While many synagogues and other Jewish heritage sites in Europe remain in ruined or dilapidated condition, it is worthwhile from time to time to look back and reflect on some of the transformations — and the distance some sites have traveled.
One such is the Status Quo synagogue in Trnava, Slovakia. It was restored in the 1990s for use as a contemporary art gallery, and we have highlighted its most recent renovation this year. It is instructive to look at the process that took place, which illustrates different attitudes toward preserving memory.
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 the 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 sculptural Holocaust memorial stands outside near the entrance.)
The synagogue had to be closed several years ago because of its deteriorating condition, but it reopened in early 2016 after a new, €1 million restoration, carried out by the Trnava Self-Governing region with funding from the EU. This restoration, as we noted in past posts, to some extent reverses the choice to retain explicit evidence of destruction. It “cleans up” the building, particularly on the outside, which now looks pristine — even the damaged Ten Commandments tablets above the facade have been repaired — though it still retains some traces of the damage inside.
The Status Quo synagogue stands across the street from the former Orthodox synagogue, which also long stood derelict and is now restored — it houses a cafe but retains much of the synagogue fittings and also displays a history of the building.