The Conspiracy

Hungarians and the Holocaust

Crossposted to Jewschool

You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that’s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can’t deal with it, you know? Someone’s killed 100,000 people, we’re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people!? You must get up very early in the morning!”

-Eddie Izzard, comedian

I got back from Europe on Monday. While in Budapest, I had the chance to visit Budapest’s Holocaust museum, the best I’ve ever been to. Everyone who visits Budapest visits the Great Synaoguge, the largest in the world when it was built, but few visit the Holocaust museum, which itself was built around an existing shul from the 1920s. Here’s why it’s a must-see and why it topped Yad Vashem and the one in DC for me.

The museum in Budapest is quick, easily digestible and features a very limited narrative. Others overwhelm visitors with a huge narrative covering all of Europe, trying to impact people with the sheer numbers, the gargantuan size of the tragedy. Budapest takes the opposite approach, covering only Hungary’s WWII/Holocaust story, focusing in closely on five Hungarian families and following them straight through. One of the families, by the way, is Roma (gypsie), a story that rarely gets its due in Holocaust education. It’s apt, of course–apparently most of the Roma murdered in the Holocaust were from Hungary.

In this retelling, the story is related in clear, cold steps. Each room is numbered and explains a particular step in the dehumanization of Hungary’s Jews. One is about limiting Jews in academia, another about limiting the professions Jews could work in. Each room includes explanations of each step impacted the five families as well as copies of the legal documents involved.

There is a perfect irony in the storytelling. On the one hand, it tells the story the way the Nazis and Hungarian Arrow Cross imagined it–a logical process, a series of carefully planned steps. On the other hand, the museum subverts that through indignant language and the personalizing effect of the five families.

Totally new to me was the story of the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s own militant nationalists. They allied themselves with the Nazis, but were less brutally organized than the Nazis. Hungary was left mostly alone by the Nazis at first, but when it became clear that Hungary was not proceeding fast enough with their own Jews, the Nazis invaded and sped things up.

The best part of the museum to me was the synagogue. They built the museum complex around an existing synagogue from 1920s, beautifully restored, but sadly it is hidden from the street inside the museum’s courtyard.

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2 Older Responses to “Hungarians and the Holocaust”

  1. Mandi
    June 25, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    I believe that the fate that befell the Hungarian Jews was one of the most tragic. As the war was basically coming to an end for the Nazis, and they were at their lowest point, the war against Hungarian Jews became even more intense. As Russian troups approached the Polish border on January 3rd 1944, Jews from Hungary had not really even begun to be deported in large numbers yet. On July 24th, 1944 Russian troupes liberate Majdanek and still up to 3 months after this train loads of Hungarian Jews are being sent to the gas chambers. As crisis in war began to hit the Nazis, the war against the Jews was being waged even harder: and it was the Hungarian Jews who paid this price. If 1942-3 was the peak of the killing, to have this peak rise up again 2 years later renders the fate of these Jews even more tragic…

    Also, many survivor stories that describe the Arrow Cross have them as just, or more brutal than the Nazis themselves. While the Nazis seemed to follow some kind of stereotypical ¨German orderliness¨ those of the Arrow Cross had no problem of mass shootings on the streets, or into the Danube. I´ve studied many more testimonies that fear the brutal violence from the Arrow Cross than the Nazis.

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  1. Hungarians and the Holocaust | Jewschool - June 18, 2010

    [...] Crossposted to New Voices Magazine You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that’s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can’t deal with it, you know? Someone’s killed 100,000 people, we’re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people!? You must get up very early in the morning!” [...]

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