Jamie Lee Curtis is revitalizing her grandparents’ hometown synagogue in Mateszalka, Hungary, in honor of her late father, Tony Curtis.
The “Knives Out” and “Halloween” star is in Budapest filming “Borderlands.” In a recent Instagram post, she announced that she will partner with the mayor of Mateszalka (pop. 16,532) to turn the synagogue where her grandparents once worshipped into a “community center for celebrations and art and music.” The synagogue, she wrote on Instagram, “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 paid a weekend visit to Mateszalka to attend a “pre-opening” of the Tony Curtis Memorial Museum and Cafe — a museum dedicated to her father, a Hollywood legend who died in 2010 at 85. “They have created a beautiful exhibition of images from his life and they have costumes from his movies and his paintings and awards,” she wrote, noting that the museum is just down the street from the synagogue.
Tony Curtis — who was briefly married to actress Janet Leigh (aka Jamie Lee’s mother) — was born Bernard Schwartz in Manhattan; his parents, Helen and Emanuel Schwartz, had immigrated to the United States from Mateszalka. The museum will feature photographs from Tony Curtis’ life and costumes from his films, as well as his paintings and his awards. The Tony Curtis Museum will open officially on June 26, on Hungary’s special “Night of Museums,” when museums across the country run programs from dusk till dawn.
The Curtis family’s synagogue in Mateszalka was originally built in 1857, and developed a rich history within the town’s Jewish community. In 1941, the town, with its 1,555 Jews, was more than 15 percent Jewish. When the Nazis invaded in 1944, the Jews were rounded up and sent in cattle cars to Auschwitz, where the majority of them died. After the war, some 150 survivors had returned to Mateszalka, but after the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956, many of the remaining Jews emigrated to North America or Israel.
Given this tremendous loss, the synagogue is mostly stripped of its furnishings and in dire need of repairs. Even so, the Jewish Heritage Europe notes that the synagogue “preserves interior architectural and decorative features including an elaborately painted ceiling.”