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Construction Starts in Budapest on $13 Million Holocaust Center

December 19, 2002
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Groundbreaking took place here this week for Hungary’s first Holocaust museum and education center.

The center, to be built at an estimated cost of $13 million, is expected to be completed in April 2004, according to the president of the foundation establishing the center, Tibor Vamos.

The museum, he said, will include a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust.

The opening will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, he added.

Hungary’s Jewish community is Central Europe’s largest, with an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 members.

Roughly 550,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Among those attending Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony was Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy.

“The Holocaust is our tragedy, and it is our responsibility to face the past,” he said at the ceremony.

The Holocaust museum will be housed in a renovated 19th-century synagogue that used to accommodate 1,700 worshipers, but which has not been used for nearly 20 years.

The education center will be housed in a new building that will adjoin the former synagogue.

Vamos lamented the fate that befell most Hungarian synagogues in the postwar years.

“Almost all our synagogues were ruined or served non-Jewish purposes,” he said. “A few synagogues in Budapest are used as sports facilities or furniture storage warehouses.”

Previous Hungarian governments had balked at the idea of a Holocaust museum. The present government promised nearly $7.5 million to finance construction, and the government of France has also offered to help finance the project.

Just the same, some $4.4 million is still needed to cover costs.

Nonetheless, Jewish leaders here are optimistic that the project will be finished on time.

“We hope that in 2004 the Holocaust museum will be completed, and a new generation can learn what happened to Hungarian Jewry,” Peter Tordai, president of the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities, told JTA at Monday’s ceremony.

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