Letters to the Editor
 


Day 4: The Budapest ghetto
Since last day's program would include only a field trip to the spots of
resistance and rescue, today we concentrated on the questions of
resistance and rescue as well when discussing life in Budapest in
1944/45. Via the power point presentation we guide our students through
the different stages of Jewish fate in Budapest during these crucial two
years. When mentioning the houses marked with the yellow star we read out
a passage from Erno Szep's "The Smell of Humans" describing everyday life in
a starred house flat, where four different (big) families are compelled to
live together. We also asked one of the students to go to the poster on the
wall and read out the decree on all Jews having to leave their homes and move
into the ones designated for them. We speak of the change in Jewish life
brought about by the Arrow Cross takeover, and based on the account of a
young girl of the time, Borbala Szabo, we get a glimpse of the circumstances
in which ghetto dwellers were forced to live in. Then we switched to
resistance movements and rescue attempts (with special emphasis on
the significant activities of the numerous Zionist youth groups.)
We handed out to students different stories of "heroism" told by these youth,
all including a certain place, street, square or building of the city. Given
them enough time to read, we asked them to go up to the Budapest map also
placed on the wall, and put markers at the places where their story was
set. Since everybody had different stories, we also asked students to
share their stories with the others, while at the map. Participants were
surprised to find out about the rather unusual events taking place at these
well-known spots of their hometown, such as the Chain-bridge, Andrassy
street or Arena street (today's Gyorgy Dozsa road). As they all
remarked, from now on it will be quite different to pass by these
places, since they have all become reminders of a remarkable era for them.

In connection with rescuing, activities of the foreign embassies (Wallenberg's
from the Swedish, Carl Lutz's from the Swiss, Perlasca's from the Spanish, or
that of the popal nunciature) had to be also mentioned. Certain scenes from
the movie "Perlasca: the story of a righteous man" were played here, giving
a very realistic description of everyday life in occupied Budapest. For the
activity part, however, we chose sources of the threefold interest of
Zionist resistance (paper forgery, "tijul": organizing illegal escape
from the country, and maintaining children's homes.) We concentrated on the
latter one: students were given remembrances from both the inhabitants and
providers of these homes. Following that, they were to share their stories
with each other in groups and together reconstruct life in these homes under
the given circumstances. Life of both those to be rescued here (persecuted,
young, orphan children, the hope of the future,) and those risking their
lives for the former (organizing everything and providing for these
people while facing the murderous intentions of the Arrow Cross and the
Nazis.) The example given by the Zionist youth was especially encouraging for
our students, taken into consideration the fact it was their pier age group
that was willing to sacrifice themselves for others and for a noble cause.

At this point we broke the classroom activity to be continued later during the
afternoon, and set out to town to see a couple of relating memorials. Our
first spot was Klauzal square, former center of the ghetto. Narrow,
shabby, dirty streets and buildings still bear witness to the
circumstances of the once ghetto area. We stop here for a few
minutes and tell students about the structure of the ghetto and its
leadership, as well as life of the families confined behind the walls
they can see. In Dob street we look at the memorial of Carl Lutz, and
together try to analyze the symbol of the man lying on the ground with
his hand calling for help, and a shape of a figure high above him (hardly
seen in the crown of a tree) with an outstretched arm, too. Then we find
ourselves at the banks of the Dnaube, where we first see a memorial at the
abutment of Margaret Bridge, and still further, on the bank between Margaret
and Chain-bridge, we stop at the memorial inaugurated on this year's (2005)
Memorial Day (16. April). The 60 iron shoes represent the 60years passed
since the Shoah, and commemorate victims of the Arrow Cross regime shot
into the river from the bank. What was most shocking for the students here
was to find even very small shoes among the shoes of adults in the
composition. (I have to insert a complementary remark here: two
days before writing this article the memorial was damaged by so far
unknown wrongdoers, for pieces are reported to be missing from the
composition.)
After our walk we got back to the Memorial Center where a new task was waiting
for the students. Having seen a number of memorials earlier during the week,
now it was the students' term to plan, form and name their own memorial with
the use of colored modeling clay. Just to make sure they have enough
inspiration, we showed the a few further memorials on the Internet,
and also introduced them to current debates in the subject, like the one
going on at that time about the new, monumental "denkmal" in Berlin.
Participants were separated into different groups, and could work in
pairs. They were free to approach the task through any aspect of the
subject, they could chose any topic discussed during the week, or even
come up with new, inventive ideas. After an hour of creative work, we were
amazed by the pieces these students presented. The youngest ones made two
pieces, actually; one of them named "Slaughter in the Danube" presented an
Arrow Cross activist in black uniform with his gun in his hand, and his
victim floating in the river. Their other piece embodied the four main
animal figures/characters in Spiegelman's MAUS: a mouse, a cat, a pig and a
dog. Another group made a more traditional composition, with a Jewish
tombstone in the center, while the oldest ones used more symbolic
elements: a public square is divided into two by a tall wall in the
middle, standing for the wall of the ghetto. On one side of the wall,
people are standing very close, all wearing the yellow star. On the other
side, similar figures are standing, but none of them is marked. They stand
further from the wall, meaning they are indifferent and reserved, they are
the passive "bystanders". One figure is stuck in the wall, trying to break
through, he is "resistance".
All in all, main purpose of the day was to emphasize and "prove", the
horrendous events of the holocaust did not take place only at far
away, remote places. On the contrary, part of it connects to places and
spots in our city where we daily pass, or even to sights we are so proud
of.


Day 5: Resistance
On this last day we only had time for a field trip, so we visited some of the
remaining unexplored sights, all connected to our last topic, that is
Zionist resistance. First we went to 12. Gabor Bethlen street, once
place of refuge of the Hasomer Hacair group lead by David Gur (Endre
Grosz.) In this multi-storey building were hiding some members of the
group for a time, responsible for forging papers of identity, saving
people's lives by thousands. On the spot students could easily
imagine, why, once got suspected, these young were forced to pack
(all tools of forgery) and leave the place at once, having only one route
of escape. From here we headed to Vadasz street, where the famous Glass house
stands. Today a small museum (memorial room) bears remembrance of the
building which, under Swiss protectorate served as a place of refuge
for thousands of Jews. Inside students were free to browse, and study the
original documents on display. From here our way lead to the area of the
international ghetto (around Pozsonyi street in district XIII.,) where we
finished or tour at the stone pile memorial of Zionist resistance. This was
inaugurated in 1994, on the 60. anniversary of the holocaust in Hungary. And
here did the summer course end (with a final photo taken of the group.)
Aim of the last day was to reveal to our young students the altruist work of
the Zionist youth standing up against the Nazi and Arrow Cross terror,
fighting for and saving the lives of many.

Conclusion
At the beginning of the article we set a few questions regarding teaching the
Shoah, and we partly wished to answer those questions with the above written
piece on the 2005 summer course. It turned out, that students are not
reluctant to study a topic in more depth (even in their free time), a
topic which might show them certain (moral and ethical) guidelines for
everyday life, and which has relevance even today, 60years after the
events. The possible dilemmas and choices of the participants of the
holocaust (victims, rescuers, perpetrators bystanders, etc.,) will
surely give some food for thought even for the generation growing up
today. And, what is probably the most important, we could show them
examples of people of the same age group, who even risked their own
lives for the lives of others in a fight against the highest standard of
evil forces.
At the end the course students were given certificates and a book, and
evaluation sheets were filled in by them. From what they wrote we
came to know that they were more than glad about spending their week with
this program. What is more, they were interested if we could possibly
organize similar programs for them during the year as well, on a
weekly basis, for example, once a fortnight.
Finally we would like to remind you a passage of this article, written about
the first day. When we asked our students to take position in the debate on
anti-Jewish legislation, some of the students would have allowed certain
limitation to their number. When we asked them again on the same subject
at the end of the week, their answer was a clear "no". This might be
considered as one reason to why organizing the summer course was,
after all, not in vain.


(Illustrative pictures can be found at / downloaded from:
www.hdke.hu )

By:
Tibor Pecsi (tpecsi@freemail.hu)
Szilvia Dittel (szdittel@freemail.hu)