Visas for life exhibition Budapest | source:

Visas for life Holocaust exhibition

Hope and pride from one of the darkest periods of Hungarian history may also yield a permanent, positive mark in a new form of tourism. “Resistance Heritage Tourism,“ –drawing largely on the Diplomatic Community of WWII Budapest is providing needed models for humanism and personal courage.

Few venues in Budapest portray the contrast of loss and life saved, as ‘Visas for Life’, exhibited at the Budapest Holocaust Museum (HDKE) through November 23rd. It is planned for this traveling exhibit to visit schools afterward.

The exhibit was created by Eric Saul, an internationally renowned historian and curator, who, in 1993, documented the rescues undertaken by Chiuna Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler” who saved thousands in the Ukraine. Expelled for misconduct, Sugihara is famous for tossing life-saving passports to throngs even as his train was departing. The exhibit expanded to honor diplomats far flung world-wide, from Mexico to China.

Life-saving rescues

It is not hard to understand that destroying enemy is a form of resistance. But to rescue the victim is yet another. This characterized Budapest 1944-45. Life-saving rescues in unparalleled numbers succeeded (by some estimates for well over a hundred thousand Budapest Jewry) when outcry against Fascism transformed to action. Embracing the 1956 Revolution as resistance, as was the 1849 Freedom Fight, the Rescue during WWII remains a mark of Hungarian character and humanity that is yet to be known.

A new area of truth in history is unfolding, and casts a brighter light over the city. A desire for a new national reputation may rest with this new branch of tourism as a Resistance Heritage more important and rivaling Warsaw.

Not only Wallenberg

At Hotel Boscolo, Italian staff and guests are eager to hear about Georgio Perlasca, at the Spanish Culture Center of Angel Sanz-Briz, and the Swedes of how Wallenberg emulated the earlier work of Swiss Vice-Counsel, Carl Lutz.

Is this a false modification of history – that even so, countless Hungarians perished largely at Hungarian hands? Historians, such as Szabolcs Szita, now acting director, point to the relative ease at documenting loss. “But it is important that bravery be also documented objectively,” he said at the opening August 4th.

Wailing Wall

The permanent exhibit does not allow for minimalizing loss. The entire outer façade of the museum is a portrayal of the Wailing Wall, the inner display leads by neon lighting across time up to the tragedy of 1944. A commemorative study of Holocaust Museums by Eichstart Catholic University analyzing the nature of personal artifacts, their location, the manner of presentation of Nazi aggression, is telling.

Compared to Nurernberg or Berlin, the strongest reaction was at the HDKE at Páva Street. On emerging from the Budapest exhibit into the beautifully restored Páva Synagogue – complete, gilded, and renewed – but empty: a striking contrast hit their students. Reflected by the exhibit, itself and the beauty of what met them outside, captured a magnitude of loss and a history hardly known.

There is need for hope, for preserving pride, in saving and adding to life, even in an epoch of darkness. Visas for Life addresses such need, and sheds new light on Diplomats in Budapest who empowered Jews to save Jews.

László Petrovics-Ofner

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