Yesterday marked Tisha b’Av, or the Ninth of Av, the Jewish fast day that commemorates and mourns the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other tragedies that befell the Jewish people.
On JHE, we reflect all the time on the thousands of synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish heritage sites that have been destroyed or devastated through the ages. But we also focus — and recognize — the important ongoing efforts to restore, preserve, and present them.
In recent years, scores of once-ruined synagogues have been painstakingly restored to at least a semblance of how they looked when in use by Jewish communities as houses of worship.
In fact, when you restore a building that has suffered or been damaged, remodeled, or transformed for other use over the years, there is always the question as to what state the building will or or should be restored to. How much should it be “touched” (or touched up); how many layers of history should be removed (or cleaned away); what is meant by the “original” state of the building.
In the wake of Tisha b’Av, we want to showcase some synagogues whose restoration process has preserved the evidence of their destruction or devastation, making them, in a way, tangible memorials.
Long abandoned, the small synagogue in Šamorin, built in around 1912, is now used as the At Home Gallery, a center for contemporary arts. The gallery owners, Csaba and Suzanne Kiss, rent the building from the Slovak Jewish Community. They restored the synagogue in 1996, retaining evidence of the damage it suffered during and after WW2.
LOŠTICE, CZECH REPUBLIC
The synagogue was built in 1805-6 to replace a wooden synagogue that had burned down. After the Holocaust the building was used as a warehouse, town museum, and music school. Owned by the town, it underwent full restoration starting in 2006, organized by the Respect and Tolerance Foundation, a civic organization founded around 15 years ago that documents the history and culture of the pre-war Jewish communities in the towns of Loštice, Mohelnice, Úsov (and also Olomouc — which has an active Jewish community today — and Šumperk) — and uses its resources in educational programs. (See our longer post about it HERE.)
The restoration retained evidence of the damage the building suffered over the decades, and as part of the project some of the pews and six stained glass windows rescued from the monumental synagogue in Olomouc, built in the 1890s and designed by Jakob Gartner, and burned down by local fascists in March 1939, were incorporated.
The private synagogue of the Cukerman family, dating from the early 20th century, was converted into an apartment after the Holocaust, with partition walls dividing the space into two rooms and a kitchen. The colorful murals depicting Jerusalem and other ritual scenes were painted over, but not completed destroyed. The remnants of the paintings were revealed from beneath the thick layers of paint in 2007 by students of the Mikołaj Kopernik Secondary School in Będzin.
The synagogue has been administered since 2008 by the Cukerman’s Gate Foundation, and the paintings underwent restoration in 2009 and were listed in the Silesian Registry of Monuments.
Where possible, the paintings were fully restored.
But only fragments remain of others, and evidence of how the synagogue was used has been retained (the stove in the one-time kitchen remains in place).
As we wrote in a post in December 2016, the Status Quo synagogue in Trnava, Slovakia, has undergone two main post-WW2 renovations — both of which retained evidence of the destruction wrought on the building.
Designed by the Viennese architect Jakob Gartner and built in 1897, the synagogue in the early 1990s was a ruined shell.
The building was restored to some extent in the mid-1990s for use as the Jan Koniarek contemporary arts center. The restorers chose to retain and incorporate evidence of the devastation. The outer appearance was left to look untouched, except for new windows.
Inside, too, much was deliberately left looking unfinished. This treatment allowed the building to stand not just as a contemporary culture center, but, symbolically, as a memorial to the town’s 2,000 Jews who were murdered in the Shoah.
A new, €1 million restoration, carried out by the Trnava Self-Governing region with funding from the EU. This restoration, completed in 2016, to some extent reversed the choice to retain explicit evidence of destruction. It “cleaned up” the building, particularly on the outside, which now looks pristine — though it still retains some traces of the damage inside.