Twentieth Arrondissement and Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze

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St. Gabriel Church and Hélène-Boucher Lycée, Copyright Sigoise

The 20th Arrondissement of Paris (a.k.a. Arrondissement de Ménilmontant) is on the Right Bank. It’s bordered on the north by the 19th Arrondissement, on the west by the 11th Arrondissement, and on the south by the 12th Arrondissement. Probably its most famous attraction and landmark is Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Historically, the higher the number of the arrondissement, the more working-class and poor folks (many of them immigrants). This isn’t the wealthy, stereotypically “cultured” population which flocked to the arrondissements with very low numbers. As a proud proletarian, it’s right up my alley!

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Town Hall, 1908

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Town Hall, 2009, Copyright besopha, Source FlickrMairie

Its population peak and most concentrated density was 1936, with 208,115 residents, 34,779 per square kilometer. It was annexed to Paris in 1859, and formed from the towns of Belleville and Ménilmontant, the municipality of Saint-Mande, and the commune of Charonne. As of 2012, the population was 198,678.

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1905

Besides Père Lachaise, other landmarks include Belleville Cemetery, St. Germain Church of Charonne, Charonne Cemetery, Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix de Ménilmontant, Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, Tenon Hospital, Hospital de la Croix Saint-Simon, and many schools and parks. The 20th Arrondissement also has the next-largest Chinatown in Paris.

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, Copyright Zantastik

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Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix, sometime between 1863–70

My characters are resettled in a cheap apartment in the 20th Arrondissement upon their return from Nantes in December 1945. Wolfram, who’s since left Le Meurice, has the apartment across the hall, and made the arrangements for them to live there for possibly less than the time of a normal lease.

He’s also bought them mattresses and secondhand furniture, put all their tableware and cookware in the cupboards, and moved in all their extra luggage and Caterina’s recovered small furniture. Wolfram insists he doesn’t need to be repaid, and tells them to consider it a belated Chanukah present.

Their apartments are on Rue des Pyrénées, which forms the eastern border of Père Lachaise.

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Église Saint-Germain-de-Charonne, 1900

Everyone but Wolfram goes for a walk through Père Lachaise on Csilla’s 18th birthday, 21 December, before starting their planned walk to Al Syete, a Sephardic synagogue in the 11th Arrondissement. The walk ends in terror and horrific flashbacks for everyone but Imre and Júlia, as they have an up-close and personal encounter with the crematorium.

The moment they realise what the building and smell are, they start going into hysterics, which attracts a lot of negative attention. Marie is so badly affected, she passes out, and Imre has to run back to the apartment to get Csilla’s recovered sled. The boys are shaking too badly to carry her, and Imre only has one good arm, since he broke his left hand last month.

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The monument Marie passes out by, in memory of the victims of a fire at an 1897 showing of Lumière Brothers’ films, Copyright Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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Crematorium (chimneys not visible), Copyright Christopher Lancaster, Source Flickr

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the Great Synagogue of Florence, was built thanks to David Levi, late president of the Florentine Jewish community, bequeathing his entire estate for the building of a new synagogue. Architects Marco Treves, Mariano Falcini, and Prof. Vicente Micheli combined Italian traditions with Moorish style.

Giacomo del Medici designed the great arch, and artist Giovanni Panti provided the beautiful frescoes and mosaics for the interior. Every square inch is covered in coloured designs with Moorish patterns. The copper roof was oxidised green to stand out in the Florentine skyline.

The cornerstone, sent from Jerusalem, was laid 30 June 1874. Inauguration was 24 October 1882.

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Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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During WWII, the occupying Germans used the synagogue as a storehouse. There are still bayonet blows visible on the doors of the ark.

In August 1944, the Italian people once again showed their righteousness by rescuing the synagogue from planned German destruction. The retreating Nazis and their foul fascist collaborators filled the building with explosives, but brave resistance fighters were able to defuse almost all of the explosives. Very little damage was done, and it was restored after the war.

During the terrible 1966 flood of the Arno, the synagogue was damaged, but once again restored.

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Copyright sailko

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Copyright sailko

My characters stay by a vacation apartment overlooking the synagogue when they’re in Florence in November–December 1945. The green dome dominates the Florentine skyline, and it’s just a short walk away.

On the eighth day of Chanukah, before Saturday morning services have started, Imre gives Csilla a three-pearl ring in the synagogue. He reassures her it’s not an engagement ring, but just a promise ring. He wants them to have a serious, committed relationship before they’re in a position to discuss marriage, and also wants to mark his territory so other men know she’s off-limits.

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Copyright sailko

Normafa and Neology

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CopyrighKaszás Tibor

Normafa is a hiking, picnicking, skiing, and lookout area at the top of Széchenyi Hill, in District XII (Hegyvidék) of Budapest, on the hilly Buda side. It’s accessible by the Cog Railway (launched 24 June 1874) and the Children’s Railway (launched 1950). Normafa is close to János-Hegy (János Hill), the highest point in Budapest.

Normafa takes its name from the Norma tree (originally called a storm beech, viharbükk), said to have been planted by King Mátyás Corvinus in the 15th century. After the Hungarian National Theatre performed Vicenzo Bellini’s two-act opera Norma there in 1840, the new name originated, and stuck.

Sadly, the namesake tree no longer stands. It survived many terrible storms, but in 1927, it was destroyed by lightning.

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Copyright Kispados at Hungarian Wikipedia

The area fell into disrepair due to more daytrippers than infrastructure could accommodate. There weren’t enough rubbish bins or benches, and many exposed roots and slippery leaves caused accidents.

Revamping took five years, and added many new paths, more secure gravel paving, replacement of soil with natural rock from the hill, easy-to-read maps, relaxation areas, lots of new and improved benches, 16 rubbish bins, and an upgraded playground.

Other new additions are an outdoor gym, a 4.5-km. running track, drinking fountains, a baby-changing room, bathrooms, bike-parking, and a cross-country skiing and biking track.

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Source FOTO:Fortepan — ID 02787

My characters hike up to Normafa for a daytrip during Sukkot 1945, with a large picnic lunch. Csilla suspects Mrs. Goldmark let the holiday lunches on Saturday and Sunday drag on so long on purpose. Mrs. Goldmark has to be at work on Monday, so there are less buffers between Csilla and Mrs. Goldmark’s older son Imre, whom she’s trying to set up. Imre has also been getting increasingly flirtatious.

Csilla gets drunk on Tokaji Aszú wine and strawberry liqueur, liquid courage for getting physical with the sexually experienced Imre in a secluded spot in the forest. She’s insulted when Imre says he’s not doing anything with a drunk, but after she explains her reasoning, he agrees to treat her to a sensual experience. This is the first time the very tomboyish Csilla has ever done anything with a man.

Unfortunately, as Imre rounds third base, Csilla has an intense flashback to being tortured by a gendarme last June, and her friends come upon the scene and think Imre’s trying to rape her. On the last day of Sukkot, Imre has his sister Júlia deliver a love letter to smooth things over.

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Neolog synagogue of Subotica, Serbia, Copyright Dickelbers

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Neolog synagogue of Trenčin, Slovakia, Copyright Martin Hlauka (Pescan)

Neology is a denomination unique to Hungary and some nearby areas. Many people inaccurately call it the Hungarian equivalent of Reform Judaism, though it’s more like liberal Modern Orthodoxy, or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Neology began as a mild reform movement in the 19th century, among those segments of society more inclined towards integration during the Era of Emancipation. People were throwing off their symbolic chains, moving out of ghettoes, acculturating to wider society, becoming full, equal citizens of their host countries. In 1867, Austria–Hungary granted legal equality.

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Neolog synagogue of Szeged, Copyright Somorjai Ferenc

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Fabric New Synagogue of Timişoara, Romania, Copyright Gratziela Ciortuz

The first Neolog rabbis were very influenced by Zecharias Frankel’s Positive–Historical Judaism, from whence the Conservative Movement evolved. This rift solidified following the schism of the 1868–69 Hungarian Jewish Congress. There was a lot of bad blood between Neology and Orthodoxy, each thinking they represented real, relevant, modern Judaism.

To make matters even more complicated, there arose another unique Hungarian denomination, Status Quo Ante. This was also a mild reform movement of sorts.

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Neolog synagogue of Oradea, Romania (formerly Nagyvárad, Hungary), Copyright Andrei kokelburg

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Neolog synagogue of Braşov, Romania, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

Neology has separate seating for the sexes (generally with an open-air women’s gallery or more relaxed mechitza) and liturgy essentially identical to Orthodoxy. Men are required to cover their heads, Gentiles play organs on the Sabbath, intermarriage isn’t allowed, there’s no confirmation for teenagers, and traditional kosher is kept.

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Neolog synagogue in Cluj–Napoca, Romania, Copyright Ana Maria Catalina

Today, Neology is the majority denomination in Hungary. All my native Hungarian characters have Neolog origins, though Eszter’s family leaned more towards Orthodoxy. Since Abony only had a Neolog synagogue, they had no choice.

Jewish Newark

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Temple B’nai Abraham (built 1924), now Deliverance Temple, Copyright Jim.henderson

Once upon a time, Newark had a large, vibrant, diverse, thriving Jewish community. It was home to the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with a 70,000-strong population. There were countless synagogues, almost 100 cemeteries, many religious schools (for all ages), a newspaper, kosher bakeries and restaurants, charities, and so much more. Newark’s largest hospital, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, was also built under the community’s auspices.

As many of you may know, the most famous Jewish Newarker is Philip Roth, who has written about the city’s Jewish community as it was at mid-century, before urban blight, a high crime rate, and white flight left mostly ghosts in its wake. Sadly, the community fell into shambles after the Newark Riots of July 1967, and only one active synagogue is left. The cemeteries are in a tragic state of disrepair, and are frequent targets of vandalism.

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High Street YM–YWHA, Source Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest

From 1921–43, there was a daily newspaper, The Newark Jewish Chronicle. Revenue fell during WWII, and publisher Anton Kaufman (who was blind) sold his cemetery plot to keep the paper afloat. On the first day of 1943, he jumped to his death from an eighth-story hotel room, and the final issue came out a week later. It had been the final Jewish newspaper left in Newark.

By mid-century, most Jewish Newarkers lived in Weequahic in the South Ward. Weequahic means “head of the cove” in Lenni–Lenape. Philip Roth has written extensively about Jewish Weequahic as it was, painting a picture of a beautiful, sadly bygone community. Though the Newark Riots were focused in the Central Ward, those events frightened people all across Newark, and led to much white flight.

Today, most of the few hundred Jewish Newarkers left are Russian immigrants who came in the 1970s, and mostly live in Ivy Hill.

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Pennington Mansion, 1901, original home of Beth Israel Hospital, Source Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest

The first documented Jewish Newarker was German immigrant Louis Trier, who arrived in 1844. The next year, his son Abraham became Newark’s first known Jewish birth. A few years later, B’nai Jeshurun became the first Newark synagogue. Dressmaker Hester Goldstein was said to be the first female Jewish Newarker to own her own business, listed in the 1853–54 directory.

Most of the early Jewish Newarkers came from Germany and Bohemia, and frequently worked as peddlers till they had enough money to open their own stores. By 1855, there were 200 families, and many of their stores dotted the main streets. In the 1880s, with a huge wave of immigration from the Pale of Settlement (thanks to the bloody pogroms of Tsar Aleksandr III’s reign), the city’s Jewish population swelled even more.

Once these immigrants became more affluent, they left their working-class roots behind and moved to more bourgeois areas like Weequahic.

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Oheb Shalom/Prince Street Synagogue (built 1860), Newark’s oldest remaining synagogue. The congregation has since relocated, and the building is used as an environmental centre

In 1933, Newark’s first and only Jewish mayor to date, Mayer Ellenstein, was elected. That same year, Weequahic High School opened. By this point, Newark’s population had reached 445,000, with at least 70,000 Jewish residents. Following WWII, many African–Americans began moving to the city, and in response, many longtime Newarkers left for suburbia. By the time of the Newark Riots in 1967, the Jewish population was very paltry, and those few who’d remained soon left as well.

Today, mostly only ghosts are left.

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Jewish Museum of New Jersey, formerly Ahavas Sholom, Copyright Peter Greenberg

My characters settle in Newark after their immigration to the U.S. in November 1948. The distant relatives of sisters Eszter and Mirjam, who made all of their immigration possible, have lived in the West Ward of Newark for many years, so it makes sense to live in the same city. Some of my interconnected characters in other books also live in Newark.

Sources consulted:

“Newark,” Helen Lippman, Hadassah magazine, April/May 2015
“Newark – Remembering a Forgotten Jewish Community,” Jay Levinson, The Jewish Magazine, May 2007
List of Rutgers research guides
“Jewish Newark’s Urban Pioneers Rest Uneasily; The Dead, Left Behind in the Suburban Diaspora, Lay Amid a Landscape of Ravaged Monuments,” Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, 15 October 2000
“City of Graveyards: The Demise of Jewish Newark,” Jason Maoz, JewishPress.com, 24 March 2010 (updated 14 November 2011)
“For One Day, Newark’s Jews Return To Mourn,” Anthony Weiss, The Forward, 8 October 2008
Old Newark
Newarkology
“Long mute, photos tell tales of Newark roots,” Robert Wiener, The New Jersey Jewish News 13 August 2009
Newark Religion, Old Newark

L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne and Hashomer Hatzair

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L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne was a luxury hotel in Nantes, France, the city’s finest hotel for many years. The main façade is on Rue de Henri IV, and overlooks Place Duchesse-Anne (a city square) and the gorgeous Medieval Château des Ducs de Bretagne. It miraculously escaped the brutal bombardments during WWII. Much of the city was reduced to rubble, just like Budapest, but the grand hotel wasn’t among the destroyed buildings.

The hotel was founded in 1874, and in the 1930s, architect Ferdinand Ménard made some modifications to the building. Among these modifications was adding an Art Deco façade.

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Sadly, the roof of this beautiful historic hotel was destroyed by fire on 17 June 2004, and a legal battle over its fate ensued. It’s fallen into great disrepair and degradation, and planned demolition work slated for October 2015 wasn’t carried out. If the building is rehabilitated, it’ll probably be for luxury apartments, not a new hotel.

In December 1945, my characters spend a week by the Duchesse-Anne, while native Nantaise Marie Sternglass searches for word about her family. Sweet little Marie is finally pushed to her breaking point and has a bit of a mental breakdown when she finds strangers living in her old house and refusing to acknowledge her claim to the house or anything inside. She’s also deeply hurt by the cold, indifferent reception she gets from many people she considered friends just a few years ago.

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Hashomer Hatzair of Slonim, Poland, 1934, Courtesy Talma Lahav, Daughter of Bilha Podberevsky

Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) is a Socialist–Zionist youth movement founded in Galicia in 1913. In the British Mandate of Palestine (i.e., pre-State Israel), this was also the name of the group’s political party. It was formed by the merger of Hashomer (The Guard), a Zionist scouting group, and Tz’irei Tzion (The Youth of Zion), a group studying Jewish history, Socialism, and Zionism.

The first members of the group made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1919, and founded four kibbutzim. On 1 April 1927, these kibbutzim joined to form Kibbutz Artzi (Nationwide Kibbutz). As of 1998, they had 85 kibbutzim and 28,000 members.

Initially, it was strongly based on the principles of the Scout Movement (e.g., camping, hiking, self-reliance), and the German Wandervogel movement (which emphasised the creativity and independence of youth).

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Hashomer Hatzair of Pultusk, Poland, 30 May 1931

The group’s political party in pre-State Israel sought a binational solution, with full equality between Jewish and Arab Israelis. In 1936, they formed an urban political party, the Socialist League of Palestine (not to be confused with their Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party, founded in 1946). Hashomer Hatzair was the only political party in pre-State Israel to support Arab rights, accept Arab members as equals, and call for a binational state.

There were 70,000 members of the youth movement by 1939, mostly in Eastern Europe. During WWII, they fought against Nazi occupation and were involved in resistance and rescue efforts. After the war, they were among the first to start smuggling survivors into Israel. They also were active in the Haganah (underground army) and Palmach (shock troops) during the bitter fight to get the British to leave. Many of their kibbutzim were in the front lines during the War of Independence, and bore the brunt of Arab attacks. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named for the heroic leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) and Kibbutz Negba blocked the Egyptians’ path to Tel-Aviv.

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Members of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, Greater Tel-Aviv, ca. 1943, Source Gan-Shmuel archive via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project

My characters from Abony, Hungary, join Hashomer Hatzair in 1943, and receive training in farming, weapons, Hebrew, history, and other useful skills. They all desire to move to Israel and start new lives there, but many of them aren’t destined to live that long. For the select survivors, their passion to make aliyah becomes even more important.

Erzsébetváros

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Erzsébetváros coat of arms, Copyright Fekist. “Queen Elizabeth took the name of our district 125 years ago. The anniversary was stated by Erzsébetváros Municipality.”

Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town) is the more formal name of District VII of Budapest. It’s on the Pest side, in the heart of downtown. The inner half was historically the Jewish quarter. During the German occupation of 1944–45, several of its streets formed part of the Budapest Ghetto. This part of the ghetto was the large ghetto, for people without protective papers enabling them to live in protected Yellow Star Houses.

In addition to the beautiful Dohány Utca Synagogue, Erzsébetváros is also home to the Rumbach Utca Synagogue (Status Quo Ante) and the Kazinczy Utca Synagogue (Orthodox). They’re all within the same couple of blocks. Non-Jewish landmarks include New York Palace, Gozsdu Udvar, Magyar Theatre, and a former tram depot.

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New York Palace, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

The New York Palace opened 23 October 1894 on Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút), and is home to the New York Café, which was frequented by the élite of the Hungarian literary world. It was built by the New York Life Insurance Company as a Budapest office. Predictably, it was damaged during WWII, and closed under Soviet occupation. It’s now a luxury hotel under the management of Italy’s Boscolo hotel chain.

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Magyar Theatre, 1897

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Szent Erzsébet Church, Copyright cseharon, Source Indafotó

From about 1900 to 1970, Erzsébetváros was very densely populated, with many working-class inhabitants and immigrants. The population has been on a sharp decline since 1970, though like many downtown areas the world over, it’s begun a process of gentrification. Hipsters love it. When historically working-class neighbourhoods are gentrified and hipsterised like this, it really screws over the people who lived there before it was hip and cleaned-up. They can’t afford the raised rent and general price of living.

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Kazinczy Utca Synagogue, Copyright Diana, Source FlickrSynagogue

Another landmark of interest is the Klauzál Air Market Hall, which was built in 1897. This shopping plaza offered over 300 shops and kiosks at its height. Though it was in the Jewish quarter, there was also non-kosher food sold. In 2014–15, it was refurbished, and is open seven days a week, from 7 AM to 10 PM.

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Copyright 12akd

Gozsdu Udvar (Courtyard) is a complex of seven buildings and six interconnected courtyards, built in 1902. It once was home to many Jewish shops and small synagogues, like a small city within a huge city. Though the character of the complex has changed, it’s still a bustling place. It contains many shops, cafés, restaurants, and bars. There are also regular art shows, fairs, and concerts, as well as a weekly Saturday vintage and craft market.

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Copyright Globetrotter19

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University of Veterinary Science, Copyright Thaler

My characters Eszter Kovács and Jákob Gerber spend a long weekend in Erzsébetváros in July 1945, lodging at an abandoned house the Soviets gave to survivors. They’re trying to find information about Eszter’s two oldest sisters, Rebeka and Lea, who went to Budapest with false papers and disguised as Christian peasants shortly after the German occupation in March 1944.

While strolling along Dohány Utca, they run across a woman who lived with Rebeka and Lea in the ghetto. Initially, this woman was unnamed and only appeared for this one scene, but when I took this book out of hiatus, I named her Mrs. Goldmark and made her into an important secondary character. When Eszter and her friends move to Budapest in early September 1945, Mrs. Goldmark treats them like her own children, hosts them for holiday meals and birthdays, and arranges day trips and picnics.

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Former Israelite Deaf-Mute Institute, Copyright Attila Terbócs, Source Pasztilla

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Former Arcade Bazaar, Copyright Globetrotter19