Sometimes when we least expect it, the universe conspires to remind us of stuff that should never be forgotten. I can see the merits of forgiving and forgetting – and perhaps nine times out of ten, I would be all for it. But there are times that, whatever about forgiving, forgetting is simply wrong.
I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust. I’ve visited the sites of many WWII camps. Some might say I have a morbid fascination with the subject. And perhaps I do. But there’s a part of me that thinks it could all happen again if people simply forget. The signs are there.
I come across reminders of what went on in the most unexpected places. In Győr the other week, VO took us to see the old synagogue. The site on which it is built was purchased in 1866 for just 6000 forint. The cornerstone was laid in 1868 and the building was dedicated in 1870. Built in neo-Romanesque style, it has an octagonal plan which served as pattern for a number of significant European synagogues around that time – apparently Károly Benkö’s design is the first realisation of the movement of neological synagogues.
In 1910, the Jewish community numbered 5583 people. Of the 5700 people deported in the 1940s, only around 780 returned. And for them, it was far too big. Hungary bought the synagogue from the Jewish community in 1969. It subsequently housed a grain company’s offices, was a furniture storage for a while, and then the Ferenc Liszt conservatory was tasked with converting space to a concert hall. It’s now a cultural centre, operated by the University of István Széchenyi, and mainly used by the university and the municipal art museum. It also houses the collection of János Vasilescu’s twentieth century art.
The detail is amazing; the restoration simply beautiful. One has to be thankful that it wasn’t left to go to rack and ruin but instead has found a new life that the whole community can enjoy. But the building itself, beautiful as it is, is not what was the most significant for me.
In the courtyard out front stands a memorial on which are etched the names of the children who were deported. The youngest, Péter Feldmar, was only 2 weeks old. Over 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust. It’s too big a number to get my head around. The numbers from Győr were all too manageable, made even more real by names and years, months, and days of life. Today, they provide food for thought and ample reason for reflection. They should not be forgotten.