TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Jewish Budapest – Raoul Wallenberg

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Raoul Wallenberg Memorial

Before World War II, a quarter of Budapest’s population was Jewish, but then 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Germans. Adolph Eichmann personally supervised the extermination of what was by then the only significant Jewish community left in Europe.

Raoul Wallenberg also came to Budapest.

I had brought Kati Marton’s Wallenberg: Missing Hero to Budapest with me and read it in the days before we visited the synagogue.

Wallenberg’s story is extraordinary. A member of a leading family in Sweden, and possessing diplomatic status, Wallenberg injected himself into one dangerous situation after another, literally pulling Jews out of the assembly squares and transport trains that would have sealed their doom.

When the Russian army laid siege to Budapest, Eichmann fled westward towards Vienna. Wallenberg presented himself to the Russians, expecting his diplomatic credentials to protect him. Instead, he was arrested and transported to Moscow, and never heard from again.

After the war, the Jews of Budapest prepared a statue to express their gratitude for what Wallenberg had done for them. The statue was destroyed by the occupying Russians before it was unveiled.

But, if you take the 4-6 tram to the end of the line, a stop ironically named Moskva (Moscow) ter, and then take a second tram another four stops into the residential Buda side of the city, there is a small grassy space containing a remarkable piece of sculpture, completed in 1987 but not erected until after the Soviets left.

Wallenberg is dressed in his long winter overcoat, his right arm extended slightly forward as if blocking some Nazi from murdering yet another Jew. He is flanked by sections of wall, which are much higher than his own figure, but which he has figuratively split, providing a way out for the otherwise condemned. Before him is a carpet of blue and yellow flowers, the colors of the Swedish flag. Small stones have been placed at Wallenberg’s feet, as would be done at a Jewish cemetery.

I say kaddish before his statue and pray that somewhere, Raoul Wallenberg has found justice.

Constructed in the 1850s, the Great Synagogue of Budapest is one of the largest synagogues in the world, a Moorish building with seating for 1,500 men downstairs and 1,500 women in the balconies. The synagogue was of course taken over by the Nazis, who used the basement for a horse stable and the courtyard as an assembly point for the Jews’ final trip.

Here, Raoul Wallenberg confronted the Nazi thugs, including Eichmann himself. We can feel his powerful presence as we stand where he has been.

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