Last week we posted about efforts to clear, clean up and maintain the vast, and largely overgrown, Kozma utca Jewish cemetery in Budapest. We focused on the work of the privately funded non-profit, Friends of the Budapest Jewish Cemetery, which has taken on the task of cleaning up the dense overgrowth, one section of the cemetery at a time.
The cemetery is laid out in around 100 sections and covers around 70 hectares; roughly two-thirds of it is overgrown with vegetation and forest. Once parts are cleaned up, however — what then? Maintenance is important, and can also stretch limited resources.
Frequently, one finds “islands” of well maintained graves — new graves, and those of people who still have descendants or family members to tend them. The cemetery is still used by the Jewish community, and frequently new burials are located in the cleared margins of the roads and pathways, at the edge of dense forested areas.
The photo at the top of this post, from April 2019, shows the turquoise art nouveau tomb of the Schmidl family, erected in 1902 and designed by the noted architect Bela Lajta. Its rear — and the stately tomb next to it — are being swallowed by trees and vines. Compare it to the photo below, from July 2004, after vegetation had been cleared:
There is the same situation regarding the monumental tomb of the Ujhely family, which was designed by Lipot Baumhorn, the prolific synagogue architect.
Here is the comparison between 2004 and today:
Major work has included the restoration, started in 2017, of the main Holocaust memorial (which anchors a broad area of Holocaust commemorations in the cemetery). It consists of upright slabs inscribed with thousands and thousands of names of the victims.
When work began, we had expressed the hope that the renovation would not cancel out the comments and names left out of the inscriptions that — very movingly — were added later in pencil and ink.
Alas, these hand-written addition were, in fact, cancelled out during the restoration.
We’re happy to see, though, that people are beginning to fill in the missing information again… at least in some cases…
Various individual tombs and gravestones, too, have undergone recent restoration.
One of these is the grave of Lipot Baumhorn himself.
Baumhorn designed or remodeled about two dozen synagogues in central Europe: in Hungary, and in what are now Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia. He is reckoned to be the most prolific synagogue architect in Europe before World War II, but after the Holocaust he became all but forgotten.
JHE Director Ruth Ellen Gruber wrote what may have been the first English-language appreciation of Baumnhorn, in her 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House.
In it, she described how in 1992 she and a friend discovered — and partially cleaned — Baumhorn’s grave in the cemetery: at the time it was so totally covered by vines and brush that it was almost totally hidden from view.
Over the years, Baumhorn’s grave has been cleared of the vegetation that once covered it, but until recently the stone itself had not been cleaned. The insciption lists more than 20 synagogues that Baumhorn, who died in 1932, worked on, and its upper portion bears a relief carving of the dome of his grandest synagogue, that in Szeged, Hungary, floating in clouds.
In late April, Ruth found that the gravestone itself has now been fully restored and stands gleaming white.
In addition, a quotation from Baumhorn has been added at the foot of the stone, to complement the flowery and poetic epitaph, placed on the gravestone below the image of the dome, that describes his creation of “synagogues that look toward heaven and awaken piety.”