Three synagogues in the Hungarian provinces — in Mád, Keszthely and Albertirsa — served as the venue for special free concerts last month by the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The concerts were part of a community concert series project “in order to raise awareness of Jewish heritage and to educate local communities of the diversity that was once prevalent throughout Hungary.”
Marcus Dysch reports in the London Jewish Chronicle that
The tour was initiated by the orchestra’s music director, world renowned conductor Iván Fischer, as a response to the growth of far-right political parties and antisemitism across the continent. It was developed in conjunction with Rabbi Slomó Köves of Budapest as part of the orchestra’s outreach programme, celebrating Hungary’s diverse cultural heritage and attempting to inspire younger citizens.
BFO executive director Stefan Englert told Disch that “We are trying to create understanding. Most prejudices come from not understanding other people. We want to give people in the countryside an understanding of Jewish life.”
But for Fischer, it is as much a personal crusade. “I come from a Jewish family,” he explains on the bus to Mád. “My grandparents lived in a typical Hungarian village like this one and they were deported to Auschwitz. My mother, their only child, survived because she was hiding.
“Hungary’s Holocaust was an especially tragic one, because proportionally it was an incredibly high number killed – about 500,000 Jews [from a population of 800,000]. Jews were almost completely wiped out in villages. That leaves us with many abandoned synagogues in the countryside.”
As reported on the BFO web site, Fischer said the concerts in the former synagogues will continue, as “there are still a lot of abandoned synagogues in Hungary and a lot of righteous people fond of music and interested in the history of the Jews.” He said:
“It was a wonderful experience to give concerts in abandoned synagogues. I heard so many interesting and moving stories! I felt endless love from the people. There was no trace of antipathy or hatred. Despite being a Catholic, the 78-year-old man from Mád has maintained the abandoned synagogue for fifty years, because he had so much respect for the Neumann family, where his father worked. That anonymous lady in Albertirsa, whose eyes were blinded with tears when she remembered her classmates. Such an enthusiastic reception, the way people rejoiced at the music, such interest in what the rabbi said about the synagogue! We have to continue.”
The synagogue in the wine-producing village of Mád in northeastern Hungary, built in around 1795, is one of the oldest synagogues still standing in Hungary. It stood in disrepair for decades, but was fully restored and rededicated in 2005 — the restoration, by architect Peter Wirth, won a Europa Nostra prize.
The neoclassical synagogue in Keszthely dates from the mid-19th century. That in Albertirsa was built in 1808.