Budapest — (JTA) — In 1944, Andras Szasz’s mother obtained an admittance slip to a Red Cross children’s home that she hoped would save her 8-year-old son from the Hungarian fascists then prowling Budapest in search of Jews to torture or kill.
Szasz never made it to the home.
In the summer of 1944, he and his mother were forced to relocate to one of 2,000 yellow star houses, a network of apartments where nearly 200,000 Jews were held captive as they awaited deportation. Groups of about a dozen people were forced to share one room while an attendant guarded the entrance, permitting the occupants to leave only for brief periods in which they could buy certain goods.
“The people who did this were all Hungarians,” said Szasz, who escaped the house with his mother and survived the war in hiding. “I never even saw a German soldier up close.”
Seventy years later, Szasz’s story and others like it are reaching new audiences thanks to a grassroots memorial project born out of anger over what many see as the Hungarian government’s attempt to whitewash the country’s role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
The Yellow Star Houses Project aims to increase public awareness of Hungary’s complicity with Nazi Germany through the stories of those once held in the apartments. A team of volunteers has catalogued hundreds of personal accounts and compiled an online map of the 1,934 yellow star houses that once dotted the Hungarian capital. A series of public events are being planned around the houses this year, the 70th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Hungary.
Despite the prominent role of Hungary’s fascist government in the annihilation of half a million Jews, the current government plans to remember the victims by unveiling a statue next month that some see as portraying Hungary as a victim of German aggression. The memorial depicts an eagle attacking an angel.
Though Hungarian officials repeatedly have acknowledged their country’s complicity under the wartime regime of pro-Nazi leader Miklos Horthy and his successor, Ferenc Szalasi, the government is insisting on the design as a way to remember all the Nazis’ victims. That attitude has caused a rupture between Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government and Hungarian Jewry, whose leadership has accused the government of pandering to nationalist voters ahead of April 6 elections.
“Watching how Jews are being erased from the official Holocaust commemoration, we decided to provide an alternative,” said Istvan Rev, the historian who is leading the Yellow Star Houses Project.