WESSELÉNYI SCHOOL

MASORET AVOT - AMERICAN ENDOWMENT SCHOOL
Wesselényi Street 44.
BUILT IN: 1875


STORY

At the end of the 19th century, the Neolog Jewish Community of Pest resolved to establish a modern school system and found the first Jewish comprehensive school in Budapest. Architect Vilmos Freund was entrusted with the task of drawing up the designs, and in 1896 the modern school building on the corner of Kertész Street and Wesselényi Street opened its doors. The building, which is still standing today, included a large ceremonial hall which could also be used as a synagogue.

The actual opening of a comprehensive school for Jewish students only took place in 1919 because of the various internal debates within the religious community, the earlier agreements and plans notwithstanding. The opening of a grammar school specifically for the Jewish community gave rise to the fear in some Jewish leaders that the creation of the institution would separate Jewish students from Christian students and thereby strengthen the real or imagined social isolation or separatism of the Jewish community. Along with many other factors, rising anti-Semitism played a role in the decision of the Jewish community in favor of creating its own comprehensive school, and with the beginning of the school year in the fall of 1919 instruction began in the Jewish middle school. The school on Wesselényi Street was the first Jewish comprehensive school in Hungary.

In November 1944, the school on Wesselényi Street became one of the buildings on the border of the Jewish ghetto. On December 10, one of the four gates of the ghetto (the eastern one), which apart from the gates was completely closed off from the outside world, was erected next to the building. An emergency hospital was created in the building, and at the cost of major efforts several life-saving medical devices, such as an X-ray machine, were smuggled into the building. The International Red Cross tried to ensure the provision of medicines. When the electricity in Budapest went down because of the bombings, many of the medical devices became useless. Fires were lit using the benches from the synagogue in Dohány Street (among other things) in order to sterilize implements that were necessary for surgery and other kinds of medical interventions. On January 18 1945, the ghetto was liberated by the Red Army. The Soviet troops knocked down the fence surrounding the ghetto, beginning at the corner of Wesselényi Street and Kertész Street (in other words, the corner of the building). The disastrous losses notwithstanding, instruction resumed relatively quickly in Wesselényi 44 and continued until 1948, when the school, like all denominational schools, was closed by the state. For years, it was home to a trade school.

In 1955, a memorial plaque was placed on the wall of the building that reads, "In memory of those who fell victim to murderous fascism and as an expression of the gratitude of all those who have the liberating Soviet army to thank for their lives on the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the walls of the ghetto the people of the district VII."

In 1990, a new chapter began in the history of the building at Wesselényi Street 44 when the Masoret Avot American Endowment School opened its doors. The first Jewish school since the change of regimes in Hungary, it had 500 students enrolled in the first year. The school was founded by Canadian Albert Reichmann and American David Moskovits. The Autonomous Orthodox Israelite Community of Hungary (MAOIH) has since taken over the maintenance and operation of the school, and recently a nursery and kindergarten have been added. As the name of the school indicates, the instructors educate students in the spirt of ancient Jewish traditions in a building that has been furnished to meet all the demands of modern life.

See the artist: István Illés

By Viktor Cseh