Holocaust Survivors' Network




April 12, 2004


Eastern Europe's first Holocaust museum set to open in Budapest
BUDAPEST : The first Holocaust museum in Central Europe will open Thursday [April 15, 2004] in Budapest on the 60th anniversary of the day Hungary's pro-Nazi regime started rounding up Jews to confine them in ghettos.

An estimated 600,000 Hungarians perished in the Holocaust, most of them Jews.

More than 437,000 Jews were deported to Nazi death camps in less than two months in 1944.

"More than a museum, this must be a place for learning, especially for the young who must not only know of the Holocaust but make it part of their lives so that they will never allow it to happen again," museum director Andras Daranyi said.

Budapest museum


A view of the museum.


Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, Israeli President Moshe Katzev and French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is of Hungarian descent, are expected to be among the dignitaries attending the inauguration.

Located on a narrow street in Budapest, the memorial center is built on the site of a pre-war synagogue which had served as an internment camp for Jews during World II.

The museum is the fifth state-funded Holocaust museum in the world according to its organizors, after ones in Jerusalem, Washington D.C., London and Berlin.

It will open with a temporary exhibition showing photographs of Hungarian victims arriving to Auschwitz from the northeastern village of Bilke, which is now part of Ukraine.

In the courtyard, the names of those who perished in the Holocaust are put on a memorial wall. Some 40,000 names are known and new ones are added as research discovers the identities of the victims.

The museum has, however, been criticized in Hungary, which has eastern Europe's largest Jewish population, estimated at 60,000-100,000.

Historians have said the museum should have been built in the countryside, where most of the Jews lived in pre-war times, or in the former area of the ghetto in the capital.

The current location in a nondescript neighbourhood with narrow streets not only lacks historical significance but is also difficult for cars and tourist buses to reach, critics charge.

But the most stinging criticism is that there will not be a permanent exhibition documenting the Holocaust in place at the opening and, some argue, there is not even enough space for it on site.

"It's a slap in the face to the Holocaust and its victims," Laszlo Karsai, one of the museum's curators, told Nepszabadsag newspaper last month in protest of the limited space.

The museum's directors argue, however, that opening the museum even without a permanent exhibition was a moral obligation to educate Hungarians, for whom the participation of Hungary's collaborationist government in the deportations remains a sore topic.

"We want to be a springboard for debate in society about the Holocaust," Daranyi said.

The emphasis on education also resonates in Hungary, where the so-called "numerus clausus" law of 1920 restricting the admission of Jews to universities was the first anti-Jewish law passed in Europe ahead of the war.

"How did this degenerate into deportations and murder 20 to 25 years after the first anti-Jewish law was enacted? And how come so few raised their voices against this?" asked Daranyi.

"We don't want to give answers, we want to pose questions," Daranyi said.

Copyright © 2004 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved



Source: www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/79709/1/.html