Following years of false starts and failed announcements, restoration is well under way on the long-derelict 19th century synagogue in Kőszeg, Hungary — plans for which we detailed October 2020. The synagogue, which is owned by the state, will become a cultural centre but also will be able to be used for religious services.
Traveling with Johannes Reiss, the director of the Austrian Jewish Museum, in Eisenstadt, Austria, JHE’s Ruth Ellen Gruber visited the synagogue site in late August.
Work on the exterior of the building, including plastering over the exposed brick structure, is complete, and the interior is filled with scaffolding.
Work began last fall, and the first phase is expected to be completed this year, with full restoration to be completed in 2022. The project foresees the restoration of the entire synagogue complex, including the Rabbi’s house, courtyard, garden, and fence.
The state, which has owned the building since 2016, which is reported to have allocated 649.745.697 forints (around €1,784,490), for the project.
The restoration is being carried out by the company VM Construction Fővállalkozó Kft, within the framework of the KRAFT program, working to plans by the architecture firm Tripartitum Építész Műhely Kft. KRAFT is a regional development program that includes economic, municipal and academic actors that work together for the development of small and medium-sized cities. The Kőszeg-based Institute for Advanced Studies (iASK) coordinates activities in its KRAFT center.
Built in 1856-59, the synagogue is a distinctive structure with two crenellated towers flanking the main part of the building, a sort of upright cylinder with a flat dome. The interior has a recessed Ark, a Bimah is set off by a wrought iron grille; and a women’s gallery, set on slim iron pillars. Delicate paintings cover the ceiling.
Construction of the synagogue complex was financed by Philip (Fülöp) Schey (1798-1881), a Jewish philanthropist born in Kőszeg (known in German as Güns), who had grown rich as a textile merchant and later became a banker for the Hapsburgs. In 1859, Emperor Franz Joseph raised Schey to the Hungarian nobility — he was the first Jew to receive this honor and took the title Philip Schey von Koromla.
Schey’s role in the construction of the synagogue is stressed several times at the synagogue with inscriptions or plaques — including one on the exterior, under the 10 Commandments. It had become almost illegible, but was restored in the current project.
Ruth and Reiss were guided by Attila Pok, a permanent scholar at iASK who is the deputy director of the Institute of History at the Research Centre for Humanities at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. Helping organize the visit were Eszter Sterk von the Jewish community in Szombathely and Edit Szántóné Balász of iASK.
After visiting the synagogue, Reiss took Ruth back to Austria — where they rounded out the trip by paying homage at the grave of Baron Schey, in the Jewish cemetery in nearby Lackenbach.
Schey’s tomb, located in a rather tightly packed row of other tombs, is relatively modest, given his stature — a raised rectangular black marble mausoleum, surmounted by a roof supported by four red stone columns.
It has epitaphs and inscriptions in both Hebrew and German.
Johannes Reiss writes in his blog that the Lackenbach cemetery is the largest Jewish cemetery in Austria’s Burgenland region, with 1,770 graves, among them those of Rabbi Salman Salomon Lipschütz, who died in Lackenbach in 1808, and Rabbi Shalom Salomon Ullmann, who in Lackenbach in 1825.
Click here to read our report detailing the plans for the synagogue renovation
Read Johannes Reiss’s blog post about the visits