LONDON (Mar. 22)
The Jewish Museum of Budapest, recording the history of Hungarian Jewry, is to be modernized by the Hungarian Jewish community with financial help from the country’s Communist government.
The museum, on the site of the house where Theodor Herzl was born, will be closed in September for restoration work which is expected to last two years, this correspondent was told in Budapest last week.
The building’s present dilapidated condition is in danger of damaging its contents, possibly the finest collection of Jewish treasures outside Israel. They include gravestones from the Roman period, indicating a Jewish presence in Hungary centuries before the invasion by the Magyar ancestors of most modern Hungarians.
It also contains documents illustrating Hungarian Jewry’s involvement in Hungary’s struggle for independence in the 19th century. A separate section illustrates the community’s sufferings in World War II when some 600,000 Jews, mainly from the provinces, were sent to the death camps, and a fate shared by many of those in the capital.
The main contents of the museum were saved from destruction or pillage when they were concealed in the Budapest National Museum cellars to protect them from air raid damage.
REMINDED OF HERZL’S BUDOPEST ORIGINS
A visitor is reminded of Herzl’s Budapest origins by a bronze portrait of him in the entrance hall. The house where he arew up, and where the present museum stands, is adjacent to Budapest’s chief synagogue, a red brick building in Moorish style, with twin towers almost 150 feet high. Situated in Dahony Street, it is one of 29 Budapest synagogues which the community says are still used.
Near the museum are the offices of the community’s central council in Sip Street, whose courtyard contains a mass grave of people who died in the nearby ghetto at the end of 1944 and the first few days of 1945.
There is also a marble tablet in memory of the Hebrew poet, Hannah Senesh, executed after secretly returning to Hungary from Palestine in a forlorn bid to organize Jewish resistance to the Nazis.
SUPPORT FROM THE STATE
Hungary’s present Jewish community of more than 80,000 people benefits from the relative liberalism of the Kadar regime. In addition to state support for its communal organization, it also boasts a rabbinical seminary attended by students from other Soviet bloc countries.
The community is affiliated to the World Jewish Congress and last November was visited by a high level delegation from the Congress’s European branch. Diplomatic and consular relations between Hungary and Israel are handled by Switzerland in the absence of direct relations.