Tablet Magazine published my article last week about plans for a controversial new Holocaust memorial museum in Budapest. It was a real pleasure to work with Tablet’s editor for the piece, Allison Hoffman.
The article prompted a lot of interest and feedback — it’s a complex and very fraught situation, and I am very pleased that people praised it for being “measured,” “insightful,” and “objective”!
The facility, which is to combine a permanent exhibit with an interactive learning center and other services, will be a centerpiece of a nationwide effort to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, but almost ever facet of the project has come under criticism or question.
Many worry it will be window-dressing for politicians who want to be seen remembering the Shoah but ignore today’s anti-Semitism
By Ruth Ellen Gruber (Jan. 10, 2014)
The Hungarian author György Konrád is arguably one of the best-known child survivors of the Holocaust. By a stroke of luck he narrowly avoided being deported to Auschwitz in 1944 along with the Jews of his hometown, Berettyóújfalu, in eastern Hungary. He, his sister, and two cousins survived the war in a Swiss-protected Budapest safe house. His parents, who had been deported to Austria, also survived and were reunited with their children in Berettyóújfalu after the war—the only Jewish family from the town to survive intact.
Yet in mid-December, Konrád, now 81, pointedly declined an invitation to take part in an advisory session for a new $22 million state-sponsored Holocaust memorial museum and education center focusing on child victims that is slated to open next spring. “It would be hard to shake the feeling that the hasty organization of this exhibition is not about the hundreds of thousands of children murdered 70 years ago, but rather about the Hungarian government of today,” Konrád wrote in anopen letter to the museum’s director. “If the government wanted to devote such a large sum to the memory of these children, then in the spirit of the children’s spiritual heritage I would suggest they turn this amount over to feeding the badly nourished, living Hungarian children of today.”
Konrád’s words reflected the powerful mix of political, emotional, and ideological passions that the plans for the new complex have ignited in this sharply polarized country since they were announced in September by the nationalist Fidesz party government, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The new institution is to center mainly on the experience of children during the Holocaust—but also on Hungarians who rescued Jews. It will be located in the disused Józsefváros train station in Budapest’s rundown Eighth District, once a teeming Jewish neighborhood, and will be called “House of Fates,” a name that harks back to Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertész’s novel Fatelessness, which narrates the experiences of a teenaged boy during the Shoah. Continue reading…