Budapest is quickly becoming our favorite city in the world. The language and signage is indecipherable, the people slightly distant and the food strange (ie; goose liver with plums) yet Budapest and it’s people have a dignified cadence that seems to sync with both of Tamara and I. Hungarian is a lingual anomaly. English, German and French have more in common with Hindi than Hungarian, causing confusion for Europeans and North Americans alike. Hungarians themselves don’t know who invented the language yet have a statue erected to him with the name that translates to “anonymous”.
The metro is another thing that is unique to Budapest. Being the second metro (subway) in the world, it was originally pulled by horses under the streets of Budapest. Now it shakes and rumbles at speeds and conditions that resemble a Six Flags ride. The ancient doors close with a quick sharp “snikt”, daring you to lose track of your hands or feet. Following the example of the locals we stood clear of the snapping doors and clung tightly to the worn leather straps hanging from the roof. A rumbling engine below our feet revs up, vibrating the floor and suddenly we are hurdling down a black tunnel, just wide enough to fit the small chain of cars. As I start to wonder why the locals are tensing up, someone stands on the brakes, lurching us into the 150 year old white tiled station. Before the train has even stopped moving, the doors snap open, suggesting we make a jump for it. I tried to take photos but my “Fright/Flight” motivations always got in the way.
The Hungarian Bethel cares for the 263 congregations and 22,000 publishers in 10 languages. Our Friend Attila helps direct the Kingdom Hall construction groups that are rushing to keep up with the growth.
A room in the Bethel documents the oppression and growth in Hungary. Here are some highlights; The growth of Jehovah’s people in Hungary really started in the early 1900’s and the government resisted the expansion by claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses were Communists, then during the 1930’s the government claimed that they were Capitalists.
Once the Nazi’s took power, the gloves came off and in one instance 160 Brothers were sent on a Death March that took many lives. Even when the Brothers were put in death camps, the growth continued albeit slowly. Here in the show cases were miniaturized bibles that were smuggled into the camps and life experiences of those (some still alive) of remaining politically neutral. The JW’s were the only oppressed group that could have left the camps just by just renouncing their faith and signing a form stating that they supported the government. We have seen these forms in Dachau, Germany.
Then Stalin took power and the oppression continued. The underground printing and distribution continued on until 1989 and we saw some of the miniature equipment used by the Brothers and Sisters.
The Bible that they used at that time was a Hungarian version originally translated in the early 1500’s. This translation had Jehovah’s name in it thousands of times but the language used was archaic and difficult for the modern Hungarians to understand. It took many years but Jehovah’s Witnesses produced a modern language version, the “New World Translation”, by 2003. This made understanding the Bible much easier for the people and likely explains much of the rapid growth in Hungary.
We spent quite a bit of time looking around the historical room in Bethel and there was one photo that I asked our friend to explain to us. Here is the photo
The snap shows a work camp during the governments repression of the “Bible Students” as they were called. If you look closely, the guards/taskmasters were Nuns from the Church that supported the government, not just the Hungarian Empire, not just the Nazi or Communists but the current government also. Sure does show how true political neutrality is something rare in religions.
One thing Tamara and I wanted to do was visit the “Memento Park”, a park outside the city where the communist monuments were taken…at least those too large to destroy. I am fascinated by propaganda, manipulative imagery and language; here you see the classics of each of those fields, in imposing chunks of brass and stone.
As we left the park, they were showing some of the Secret Police’s training films on Surveillance, Interrogation and searching for hidden evidence. Wow….they had this down to an art form. One film we watched taught us how to use hidden cameras to take photos of people and how to search for illegal literature inside a suspect’s home.
There is so much to see and learn in Budapest!