By Ruth Ellen Gruber
(This post also appears on my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal)
In Budapest earlier this month, I visited the Jewish cemetery on Salgotarjan street, which was founded in 1874 and is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Pest side of Budapest.
It is actually the Jewish section of the city’s Kerepesi monumental cemetery, where national heroes are buried — and is the final resting place of many wealthy and influential Hungarian Jews of the time. Massive family tombs of Jewish noble families and industrialists line the perimeter; but there are also the graves of ordinary people. There is also a section where Holocaust victims are buried.
I had not been there in years -- despite some efforts at clean-up some time back, the cemetery is more densely overgrown than ever and tragically neglected, and I was glad that a friend came with me, as I do not like wandering around there by myself. There used to be a lot of stories of homeless people camping down there, or others coming in to rob the graves. Once I was startled to flush out a pheasant. There is decent security now, though, and a responsible young caretaker (who tied up his dogs when we arrived).
Still, many of the huge tombs of families who once wielded social, political and financial power are literally crumbling; collapsing and being swallowed by vines and other vegetation. Some of them have been broken open: you can even see the coffins in the crypts.
Quite a few of the tombs are the work of leading architects of the day — such as Ignác Alpár, Sándor Fellner, Albert Körössy, Emil Vidor and Béla Lajta. Lajta, whose work prefigured art deco, also designed the entry way from the street and the massive Ceremonial Hall (now roofless), built around 1908.
I posted a gallery of photos on www.jewish-heritage-europe.eu, the web site that I coordinate for the Rothschild Foundation Europe.
Here are just a few of them (all photos © Ruth Ellen Gruber) -- click here over to Jewish Heritage Europe to see the full selection.