A hi-tech new museum complex centered on the renovated synagogue in the Lake Balaton resort town of Balatonfüred, Hungary, honors Jewish achievement in science and technology.
Owned by the municipality, the House of Jewish Excellence opened March 20 in the synagogue and a new building attached to it, located at 32 Bajcsy Zsilinszky Street. The sanctuary of the synagogue has been fitted out as a hall for lectures and other events, while the exhibit, which incorporates interactive screens and other hi-tech features, is housed in the new building.
The first major event will be a concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra on April 9, as part of its ongoing series of concerts in synagogues (and former synagogues) around the country.
The Museum’s permanent exhibit, entitled “From Einstein until the Present Day – Jews and High Technology,” focuses on the achievements of 132 noted scientists or technology innovators of Jewish origin.
Without these researchers, humanity today would be different, and perhaps even our Earth would look different. As described in our mission statement, these people would have been killed in the Holocaust too, but they escaped, and “built a palace out of thoughts”.
The list of people honored includes Nobel prize-winners and other personalities in the fields of Medicine, Biology, Physics, Particle Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Technical Science. Some were active before as well as after the Shoah; others are young innovators such as Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg; about one-third have Hungarian Jewish roots.
Jews settled in Balatonfüred in the 18th century and became active in wine production. The synagogue is a small, stone, boxlike building with a peaked roof which had originally been a church. The Jewish community purchased it in 1855 after it had stood empty for 25 years; it was used as a synagogue until the town’s 156 Jews were deported to Auschwitz in 1944; only 15 survived.
The prime mover behind the new museum and curator of the exhibtion was Ferenc Olti, a native of Balatonfüred and long-time Jewish activist whose family members were deported from there and killed. It was developed by the Balatonfüred town council and the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association (MAZSIKE), for which Olti is a board member, with input from other Jewish organizations.
In this video, from 2016, watch Ferenc Olti discuss the museum and show plans for its development. It’s in Hungarian, but the plans show aerial and other views.
The total budget was nearly €760,000. Primary funding came from the EEA and Norway Grants, which allocated €625,000, with the rest coming from the municipality and the office of the Prime Minister.
NOTE: Those interested in this museum and its subject matter would also be interested in the (unfortunately out of print) book Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary, by William O. McCagg. (Boulder: 1975)