The second annual conference on Slovak Jewish Heritage was held November 7. It gathered activists, professionals, Jewish community leaders, and others from around the country who are involved in the preservation, conservation and restoration of Jewish built heritage.
Organized by the Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia (UZ ZNO), the meeting was held in the New Synagogue in the town of Žilina — an important modernist building, built in 1928-31 and designed by the German architect Peter Behrens, which has been undergoing restoration for several years. As we have posted in the past, the synagogue was long used as a cinema and university lecture hall. It is due to reopen in 2017 as a contemporary arts center.
The conference included presentations on synagogues in Lučenec, Bratislava, Trencin, Levice, Banska Stiavnica, Zilina, and Bytča.
During the presentation on the ongoing efforts to restore the long-derelict synagogue in Bytča, a representative of the NGO working on this project addressed the issue of why a synagogue should be restored in a town where no Jews live.
Why does it makes sense to save the synagogue? It’s a piece of our history. Without exaggeration, we can say that in this way you honor the memory of our Jewish fellow citizens, who until recently had been a large part of the inhabitants of our city, contributing to its development and in particular, it [commemoraties] their tragic fate during World War II.
This is not the only reason. The synagogue will serve for religious purposes. It will be a place of cultural and social events, concerts, exhibitions, theater performances, and also the seat of the Bytča museum. We expect that the city will attract a lot of visitors from Slovakia but also from abroad. It will become a place of community life in which we want to develop the spirit of culture, humanism, creativity, tolerance.
During the conference, the newly established Eugen Barkany award — named after the pioneer in Slovak Jewish heritage work who founded the Jewish museum in Presov in 1928 — was presented to the city of Lučenec for the restoration of the grand, domed synagogue, which reopened earlier this year as a culture center whose premises also include a Holocaust memorial. The restoration process was financed by a €2.3 million EU grant.
Completed in 1926, the immense structure was designed by the prolific Hungarian synagogue architect Lipot Baumhorn and is a typical example of Baumhorn’s grand, eclectic style. The only surviving synagogue out of five that once stood in the town, it long stood derelict.
The communist authorities nationalized the Lučenec synagogue in 1948 and for more than 30 years it was used as a warehouse for artificial fertilizers. It stood empty and dilapidated after being abandoned in 1980. It received a new roof in the 1990s, but otherwise plans for restoration never until now got off the ground for lack of funding.
We’ve posted this before — but it’s worth posting again — a remarkable video of the restoration process.