The Bratislava Jewish Community Museum opened its 2018 season with a special exhibit honoring Eugen Bárkány, a pioneer in the preservation, documentation, and display of Jewish heritage in Slovakia.
Bárkány (1885-1967) was an engineer and building contractor from Prešov, in the far east of Slovakia, but also an ardent collector and the founding director of the first Jewish museum in Slovakia (then part of Czechoslovakia), which operated in Prešov from 1928 to 1942.
Announcing its exhibit, the Jewish Community Museum notes that in the 1950s, after the Holocaust all but destroyed Jewish life in the country, the Prešov museum’s entire collection was sent to the State Jewish Museum in Prague. Bárkány settled in Bratislava, where he planned to establish a new Jewish museum in the Neolog synagogue there –.a grand, twin-towered building next to the cathedral, which was destroyed in the late 1960s when the communist authorities demolished most of the historic Jewish quarter to build a bridge and freeway. His collection of WWI memorabilia, including drawings made when he was held prisoner in Siberia, was sent to Budapest.
In our exhibition we symbolically unite under one roof three collections, which are today kept by the Jewish Community Prešov, the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, and by our museum. The exhibition is an event within the European Year of Cultural Heritage.
Throughout his life, Bárkány documented synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and ritual buildings all over Slovakia and, with his wife Olga, collected ritual objects and other material.
An extensive and richly illustrated, 200-page Slovak-English catalog accompanies the Bratislava exhibition and details both Bárkány’s life story and his work .
A first collection of his research was published posthumously in 1991, in a book co-authored by L’udovít Dojč — Zidovske nabozenske obce na Slovensku, Bratislava: Vesna — which includes Bárkány’s descriptions, photographs, drawings, and architectural plans.
Today, a small part of the entire Bárkány collection is displayed in the women’s gallery of Prešov’s Orthodox synagogue — only around 150 out of some 1,500 articles.
The Bratislava exhibit includes some artifacts from Prešov — but many more that have not been on public view for decades.