Visit of Iván Markó to Balassagyarmat

8th April, 2006.

Afternoon of memories in Balassagyarmat

This article was originally published by Péter Róbert in the newspaper called "Új Élet" (journal of the Hungarian Jewish Communities).

Balassagyarmat once was one of the centers of the Hungarian Orthodox Jewry. More than one third of the citizens were jewish, and they called their city in its yiddish name Yermat. Thanks to the tireless work of Béla Majdán historian, a museum and also an art relic cemetery functions in the town. Its jewish community shrinked significantly, but still often welcomes those, who had roots in this town and decide to come back, their brothers and sisters in faith and their offsprings.

This year, on 8th April, Iván Markó accepted Béla Majdán's invitation, and he gave a beautiful afternoon to its hometown. He began his visit by going to the cemetery and with Béla Majdán's guidance he learned about the history of the 6 hectare big graveyard, and about the works the Foundation did to renovate it. He visited some of the most significant gravestones, the final resting place of the rabbis of the town and also the monument for those, who were dragged away.

Ten years ago, the famous cabaret director from Paris, Michel Gyarmathy was buried here too, because he was born in the city. A few years ago youngsters vandalised some of the stones, and they were repaired from donations. A lot of citizens helped and even the renewed  Valiant Order gave money. In 1993 the cemetery, which has beautiful, ancient stones, was selected to be a national art relic. Ferenc Mádl  (who became later the President of Hungary)  at the meantime, Minister of Culture and János Gyurko, Minister of  Protection of the Environment placed a memorial tablet on the wall of the mortuary building.

Currently they are working on creating a database about the almost 3300 gravestones, they are making pictures and translating all the stones for the local and foreign visitors. In 2000 they opened up a Museum after they renoved the tabernacle on Hunyadi Street, (the old, grand synagogue was demolished in 1950). At the opening ceremony of the Museum Gusztáv Zoltai, President of the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communes, and Leslie Keller, former president of the East-European Bureau of the World Jewish Congress were among the guests, and they inaugurated the place. But it doesn't only serve as a sacred place, they are also holding presentations in it, mostly for youngsters, students. Mr. Iván Markó visited the museum too, and afterwards the program was continued in the local Community Centre, where a lot of people gathered on this sunny afternoon,  who wanted to meet Mr. Markó, and to remember to their fellow jewish citizens together.

The largest hall was full, and the visitors were welcomed at the door by the jewish community with a little kosher brandy and with matzah. The guest answered the questions of Béla Majdán, and told everyone about his childhood, about his work, and about what he went through as an artist. He also said, he was always glad to be a jew, and he always tried to live by the Ten Commandments. He received 5 awards last year, and he values the People's Choice award for the most, but he wishes to comply with the Almighty first.

Photographed by Gábor Dékány

He also spoke about what he experienced abroad, about the years he spent in Israel, and he managed to entertain the audience all along. A lot of comments reminded the artist and everyone else to his parents' life in Balassagyarmat, to the Hegyi grocery and to other jewish shops, to a world, which was ended by violence.

In the end Iván Markó even offered a free performance of his dancers, for a show in his hometown, and the crowd happily accepted it. The local gipsy band played for the guests, and they appreciated the beautiful tunes of

József Bauer, Chairman of the Jewish Community and his wife was a great help and they did a lot to ensure the success of this event, on which the whole jewish community represented itself,  and they talked about their happiness, their sadness, and  their  humble future. They always do everything they can to maintain the faith commune in Balassagyarmat, and to welcome and inform their brothers and sisters in faith, and to be worthy doing so.

After the event ended, Mr. Markó went for a little sight-seeing tour at the old town cetre, and they showed him the site of the former jewish shops, the old County House, where you can find pictures of very famous and local jews on the wall, maybe the most commonly known and oldest of them is Márk (Rosenthal) Rózsavölgyi. Across the County House, where once the house of the Markó family stood, now a statue is showing the visitors the courage of the  Civitas Fortissima (Bravest City), when the resistence of the locals prevemted detaching the city from Hungary. The last name on the memorial tablet belongs to a high-school student, Sándor Weisz...

This was a good visit, and it is always useful, to recall old memories!

Péter Róbert

 translated by: Majdán Béla Jr

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