The Great Synagogue

Budapest's Great Synagogue is an odd building: it has the ground plan of a Protestant church, but the ornamentation is wholly Moorish. As we are walking through the memorial garden, it strikes me that they killed the Jews here, too. I knew about the Nazi program of evil before, of course, but the history of the Holocaust has a more immediate impact when you are confronted by the geography of genocide: they came for the Jews here and here and everywhere.

Having finished the Fadiman, I decide to read books that relate to our travels, so Eichmann in Jerusalem seems a reasonable place to start. I pay through the nose for a copy -- it seems especially expensive, given that one can eat like a king for four or five dollars -- and it sets a tone for the rest of the trip. Little omissions leap out at me: the Slovaks seem unwilling to admit the that they cut a deal with the Nazis to gain an "autonomous" Slovakia. But it also contextualizes things, and displays like a contemporary rail-link map of the deportations from Hungary to the camps are rendered that much more chilling.

I have a Big Thought a few days later, one of -- I promise -- fairly few during the trip: the followers are more interesting, more important, than the leaders. The great majority of people are capable of great collective courage, or of perpetuating the utmost evil. Why the one and not the other, that's what matters, and the leaders matter not for their own strange psychology, but for their effect on the more familiar psychology of the great Us.