Congratulations to Rudolf Klein, whose stunning new book about the Art Nouveau synagogue in Subotica (Szabadka), Serbia — his home town — has won the award for Vojvodina province’s “Most Beautiful Hungarian Book 2012.”
The award was formally presented Jan. 18 in the town of Senta.
The book, published by the local Jewish community and to date only published in a Hungarian language edition, presents the history of the building and is illustrated with Rudi’s own, wonderful black-and-white photographs.
Here is Rudi’s summary of the text:
The synagogue of Subotica is the only surviving Hungarian art nouveau Jewish place of worship in the world. Erected by a prosperous Jewish community of some 3000 souls between 1901 and 1903, it highlights the double, Hungarian-Jewish identity of its builders, who lived in a multi-ethnic, but predominantly Catholic city, which was the third largest of the Hungarian Kingdom and the tenth largest of the Habsburg Empire.
The community hired a not yet established tandem of Hungarian art nouveau architects from Budapest, Dezső Jakab and Marcell Komor, who would later make a great imprint on the architecture of Subotica and Palic, the resort town near the city. The architects were ardent followers of Ödön Lechner, the father of Hungarian art nouveau style architecture, and later partisans of this movement, which unified Hungarian folklore elements with some Jewish structural principles and sometimes even Jewish motifs.
Besides lending the synagogue a distinct double identity in architectural terms, Jakab and Komor created a new space-conception of synagogue architecture in Hungary and deployed modern steel structure as well as an advanced technique of vaulting. Unlike period synagogues in Hungary that featured a predominantly basilical arrangement with a nave and two aisles, with or without a dome, this synagogue achieves a unified, tent-like central space under the sun, painted in gold on the apex of the dome. The women’s gallery and the dome are supported by four pairs of steel pillars covered with gypsum with a palm leaf relief. The large dome is a self-supporting, 3-5 centimeters thin shell-structure, formed in the spirit of Hungarian folklore. While many other synagogues have utilized light structures, they usually mimicked traditional arches and vaults. The novelty of this synagogue is the sincere display of modern structure and modernity in general, of which Jews have been important advocates and generators.
The post-World War II history of the building has been very checkered, with efforts to restore it to its original glory dating back to the mid-1970s.