Saturday, April 4, 2015

Apostol Utca 13b. Budapest. Layers of History.

The School or the Blind we visited earlier, was endowed by Ignaz Wechselmann and Sophia Wechselmann, nee Neuscholoss .  I wondered at the nee Neuschloss, since this kind of fact was unusual in the material about buildings that appear online.  I decided to find out who the Neuschlosses were, and discovered they were a very large, very rich, very civic-minded Jewish family in Budapest.

The Neuschloss family began their lumber business in the 18th century in Satu Mare (now part of Romania).  They furthered their fortunes in the 1830s when they opened a lumberyard on the Danube in Ujpest (now a part of Budapest).  They later became a large company, employing over 100 people and eventually began to produce parquetry and inlaid floors that were sought after all over the Empire.  In 1851, they moved to Budapest proper and lived on Szchenyi Utca in Pest.  The company grew, engaged in extensive construction activities, and the family, in turn,became very well known and very wealthy.

In the 1890s the then-senior Neuschloss brothers, Marcell and Odon, were very active in the Millennial buildings, and for their efforts were awarded the Knight's Cross and the Iron Cross, Third Class. The family was known for its philanthropy and patriotism.

Around 1900, Ignac Alpar, the famous architect who built the Millennial Castle in Varislogeti Park, constructed a house in the Rosendom, or Rose Hill, a prestigious area in Buda hills for Marcell and Odon Neuschloss and their families.  The imposing house was notable for the tower with its Prague-type helmet crown and its richly carved and ornate wood terraces and porches.  The interior was as grand as the exterior

The house was eventually sold to Lipot Aschner, the first CEO of Tunsgrum, a light bulb manufacturing company.  Aschner was one of the first Jews to be deported from Hungary, being sent to Manscheim in March 1944. He was eventually ransomed by Swiss share holders in his company.  Aschner, who was famously practical, was said to have berated the fact that so much money had been spent on such an old man.

In her book on Aschner, Aki a korat megelozete: Aschner Liphot (Ahead of his Time: Liphot Aschner), Anna Maria Rojko says that the house was cold and dimily lit.

During World War II, Apostol 13b became the home of Adolph Eichmann.  He lived in Budapest from March 19 to December 24, 1944 and there helped to oversee the final deportations of Hungarian Jews to death camps. At least one of Marcell Neuschloss's sons Albert Neuschloss, and his wife Magda Neuschloss were killed in the Holocaust, as were at least one of Lipot Aschner's brothers, David Aschner, and his wife Klara Aschner.

As part of the prosecution of Eichmann in his trial in Jerusalem, Avraham Gordon, one of about a dozen young men who were forced to work on the grounds of the Apostol house, testified that Eichmann murdered a young boy named Salomon for stealing cherries.

Aschner returned to Budapest in 1947, but by then the house had been nationalized by the Soviets and turned into apartments.

Today, the house Apostol Utca 13b is a still beautiful, though diminished, building.

It is again turned into separate apartments, but now they are offices, businesses, and even a Pilates studio.

Why does any of this matter?  There is no plaque on this building to indicate any of its history: no mention of Neuschloss, Aschner, Eichmann, or the people who inhabited the building under Communism.  Indeed no memory of the Neuschosses at all, as their mausoleum in Salgotarjani Cemetary has collapsed from being abandoned so long.

To get any sense of the narrative of this building, the layers of history that inhabit it, I have had to hunt down bits and pieces of information, mainly from the internet.  By trying to find out the who was Sophia Neuschloss Wechselmann I stumbled onto this particular building, which looked so striking and turned out to have such a complicated history.

Over half of the architects who built the beautiful Secession houses were Jewish (Alpar was not),as were the majority of people who commissioned these buildings.  Thus many if not most of these buildings have similarly complicated and tragic histories attached, some more so than that of the Neuschlosses and Aschners.  These layers of history are, for the most part, lost.  They are lost because the people who built and lived there have disappeared: from history, from communal memory, and sadly, for the most part, from present consciousness.  The buildings are art, but not simply or exclusively art.  They are relics of something that lived and died and is left only in physical traces and declining memories.

#Apostol Utca #Neuschloss # Aschner  #Eichmann #AlparIgnac


  1. That property looks absolutely wonderful in the original photographs - imagine living in something that grand. Conversion into apartments is, of course, the way of the modern world. We now have the technology to heat and insulate these large buildings but the cost of so doing is beyond most individuals.

  2. Such a complicated history indeed. I always strive a feel the history of people who have passed through places that I visit. I'm not sure how I would feel about doing that here.

  3. Tracy, it is difficult in so many ways. and there is so much one cannot know. But also a lot has been forgotten--or not remembered well. This is just one house; it's haunting to think of what other stories are gone. Tomorrow we are going to the old Jewish cemetery to try to find the remains of the Neuschloss family tomb.