Nir Galim, a national-religious moshav located near Ashdod, looks like many
others of its kind: Low-rise buildings with red-tiled roofs are scattered across
expansive, green lawns. But an unusual addition will soon rise in the quiet
community on some 965 souls, a replica of a factory in Budapest where thousands
of Jews took refuge during World War II.
Last week, Bet Haedut, a
Holocaust museum created by moshav members at Nir Galim 20 years ago, launched
an initiative aimed at reconstructing the so-called Glass House to house an
exhibit telling the story of how it was used to save Jews.
stage is to locate survivors who passed through the Glass House,” Bet Haedut
director Ariel Bariach said.
“There are said to be between 70,000 and
100,000 people who survived thanks to the Glass House operation.
knows exactly how many, and we would like to raise awareness of their
Then we’d like to build a replica of the building with a
corresponding exhibition inside so that visitors will have a strong sense of
what it was like to be there.”
The Glass House, an old glass factory in
Budapest, was the center of a semi-secret operation run by Jewish Agency
official Moshe Krauss and Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz.
With the help of
several other Jews and non-Jews, Krauss and Lutz issued thousands of genuine and
forged certificates that prevented the deportation of Hungarian Jews to
concentration camps by the Nazis and their allies.
Meir Friedmann, a
Holocaust survivor from Hungary whose life was saved thanks to the certificate
he received, said on Wednesday that a full account of the intricate operation
could not be given over the phone. He referred those interested in learning more
about the dramatic events at the defunct factory to read David Gur’s book
Resistance and Rescue. He said, however, that the Glass House’s story was
relatively unknown and deserved to be better
“Statistically, this is one of the most significant acts of
saving Jews in the Holocaust, yet relatively little is written about it,” the
85-year-old Friedmann said.
Friedmann recalled Jewish life at the cramped
premises of the factory, which was out of bounds to the Nazis as it was declared
an annex of the Swiss Embassy.
“The place slowly filled up with 3,000
people in July 1944,” he recalled. “It was a small building with an annex, a
small residential house nearby. During the day it served as an office and during
the night it turned into a room for people to sleep in.
On the roof top
there was a Mizrahi group, the Orthodox Jews were in the basement and Hashomer
Hatza’ir had their own floor.
“There were many professors and
intellectuals who, to stay sane, gave lectures. In one corner they taught
Gemara, in another Hebrew.
They did this so there would be something
living, some semblance of normalcy. There were few medicines but many doctors
and life just fell into place.”
After the war, Friedmann made aliya and
became a senior official at the Finance Ministry.
“I met a young woman
whose life who was also saved at the Glass House, and married her, but that’s a
story for another time,” he said.
Before ending the interview because his
granddaughter had just come for a visit, Friedmann said he hoped the Bet Haedut
initiative would help raise awareness of the importance of the Glass House,
although he expressed reservations over the necessity of building a complete
“I heard about the idea and I think it’s a little – even though
I’m part of the management at Bet Haedut – something like the Chabad House at
770,” he said, referring to the replica in Kfar Chabad, near Lod, of the one in
Brooklyn where the late Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
“I’m not a Hassid of either this proposal or that one. It’s nice
but a little pretentious and expensive. I believe there’s modest way of doing
it, like making a replica of only part of it.”
Once the Nazis took over
Budapest in 1944 and began deporting Jews to the death camps, Lutz negotiated a
deal with the Hungarian government and the Nazis: He had permission to issue
protective letters to 8,000 Hungarian Jews for emigration to the Land of
Lutz deliberately misinterpreted his permission for 8,000 as
applying to families rather than individuals, and proceeded to issue tens of
thousands of additional protective letters, all of them bearing a number between
one and 8,000. He also set up 76 safe houses around Budapest, declaring them
annexes of the Swiss legation.
They included the Glass
After the war, Lutz was reprimanded for having gone too far in his
efforts, but was vindicated and honored by the Swiss government in
For risking his life to help Jews, Lutz in 1964 became the first
Swiss national named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.
died in Bern in 1975.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.