Thursday, April 23, 2015

Salgotarjani Cemetery. Salgotarjani Utcai Temeto. Budapest Hungary.

This week, Tony and I were able to visit the Salgotarjani Cemetery, the old Jewish cemetery next to Kerepesi Cemetery.  I have thought a long time on how to write about this.  And I have decided that I will only present the facts, as I have found and seen them.  I will use a few photographs to illustrate.  If you would like to see more photographs from the cemetery, I have put up a flickr site here.

The cemetery on Salgotarjani Street was opened in 1874 and is now the oldest cemetery on the Pest side.  (Two other cemeteries, one on Vaci and one on Lehal streets were built over and the bodies buried in the cemeteries were reinterred.)  It is right behind the Kerepesi Street Cemetary, separated by a wall.  The entrance and ceremonial hall were designed by Bela Lajta.  Many notable architects, including Lajta, erected mausoleums and monumnets.  The walls of the cemetery are lined with mausoleums and there are several monumental graave sites near the cemetery's entrance.  In the middle and back of the cemetery are graves of ordinary people.  The mausoleums were built for Jewish entrepreneurs and leading economic and political figures by noted architects, such as Lajta, Ignac Alpar, Emil Vidor, and others.  Eventually, the Salgotarjani cemetery became full and a new and larger synagogue on Kozma street was built.  (It is still in use.)  The last burial at Salgotarjani was in 1965, but no new grave sites have been added since the 1950s.

Salgotarjani Cemetery holds the graves of people who died, for the most part, before World War II. These, often very rich people, had families who would have been alive in 1944 or 1945, and thus likely to have been killed or to have left Hungary.  Thus, there is really no to care for this cemetery.

As of this writing, the cemetery can be visited.  It is guarded by two large German Shepherd dogs and a caretaker.  We tried to visit a couple of times but weren't able to figure out how to phone the number displayed.  We eventually spoked to someone at JewishInfo beisdes the Dohaney Street Synagogue who called and made an appointment for us.  The people who live above the top of the entrance gate do not have English, but they were very kind and welcoming.  (And they tied up the dogs.)

The cemetery is in extreme disrepair, despite the attempts of the caretaker.  We began by walking around the walls where the mausoleums were situated.  We then tried to see some of the other parts, but it is hard to negotiate because of all the vegetation.

The grave stones, monuments, and mausolea are being destroyed in three ways.

First, and most pervasive, is the result of natural causes:  the heavy vegetation and the decay of the buildings through natural processes of weathering.  In some cases, trees have grown into the grave and destroyed the structures.

Second, grave sites have been vandalized or defaced.

And third--most disturbingly--tombs have been looted: coffins and bodies removed.  These acts of looting preceded the presence of the dogs and caretaker,  But many tombs remain open.  Looters were apparently looking for valuables on the corpses or gold teeth.

This cemetery is a space of memory.  Budapest is a city that memorializes many of its citizens.  There are plaques all over the city saying who lived where and when.  There are sculptures spread through the city, many of which are memorials.  The two large public Christian cemeteries, on Kerepesi and Kozma roads, are well tended and often visited.  Salgotarjani cemetery is primarily forgotten.  Like many other Jewish cemeteries in Europe, the next generations who would have remembered were annihilated.  So what is left?

#SalgotarjaniCemetery #Budapest #JewishCemetery

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