What a day!
Today started with a visit to Memento Park. A park on the very outskirts of Budapest (it took two long, hot bus journeys to get there) that’s home to numerous ex-soviet political statues. plaques and monuments. It’s genuinely terrifying, as soon as we got off the bus and saw a huge statue of Lenin I got chills down my spine. As you go into the entrance there’s a enourmous pair of metal boots on a 4 meter grand stand. These are ‘Stalin’s boots’. In 1956 the Hungarian students and other supporters of the revolution tore the 8 meter bronze statue down using wires, cars and trucks and then hacked it up and graffitid it. The boots are all that remain and they stand outside Memento Park. Apparently when it was torn down some one put a sign next to Stalin’s head that said “Russians, when you run away don’t leave me behind!”
Can you imagine how terrifying the actual 25 metre high Stalin would have been?
Here are some other photos from around the park:
Me and Lenin A communist cat Me, Louella and two huge soviet heroes.
Another soldier and then Marx and Engels.
There was also a museum which had a cinema showing films about secret agent tactics.
After we left the park everyone else went home and I got the metro to Dohany Ut, the street where the largest synagogue in Europe is and the heart of the Jewish district and also the WW2 Jewish ghetto.
Inside there’s the actual synagogue which is magnificent, an exhibition about life in the Jewish ghetto, a holocaust memorial garden, a Jewish museum and a burial place where 2000 bodies, some unknown, were hastily buried during 1944 after dying of hunger, exhaustion, cold and other terrible conditions. I joined an English Speaking tour with a Jewish lady whose parents had lived in the ghetto.
This is the makeshift burial garden, with concrete plaques The holocaust memorial tree, it’s made of metal. The silver leaves have the names of people who died on them.
There’s also an area with the names of non-jews who helped Jewish people during the shoah (Hebrew word for holocaust). The whole garden is named after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman who helped thousands of Jews escape by sheltering them in Swedish diplomatic buildings. He was eventually taken away by the Soviet Red Army when they reached Budapest, on charges of espionage. He died in a Moscow prison. There is a memorial grave for him surrounded by rocks (as per Jewish tradition). There are also four plaques with names of people from various countries who attempted to help the jews and paid with their lives. At the bottom of one of the plaques the name Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary and teacher who helped Jewish children escape from the girls’ school she worked at. She was caught by the Gestapo, charged with working with jews, political activity, and listening to the BBC. She died in Auschwitz.
By this point I was feeling pretty subdued, upset and shocked. I then went up to the exhibition room and was looking at some photos when a old woman started talking to me in Hungarian. I said ‘nem ayrtem’ which means I don’t understand and apologised, she said something again in Hungarian then walked off. Two minutes later she came over to me again and stood next to me whilst I was looking at a photo of Jews being marched out of the city. She said (In English) “I was there when I was five years old”. I could not believe it, I didn’t know what to say, I looked at her completely shocked. I said “In the ghetto? In the war?” and she nodded. She then said her and her brother had been saved by Raoul Wallenberg, I was astounded, I’d just been reading about him, she said something about how he gave them a house to stay at. She couldn’t speak much English but she told me how her father had been sent away to Serbia by the Nazis. I asked her what she remembers and she said something about her mum being in a very very small room, I think she meant she had to hide. She also said she remembers being very very hungry. By this point I was trying really hard not to cry, the woman was getting really frustrated at not being able to tell me properly because I couldn’t speak Hungarian and her English was limited. I could tell she wanted to talk more but she couldn’t say what she wanted to. Eventually she just walked off, but I went over to her and thanked her for talking to me and said it was very nice to talk to her and said goodbye in Hungarian. I think I’ll remember that conversation for the rest of my life.
After this extremely moving ten minutes I left the synagogue and wandered around the area, I went to a Sunday market and looked at some cafes, eventually deciding to go to a Serbian one. It was the first time I’d ever gone out to eat completely by myself. I had quesadillas, which were genuinely really nice, although they took ages to come out! It’s alright though because they gave me a free drink for waiting! When I left I paid the guy and told him to round the bill up to leave a tip, but I realised as I was walking to the metro that he’d given me all my change and not taken a tip, so I walked all the way back and gave him his tip!
Overall it’s been an incredible day, now I’ve just got to write my assignment for tomorrow!