Dohány Street Synagogue (Budapest, Hungary)

One of the last sights I saw before leaving Budapest was the Dohány Street Synagogue also known as the “Great Synagogue” in the 7th district of Budapest, Erzsébetváros.

It’s architect, Ludwig Förster, was Catholic hence why the Synagogue doesn’t resemble conventional synagogues and more closely resembles a church. It’s the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world seating 3,000 people. It was built to replicate the holy synagogue in Jerusalem which was previously destroyed twice.  It’s also built on the site where Theodore Herzl was born, who’s known as the father of modern Zionism (the belief that antisemitism is unavoidable and Jews should create their community all together). There are also plaques to Hungary’s Pulitzer Prize winners. They have 14 Pulitzer Prize winners in Hungary and they’re all Jewish.

A few more facts about the Great Synagogue:

  • The Nazis occupied the synagogue during World War II. It was one of the borders of the Jewish ghetto in Budapest.
  • There’s an organ, which is unusual for a synagogue.
  • It’s covered with Byzantine stars, not Stars of David, because the Star of David was adopted as a symbol of Judaism after it was built.
  • Dohány means ‘cigar’ or ‘tobccao’ in Arabic.
  • Central Synagogue in New York City is almost an exact replica (I worked there once!)

These gravestones were placed sporadically around the yard behind the synagogue because these are actually 24 mass graves. When the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi party) began their reign of terror, they used this courtyard as a mass grave for their 2,281 victims.

Beautiful doesn’t start to describe the inside of this synagogue!

L-R: A pathway around the graveyard; a Holocaust memorial plaque; Heroes’ Temple and Heroes’ Graveyard memorial plaque.

The Emanuel Tree is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Each leaf has a person’s name on it. Family members place often place stones on the base on the memorial (a tradition in the Jewish faith). The Emanuel Tree is a weeping willow and it was placed in 1987 thanks to a foundation created by American actor Tony Curtis, who is a Hungarian Jew, who lost family here during the Holocaust.

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The plaque for Theodore Herzl on the front of the synagogue.

A visit inside and around the Dohány Street Synagogue is a must for any visitor in Budapest. Click here for more information if you’re visiting Budapest soon.

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