|Hungarian Jews waiting in line at the Swiss embassy in Budapest, 1944. (Photo by Agnes Hirschi, Carl Lutz's daughter)|
Last August I had the good fortune to be a member of a study trip river cruise along the Danube that sailed from the port town of Vidin (after two days in Sophia, Bulgaria) to Passau in Germany that concluded with a two-day trip to Prague, Czech Republic. It was an exhilarating experience because of the significant ports of call at which we stopped and the stimulating conversations with fellow passengers. But my lasting impressions were more about what was imparted or omitted by the local guest lecturers and tour guides, and their often selective or subjective remarks. This review is also informed by my exchanges with others about those experiences, as well as my supplemental reading. Part 1 of this piece was published two weeks. The second, and concluding, part is below.
– Bob Douglas
Arriving in Budapest and opting for the Jewish sites tour rather than a general city tour turned out to be one of the best experiences of the trip. The guide was excellent, wonderfully integrating historical, personal and the contemporary at both the places we visited and in the talk she gave at the “Glass House.” At one time a glass factory showroom owned by a displaced Jewish manufacturer, it was during the war the location at which the Swiss diplomat, Carl Lutz, sheltered 3,000 Jews by annexing it to the Swiss legation, thereby extending diplomatic immunity to the place. It is now a museum to honour Lutz.
The guide provided history not merely as interesting or diverting but to explain how the Hungarian kingdom that lived as a relatively peaceful multi-national state for a thousand years was eviscerated by the catastrophic 1920 Treaty of Trianon, a dismemberment that contributed to the tragedy that would befall Hungarian Jews during World War II and continues to reverberate today. Allied to Germany in World War One, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire collapsed after the defeat. Hungary experienced a short-lived but traumatic Communist experiment that was followed by forcing it to accept a treaty that shredded the country, losing two thirds of its territory and one third of its ethnic population. The national shame was accompanied by the perception that its citizens had been stabbed in the back by internal enemies. A scapegoat was found in the Jews, particularly since a number of them had been supporters or part of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The first expression of anti-Semitic legislation occurred in a 1920 law that restricted Jewish university students to six percent of the population.