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Fri, 07 Sep 2012 11:51:53 EDT by admin, 113220 views
Hungarian Studies Association of Canada
Cultural Studies paper by Young, Judy (all papers)
The Hungarian Jewish Museum’s Attempts in the Years 1939-44 to Preserve the Past in the Face of an Uncertain Future
The idea of a Hungarian Jewish Museum was born soon after the millennial exhibition of 1896, collecting was started in 1909 and the Museum was opened to the public in a minimal way in 1916. It moved into a purpose built space in 1932 (next to the Dohany synagogue where it still is today) and struggled during the 1930’s to find its feet, define its purpose, and develop its activities. During WWII, on the eve of the destruction of a large segment of Hungarian Jewry, it became perhaps the most important institution in the country for researching, documenting, collecting, exhibiting, and safeguarding Hungarian Jewish culture and history. But what is specially remarkable and poignant about the work of the Museum at this time is the conscious attempt to create not merely a repository for documents and objects illustrating Jewish life in Hungary but a testament to the integral part Jews had played in Hungarian life over the centuries. A good part of this work was undertaken in the mostly unspoken hope that appreciation of this linkage would be beneficial for the Jewish community.
Based on research in the Hungarian Jewish Archives, where the remnants of the Museum’s documents are housed today, this paper will examine how in the years between 1939-1944 despite serious limitations in human and financial resources and the increasingly threatening war-time situation, the leaders, advisors, and tiny professional staff of the Museum made a concerted and heroic effort to seek out and save what they could of the past; for them this was not just about saving the Jewish past but the Hungarian past also. They understood that their role was no longer just to remain a store-room of memories from the past (“a múlt emlékeinek tárháza”) but to become a lasting memorial for the future, however uncertain that future was.
In parallel with the devastation of the Jewish communities in the countries surrounding Hungary, a feverish round of activities began. These included: rewriting the organization’s charter and objectives, expanding its advisory board, creating a new association for scholarly and cultural research, making trips around the country on rescue missions, organizing and curating exhibitions, delivering public lectures, publishing a journal to disseminate research, among others. Little of this activity has been researched and written about although much of the current collection is a living testimony to the efforts of those years. The question may well be asked: was their effort to preserve the past in vain?
Brief Professional Bio:
Judy Young has a B. A. (Hons) and M.A. in Modern Languages (Oxford 1966, 1972), M.A. in German Literature (McGill, 1970), Certificate in Hungarian (=Part I of Mod Langs BA from Cambridge, 1967), Grad Diploma in Jewish Studies (Oxford, 2000). After teaching German language and literature courses at McGill, Concordia and the University of Ottawa, she worked for some 25 years in the Canadian Government’s Multiculturalism Programs, developing and managing arts and academic programs. During the last twelve years she has undertaken some joint projects in Central and Eastern Europe in the management of cultural diversity, with respect to the participation of minorities in the social, political, and cultural life of the societies in which they live. She has presented papers and published articles on Canadian multiculturalism, Canadian literature, ethnic studies, Miksa Fenyo’s wartime diary, the media reception in Hungary to Imre Kertesz’s Nobel prize and most recently co-edited the papers of an international conference , The 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives (University of Ottawa Press, 2010). She is President of the Canada-Hungary Educational Foundation and Secretary of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada.