Budapest Honors Holocaust Memory


The Jews of Hungary marked a little-known anniversary recently — the start of the Jewish community’s forced relocation into “Yellow-Star Houses” during the Nazis’ wartime occupation.

Unlike in other European countries where the Nazis created Jewish ghettos in cities under their control, in Budapest they initially marked some 2,000 buildings with yellow stars — like those that individual Jews elsewhere were forced to wear to make their Jewish identity obvious. The entrances were guarded to prevent banned entry or exit; non-Jews had to move out, or put up a sign that stated, “No Jew lives here.”

Budapest was the only city where the Third Reich did this.

Packed into apartments, the 220,000 Jews could leave the house for only a few hours every afternoon to do errands.

To commemorate the June 21 anniversary, a grassroots memorial project organized by George Soros’ Open Society Archives — which has catalogued residents’ personal stories and compiled an online map of the marked buildings — coordinated daylong memorial events at some 130 locations in the capital. The itinerary included Holocaust survivors and their descendants, friends and neighbors, theater groups, musicians, authors, civic groups and foreign embassies — and a ceremony honoring the late Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born survivor who became a member of the U.S. Congress and prominent human rights advocate.

“When you speak in front of the house, it’s a shocking realization, that so many were hidden,” Anna-Maria Biro, president of the Tom Lantos Institute, told the Times of Israel. “It’s important to remember this dark experience of Hungarian history.”

Hungarians attend a memorial ceremony, above, in one of the former Yellow-Star Houses.

“The tragedy of the yellow-star houses’ residents has now become an integral, undeniable and permanent part of the city’s history and memory,” Istvan Rev, a historian who heads the memorial project, wrote in an open letter. “It is simply not enough to protest when the powers that be try to use, abuse and falsify the facts of our shared history for political ends. It is up us to remember, to understand and to comprehend the past.”

His remarks were an allusion to a controversial memorial sculpture in Budapest’s Freedom Square that critics claim whitewash Hungary’s culpability in the murder of Hungarian Jewry.

More than 400,000 Jews lived in the country before the war. That number increased to nearly 700,000 with the addition of Jews from Romanian and Czech territories; of that total, some 400,000 died at Auschwitz, and another 30,000 Budapest Jews died on death marches.