I spent the day before coming back home watching the 70th anniversary gathering at Auschwitz. Its never an easy watch, personal testimony from those who survived can only tell so much, its the things unsaid that, for me, are the worst.
As I watched a Hungarian Jew, stood, head bowed, recounting his time in the camp, my mind was taken back to a visit to the Holocaust museum in Budapest.
This is just outside the museum, a curious piece, although I’ve never claimed to understand art.
The external wall of the museum is stark, bleak, a portent of what is to come.
This beautiful piece is in the central courtyard, each branch commemorating someone.
Hungary was similar to many European countries under German occupation during WW2, the population were encouraged (by various means, not all of them pleasant) to denounce their neighbours. The search for Jews was relentless, over 440,000 finally left Hungary for the concentration camps with less than 2000 returning after the war and this history is shown to you in pictures and in flickering black and white film.
Whilst over 50% of the entire Jewish population was killed during WW2, it must be noted that whilst Miklos Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, and Miklos Kallay, the Prime Minister from 1942 brought in anti semetic laws in line with those in Germany, both refused Jewish deportation until German troops invaded and occupied the country.
As always, there were heroes, people prepared to put their own lives on the line to save others. The Swiss vice-Consul, Carl Lund is credited with saving over 60,000 Jews during this period and is rightly remembered in various places around the city.
Man’s inhumanity to man is laid bare here, yet another brutal reminder that man doesn’t appear to be able to live with man. The museum itself is full of many artefacts, human personal things that remind constantly of the real cost of what happened. The final thing to see is a black and white film of a train arriving in Auschwitz. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of world history is only too aware of what happens next.
After watching the film, a long upward slope leads out of the museum and into a synagogue, a quiet place to gather thoughts before heading back out in the bustle of modern day Budapest.
The visit was painful, difficult but necessary.