We both have an interest in Jewish history because of our family’s history and relationship to the Holocaust. Our great-grandfathers were brothers and both Jewish, but Katharina’s great-grandmother was Catholic so once she married Katharina’s great-grandfather, they chose to raise their three children Catholic – which allowed them to survive World War II and the Holocaust. I have been raised Jewish and Katharina has been raised Catholic, but we are both connected to our roots and want to learn as much as we can about where we come from, which includes learning more about Judaism and the Holocaust.
So we walked and took a train to the Jewish Quarter of the city where we could visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, also known as The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue – one of the largest synagogues in the world.
We chose to visit both the Synagogue and the Museum and had an optional tour of each so we could learn more about both. I’m not always into tours, but these were very small groups and very focused on what we were interested in knowing – personal tours are always great. Although it was over 90 degrees outside, we knew to cover up and dress appropriately and respectfully. We wore long pants and long sleeves because we weren’t sure how much we needed to cover, but once we got there we saw only shoulders needed to be covered. People whose shoulders were exposed were given paper napkins to place around them like a shall to be respectful, so we felt good that we had the right dress even if we were sweating.
The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859. It suffered damage in World War II from air raids during the Nazi Occupation and also during the Siege of Budapest, which was a 50-day long encirclement of the city by Soviet forces towards the end of the war. Around 38,000 civilians died during this siege. The Synagogue’s restoration occurred in the 1990s. It is able to seat 3,000 people.
The Synagogue is beautiful with its incredible detail and impressive size.
We found it very worthwhile to take the tour and hear about the history and significance of the Synagogue. There is more on the complex though including Heroes’ Temple, which seats 250 people and is used for religious services on weekdays and in the winter. It was added in 1931 and designed by Lázlo Vágó and Ferenc Faragó. It serves as a memorial to Hungarian Jews who lost their lives in World War I.
There is also a Jewish Cemetery for more than two thousand Jews who died in the ghetto from starvation and the cold during the winter of 1944-1945.
The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park is behind the temple and is a memorial to the more than 400,00 Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. A beautiful sculpture designed by Imre Varga stands, representing a weeping willow and holding names of victims on the leaves. It is very moving to look at.
You can also see this stained glass piece that represents the chaos and struggles of the Holocaust. It looks like snakes and flames mixed into the art, which is stunning.
The grounds of the complex are so well maintained and peaceful. I highly recommend visiting and learning more about the history and culture of Hungarian Judaism.
The museum of the complex is small, but definitely interesting to look at. We learned that everything in the museum was saved during the war by two women who carried each item individually, even these stained glass window pieces, to the national museum where they would be kept safe.
In the majority of the museum, visitors can look at old religious pieces such as the Torah, candle holders for Shabbat, and challah covers.
Even the lighting of the museum was related to Judaism.
The last part of the museum is specifically dedicated to how the Holocaust affected Hungary and its Jewish population, which I found interesting because it is not something I knew much about before. There were many exhibits:
Here you can see Nazi propaganda from that time:
And items from the camps:
This is a menorah found in one of the concentration camps that had been made from bread – meaning someone didn’t eat the already little food given to them in order to follow their religious traditions and beliefs. This was something that really got to me.
And many moving photos from the time period of people struggling to survive or people who perished.
We both learned a lot from this visit and found it interesting to see another perspective from that time and gain more information about what happened in Hungary specifically during World War II. We both said that we saw and heard about things we never would have learned in school.
After spending the whole morning looking at so much, we both were hot and hungry so we found an Italian place to grab lunch.
And then we went back to the hotel to change into different clothes that felt more appropriate for the almost 100 degree weather. We decided to go check out some baths. We chose to go to the Széchenyi Baths, the largest medicinal baths in Europe. The water there is supplied by two thermal springs. It officially opened in 1913. We took the subway to get there and spent the afternoon enjoying the outdoor pools and baths in the warm sun and checked out the indoor ones as well. We each splurged on a massage in the spa, which was amazing after the craziness of our trip so far with all the walking and carrying backpacks and constant running around. This turned into a very relaxing day after an intense morning. We had a lot of fun people watching because there was a mix of Hungarians and tourists from all over the world.
As the evening approached we took the train back to the hotel so we could shower and clean up. We walked through the city to find some dinner, and ended up in a small restaurant where I couldn’t resist having another delicious pasta dish!
We had a good time walking around exploring the city some more because it was a little different at night time. I started to feel sick (probably because of all the sun and some dehydration), so unfortunately, we couldn’t do too much. After a decent amount of time wandering around, we decided to head back to the hotel and get a good night of sleep.