Budapest Districts - District VII
It was great having my own personal guide for a very short (between bars) tour of this district and believe it or not Tim I took in every word.
Budapaest VII is the city's historic Jewish enclave and from the late 1800's until the early 1930's the area was a prosperous residential and industrious one. During this period the neighbourhood took on its present-day appearance with its five-storey apartment blocks built around central courtyards, along with a trio of major synagogues including the Dohany Schul.
On the run-up to World War II, as the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party came to prominence and Hungary joined the German Axis alliance, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head and the 1938 Nuremberg Laws officially defined Jews as second-class humans.
Ironically in the early days of World Was II Hungarian Jews fared much better than most of their European fellows. Despite the fact that they were severly restricted, and many of the men conscripted into forced labour battalions, the Government refused to allow their deportation.
As well as the Hungarian Government's refusal to deal forcibly with its Jews (apart from the 20,000 plus who died in forced labour camps) the Government had entered armistice negotiations with the Americans and British. In March 1944 the German Army invaded the country, installing their own choice of Prime Minister and takng control of the Hungarian Armed Forces.
Adolf Eichmann was sent by Hitler to organise the deportation and control of the Jewish population, a task he seems to have taken to with relish, and within three months of his appointment almost half-a-million Hungarian Jews had been sent to be executed in the concentration camps, mostly to Auschwitz.
Of the Jews remaining in the city those not deported, and who didn't have some kind of diplomatic protection, were later rounded up and forced to move into the walled ghetto in the area around the Great Synagogue where conditions of overcrowding and lack of food and medicines resulted in further tens of thousands of fatalities.
A sizeable minority managed to evade both deportation and ghettoization due to efforts of the Swedish and Swiss Diplomatic Legations and in particular the individual efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz who issued safe conduct passes and set up houses under the protection of their respective Embassies.
The Russian Army liberated the ghetto and its estimated (by then) 70,000 inhabitants in Jan 1945 and with the 20,000 or so Jews who emerged from their various safe houses and other refuges brought the city's immediate post-war Jewish population to about 100,000, about half of what it had been in 1941. The modern Budapest VII is no longer solely a Jewish area but still has its three synagogues, several Kosher restaurants and some interesting little shops. Most of its buildings are survivors from its pre-war heyday and whilst some are a little down-at-heel many have recently been given serious makeovers and others are in the process.
There are several trendy-looking bars, restaurants and some upmarket shops but these are balanced by just as many little characterful places such as Kak Rosa where Tim and I enjoyed a very pleasant, and extremely reasonably-priced, lunch and the little camera shop which Tim pointed out where nothing was newer than maybe the original Polaroid.
Dohany utca, where the synagogue is, is a street of bars which tempt a serious mini-pub crawl and where the price of a "korso" (large beer) starts from 290 Forints and doesn't look as if it ever exceeds 400.
Yep definitely a place which needs a serious revisit next time I'm in town.