Restoration work is underway at the former “Small Synagogue” in Senta, located in northern Serbia not far from the border with Hungary. The project is funded by a 220-million-forint (around €611.000) allocation from the Hungarian government and is expected to be completed by early December 2021.
Used for decades as a sport center known as “Partizan,” the 400-square-meter building is today property of the Lajos Thurzó Cultural and Educational Center, and it will become a cultural space that will host an art gallery and also a permanent exhibition on local Jewish history.
The synagogue was built in 1928-29 and served the local orthodox/Hasidic community. The municipality acquired it in 1956. The city also acquired the town’s Great Synagogue, built in 1873 for the Neolog community, but demolished it in 1957 – a monument has stood on the spot since 2001.
The work on the Small Synagogue started the first week of April. Scaffording surrounds the building, and on April 15th the city’s mayor, Rudolf Czegledi, along with Róbert Szabados, president of the Association of Jewish Communities in Serbia, and István Vatai, the architect in charge of the works, met with local reporters at the site.
Watch a video about the meeting – in Serbian, but the video shows the building:
They said plans foresee the creation of a two-story exhibition area, featuring an art gallery, with the upper floor entirely dedicated to the history of the Jews of Senta (known in Hungarian as Zenta). The exterior of the synagogue will also be renewed, including the façade and entrance. A wrought iron fence will be installed to replace an old brick wall, and a parking lot will be constructed.
Architect Vatai told reporters that no original blueprints have been found for the building, so the renovations would be based on its current state.
“The city’s cultural offer will be expanded with this renovation, as we will have a fine art exhibition space and a smaller area suitable for holding events such as classical music performances,” Mayor Czegledi told reporters. He said that while the Hungarian government is covering all the costs of the physical renovation work, the city financed the preliminary steps, such as the planning, documentation, and inspection of the building.
Szabados said his feelings were bittersweet.
“It’s about rejoicing on the one hand because the synagogue building will be renewed. On the other hand, I have a feeling of sadness because there are almost no more Jews in Senta; there are one or two families left over from a large community that had nearly two thousand members until World War II,” he said.
“Therefore,” he added, “the small synagogue will first of all remind the next generations that Jews were present here.”
The synagogue’s last rabbi, from 1939 to the deportation of the community to Auschwitz in 1944, was Moshe Teitelbaum, who survived Auschwitz and eventually moved to the United States, where in 1980 he became the Satmar Rebbe, the world leader of Satmar Hasidim. He died, aged 91, in 2006.
Watch a video of the meeting with reporters, in Hungarian (with different views of the building)