Synagogue in eastern Hungary to get facelift thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis

Visiting the town of Mateszalka, the actress says she’ll help raise funds to restore the building her grandparents once worshiped in, turn it into community center celebrating arts

Yaakov Schwartz is The Times of Israel's deputy Jewish World editor

Illustrative: Jamie Lee Curtis poses at the Big Screen Achievement Awards at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 4, 2019. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
Illustrative: Jamie Lee Curtis poses at the Big Screen Achievement Awards at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 4, 2019. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

BUDAPEST — An abandoned synagogue in eastern Hungary is getting a facelift thanks to Hollywood actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

On Sunday, the actress — who is currently in Budapest for the shooting of the upcoming film “Borderlands” — attended the pre-opening of a new memorial museum and cafe dedicated to her father, beloved American actor Tony Curtis, in the Hungarian town of Mateszalka, 275 kilometers (170 miles) east of the capital.

The museum contains photographs, film props, costumes, and memorabilia from Tony Curtis’s life. It will open to the general public on the Night of Museums, June 26, when museums around the country throw open their doors to the public and offer a variety of programming through dawn.

Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz to Hungarian-Jewish immigrants who had moved to New York from Mateszalka. According to Hungarian media, the actor, who died in 2010 at the age of 85, visited his parents’ former hometown several times.

In an Instagram post for her 3.2 million followers, Jamie Lee Curtis wrote that the museum is located “just down the street from the synagogue that my family worshiped in so long ago.”

Curtis noted that the former synagogue, originally built in 1857, is “empty now, as the entire Jewish population was exterminated but the building stands as a living tribute to those who lived there and continue to live there.”

Curtis has committed to help raise funds to restore the dilapidated building and turn it into a community center “for celebrations and art and music.”

Interior of the synagogue in Mateszalka, Hungary, in 2016. (Public domain)

The Jewish community of Mateszalka numbered 1,555 people in 1941, representing over 15% of the town’s population. In that year, the town’s Jewish men were taken for forced labor. When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, the Jews were rounded up and put on cattle cars to Auschwitz. In 1946, about 150 survivors had returned to Mateszalka. Following the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the occupying Soviet regime, many of the country’s remaining Jews emigrated to North America or Israel. As of 1959, there were 98 Jews left in Mateszalka.

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