There is concern among Hungarians seeking to undo what is perceived as a wilful attack on “truth telling of history” during this 2014 anniversary year. But ask any high school student whose history texts are one focus of this battle: “In this 2014 anniversary year, what do we remember?” As any eager student, they chime: “It was the start of WWI.” Should they know?
The Starred Houses (www.csillagoshazak.hu)
This group effort from Open Society Archives can be appreciated on the internet site above, and, as a visual and digital exhibit, it incorporates many of the components of Social Emotional Learning. Few such sites have the power at once to bite and to kick. By sharp contrast are the volunteer contributors to the exhibit who on Thursday marked almost 200 buildings, bringing their experiences into the open in “real time”. They are a friendly and gentle support group of mostly elderly Jewry who form a supportive network around this intimate theme.
The power of the exhibit derives from making visual the dried facts of textual reality and the marking of the buildings, all easily seen in present-day form, but deemed Starred Houses in 1944. It came as a shock to know of my own present lodging, and the grocery stores, pizzerias nearby Starred. Marked as such, a tragedy unfolds that becomes palpable
These are where Jewry was forced, in the first of the three-part, factory-like process: 1. isolation led to 2. marking and finally 3. extermination. The exhibit makes clear that this was the aim, and emphasis remains on human toll but the magnitude of real estate taken is overwhelming.
The photos and videos from that time are carefully chosen to heighten impact and break the denial pervasive now, as then. Draped with shopping basket slung on an arm, shoppers walk the boulevard with others indistinguishable in any other form except for the 10x10cm Stars of Shame, marking them within weeks as dead. It is correct that warning is given before viewing the pictures.
My own father, honoured for rescue at Yad Vashem World Centre for Holocaust Research, had told of his experiences as medical officer assigned first to foreign forced labour, 1941, and later to the ghetto, of entering with his medical bag filled with foodstuff, and he told of putting it down by a house at Klausal tér. It was empty when he came back for it. But he never spoke of what he saw, and what I did see now for the first time of the horror of his days. One could not help but weep for his experiences.
During the 1956 Revolution, awakening echoes from those days, my parents put me and my sister on a train. I was 8, my sister 12, and they said what they could: “We will come soon.” I had no idea until my adult years that my mother was Jewish and had lost 25 of 28 relatives in the countryside.
The Stared Houses told their tale, and also told mine. It is an exhibit from where silence yowls.
New Heroic Diplomacy Walking Tour of 1944
If fortunate to be in Budapest this Saturday 21 June, tourists, expats and Hungarians can partake in one of the best developed tours at once engaging and deeply moving into the brightest, yet best-kept secrets of Hungarian history. It is a parting initiative from the Swedish Ambassador, Karin Olofsdotter. The tour derives from diplomats Giorgio Perlasca of Italy, Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, Carl Lutz and Friedrich Born of Switzerland, Henryk Slawik of Poland, Ángel Sanz-Briz of Spain, Sampaio Garrido and Teixeira Branquinho of Portugal, Angelo Rotta and Gennaro Verolino, Holy See, Italy.
Their mutual cooperation, along with their Hungarian helpers, resulted in the successful rescue of 147,000 endangered men, women and children from the darkest period of Hungary, the Holocaust. In joining together now, the seven embassies are replicating similar mutual effort. The walking tour, headed by Olofsdotter, is run by the innovative young team at Bupap Budapest Walking Tours Association, to be guided by historian Czösz László.
Bupap uses a new method of engaging history tourism based on SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) researched at Harvard by the Boston-based Facing History and Ourselves for over 20 years. Because of Facing History’s unique ability to engage participation, the firm played a central role in regions of conflict in Northern Ireland, South Africa, the Czech Republic, even Poland.
This tour leads to experiencing history, more so than the blackboard/chalk methods most of us know, or power point/lectures and seeks to attain the essence of modern research on successful tourism, the “tourist should feel something.” Covered by dozens of positive reviews, one of the best for Bupap is featured by CNN: http://euronews.com/2014/05/23/living-history-to-learn-andretain-it/
Put on your shoes, grab the kids and walk down a memory lane you will always remember.
Reservations: (+36) 70 408-6888 or bupap.hu/hu/embermento-diplomatak-budapesten
Dr. L. Petrovics Ofner is a psychologist who works with the Wallenberg Association, educating over 800 youths annually with focus on Diplomatic Rescue. To avail their pro bono school services, contact, in English: External Relations, Professor Ferenc Orosz, (+36) 20 441-1374, or Hungarian: Director Educational Initiatives, József Sebes (+36) 30 959-9261 or visit