lovers write their names on a lock, lock it to the wall, and throw away the key.
This morning we had to get up early to travel to the small town the author of “Seeds of Sarah” lived in. We traveled by bus. We were greater by a Jewish community leader. He gave a lecture on Jewish history in the area and we toured the synagogue. The community had 3500 Jewish residents before the war. After the war, only 400 survived. The survivors could not afford the upkeep of the original synagogue so they sold it to the government who tore it down in 1980. We toured the town and got back on the bus to go back to Budapest to catch our flight to Greece.

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