Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives: Preserving Budapest’s Jewish Heritage
Delve into the rich tapestry of Budapest’s Jewish history at the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, a repository of culture, tradition, and resilience.
Located in the heart of Budapest, the Hungarian Jewish Museum safeguards and showcases the rich Jewish heritage of Hungary. Among its collection are unique treasures such as the world’s oldest pair of Rimónim and a 3rd-century tombstone.
The museum was officially founded on December 1, 1909, when the Israelite Hungarian Literary Association decided to establish it. Its first exhibition opened in 1916 at Hold Street 23, displaying nearly 1,500 Jewish ceremonial objects and historical relics.
Context in Europe
The Hungarian institution was established not long after similar European Jewish museums, such as those in Vienna (1895) and Prague (1906).
The 1930s and The New Building
By 1932, a new museum building was completed next to the Dohány Street Synagogue. This annex was designed in a style that complemented the main synagogue building. The new permanent exhibition opened its doors to the public on December 26.
Effects of Anti-Jewish Measures
The anti-Jewish policies of the 1930s and 1950s hindered the museum’s progress. The “Emancipation Exhibition” in 1938 showcased the circumstances of the 1867 emancipation law and the assimilation process of Hungarian Jews.
Challenges and Preservation During the War
During the wartime years between 1939 and 1944, the museum housed the annual art exhibitions of OMIKE, offering a platform for Jewish artists excluded from other forums due to anti-Jewish laws. In 1940, museum staff organized collection tours to collect memories of disappearing rural Jewish communities. Due to wartime threats, in 1942, a part of the museum’s collection was placed in the cellar of the Hungarian National Museum. More valuable items intended for preservation in bank vaults later disappeared during the war.
After the liberation in 1945, the museum surveyed the tangible heritage of the destroyed rural communities, synagogues, and cemeteries. The museum reopened its doors to visitors on July 4, 1947. In 1960, a comprehensive exhibition titled “From Slavery to Freedom” opened, detailing the Holocaust and the history of Jewish liberation. A new permanent exhibition was launched in 1984 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the deportations in Hungary.
In 1972, the Hungarian Jewish Archives were opened in the National Rabbinical Institute. By 1994, the archives and the museum were combined, resulting in the institution being officially named the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives. Tragically, in 1993, almost all the museum’s exhibited material was stolen, only to be found in Romania the following summer.
Renovations and New Exhibits
In 2016, the museum building underwent comprehensive restoration. A new permanent exhibition titled “Tamid” (meaning “always” or “constantly” in Hebrew) was set up. This exhibition did not include Holocaust memorabilia as they were moved to a separate museum. The exhibit showcases Jewish relics and significant works by Hungarian painters of Jewish origin, such as Imre Ámos, Adolf Fényes, Izsák Perlmutter, and Izsó Köves.
The Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives isn’t just a museum; it’s a tribute to a community’s enduring spirit. Whether tracing the footsteps of history, deepening your understanding of cultural diversity, or simply seeking a meaningful connection, this museum invites you to honor and appreciate Budapest’s Jewish heritage.