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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Budapest, Hungary | Day 3

Wednesday | October 8, 2014

Today was a relatively mellow day in Budapest. The first part of the day was spent on the Dauphin II, a glass enclosed boat cruise up and down the Danube. We learned much about the history of Budapest, and were treated to explanations of all the buildings on both sides of the river, north and south of the city.

Next was a bus (though not really necessary since there were only five of us) tour through the city, which exposed us to more of the local sites.  We had a lovely lunch – although perhaps too long – during which we were sure foie gras (of course), and I enjoyed a veal brisket smothered with paprika and sour cream.  One of the more interesting parts of lunch occurred when we were served bread and a small bowl of a white substance, we asked the waiter what it was and he told us it was “pork fat.”  

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After that lovely luncheon, our next stops involved the Jewish history of the city and the Hungarian government. By everyone’s admission, Hungary was implicit in the mass murder of Jews during the second world war. Hungary entered the war as an ally of Hitler and the Nazis, and did not change course until early 1944.  In March 1944, Hungary was overrun by the Nazis. Although the country was liberated in 1945, over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz during that nine month period.  In fact, every third Jew exterminated at Auschwitz was from Hungary.  Jews were put into a ghetto in Budapest but most were there only a few weeks. Those who were not shipped to Auschwitz, were marched to the riverbank and tied together, stripped naked, shot in the back at pushed into the Danube.  There is a wonderful moving tribute entitled the bronze steps that depicts the shoes of the persecuted Jews on the side of the river bank.

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We went to the Budapest synagogue, which is the second largest synagogue in the world, and accommodates 3000 worshipers.  Budapest itself boasts the fourth largest Jewish community in Europe.  It is one of 24 synagogues in existence, and regular practice, in Budapest today. It houses 25 Torah scrolls and is part of the Neologue movement, which is somewhere between reformed and conservative.  But at times of prayer, the women must sit at least one story above the men and the high wooden walls allow only the women’s faces to be visible to the men, lest their bodies  distract the men from prayer.  

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Immediately outside the synagogue is a mass grave in which at least 2281 Jews are known to have been buried during the war.

After the synagogue, which was a powerful experience, we went to the Jewish Museum. Throughout the synagogue/museum tour, we were hosted by a lovely Jewish tour guide who knew all kinds of details about the history of Jews and the synagogue in Budapest.

Finally, we walked back through the city and visited the statue of Ronald Reagan, which is situated in a park outside the United States Embassy.  

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After the tour, we walked through some of the local shopping areas, but we were all exhausted. Dinner was non-descript.


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