Family visit to the Great Synagogue and Holocaust Museum in Budapest
Budapest is a great place for family travel. It’s relatively inexpensive, extremely child-friendly and there are unlimited activities to keep the kids engaged, active and happy.
While touring Budapest with my then 10-year old and 20-year-old nephew, we visited the Jewish Quarter and were overwhelmed with great sadness of their history and awe of the strength, wisdom, and courage of the Jewish people. We visited the Doheny Street Great Synagogue, which is the second largest Synagogue in the world after Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, and its neighbor the Jewish Museum and Cemetery. These buildings comprised one of the borders to the 1944 Budapest Ghetto and contain plenty of exhibits about the Holocaust.
Inside the Synagogue my nephew was given a yarmulke by the attendant and we stood in wonderment of this magnificent building. It was constructed in the 1850s in both Moorish and Romantic-style architecture and can easily hold 3000 worshipers. It was fully renovated in 1990 in large part with a generous donation from Estee Launder.
In the late 1930s there were approximately 750,000 Jews in Hungary but during the war, Hungary aligned itself with Germany and the Jews were forced into Ghettos. These Ghettos were short-lived and about 430,000 of them were deported mostly to Auschwitz. By the time the Soviets liberated Hungary in 1944, approximately 570,000 Hungarian Jews had perished during the Holocaust.
During the war, the Great Synagogue was used by the Nazi’s as a communication center but now it serves as the central location for the Jewish community in Budapest. Although my daughter did not seem to appreciate the history of this building I could tell the significant impact this building was having on my nephew. He stopped being cool for a while and just stared with respect to the magnificent organ, balconies, and architecture.
My child was much more fascinated at the next door Jewish Museum which houses fascinating artifacts, clothing and memorabilia from Jewish history, traditions, and customs. There is also a large exhibit area that deals with the terror of the Holocaust by displaying unique Hungarian videos, artifacts, newspaper headlines, and photos. The children in the videos and photos send a heartbreaking message about the cruelty of this war. We all agreed more time was needed in this section but it gets very crowded.
Behind the structure lies the Raoul Wallenberg Park which is home to the Emanuel Tree. The Tree is a metal sculpture of a weeping willow tree with leaves inscribed with the names of the Hungarian Jewish Holocaust victims. There are also memorial plates dedicated to non-Jews who selflessly helped during the war, including Swedish Diplomat Wallenberg who saved so many lives by preparing Swedish protective passports allowing thousands to escape. This is a somber, reflective place where many people are weeping. I know witnessing this sculpture made a real impression on my 10-year old because she immediately started asking questions about the Holocaust.
To get there take Street Car #47 or #49 and get off at the Astoria stop. Once you exit the trolley the streets are lined with cafés and shops prior to arriving at the entrance to the Synagogue and Museum. To enter the Synagogue women must have their shoulders covered and men must wear hats or a yarmulke.
The Jewish Quarter is a must see while in Budapest for young and old alike.