The Center for Jewish Art has published an important new resource for Jewish heritage in Hungary: a listing and brief description of all known extant synagogue buildings in the country, resulting from the CJA’s extensive research trips to Hungary in 2018-2019.
The 84-page Report is available online as a downloadable PDF.
It lists 162 synagogues — about a quarter of the total number of synagogues that existed before World War II.
“The current report presents – for the first time – a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all preserved synagogues in modern Hungary, whether still serving Jewish communities or converted for other usages,” it states.
In general, it says, the researchers discovered that “the overall physical condition of the synagogues in Hungary is quite satisfactory.”
Only two synagogues which we have visited (Kővágóörs and Jászapáti) are in ruins and several others demand urgent repair (Abony, Bonyhád, Dómbovár, Hőgyész, Kőszeg, Pápa, the Orthodox Synagogue in Sopron and the Synagogue at 15 Jávorka Ádám St. in Budapest). Many extant synagogues were recently converted into cultural centers, libraries, concert halls or exhibition galleries. Such usage allows the preservation of the structure in its original form, both exterior and interior, and makes it viable for the local residents. Thus, the memory of the extinct Jewish communities is preserved in a sustainable way
It notes, too, that — as we have documented on JHE — restorations of synagogues continue. For example, first steps to renovate one of the two synagogues deemed a ruin by CJA researchers, that in Kővágóörs, were undertaken earlier this year, after the CJA documented it.
The Report is based on research carried out during three trips supported by funding from the Keller Foundation, one in 2018 and two in 2019, on which the CJA team surveyed or fully documented 138 synagogues, taking thousands of photographs. (The others on the full list were not fully surveyed.)
The photos, along with measured drawings and sketches of some of the synagogues — those in Abony, Albertirsa, Baja, Bonyhád (Old), Eger (Old), Dómbovár, Gyöngyös (Old), Hőgyész, Jánoshalma, Keszthely, Kővágóörs, Nagykanizsa, Pápa, Szeged (Old), Szombathely (Orthodox), Várpalota, and Verpelét — have been uploaded to the CJA’s Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art.
The list of synagogue in the Report is organized by date of construction, rather than by location, so that synagogues in the same town are not necessarily listed together.
There are a few medieval synagogues, in Budapest and Sopron, and then several chronological grouping, up until the present. Each synagogue is presented with one or more photos, and a very brief description.
The researchers state that more work needs to be done on researching Hungarian synagogues and their relation to Jewish history in Hungary:
The most important conclusion arising from our expeditions is that although Hungarian synagogues were fairly well documented and researched (to mention only the books by Aniko Gazda, Rudolf Klein, and Peter Wirth), there are still many lacunae, problems and mysteries to be solved, concerning their history and architecture. Our documentation and survey show that further in-depth research should be undertaken in order to better understand the development of synagogue architecture in Hungary.
Architecture of synagogues — the main form of Jewish public building — reflects the history and identity of Jewish communities. Thus, the better the understanding of this architecture, the more profound is our knowledge of the history of Hungarian Jewry.
The Report also provides a bibliography and online sources.