Noran Libro, 2018
Chapter on Győr, pp 316 – 322, appears on our website as approved by the author
Szabolcs Szunyogh was born in Budapest in 1950. He graduated as a teacher, but worked mainly as a journalist, newspaper editor and radio journalist. He is also known as an author of books and audio plays for young people as well as an author of educational books. He has been awarded the Radnóti Prize and the György Várhegyi Prize for his work. (The book blurb of “Hungarian Menorah”)
HISTORY OF THE JEWS OF GYŐR
In 1490, a Jew named Simon moved from Győr to Sopron, this is our oldest record of Győr Jewry. In the 18th century, a city decree informs posterity of the existence of the Jews in a special way: in 1748, the magistrate decided to expel the them. The first news about the Jews of Győr after the Middle Ages, referring to a larger community, dates from 1795: it was then that the first house of worship was built in Győr. The first rabbi we know of was Abraham Schick, who served as a rabbi in Győr between 1803 and 1818.
During the war of independence, the Jews of Győr fought in the army of György Klapka, so the Austrians blackmailed the community, arrested the rabbi and executed a boy. In 1851, the Jews of Győr and Győr-Sziget established a common community of faith, and a school was founded in the same year. (Teaching has been in Hungarian since 1864.) In 1866, a tender was issued for a modern synagogue, which was built according to the plans of Károly Benkó and Vilmos Fränkel (Fraenkel), and was inaugurated on September 15, 1870. (The church was renovated and expanded in 1925-26 according to the plans of Arnold Bachrach.)
The great rift did not escape Győr either: in 1870, the traditional Jews separated from the congressional community open to reform and established the Orthodox community.
The congressional, and therefore neolog community has become one of the most important congregations in the country. Its president is Ignác Schreiber, royal adviser, knight of the Order of the Iron Crown, governor of the Austro-Hungarian bank. He supported not only the education of poor children but also improved the livelihood of underprivileged teachers with huge donations. If a merchant became impoverished or went bankrupt, he could turn to him for help. With his support, the home of the Jewish elders, as it was called at the time, was also built. His successor was a doctor named Fülöp Pfeiffer, who performed philanthropic work worthy of his predecessor. From then on (until the Holocaust) it became a tradition in Győr to perform exemplary charitable work from the personal property of the community’s president.
Jews in Győr largely contributed to the development of industry. Adolf Schlesinger founded a distillery, Károly Neubauer set up a match factory, Adolf Kohn started a vegetable oil factory, Hermann Back built a rolling mill, and Illés Keppich founded a steamship company on the Danube.
The community was devoted to the country, its members participated enthusiastically in World War I, during which 85 young people from the Győr community lost their lives.
In her dissertation, an ORZSE (= National Rabbinical Training – Jewish University) student, Enikő Lőrinczi, reports on the history of the synagogue: “The school connected to the synagogue building was opened on October 17, 1869. The costs were covered by the community from the purchase of seats at an eternal price, interest-free loans from community members and donations. In 1927, a winter church was added to the building. After the war, the church remained unused, so its condition gradually deteriorated. The synagogue became state property in 1968 that turned into city ownership in 1993. A total renovation of this property was completed in 2003. The more than 140-year-old synagogue was refurbished by August 2006. The former synagogue in Győr now serves as a museum building and hosts cultural events. The art collection of János Vasilescu can be seen in a permanent exhibition on its galleries. The former school wing houses the College of Music. The Jewish community, very much decreased in membership due to the Holocaust, now uses a separate prayer room in a side wing of the synagogue.”
Today there are 1444 Hungarian towns and villages in which there was once, but for more than seven decades now there has not been a Jewish community. Fortunately, Győr is in a different situation, although about five thousand people were actually killed during the Holocaust. (Of the community in Győr, which previously numbered 5,700, 780 remained after the war.)
The ghetto was set up in a part of the city called Sziget, from where Jews were driven into the slum barracks of the factory district while subjecting them to humiliating and rude searches. It is important to mention that the bishop of Győr, Vilmos Apor, who was later shot by drunken Russian soldiers, tried to prevent deportation and went to see the Jews in the slums in person, but was chased away by the gendarmes.
For the first time in Hungary, a granite block was erected in Győr in memory of the Jewish children abducted and killed during the Holocaust. Since the former synagogue is being managed by the Széchenyi István University, chief rabbi József Schweitzer and University rector Tamás Szekeres inaugurated a memorial in the courtyard to honour the memory of five hundred children in 2007. On behalf of the Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association, five stumbling blocks were also placed in the town in memory of the abducted Jews of Győr in 2016.
Perhaps it is teachers who preserve the memory of the martyrs to the utmost in the hearts of their pupils and students. On the website of the Mihály Vörösmarty High School in Érd, for example, we can read the touching lines of an eleven-year-old girl: “On April 16, 2015, the day of the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Hungary, we made a trip to Győr. We visited the Synagogue and Holocaust memorial exhibition. From the interesting lecture we heard, we got a comprehensive picture of the architectural features and functions of the Hungarian synagogues. Then, on the upper levels, we could see paintings by Holocaust survivors and Jewish artists. We then walked through the nearby Memorial Museum, which served as a refuge for the persecuted during the war. Today, it helps visitors learn about Jewish culture. It was about religious holidays and traditions, but also about everyday life. The most emblematic part of the visit for me was the Holocaust Memorial Room, where the guide lady told us about the horrors her family had experienced. Thank you so much for the opportunity, it was a moving and instructive journey.”
THE NEOLOG SYNAGOGUE OF GYŐR
The building that can be seen today, which was once the synagogue of Győr, is located in Győr Újváros, Petőfi Square, more precisely at Kossuth Lajos street 5. The detailed construction plans of the synagogue, which shows stylistic features of historicism and Art Nouveau, were developed by the Pest design bureau Örömy, Hencz and Bergh, while the architect was Vilmos Fränkel (Fraenkel), a Viennese architect, but the real designer was Károly Benkó.
This is a very imposing building. Its external size is 22.25 by 35.30 meters.
The six hundred square meters of land were purchased by the community in 1866 to build a school and a synagogue there. A total of 33 bids were received, of which the one by architect Benkó was accepted. The costs were covered from public donations and loans. First – this is a characteristic Jewish feature – the school was completed, and only then the synagogue itself.
The floor plan of the synagogue is rectangular, but since towers are attached to the corners, the central space is ultimately reminiscent of an octagon. The towers and the prayer room are covered with domes placed on light cast iron columns, the twin windows have curved closures, and the light entering through the huge rose window makes the interior of the synagogue elevated. The dome rises more than 33 meters above ground level. The ark, the Torah cabinet, and the bima in front of them are, according to neolog customs, positioned at the eastern end of the building. The Hebrew text above the ark means, “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth.” (This is a biblical quote from Joshua chapter 3, verse 11.) Inside, a two-story gallery decorated with the stars of David runs around along the walls.
This is one of our first neolog synagogues. It is reminiscent of Christian basilicas in that its verticality expresses a religious sentiment towards the sky, although not as clearly as the neo-Gothic Frankel Synagogue in Budapest. The interior of the building is richly decorated, and the exterior with its huge dome and spherical tower helmets provides for one of the ornaments of the city.
Originally, the synagogue had seating for four hundred believers, but during the renovation, which began in 1926 and was completed on November 20, 1927, the church was expanded. After the war, on March 15, 1946, the synagogue was rededicated, but the Győr congregation, which had been reduced to a fraction of its population, could neither fill it nor maintain it. The school wings were nationalized as early as 1950, and the remainder of the building became state-owned “as a gift” in 1966, with offices of a grain trading company and a warehouse for scrapped furniture. In 1973, the Liszt Ferenc College of Music received the school wing. There was still a community office in the Kossuth Street wing, and there was also a prayer hall upstairs (both the community and the prayer hall are still operational today – website editor). Between 1994 and 1999, partly with the support of the European Union, the building was renovated, which, although not shining in all its old beauty, at least does not deteriorate further. It is currently run by the Széchenyi University and the Rómer Flóris Museum of Art and History of Győr, and concerts are held in the main prayer space thanks to its excellent acoustics.
Lőrinci Enikő: A pozsonyi és győri zsidóság nyomában
Holokauszt emlékkirándulás Győrben
A győri zsidóság története (PDF)
A győri neológ zsinagóga építésének története
Featured image – © Noran Libro