August 24, 2022
With so much activity over the last 7 months, we feel a midyear update is worthy of your attention.
We are very grateful and happy to be back to work in what has been a flurry of activity and by far our most active period ever. We have finished our fourth section of the year and are well through the fifth. A sixth is also underway with a second team containing some Ukrainian refugees. These four completed sections come to 34,600 sq metres (about 9 acres) containing 11,304 burials in 7 months. This is over 40% of the entire area cleared in our project to date! Moreover, we hope to do still another five sections at 33,000 sq metres this year containing over 9800 burials.
Before going into detail, we would love our momentum to continue so ask you, respectfully, to please support us at this critical juncture - our costs have risen substantially due to labor inflation but we are pushing forward. Remember, donations in the US and Canada are tax deductible. Here is the link: https://www.budapestjewishcemetery.com/donate
Section 38A / 38 A1
As we noted in our letter from January, we began work on the most difficult section we have encountered to date. 38A and 38A1 is the 3rd or 4th largest section at over 4 acres (16,000 sq. metres), running along the back of the cemetery. Its length is 250m (800 ft) containing 87 rows and 5385 burials which means that standing at one end, the naked eye can barely make out the other end. Despite its location, it is a section that many attempt to visit often as the graves are from the 1930s – 1960s. Even so, this section, like its neighbors, is terribly overgrown and the most dense we have encountered. It took our crew over 90 truckloads of chipped wood and green waste. The difficulty cannot be overstated. With no room to turn around, getting a wood chipper and truck into areas they are needed proved very challenging. The work took us longer than expected - 100 days - but we are very proud of the result.
We are fortunate to have a drone take a video of the whole section to the back fence. You can see it on Youtube by clicking here: https://youtu.be/lBYJ3A6lWDw
Here are from “before” shots. In the photo on the right, one sees the long road seemingly without end
Finally an aerial picture of the section: There are 87 rows in this section, the trees in the foreground cover 7-10 rows.
There are sections exactly like it to the right and left but looking at the picture one would never believe it.
The unfortunate consequence of such dense growth is that it exacts a very heavy toll on the tombstones and masonry. Heavy growth of ivy puts a lot of weight on the cement which causes stones to collapse. Sometimes, the thick growth is the only thing holding up the stone and once removed, it falls. This presents us with a dilemma: should one leave the stones overgrown and upright or rescue the section knowing that some stones will fall? Our conclusion is that it is better to save the section now and prevent further deterioration lest everything be ruined in time.
Here are two examples: One a thick covering of mud and vines that had to be taken off the graves; The second shows it does not look pretty with many fallen tombstones and uneven ground but better to save what is left. Other sections that are less dense like 7 or 22 look a lot better when cleaned.
These families were severely affected by the holocaust and we share just one stone uncovered that serves as a poignant reminder of why we are doing this work.
This is the grave of Regina Blum who died in 1946 at a young 49 years of age. It memorializes her husband Lipot, who died in 1945 and is buried in a mass grave as well as her mother and sister who were also murdered. The last two lines are beautiful and almost define our mission with this charity: "They were killed in hate, may love keep their memory alive". As we wrote in our last letter: We see ourselves as their collective heirs and with that comes a responsibility to maintain their final resting place with basic dignity.
Sections 33 and 33A
Section 33 measures 6131 sq meters and 33A 5449 sq meters containing 2092 and 1442 burials respectively. We finished 33 in July, a section that borders the main road and is the penultimate before reaching 38A. Most of the burials here are from the 1950s and 60s and like 38A, it receives many visitors each year. We have also finished its neighbor 33A so that we now have four contiguous sections in a row on one side of the main road and three on the other that will be cleared.
Section 30A – a second crew
This is another one of our smaller sections at 6627 sq meters nevertheless containing 2386 souls. The burials here begin in the 1930s but there are many from the 50s all the way until the 80s. We have given this section to a new team that has worked on many Jewish cemeteries in the countryside. With the labor shortage we have experienced of late, were looking to accelerate our activity with another group and were very happy to find one that contains recent Ukrainian immigrants.
We have been working to replace the section signs with the intention to improve navigability for visitors. Last year we put in new signs for 17 sections and this year we will do another 24. The work is a lot harder than one might think because the direction of grave numbering differs in each section and follows no system. We had to have someone visit the sections, photographing stones on the ends of each row and from that work it out – a very time-consuming process. Here is our new and improved version where we show the direction of graves and the number in each row. In a section like 38A one can see how unintuitive the numbering is. The original section has numbering running from left to right, while the additions (38A/1 and A1/0) go the other way!
With sincere gratitude to the Munk Charitable Foundation for their significant support, we installed two memorial benches in a place it is sorely needed. The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most poignant and visited places in the cemetery. Many of the elderly attend the annual Holocaust Commemoration held in this location and until now, there has been nowhere to sit. We hope to install more of these in prominent places in the future. Please contact us should this be of interest.
The very reason the cemetery is in such bad condition today is due to lack of ongoing maintenance over decades. It is far easier to pull out seedlings and small shrubs before they grow into large trees and a jungle-like setting. The more sections we clear, the bigger our annual maintenance work becomes in both time and money. By clearing sections of dense forest, the environment is germane for new invasive species such as tall weeds and grasses as well as self-seeded invasive trees like the ailanthus and black locust. With our spraying and mowing, we have been experimenting on the best method that is most productive and cost-effective. This year has been our best yet with the sections remaining easily accessible all year long.
We wish all our supporters an enjoyable rest of the summer (or a productive winter for the Aussies!)
Michael and Marc