The renovation of the old Jewish cemetery in the Lake Balaton resort town of Balatonfüred will add the Jewish component to a memorial park area that will encompass old cemeteries of three local religious groups — Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic.
The renovation of the Jewish cemetery is set to begin in the coming days, with nearly €45,000 funding from the Hungarian government and input from Hungary’s main Jewish umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, which owns it. A preparatory meeting to organize the work took place last week.
Ferenc Olti, a native of Balatonfüred and long-time Jewish activist who is involved in the project along with municipal officials, said the initial work would include repairing the broken stone wall around the cemetery and creating a new entryway, clearing vegetation, and re-erecting toppled stones.
The aim was “to reconstruct the currently unprotected Jewish graves and tombstones that are part of the European cultural heritage and to promote the widest possible public participation in the preservation of cultural heritage,” according to the tender application.
Olti, whose family members were deported and killed at Auschwitz, accompanied JHE Director Ruth Ellen Gruber on a visit to the cemetery, which is located on a wooded hill overlooking the town. It is located next to the old and disused Protestant cemetery, which in turn is next to the old Catholic graveyard.
Jews settled in Balatonfüred in the 18th century and became active in wine production. With the schism in Hungarian Jewry in 1868-9, the Balatonfüred community chose orthodoxy. Around 150 Jews lived there on the eve of World War II; they were deported to Auschwitz, and only 15 survived. These included Olti’s parents, whose pre-WW2 families were murdered and whose names are included in the list on the cemetery’s Holocaust memorial.
The cemetery includes around 120 graves, with the oldest legible headstone from 1812. The inscriptions on the gravestones evoke the evolution of the community — the earliest are in Hebrew, with later inscriptions in German and Hungarian.
To date, the Protestant cemetery has been cleaned up and turned into park, with newly planted trees and paths and benches among the scattered gravestones, which stylistically are similar to the Jewish matzevot of the same era. The old Catholic cemetery remains neglected.
Olti was a prime mover of the project, which 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.