Budapest Glass House sanctuary to be duplicated near Ashdod

Bet Haedut, a Holocaust museum created by moshav members at Nir Galim 20 years ago, launched an initiative aimed at reconstructing the house as an exhibit.

Glass House Budeapest 311 (photo credit: Bet Haedut)
Glass House Budeapest 311
(photo credit: Bet Haedut)
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.
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“Our first 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.
Nobody knows exactly how many, and we would like to raise awareness of their story.
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 acknowledged.
“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 replica.
“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 lived.
“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 Israel.
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 House.
After the war, Lutz was reprimanded for having gone too far in his efforts, but was vindicated and honored by the Swiss government in 1957.
For risking his life to help Jews, Lutz in 1964 became the first Swiss national named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.
Lutz died in Bern in 1975.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.