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OSA photo collection on Hungarian synagogues


Information on the origins of the collections and on related resources: http://osaarchivum.org/og?col=1&ct=Photos%20of%20Hungarian%20synagogues

Started by kata 10 years ago, Comments: 5, Last Comment by kata 10 years ago



kata (Offline), 10 years ago


Old synagogues, prayer houses and prayer rooms
Photos from the 1980s by Anikó Gazda

Only people who know (or knew in the 1980s) which cinema, furniture shop or apartment house was originally built to be a synagogue can claim to be thoroughly familiar with the history of the countless Hungarian Jewish communities. Only those who know where the community was big enough to pride itself on a synagogue of its own, where they had to be content with a small prayer room and where the members of the community met in a prayer house, a transition between the former two. Only those who know where so many trends of the Jewish religion could exist side by side that they held the Friday service at several locations at the same time.
Dr AnikóGazda (1933-1990) was an architect by profession. Between 1980 and 1987, driven by personal and professional interest and dedication while carrying out research into and an extensive survey of the settlement structure of Hungarian towns and villages, she took more than 1,000 photos of the Hungarian synagogues, prayer houses, prayer rooms and other buildings related to the life of the Jewish communities. Schools, ritual baths, rabbis' apartments, cemeteries, tombs and mortuaries are also memorialized in her photos.
In the 1980s AnikóGazda carried out her survey in all settlements where, according to the census data of 1828, 1851, 1910 and 1941, there lived more than 30 Jews and where she could presume that they would have erected a separate building for worship. Ferenc David, art historian, had done archival research into these settlements, and this research was continued by Ms Gazda’s on-site data collection. Ms Gazda’s camera recorded the buildings and their surroundings, including the Catholic church built from the bricks of the synagogue. She mainly focused on the role and importance of the Jewish quarters and their synagogue in the structure of the settlement. She grouped synagogues according to size, documented their new, that is then current, use and where she thought it was appropriate she recommended them for listing as national architectural heritage, if only for their importance in cultural history. More than once she found that the torah plate was torn off the facade of the synagogue between two of her visits there and she could do nothing more than document this fact, too.
A synagogue is a place where ten or more Jewish men gather to pray. In fact any place will serve the purpose: the Torah has no specific requirements - and even if it had, the Jews would not have been able to fulfill them. They should have considered several ancient rules, for example that a synagogue should stand on the highest point of the city and, at the same time, on a waterfront, that it should face towards Jerusalem, that its windows should number twelve, no more, no less, that one of its walls should stay unplastered , and so on. The synagogue itself is not a sacred place; it is only the scrolls of the Torah within its walls that make it sacred. The synagogue is the building of the community. It is a closed space where all the members of the community can come together to celebrate holidays. It is laid out around the aaron kodesh (the Torah ark), and the bimah (the platform where the Torah was read). Wherever possible, women were seated in separate galleries. Apart from this it was only the taste, the traditions, and the social and financial standing of the community that shaped the building.
Before the Second World War there were about six hundred settlements where the Jewish community numbered more than thirty. Presumably each of them had a community building, but these buildings must have differed widely in size and ornamentation, as is reflected in the different names for buildings: synagogues, prayer houses and prayer rooms. (The synagogue is the largest, most richly decorated building, the prayer house less ornate, while the prayer room is not even a separate building. (Before the Second World War there were three-hundred-fifty-four synagogues, three-hundred-four prayer rooms and four-hundred-six prayer houses on the territory of today’s Hungary.)
At the time when Anikó Gazda was conducting her survey, of the one-time total number (the three-hundred-fifty-four mentioned above) of synagogues, prayer houses and prayer rooms she found only seventy-two in their original state both outside and inside; forty-eight preserved their original exteriors, one-hundred-four had been entirely transformed and the rest (six-hundred-thirty-three) had been demolished and only archival data testified to their existence at all. Of the synagogues that were still preserved in the 1980s, only twenty-five were still being functioning as synagogues. The rest had been put to a wide range of uses: interestingly, exactly twenty-five were used as storage rooms, others had been turned into apartments, museums, galleries, showrooms for the latest technical inventions, department stores, shops, libraries, pastry shops, dressmakers’ salons, schools, house of culture, gymnasiums, offices, a puppet theatre, surgeries, open university centers, television studios, a cinema, a concert hall, bakeries or fire stations. Some had been left empty and some had turned into ruins, overgrown with weeds. Most of the prayer houses had been turned into apartments, but some ended up as a pub, a pensioners’ home or a grocer's . The prayer rooms are even harder trace than the prayer houses. In most cases their one-time existence can only be suspected but not proved, and it is impossible to draw up statistics about them.
Several of the old synagogues were transformed beyond recognition and faded into the socialist townscape of the 1980s. A few of them still preserved a number of architectural features that recalled the previous function of the building. And some of them, even if sunk into the poor state of a furniture storehouse, told much happier stories about the energetic, hopeful and creative Jewry of the late 19th century which proudly decorated its synagogues.
Today Dr Gazda's invaluable research project, which left behind an enormous collection of photographic and textual documentation, would be impossible to repeat. Most of the buildings have already disappeared together with the people who could have remembered them. According to the records of MAZSIHISZ (Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities) there are sixteen functioning synagogues and one prayer house in Budapest today, while there are twenty-seven registered communities outside the capital But there is no way of knowing how many of the local communities go to the old synagogues to pray or use only small prayer rooms appropriate to the small size of the community In 2004 KÖH (Ministry for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage) registers forty-seven synagogues listed as National Heritage Buildings – sixty-five per cent of the synagogues Anikó Gazda found in a fair state of preservation in the 1980s. Of these forty-seven synagogues eighteen were listed in the 1950s. In the 60s not one of them was registered, and in the 70s only two of them received this distinction. At the time of Dr Gazda’s survey, in the 1980s sixteen synagogues were registered, six more in the 90s and two more in 2000. The years of registry of the synagogue in Óbuda, the one in Dohány utca and another in Rumbach Sebestyén utca are not documented by KÖH. One small synagogue in Békéscsaba received only temporary listing in 2002.
The registry does not tell us to what extent Dr Gazda’s recommendations influenced the listings, but we can presume that the sudden increase in the number of registered buildings from the late 1970s onwards can be mainly attributed to her devoted activity.
The institutional framework for Anikó Gazda’s research and her personal interest met under the most fortunate conditions and provided the inspiration for this very special collection. This was how a very extensive and thorough survey and documentation of all the synagogues, prayer houses and prayer rooms that could still be found in the 1980s – one of the most remarkable achievements of the period in Central-Europe - was born. Anikó Gazda wrote comments to every one of her photos: evaluations and recommendations on how the buildings and their surroundings should properly be preserved. Even if not all her suggestions were accepted her survey is a safe and reliable starting point for all those who wish to research the synagogues of Hungary.
In many cases, Anikó Gazda’s exceptional photos documented synagogues at the very last moment of their ephemeral lives. From today on, her collection will serve to memorialize our ephemeral communities in both real and virtual space.


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kata (Offline), 10 years ago


And some new photos taken on the same synagogues on the webpage maintained by the Kulturális Örökségvédelmi Hivatal (Office for Preservation of Cultural Heritage):
http://muemlekem.hu/muemlek?any=zsinag%F3ga


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mikkael (Offline), 10 years ago


I found these photos quite useful for me since I studied in Romania the status of Jewish Diaspora in Europe.


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kata (Offline), 10 years ago


Is there a similar survey conducted about the synagogues in Romania? Preferably with a collection of photos documenting them?


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