WHO LIVED HERE, WHO BUILT HERE?
Jewish contribution to the development of Budapest as a metropolis
The Jewish citizenry that gained strength during the nineteenth century played a remarkable role in the intellectual, cultural, economic and architectural development of the metropolis of Budapest.
'Is it not true that a million Jews have mingled with us; with us who are nobodies, who are manifold, however uniform? That those Jews built for us not only Budapest but everything that perhaps – perhaps? certainly! – does not exist but is European and grandiose from a bird’s-eye perspective? They, who are no longer a people, came to our help, we who are no longer.' Thus wrote Endre Ady in Korrobori, an unpublished article of his, which was found in 1924 in the manuscript folder of the 1914 edition of the Nyugat ('West') literary journal, which had decided – with Ady’s consent - to wait for a time without censorship for the publication of the article.
The role played by Jews in the development of the capital, the Jewish contribution, has been extensively discussed by various authors; there is substantial literature on this topic. The novelty of the program that we have launched under the title 'Who lived, who built here?' resides in our presentation. By visualizing on this website the buildings, the entrepreneurs and architects who built them, and the residents who lived in them we illustrate the degree to which the Jewish population of the capital contributed to the latter’s urban landscape. This contribution was especially noteworthy on the Pest side of the Danube but it is also observable in Buda and Óbuda. However, it is most prominent in Elisabethstadt (7th District), Theresienstadt (6th District) and Leopoldstadt (5th District), and is even more concentrated in Neu-Leopoldstadt (13th District). These are the neighborhoods where Jewish presence was the most substantial before World War II.
This sort of Jewish contribution is unknown and invisible for the most part. What is known is mostly those significant synagogues and those Jewish institutions, which were able to escape the post-war nationalization and, as such, could maintain their original function. Passers-by do not know anything about the past of the apartment buildings that determine the character of the streets and roads, nor of former Jewish institutions, former Jewish association headquarters, or the smaller synagogues. Their history is preserved solely in the memories of the residents.
Géza Komoróczi in The Jewish Budapest, citing Chief Rabbi Simon Hevesi, dubs the Jewish contribution 'the invisible Jewish Budapest'. It is this 'invisible Jewish Budapest', so to speak, which we present on our website.
First and foremost we focus on the presentation of the former small synagogues and prayer houses, today truly 'invisible' today (for example Jósika Street 4, Vörösmarty Street 55, Dessewfy Street 23), former Jewish community and association buildings (for example Erzsébet Boulevard 26, Dessewfy Street 41, Akácfa Street 22, 32 etc.), the apartment buildings that determine the character of the streets (among them those that bear Jewish symbols), their builders and architects. Moreover we have selected those buildings, where famous, at times world-renowned, Jewish personalities lived, where an important event took place from a Jewish standpoint, or in which operated a significant café, cinema, cabaret, shop established by Jews operated. Besides presenting the chosen buildings, we also display the scale of this contribution, indicating it by the blue colour on the coloured map (SZÍNEZETT).
In the case of Elisabethstadt and Theresienstadt, about half – but in some places even more – of the buildings built before 1944, which form the cityscape, were built by Jewish contractors, planned by Jewish architects. This ratio is even higher if we leave out the government buildings, the churches, empty grounds and constructions that were built after 1945. Based on these calculations, in Elisabethstadt c. 44% of the standing buildings that were built before 1944, and in Theresienstadt c. 49% can be linked to Jewish entrepreneurs. According to preliminary estimates, the situation is similar in Leopoldstadt. In Neu-Leopoldstadt this ratio may reach even 80-90 percent.
The only buildings considered are the ones built from 1840 until 1944 and in whose shadows we walk even today. Normally, it is impossible to follow the story of the buildings that were demolished since 1840, but there are some exceptions and, most notably, certain so-called symbolic buildings or landmarks (Orczy House, the residences of Tivadar Herzl or Max Nordau etc.).
Jewish participation was not yet significant in the beginning of the nineteenth century, since Jews were only allowed to build and have property in Pest from 1840 onwards. Apart from one exception, they were not even allowed to contract or design buildings. The situation changed with the 1867 Law of Emancipation. From the second half of the nineteenth century on, a significant amount of the mansions, villas and apartment buildings were built by Jews (see: timeline - IDŐVONAL). Most of the owners and tenants of shops, workshops, cafés, restaurants and cinemas in the aforementioned districts, especially in the vicinity of synagogues, were Jews. From the beginning of the twentieth century a substantial proportion of architects were from a Jewish background, among them were the greatest Hungarian masters of Art Nouveau, following in Ödön Lechner’s footsteps, and of Modernism, grouped around Farkas Molnár.
The Jewish contribution was not only significant (defining the urban landscape both as regards buildings and public statues), but also variegated. For example, the elegant mansions of Andrássy Avenue differ greatly from the villas of Városligeti Allée, and differences are great within and outside the Grand Boulevard, in elegant Leopoldstadt, or in the newest district, built in the modern Bauhaus style, Neu-Leopoldstadt.
Nevertheless, some generalities may be made. Apart from one or two exceptions (synagogues, uses of Jewish symbols) the buildings contracted or built by Jews fit in with the architecture of their times. Almost all the creators, designers, and famous residents presented on our website who lived through the revolution of 1848 as young adults also participated in the independence war of 1848-49. The Jewish citizenry was the initiator of and the moving force behind the initial industrialization after the Compromise with Austria in 1867 and the accelerated urbanization and modernization following the unification of Buda and Pest in 1873 as well as the thriving cultural life at the dawn of the new century. They wanted to become integrated and assimilated, they identified with the Hungarian nation: from speaking German they switched to Hungarian, in many cases they even changed their names. Moreover, many among them even converted to Christianity. Their outstanding performance has earned for them decorations, nobility and some of them eventually rose to the rank of barons. Yet, their destiny took a tragic turn after 1939. They suffered discrimination, persecution, they had to flee, to hide and, eventually, many of them faced forced labour, deportation and extermination.
WHOM DO WE CONSIDER AS JEWISH?
The Jewish origin of renowned entrepreneurs, architects and significant individuals is generally well known, reference to it can be found in their public records, in various books and writings (see, among others the next subchapter: SOURCES). Religion is occasionally indicated in the legal records kept in the files of the Budapest City Archives. Jewish cemeteries are a sure basis for assumption, in cases where the individual's final resting place is known. Records of forced labour, deportation and extermination form a sad certainty for the establishment of one's Jewish identity. Some ambiguities may arise around lesser known entrepreneurs and, so, mistakes are possible. For this reason, we did not consider names that were uncertain. At the same time we did consider all those who counted as Jewish after 1939, those who had to hide, were taken into forced labour, were confined to ghettos, were taken to extermination camps, were assassinated, executed, and we therefore consider even those who had converted to Christianity to be Jewish.
As in all similar cases, in addition to fieldwork and photography, our work was and is aided by archival research, consultation of the secondary literature, professional advice and the internet.
Since 2006 we have at our disposition the architectural topography of Theresienstadt – Erzsébetváros, compiled by Attila Déry and, since 2005, that of Leopoldstadt. Certainly, these topographical volumes are not perfect. The data referring to the entrepreneur or designer of many a building is missing or incomplete, yet they do form a basis for the research.
Another fundamental source for our research is the topography of monuments in the 6th and 7th districts, compiled and put at our disposal by the (now abolished) Authority for the Protection of the Cultural Patrimony (Kulturális Örökségvédelmi Hivatal) still functioning in 2015. In this topography, too, the data about the buildings are available, although in an incomplete form.
There is no means of acquiring the missing fundamental data other than time-consuming archival research.
SUPPLEMENTARY STUDIES, DOCUMENTARY FILMS, HISTORICAL WALKS
Closely related to this research, five interviews were conducted. With these personal stories we have evoked the way the spaces were used in the past and the memories of the erstwhile metropolitan lifestyle, of Jewish religious traditions and of the Shoah. The interviewees are linked to the houses on the website through their past or current residences. Through these reports we aim to discover the continuity from the past to the present.
We have shared our findings with the Zachor Foundation, with the intention that they may use these, through guided historical walks, for educational purposes.
The interviews are supplemented by a documentary series. Each 15 minute episode introduces a house and its inhabitants in Budapest. The main determining factors in choosing these houses were that they had either a Jewish designer or a Jewish builder (so that they are featured on the website) and, simultaneously, that we were able to find a past or present inhabitant, whose story is accessible, knowable or awaits to be known. Here as elsewhere, our aim is to show what the participation of the erstwhile Jewish community meant for the development of the current urban landscape of Budapest and to find out whether, even today, their spirit and talent is able to appeal to the inhabitants and visitors of our city.
HOW TO USE THE WEBSITE?
Of course, anybody can surf on the website according to their wishes. Yet, perhaps some help for starting is welcome. We have planned three types of systematic searches: 1. based on the maps; 2. based on the uploaded data (buildings, builders, entrepreneurs, renowned people who lived in the buildings); or 3. based on the timeline (IDŐVONAL) in the upper right corner of page, where the houses are listed according to their time of building - clicking on the timeline you also get to the data sheet of the given building,
1. Based on the map. If you look for a building according to its situation on the map, closing up on the address selected, the icon of the building with the acronym of the address appears (for example, Ki35 meaning 35 Király Street). A click on that gives you the data sheet of the given building. On the data sheet the names of persons of Jewish origin are highlighted in blue. Clicking on those you get further information, clicking on the photos you see them in full size.
If you click on the menu 'Coloured map' (SZÍNEZETT), then, on the map of Elisabethstadt and Theresienstadt, the buildings designed and built by Jews appear in blue.
2. Based on the data uploaded. In this case you choose the type of data in which you are interested in the upper menu, that is, buildings (ÉPÜLET); builders (ÉPITÉSZ) and, within this category, architects (ÉPITÉSZ), sculptors (SZOBRÁSZ), entrepreneurs (ÉPITTETŐ), building contractors (KIVITELEZŐ); renowned people who lived in the buildings (JELENTŐS SZEMÉLYISÉG). By clicking on the title, you get the relevant data in alphabetical order.
3. On the basis of the timeline (IDŐVONAL in the upper right corner). If you click here, you can learn when each house was built. Clicking on the icons of the buildings, there data sheet appears, just as from the the icons of the maps of the start page.
Under the heading 'Writings' (ÍRÁSOK), one finds the introduction on the aims and methods of the project (A projektről), studies on the neighbourhoods and the streets of the two districts (Városrészek, utak) - yet to be added; interviews (INTERJÚK); and short summaries of the historical guided walks organized by the Zachor Foundation. These summaries have only indicative value! If you wish to participate in a guided walk, or have one organized, please contact either Zachor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Under the heading 'Films' (FILMEK), you can watch documentary films made by István Jávor about three buildings and their inhabitants.
Finally, under the heading 'Imprint' (IMPRESSZUM) you will find all the official information about the website, including the names of the project members who have contributed to the creation of the website.
[Written by Anna Perczel, architect. Translated by Jakab Perczel and Helen Arnold. Last update: 17.05.2021]
 The Nyugat ('West': 1908-1941) was a liberal literary journal, which gathered the best poets and writers of the time. Endre Ady (1877-1919), who was the greatest Hungarian poet of his time, was not only the main inspirer of, but also a regular contributor to the journal, until his death.
 K. Frojimovics, G. Komoróczy, V. Pusztai, A. Strbik (eds), A zsidó Budapest vol. I-II (The Jewish Budapest in 2 vols) (Budapest: Városháza and MTA Judaisztikai Kutatócsoport, 1995).
 Budapest was created in 1873, from the unification of three cities: Buda and Óbuda, on the right bank of the Danube, and Pest, on the left bank.