January 29, 2023
Looking back over 2022, we are thrilled with our progress, our best year ever. In our mid-year update, we had finished 34,600 sq. meters (8.5 acres) over 7 months and hoped to complete another 33,000 sq meters. Since then, we are happy to report than another five sections have been finished, consisting of 33,900m2 (8.4 acres) and 10,568 burials. For the full year, this comes to 68,500 sq meters (17 acres) and 21,873 burials. While these numbers may not sound large or perhaps not meaningful to a casual reader, it is hard to understate the scale. In one year, 80% of everything that has been done to date. However, working with two teams presented challenges with equipment as well as supervision and while we enjoyed the progress, we will not continue it in the same manner, looking to try and scale up our existing team instead.
Please click on this Youtube link to see this 36 second aerial video of our just completed Section 27. We are happy to have before and after footage. Importantly, one can see all the contiguous sections cleaned too meaning that standing in its center, one could think it looks like a “normal” cemetery. Looking at our new map below, the shaded sections in pink are ones we have cleared to date. A visitor today would be very satisfied to see so many sections in a row accessible and cleared.
To date we have cleared 19 sections of dense forest and horrendous ivy not to mention finishing our 20th, the first for 2023. We have now recovered access to over 51,000 burials where such access has been very difficult, in some cases for many decades. Moreover, the thick growth in underbrush and ivy made finding a loved one’s grave hard even if you could walk in. With the great progress we have made this year, we have now achieved about one third of our goal. We have 33 more sections left containing about 100,000 burials in total.
Our goal for 2023 is to tackle another 65,000 -70,000 sq meters (about 16 acres) which will take us from a third to about a half of our goal. It will also recover access to another 21-23,000 graves! This will not be easy to achieve and is a stretch target but hopefully we can help our team work in productivity and softer labor conditions allow for finding a larger crew.
Of course, none of this could be achieved without your continued support. We are extremely grateful for your confidence in us to date and hopefully in turn, you are pleased to see such good results. As we close 2022, please consider a donation that will help us move forward – we are getting somewhere!
Here is the donation link: https://www.budapestjewishcemetery.com/donate
Wishing you a happy holiday season and all the best for a healthy and successful 2023,
Michael and Marc
Just when you think you know almost everything there is to know, we are thrilled with the surprise find that was made recently. Our cemetery contains 1555 individual graves transferred from the old Pest cemeteries that were closed in 1874 upon the opening of the Salgotarjani cemetery, itself full 18 years later. The original Pest cemetery opened in about 1790 and was on today’s Vaci ut in the 6th District. Today it is the area near the Nyugati (Western) Railway Station and the West End Mall. When that became full to the extreme by the 1840s, another was opened in nearby Lehel utca. The rapidly expanding Jewish (and indeed general) population of Budapest meant that this cemetery had up to 3 layers of burial in each plot, such was the shortage of land. The city was expanding at a rapid pace and by the turn of the 20th century, plans were being made to build over them with the result that between 1910 -1912, all the remains were moved to Kozma utca. The most famous graves or wealthy families paid to move the remains and tombstones but the oldest graves from the original cemetery (1790-1840s), already reinterred once, were moved without any of the tombstones. In addition, the mass grave of the few hundred Jewish fighters killed from Pest in the 1848 War of Independence against Austria was transferred with a large memorial built that can be seen today directly in front of the main funeral buildings. This memorial was designed by a leading architect of that period, Bela Lajta (Leitsdorfer).
Recently, an art historian focused on the works of Bela Lajta, read about a monument he designed for the other remains placed near a mass grave. No one alive knew anything about it but he read that it was near the wall of the cemetery, so he walked the entire perimeter to investigate. He discovered a large mass grave with a beautiful stone, that while in need of a cleaning, tells the story of the old cemeteries and the 1912 removal. This is in the remote Section 37, a small one on the far right hand side of the cemetery towards the back. In a corner long-forgotten, measuring just 250 sq meters, lie the remains of thousands of the earliest Jewish inhabitants of Pest.
In our mid-year update sent in August, we wrote about our works in Sections 38A, 33, 33A and 30A. Since then, we are happy to add the completion of Sections 8, 23, 24, 27, 27A and 27B. As always, some photographic examples follow.
Section 27: We have just finished this smaller section containing 1531 burials. Despite its size, it is an important one as most of the graves date from late 1939 to 1941 with many later ones from the 1950s to 80s. As such, it is visited often by descendants. It also completes a line of six rescued sections in a row.
Here is one picture from December, before we started the work
The serene and beautiful look of a section just cleaned in full
This is a picture of Marc flying his drone. The reason we put it in here is that he is standing on the corner of four sections, all of which are now cleaned. To the right of the car is Section 27 with 26 on the left. In the background are sections 23 and 24. Aside from 26, which was the first section we every undertook, these other three were cleared in 2022. For those who have visited the cemetery, just imagine what it would be like to stand in one particular spot and see as far as the eye can see. In doing so, one can find a new appreciation for the vastness of what the community once was and as a result, just how important these grounds are to maintain.
As much as it can be appreciated on the ground, here we see it from above, with seven out of eight bordering sections cleaned
Containing some of the oldest burials in the cemetery from 1894-1899, there are 2269 graves, including those of many children. The perimeters have more recent ones added on from 1914-1920.
Just one section in on the left of the main road, this section is a very sorry one indeed with most of the burials being those who died in 1944 and 1945.
The earliest ones start in 1939 and then many spouses and offspring are then buried in the 1950s - 1990s. The picture on the left is from the top left hand corner; please note there are 38 graves per row and the picture does not give the full extent of the section’s size of 2 acres and 2611 burials.
This picture gives a useful understanding of the work involved in cleaning a section. Here, the section is almost complete but in the left foreground, some muddy-looking graves are visible as well as branches of cut ivy. So many graves are blanketed in ivy and the growth destroys the integrity of many a stone. The work is slow whereby one has to carefully remove the growth off the stone and then sweep or clean off all the mud.
Section 27A/B –27A contains 1660 burials mostly from the 1940-1943 period with a number added in the 1950-60s. 27B with 1539 burials, is much more recent and mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. These pictures show work under way even though these sections are now complete
Regular readers of our letters will know of our efforts to do everything to make a visit a successful and productive one. Gaining access to a section is obviously the most important factor but we often hear people leaving being unable to find the grave they are seeking. Some visitors employ the service of a cemetery “worker” who will help in exchange for money but many leave disappointed. Our aim is make a visit as foolproof as possible. To that end, we have just completed a major project and happily present the results below. We have gone through every section and determined which way the grave numbering runs. As you can see, there is no real system, certainly none that is intuitive. This work took many hours and pictures. We continue our new signage project too and will show the direction and total graves in a row. Not every row is consistent so we have taken a number as being the most representative for the section. For example, Section 38 has around 58 graves in a row with the number 1 on the right-hand side of the section.
A useful link to print the map or to pull up when visiting:
Until now, there has never been an accurate map either and certainly not to scale. With thanks to Marc’s teenage daughter who volunteered her time and skill, we now have a map that more accurately reflects the sizes of each section. For example, following one vertical line, Sections 17B, 26 and 33A are approximately the same size, Section 23 is 60% larger and Section 38B three times the size. By clicking on the link, one can see a larger version of the map. The numbers is green represent the numbers of rows in that particular section. The areas shaded in pink are ones that we have completed, about 1/3 of our goal. We are in the middle of Section 27 at present and hope to have it completed very soon. That way, we have two full rows of sections on the left hand side of the main road that will have been restored and a third row that we hope to complete in the coming year by tackling Sections 24A and 24B. 24C is already clear as it is used for current burials and has fewer than 200 graves.
We were thrilled to see the community take action in the cemetery and repave some of the roads near the front of the cemetery. Below is a picture of the work being done near the holocaust memorial between Sections 4A and 4B. This is not our work but we do believe that our constant activity – in addition to the large storm damage that occurred in October - has spurred more conversation about the urgency to rescue a neglected asset.